Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Zettel’

Sarah Chats LIVE with Readers

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Heads up!  I will be LIVE at the Writer’s Chatroom this Sunday, Feb. 21 from 7pm to 9pm EST.  I’ll be talking about pseudonyms (I have lots), genre writing, good books, bad books, more books, and anything else you guys can think to ask.  Hope to see you there!

Did it Really…?

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George IIDid somebody really try to kill George II when he was still Prince of Wales?

George II gets overlooked a lot as a do-nothing king, but when he was a prince, he and Princess Caroline were both very popular.  With most people.  Most of the time.  There was this once though…


“Towards the end of September 1716 he made a progress from Hampton Court to Portsmouth, distributing largess copiously all the way, held a review of the troops and inspected the ships at Portsmouth, and was everywhere received with the utmost enthusiasm. He increased his popularity by his energy in superintending the suppression of a fire at Spring Gardens on 3 December, to which he walked from St. James’s Palace in the early morning. He displayed great coolness a few days later at Drury Lane Theatre, when an assassin attempted to enter his box with a loaded pistol, and was only secured after taking the life of the guard in attendance.”

— Dr. Marjorie Bloy, “A Web of English History” quoting James McMullen Rugg, 1889 —


Cover Preview!

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We are delighted to announce we have an exclusive preview of the cover for Assassin’s Masque, being the latest volume in the wholly true and entirely remarkable adventures of Margaret Preston Fitzroy, maid of honor, card-sharp, house-breaker, forger, thief of private correspondence, sometime conspiariator and confidential agent in the Court of His Majesty George I of England!

Assassin's Masque Cover


Who’s Real?

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Mary BellendenYes, “Careless” Mary Bellenden’s is real too.  As annoying as it is to have a Molly and a Mary to keep straight, there wasn’t a lot I could do about it.  Mary apparently regularly stole the show with her appearance, and her behavior.  She certainly had the eye of the gentlemen poets of the day


Now to my heart the glance of Howard flies ;

Now Harvey, fair of face, I mark full well.

With thee, youth’s youngest daughter, Sweet Lepell,

I see two lovely sisters hand in hand,

The fair-haired Martha, and Teresa brown Madge Bellenden, the tallest of the land ;

And smiling Mary, soft and fair as down.

Epistle to- Mr. Pope by Gay.

Maleficent at 47

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You read that up there about the spoilers right?  Right.  Okay.

I saw the original Disney Sleeping Beauty in the movie theater.  I was 9.  Disney was doing one of it’s periodic re-releases of its classic animated features, and Mom took me as a reward for having memorized my multiplication tables  up to 6.  I never saw the ending (at least in the theater), because Mom also had to haul me out of the theater because when Maleficent turned into the dragon I started screaming in terror.

So, me and that bad fairy, we got history.

I took my son to see Maleficent this weekend, just in case one of us needed a hand to hold.  I’m 47 now, he’s 12.  He loved it and didn’t scream once, although he did hide his eyes a couple times.  Me?  I was deeply interested in what I was seeing.

It was a Disney production all the way, which meant it looked spectacular and plot-wise was about as subtle as a gold-plated brick upside the head.  I epxected that.  What I did not expect was to see a movie that would not have been made 20 years ago, possibly not even 10, DEFINITELY not when I was 9.  And I am not talking about the special effects, which were massively impressive.  Or the fact that I finally saw a Fairyland that really convinced me (God, I hope Brian Froud got royalties for those little guys).  I’m talking about the character arc for Maleficent herself.

Here we had a powerful woman, she is stated to be THE most powerful fairy of her time.  She’s is the protector for her people.  She’s good at it.  She is betrayed and she gets angry, fully, completely, furiously, vengefully, angry, and because of her anger, she makes a mistake.  A biggie.  She realizes it, eventually, and works to correct it.

Now, here’s the amazing part.  She does correct it.  She fixes her mistake and she regains all her powers.  She is not in the end damaged, weakened, chastened or dead, the traditional choice of movie fates for a powerful woman who has realized she has made a mistake.   She is never once lectured by a man (okay, maybe a little by her servant).  When she chooses to forgive the bad guy, it’s after she’s regained her powers and she knows herself to be strong and him to be weak and pathetic (he dies anyway because he can’t walk away from the fight, and I’m okay with that).  She is not rescued by a man, but by the other female lead and because she’s strong enough to hold out in the fight (and it’s a nasty fight) long enough for help to arrive.

She’s a mother figure who is competent at mothering, and yet does not have to die to save the child.  I was really afraid of that, because that’s what happens to strong mother figures in genre media.  They die for their kids.  She didn’t have to die.  She didn’t even have to live crippled.

Here’s the other reason I was afraid M. was going to end up dead or severely weakened at the end.  There’s a scene which is clearly a stand in for a date rape during which M. is drugged and has her wings cut off.  Now, in classic lit and a whole whopping great load of movies what happens when a woman is raped, or lets herself get seduced by the wrong guy, or falls for a guy who later trades his affections for someone else, or otherwise makes a mistake involving sex and/or love is she dies.  Maybe she lives for awhile weakened, and chastened in saintly retreat, but mostly she dies.  She doesn’t heal.  She certainly doesn’t come out on the other side with her full strength back, ready and able to not only face the world but love again.

Maleficent does.

This is new.  This is huge.  Not because it hasn’t been done elsewhere, but because it’s Disney doing it.  EVERYTHING The Mouse does is safe.  It’s audience tested to hell and gone.  It is calculated NOT to offend.  So when Disney thinks its okay to subvert the images of women with power, to show a full-blown traditional hero’s arc from anger to mistake to triumphant return to power, we know there’s been a real change.

This is also the second Disney Blockbuster in rapid succession (the other being Frozen) where it is acknowledged that the affection women have for each other (mother-stand-in/daughter in this case) is as strong, as real, as “true” as heterosexual love between men and women.  This is also new and huge in a medium that is still not comfortable with showing two women on screen at the same time having a conversation about something other than a white guy, or having an unequal power relationship that does not involve one of them being a stone-cold bitch who needs to be humiliated before then end.

Now, this was not a flawless movie.  As far as the writing went, it was a finely crafted piece of Swiss Cheese.  The 3 Pixies were a huge disappointment.  One of the things I loved about the original was those goofy little fairies when it came down to it were extremely powerful (turn a whole rain of missels into flowers?  No problem.  We got this.)  But in this they were just limp really limp comic relief.  And the king really needed to fire whoever was in charge of the spinning wheel destruction committee.  Also, I had to tell myself firmly that traditionally, fairies do not play well with each other, which might explain why none of them got together and said “Uh?  Mal?  You’ve been acting a little strange lately, anything you want to talk about?”

Still, I submit that in terms of shifts in the image of women and power, of whether women are worthy to hold and wield power even if they make mistakes, of the RIGHT of women to hold power, this movie, along with Frozen mark a significant pop-culture moment.

Plus, those wings?  Seriously, astoundingly kick-butt.

That Old Time Feeling

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fireworksWriting is, by necessity, a profession of emotions.  Emotions are at the heart of character, and character is at the heart of story.  And at the heart of the human brain is a quirk that by describing a feeling, you invoke it in yourself.  So, there’s no part of writing a novel that is not going to put the writer on an emotional roller coaster.  And people wonder why we tend to drink so much…

But there are other ways that the work itself gets emotionally involving.  One comes at the very beginning.  There is a moment when that first scene, that first bit of dialogue or description just sort of…shows up.  Of course, it doesn’t come from nowhere.  It’s the result of a long process of mental and emotional synthesis that’s been going on, partly in the conscious mind, partly in the  unconscious.  But there does come this one moment when your whole brain gets together and says “Yes, this.  This is it.  This is my way into this story, this world, the home of these particular people.”

It’s going to change, of course.  It might be a dead end, but it is the way in and from there you can explore, you can follow your nose and your mental guides.

It is the beginning, and it feels great.

Encounters with the Fantastic — A Fantastic Doll’s House

fairy castle 2Any fantasy author can talk about encounters with the fantastic in the real world.  We’ve all had them, or we wouldn’t write what we do.

Usually, I blame my choice of profession, and subject on the fact I learned to read out of The Wizard of Oz.  But there were other influences.  One of the strongest was, and still is, in Chicago.

My grandparents lived in Chicago, and we used to go visit a couple of times a year.  My mother, who was really hoping to raise pratical minded children who understood the value of hard, practical work, would take us to the Museum of Science and Industry.  She wanted me to be interested in things like the coal mine.  Never worked.  Whenever we went, the only think I wanted to see was the fairy castle.

This thing was amazing.  It’s big, but when I was five it looked ENORMOUS.  It was a toy for an old-time movie star, so it was as detailed and opulent as a Hollywood imagination could conceive.  The glass slippers waiting for Cinderella were hollow.  The books were legible, if you had a magnifying glass.  The paintings on the walls were done by hand.

I was in love with this castle.  I used to make up stories about it.  I bought the souvenir book and poured over the pages.  I think I still have it somewhere.  Probably I saw other things in the museum, but this was the thing I remembered.  This was the glamour and the magic what I fell in love with.

Never have gone down into that coal mine, but I never seem to have quite left that castle.

fairy castle

City Magic

I have a love-hate relationship with “urban fantasy.”

On the one hand, I love cities.  I think they are magic by their nature.  When I was a little kid, we lived in Buffalo, New York.  I could walk, on my own, to school, to ballet class, to the stores (especially Herzog’s Drug Store which had orange creamcicles), to the movie theater (saw Godzilla vs. The Thing at the Granada before I was 8.  Life was good), to Parkside’s Ice Cream (which had peppermint stick ice cream, the only substance known to humanity better than an orange creamcicle).  Okay, at the time, Buffalo was collapsing along with the steel industry, but when you’re a kid you don’t notice these things.

We spent summers at the family property in the country.  Fresh air, hills to climb, a creek to splash around in and fossils to hunt on the rocky banks, big patches of raspberries.  Mom telling me to get outside, which invariably led to me climbing a hill with a book and my lunch so I could sit and read.

Then we moved to Trenton, Michigan, to a street that was like all the other streets around it, that is, it was block after block of houses.  I could walk to school, and home, and past block, after block after block of houses.  Even on your bike, it was forever to anywhere.  It was safe (it was also a complete monoculture), the schools were good.  I was BORED.

So, for me, urban fantasy should have the emphasis on “urban.”  A lot of urban fantasy is about vampires and werewolves and wizards who happen to live in a city.  For me, if you’re going to have magic and magical beings in a city, they, and their magic should be related to the city.  It should grow out of that envirnment.  It should be filled with the mysteries and influences you can only find in the cities, that tumult, confusion and combinations and places that cities possess.  That was one of the things I was aiming for in my Chicago in BAD LUCK GIRL, and the Halfers.

The Halfers are city dwellers.  Some of them are immigrant ghosts and legends, carried by beliefs and dreams to their new world city homes.  Some of them are the result of magic, used and disregarded and left loose on the streets to animate…whatever it finds.  They are creatures of tin and paper, electricity, even iron.  They are not loved, they are not respected.  They are new and they are confusing to some of the older powers that exist in the world, particularly the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts who like things…well-defined.  Pure.  Familiar.  Controlled.

I wanted the Chicago magic to be a chance to explore the contradictions of both the magic and the city.  In modern history, in Chicago History, things are always changing, the new and the strange is always moving in, and the results are frightening, confusing, surprising.


Chicago Magic Piao

Sweet Home Chicago

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From the time I started thinking seriously about the American Fairy books, I was sure Callie and Jack were going to end up in Chicago.  It was, in fact, one of the first things I knew about their story.

Fairies and magic have always been linked to beauty, creativity and glamor.  For a story set in the 1930s, it was easy to take this and run with it so that the Seelie Court — the bright, beautiful, literally glamourous fairy — would gather in and around Hollywood.  Once I realized that the focus for the Unseelie was going to be jazz — wilder, dangerous, villified, any yet profoundly powerful, that made New York city, a natural base of operations for them (yes, jazz has its origins New Orleans, and strong roots in Kansas City and St. Louis, among other places.  Jazz comes at you from all directions).

That made Chicago the middle ground.  A strong city with its own history, it’s own character and characters, filled to the brim with all the tensions and creativity that make America unique.

The Second City also happens to be my first city.  My mother grew up there, my father went to school there.  I joke about their mixed marriage — he was a White Sox fan, she was a Cubs fan.  I visited my grandparents there, spent hours in the Field Museum, saw the Christmas displays in the Marshall Fields windows and ate Frango mints when that was the only place you could get them.  There’s still something about downtown Chicago that feels more comfortable to me than any other city.  It’s still the place where the train tracks meet and the music, the blues, is distinct.  It’s a place where people come looking for work, looking to profit, looking to hide.

It was the only place I could picture Jack and Callie making their stand.

Sweet Home Chicago