Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Friday, December 30, 2011

Feminist Fiction Friday: Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee. Isn't that the best writer's name ever? When Joanne Renaud, Joy Sillesen and I created Dark Valentine Magazine, Tanith Lee was our muse. We were all big fans of the writer, whose "dark fiction" we all admired. The cover of our first issue was a painting of the sky goddess Tanit, and one of our fondest hopes was that we might entice Tanith to send us a story. Sigh. Some dreams die hard.
The very first thing I ever read by Tanith Lee was Kill the Dead, a novella that was packaged with another story (Sabella, or the Blood Stone) in an omnibus edition titled Sometimes After Sunset. I liked Sabella but I loved Kill the Dead.
I loved the way Tanith wrote, her love of language was extravagant and she piled up words like a painter piles up pigments and the result was always gorgeous.
By the time I read Kill the Dead, Tanith had already written dozens and dozens of short stories and novels, so as I began making my way through her oeuvre, it seemed like I was always a couple of books behind.
Lee's slowed down a bit of late--I've heard she hasn't been well--but her output still dwarfs most writers.  She published her first book, The Dragon Hoard in 1971, when she was 24. Four years later, she published Birthgrave, which is considered her first "adult" book and is the first in a trilogy that concludes with Quest for the White Witch.
She writes series (I'm fond of the books in the Flat-Earth Series) and she writes stand-alones. She writes historical fiction and gothic romance and reimagined fairy tales. (She also reimagines Shakespeare.) Her Silver Metal Lover is a tale of forbidden love that makes Twilight seem like a Jane and Dick reader. She was writing vampires and werewolves long before it was trendy and she plundered Babylonian myth when everyone else was still regurgitating Tolkien.
Her characters are fierce and full-blooded, the women as well as the men. Her fantasy creations have a reality about them that is both otherworldly and ordinary.  (Ordinary in the sense that we feel the "rightness" of the characters, even if they aren't the characters next door.)
She has a number of collections of short stories, including one called Women as Demons, which I haven't read. Nor have I read her novel The Blood of Roses (1990), which is one of the hardest to obtain stories out there next to Shiny Metal Grin.  Amazon.com has seven used copies of the book available for $47. One of these days I might splash out and buy one.  (It's marketed as an epic erotic fantasy of blood and love and vanpires.  And how could anyone resist that gorgeous cover?)
If you aren't familiar with Tanith's work or you want to make sure you've read everything there is, check out "Daughter of the Night," an annotated bibliography put together by Jim Pattinson and  Paul A. Soanes and continued by Allison Rich. (The most recent update was December 18.)
Here's a link to an old (1994) interview with Tanith.
I'm participating in Brian Lindenmuth's 365 Story Challenge in 2012, so I'll be revisiting some of my favorite Tanith Lee short stories. If you haven't read her, you have a treat in store.

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