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January 2009

A short leave of absence....

Devon 2009  

I'll be painting walls, packing boxes, and schlepping many, many cartons of books over the next couple of weeks, moving into a house that we've basically stripped and re-built now from top to bottom. During this period of upheaval, I won't have time to update this blog or respond to non-urgent correspondence. I'll be back in a couple of weeks, I hope -- once I dig out from under the packing boxes at the new place. See you then, thanks for all the fish and patience...and wish us luck!

The picture above: The view from the new house, looking across rooftops to the hill that is our village Commons. It's just a short walk away from my old house, Weavers Cottage, where I lived for 16 years, and which I wrote about in this essay on "The Folklore of Hearth and Home."

Another one bites the dust....

KinukoCraftcover Damn. More bad publishing news. Hot on the heels of the announcement that The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology series is folding, now Realms of Fantasy magazine is ending with the April issue. (Locus has the story here.) Shawna McCarthy, who has edited the magazine since it's first issue in 1994, has done a fine job of showcasing the field's best writers, developing new talent, and keeping the short story form alive. This is another real loss for the field . . . and for short fiction, and the writers thereof.

I worked for the magazine for 14 years, supervising (and often writing) the "Folkroots" column on folklore, fairy tales and myth. My friend and fellow-folklorist Ari Berk took over the editorship of "Folkroots" in 2008, and it's been a delight to read the columns that have been published on his watch. To Shawna, Ari, Laura Cleveland (RoF's terrific managing editor): Thank you for all your hard work, and your support of fantasy, myth, and mythic arts.

Damn. This is sad news indeed.

The Cabinet of Curiosities...

Madeline vn foerster

Madeline von Foerster has a new book out: a catalog of marvellous paintings from "Waldkammer," her recent solo show in Berlin. You can purchase the book and see more of this exquisite art on Madeline's website. Here's a snippit from an interview with Madeline conducted by Gilles de Montmorency (for The Sentimentalist magazine):

GdM: The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by romantic medievalism and poetic symbolism; William Morris (in particular) was motivated by an urgent need for social reform. Some of your paintings have addressed social equality and animal rights - would you perhaps classify yourself as a (neo) Pre-Raphaelite painter?

MvF: That's a wonderful, albeit somewhat confusing titile! Morris realized that the changing economy had rendered his creations unaffordable for common people...and he actually quit making art in order to devote the rest of his life to social activism! I'm very glad that advances in mechanical and digital reproduction obviate this necessity for myself. At one point, believe it or not, I only made political art, which I stenciled and wheatpasted around my hometown. However, seldom was it beautiful art. Now I'm trying to learn how to make something beautiful, and the "message" therein is usually far subtler than my earlier agitprop. I haven't lost my ideals. I think beauty affects people in important ways. Attempting to create beauty in contemporary American culture, where aesthetic needs, human needs, are always given a back seat to profit and the bottom line, is meaninful.

New York memories...


The New York Times
has an article on the "Gargoyle Building" on 110th Street in New York -- where Ellen Kushner lived for many years (and where her "Riverside" series was born), and where I too lived for a spell (and where the "Borderland" series was born). Ellen's reminiscences about  living below the gargoyles are here (on her "Puggy's Hill" blog), and more pictures of the gargoyles are here. (In the top picture, the first full window you can see on the upper left used to be my bedroom window.) It all looks a whole lot fancier now then it did back then, when the neighborhood was scruffier, cheaper, more colorful, and a little more dangerous. . . .

This land is our land...

Here's a video I can't watch without tearing up: Pete Seeger (in his 90s now!) performing Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" with Bruce Springsteen and his grandson and a gospel choir in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Pete friggin' Seeger: the tireless labor and civil rights activist, blacklisted in the 1950s. Performing for a Presidential Inauguration. For an African-American president. Wow. (What must he be feeling at such a moment???) The world has shifted on its axis, and the song has never felt so true. From across the sea in cold, windy Devon, I'm very proud of my country today.

And to my gay and lesbian brothers & sisters: We will not stop until we all have equal rights under the law. For Seeger's on the stage and Obama's in the White House and mountains can be moved.

Post script: More info on Guthrie's classic song here.

Another post script: touching ads on Marriage Equality produced by below

I love the gorgeous, thought-provoking animation above, about the power of the written word and the media environment we live in. It's by my friend Carmen Bromfield Mason, who is currently a student at the Chelsea College of Art & Design in London.

For the shorter piece below, the students were ask to record a small child explaining how something works and then to animate the explanation. Carmen asked 7-year-old Ely Todd-Jones (who is the daughter of puppeteer William Todd-Jones, and my god-daughter) to explain what color is.... The explanation is priceless, and the animation is charming. 

You can see more of Carmen's work here.

Also, please note that an update has been added to the Ravens in the Library post (January 6th), below.


Sad news...


Gavin Grant has announced (on the lcrw blog)  that The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology series has come to an end after two decades of publication. Volume 21, published earlier this year, is to be the last.

51fdVOIUxwL._SS500_I suppose I ought to say something profound about the series, or about the general state of the fantasy field in this time of economic turmoil . . . but to be honest, I feel too sad right now. It seemed to me that these books were doing good work, performing an important service for the field, and as an editor, a writer, and (most importantly) as a reader, I feel deeply sad that the series is ending.

There are other "Year's Best" volumes, yes, but nothing else like the St. Martin's volumes -- where the series creator/packager Jim Frenkel had the bold and (at the time) outlandish idea to create an annual that would look at the broadest possible spectrum of fantastic literature -- drawing a line all the way from horror and dark fantasy to genre fantasy, to children's fantasy, and further still to magical works in mainstream fiction and poetry. He, and we, took a lot of flack for this inclusiveness in the early years (and, in some quarters, still do); but I remain convinced that it serves our field to bring such works together as part of a broad-ranging conversation, and as an examination of the many faces of nonrealist writing today.

Tom Canty 1  I've nothing against the other, more narrowly focused "Year's Best" books out there (the specialty volumes that focus exclusively on horror or on genre fantasy, for example), and I have nothing but respect for their smart, hard-working editors. These books have different strengths and a different kind of value; and indeed, I read them with pleasure. But it would be a pity if such books were perceived as the only way to publish or to read modern fantasy. In this regard, I believe that the broader focus of YBF&H provided a real service -- not only to readers, but also to the next generation of writers in our field.

Well, as a note from a friend reminded me, 21 years is a pretty darn good run. That's something to be proud of.

James_Frenkel It's Jim Frenkel who deserves the credit for producing two decades of YBF&H. The anthology was his idea and his baby from the start. It was Jim who picked the editorial team. Ellen and I knew each other socially, but had never worked together before. Our long, on-going editorial partnership was born in that moment, and for that I'll always be especially grateful to Jim (who had to talk me in to the project, as I recall. I was wary, for it sounded like a helluva lot of work. And indeed it was!)

Tom Canty was part of the series from the beginning, his beautiful art gracing the cover each year, starting way back with volume one in 1988. You have to be as old as we are to remember how radical Tom's delicate, Pre-Raphaelite-inspired art looked on genre covers back then, when muscle-bound, half-naked swordsmen were still the norm. I remember sitting in an East Village cafe while Tom drew ideas on a paper tablecloth. "I don't want to illustrate the stories," he said. "Telling the stories is the writers' job. I want to create a mood, a Tom Canty 3mystery, a magical, iconic figure who catches the eye of readers and says: 'Pick up this book. There are wonders inside....' "   Lordy, looking back, I can't help but be struck by how very young we all were. Young and fiesty and full of ideas and notions that we wanted to explore. Had we know that the series would go on to last for 21 years, we would have been amazed.

In 2003, after 16 fascinating (and occasionally exasperating!) years co-editing the series, I decided to step down. I'd been aiming to last until volume 20 (a nice round number), but a combination of health problems, time constraints, and international postage costs (now that I was spending so much time in England) was taking its toll. It was a hard decision, and I was thus grateful to Jim, Ellen, and St. Martin's Press for allowing me to pick my successor -- and more grateful still when Gavin Grant and Kelly Link agreed to take and share the job. I knew the original vision for YBF&H would carry on and that the volumes would be better than ever -- as they have been. If anything, Kelly and Gavin exceeded my already high expectations. Their books have been smart, fresh, surprising, and full of treasures.

The one bit of good news today is that Ellen, my dear and indefatiguable friend, will be carrying on the Year's Best tradition by editing a series of Year's Best Horror books for Nightshade Press. (You can read more about it on her LJ blog.) And Best American Fantasy, the excellent new series produced by Jeff & Ann VanderMeer and Matt Cheney (Prime Books), appears to be soldiering on. Their second volume is late but still forthcoming; and a third, guest edited by Kevin Brockmeier, has been announced. It looks more and more like small presses may be the salvation of literary fantasy.

I'll raise a glass to Ellen tomorrow, for I'm truly happy that a part of YBF&H will live on in the Nightshade series. Today, however, for me, is a time to grieve for what we're losing.

Jim, Ellen, Kelly, Gavin, Tom, and everyone else who has been associated with YBF&H over the years (Gordon van Gelder, Jim Mintz, Ed Bryant, Charles Vess, Charles de Lint, Joan Vinge, Richard & Mardelle Kunz, Bill Murphy, and too many other people to list but you know who you are): Thank you for all your hard work. If we broadened the idea of what fantasy is, and can be, even by a little, then it was worth it. I'm grateful to you.

If anyone wants to leave a comment related to this post, you're welcome to -- but I suggest that if you post (or cross-post) your comments over on Gavin's blog, they will be part of a wider conversation....


(Not quite the beginning, as we'd already produced the first four volumes by 1992, but close!)

Ravens in the Library The newly-formed "Save Our Sooj!" group has announced: "SJ Tucker, a touring musician with no health insurance, recently ended up in the hospital for nearly a week, and was released on Christmas Eve to await test results. At this time, we do not have a solid diagnosis. More tests are scheduled, and surgery may be necessary. 542px-Capi_x_Raven.svg Most hospitals charge thousands of dollars per day for inpatient hospital stays and tens of thousands of dollars for surgery.`'

 One of several projects established to help Ms. Tucker with medical costs is Ravens in the Library, a limited edition anthology (named after one of her songs) edited by Phil Brucato and Sandra Buskirk, containing stories by Holly Black, Francesca Lia Block, Storm Constantine, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Midori Snyder, Catherynne Valente, me, and others. Ravens in the Library will be a very limited edition and will not be available in any store. (You can purchase a copy online here.) A Facebook page for Ravens in the Library has been created here. More information about the book and other money-raising projects and events can be found here.

Updated to add: Ms. Tucker has now been properly diagnosed and has undergone surgery, from which she is recovering nicely. The cost of her medical care will indeed be high, so please do contribute if you can.