It’s just not fair: the case of Evangeline Walton

It’s bittersweet to read — and read about — gothic novelist Evangeline Walton.  The sweet part has to do with Tachyon Press, that scrappy little Bay Area-based publisher of all things fantasy, receiving a fantastic opportunity to introduce readers to an overlooked work of gothic fiction by Walton (accompanied by an excellent foreword by Paul Di Filippo and an excellent afterword by Douglas A. Anderson).

evangeline waltonThe bitter part has to do with Walton’s publishing circumstances. It’s great that she finally is enjoying posthumous recognition (she died in 1996), but does it have to be posthumous?

My friends, I know that writers shouldn’t be driven to write by their audiences — it’s the inner voice that’s supposed to be the motivation, right? -- but a little recognition, a little connection, is food for any writer’s soul, whether in print or here, in the WordPress universe. It makes you feel good to know that someone is listening. When you feel that way, that feeling informs your work and can make all the difference.

Walton seems to have had very little such nourishment. Di Filippo’s foreword describes her very bruising, painful publishing history, and the brief fame she enjoyed for her Mabinogion Tetralogy — a set of books that some place alongside Tolkien and T.H. White.

“She Walks in Darkness” made the publishing rounds in the 1960s and landed back in the proverbial desk drawer when no one was interested. The book’s a small miracle in prose. A tightly-controlled, first-person narrative of a terrifying experience in a remote Italian villa.

Barbara, the narrator, and her husband Richard are honeymooners. They travel to Tuscany not for a wine-and-sunshine experience like you’ll find in Frances Mayes’ bestsellers, but because Richard is an archeologist eager to study the Etruscan catacombs under the Villa Carenni. The romantic devil.

The patriarch of the Carenni family “believed that the villa had been built over the site of an ancient temple to Mania, Queen of the Underworld....It was the old Etruscan name for the Queen of the Underworld before they began using Greek script names, and identified her with Persephone. Her rites weren’t pretty. Roman records mention the substitution of poppyheads for the kind of offerings she’d received earlier...Little boys’ heads....

Walton-Walks-in-Darkness-coverWhen Richard is injured in a car accident, and lies unconscious, and Barbara believes a murder has escaped from a local prison and is hiding among the buried tombs — or is it Mania herself? -- the story takes off. She doesn’t know what to do. She can’t make a long trek to get help, she can’t leave Richard, not when she’s convinced someone is lurking around the deserted villa. Barbara’s trapped.

Just the sort of book I’d have pounced on when I was reviewing for the paper.

Walton’s compression, her economy is brilliant ... Barbara’s narrative, for instance, moves easily from the horrifying present to the innocence of the previous day in a single tense-shifting paragraph. No bells or whistles. Deftly done.

“The Da Vinci Code’s” Dan Brown also could learn something from her handling of big, historical enigmas. Theories don’t drop into her narrative like big, chunky encyclopedia entries — at one point, Barbara’s reading of a discovered notebook seamlessly gives us a theory of the true identity of the Etruscans, who originated in a place called Tyrrha:

Did not Plato say that Atlanteans once occupied the Tyrrhene coast? Whether the place that in his Greek foolishness he called Atlantis lies beneath the sea, or—as is more likely—beneath the sands of the Sahara, that land was the cradle-land, the birthplace of all the arts of man. The birthplace of the Rasenna [Etruscans].

The book reflects its time period — the 1950s — in Barbara’s view of herself, her relationship to her husband, an unexpected hunky Tuscan, and men in general ... But such dating isn’t necessarily a bad thing, is it? It reminds us that the book wasn’t written in a vacuum, that it arose out of a particular time from someone’s particular circumstances.

I’m just sorry that we had to discover it now, when it’s much too late for Walton to receive some of the praise she deserves.


Go here to learn more about Tachyon Publications, publisher of Walton's novel.

Go here for another nice review of "She Walks in Darkness" at Bibliophilic Monologues.

Show us your shelves! Plus: Coming soon and Iain Banks

SHOW US YOUR SHELVES: A picture's worth a thousand words, and a bookshelf is probably worth even more. That's why Jilanne Hoffmann's blog and mine will be featuring  pics of our bookshelves this Saturday for your viewing pleasure. Think of it as the WordPress version of a Marvel team-up: And you're invited to join us! When you see our posts this weekend, drop a comment that will direct us to your own bookshelves. We want to spend some time as virtual loiterers in your library. What's the reason for doing this? Simple. When you go to a party at someone's house, aren't you tempted to spy what books are on their shelves? It's a hard temptation to fight. Look, even the Madonna seems a little distracted by the bookshelf in this painting:

"The Annunciation," Sebastiano Mainardi, late 15th century

COMING SOON: More from translator Andrew Frisardi about the nuts and bolts of translating Dante's "Vita Nova." Part 1 of the interview ran earlier this week; Part 2 is slated to appear ... tomorrow.

IAIN BANKS: There's nothing for me to say. It's all been said already. Earlier this week, brilliant novelist Iain Banks died mere months after announcing that he had terminal gall bladder cancer. Even though we knew it was coming, it was still a shock. It always is. Ken MacLeod offered a nice tribute in the pages of The Guardian to the singular Banks. Ave atque vale.

Books, glorious books ... and A.L. too

A worn-out, old book is a well-read, old book (image supplied by Lin Kristensen) I've recommended that working writers should read A.L. Kennedy's columns on the writing life in the Guardian -- if you haven't already, start immediately.

The Scottish novelist has a wonderful ability to write about her own concerns and personal situation without sounding self-indulgent (not easy to do as any of us on WordPress know).

And she got me to thinking about books again, about why we love them so much, and why a Kindle or Nook can never replace them.

In a paragraph from a recent column she describes her satisfaction at (finally) having all of her own books shelved instead of stored in boxes:

From here I can see the spine of The Wind in The Willows  – the same volume I read in bed when I was a child. It has been my friend for more than 40 years, there for me, a kind light. Here is the volume of Raymond Carver I threw across the room when I was a student because it was so amazing, so tender with broken people. Here is Alasdair Gray and his mind-blowing Lanark, which taught me the courage inherent in thinking and creating when I had no courage of my own. Here is my library.

How many of us can say the same? Let's see a show of hands. Quite a few.

It's not the number of books that you've read that matters--it's the depth of the reading, right? Kennedy doesn't sound like she has an inordinate number of books, but a special, carefully-selected collection. When she says, at the end of the graf, "Here is my library," what she really means is, I think,  "Here is my family."

Only connect: Bloggers who inspire me

I've said it before that Wordpress is a good community -- each person  I've encountered (so far) is a sincere truth seeker. Snarks, please take your crappy attitudes elsewhere. very-inspirational-blogger1I'm even more pleased that this is my roost after finding myself  nominated for a Very Inspiring Blogger award by the Book Maven. Thank you Jhobell. If you haven't checked out her site already, you should definitely visit there now.

I followed the Maven a few years back while I was deputy book editor at the L.A. Times -- I'm pretty sure I did, though I did scan a mountain of blogs in those days -- and I felt like I was hearing from an old friend when I received that notification. As you can see from the award logo, in very tiny type, it's all about "keeping the blogosphere a beautiful place." I really like that.

In keeping with the "rules" of this award, I have posted the award logo and linked to the site that nominated me.... And now, I also must tell you seven things about myself. I think I've disclosed a few items in previous posts, but here are a few more to add to those, just to keep things legit:

Religion and superstition (some will say they're  the same thing, they're not!) are passions of mine. I'm educated enough to compete on "Jeopardy!" though I'd rather host a blog  than meet Alex Trebek. At the newspaper, I'd been hammered by snide, anonymous commenters living very lonely lives.  Every morning when I wake, I say a prayer for George R.R. Martin's health and safety (at least until he finishes the final book of his epic).

I adore A.L. Kennedy's column in the Guardian on writing (see the blogroll to your left): She's a wonderfully consoling voice as one struggles with writing projects. I'd also recommend novelist Nicholas Delbanco's book of essays "Anywhere in the World," which reminds us all that the bonds connecting writers and readers transcend all boundaries.

Most important, when I started the Call of the Siren, I decided that I wouldn't care who read or followed me. But sometimes, my beloved friends, isn't it just good to be heard?

With that in mind, I want to follow suit and nominate my own choices (so far) for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Some of these folks have already received this award and/or other awards ... and deservedly so. There's some extraordinary work going on here, and I want you to listen to what some fellow Wordpressians are saying:

Thecheesewolf:  Not everyone can post poetry on their blog that other people will want to read. This guy can.

Lesley Carter:  Lesley Carter goes out and experiences the world in a way that I can’t right now. So I read her. Thank goodness.

Tychogirl:  Poetry that weds concept with layout, and that’s out of this world. Literally.

 A breath of fresh air and a reality check: what we should all be thinking about. 

 321 Irony:  http://321irony.wordpress.comA young poet who’s unafraid to showcase everything from small lyrics to imitations of Dante. Plus the refer to T.S. Eliot in her banner got me.

 Excellent guide to getting your kids intellectually charged with all the right kinds of apps and features.

Words Fusion: http://www.wordsfusion.comLike Lesley Carter’s blog, Words Fusion has satisfied my global interests with  observant dispatches from all corners of the world.


Impressions of a princess:
 http://gongjumonica.wordpress.comMonica offers a great selection of posts on forthcoming books that’s a helpful guide to what’s new in the industry.

 Butterfly tales:
 A rich trove of fantasy in books, movies and more. One of my favorites is Julia’s post “Lord of the Rings Pick-Up Lines” -- I wonder if Sam used any of these on his wife-to-be.

 Words and lovely images to give the mind a break during a busy day.

Liz Bell:
 Why do I, an inhabitant of hot, sunny Southern California, care so much about hockey? Two words: Liz Bell.

Jilanne Hoffmann:
 Great breadth and intellectual curiosity, and excellent writing chops ... Wish I’d assigned freelance to her while I was at the Times!

The Arched Doorway:
 Rlovatt is working hard to bring us some great interviews with today’s fantasy writers. I really enjoyed her conversation with Patrick Rothfuss, one of the best.

 http://lilywight.comAll things with an “A” at this site ... Arcane, antique .... Awesome.


 http://arranqhenderson.comDetailed, comprehensive — Arran’s posts on all things antique are definitely not for the twitter-infected. Print these posts out and read them at your leisure.

Congratulations to all of you!

Please note: These selections are in no particular order.

I'm glad that someone reached out to me with this Award, just as a reminder that we don't have to wait for established committees of critics to decide what is worthy and what isn't. In my experience, critics hardly know what they're talking about (you should see how they dress).

This award is like the best kind of chain letter, and I urge all of you to reach out and nominate your favorites. Just make sure to post the logo, link to the site that nominated you, and share some things about yourself. Let other bloggers know that you appreciate them, and keep on producing an atmosphere of genuine camaraderie in the blogosphere!

The true writer is always a student

....That's the lesson I repeatedly get from cruising the writers of WordPress - there's a community here aimed at exchanging ideas, not self-promotion.

It's also a lesson glaringly obvious on every page of the latest book by Ursula K. Le Guin, "Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), which was published in September. Did you know that she was a poet in addition to so many other things - essayist, book reviewer, acclaimed author of science fiction and fantasy?

This is a substantial collection that spans 50 years and reminds us how writers are different from the rest: Most people are intellectually curious, sure, but not everyone can take that curiosity and transform it into an assured art form, which is what Le Guin does in every poem contained in this book:

I feel so foolish sitting translating Vergil,

the voices of ancient imaginary shepherds,

in a silent house in Georgia, listening

for that human sweetness

That comes from "Learning Latin in Old Age," a poem written not very long ago - perhaps even around the time she wrote her novel "Lavinia," her retelling of  the "Aeneid" from the perspective of the woman at the center of the duel between Aeneas and Turnus.

I love the image of Le Guin, seated at a table with a basic Latin reader in front of her. (In my previous life at the L.A. Times, I had several opportunities to work with her on book reviews, and when I approached her to ask if she would consider writing one, what was her reaction? Almost always it was: Sure! Send it to me!)

This lovely volume is a reminder of the reason why we should commit to learning anything: for the love of it, for the greater understanding it gives us of our place in the world. (There are far too many people who simply want to impress us with how smart they are.)

And, one more thing: All knowledge helps us wrestle with our fate, our mortality. Le Guin's collection is undeniably about that as well, which shouldn't be a surprise (she is in her 80s). In the title poem, she writes poignantly about the costs of knowledge, about a painful kind of knowledge that comes only with the passing of many years as loved ones die and you remain:

I can't find you where I've been looking for you,

my elegy. There's all too many graveyards handy

these days, too many names to read through tears

on long black walls...

Beautiful. Painful. Beautiful.