New Swordspoint story & Last-minute Gifts

I write this on the longest night of the year.

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Solstice in Riverside Park: Delia & I captured the last rays of the sun on the shortest day. I am wearing the hat I got at a gas station on our (bus) trip up to the Arctic Circle in Finland two years ago. It says LAPLAND. I cherish it.

Stories

Short stories are genuinely hard for me. I just don’t have a short story brain. I admire and envy people who throw out story ideas like sparks from a Catherine Wheel and can barely get them down before they have three more ideas. Still, every now and then I come up with something.

If you look at my Bibliography, you’ll see that at least half the stories I’ve published have been written for themed anthologies edited by Terri Windling (often with co-editor Ellen Datlow).

The Coyote Road by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
My story in here, “Honored Guest," is a fantasy riff on the culture in the delightful David Hawkes 5-volume translation of Cao Xueqin’s The Story of the Stone (often known as “The Dream of the Red Chamber”). The publisher describes it as “the great novel of manners in Chinese literature” and why am I even surprised that I loved it so when I read it in college?

The Origin Story for most of these stories goes something like this:

T: I’m doing an anthology on [Thing]. Wanna be in it?

E: Well, yeah, but I don’t have any ideas about [Thing].

T: What about [something she knows I care about that somehow connects to [Thing]?

E: Oh! Oh! I could do that….. (or: ) No, I can’t do that - but wait! What about this?

And I’m off and writing! Oh, plus deadline. Deadline Very Important.

Most of my other published stories have something to do with the narrative I began in my novel Swordspoint, which Jo Walton accurately termed a family saga. It then sprouted two more novels, and said stories, with a new novel, City Year, in the works.

Now, I am one of those weirdo writers who knows pretty much what happened to every character in any of their books for the rest of their (imaginary) life.(1) But some of these narratives aren’t really novel-length. So when I have one to tell, I sit down and try to craft it as a short story - but one that can be enjoyed by someone who’s not necessarily read any of the books, encountering the world and the characters for the first time. It’s not easy. But it is my proud and lonely destiny, the challenge that I have set myself, the doom that is come upon me. Also, you don’t get paid otherwise.(2)

Last year, Twitter flashed me the news that an anthology was being put together, on the theme of Swordswomen and Ladies. Huh! I thought. They didn’t invite me! And I’ve written an entire novel around that theme! (3) But did I hide under the bed and sulk? No! I asked if it were still open, and they responded with enthusiasm. They even made me a Stretch Goal on their Kickstarter, “Silk & Steel: A whole anthology of queer SFF stories, featuring warrior women... and the courtly ladies who love them.”

I was living in France for a few months, touring around on delightful trains going to various delightful bookstores in various delightful small cities (e.g. Rennes, Bordeaux, Lyon) where on my way to the station I could buy delightful local specialties to eat on the train rides back to Paris. On one such trip, I was staring out the window at the landscape rushing by, idly nibbling on something good, when suddenly I had it! I whipped out my notebook, and wrote:

When Angwar Bec grew too old to fight blood duels, she was still in great demand. She took every gig that came along, from ritual guard at nobles’ weddings to demonstration bouts at their coming-of-age parties: the money was good, and it kept her in steel and sweets, her two great passions.

It tells of the most important duel in the life of Angwar Bec, the one that made her name in the city, a challenge on a member of the celebrated and eccentric Tremontaine dynasty.

The volume just came out, with stories by wonderful writers including Aliette de Bodard, Yoon Ha Lee, Django Wexler, and many more.

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Cover art by Alexis Moore. (As soon as I get my contributor copies, I’m going to open right to the very promising-sounding 'Elinor Jones vs. the Ruritanian Multiverse' by Freya Marske!)

My story was impressively well-edited by Janine A. Southard. If it makes any sense at all it’s thanks to her. Silk & Steel is available as both e-text and paperback.

Last-Minute Gifts: a Riddle

E-text, did you say? Isn’t that the answer to this riddle that Gollum asked Bilbo?

Voiceless it cries,
Wingless flutters,
toothless bites,
Mouthless mutters.

It might as well be. Here’s my riddle for you:

I am the gift that cannot be wrapped / Without wings I fly like a bird. / Seen but not heard, / I make you journey far, / Never stirring from your hearth

What am I?

Again, an e-book - or maybe an audio book - the modern world’s answer to “Oh shit I forgot to buy a present and it will never get there in time!”

There’s no clever way to parse it, so I’ll just say it:

Send one of mine.

Here’s what I’ve got for you:

E-books of the novels are easily found - but something a bit more unusual is the audio recordings I made of all three Riverside novels for “Neil Gaiman Presents,” his collaboration with Audible, with the fabulous producing team at SueMedia. I am Chief Narrator, so you get to hear how I hear all the voices in my head!

Our Swordspoint recording actually won an Audie Award - kind of the Golden Globe of audiobooks! Here I am proudly holding up mine at the Audie Awards in NYC, with the fabulous Dion Graham, the actor who voiced Richard St Vier in a few crucial scenes. You can listen to Dion’s Richard in one of them here.

The sequel, The Privilege of the Sword, takes place some 15 years later. It is told partly in first person, and partly in third. We decided that I would do the first person bits, and were insanely lucky to get as co-narrator the brilliant, protean, award-winning Barbara Rosenblat. She settled in front of the microphone, picked up the book and started reading - and everything sounded just as I imagine it does! Uncanny. The amazing Felicia Day also did a character voice (of Katherine, the heroine) in just one scene for us, and she’s perfect.

Then we got Neil Gaiman himself to do a cameo, as the sexy artist at the Rogues’ Ball! You can listen to that scene here.

Neil had so much fun with his TPOTS cameo that he accepted an even larger role in The Fall of the Kings, as the Wizard in the Dreams. He’s perfect; makes the hair rise on the back of my neck every time. You can hear a clip of him here.

Multi-voice narration on some scenes in this one, too. It was pure joy having a distinct, different actor’s voice for each of Basil’s coterie of students - and, as you may imagine, tons of fun to cast!

There’s a bit more about the whole audiobook process here on my website, including sound files of Neil Gaiman’s beautiful voice introducing each book, and links to getting these audiobooks via Audible. But you can also get them on iTunes & Amazon.

They are the perfect last-minute gift!

But wait there’s more

Tremontaine is the collaborative Swordspoint prequel I got to write with a gang of other writers who thought it would be fun to play in my sandbox, and brought their A game, diverse skills and viewpoints and interests into that world.

My favorite review - by Heather Hogan, for Autostraddle. It begins: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a queer woman in possession of a few dollars must be in want of a novel about a swashbuckling lesbian of color and her adventure-seeking pals….Every love story is between men who love men, or women who love women, or men and women who love both men and women. The sex is good fun, but the romance is deliriously well-written. Such aching and longing and pining and promises (amid cups and cups of chocolate!).” You can read the whole review here.

For pure value-per-dollar, you can’t beat Tremontaine: Each “season” is comprised of 13 Episodes of about 12,500 words, each a standalone story - kind of like an hour of TV in a series with its own season arc. When you buy someone a season, you get not only all of this in e-book form, but simultaneous audio as well! I didn’t do the reading on this one, but I chose the narrators, and in some cases directed them. They are superlative.

The complete series is four seasons. Give someone the gift of a binge! And please buy them from the creator, Serial Box. Right now they’re a mere $9.99 per season, and you can read/listen to the first story in each for free.

Yet More

Swordspoint T-shirts from LITOGRAPHS. They really do have the complete text of the novel printed on each, along with a sword on the front and the City on the back. I got Pat Rothfuss to model one:

They’ve also branched out to tote bags, scarves, posters, blankets & pillows. No, it won’t arrive in time, but the Litographs folks are great, and their GIFT CARDS are “instantly delivered via email, are easy to print or forward, never expire, and are good towards any Litographs purchase.” Full disclosure: They have a few other books, too.

ETA: Litographs is now offering Gift Cards at 15% off with code GC15

And finally

Wow this has gotten long. I know I’m forgetting something. I did want to mention a wonderful new curated online bookshop, Terri Windling’s Bumblehill Press. That’s for spending your Chanukah money on - but if you want one more e-text that will arrive on time, Terri’s just put back into print her novella “The Color of Angels.” Fans of her book The Wood Wife will recognize a character or two. This story originally appeared in an anthology that Delia & I edited with Don Keller, The Horns of Elfland. It was a jewel in the collection, and I’m so glad it’s once again available!

And that’s a good place to stop.

Wishing you peace at this turning of the calendar year, with all health and happiness to come -

Ellen

P.S. Have you got a riddle for me?

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Footnotes, I got ‘em

(1) I found out this was weird when I was on a panel years ago with the great, great writer Karen Joy Fowler. And she said she didn’t. I was shocked, but I got over it, and I am the better for it.

(2) Here is the Swordspoint/Riverside World chronology of all the stories (including the novels), with links to those that are published online.


(3) The Privilege of the Sword (aka “TPOTS”)