Monday Muse: Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

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Every now and then, you read a fantasy novel that’s so wise, so smart, so affecting and downright addictive that you find yourself whiling away the hours until you get to read it again–but when you near the end, you tend to slow down, not wanting it to end.

Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks is such a novel. Thankfully, it is the first of a series.

Zanja is a kind of ninja warrior in Shaftal, a world that has been conquered by the warlike Sainnites. She is the last surviving member of her tribe and a “fire blood,” one gifted with vision and insight, as well as a skilled diplomat. Over the course of the book, she falls in love with Karis, the giantess earth witch who may or may not hold the key to lifting their kingdom and culture from the ashes–but only if Karis can get herself off the all-consuming drug called smoke, which was one of the many horrors forced upon her as a child as a way to control her vast power.

I know of no fantasy novel more astute not just in its world building but its world making, and by that I mean its command of the many ways that human psychology and culture are woven together in the complex tapestry that makes “the hinge of history.”

And while the conceit of the different elemental powers will at first seem familiar to fans of the genre, the different modes of seeing, being, feeling, and decision making endemic to each elemental power in this world have the ring of deep truths, as if the author looked into the entire range of human personality theories and perceived even truer patterns.

Though there’s plenty of combat here–this is, after all, the story of how a race of people was conquered, and then rose up against their conquerers–it’s never glorified. (I appreciated in particular the author’s focus on the sheer gore associated with war, which I have rarely if ever seen addressed in fiction.)

And in the end, this is a story of peacemaking–in part because our protagonist is one given to the gift of insight, which means she can see deeper, farther, even unto the heart of the enemy. In this regard and in many others, the book strikes me as in conversation with the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, who has worked so hard to show us the tricky and difficult ways that atrocities can be redressed and peace won without engendering a cycle of further bloodshed.

And like Le Guin, Marks strikes through to the human heart; in the end, I found myself really quite moved by the love story at the book’s heart.

That elusive combination of intellectual and emotional satisfaction is what I strive for in my fiction, and Marks absolutely nails it. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

The anniversary edition of Fire Logic is available from its publisher, Small Beer Press (it was originally published by Tor): http://smallbeerpress.com/books/2014/02/18/fire-logic/

It’s also available from Powell’s and the (necessary) evil empire, Amazon.

The Story Behind the Story: Concentric

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Have you ever thought back to when you were a teenager and wondered where you thought you’d be at the age you are now? And if so, what do you recall?

The short story I’m releasing this month to my Patreon subscribers, “Concentric,” is about a woman the age that I am now (late thirties). I wrote it when I was an undergrad, and I think it reveals a lot about where I thought I’d be at this point in my life.

In some ways, I was right: Like the protagonist of this story, I’m married to someone I really love, and just as in the story, our house is filled with reminders of our memories. And just as in this short story, the question of children is central at this point in my life–though in “Concentric,” the protagonist is grappling with whether or not to have kids, while my question is more the how and when of adoption.

But unlike the protagonist of this story, I did not wind up teaching college, the way I thought I would, nor do my husband and I own a house–both of which I cannot help but see as the result of economic factors I could not possibly have imagined in 1999.

Fiction is fiction, of course, so there’s also plenty in this story I put there simply to create conflict–namely, the sort of mysterious nervous breakdown the protagonist has gone through and subsequent reordering of her life.

But reading back over this story–a version of which was published in Voicecatcher last year–I’m reminded that many people who study neuroscience as it applies to the arts believe that the evolutionary purpose of story is to prepare us for threats we have not yet faced.

In the concerns of this story, I see my young self doing just that, trying to anticipate and work through threats that seemed far off (and in some ways seem far off to me still), such as the death of my mother.

What a pleasure it is to look up from this time-capsule and realize that the world is still beautiful and mysterious; my mom is still alive and well; and my husband and I will be entering an adoption pool this summer, one way or another.

House or no house, academic job or not, my life turned out in many ways better than I could have imagined.

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Monday Muse: Dolly Parton

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Most of us know Dolly Parton as a celebrity, and a many of us love her voice and music. But I’m ashamed to admit that until this weekend, I had no idea what an incredible writer she is.

Yeah, a writer. Of songs, specifically–according to the emcee at this weekend’s Dolly Parton Hoot Night at the Alberta Rose Theater in Portland this weekend, 5,000 of them.

No, I didn’t accidentally add a zero to that number.

Taste of Country says, “According to her website, Parton writes a song every two or three days, and she always makes time to write on her birthday. She wrote her first song about her corn-cob doll. She was not able to write yet, so her mother had to copy the lyrics for her.”

Listening to so many songs that I love–“Wildflowers,” “Coat of Many Colors,” and “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”–I was struck by the sheer genius of the woman’s storytelling, her command of various songwriting forms endemic to country, bluegrass, gospel, and folk.

The New York Times published a fine article on Parton the songwriter on the occasions of her 72nd album in 2002. In it, Parton acknowledges that her image has in many ways overwhelmed her career:

”I’ve created this and played it up — the makeup, the whole persona,” said Ms. Parton, dressed in a peach-colored jacket and miniskirt, at her rehearsal studio in South Nashville. ”I’ve over-exaggerated and made things worse. But I’ve had a good time doing it, and it all came from a serious place: a country girl’s idea of what glamour is.”

”But this isn’t all I am,” Ms. Parton added. ”It’s not even most of what I am. Hopefully people can see beneath the hair to know there’s a brain, beneath the boobs to know there’s a heart, and behind all the other stuff to know there’s some talent.”

I’ve included a link to Parton’s “9 to 5” in this post because I think it’s not only a perfect song, it perfectly encapsulates both Parton’s songwriting chops and the lack of credit she’s received for them (“They just use your mind, and they never give you credit–it’s bound to drive you crazy if you let it!”).

And here, I think, is a real takeaway for anyone, like me, who takes writing seriously: Dolly has written 5,000 songs, 3,000 of which she’s published. And two of her monster hits, “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” (famously covered by Whitney Houston) were written in the same night.

Apparently, if you work that hard for that long, sometimes you get struck by lightning.

Friday Roundup: I Believe in Love

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Friends, I’ve been sitting on this one because I had a strong feeling we were going to need it to get us through this Very Historic Week of Deeply Alarming Shit (see #Orlando, #Brexit).

Here’s the one and only Lucky Brown with the Polyrhythmics laying down a barnburner of epic proportions, “I Believe in Love.” Turn the volume up, sing along, and exorcise that fear that’s settled into your lungs.

Breathe. Dance. Feel free.

We are bigger than our fear, our xenophobia, our hate. THIS is the spirit of the human family, and we will overcome.