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Ilana C. Myer

Fiction and Excerpts [1]
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Fiction and Excerpts [1]

The Great Classic Fantasy Reread: “The Snow Queen” by Patricia McKillip

In this series, Ilana C. Myer is revisiting the fantasy classics that first shaped her love of the genre, and evaluating them with new eyes. Sometimes the best way to comprehend the nature of a journey, when you’re in the middle, is to look back to its beginning…

Once upon a time, in a metropolis in deep winter, a girl had her heart broken. She gathered her things from a high-end rental overlooking Times Square into a wheelie suitcase. She took the subway back to the basement apartment she shared with two other women, looked ahead to a plethora of winter days, and wondered how to go on. That was when she discovered a short story, “The Snow Queen” by Patricia McKillip. The girl was saved for another day. One day followed the next. And the winter did pass—eventually.

So I admit that when I first discovered this short story about heartbreak, self-reliance, and healing, I was probably its ideal audience. I came across it in Snow White, Blood Red, an anthology of fairy tale retellings edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. Returning again more than a decade later and in quite a different frame of mind, I was wondering how it would hold up to scrutiny. It turns out, so many lines and phrases stuck in my head down the years, not only due to emotional resonance but because the story is exquisite, luminous and delicate as the tracery of ice filaments on a windowpane. Masterful rhythms make it into a prose poem, laced with knife-edge wit and psychological insights. Take for example the Snow Queen’s assessment of a girl’s face: “How sweet, Neva thought, to have kept that expression, like one’s first kiss treasured in tissue paper.”

[Enter Gerda and Kay…]

The Great Classic Fantasy Reread: The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin

In this series, Ilana C. Myer is revisiting the fantasy classics that first shaped her love of the genre, and evaluating them with new eyes. Sometimes the best way to comprehend the nature of a journey, when you’re in the middle, is to look back to its beginning…

This is an extraordinary book. It feels too obvious to say that: there are few positions one might take at lesser risk than one of praise for Ursula Le Guin. But sometimes the works most widely praised are the least talked about for what they actually do. The Tombs of Atuan captures the essence of great fantasy in a way few other works of fantasy can ever hope to match. If the purpose of fantasy is to explore the interior—the inner space of the human soul—no one has done this with greater effectiveness than Le Guin does in this novel.

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The Great Classic Fantasy Reread: Child of Saturn by Teresa Edgerton

In this series, Ilana C. Myer is revisiting the fantasy classics that first shaped her love of the genre, and evaluating them with new eyes. Sometimes the best way to comprehend the nature of a journey, when you’re in the middle, is to look back to its beginning…

When it comes to judging classic works, sometimes context is everything. It reminds me of when the Baz Luhrman film of The Great Gatsby came out and it became customary to deride the novel as old-fashioned, flawed, and politically wrong. Gatsby is, in fact, a stunningly written novel that is a product of its particular time and milieu, and not an especially egregious one at that. One need not compromise on the moral equivalent to one’s firstborn child to appreciate what the book has to offer while recognizing that politically, our society has changed since the 1920s. One can be critical without discarding a work as artistically worthless.

We run into similar issues when it comes to fantasy that is now considered old-fashioned, and Teresa Edgerton’s Child of Saturn is classic fantasy that would probably arouse critical reactions today.

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Magic and Espionage in the Streets of Prague: The Witch Who Came in From the Cold

The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, the latest offering of serialized fiction from Serial Box, has a variety of magical ingredients working in its favor. First there is the subject matter, which consists of magic and espionage amid the political tensions of 1970’s Prague. Then there is the assemblage of A-list authors collaborating for the project: Lindsay Smith (Sekret), Max Gladstone (Last First Snow), Cassandra R. Clarke (Our Lady of the Ice), Ian Tregillis (Something More Than Night), and a guest appearance from Michael Swanwick (Chasing the Phoenix).

This review is of the first three episodes, and in these a world is being built up in its particular shades of character, spy maneuvers, and magical laws.

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The Great Classic Fantasy Reread: The Hero and Crown by Robin McKinley

This year I decided to conduct an experiment, and like most experiments it’s a bit dangerous. I’ll be going back to the fantasies that first shaped my love of the genre, that I got lost in when very young, and evaluating them with new (yes, older) eyes. I’m doing this in part because I want to understand how these books captivated me. But there’s another, less critical element at work: I’ve in recent years become immersed in non-fantasy fiction and nonfiction, and doing that, it’s easy to forget what made me fall in love with fantasy in the first place. This is true even as I’m as involved in the genre as anyone can be, with one fantasy book out and another on the way. Sometimes the best way to comprehend the nature of a journey, when you’re in the middle, is to look back to its beginning.

The danger is that I’ll inevitably see problems that I didn’t see when I was just starting on the writing road. There’s a temptation to let the works stay limned with nostalgia. A corollary to this new clarity is that I’m now in a better position to appreciate the authors’ strengths, the things they get right.

So this begins what I hope will be a monthly column, and first up is what was a huge favorite and inspiration, Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. It wasn’t easy to choose which of her books to use for this experiment—I might love The Outlaws of Sherwood even more. But Hero was the first McKinley book I read, and I fell into it headfirst, re-reading it for years after to absorb its beautiful language and intangible magic.

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Music Inspired by Last Song Before Night

In the fantasies I love best, magic is ultimately a mystery—and I believe the same is true of art. We can talk about the experiences that informed the work, what we were thinking or the emotional struggles we were dealing with at the time, but in my view these explanations tend to be partial at best. I think we may as well try to explain magic as trace where many of our ideas, sentences, or characters come from.

With that said, experiences certainly figure into the shaping of an artist’s work. Another element, just as important as our experiences, is the art of other people. Part of the reason I wrote about classic books from childhood is because these are part of what went into making me the writer I am today, however invisible and seamless the effects might be.

[And now I’ve had a chance to be on the other side of that equation.]

Writers — You Must Finish Your Book!

My first book, an epic fantasy, is about to be published by Tor. Getting to that publication date—September 29th, 2015—has taken nearly all the years I’ve been alive and more work than I could have imagined, starting out. There will always be stories of authors who at a blazingly young age produced a novel at speed which went on to be published, but that is not my story. My story is of a book first sketched in a yellow legal pad during half-hour lunch breaks at an administrative assistant job in the Empire State Building. I sat in Starbucks and scribbled. I began with the image of a woman, psychically wounded, fleeing through a forest in winter. Poets and art were to be the center. It went from there.

It took seven years.

[Neil Gaiman is right.]

Four Classic Children’s Books That Are Pure Magic

When fantasy readers talk about how we got our start, the same names tend to crop up again and again—J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, L. Frank Baum. But while these might be a common denominator for most of us, I can think of many other books that ignited what would become my lifelong love of fantasy. Surprisingly, not all of them are fantasy, but carry that seed of mystery and the unknown that is the essence of magic. I am sure each person has an individual road map of their path to magic—here is mine.

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Last Song Before Night

Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings—a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression—from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, and Eivar’s connection to the Otherworld from which all enchantment flowed, broken.

The Red Death’s return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: galvanized by Valanir Ocune, greatest Seer of the age, Lin and several others set out to reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld-a quest that will test their deepest desires, imperil their lives, and decide the future.

Read an extended excerpt from Ilana C. Myer’s high fantasy novel Last Song Before Night—available September 29th from Tor Books!

[Read an excerpt]

Oh No, She Didn’t: The Strong Female Character, Deconstructed

They should kick ass but have other talents; they shouldn’t necessarily kick ass because that’s been done to death; they should have agency; they should move the plot forward; they should be assertive but not obnoxious; they should hold positions of power; they shouldn’t be raped or die to give the hero incentive for his quest.

There’s been a lot of talk lately in the science fiction and fantasy community about “strong” female characters, with various authors weighing in about how to write them, what they are, and why the term is flawed in the first place. There are discussions of deadly tropes and how to avoid them. This is all fine, and I agree with the points made for the most part; the last thing we need is a rehash of eyerollingly blatant male fantasies. But with all the focus on writing techniques on the one hand, and political imperatives on the other, I wonder if we’re not losing sight of the big picture.

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