Remembering Mythago Wood (RIP Robert Holdstock 1948-2009)

Over the years, I’ve read many fantasy books. Most of them have pretty much spiraled into the black abyss of my mind known as unmemory. Occasionally they would emerge without warning, especially if I’m reading a book that’s similar in plot (hey, didn’t I read this same thing some time ago? What was the name of that book? Ah, it’s just on the tip of my tongue…I know I read it!)

But there are other books I remember instantly, the entire plot, the author’s name, heck–even some of the passages.  These are books that I return to every ten years or so (which reminds me, it’s been a while since I read The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle.  Better get that on my reading list). Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock is one of those books.

How old was I when I first read it? Had to be my senior year of high school. Maybe even younger than that. By the time I got into college, I had read it so many times, I could see it as a movie in my head. Sean Austin would play Stephen Huxley, I forget who I had as the evil older brother. Most likely Corey Feldman, back when he was still cool. And the fae-like Guiwenneth would be played, of course, by me–so what she was of Celtic origin and had red hair? It wouldn’t be hard to make a few changes. Hollywood does it all the time!

I even had the ending theme music and the subsequent music video with Seal’s "Kiss From a Rose"–because every movie in the 80s and 90s had to have a music video showing the best and/or emotional scenes from the movie. (Hey, I still remember the entire movie music video for the Lost Boys…don’t remember the song’s name, but man, awesome video. That had both Coreys in it–Feldman and Haim. Remember when the Coreys were cool? Stop looking at me like that!)

What I loved about Mythago Wood was the wood itself. I’ve always loved forest stories, especially when they involved unusual beings living in them. Fairies, wood sprites, elves. Part of that stems from my own childhood–our backyard was next to a trainyard, with a thicket of wood separating the two. It didn’t keep the noise out (ah yes, there were days when my room literally shook when the trains rumbled by–when I had friends over and they freak out, I’d look at them and go, "What?" Didn’t faze me at all), but it did hide our view from the train tracks. The best part was that the forest growth extended into our backyard about 10 feet, so it was like having our own tiny forest preserve. My sisters and I played there for hours, playing Robin Hood and King of the Castle.

So you see how a book like Mythago Wood could be so magical to me. I had a copy of the book that I read over and over, then just like that, I lost it. Since then, I barely thought about the book, not until Monday, when I heard that Robert Holdstock died. It saddened me to hear that.

My extent of reading Holdstock’s work was that and a short story collection he did (which had a memorable tale of a science experiment of observing two people age far beyond the normal span of human years. That creepy tale always stuck with me). Then, I just sort of forgot about Holdstock, just like I forgot about his book. Just now, while I was doing research to write this blog, I learned that there were more books after Mythago Wood, including a couple of sequels.

That saddens me even more.

But only for a little bit. I think the best homage I can do for Mr. Holdstock is to go get me another copy of Mythago Wood. Then to actually read the sequels. It would be good to go to the woods again and see what myths sneak up this time around.

R.I.P. Mr. Holdstock. and thanks for stirring up this girl’s imagination.

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Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This is the first time I’m reviewing a book after I met its author. In this case, I met Rothfuss at this year’s past Oddcon. It’s one thing to read a book, review it, and not meet the author until several years down the line, if ever. It’s another thing to meet someone, learn they have a best-selling novel, then go out and read it.

But read “The Name of the Wind”, I did. And as I did, I realized something. This is a book that shouldn’t have gotten published, much less on the New York Times Best-seller’s List.

According to epic fantasy writing convention, it’s now considered bad form to start an epic fantasy with a prologue. There are no grand quests. It’s not a standalone, which also seems to be current trend among fantasy books nowadays. There is magic, yes, but it’s standard, mundane magic. The main character goes to “university” (shades of Harry Potter, anyone?) There are times when the POV switches from first to third person—right in the same passage. To be honest, not a whole lot happens in this book that can be considered “epic”. And, oh yeah, it starts off, of all places, in an inn.

So how? How did this book do so well when it looks like it broke nearly every rule newbie fantasy writers first learn about the craft?

It’s this line. This first line of the book: “It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.”

Against my will, this line it pulled me into the story of Kvothe. Kvothe has many names: Kvothe the Arcane, Kvothe Kingkiller. But when we first meet him, he is Kote, keeper of the Waystone Inn. How this man goes from a mighty figure of legend to a mere, humble innkeeper is not known—in fact, I’m going to tell you up front: we don’t find out in this book. In a sense, The Name of the Wind is really a prologue of sorts. But it’s a prologue that’s needed.

In the beginning, the story basically follows Kvothe as he putts around in his inn. He appears to be a shadow of some former glory, but it’s hard to tell. You know that something horrible has happened to him. You don’t know what, though. The only person who knows his past is his servant/companion/best friend Bast, and he keeps his mouth shut—mainly because he’s got his own secrets, one of which is that he’s not all that human as he looks.

One night, someone gets attacked by a big, black spider-like monster, rare in those parts. Almost reluctantly, Kvothe goes out to see if they are any more and runs into a man with the auspicious name of Chronicler. Turns out that Chronicler had been searching for Kvothe for years, hoping to get his story out of him. Kvothe resists at first, but then he agrees, and from there, we get into the story proper—told in Kvothe’s own words.

And it is engrossing. Kvothe is a master storyteller, and you can’t helped getting sucked in as you see the events of his life through the distance of his memory. We see Kvothe growing up with his family of traveling performers, being a too smart-for-his-own-good brat, whose own cleverness sometimes lands him in deep trouble. We see him through the trauma of losing his family and spending several years as a street urchin. We see him pull himself up and attend the University, where he gets whipped for insubordination, makes enemies with a noble, makes friends with a money lender, falls in love but doesn’t know what to do with that, and tries to gain money playing his lute while maintaining his studies. And, through interludes, we learn a little more about Bast, and we see more that the darkness that had (probably) pursued Kvothe is stirring again.

Like I said, this isn’t a book that takes you on a grand-sweeping country-traveling quest. Instead Kvothe is presented with little goals. His main one is to avenge his family’s deaths. But in order for him to do that, he needs to get into University, which is a trial within itself. Then he needs to find a way to get into the archives that houses the info on the dark beings that slew his family….and most of the time, the obstacles to his goals is Kvothe himself. If only if he wasn’t such a thick-skulled, arrogant bonehead…

But that’s what I like about The Name of the Wind. Rothfuss does an awesome job of taking this brash, arrogant character and turning him into someone likeable, even fun. You just can’t help rooting for Kvothe, even when he makes boneheaded decisions. Part of that, I feel, is that most of the story is in Kvothe’s own words. It’s like you’re sitting there in the inn, with Bast and Chronicler, listening to him spin his tale. Also, because most of the story is told in first person, you don’t wade through long descriptions of scenery and naval gazing.

That doesn’t mean Rothfuss slacks in the writing. There are these wonderful literary bits that reminds me a little of L’engle writing. For instance, advice from Kvothe’s father: “Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.” And then there’s that POV change I mentioned. There’s a scene where Kvothe plays the lute for the first time after living on the streets of Tarbean. It’s a very emotional moment for him, and you can feel it as Kvothe narrates. As he nears the end, Kvothe switches from speaking in first person to third, as if the memory of that night is too much for him, and he must distance himself by withdrawing from the story in third person. It’s a brilliant, beautiful use of POV change, and it totally blew my mind.

Of course, not everything is perfect in this book. There is a dragon chase that comes out of nowhere, and there’s a point where we have to suffer through a character with an accent barely readable on the page. But still, I really enjoyed reading The Name of the Wind. Rothfuss knows the rules. He breaks the rules. And he does it well. This book gets four iron drabs out of five. And I can’t wait for the next book, when we learn how Kvothe gets expelled from the University. What? You ask? You’ll have to wait for the next book to find out.

And speaking of which, Rothfuss is running a contest for his next book, The Wise Man’s Fear. You can be one of the lucky ones to get your name, or any name you want, into the book. All contributions go to Heifer International, a very good charity indeed. Check out the link for more information.

New Short Story: "Lavender and Chamomile" up at Big Pulp

Took a little while, but I finally got this short story sold. It’s up and running at Big Pulp Magazine.

The foundation to this story came back when Daniel was still a baby. One of the many toys he got was the quintessential teddy bear, complete with glassy eyes and button nose. One day, I was picking up toys in his room, and the teddy bear was lying face-down on the floor. I picked it up to put it back on a shelf and –boom– instant storyline.

I think this was the second story I ever wrote, so I’m not surprised that it took me this long to find a market for it. I submitted it to several fantasy markets, and most of them came back with “interesting story, but not sure it fits us”.  I really didn’t want to shelve it or rewrite it, so when I found Big Pulp, I figured “Lavender and Chamomile” would be a good fit, and started to send it to them under their “Fantasy” genre.

Then I thought, wait a second. I’m not having much looking submitting it as a fantasy story. What if I submitted it as ‘horror’?

What constitutes a horror story? For a long time, I thought it was monsters. Demons. Things that go bump in the night. When I was a kid, I read a lot Stephen King and Dean Koontz. When I grew older and started writing seriously, I shied away from horror, mainly because I felt it too dark. But really, what constitutes a horror story? It’s the strong emotion of fear, yes, but where does that fear come from? Can it come from monsters, or can it come other things? Fear of aliens? Fear of life?

Or the fear of a mother trying to protect her child?

So there you have it. I submitted it under horror and it got accepted—in their fantasy section. So aha! It is a fantasy story! Just as I thought! I shall thumb my nose at all those other markets who thought otherwise. Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!

Actually, in all honesty, I’m just glad it’s published now. Maybe one day, I’ll write a horror story for real. But if I’m going to do that, I’ll have to start reading more horror stories. Looks like I’ll have to take a trip to Pseudopod

So have fun reading “Lavender and Chamomile“. It’s rated PG—though if little kids love their teddy bears, you might not want to let them read this.

By the way, for his preschool graduation present this year, Daniel got a Build-A-Bear from the Build-A-Bear workshop. Its fur is soft, its eyes are glassy. I know it’s just a stuffed bear.

But I still make the boy pick it up off the floor just the same.

Book Review: "Eragon" by Christopher Paolini

Sighhhhh….

Not an encouraging way to start off a review, is it?

I fought real hard not to read this book. In fact, when I borrowed a copy of it, it sat on my bookshelf for months, then materialized to my nightstand, then migrated back to my bookshelf. I read the first two pages. Put it down. Weeks went by. Picked it up. Thought, Ugh!, and put it down.

Finally, I hauled it with me when we went to Cedar Campus last week. There, I knew I wouldn’t be able to escape reading it.

Well, actually, I did have two other books with me, so I could very easily escape reading the book. But I was determined to finish it, do or die, because there are other books that are clamoring for my time and doggoneit, the movie’s been covered at the Agony Booth. How can I enjoy its mocking sufficiently if I haven’t even read the book?

So.

Eragon.

Yeahhhhh.

You know what’s good this time of year? Morels. I just recently learned that the best way to find morels in the wild is to look under dead elm trees. Something about the dirt as they decompose somehow appeals to morel spores…I understand fresh morels are so much better than dried…

Look, what do you want me to say? I didn’t like the book. I didn’t unlike the book. It was just…there. Like coffee stains. Or long toenails. Sure, they’re a pain to cut, but once you do, they look so good. That reminds me, I should really get around to painting my toenails. All last summer, I didn’t do my toenails, even though I’ve had some rockin’ sandals. And it’s already June, though you really can’t tell it outside. Man, what’s the deal with this 60-degree weather? The only consolation is that Chicago’s going through the same–

No. Focus. Eragon. ERAGON, dammit!!!!

You know, maybe I’m just not the right person to review this. I’m not a teenage white boy who is just now getting into fantasy. I’ve read so much fantasy over the past thirty years of my life. Wait…when did I start reading fantasy? Maybe 7 or 8, perhaps? Yeah, that sounds about right. And I read sooooo many stories about soooo many ‘young men’ who sooooo became the "chosen one" that it all blurs in my mind sometimes, except for the ones who really stood out, because they did something different to challenge the general, blahblahblah stories.

You know what I also miss? Fanfics. Really good fanfics.

Because really, that’s what Eragon really is. Fanfic, and frankly, it’s the lamest fanfic done, with the author substituting himself (unconsciously) and…

Sigh. I don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said before.

I mean, come on. It’s right there on page 137. In italics. The entire epitome of the book. Quoth Eragon: "Somehow, I’ve become a sorcerer or wizard!"

It’s that key word, you see. Somehow. That’s the point that I realized, he’s going to lose his mentor, get into trouble, somehow save the day, and become handsome and stronger while doing it. And oh, the dragon’s not going to breath fire until the very end.

And that was the point I thought, screw it, and just started flipping pages to see if I was right. Flip, flip, flip. Flip, flip. Prophecy. Flip, gorgeous beautiful elf who of course Eragon has to save, flip, flip, flip, tanned muscles, flip, flip, orc-urakhai–urgals. urgals. Flip, flip. Oh look, Brom’s dead. Flip, flip. Damn, how long does it take for them to walk all the way to Gondo–Tronjheim. Flip, flip, hey look, black person! Flip, hey look, another black person, and it’s a girl–oh wait, they don’t appear again. Well, that was lame. Flip, flip. Major battle. Flip, dead guy gets killed by Eragon. And oh, look, Saphira’s coming to save him and she’s breathing fire for the first time…

Yeah.

You know? I’m not going to rate the book. Nope. Not gonna do it. This book was neither fire hot nor was it chilly cold, but lukewarm at best. Nothing stood out. Nothing really struck me as good. It was boring as all heck,  so I’m just going to toss it. And then, most likely, I’ll forget about it.

But I will go read the Eragon recap up at the Agony Booth. Because I’m pretty sure that if the book was bad, the movie would have somehow made it all the worst.

Oddcon Thoughts

So this past weekend, I attend my first science fiction/fantasy convention ever.

It’s not like I’ve actively avoided cons when I was living in Chicago. I knew about WindyCon and Duckon and Anime Central (my sister went to that—kudos to her). It’s just that I thought they looked sort of…weird. I had no great desire to go to a place where people walked around in costumes and going to panels where they debated what really killed the Star Trek series (hey, I liked Enterprise, that is, until it started going all weird and angsty and dark).

Plus, I didn’t really have anyone to go with. I wasn’t about to drag my hubby to one, although it’s possible he would’ve enjoyed himself, and most of my friends were SAHMs with young kids. I just couldn’t see myself bringing a bunch of moms and kids and watching them gawk as a dude dressed as Xena strolled by. Well, okay, I can see that, and in hindsight, it would’ve been hilarious…Also, the Guests of Honor seemed to be people who had their stuff self-published, and suddenly, they’re an “expert”…

Okay. So I did actively avoid the cons in Chicago.

When I got to Madison, I heard about OdysseyCon and checked out the website. The first thing I saw was that Tobias Buckell was attending as Guest of Honor, and hey, I knew that name. Then the whole RaceFail thing happened and, whaddyaknow, some of the LiveJournalists and other authors involved were going to be in attendance too, including Emma Bull and Will Shetterly. Then Tobias Buckley bowed out because his wife was having twins (good for him!), and he’s been replaced by oh, some guy who, I don’t know, made the NY Times Best Seller list but I never heard of him. But by that time, I decided. Oddcon was too good to pass up.

So out of all that, what did I get out of Oddcon?

  • The panels I went to were informative and fun. Some were geared towards writers, but some were fantasy/scifi in general. There were a few that definitely had some in-jokes I didn’t get, but all in all, not bad.
  • I got to meet Patrick Rothfuss, who has one freakylooking beard. But once you get over your fantasy of hunting him down with a pair of scissors, shouting, “AT LEAST MAKE IT EVEN FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!!!!!!!”, you find that Patrick Rothfuss is a pretty laid-back and absolutely hilarious guy. And his debut book made it on the NY Times Best Seller List. AND he won the Writer’s of the Future Contest in 2002. That’s stuff I’d like to do.  Edit: I finally got around to reading his book, The Name of the Wind. You can find my review of it here.
  • Yes, there were people playing D&D. Yes, there were people doing LANgames. Yes, there were people dressed up. But there were also regularly dressed people there too. And oddly enough, I got to know my upstairs neighbors, who I wasn’t expecting to see there.
  • I also didn’t expect to see Jim Frankel, Senior Editor of Tor Books. Actually, I knew that he was coming from the Programming schedule, but I didn’t actually think I would actually meet him and have actual conversations with him. Which was nice. He was gracious, casual and fun to talk to.
  • I got to meet a couple of LiveJournal people whose names I recognized from the whole RaceFail thing—including Moondancer Drake, who can really rock a Stetson. She was fun to talk to, and I really enjoyed getting to know her (and her 6-year-old, who is a sweetie).
  • And yes, I got to meet Emma Bull and Will Shetterly, who at first pretty much intimidated me, as well as Sarah Monette, who does some collaborative work with them. But they’re pretty easy people to talk to once you get to know them. I even screwed up courage to talk with them and about RaceFail. I didn’t want to be confrontational, but I had some genuine questions. I think it was a good conversation overall, and I generally had fun. In fact, this general ease of talking to these well-known authors led to…
  • A most surreal late Saturday night when somehow, I don’t know how exactly, I wound up hanging out with Bull, Shetterly, Frankel, Monette and a bunch of other writers at the hotel bar. Being that it was past my bedtime anyway, and the fact that I’m sitting with well-known authors and a senior editor of Tor, it sort of blew my mind. Then on Sunday, some more friends and I went to have Thai food with Rothfuss and his girlfriend. And I found myself thinking, being a writer ROCKS!
  • Oh. I won a garlic/ginger grater at an art auction.

So there you have it. My first con. I had a great time, and people kept telling me that I chose a good one to attend. Oddcon was small enough so that I didn’t get lost in the shuffle, but prestigious enough to pull in a couple of big names, but small enough that those big names could mingle easily with the rest of us. Everyone tells me that if I liked Oddcon, I would love Wiscon, since it’s gained quite a name for itself over the past few years. I’m looking forward to that, although I’ll only be able to attend that Friday’s events.

There are some things I learned from Oddcon that I’ll take with me to Wiscon. 1) Read up on not just the Guests of Honor, but also people who’ll be attending panels. I’m still kicking myself for not getting to know Sarah Monette more.

2) Bring business cards. For the first two days of the con, I completely did not have anything with me to pass out. Actually, that wasn’t such a bad thing, since I got to know people first before I started handing cards out to them. But I had to put a reminder on my laptop because I’ve fallen out of the habit of carrying my cards with me.

3) Don’t bring a 4-cheese toasted bagel with garlic and tomato cream cheese to a panel. Especially since the con had food there. I didn’t need to stop at Einstein Bagels for breakfast. But dang…it was good. Smelly, but gooooood…

4) Plan to help out at the next con. Which is one thing I definitely intend to do. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a book contract by that time. And then I’ll be the one chasing people down the hall with a big styrofaom mock-up of my book cover, cackling madly. Well, Pat Rothfuss didn’t actually cackle when he did that. But it still looked cool.

And it’s been saved…apparently…

Locus Science Fiction & Fantasy News: Warren Lapine Buys Realms of Fantasy

Well, that was nice and quick. I guess me mourning over it was a bit premature after all. But what does it mean? Will it remain the same, or will it change? Time will only tell. But the “first” issue will be out in May. Life goes on.

Edit 10/19/10: And then again, maybe not. After all that ROF is closing its doors again.

http://www.rofmag.com/2010/10/18/a-note-from-the-publisher/

Well, I said my goodbyes and already moved on. Oh well.

The Passing of a Great Anthology; No more Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror

In the past, I’ve done reviews for the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror that you can find on this site. Well, today, we got the news that this great anthology is no more. You can find news about it at the Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet’s Blog, and at Terry Windling’s blog.

In a nutshell, St Martin’s Press, the anthology’s publisher, has decided not to publish a 2009 edition. That means that 21 years of the Year’s Best anthology books, displaying a broad, colorful array of fantasy and horror stories from all walks of life, is at an end.

This makes me incredibly sad.

I’ve been reading posts as of late on how the fiction world appears to be shrinking, that people read less nowadays, preferring to play video games and watch TV rather than pick up a book. For the most part, I’ve always felt that isn’t the case; if anything, people are reading more, what with networking sites like Facebook and blogs and whatnot.

But when news like this hits me, I can’t help but wonder if fiction truly is drifting away.

Maybe it’s not that the fiction world is going way. Maybe it’s just that it’s changing shape from the tangible world of the printed page to the less-substantial, more fluid media of the online document. And as gadgets like the Kindle takes off, how long will it be before all books are downloaded rather than bought?

What does that mean for book publishers? For popular writers? For writing standards?

The Year’s Best Anthology was a standard for me. Everytime I picked up a book, I read the stories and thought to myself, one day, I’ll get a story in this book. It pushed me, and still does, to write my best. I studied the stories, picked them apart, wondered what made them included in the book. But most of all, I enjoyed them. I was awed by them. While some stories I could have done without (I still think back to that one story about the Calico cat, which makes me want to curl up in a little ball), still, there were some stories that made me drop my jaw in awe.

I know, I know. There are other anthologies out there. Heck, I’ve turned most of my energies to Writer’s of the Future. But Year’s Best was the first anthology that got me daring to dream of fiction in the first place. What will be my standard now? Where would I go?

Then again, maybe it’s all the recession’s fault. Yeah, that’s it. Stupid recession.

To all the editors of Year’s Best: Ellen Datlow, Terry Windling, Kelly Link, and Gavin Grant. Thank you for inspiring this lowly writer to write. The stories you included were truly a marvel to behold. Here’s to hoping you’ll find all new ventures that will bless you greatly.