Story Time: The Swan Troika

Today’s Story Time is “The Swan Troika,” first published in the February 2011 issue of Realms of Fantasy, and the last story I ever published there as the magazine folded not too long after (October 2011). Almost every writer I know is convinced that there is at least one magazine they are personally responsible for killing, as they published a story in that magazine’s final issue. Yes, we all have big egos, why do you ask? Regardless, that wasn’t its last issue, and RoF published so many of my stories that, if I was the problem, it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did. Magazines, especially print ones, come and go no matter what we do. Most die unmourned, but not all. And some, like Weird Tales and Amazing SF never stay dead forever. Part of me still expects Realms of Fantasy to be resurrected some day, but I won’t hold my breath even as I hope for it to happen. All that aside, I’m pretty sure I’m not responsible. “The Swan Troika” remains one of my favorite stories (accompanied in the original by Ruth Sanderson’s superb illustration), and I’d love to do more like it, if there’s ever a home for them again.

I’d like to give a belated shout out to Ekaterina Sedia for helping me with the Russian naming conventions in this story, which I would have made a complete mess of without her.

Standard Note: “The Swan Troika will remain online until next Wednesday, June 13th. Until then, enjoy.

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This is a Conversation, Not a Speech

Rusalka by Ruth Sanderson

Notice the lovely painting to the left, “Rusalka,” by the amazing artist, Ruth Sanderson. I was reminded of it by a FB post by the writer Theodora Goss, said post being about a different matter altogether (we can discuss serendipity on another day). But I recognized the painting she’d referenced immediately. Partly because I’m fond of Sanderson’s work, but mostly because that very painting was the original illustration for “The Swan Troika,” (Realms of Fantasy, February 2011) my final story in that much missed magazine (Seriously. Show me a current fantasy magazine with the same ecumenical spirit toward the genre that ROF had).  If you’ll look in the left background, the guy in the funny-looking sleigh is Pyotr on his way to his fateful meeting with the rusalka in question.

Ahem. Yes, I’m getting off of the subject. Of which there is one, implied in the blog title. Ursula Le Guin once said something to the effect that a story is just marks on wood pulp (or pixels on a screen) until someone reads it. That reading is an act of creation itself and the story isn’t complete until it’s read. I have no argument with that. We want people to read our work, complete it, create their own inner vision to echo the one in our own heads. It won’t be the same vision, but that’s kind of the point. There aren’t just two sides to every story, there are as many sides as there are readers for that story, and the more the merrier.

Sometimes, though, it goes even beyond that. “Rusalka” exists because I wrote a story and the editors at ROF commissioned an illustration of it. You cannot fathom how pleased I was when I saw its original appearance in ROF. After all, I’m no artist. I could never have created my vision of that scene the way Sanderson did. Instead, she showed me hers. I was and am thrilled.

I will now contrast that with an incident from a writer’s group I was involved with. The Heavenly Fox had just been published and another writer in the group really liked it. So much so, that he announced that he was going to write a Springshadow story of his own, at which point I was forced to stand on his head until the impulse passed. Okay, not literally. But you get the idea. I was not thrilled. A little flattered, sure. But not thrilled.

So why the difference? Well, one is an act of re-creation. The other was copyright infringement. As in any conversation, you know when one party has crossed the line. Granted, it’s a fine line. Or rather a tightrope that we all walk when it comes to what happens to a story once it’s out in the world. In a sense, to send a story out into the world is to cede control of it. Legally it may belong to you, but practically? Things will happen that you didn’t count on. My own opinion goes beyond legalities though. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t care who has the right to continue the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. So far as I’m concerned, that series ended when Douglas Adams died. Sure, I know that’s unrealistic. Knowing that doesn’t change the way I feel.

Yes, reading is a creative act in itself, and stories were designed to be read. That’s kind of the point of them, but another thing they are is a conversation between the writer and reader. It’s an act of communication that, in the right context, creates something grander than the sum of its parts, witness that painting. Experience that a few times and you won’t wonder why we get cranky when someone tries to turn the conversation into a monologue.

A Picture is Worth…

Heavenly Fox - eBook1This weekend I received the preliminary sketch for the cover of To Break the Demon Gate. It promises to be pretty cool. I’d post it here, but first of all I don’t have the rights, and second, the artist would kill me, and rightly so. Like a rough draft, the job of a preliminary sketch is not to be good, but to be done, mainly to show the artist’s concept and whether those in a position to decide (mostly PS) think it’ll work. I do, and said so. If you’ve seen the cover art to The Heavenly Fox, you know the artist, Ben Baldwin. There will also be endpapers, because there will be a separate, signed edition. I wasn’t sure about that, but apparently it’s happening. For the endpapers he’s probably going to do one of my favorite scenes, Lady Snow dancing outside the Gion Shrine. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Which brings me or leaves me at the subject of illustrations. I have to say that I have been very fortunate in my illustrators over the years. I mean, consider the list: Ben Baldwin, Jon Foster, John Berkey, Tiffany Prothero, Steve Fabian, Steven Gilberts, Ruth Sanderson. Heck, my first ever professional story was illustrated by Alicia Austin. And if you’re unfamiliar with any of these, a good Google search will quickly explain how chuffed I am about it all. Granted, the artist’s vision is never going to match your own, but that’s kind of the point. You get to see your work reimagined, and find out what it triggers in another creative perspective. Not everyone gets that chance.