What Is Curtain Fic?

I’d never heard of the term “curtain fic” until this Monday, when I encountered it in a tweet from M.C.A. Hogarth.

She was giving her fans a head’s up about the first book in her Dreamhealers series. Mindtouch was on sale for 99 cents for the rest of the week, and then it was going back up to its regular price.

In her tweet, she said: “People call it curtainfic with space elves and centaurs.”

I was intrigued. What in heaven was “curtainfic”?

I googled, wondering if I would discover anything at all. Maybe it was so obscure that if you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t be able to find out.

But I was in luck. Google delivered many pages of results, and the first link on the list told me what I wanted to know. Fanlore.org defined the word as describing “fan fiction that focuses on ordinary domestic situations (such as the characters in a romantic pairing shopping for curtains).”

Since fan fiction involves fan writers playing in someone else’s world, strict curtain fic would be something like the story of how Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price, of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, made renovations and improvements to their first home at Thornton Lacey.

Or how Allan a Dale and his Fair Ellen – from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood – visited the shops of Nottingham to procure the needle and thread that would allow Fair Ellen to keep her husband’s minstrel’s garb in good repair.

But clearly one need not borrow another writer’s world and characters in order to “focus on ordinary domestic situations.” In fact, the instant I read the definition of curtain fic, I realized that all my favorite authors include at least some elements of curtain fic in their stories.

When Bren Cameron settles in with Jago at his country estate of Najida (C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series), we hear about the beautiful stained glass window that graces the new wing.

At the end of the fourth Sharing Knife book by Lois McMaster Bujold, we get an entire long epilogue in which a few loose ends are tied off and during which we come to understand the domestic arrangements of Fawn and Dag quite thoroughly. (I love this epilogue!)

In Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, we learn every last detail of the wedding preparations, as well as of the ceremony itself.

One of my favorite chapters in Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion is the end-of-summer interlude in which Cazaril teaches Iselle and Betriz how to swim.

It’s always a little startling when I discover something about myself – in this case, my reading tastes – that is fundamental and yet has gone unsuspected by me for years. But the illumination shed by learning the term curtain fic shone further than the books I read.

Because my first thought upon perusing the definition was: “Ah, ha! So this is a thing! People like stories with this quiet, mundane focus. Which means that my longing to write a story with a quiet, non-epic scale is not just a strange oddity possessed only by me. I could gratify my wish to write in this way. And there might even be a few people who would read it and enjoy it. Wow!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like stories about life-and-death situations. I love stories in which everything of importance lies at risk of being lost, where all is on the line. Both as a reader and as a writer. But my tastes are quite broad. And I’d believed (falsely) that I was only allowed to write about big and sweeping events. Sometimes those momentous happenings are tightly focused on my protagonist. Sometimes they intertwine with the fate of a nation or a people. But the big-and-sweeping-and-momentous must be present.

No doubt I’ll continue to write stories of that character. But I’m also going to allow myself to explore this concept of curtain fic.

Which is fortunate, since I’m realizing that my current work-in-progress has a decidedly domestic slant. Of course, for the protagonist, it’s all pretty momentous. But it’s an interesting mix of the quiet, the internal, and the domestic blended with a change that will turn my protagonist’s life upside down.

In any case…thank you, M.C.A. Hogarth for opening my eyes to a whole new genre. My writing life just got more spacious, and I am grateful.

Speaking of Hogarth…what about her books?

I’d read her Spots the Space Marine and really loved it. Then I read her Blood Ladders trilogy, and enjoyed that as well. Although, the latter starts off with a group of college friends meeting in a coffee shop, and I realized as I read that I’d really wanted the story to be a college story – and it totally wasn’t. It was good, just not what I was in the mood for at the time.

So, when I understood that Mindtouch was about grad students (alien grad students) in grad school, I was ready to click the buy button for that alone.

As it chances, I did click the buy button, and I’ve been happily reading Mindtouch for the last two evenings. It really is curtain fic. But I can also see the story building, slowly showing me exactly how these two unlikely friends came to be friends, and setting the foundation for how they came to accomplish something amazing within the healing disciplines of their civilization. (At least, I’m guessing that’s where it’s going.)

I’m not sure how much longer Mindtouch is on sale, but if you think you might like curtain fic, I urge you to pick up a copy and give it a try. 😀

 

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The Bastard, Belinda, Blood, & Bewitchery

It’s time for more book recommendations. Here are four!

Painting of Ista saving soulsIsta, mother of Chalion’s ruling royina, lives retired in Castle Valenda under the care of her anxious kinswoman and ladies in waiting. Considered a madwoman for years, and still a little … unbalanced, from her long ordeal, she endures the loving vigilance of her caretakers. A vigilance that only wearies and annoys her. But how to escape their loving restrictions, her culture’s limiting constraints, and the bitterness of her past baffles Ista. Until by chance she encounters a vulgar widow on pilgrimmage, and inspiration strikes.

I can’t decide whether I love Paladin of Souls or its prequel The Curse of Chalion more, but they both vie for the spot of most favorite read ever. In the classic choice of one book and a desert island, Paladin would be it. Unless it were Curse! Two books? No problem: both these!

Ista has spent nearly twenty years submerged in a prolonged eclipse. Now she stands poised for rebirth, ready even to shine. Reading her journey is sheer magic for the heart and soul.

Paladin of Souls at Amazon

Paladin of Souls at B&N

 

White gowned Regency lady on a balconyGilly – that is, the Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, the Duke of Sale – hates disappointing those who care for his interests. His devoted valet chooses his raiment, and Gilly acquiesces to all his selections. His estate agent informs him that his progressive notions are naive, and Gilly swallows the reproof. His garulous companion from his Grand Tour through Europe threatens to render his visit to London hideous, and Gilly shows him courtesy. But when his solicitous and autocratic guardian, Lord Lionel, announces that he’s arranged Gilly’s marriage, the duke decides he’s carried his amiability too far.

Gilly eludes his entire retinue to pursue adventure: a solo quest to save his young cousin from a villain bent on blackmail. Or, as Gilly tells his other cousin, his favorite one: “to slay a dragon.” But Mr. Liversedge is a canny scoundrel, well able to defeat his inexperienced adversary. Can Gilly – so amenable and civil – possibly prevail?

Like all of Heyer’s Regency romances, this one cavorts from absurdity to absurdity, improbably so, yet curiously plausible and thoroughly delightful. Her characters are so real they make the proverbial leap from the page, and her world-building, so superb, I wander Regency England while I read.

The Foundling at Amazon

The Foundling at B&N

 

Dark and ominous view of a candlelit candelabraShe never even heard them coming. But you don’t, Rae Seddon tells us. Fed up with her family, fed up with the coffeehouse – the family business, fed up with just everything, this young baker who loves feeding people drives out into the country by night to meditate at the lake. There, those darkest of the Others – the bloodsuckers – capture her to feed to a special undead prisoner: Constantine, a master vampire hated by their own master, Bo.

But Rae possesses an unusual lineage and unusual powers deriving from her hitherto-ignored legacy, and something strange happens in the derelict mansion where the vampires stake her as bait for Con.

I must make a confession: I don’t like straight-up romances. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the dance that ensues when boy meets girl. I simply need something more for the story to enthrall me. Add humor and stellar world-building, like Heyer, and I’m enchanted. Add mystery and deep emotional insight, like Sayers, and I’m engrossed. Add military adventure and intense inner journey, like Bujold, and you cannot pry me away.

So, how does this relate to McKinley’s Sunshine?

Well, it occurred to me as I wrote the above synopsis that the plot appears to follow the formula for paranormal romance: young woman with special powers that she doesn’t know about, must discover, and then master; undead or otherwise powerful and threatening counterpoint; and the unique path these two must tread to relate to one another fruitfully. So why do I like Sunshine? That formula proved insufficient for my taste when I attempted it previously. The answer: exquisite world-building paired with saving said world from utter destruction. The book riveted me to its pages. So much so that I’ve re-read it three times and will undoubtedly repeat the experience many times through the years.

Sunshine at Amazon

Sunshine at B&N

 

Painting of a tall, bizarre, rickety towerTwelve-year-old Conrad Tesdinic knows he’ll die in agony before the year is up. It’s his fate. In a previous life he either did something bad that he shouldn’t, or failed to do something good that he should have. And no one knows what it was. But his Uncle Alfred pulls strings to get him a job as footman in Stallery Mansion where he can clear his karma.

Conrad would much prefer to continue his schooling, to aim for university, to become someone brilliant: an aircraft pilot, a famous scientist, a great surgeon, anything other than staying in Stallchester drudging in his uncle’s bookstore, polishing boots at the mansion, or cooking meals for his mother and uncle. But karma calls, along with the clever wickedness lurking in Stallery.

So Conrad goes, but his new employment proves utterly different than he’d imagined. Secrets upon secrets lie piled in the mansion, and Conrad must unravel them all, including a few that connect right into the heart of his own family.

I love all of Jones’ stories, but my favorite was always Charmed Life, the first tale by her I ever read. No matter how much I enjoyed the rest of her stories, I never suspected another might knock Life from its preeminence. Until I read Conrad’s Fate. I can’t say it truly tipped Charmed Life from its throne, but surely it shares the seat. Sparkling, funny, and poignant by turns, its wheels within wheels entertained and astonished me through to the very end, when all the mysteries lay revealed, and everyone’s karma, balanced!

Conrad’s Fate at Amazon

Conrad’s Fate at B&N

 

For more book recommendations, see:
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency

 

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Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

cover imageI dug in my heels, strongly resistant to Bujold’s switch from science fiction to fantasy, and resistant to her departure from the transformative exploits of Lord Vorkosigan. I wanted more of the Vorkosiverse, not something new.

By the time I reached the bottom of the first page of The Curse of Chalion, my resistance vanished utterly, converted into a torrent of enthusiasm. I was hooked! Now I clamor for more Chalion stories as loudly as I ever did for Vorkosigan books.

In Chalion, we meet Cazaril, a former courtier and soldier, making his slow way home from coastal Ibra to landlocked Chalion. He’s broken in body and spirit following his betrayal by the highest power in the realm and subsequent stint as a galley slave. Traveling alone and on foot, he downgrades his hopes and aspirations. How can he beg a place in a noble’s retinue when he wears beggar’s rags? A menial and anonymous spot in the kitchens will have to do.

But Cazaril turned his life and will over to one of the gods – the Lady of Spring – three years ago, desperate for the rescue of the soldiers under his command. And she has other plans for him.

Cazaril’s story explores the notion that opening oneself to divine inspiration carries the gravest of risks – death of the body, death of the soul, and forfeiture of self-will – but also leads to one’s deepest fulfillment and greatest achievement.

The Curse of Chalion at Amazon

The Curse of Chalion at B&N

 

cover imageI enjoyed Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries in a casual way. They are good, and I do like a good mystery, but I prefer a mystery more entwined with the inner growth of the characters involved. When Lord Peter finally meets Harriet Vane in Strong Poison, the arc of his personal development really begins. And that’s when I became a Sayers fan.

Like her author, Harriet Vane writes mystery novels. She knows all about poisons – a necessary part of her vocation – and she stands accused of her fiancé’s murder. He died in a manner identical to that portrayed in one of Harriet’s books.

Lord Peter sees Harriet by chance. He’s an amateur sleuth, often about and around the bastions of law. He catches the beginning of her trial, tumbles top over tail in love, and determines to prove her innocence.

Can he do it?

The matter hangs in some doubt. Peter arrives rather late, after Harriet’s trial has begun. The evidence is damning, and Harriet escapes conviction only because one stalwart member of the jury doesn’t believe she’s guilty. Lord Peter has one month to dig up new evidence before the re-trial.

Strong Poison at Amazon

Strong Poison at B&N

 

cover iamgeI’ve been a Heyer fan since my mid-teens and still enjoy her work. Her romances deploy a dry irony similar to Austen’s, but mix in effervescent fun for leavening. Her world building is as impeccable as the most dedicated fantasist. And her secondary characters are hilarious.

In False Colours, Kit Fancot comes abruptly home on the intuition that all is not well with his identical twin, the volatile Earl of Denville, Evelyn Fancot. And intuition proves correct.

Evelyn is not only missing, but in desperate need of serious cash – cash to the tune of 20,000 pounds, give or take a few thousand! In a scheme to get his hands on his own inheritance (held in trust for another five years), he’s offered a marriage of convenience to a sensible girl who won’t mind if he is less than devoted to her.

Kit jumps in to rescue his twin – who will surely turn up any day now – by impersonating him at his betrothal party. There, he discovers Cressida Stavely to possess quiet charm, a sense of humor, and intelligence. Surely she deserves a husband who actually loves her.

Heyer takes this romp of a tale through every kind of complication with wit and pizzazz, proving in the end that if you must be bold, it’s best to be very bold indeed.

False Colours at Amazon

False Colours at B&N

 

cover iamgeInside Job is a novella, and I purchased the hardback by mail order ignorant of that fact. Out $30 when I discovered its slim 92-page length, I was appalled. The story couldn’t possibly be good enough to justify that kind of money!

I’m here to tell you: it was. And I’m glad to have the book on my shelves, because I re-read it every year. (The e-book edition, available these days, but not in those, is much more reasonably priced.)

Rob, professional skeptic and publisher of The Jaundiced Eye – a magazine dedicated to exposing fraudulent psychics, mediums, spiritualists, etc. – hired beautiful and intelligent Kildy Ross to be his assistant one year ago.

Now Kildy brings a new charlatan to his attention: Ariaura, previously a channeler of “Isus,” a spirit from the astral plane, appears to be channeling H.L. Mencken, the late reporter and bane of shysters and crooks in the 1920’s.

Rob and Kildy set out to expose Ariaura, but things get complicated. Is Ariaura really a fraud? Could she actually be channeling Mencken, beloved by all skeptics? And if she’s for real, what then happens to Rob’s life work?

With her characteristic wit and a lively sense of the ridiculous, Willis translates the conflict between good and evil into a delightful skirmish in the battle of science and reason and logic against quacks and con men.

Inside Job at Amazon

Inside Job at B&N

More book recommendations:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic

My next blog post would normally appear here next Friday on March 15. But my writing and publishing schedule is unusually heavy right now!

I’m writing a prequel to Rainbow’s Lodestone, I have two new short stories ready to publish, and I must finish the print editions of Sarvet’s Wanderyar and Livli’s Gift. So I’ll be taking a week off from my blog.

My next post will be in two weeks on March 22. See you then!

 

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Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic

If you’ve never read any Bujold, A Civil Campaign is a great book to start with. Ditto Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. The other two volumes in this list might hold up well under stand-alone reading, but they’re best following books one and two in their respective series.

Gregor and Laisa dance on their wedding dayEkaterin Vorsoisson has declared matrimony a no-go zone. Once was enough: the entire population of women in Vorbarr Sultana can have her share of eligible bachelors, thank you very much. But Miles Vorkosigan, count’s heir to his home district, hopes to persuade her otherwise.

Ivan, Miles’ cousin, decides settling your affections on a woman before you’ve even begun the courtship courts anything but a happy-ever-after. Time to dig up some rivals. Never mind that Miles plans to woo under camouflage, lest Ekaterin bounce him back before he starts. Some competition will do him good.

That’s where this “comedy of biology and manners” starts, but political cloak-and-dagger work, incompatible planetary sexual mores, an old Cetagandan scandal, and a bio-genetics experiment escaping the basement lab spin cunning strategies into a whirl of humorous confusion and conflict. With friends like this, who needs enemies? But Miles has those as well!

A Civil Campaign at Amazon
A Civil Campaign on Kindle

A Civil Campaign at B&N
A Civil Campaign on the Nook

 

Bren and Jago ride mechietiHuge differences create insurmountable barriers between alien societies, but resourceful individuals sometimes mediate the innate prejudices successfully. Bren Cameron, the paidhi from Mospheira, is one such individual. He stands between the human interlopers on the world of the atevi and the Western Association, the only governing body amongst the natives powerful enough to rule its diverse factions.

The Western Association under Tabini aiji engages in a breakneck space race, and Bren must supervise the program, translating the complex engineering diagrams needed to build a shuttle. The schedule is tight, the stress heavy, but as long as nobody starts shooting again, that counts as peaceful.

Troublemaker and patsy for a bigoted political group – Deanna Hanks – has been bundled back to the island of the human enclave. Jase Graham, intrepid rep for newly returned human spacefarers and potential friend, managed to drop safely to earth on an ancient petal-sail. Life is good.

Until illicit radio messages from across the strait impel the atevi elite to maneuver for advantage, and an unspoken dissatisfaction turns Jase morose and hostile. Bren declares a real vacation a necessity and turns to his ally Ilisidi, aiji dowager, for help. Ilisidi suggests Saduri, a fortress from medieval times for their destination. But Ilisidi possesses a hidden agenda for the trip, as does Jase Graham. Can Bren keep the precarious peace between species while his cohorts pursue competing goals?

Inheritor at Amazon

Inheritor at B&N

 

Heris Serano on horsebackSpace opera at its best, Winning Colors mixes interstellar mafia with a horse-mad 90-year-old, a cashiered ex-navy captain, and an assortment of spoiled young aristocrats to deliver up marvelous mayhem sprinkled with insightful exploration of the human spirit. Third in the Familias Regnant series with Heris Serano and Lady Cecelia.

Winning Colors at Amazon

Winning Colors at B&N

 
 
 
 
 
 

photo of pink roses against a blue skyRobin McKinley wrote Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, as her debut novel and never dreamed she’d return to the story twenty years later. Uprooting herself to marry English writer Peter Dickinson, she waited to sell her lilac-covered cottage in Maine. Later, parting from her old home, severing one more tie to the land of her birth, proved surprisingly fraught. And her favorite fairy tale roared through her storyteller’s heart once more: Rose Daughter poured onto the page. Compelling and richly imagined, her new rendition of Beauty and the Beast conveys fresh perspective and insightful wisdom.

 

Rose Daughter at Amazon

Rose Daughter at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing & Synchronicity
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

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Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers

Four of my favorite fiction reads.

two brothers face off against a backdrop of outer spaceAction marries philosophy! Mark Vorkosigan embarks on a quest as the knight errant he imagines his brother Miles to be. And it all goes horribly wrong. To save both himself and his brother, Mark must confront, navigate, and triumph over the hell lurking within his own soul — a hell mapping his most broken and wounded places — while devising a way to defeat a sadistic enemy.

Mirror Dance at Amazon

Mirror Dance at B&N

 

 

A diplomat and his two bodyguards, space station in backgroundHuman mediator Bren Cameron wields diplomacy, wit, and cultural sensitivity to keep an unstable peace. His alien atevi friends wield lethal force to do the same. Will their unorthodox partnership be enough? C.J. Cherryh creates the most exotic and immersive alien culture ever!

Foreigner at Amazon

Foreigner at B&N

 

 

 

Brun is space armor with weaponDescendant of admirals, Heris Serrano resigns her military commission under a cloud and accepts the captaincy of a luxury pleasure yacht. Could she sink lower? Even disgraced officers must eat. But Heris discovers that opportunity to confront the enemy while serving something larger than oneself hides in unexpected places. The fox she hunts under Lady Cecelia’s aegis proves wilier than V. vulpes and viler than a mere beast.

Hunting Party at Amazon

Hunting Party at B&N

 

 

View of the way to Babylon along a deep chasmEarth needs three Magids – magical guardians who nudge the right people to do the right things at the right time. Three, but one of them just died. Rupert Venables, the junior-most, seeks a replacement. Unfortunately his top candidate can’t stand Rupert. And, after their aggravating first encounter, Rupert can’t stand her either. If only the other four candidates weren’t worse. And if only the fate of the entire multiverse didn’t stand in the balance. Deep Secret romps from plans gone awry through grievous first impressions to ancient secrets hidden in plain sight.

 

Deep Secret at Amazon

Deep Secret at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing & Synchronicity
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

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