Tag Archives: historical fantasy

Guest Writer: Lorina Stephens

writer, Lydia Langstaff, young writers, heart defects

Today, I asked Lorina Stephens, writer, editor, and publisher of Fiver Rivers Publishing to talk about the writing business. Before your read her article, note that Feb. 1 begins Women in Horror Month and I’ll be featuring different women who write horror. Take it away, Lorina.

The Hat Tree I Tango With

stephens lorina2017

Copyright Lorina Stephens

In 1980 I took a fall. A rather spectacular fall which is far too embarrassing to discuss in polite company. That fall had me laid up, with two small children careening through my days, and a gentle man of a husband slogging it out trying to keep us all afloat. I thought I would go insane during those months with nothing to do but recover and play with my bairns—that’s bairns, not brains. While I loved them—the bairns, not the brains—greatly, there’s only so far you can take Sesame Street and the quality of Pampers in conversation. I found myself creating doggerel out of Shakespeare: the quality of Pampers is not strained…. Trust me, you don’t want to know the rest.

So, I thought I would write a novel, which turned into three, which was in reality a trilogy with a great concept and all the wrong words. But that first foray into the rigors of being a full-time writer taught me a great deal about discipline not just of working hours, but of the economy and efficacy of words. So, I wrote another novel. And then another.

We moved to the country. Great! While parents, in-laws and friends fretted I was too isolated, spent too much time alone, I kept bashing away at the keyboard while the children were at school. I discovered one of the local newspapers was receptive to a column, which morphed into a half page feature called Lorina’s People. In between writing about worlds in my head, and characters who whispered over my shoulder while ferrying the kids thither and yon, I interviewed the diverse and rich society of artists and entrepreneurs in my region, and wrote about them. I wrote about them so much I found myself a celebrity in a small, regional pond.

That gig led to another with a regional lifestyle magazine, a gig I talked my way into stephens caliban_coverwhen I lied to the editor and said sure I had images of hummingbirds. How hard could it be to capture the little buggers on film, I figured. Several rolls of blank film later, and then a new 35mm SLR Canon with a zoom lens, I had the article, and the images. The economy of that enterprise put me at almost break even on the gig.

Undaunted, I took that camera, my tape recorder, and my wit and carved myself a wee niche as a journalist, all the while bashing out fiction, mostly novels. I even ended up as the assistant editor for the lifestyle magazine, and just before they were bought out, and subsequently folded, I was asked if I would consider taking over as editor. The answer to that was no, simply because I was not prepared to assist in the crucifixion of the man who had given me a remarkable break.

Somewhere in between all that I wrote a book with my husband, Gary—who had taken over as photographer, thank the gods—on the Niagara Escarpment, which was published by Boston Mills Press. That took up two years of our lives. I wrote and researched, and wrote some more, then researched some more, digging through dusty archives and white-glove-only stacks. We traveled the length of the escarpment several times, often hauling our two unwilling urchins with us, thinking it would be a great experience for them. I sorted through 3600 35mm transparencies, and around 150 4x5s, all Gary’s work. It was a memorable two years, and some of those moments I will carry with me as nuggets of wonder until the day I die. And it’s important to understand that while I was cutting my teeth on the importance of accurate research, I wrote that book for Gary, so there would be a showcase for the remarkable photographs he captured.

stephens ssI spent the next nine years perfecting a historical fantasy, Shadow Song, and tried to find a publisher for it. Had several near misses. It was cultural appropriation. It was genre-crossing. It was a square peg looking for a home in a world of round holes. Two agents tried to market the novel. And still no joy.

Then the publishing industry started a remarkable evolution, and print on demand with distribution became a viable entity.

Never one to back away from taking a risk, or flying in the face of common practice, I launched myself and that novel into self-publishing, defying anyone to tell me the work and the printed product weren’t up to standard. While some lauded my venture and work, others sniffed. But never mind. I’d achieved something remarkable. And fearlessly, I carried on.

But life is a fascinating journey, and while you’re busy making other plans, things happen. Or rather, you allow things to happen.

A colleague had a dictionary of historical colour names and definitions she wanted to publish, called Elephant’s Breath and London Smoke: Historical Colour Names, Definitions, and Uses in Fashion, Fabric and Art, and would I consider, so I did, and voila, I edited and created a book. It sold very well. And then another colleague came along and said I should print his book on how to write a book in 60 days. So I did. And it sold really well. And so and so and so.

Like most everything in my life, the journey from writer to publisher just sort of happened. One day I fell off a desk and was injured. The next I was hammering out stories. And the next I was publishing other people’s work, watching that work go on to be shortlisted for awards, tucking a catalogue of nearly 70 books under my wing after a decade, along with some 30 or so writers whose work I’ve given voice.

And somewhere along the way my own voice sort of faded. There wasn’t time to write. There wasn’t time or resources to promote my own work when I was deeply committed to giving voice to, and promoting the work of the writers I’d pledged to publish. How could I appropriate a portion of the budget for my work when there was this very profound obligation I’d undertaken?

So it took me some five years to write, polish and publish From Mountains of Ice, a stephens cookscultural fantasy, about two to dust off and polish my speculative fiction, Caliban, and then another five to complete a modern novel of magic realism called The Rose Guardian. That novel releases September 1, 2019. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written, and also the hardest. And after this I probably will seldom speak of it and instead turn people to the next novel by Michael Skeet, or the two posthumously published novels by Dave Duncan, or any of the audiobooks being released next year. Or even Tesseracts 22: Alchemy and Artifacts, which I’ve edited with Susan MacGregor, and also releases next year.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still believe in my own work. It just means I have an overriding commitment to others.

Has being a publisher honed my own skills as a writer? Without question. Ask anyone who has been on the receiving end of one of my edits, and they will tell you I am a bear about the nuances of the English language, of historical accuracy and material culture, of the necessity of good grammar and spelling. And in all of that I find myself craving a well-crafted plot, with a tight story arc. In seeking these requirements in the work I read, and in the work I edit and publish, I find myself continually questioning every word, every phrase, every aspect of the way my own story unfolds. Whose voice is this? What is their raison d’être? How do they interact with their environment, with the people and creatures around them? To borrow a phrase from Den Valdron: how do they live? And moreover, what are their justifications?

Would I change this journey if I had it to do again? Not sure. Don’t think so. Because every occurrence had a lesson, taught me something, either directly about writing, or about life which is sort of the same thing because all of life is reflected in art.

What’s next? More of the same. It works. Or rather I make it work.

Lorina Stephens has worked as editor, freelance journalist for national and regional print media, is author of eight books both fiction and non-fiction, been a festival organizer, publicist, lectures on many topics from historical textiles and domestic technologies, to publishing and writing, teaches, and continues to work as a writer, artist, and publisher at Five Rivers Publishing.

She has had several short fiction pieces published in Canada’s acclaimed magazine Postscripts to Darkness, Neo-Opsis, Deluge, Strangers Among Us, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s fantasy anthology Sword & Sorceress X.

Her book credits include:

  • The Rose Guardian, Five Rivers Publishing, 2019
  • Caliban, Five Rivers Publishing, 2018
  • Stonehouse Cooks, Five Rivers Publishing, 2011
  • From Mountains of Ice, Five Rivers Publishing, 2009
  • And the Angels Sang, Five Rivers Publishing, 2008
  • Shadow Song, Five Rivers Publishing, 2008
  • Recipes of a Dumb Housewife, Lulu Publishing 2007
  • Credit River Valley, Boston Mills Press 1994
  • Touring the Giant’s Rib: A Guide to the Niagara Escarpment; Boston Mills Press 1993

Lorina Stephens is presently working on a new novel, Hekja’s Lament. She lives with her husband of four decades in a historic stone house in Neustadt, Ontario. You can find her at lorinastephens.com, Facebook, and Twitter @LorinaStephens.

 

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Book Review: The Steel Seraglio

seraglio, Arabian Nights, Mike Carey, Louise Carey, Linda Carey, historical fantasy

Available through ChiZine Publications and Amazon.

The Steel Seraglio is published by ChiZine Publications and written by  Louise Carey, Linda Carey and Mike Carey. The Careys ( mother, father and daughter) wrote the book together. Some people may be wondering what a seraglio is as it’s not a common word anymore. It is a harem or the palace of a sultan and well defines both the context and the characters of this book.

I cannot say how wonderful this book is. It is a world of wonderful. It is the djinni uncapped. It truly is the stuff of which dreams are made. If you combined the Arabian Nights and the Canterbury Tales, shook them with a pinch of magic in a djinni bottle, you would come close to the depth and breadth and breathlessness of this novel.  The Steel Seraglio tells the tale of a sultan’s harem, jeopardized when the sultan is overthrown and they are sent into exile, but amongst them is a surviving son of the sultan and the fanatical new sultan’s wrath descends upon them.

Like the Arabian Nights, there are tales within tales here, where a character in the book tells a story of their past or a fantastical mirage to save their necks. These concubines (a year’s worth), though in an ancient and mystical time of Middle Eastern romanticism and attitude, are not just victims and chattels to be owned by men, though many try. They survive by wiles and wits, compassion and passion, and by ruthlessness when needed. Like a seraglio that holds the concubines for one man, this book is a harem of stories woven together to create a society and a history.

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The Steel Seraglio has some interior art by Nimit Malavia.

It is lush and loving, horrific and petty, political and fanatical, mysterious and methodical. Each character, from the wise Gursoon and opinionated Imtisar, from the assassin Zuleika and the scribe-librarian with prescient vision Rem, from the flawed Jamal and rogue Anwar Das, all of these and more become real people, their personalities distinct and human. There are a pastiche of characters and even Stephen King would marvel at the mastery, and Dickens would weep. Some of the people have short roles within the tale but the journey of the City of Women moves through time and place, showing what a community (and a seraglio of once chattels) can become.

These women are strong, brilliant fighters. The moral undercurrent  is  not just a fairy tale of old. For at the very core of The Steel Seraglio is the rights of women to be treated as equals and not be used only as baby machines and whores. Lest someone think this is preaching against certain right-wing movements only in the Mid-East, it rings as true for people anywhere, where men try to lessen women and blame the world’s evils upon them. And if you think that’s farfetched, don’t forget we had a presidential candidate just saythat if a woman is “legitimately raped” her body has a way of shutting out such things and that children are never born of rape. Ignorance and fear still rule and are shown here in different ways by a fanatic psychopath who gains a following, and a disenfranchised dilettante.

The Careys are masterful in their telling, coming up with some brilliant solutions to the problems of survival that the seraglio faces. That each of them (writers in their own right) write different parts that still fit seamlessly together, speaks of a true piece of art. The tales in the book blend recipes with comments, council notes, mythic tales, journal entries, narratives and introspections. In some ways it reminded me of Ursula LeGuin’s Always Coming Home, which is  a blend of songs and tales and myths, a gathering of a culture’s ways so that you could read the book in any order. You could read certain chapters in this book and have a complete short story, but there is the tapestry that is formed from the sum of these tales.

I loved this book so much that I took my time reading it so that I could savor it, not wanting it to end, yet it has a perfect ending. The tone changes in the second part, the Book the Second. In the first, it is the struggle and the solidification of Bessan society, where they reach their pinnacle of art and politics, respect and peace. The second book deals with the unmaking of the city and the forces that cause it to change, for like any great civilization, it too has a lifespan. The great Roman Empire crumbled as did ancient Sumer, and the Celtic nations. So too must Bessa move along this path, bringing a poignancy and yet a well-earned place in the great history of the world.

These tales were accessible, enjoyable and made me both think and wonder at what they encompassed. The Careys should be well-please with this magnificent pastiche. Add this one to someone’s stocking for the holidays. I would have to uncork ten bottles and say this is worthy of ten djinnis out of ten.

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