Cover art for Lance of Earth and Sky! Plus, get Clockwork Phoenix on Kindle

We’re sliding into the holidays, and there is prettiness to share! Behold, Dehong’s latest lovely creation:

(Click the image to open a larger version.)

You can now preorder Lance of Earth and Sky on Amazon also. 🙂

It’s truly an honor to have another cover from Dehong. I understand he’s been very busy with Time Voyager (and their MMO coincidentally titled Chaos Gate!), so it’s especially fortunate that he was able to make some time for Andovar. 🙂

Also, you can now pick up Clockwork Phoenix on Kindle for $3.99! The anthology was critically acclaimed and has some great stories in it from Laird Barron, Leah Bobet, Michael J. DeLuca, and others — including my fableish thing “Root and Vein”, which got a nice call out from this recent review at Dark Cargo.

Reviews continue to come in for Sword of Fire and Sea and I have been inexcusably lax in getting them all compiled onto my website. But That Bookish Girl saysSword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman was an incredibly exciting and compelling read.” — and weighs in on gryphons and more: “Through her characters, Hoffman imbues the Gryphons with a true sense of awe, and an initial feeling of them being the Other.”

I hope you are all winding toward a great holiday season, and an even better 2012.

Poised on the threshold of a lifelong dream

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a long time, and thinking about the subject for even longer. But as is often the case with such things, a picture gives you the important information faster. 🙂

And in case that’s not clear enough:

I have author copies, they are beautiful, and the book is available on Amazon now, though at the moment there are only 11 5 2! left in stock.

Kiba, as you can see, is quite excited.

Nothing I could say would be even remotely adequate. I have memories of walking through the aisles at Crown Books at ten years old and thinking about how amazing authors were. I remember being midway through a fantasy book once and being suddenly existentially struck by what an amazing thing a book is. That we think of it as a finished object, a thing, but what we don’t consciously wrap our minds around while reading is how every word put down is a moment in another person’s life, that each page and collection of pages is a chronology of experiences, probably multiple experiences, days and weeks and months of hard work and pure invention.

And now I have one, and, perhaps in part because I work in games I am unusually aware of the number of people that go into this (and yet I’m not as aware as Lou Anders is, who actually works with them all). In Prometheus’s case, right around fifty hardworking people who all touch every book at some stage of its production. Which basically multiplies the complex work of the story, refines it, polishes it, makes sure that every moment of your reading experience is a crafted one, carefully considered. They did a hell of a good job.

It’s obvious, I think, from my shield-banging about sustainability and organic food and conservation activism that I am a pretty passionate environmentalist. My tax return so attests. And I love technology, and I love what it’s doing to the experience of reading. But crafted objects like this, touched by so many people, delivered to you, the reader, are what will keep paper books around, at least for the next while. And though I am biased (ridiculously biased!), this one is a treasure, and I am humbled to have it. If you seek it out (or if I throw it at you — cough), I hope you enjoy it too. And if you do, or even if you’re just interested and haven’t taken the plunge yet, I’d love if you’d consider joining the party on the Andovar World Facebook page, where there will be info, links, giveaways, and more. 🙂

If you want to read more of my thoughts about game design, storytelling, and a bunch of other things, before I was flummoxed by this meteor of awesome, Jeremy Jones was kind enough to interview me for Clarkesworld Magazine. If you take a gander I’d love to know what you think.

A tribute to Piers Anthony, Xanth, and interactivity in fiction

I write this today to set you all free.

By way of disclaimer, and to start the story, as many of you already know, Piers Anthony did me the great honor of reviewing and blurbing Sword of Fire and Sea. My brief email interactions with him were part of a process I went through after selling Sword that helped convince me I was not a charlatan, and that this whole lifelong-dream-of-book thing was actually happening (and would not kill me).

I actually started a letter to Piers many years ago. In 1999 I sold my first short story to James Richey, who has also co-written a book with Piers, and was publishing his anthology Enchanted Realms through Xlibris, one of the earliest print-on-demand publishers, which Piers had invested in as part of his long and awarded efforts to put more power and control in the hands of authors. When I sold that story, I wrote the first half of a letter to Piers, and planned to write the second half when I sold my first novel. Last year I sold the novel — but life had happened, and my original “time capsule” letter was nowhere to be found. I wrote him anyway, explaining what had happened — and tell this to you all as context for how Piers and his work have been inspirational to me for a very long time.

And now Xanth fans are discovering that blurb, and supporting my work as a result. It’s astonishing and humbling. I had no idea just how many Xanth fans were out there — the answer is, on Facebook alone, tens of thousands! And they, too, love Piers Anthony’s work with a passion, from Xanth to Incarnations to the Mode books and beyond.

Like many readers, and especially writers in the modern genre fiction communities, it is peculiarly difficult to get people to admit that they read and enjoyed dozens of Xanth books. (You all know who you are.) As I’ve dug into this, interesting patterns emerge: male readers are more likely to connect with the Incarnations books, while more traditional, older readers of fantasy and science fiction recall A Spell for Chameleon or The Source of Magic. Source was my first Xanth book and my first genre fantasy (which I picked up — you might want to sit down for this — because it had a griffin on the cover), but through these informal surveys I’ve concluded that I’m part of another generation of Xanth fans, one that connects most with the “third generation” characters from Isle of View, Demons Don’t Dream, and the infamous The Color of Her Panties.

It’s easy to think of any of a dozen reasons to dismiss Anthony’s books, and especially Xanth. Piers himself is notoriously cranky, a self-identified ogre, which gets people incensed (I find him robustly and admirably opinionated); the books were and are outrageously popular, which offends the edgy self-conscious nerd culture of fantasy and science fiction; and, probably most fundamentally, there is something about puns that cause people to go instantly into dismissal mode. They are silly; children love them; neither of these things should cause them to be denegrated, and yet they are. We assume for some strange reason that because puns are so entertaining to children that they must be easy. To anyone who seriously thinks this, my advice is: try it. It’s not as easy as it looks. Because it feels effortless, it feels easy to dismiss — but that very ease is its genius, and it is in fact very hard.

Piers, through Xanth, also had an extremely close relationship with his fans, insofar as one can when one has thousands upon thousands of fans. When I was young — quite young, ten years old or so — I wrote him three letters, and he replied to each. This is rather astonishing and is an example of how he was ahead of his time. Now it is expected that an author so interact and cultivate their fans, and as I understand it a few years ago a critic even referred to Anthony’s Author’s Notes as “blogging”.

The majority of the letters Piers received about Xanth he has always said were suggestions for puns that should go into the books. This started early in Xanth’s history and is actually quite important. It emphasizes how the world itself was always interactive — another way in which he was ahead of the curve. As a kid I sent in a pun — “see weed” — and promptly forgot about it, until my younger brother excitedly told me that I had gotten a credit in Faun and Games. I suddenly remembered that long-ago letter, and how I also thought that Grundy the Golem should get together with Chet Centaur and some reverse wood and use Chet’s shrinking ability in reverse, so that he could be full size with Rapunzel — but I digress.

Now that I am embarking upon my own professional novelist career, such as it is in the modern novel market, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it was that made Xanth so powerful. And how it was that a writer with such powerful idea stories — because if you look back into Piers’s earlier publications you see intense old school idea stories of the stuff that science fiction was originally made — could live so long in a world that seemed so comparatively simple. But the extraordinarily clever thing about Xanth is that it is not simple at all. It engages with the fundamentally interactive bones of story and plays with us as readers. It constantly dances between expectation and reversal. There is a deep, whimsical logic to Xanth — a childlike logic of our hearts, one that fulfills our abstract expectations while surprising and delighting us (a breadfruit tree that grows loaves of bread, cherry bomb trees, the concept that everyone is born with a completely unique magical talent). There is a resonance with my binge-reading of Oliver Sacks — a resonance with symbolism and the metaphorical thinking that is actually far more natural to us than “realism” is. And oh, man, if you only knew how complicated the cognitive processes that produce these patterns are! It is the stuff of the wildest, most complex science fiction.

Xanth also captures one of those obvious but strangely elusive qualities of a fantasy world in that it is a place you want to go. I printed up the beautiful painted map of Xanth from its mid-90s hardcovers when I was a kid, put it up on my wall and dreamed of what I’d do if I ever went there (survey says: track down Magician Trent and get him to turn me into a winged centaur). And he did this not once but multiple times, from the fractal worlds of the Mode books to the amazing dual scientific and fantasy worlds of Proton and Phaze from the Apprentice Adept series. Those books in particular I suspect will become increasingly classic over time, powerfully symbolizing as they do the tension in our modern world between the technological and the pastoral.

For years Piers has, in asides, lamented that he has never been appreciated by critics or awards committees (though he does have quite a large pile of Hugo and Nebula nominations). And without question this hasn’t hurt him in the marketplace. Readers love his worlds, and that is one of the highest compliments in our craft. What he has created will live long past his mortal shell and the memories of a list of award recipients.

But these are the lessons that remain hard to learn: just because something is “fun” does not mean it is “simple”; just because a ruleset is “intuitive” does not mean it is “easy” (especially to create!); and just because an audience feels compelled to interact with a form does not mean that it can be well made by a committee. In fact, the opposite is almost always the case. And it takes both great skill and great enlightenment to reach out and become vulnerable to one’s audience, and to ordain their ideas by making them a part of the work.

I love Xanth, and I will never apologize for it.

Remembering Diana Wynne Jones

For those who haven’t heard, Diana Wynne Jones passed away early yesterday morning, in hospice after a resurgence of illness.

I joined the DWJ mailing list last year, after thinking of writing to her and hearing that she was ill. In August she had stopped chemotherapy and radiation, so it seemed only a matter of time — but through the fall she rallied, seeming to go into remission, and we could subsist in the fantasy that maybe something magical would happen and we wouldn’t lose her at all. But when the message headed just ‘DWJ’ came in yesterday morning, I knew what it was before opening it, and like the day Marion Zimmer Bradley left us years ago, it was as if the world became a little more quiet, a little less bright.

Diana was one of those authors whose work and life loomed so large that it’s difficult to know what could possibly be said about her, other than that if you haven’t read Howl’s Moving Castle or the Chronicles of Chrestomanci you should go out and read them right now. (Those of you who follow “books about gryphons” should absolutely go read all of the Derkholm books right away.) Her work was boundlessly imaginative but warm as a hearth at the same time, and you knew going into one of her stories that even if everything wasn’t quite going to be all right in the end, it would be true.

Howl’s is probably her most well known work, and not just because of Hayao Miyazaki’s transformation of it (which I like more as time goes by, though when it first came out was struck by how very different it was from the Howl I knew). In a way it was like a crystallization of her many stories, intricate and puzzling but wild and beautiful at the same time. And Howl himself is a character for the ages. In him, and in Diana’s other stories, you can see how she is perhaps the only author who could look at J. K. Rowling’s work and say “I think she may have picked up a few things from me”, and make you think — you know, she’s probably right.

Also well known is the Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a classic romp that no fantasy writer or reader should be without. In it you can see her thorough dedication to the cause and craft of fantasy itself. One of the things I have always admired about her was how involved she was in the culture of fantasy, how interactive, how thoughtful. And, as a writer, how she never stopped growing. The Pinhoe Egg came out just a couple of years ago, and it was as bright and heartfelt as anything she wrote two and three decades earlier.

She was one of the great masters, and her magic was a special one. I will miss her.

PS – The Guardian has a thoughtful and excellent obit here:
PPS – And this is beautiful, from Neil: