In memory: Sir Terry Pratchett

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In the past year and a half, I lost too many loved ones. Today’s news of the very untimely death of Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my all-time favorite authors, made me re-live those losses and cry for a person I barely knew. Or, did I?

My first introduction to Sir Terry’s works was nearly accidental. Back in late nineties, I — at the time an aspiring fantasy author — decided to attend an author’s event at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena, to see a bestselling author with my own eyes. Terry Pratchett.

Waiting for his appearance, I picked up one of his books from a stand, attracted by the promise of witches and elves. I opened it on a random page near the beginning and read one phrase: “You could bounce rocks off her pride.” Those of you familiar with Sir Terry’s Discworld series may recognize the description of young Esme Weatherwax in a passing scene from “Lords and Ladies”. I knew, then and there, that I was going to read this book. Not the best start to his works, since this is probably one of the few Discworld books that cannot be read as a stand-alone, but it was worth it.

When Terry Practhett finally appeared, I was instantly mesmerized. He electrified the room. It didn’t really matter what he said, but just listening to this man, with a great sense of humor, and an amazing command of words, felt fascinating. He told many stories, and the audience just listened, and laughed, and no one wanted to stop. He held a question and answer session at the end, and I asked him about his favorite book in the Discworld series. He seemed surprised by the question, but eventually said that while he would find it difficult to pick a book, he could name his favorite characters, ones that he can relate to the most and write effortlessly about: Captain/Commander Vimes and Granny Weatherwax. These names meant nothing to me then, but I remembered what he said, and it made perfect sense to me once I read his books. These became my favorite characters too.

That day in Vroman’s, I bought a paperback of “Lord and Ladies” and had him sign it. By now, more than fifteen years later, I own a nearly full collection of his books, all in hardcover, most of them with his signature, some of them personalized.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels carried me through the most difficult times in my life. They became my refuge, my guide to what writing should be like. Every new book by Terry Pratchett was a major event to me, I bought them all the moment came out and devoured them right away. I hunted for rare hardcover editions and treasured them, something I don’t typically do. I knew that I was — by far– not the only one.

About ten years after first seeing him in Pasadena, I moved to Philadelphia, and for a while, before my family could follow me, I felt lonely and out of place. And then, I heard that his upcoming tour will include a meeting with his fans at the Free Library of Philadelphia. I came, by then with a sizeable stack of hardcovers, and got them all signed. I also dared to bring a gift — a small jar of caviar, to commemorate Nanny Ogg’s dinner with Casanunda and her “fishy jam”. Terry Pratchett accepted it, even though I felt too shy to articulate adequately why I brought it to him — or, to even tell him how much I enjoyed his work. I spoke to him for all of thirty seconds, but this was the meeting that etched in my memory, one that, among other things, made me feel at home in my new city. He came again the next year, to promote “Thud”, but after that Philadelphia has been omitted from his tours. Still, every time I pass the building where I first spoke to him face-to-face, I feel warm inside.

It is unimaginable to think that he is gone, that there will be no new Discworld novels, that this incredible mind will no longer be at work on the books that brought such joy to so many. To me, his writing transcended genres, blended fantasy and classical literature — and showed to the world that all these traits could be achieved without heavy feelings, grimy details, and deep portrayal of suffering. He loved and understood people like no other, and his books will always remain with me to read and re-read.

In English, when someone dies, they say “Rest in Peace”. In Russian, people wish the deceased to remain a “Bright Memory”, or “Eternal Memory”. We also wish that the earth to him would be lighter than a fluffy bed. I wish him all these things. But even more, I wish this didn’t have to happen, I wish he could live out a normal lifespan and write more books. I knew he was very ill, but the whole thing still seems unfair. It doesn’t make sense.

Books hold a great power. The world without Terry Pratcjett will never be the same.

 

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Celebrate “Read an Ebook Week” with Dragonwell Publishing!

Originally posted on Dragonwell Publishing Blog:

To celebrate “Read an Ebook Week” (March 1-7), Dragonwell Publishing is offering one title for FREE and discounted six others to only $1.50. The deal will run from now until March 7th. Don’t miss it!

Just click on the title to go to the download page, and feel free to spread the word!

“Sorrow” by John Lawson

A historical fantasy/mystery/adventure.

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“Lex Talionis” by R. S. A. Garcia

A fast-paced science fiction thriller with a starred review by Publishers Weekly.
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An award-winning dark fantasy based on Russian fairy tales.

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“Nine Planets” by Greg Byrne

A pre-apocayptic dystopian fantasy, highly critically acclaimed.

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“The Garden at the Roof of the World” by W. B. J. Williams

A medieval romantic quest with spiritual elements.
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An Arthurian tale of chivalry and dark magic.

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SFWA opens doors to small press- and self-published authors

The voting has ended in January, with the striking count of 6:1, in favor of admitting small press- and self-published authors as full members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). These coveted memberships have previously been open only to traditionally published authors with sales to a particular and rather small list of book and magazine publishers.

By the new rules, the list is far more open, and anyone can be considered for membership with one very big stipulation: this person has to earn $3000 or more per single title within a 12 month period. From what I know, this number is fairly steep for most small presses and self-published authors. Still, this is a huge step in the recognition of the current publishing trends.

I have seen many discussions about the exclusiveness of SFWA. Unlike the Romance Writers of America, who accept everyone interested in the genre and willing to pay the membership fee, SFWA membership has been considered a badge of honor by some, and a controversy by others. I know that I was happy to earn my full membership last year when my novels came out from Angry Robot. I also know authors who made a professional sale but chose not to join. And, I cannot help questioning the wisdom of excluding so many potential members from the pool.

SFWA’s value, to me, is primarily in its networking options, even though, being somewhat Internet-challenged, I have not even scratched the surface of what this organization can offer to its members. I guess for a professional network there could be an advantage in exclusivity and in making sure that the people you mingle with represent the top of the field. But this culture of exclusivity also has a flip side, and, in my observation, tends to create an informal rank structure even among the members themselves. At the same time, RWA, to my knowledge, does very well without imposing any restrictions, and I know RWA has been very supportive to all members and great in helping new authors achieve professional publications.

By my calculation, the new SFWA membership rule would benefit less than 1% of self-published authors and very few small presses that could not qualify their authors for membership before. To earn $3000 from a small press, one must sell at least 3,000 print books or a similar number of e-books priced at $2.99 or more within 12 months. Cut the number in half for self publications. To my knowledge, while some authors do earn as much, and more, over time, very few authors outside traditional publishing can report this kind of yearly sales. My prediction is that, based on these estimates, we will see very few people joining SFWA as a part of this change — but in the end, time will tell. I, for one, am happy that this is at least a step in the right direction.

And yes, here is the official text of the announcement. Yay!

http://www.sfwa.org/2015/02/sfwa-welcomes-self-published-small-press-authors/

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Highlights of my 2014 writing life

2014 has been a roller, coaster with so many ups and downs that now that it’s over I cannot help feeling exhausted.

Here are some of the good moments in the year:

First and foremost, the launch of my “Majat Code” series by Angry Robot Books. Yay!

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Despite the many setbacks, including, the initial release of the “Blades of the Old Empire” with a missing key chapter, followed by my editor, Lee Harris, leaving Angry Robot and accepting a job at Tor.com, and finally by the sale of Angry Robot itself to a brand new owner, this has been a thrilling and happy event. And, despite the setbacks, the books have been selling well, and “The Guild of Assassins” had to be reprinted three weeks after publication. Thanks to all my readers and fans!

Another one of my 2014 highlights I couldn’t help feeling excited about (and should have blogged about a long time ago, actually) is summarized in these photos:

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Me. Next to Michael Swanwick. Sharing a panel with Michael, Tom Purdom, and Bernie Mozjes at 2014 Philcon. Yes, sitting next to my favorite author on stage.

The panel revolved around the question of whether science fiction writing could be literary (the consensus, reached by the panelists in the first minute of the hour: Yes, it can. Panel over). After which Bernie and I had a chance to sit back, relax, and listen to Tom’s and Michael’s thoughts.

This was lots of fun. And, I have to say, these are the moments I love the most in attending writers’ conventions — meeting new and established authors face to face and having a chance to chat with them informally about books, writing, and anything at all.

By the Chinese calendar, 2014 has been the year of the Horse. My year. I am told that these are always difficult, if one believes such things. So, I am hoping for an even better 2015. Definitely, one of my New Year resolutions is to do more blogging.

 

 

 

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MISTRESS OF THE SOLSTICE podcast!

This story in itself is amazing. At the 2014 World Fantasy Convention earlier in November, I attended a book release party held by my friend Sally Wiener Grotta for her new novel “Winter Boy”. It was held opposite the art show reception, which means there was actually a possibility to talk to people in the room without having to squeeze through dense crowds.

This is how I met Laurel Anne Hill. We chatted, and the conversation eventually drifted to my books. I had a copy of “Mistress of the Solstice” in my purse, and after Laurel told me she is interested in Russian folklore-based literature, I showed it to her. She opened the book and started reading.

To my amazement, she kept on, beyond the polite first glance one expects on such occasions. When she finally looked up at me, she was smiling.

“I love your prose,” she said. “This first chapter, it just asks to be read out loud. I am going to do a podcast for you!”

I was thrilled. I never had a podcast of my work, and certainly never expected such a reaction to my book from a stranger I just met. To be honest, I half-expected this conversation to be forgotten as soon as I left the room. But only a few days after WFC Laurel contacted me about the pronounciation guides — and then, to my amazement and delight, with a link to the podcast.

Laurel’s reading is beautiful. And there is more, her foreword and afterword, her use of Slavic music in the background. It is lovingly made, with great attention to details, and I enjoyed listening to it very much. I hope you do too:

http://laurelannehill.libsyn.com/-mistress-of-the-solstice-by-anna-kashina-a-reading-by-laurel-anne-hill

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Why do you want to be an author?

I recently attended a meeting of my writing group, which includes a range of authors, from beginners to successful ones. These meetings tend to shift into the format when the beginners ask questions and the established authors share their opinions and experiences. Many of those revolve around a few common topics: “how to overcome my anxiety and actually start my first-ever writing project”, “how to deal with the writer’s block”, and — naturally — “how do I get my work published”.

At this recent meeting, the discussion touched up on another subject: “why do we write in the first place?” or “why do you want to be an author?”. The answers to that ranged, but one piece of information, coming from the established authors in the group, caught my attention. If you write for the purpose of being successful, you are setting yourself up for constant disappointment. In terms of external rewards, a writer’s life never gets easier. First, you struggle with finishing a publishable piece. Then, you struggle with publishing it. After it is published the anxiety starts on whether you will be successful. And then… it just goes on. “So, I got on the New York Times bestsellers list and stayed there for 8 weeks! Yay! But… why 12 weeks? Why not six months?… Will my next book get there? Will it stay as long? Will it sell better than the first?…”

In the end, this discussion reinforced what I have known about myself for a very long time. Yes, sure, I do want to be successful. Probably not as successful as Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, when your whole lifestyle must change to match this success. My measure of success is to be certain every book I write will get published (which means that every previous book should sell enough copies to make this worthwhile). But… this is only a small part of it.

I would never have wanted to be a writer if I did not enjoy the writing itself, more than anything else. In the end, I write for myself, and when I immerse myself in the book I am working on, I am not thinking of success, or of what will become it it once it is finished. My major reward is when the book works exactly as I want it to be. When my prose starts singing on the page, when the characters come alive, when the pictures become dimensional and everything mixes in just the right proportions, I experience a joy that cannot compare to anything else. This is the reason I will never stop writing. This is also the reason why I cannot purposely write something that fits into any external frame. Yes, I do care about the readers’ opinions, I do suffer when I see negative or hostile reviews, and I do get depressed if the sales are not as high as I hoped. But in a bigger sense all these things are secondary.

I love writing (and reading) secondary world fantasy, but even within the genre I am very picky. In addition to loving good stories and good worlds, I am also restrictive to certain things. I cannot take excessive gore or violence. I don’t like depressive themes and massive deaths, especially those of main characters. I read to lose myself in a better reality than my own. All this inevitably seeps into my writing as I try to recreate all my favorite things in my own work.I tried many times to follow the trends and write an urban fantasy (when those were “the thing” a few years ago) or a post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy, or at least a traditional fantasy with a large measure of gore, despair, and violence. It did not work. All these are just not my things. In the end I am happy in the knowledge that I write what I love. For any author, it could not (should not?) be any other way.

 

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Books for all ages

I think of myself as an ageless reader. I love classical children’s books, as well as some of the books written strictly for adults. In fact, in these brackets, age labels always throw me off. I would not consciously pick up a book that is marked “young adult”, and I don’t browse in those sections of the bookstores, yet whenever I accidentally get my hands on one of such books, I usually like them.

Through all these experiences I’ve grown to dislike the age labels. I am perfectly capable of picking up a book and deciding for myself if it is written for my age level or not. I also am the reader who has devoured Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy at the age of fourteen and enjoyed Harry Potter books at the age of thirty. Age boundaries are very personal, and for me they are not necessary at all.

So, why do publishers always market books in an age-specific way? I understand the need to categorize, directing the readers to the appropriate shelves (I guess I should just face it and go to the young adult section more often). I also understand the fact that some books, while suitable for a range of ages in terms of the story and the writing style, may have too much gore and sex to fit onto the young adult shelf. However, I tend to feel that such books rarely become the all-time classics, even if they do sometimes enjoy a period of commercial success. I do read those books from time to time, but I cannot help wondering if it would be better to have a separate shelf for those gory books (just like those shelves reserved for sexy books), and put the rest of the books into the same section marked as “books for all ages”? By the way, even the level of gore and sex appropriate for each age is a very personal decision, and I have seen ranges in those books as well, which makes such placement even more difficult.

For my own books, I feel that I am walking a fine boundary in terms of age-appropriate contents. I sometimes see reviewers comment on my books as young adult that have misleadingly sneaked into the adult marketing scheme. Obviously, these are isolated opinions, given the fact that by now three different publishers have chosen to publish and market my books as adult. But these comments keep me thinking: what makes us create this distinction? Is it the writing style? The level of emotional problems? Or perhaps the detail in which the author is willing to venture into the sex and gory themes?

I still don’t have the best answer, this is why my post contains so many question marks. Yes, there are emotional problems, and the complexity of politics, that probably would not be interesting to a young reader. However, in my observation, this level of complexity loses many adult readers too. And yes, there is a level of gore–and sex that I would not want a child in the early teens to read day to day. But, to me, none of these things seem defining enough. Many adults enjoy “Harry Potter”, and many young teenagers secretly devour “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Among these smeared boundaries, I cannot stop thinking that targeting books to age groups is a relic that was created for the convenience of advertising, and is bound to disappear sooner or later in our digital age.

So, in my virtual bookstore, books would be divided by themes rather than age levels. And everyone would be able to come in and make their own call.

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