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March 2013

Book News: Happy Birthday, Queen Victoria!

Queen Victoria's Book of spellsNo, it's not the actual queen's birthday, but the birthday/publication day of the latest book from Ellen Datlow and me: Queen Victoria's Book of Spells...which has which has already received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. (For a list of authors in the book, go here.)

Ellen and I have chosen the term "Gaslamp Fantasy" rather than the other common appelation, "Victorian Fantasy" -- for in fact these stories can be set at any time during the 19th century, from the Regency years at the century's start to Queen Victoria's reign at the end.  Steampunk fiction is part of this genre, but there are other kinds of Gaslamp Fantasy too -- including historical fantasy (without Steampunk gadgets and googles), dark fantasy with a gothic bent, fantastical romance and mystery, and Fantasy of Manners: a brand of magical fiction that owes more to Jane Austen, William Thackeray, and Anthony Trollope than to C.S.Lewis and J.R. R. Tolkien.

As a fantasy lover, Jane Austen addict, Victorianist, and obsessive Pre-Raphaelite fan, this is a book I've long wanted to create, with all of these passion explored in its pages. The authors here range from award winners and bestsellers to rising new talent (as is usual for our books), and every one them tackled the theme in deliciously different and surprising ways.

Victorian illustration* If you're on Twitter, there will be a "Tor Chat" on Queen V tomorrow night: Wednesday, March 20th, at 4-5 pm (American eastern standard time). I won't be on the chat, alas, because the international time difference makes it just too late for me (I am distinctly not a night owl), but Ellen will be there, along with some of the very fine authors in the book: Jeffrey Ford, Catherynne Valente, Kaaron Warren, and Leanna Renee Heiber.

Victorian illustration* For those of you in or near New York City, please come to the book's release party at the aptly named Queen Vic pub (68 2nd Ave at 4th Street) on March 27th. It promises to be a fabulous affair, and all are welcome. There will be readings by Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Veronica Schanoes, Genevieve Valentine and Leanna Renee a Victorian dessert competition judged by Ellen Datlow. (To enter, bring something sweet for Ellen to try, and extras to share with other attendees. The winner will receive a hardcover copy of the book signed by all authors in attendance.) Queen Vic will open its doors starting at 7:00 p.m. and readings will commence at 7:30. You can contribute to the mood by attending in your favorite Victorian or steampunk/gaslamp finery--not mandatory by any means, but "lovingly encouraged."

* If you'd like to read Jane Yolen's fabulous contribution to the book, "The Jewel in the Toad Queen's Crown," you can find it on here.

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells bas been published by Tor Books (a quick shout-out here to our Tor editor, Liz Gorinsky), and is available, as of today, in hardcover, paperback, and ebook editions. Happy birthday, Queen V!

Queen Victoria's opinion of our bookThe cover art for Queen Victoria's Book of Spells is by Allen Williams.

Mist and forgiveness

Oak in mist, 1

"Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this, because it is the key to making art and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let's face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of intelligence. Every. Single. Time.

"Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is the key. I can't write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself."

Ann Patchett (from The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life)

Oak in mist, 2

"I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini (from The Kite Runner)

Ivy clad tree, stone wall, iron fence

"For a writer it's a big deal to bow -- or kneel or get knocked down -- to the fact that you are going to write your own books and not somebody else's. Not even those books of the somebody else you thought it was your express business to spruce yourself up to be."

- Patricia Hampl  (from The Writer on Her Work, Vol. II)

Tilly in the lane

New dishes for the Feast

Sneezle's Feast

We have two wonderful new dishes for our latest Moveable Feast on the topic "Desiring Dragons: What Brings us to Myth & Fantasy?"

The first post, "Desiring Dragons," is from Young Adult novelist Katherine Langrish in Oxfordshire. You'll find it on her fabulous books-and-folklore blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles (which I hope you're all reading anyway). The second post, also called "Desiring Dragons," is a tasty dessert from writer, artist, and performance artist Christine Irving in north Texas, on her blog Mused by Magdalene, For a full list of the "Desiring Dragons" posts to date, go here.

Also, there's an on-going conversation in the Comments section of last week's Art and Magic post that's worth perusing, if you've missed it or care to join in.

Image above: Sneezle feasting with a house brownie in The Faeries of Spring Cottage, the third book in the "Old Oak Wood" childre's book series that I co-created with Wendy Froud. The art, of course, is by Wendy.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today's first two tunes are by Laurie Levine, a singer/songwriter from Cape Town, South Africa, whose voice puts me in mind of a young Lucinda Williams (and that's no small praise). Her infuences come from American Appalachian and country music mixed with British folk and South African rhythms and instrumentation.

Above: The video for "Oh Brother," written and performed by Levine, from her third and latest album, Six Winters. Her first two albums are nice, but she seems to have really come into her own with the new one. The celle, or is that fiddle?, at the end the end of this song is just delicious. (On a more frivilous note: I love the neo-Victorian/country flavor of her clothes in this video. Back when I younger and living in Tucson, I adopted a personal style that I dubbed "Pre-Raphaelite Cowgirl." These clothes would have worked a treat.)

Below: A really lovely rendition of "Ring of Fire," written by the great Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. I have a real weakness Cash's for music, which was the music of my childhood. Levine does the song proud.

June Carter and Johnny Cash


The American punk band Social Distortion, with a very different take on "Ring of Fire," bless 'em. I suspect Johnny and June would have loved it.

And last:

The Man in Black himself, performing the Nine Inch Nail's song "Hurt" in a video made shortly before June and Johnny died in 2003 (June in May, and Johnny in September). It's a remarkable and haunting piece of film.

Art and magic

Madonna del Parto by Pierro della Francesca

One of my favorite paintings in the world is Piero della Francesca's "Madonna del Parto," so I smiled to read this in "Heaven on Earth," Peter Schjeldahl's review of the current Piero della Francesca show at the Frick in New York:

"One hot August, when I was twenty-three," he writes, "I traversed Tuscany on the back of a Vespa driven by a painter friend, George Schneeman. We had seen Piero’s magnum opus, the 'Legend of the True Cross' frescoes, in Arezzo, which I found bewildering, and were headed northeast, to the artist’s home town of Sansepolcro, the site of his famous 'Resurrection of Christ' ('the best picture in the world,' according to Aldous Huxley), which I also failed to make much of. Then we stopped at a tiny cemetery chapel, in the hill town of Monterchi, to see Piero’s highly unusual 'Madonna del Parto.' An immensely pregnant but delicately elegant young Mary stands pensively in a bell-shaped tent, as two mirror-image angels sweep aside the flaps to reveal her. One angel wears green, the other purple. Here was the circumstantial drama of a ripeness with life in a place of death. George told me a sentimental, almost certainly untrue story that the work memorialized a secret mistress of Piero’s who had died in childbirth. This befitted the picture’s held-breath tenderness and its air of sharing a deeply felt, urgent mystery. In another age, the experience might have made me consider entering a monastery. Instead, I became an art critic."

Monterchi, Italy

A detail from Piero della Francesca's unfinished Nativity

A detail from Piero della Francesca's Legend of the True CrossSome years ago I made the same pilgrimage to Arrezo, Sansepolcro, and the Tuscan hilltown of Monterchi -- but unlike Schjeldahl, I was already under Piero's spell when I did so. Although what I really wanted was to see the Madonna del Parto freshly painted on the wall of the Chapel of Santa Maria di Momentana (which would have required travelling back in time to the 15th century), it was a deeply moving experience nonetheless to stand before the Lady at last, even in her rather sterile new home in the small Museo della Madonna. 

A print that I purchased that day in Monterchi hangs framed beside my drawing board still, where I draw and paint underneath the Lady's calm, enigmatic gaze. I am not Christian, so for me Piero's luminous figure represents the feminine and maternal mysteries, and the fecund spirit of creativity. This is not, of course, what the painter intended...but works of art, if they have any power, take on lives of their own once they leave our hands.

The Lady of the Studio

As Samuel R. Delany once wrote (in his ground-breaking novel Dahlgren):  "The artist has some internal experience that produces a poem, a painting, a piece of music. Spectators submit themselves to the work, which generates an inner experience for them. But historically it's a very new, not to mention vulgar, idea that the spectator's experience should be identical to, or even have anything to do with, the artist's. That idea comes from an over-industrialized society which has learned to distrust magic."

Indeed. But I do trust magic. Especially the magic of art.

The other lady of the studioArt above: The Madonna del Parto in Monterchi, a detail from the Legend of the True Cross fresco cycle in Arezzo, and a detail from the Piero's unfinished Nativity, which is now in the National Gallery in London. Photographs: Monterchi, The Lady of the Studio, and the other lady of the studio.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today's music is from The Staves, an alt-folk trio of sisters (Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor) from Watford, Hertfordshire. All three songs come from their debut CD, Dead & Born & Grown.

Above: "Winter Trees," with an enchanting video from Aardman Animations in Bristol.

Below: "Mexico," another magical video -- in a dreamlike, Tord Boontje kind of way.

And one more...

Below: a (mostly) a capella song, "Wisely and Slow."

The moment of surprise

Evolution 3 by Rune Guneriussen

"There is a point beyond which training and practice cannot take you. Zeami, the 14th century Noh drama playwright and director who was also a Zen priest, spoke of this moment as 'surprise.' This is the surprise of discovering oneself needing no self, one with the work, moving in disciplined ease and grace. One knows what it is to be a spinning ball of clay, a curl of pure while wood off the edge of a chisel.... At this point one can be free, with the work and from the work." - Gary Snyder

Capacity to Breed and Recover by Rune Guneriussen

"I believe it was John Cage who once told me, 'When you start working, everybody is in your studio -- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas -- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you're lucky, even you leave.'"  - Philip Guston

Revisit the Revolution by Rune Guneriussen

"When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.”- Madeleine L'Engle

A Grid of Physical Entities by Rune Guneriussen

“It is not your business to determine how good [your work] is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”  - Martha Graham

Evolution 1 by Rune Guneriussen

"I like to use the word "isumatug.' It’s of eastern Arctic Eskimo dialect and refers to the storyteller, meaning ‘the person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself.’ I think that’s the writer’s job. It’s not to be brilliant, or to be the person who always knows, but…to be the one who recognizes the patterns that remind us of our obligations and our dreams.” - Barry Lopez

A Natural Selection by Rune Guneriussen

The stunning light sculptures here are by the Norwegian installation artist Rune Guneriussen, who finds magic and inspiration in his native landscape.

"As an artist," he says, "I believe strongly that art itself should be questioning and bewildering as opposed to patronising and restricting. As opposed to the current fashion I do not want to dictate a way to the understanding of my art, but rather indicate a path to understanding a story."

The things that stop us in our tracks

Village Commons 1

"It is a silver morning like any other," says poet Mary Oliver (in her essay "Power and Time"). "I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone.

"Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart -- to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

"But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley's birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist."

Village Commons 2

Village Commons 3

Village Commons 4

"One must work with the creative powers," Oliver continues later in the essay, "for not to work with is to work against; in art as in spiritual life there is no neutral place. Especially at the beginning, there is a need of discipline as well as solitude and concentration. A writing schedule is a good suggestion to make to young writers, for example. Also, it is enough to tell them. Would one tell them so soon the whole truth, that one must be ready at all hours, and always, that the ideas in their shimmering forms, in spite of all our conscious discipline, will come when they will, and on the swift upheaval of their wings -- disorderly; reckless; as unmanageable, sometimes, as passion."

Village Commons 5

"It is six a.m., and I am working," Oliver concludes. "I am absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o'clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

"There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time."

Village Commons 6

Village Commons 7

I recommend reading the essay in full in Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver (Harcourt Brace, 1995) -- and all her wonderful other books too. Photos: Tilly on the village Commons, and the village nestled in the surrounding hills.