Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Author Spotlight: Delia Sherman

Your story, “Cotillion,” was originally published in an anthology for young adults, but features a 1969 college-aged protagonist who makes some very adult decisions. Do you think of this as a young-adult story? Or were college students in 1969 young adults?

Well, I thought it was a YA story. I took the sex out of it and everything. And I did my best to try and make it reflect what it felt like for me to be a college-age girl in 1969, out in the big city on my own recognizance and a little over my head. I’m sure there are many college-age girls in 2012 who would have made the same decisions—providing they’d listened to the right records and read the right books. Kids haven’t changed that much since 1969. In my years of teaching Freshman Comp and hanging out with my nephews and my friends’ children, I see some young adults who are level-headed and some who go off in all directions, just as I knew both kinds when I was one myself. As I see adults who make bad decisions, come to that. I’m not particularly interested in teenagers as a type or a trope or a set of marketing expectations. I am, however, extremely interested in this particular teenager, who probably screamed at her mother when she got home and got grounded and cried all night because she wished she’d run away with Valentine when she had the chance, then got drunk when she finally went out with him because she was feeling rebellious.

You paint a picture of NYC in the late ’60s, of the Village and Hippies, but also of the high society debutante balls. Any of this come from personal experience?

Oh, yeah. I made my curtsey to society all right. Repeatedly. I have the long white dress and some pictures to prove it, but I can’t say the experience had the effect my mother desired. I also sang at open mics in the Village with my best friend when I was in high school. Never met any elven knights, though. More’s the pity.

Music and dance also play such an important part in this story. Do you have any musical or dance background, or did this require research?

Well, both. Because of [my wife] Ellen’s job with WGBH, she was very involved with the Early Music community, which holds a huge festival in Boston every two years. I love early music, so I went to every concert she got tickets to. I listened to a lot of lute music, saw a lot of interesting-looking people playing a lot of strange-looking musical instruments. During a dance demonstration in a church in Boston, I took notes for the faery ball. And I unblushingly modeled the Queen of Elfland and her band on musicians I know and have heard play. I even told them I was doing it and asked the older ones about the early music scene in the Village, hearing in return a lot of colorful stories that (alas) didn’t fit into my story. I think I remembered to send Paul O’Dette a copy of the story when it came out. I know I promised him I would.

You allow your protagonist to make some very adult, very non-fairy-tale choices. Was this a conscious decision?

Well, Celia’s a modern girl—modern for 1969, anyway. She (like me and most of my friends) is an anti-war liberal, a newly-minted feminist carrying a big grudge against the establishment. In an earlier draft, she thought (and even argued with Guy) about politics on stage, but I took it out because it slowed down the story. She’s very romantic, as the young are romantic, but she’s also a realist, as the young can be realists if they’ve got the right temperament. I see her as making both fairy-tale and adult choices—the fairy-tale ones in Faerie; the adult ones when she is back in the real world, facing going home to her certainly-displeased parents. Perhaps it comes down to the fact that the kind of fantasy I like best to read—certainly the kind of fantasy I like best to write—is about how individual, unique, particular characters deal with their interactions with fairies and mermen and ghosts and all the other strangenesses I throw at them.

What else do you have coming down the pipeline?

I’m working on a middle-grade novel about a boy who is apprentice to an evil wizard on the coast of Maine. And I’ll have a short-story collection coming out from Small Beer Press next year, for which I’m writing a new novella set in an alternate Victorian London in which magic use is limited to the nobility and science is the province of the middle classes.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Nope. Except to thank you for reprinting “Cotillion” and for coming up with questions that made me think what on earth I really was trying to do with Celia and Valentine. I haven’t thought about them for a while, and it was instructive.

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Theodore Quester

Editorial Assistant

Theodore QuesterTheodore Quester spent three years after college in Europe and now speaks seven languages; he spends his days teaching two of them to high school students. He is obsessed with all things coffee–roasting, grinding, pulling espresso–and with food, especially organic and locally grown. He earned his geek street credentials decades ago, publishing an article in 2600 magazine as a young teenager, then writing reviews for SF Eye and interning at Omni magazine. In his spare time, he swims, bikes, runs, and reads a little bit of everything; when inspired, he writes fiction, mostly for children and young adults.