A hopeful story, in my experience, is not necessarily one that has a happy ending. It is one that touches me so deeply that my world gets bigger and my inner landscape richer. Many of these stories I discover in the words of other writers, but occasionally I find one inside myself. I rage and pace and weep as I write, praying all the time I can manage to come close to that vision. Sometimes it feels as if I have not so much written the story as been midwife to it.
Here then is a collection of my best stories, those that spoke to me from the inside and which I hope I have not done too bad a job in bringing to print. I've aimed at bringing together a tapestry of varied settings, characters, and emotional journeys.
I chose "Transfusion" (originally titled "Keeping Kosher") as the lead story because it is one that stretches beyond the usual expectations of fantasy. I always felt uneasy when conventional vampires cringe at the sight of a brandished cross. Would a vampire be affected by some other religious symbol -- a Star of David, perhaps? How would a Jew, set apart from the traditional Christian mythos, respond? Would he be able to see the human being through the horrific exterior?
"Green Chains," like "Summoning the River," "The Spirit Arrow" and "Mother Africa," is an exploration not only of grief but of the enduring bond between mother and child. In so many conventional fantasies, it seems to be an unwritten rule that heroes -- both men and women -- cannot have parents or children anywhere in sight. I believe there is as much scope for magic and wonder in the close bonds of family as in any external adventure.
"For King and Country" grew out of a discussion on GEnie about the romanticism of the poem "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, which gave birth to an anthology edited by Jennifer Roberson, in which this story first appeared. I love turnabout, so "18th Century James Bond in drag" tickled my fancy.
"Madrelita" and its companion story, "Javier, Dying in the Land of Flowers," took shape during my years in Southern California, when I became aware of an underground of workers, many undocumented, usually unskilled, but with great resourcefulness and strength of spirit. I asked myself where this system might lead "if this goes on," threw in the deterioration of the ozone layer, and ended up tales of loyalty and hope within an oppressive caste system.
I wrote "Heart Healer" when I was working for a cardiologist and thinking about the two meanings of "heart," one the physical organ, the other a metaphor for the spirit. Astute readers may recognize the placement of ECG electrodes in my healer's approach to the dragon.
One of my few stories for Young Adults, "What the Dinosaurs Are Like" appeared in Bruce Coville's Book of Magic II. While not minimizing the emotional power of dinosaurs as monsters, I had gotten more than a little tired of how they were portrayed in film and wanted to do something different.
"Hellhound," on the other hand, began as a nightmare. I took the portions that disturbed me most and let them spin themselves into a story. It appeared as the cover story in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine.
When editor Barbara Hambly told me she was beginning work on an anthology of female vampire stories, I asked her if she would consider a humorous tale. I was active in the PTA at my daughters' school at the time and so this story flowed naturally from a blending of the two. I have read this story aloud both at fantasy conventions and to groups of parents. The fantasy fans get all the vampire jokes and the parents get the PTA ones. This has always struck me as wonderful.
"Unmasking the Ancient Light" is another story rooted in Jewish spirituality. In writing for an anthology of historically-based fantasy, I researched the life of Dona Gracia Nasi, whose life was even more extraordinary than what I have depicted.
Finally, for "Mother Africa" I extend my gratitude to my friend, sociologist Sally Findley, who so generously shared her years of field work in West Africa.
-- Deborah J. Ross
Boulder Creek, California