Previously published in the program book of Arisia
FADE IN on Characters' Locker Room #70-2418-ML. It's a large gray concrete room with banks of dark-green lockers and wooden benches; there's an open area in front furnished with a couple of round pink or gray melmac tables, some plastic chairs, and vending machines for coffee and snacks. On the tables are rumpled stacks of trade periodicals for Characters: Hero & Heroine, Plot Thickener, Archetype and Booked! A Handsome Golden-Haired Hero is sitting at the table reading Archetype, moving his strongly-chiseled lips slightly as he reads. A Noble Sword of High Lineage is propped at his side. A Handsome Vagabond is getting really bad coffee from one of the vending machines. At another table a Western Sheriff, a white-haired vampire, a black Hero-King, and an Unpreposessing Female Wizard are playing pinochle.
ENTER Handsome Dark-Haired Hero through the door from the hallway, looking around him uncertainly.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero — Is this the place for the Hambly interview?
Handsome Vagabond — Three doors down the hall.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero (at the same time) — It is indeed, my young friend.
Handsome Vagabond (annoyed) — Whoo, you're that sure you'll ace the competition, Goldilocks? (to Handsome Dark-Haired Hero, as he comes over to the table with his coffee) Yeah, this's it. I don't usually do fantasy, but after that last romance I was in, I had to take a break. And I hear through the grapevine Hambly's fantasies are sort of off-beat, so I thought I'd try one.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero looks disapprovingly down his nose at Handsome Vagabond; Handsome Golden-Haired Hero frowns.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero — Off-beat? Surely the ideal of Heroism does not alter. Why read, or write, tales of high fantasy — and my agent assures me that Sisters of the Raven will be high fantasy — save to observe Heroism in action? Is that not what all fantasy is about?
Western Sheriff (sorting his cards) — You'd be surprised.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero (grandly) — Little surprises me; I am ready for whatever transpires.
The door opens again, ENTER a Chubby Overdressed Fop in an extremely elegant mauve velvet Edwardian suit and lace ruffles.
Handsome Vagabond (in an undertone) — Bet you're not ready for that.
Overdressed Fop — Is this the Hambly fantasy interview?
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero — It is, my friend, but the position advertised for was, Hero. Sidekicks, Villains, and Comic Relief are next week, I believe.
Overdressed Fop (regarding Handsome Golden-Haired Hero through a quizzing-glass) — My dear sir, surely it is possible to combine true heroism with Comic Relief? Just because a gentleman dresses with a certain #lan doesn't mean he's incapable of dealing with a dragon... though not, I trust, before breakfast.
Handsome Vagabond rolls his eyes.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero (to the card-players) — Have you worked for Hambly before?
Western Sheriff — Some of us have. (To Overdressed Fop) You were in one of those Victorian action-adventure things she wrote in college, weren't you, Charles? Your name was Charles in it, wasn't it?
Overdressed Fop — I was indeed — unpublished, alas. That was back when she was writing westerns about you and your wife... I trust Lydia is well?... (to black Hero-King) and about you, too, Benjamin, if I recall rightly.
Handsome Vagabond — Does she have hot babes in her stories?
Western Sheriff (smiling) — Depends on what you mean by 'hot.' I understand this tale involves large numbers of houris and concubines.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero (condescending) — I presume the young ladies in question are enslaved by the villain, and I... or one of you other gentlemen (he doesn't sound like he really believes this) ... will rescue them. I performed similar feats in novels by....
Handsome Vagabond — Well, they better be slavishly grateful, that's all I got to say. Three or four at a time, if possible.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero — More to the point, I think, I should ask whether she's the sort of author who will require the hero to die in order to achieve the quest.
Handsome Vagabond (who clearly hadn't thought of that) — Oh, shit.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero (heroically) — Such a question should never cross the mind of a true hero. We quest for right and for glory, no matter what the cost.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero — To ourselves, or to others?
Black Hero-King — To answer your question, she doesn't kill off her heroes, but you might want to make sure what the setting of the book will be. She has a habit of putting characters or archetypes from one type of story into another, and it can get disconcerting.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero — A hero is a hero, and will perform deeds of heroism, no matter what the circumstances.
Black Hero-King (thoughtfully) — Well, he'll certainly try.
Overdressed Fop — Heroism is all very well, but what I want to know is....
Door opens and AUTHOR ENTERS. She is a short, stoutish middle-aged lady with curly blonde hair and glasses.
Author — Hi, guys... Charles! What the hell are you doing here? Are you trying out for Hero?
Overdressed Fop (gallantly) — I will try out for whatever role will permit me to work with you again, my dear. (Kisses her hand) But I did want to ask... Will the Hero get a lunch-break? Or a chance to take a bath and change clothes?
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero (shocked again) — A Hero must stand prepared to bear any hardship!
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero — I certainly always am. That's a ridiculous question.
Overdressed Fop — I beg your pardon! Fantasies are notorious for non-stop questing and orc-chopping and climbing mountains of fire without even a sandwich in one's pockets. You all saw what Aragorn son of Arathorn looked like two-thirds of the way through Lord of the Rings! I am quite prepared to bear whatever hardships are required, but I really would rather they alternate with hot baths and tea-cakes, if possible.
Author — There will be plenty of hot baths and tea-cakes, I promise.
Handsome Vagabond — And luscious babes?
Author — Regiments of them. I have just a couple of questions for each of you, but I promise you all, whoever best fits the current fantasy, I'm always working on something. I'll keep your names. Now, just as a question: What do you think of magic weapons?
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero — I am versed in the use of all manner of magic weapons. I prefer the sword — the true weapon of the hero (he lovingly strokes the hilts of his Noble Sword) — but I have used magic helms, daggers, lances, shields, and rings as well. They present me no problem.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero (slowly) — I think that depends largely on whether the weapon's magic works for good or ill. Should I, as hero, find myself in possession of a weapon whose magic will bring evil, I think I would have to find other means of combating the Foe.
Overdressed Fop — And what if one doesn't know whether the effect of the weapon's magic is good or evil? Or what it's effect will be at all? I've frequently wondered why it always has to be a sword or a shield. One never hears of magic coffee-spoons, for instance, or magic shoelaces.
Handsome Vagabond — Just give me my magic .357 Magnum and I'm happy as a clam.
Overdressed Fop — Which particular clam did you have in mind?
Author — Very interesting. Second question: What about family? Do you want one in the story?
Handsome Vagabond — Nah. Too much hassle.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero (gravely) — A true hero is a man alone.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero — If you'll excuse me for saying so, m'am... I'd rather not have one if they'll be killed off in the course of the story, simply to prove how evil the villain is.
Overdressed Fop — And I'd rather not have one if they have the slightest effect on the course of the story. Why do all Heroes have sisters who just happen to have exactly the right magical power for defeating the Foe, or scholarly uncles whose researches co-incidentally target the single unguarded exhaust-port on the Death Star? I'd much rather they raise Pekingese or have affairs with the footmen and do the things normal families do that really don't affect things one way or the other except to drive us crazy.
Author — I'll take what you say into consideration. And lastly: Why are you a Hero?
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero — What kind of a question is that? I am a Hero because a Hero is what I am. The quest for glory, the striving for excellence, is a part of the Hero's nature, an inborn thing.
Handsome Vagabond — Besides, the Hero has the best chance of getting laid of anybody in the book.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero — Because all tales need a hero, an example of the choices that a man must make, to fight the Foe.
Overdressed Fop — You know, my dear, I think I've reconsidered. Might I interview for Hero's Disgraceful Uncle instead? I suspect I'm more cut out to be a Complete Disgrace to the Family than to be a Hero.
Author — I'm sure you're right... Which is the reason you get to be the hero. You'll have to lose the mauve velvet suit, though. The story takes place in the desert. I'll get you up in golden silk and a matching set of topazes, and since you're the King you'll get a valet as well.
Overdressed Fop — Done... though I'll probably regret it.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero — I can't believe you're actually making this... this custard the hero of a major high fantasy! Where is the glory in that? Where is the honor, the sacrifice?
Overdressed Fop (quietly) — I suspect that's something we're all going to find out.
Handsome Golden-Haired Hero — I shall speak to my agent about this! (Picks up his Noble Sword of High Lineage and EXITS in huff).
Author — I do have an opening for Captain of the Guard.
Handsome Vagabond — Does he get laid?
Author — 'Fraid not.
Handsome Vagabond — Thanks but no thanks, honey. Here's my card, though. Keep me in mind. (EXITS)
Author looks enquiringly at Handsome Dark-Haired Hero.
Handsome Dark-Haired Hero (slowly) — Captain of the Guard wasn't what I had in mind — I did train as a Hero — but though this book of yours sounds like a complete disgrace, I will come in because it sounds like the rest of the cast is going to need a Hero of some kind before it's through.
Author — Pleased to have you aboard. Wear lots of sun-block.
Overdressed Fop kisses her hand and EXITS; Handsome Dark-Haired Hero bows rather stiffly, EXITS also. Author goes over to the card-players.
Unpreposessing Female Wizard (who is about eighteen) — That's the Captain of the Guards I get to fall in love with?
Author (reassuringly) — It'll all work out, I promise you.
People have frequently asked me about my research for my nineteenth-century murder mysteries (A Free Man of Color and its sequels); less frequently, about research for my fantasy novels. I have the impression that just because a book involves magic, many readers think I make the whole thing up. In fact, like fantasy illustrators, I discovered early that if everything else in the picture is absolutely true to life, the viewer (or reader) will believe in the central non-real feature as well.
Sisters of the Raven is a fantasy set in a desert world, something I've wanted to write for a long time. My earliest childhood memories are of the Mojave Desert: there's something about that hot stillness that has never left my consciousness, a clean and sinister magic unlike the Celtic and medieval paradigms I have used in other works. But the desert I live in now has been irrigated and cultivated for more than a century; to write about the desert, I had to flesh out my memories with research about plants and animals, wind and weather, what various deserts of the world look like and how the people who live in them adjust to that harsh environment.
When I build any fantasy world, I take a template from history: the civilization of the Sun Wolf novels is loosely based on Renaissance Italy (they have window-glass and banking); that of the Windrose Chronicles, on eighteenth-century Europe and nineteenth-century Russia. In writing Sisters, I looked back to Pharoanic Egypt, with some of the social mechanisms of Aztec Mexico, always intermingled with the question: "What would society be like if it was A FACT, known to everyone for centuries, that magic could only be worked by certain men? That there had never been a woman who could work magic?"
Because of course there's no reason why the people in a story should understand what magic is and how it works, any more than we understand what sleep actually IS.
To me, research is never just a matter of books. If I'm writing about a real place, if possible I go there. (Good thing, too - after writing a chase scene through the back alleys of the old part of Vienna I visited that city and discovered that the old part of town HAS no alleys). Years of hanging around with historical re-creationists has given me a sense of what it's like to wear certain types of clothing, of what you can and can't easily do wearing a corset, or a cloak, or five or six petticoats, or a veil. I've tried to learn to use at least some of the different weapons I describe, and have ridden enough to know that it's not something you can just hop on and do. (The one time I was horse-dragged I did know enough to hold onto the reins, so you do learn SOMETHING from reading Westerns).
One of the facts about being a writer is that you learn that no experience is ever wasted, not even the really terrible ones. It all ends up somewhere. When I was swarmed by mosquitoes (and I mean attacked in such numbers that it was literally like I was wearing a fuzzy brown coat) and had to throw myself into the Gulf of Mexico to get rid of them (we won't even talk about what I looked and felt like the next day), even before I waded ashore I was thinking, "Hmmn& that's going to happen to SOMEBODY." Fortunately, my heroes and heroines are all braver and tougher than I am.