It was a Saturday sometime in August and I was on Queen Street, schlepping home the sandwich we favor for weekend lunch. The weather was glorious, late-summer heat and all the sun you could wish for. Thanks to the particular perversity of the retail ecosystem, one of the clothing boutiques had a fall coat in the window.
Friends, humans, countrymen, this was an exceedingly awesome coat. I don’t remember what it looked like, because… well, I never remember what things look like. But I do remember knowing it would’ve looked flat-out smashing on me. I absolutely believe that if I’d had cute shoes and a dusting of snow in my hair, along with that coat, Dr. Who would have spontaneously a) become real; b) materialized in Toronto; c) offered me a gig as the TARDIS’s first Canadian Companion. Which all things considered wouldn’t have been 100% great. So much danger! All that yelling! Daleks! But I digress.
I didn’t use to have an eye for cute coats or charming frocks, or to be honest much interest. But there it was, adorable as fuck, siren-songing with wooly autumn vigor, in defiance of the heat and humidity, and because I tend to squirrel my spending money away, I could have walked in right then and there and claimed it for my own.
The internal chorus kicked in: Weren’t you kind of thinking about a tattoo?
Well, maybe. Yeah. No. Yeah. Like, okay, but for my next divisible-by-ten birthday?
Which is years off. Are you looking at that fucking coat? OMG, buy it, buy it!
But that artist I saw on Instagram…
On the one hand, she’s not likely to be available before you are. in fact, fifty. On the other, you can save up tattoo money again by 2018.
Such was the power of the coat that the yammering went back and forth for rawther a long while before a louder, deeper and utterly certain voice said: Hey! You are having an amazing year. Celebrate properly, mark the occasion with blood and pain and beauty and screw this BS about waiting for a mere birthday.
Oh! I thought. I am having an amazing year!
By the time I got home, I’d decided to have someone zorch poppies into the flesh of my arm. I was sure enough by then that I actually told Kelly about the coat, which was an act of staggering generosity and considerable risk to the laws of physics, as it would also have looked so mind-bogglingly incredible on my wife that everyone standing within fifty feet of her would probably have become invisible, possibly forever. Unbeknownst to us, the boutique was going broke at pretty much that exact moment… and so it was not to be. You can thank market forces for your continued existence on the visual spectrum.
Anyway. I’ve blogged about all the amazing travel experiences I had in 2016. Those experiences came with so many museums, meals, meetings with loved ones, and marvels! But there has even more this year. Embarrassments of riches. My fifth novel, The Nature of a Pirate–which also represents my first completed and published trilogy–will be out from Tor Books in December. Its predecessor, A Daughter of No Nation, won the Aurora Award. I had not one but three incredible teaching opportunities and hit them all out of the park. I gave a talk on terraforming, “How We Became LV426” at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium this year, an event whose headliner was Margaret Atwood. I co-edited my first anthology, Heiresses of Russ 2016, with Steve Berman. There were so many great things, in fact, that I am probably forgetting four or ten or a dozen more.
Atop it all, I got to watch Kelly’s career blossom, with a spectacular list of stories published that turned into an equally spectacular list of award nominations, Year’s Best selections, translations, kudos, great reviews, and an Aurora Award in the short fiction category for Waters of Versailles.
So! A tattoo to celebrate, courtesy the remarkable Lorena Lorenzo of Blackline Studios on King Street. In the photo above, Chinchilla’s a little bored with the whole concept. I, on the other hand, am delighted with it. I’ll talk about the design, and why poppies, sometime in the not too distant. But as part of the fun I’m also going to interview some writers about their tattoos. The when, the why, the symbolism… well, really, whatever they want to tell you about their ink is up to them. You’ll see Inksplain interviews here at Planetalyx starting this Wednesday with an essay by Emmie Mears. I hope you enjoy them. And if you have any questions about the poppies, the artist, or my amazing 2016, just go ahead and let me know.
I haven’t been writing a lot of reviews for Tor.com lately, but recently I have done a couple, and the newest of these is up now. It’s for Angela Slatter’s first US collection, A Feast of Sorrows, and here’s a bit of what I had to say.
In A Feast of Sorrows, the magic of well-made things is a motif that runs throughout its various tales. The work—baking, sewing, candlemaking, all by talented artisans—has its echo here in the real world in Slatter’s finely wrought paragraphs, and the measured unfolding of each story. There is a sense of the exquisite in the writing here, of plots laid down like pearls on a string.
Here’s the cover–isn’t it beautiful?
2016 has already been a spectacular year for me on so many fronts, the most obvious of which has been travel. Our recent Thanksgiving jaunt to Alberta was the latest in a run of delightful and exciting trips. In truth, Kelly and I have never gone as far or left home as often as we did this year.
Counting up chronologically and by city, here’s the list:
February: Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco. (I was on the A Daughter of No Nation book tour. Kelly, meanwhile, went to Boston for Boskone.)
March: Our London adventure!
(whee, it’s my Big Ben shaped friend!)
May: Chicago (Nebula Awards Banquet.)
August: Kansas City (World Science Fiction Convention.)
September: Ottawa (CanCon) and Los Angeles.
(Snuggle selfie at the Getty Museum)
And now, finally, October: Calgary, Hinton, Jasper (Family Thanksgiving.)
There were also countless short jaunts to conventions like Ad Astra, and readings in Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo. There’ll be one or two more of those, but as the year winds down we’re going to settle into grooving on Toronto and saving up energy and resources for another big delightful thing, scheduled about six months hence. I’ll tell you all about that some other day.
Verdanii is the most powerful of the great nations, and everybody knows, much as they pretend to be a nation of citizen democrats, that the Allmother is the heart and soul of that mighty and often arrogant isle.
To have seen her in the flesh, me, a twelve-year-old from across the sea—it’s so fantastical that I rarely brag of it. Only my mother believes me.
Her head was round and bald and capped in dandelion fluff, a thick slurr of white seed-bearing parasols that whirled off her in every twist of breeze. She was tall, broad-shouldered, generous of hip and bosom, and she moved like a strongman or wrestler. She smelled, ever so slightly, of milk. She bore a harvest-scythe and a small sack of grain in her big hands, and her face carried so much age that the years thrummed around her like the low boom of an elephant drum. My breath caught, to see life in the eyes of one so frighteningly old. It made my chest hurt.
She weighed and dismissed me with a glance, closing on Garland with brisk steps. She tipped up his chin with the scythe—testing his nerve, I thought—and gave him the sort of looking-over you might expect of a buyer in a slave market.
When she’d done, and before she could speak, he bowed, in the manner of an officer of the Fleet. “It would seem superfluous, at this point, to introduce ourselves.”
S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. When she isn’t designing high speed communications systems, raising her daughter, scratching the cats, or enjoying dinner with her husband, she writes. In her past, she’s used a telescope to find Orion’s nebula, scuba dived with manta rays, and climbed to the top of a thousand year old stupa. She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, and she is currently Assistant Editor for Escape Pod. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, including Lightspeed and Daily Science Fiction, and her writing appears in the indie game Rogue Wizards.
Her debut science-fiction novella, Runtime, was released by Tor.com Publications in May, 2016. You can find more online at www.eff-words.com or on Twitter as @divyastweets.
Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess? Who was she?
I have two heroines for this list: Ariane Emory (from CJ Cherryh’s Cyteen) and Elizabeth Bennet (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). I fell in love with them in my early teens – later than the playground years, but I was busy running around at that earlier stage of my life and spent less time with books.
Ariane Emory isn’t someone you hear lauded very often even though Cyteen is Hugo-winning trilogy, maybe because she isn’t always the most likeable person in the room. Elizabeth Bennet, on the other hand, is practically a household name these days, but when I got to know her, she was an obscure character from a “required reading” book that most of my peers seemed to abhor.
Can you remember what it was these women did or what qualities they had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
What drew me to both of these heroines is that they, like me, didn’t fit in with the mainstream. Ariane Emory is the clone of a genius scientist, raised with great privilege and loaded with expectations. She rises to the occasion, but in the process, she learns to embrace her individuality and use her intellect to her advantage. I certainly identified with her adolescent angst and her exclusion from general society – I was a top-of-the-class nerd, intended science major, and never quite fit in, either – and I admired her confidence and ownership of her capabilities. Those were two personality traits I didn’t possess.
Elizabeth Bennet isn’t as far removed from general society as Ariane Emory, but she’s also very intelligent, perceptive, and willing to rebel against the standard model of woman in her times. She’s more interested in the qualities of mind and heart than in fashion or status. She’s quick witted, something I desperately wanted to emulate as a pre-teen, and much like Lizzie, I had no desire to marry for money and social comfort. That may sound bland considering how popular Jane Austen is today, but at the time I read Pride and Prejudice it was my first exposure to the author, to that period and setting, and to the idea that there have always been women who resisted their expected role.
How does they compare to the female characters in your work? Are your heroines the literary ancestors of your characters? What might your creations owe them?
My main character in Runtime, Marmeg Guinto, is certainly a rebel, highly intelligent, and resourceful, so she has parallels to Ariane Emory and Elizabeth Bennet. I don’t think I’m capable of writing a female or non-binary protagonist who embraces traditional/conservative roles. I’m lucky that I came across examples of similar heroines at a formative age.
Unlike the two favorites listed here, my character, Marmeg, does not come from a place of privilege. As a kid, I found it romantic to have women in positions of power who could then exercise their will. That might also be an artifact of the 1980s, when feminism was just starting to hammer away at corporate and political glass ceilings. Today, I’m more interested in how we can empower women who aren’t traditionally seen as heroic.
I’m also more class conscious as an adult, and that informs a lot of my fiction. That’s covered much more in Jane Austen’s books than in CJ Cherryh’s. I love the way Austen uses Lizzie as a lens through which to examine society, and (now that I’m thinking about it) that is definitely something I have to credit as an influence. A couple reviews have said that Runtime is as much a work of social commentary as science fiction, and I take that as a compliment.
Another facet of both heroines, but especially Ariane Emory, is their moral grayness. Both of them are flawed, and that is something that my characters exhibit, too. I believe that our flaws and our moral choices are what make us interesting human beings, so I guess it’s no surprise that my favorites are far from perfect.
Bonus round: How do you feel about the word heroine? When I embarked on these posts, I was specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?
I don’t love gendered nouns, and I’m trying to break the habit of using them, but they can serve a purpose when you’re trying to highlight the treatment of women. For the word heroine specifically, I think it evokes a particular image – that of the Strong Female Character. Saying that a story has a woman or girl as the main character feels different than saying it has a heroine, in part because of the mythos associated with the root concept of a hero. A heroine by association must be active, in control of herself (as much as anyone is), and destined for greatness.
About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like J. Kathleen Cheney, Linda Nagata, and Kay Kenyon. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.