Smoke and Mirrors

A few days ago, in the comments to my Wednesday Wandering “Two Types of

The Novel in Question

Teeth” (10-26-11), Erich Martell mentioned that he had given a copy of my novel Smoke and Mirrors to a friend of his I’d chatted with at a party a few weeks back.

My automatic response was to think that of all my novels, this one was pretty sure to give a new acquaintance a warped idea of what I’m like.  You see, Smoke and Mirrors is the story of a whore who is also a touch telepath.  As such things go, the sex scenes aren’t graphic, but they are much more “on stage” than is usual in my writing.

I’m not embarrassed by this book, but I will say it has certainly gotten some amusing reactions.  My favorite by far is that of my long-time agent, Kay McCauley.  After reading the manuscript, she called up and said lots of nice things, including that it was her personal favorite of my novels to that point.  Then she paused and added, “Now, dear heart, just how was it you put yourself through graduate school?”

I laughed my head off and dedicated the book to her.

Later on, though, I was slightly less amused to learn that the publisher was uncomfortable with how the book might be received in more conservative areas.

For that reason, Smokey’s profession – she calls herself a “whore” without the least waffling or prevarication – was softened in the cover blurb.

The final blurb reads: “Telepath, mother, industrial spy, prostitute, Smokey’s uncanny ability to sense and respond to each client’s unique desires has made her the most celebrated ‘working girl’ on the planet Arizona.”

Sheesh!  Working girl?  How 1920’s!  Prostitute?  How technical!  And note that these are carefully buried behind the – presumably more acceptable to those conservative types – “mother” and “industrial spy.”

This singular prudence – or perhaps it was prudery – extended to the cover art.  Many authors have had reason to complain about jacket illustrations in which their responsible ship’s captain or college professor or computer programmer or whatever is depicted with a torn clothing trousers or with her breasts hanging out of an unbuttoned shirt or something else provocative and wholly inappropriate.

I give them a book in which the character could, in all fairness, be depicted stark naked and what do they do?  Well, take a look at the accompanying illustration.  Not only is Smokey fully clothed, even her hands and feet are covered.  She doesn’t even have cleavage!  Instead she’s wearing some sort of heavy space suit or body armor, which could – were it not for some slight swelling at the breast and a bit more at the hips – be being worn by a man as easily as by a woman.  Even Smokey’s celebrated silvery grey hair is muted to brown, with just one lock near her right ear brushed grey.

The backdrop of a star field backed by various ghostly faces is artistic, but says nothing about the book or its vital, sexual, and dynamic protagonist.

Ah, well, a long time ago (1996) and far away.

But Erich’s selection of Smoke and Mirrors as the book to use to introduce his friend to my work has gotten me thinking.  What book would you give a reader you wanted to read Jane Lindskold’s works?  What criteria would you use to make the selection?  I’d really like to know because, whenever I get asked, I inevitably get flustered and don’t know what to say!

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16 Responses to “Smoke and Mirrors”

  1. Peter Says:

    Myself, I got hooked on your stuff when I (with some trepidation) picked up Donnerjack, devoured it in a sitting, then scoured every bookstore within 50 km looking for more of your work. I sucked in a Classics major ex-friend of mine (borrowing one of my books and never returning it is a great way to make it on to my merde list) with Pipes of Orpheus, and another who was on an urban fantasy* jag with Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls. Changer is a good introduction too, but I’m reluctant to lend out my copy for fear of never being able to replace it.

    Really it’s hard to pick a single book as an introduction – it would really depend on what I know about the tastes of the person I’m suggesting it to – but if I had to pick a single, readily available, one, probably Through Wolf’s Eyes.

    *That’s “urban fantasy” in the sense of “Moonheart/War for the Oaks/Wizard of the Pigeons” as opposed to the more recent sense of “porn with vampires.”

  2. Alan Robson Says:

    I’m going to make two comments here. This is the first and by far the easiest. What book would I give to a reader who I wanted to turn on to Jane Lindskold’s work? I don’t even have to think about it. The answer is obvious: “Changer” of course. It has universal appeal. I defy anyone to read it and not get hooked.

    Except equally, of course, there’s no way I’d *ever* let my copy out of my sight for the same reasons as Peter.

    Perhaps these people will all have to sit on my sofa to read the book. Tough — that means they’ll have to put up with a coyote on curled up on their lap. Oops, sorry — I mean cat. I get confused…


    -Alan

  3. Alan Robson Says:

    This is my second comment and it’s much harder to write. Please forgive me if I give offence; I don’t mean to.

    Jane’s comment about the prudery associated with the cover and the blurb of “Smoke And Mirrors” strikes a chord with me.

    I’ve observed with some disquiet that over the last few years American prime time television (and, I suppose, by implication American culture in general) has tended more and more towards an everyday acceptance of the appallingly graphical depiction of of ever more grotesque violence. Blood, guts, and dismembered body parts fill our screens night after night and they are presented to us in lovingly detailed and lingering close ups.

    But if Janet Jackson flashes a nipple for a microsecond the country goes into shock.

    Why is the pornography of violence considered so suitable for all ages, but the purely natural and often very beautiful bodies of our actors are considered so disgusting and shameful? What’s so harmful about admiring a beautiful person? And what’s so bad about admitting that sex exists? We are all of us sexual beings, why try to hide it?

    If we can show eviscerated corpses, why can’t we show genitalia?

    I suppose it’s a cultural difference again. Prime time British TV, indeed, most non-American TV, has been showing both male and female full frontal nudity and producing dramas that explore every sexual indulgence you can think of (and a few that you can’t) for almost as long as I can remember, and nobody thinks anything of it. We’ve been doing it since at least the 1960s. My father bought one of the first colour TVs on the market because he wanted to watch bouncing breasts in colour rather than in black and white. Very sensible of him, I always thought.

    I find programmes such as “CSI” and “Bones” and “NCIS” and all the rest of them, almost impossible to watch. I’m not squeamish; I have a first aid certificate and I’ve seen real blood and I’ve treated real injuries. Nevertheless the glorification of violence, the voyeuristically gleeful concentration on the details of hideous injuries, the lingering close ups of decomposing bodies (thank goodness we don’t have smell-o-vision yet), the casual acceptance of violent death, the assumption that might is right and all you need is a bigger gun or a bigger knife to win the day against any opposition, the fact that this state of affairs is considered to be normal (even desirable) — all these things combine to sicken me and they send my fingers racing for the channel changer or the off switch.

    I’d much rather watch a naked couple making love. There’s more truth and beauty and magic and poetry in that than there is in any amount of blood, guts and maggots.

    And I can see that of course — only not on American TV shows and not on the covers of American books.


    -Alan

  4. Debbie Says:

    Hi Jane: I’m coming out of writing seclusion for a moment to respond to this post. I have given Changer out to a number of my friends. I so love this book; it hits all of my NA mythology buttons. I’ve also recommended “Child of a Rainless Year,” though I’m more careful about to whom I recommend this book. I find it deeply spiritual and recommend it only to my friends who would appreciate that aspect of it. If you remember, I actually interviewed you about this book when I was getting my MFA. I wanted to know how you were able to get such a complex concept as liminal space work in a fiction novel. Anyway, I just love these two books the best. However, I sent your wolf books to my niece and created a fan with those books. So I guess my real answer is it depends on the reader. You have such a great array of kinds of fiction to fit any reader.

  5. Dominique Says:

    I would recommend several books. One of my favorite Jane Lindskold books is Brother to Dragon, Companion to Owls. It was the first Lindskold book that I ever read and so it holds a special place in heart. However, since I started I haven’t been able to stop. Depending on the individual I would recommend Changer, Child of a Rainless Year, any of the Wolf Books, and last but definitely not least the Thirteen Orphans books. I think that the best part is that nothing is exactly the same, and as I said, based on a friend’s personality I could easily recommend one of the above.

  6. John C Says:

    I recommend Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls for four reasons.

    1) Good authors are like good bands; it’s worth following their journeys as closely as possible, and that means starting at the beginning.
    2) I grew up on Kipling’s Jungle Book stories (pre-Disney).
    3) Many of my friends at the tail end of Gen-X can identify with the voiceless, and many recovering academics can identify with speaking only in quotations.
    4) It’s not in a series of any kind, so there’s no sense of obligation beyond the single volume.

  7. heteromeles Says:

    I’d add another vote for Changer, except that it’s not leaving my hands either. Sigh.

  8. Karl Erich Martell Says:

    Ciao bella,

    I’m with John C., actually, though I might actually go with _Pipes of Orpheus_ . . . the thing is, it depends on the prospective reader. Which is what happened with David – he and Christine like sci-fi, and _Smokin’ Mirrors_ (how’s THAT for drawing the reader to your racy spacegoing gal’s adventures?) was a great example of your hard SF stuff.

    BTW, that cover may have Smokey in a spacesuit, but it’s a pretty cute spacesuit.

    Now I’m trying to decide which is my favorite of your books, which is a different question, indeed . . . . You and Jim have a great Thanksgiving!

    cheers, erich

  9. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I fear I only know Firekeeper, and all your books since (including Buried Pyramid).

    Thus I recommend the first book of Firekeeper or Breaking the wall, or Buried Pyramid. Though personally, I feel Thirteen Orphans is your best work, which I tend to mention. I also say as the Firekeeper series progress, your skill gets better. So they get to watch you grow as the story dose.

    That’s all I can offer.

  10. Rowan Says:

    Middle School – High School: Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, every time. I remember, vividly, my first encounter with the book – given to me by my mother, given to her by a family friend. My grandmother read it first (we were on a trip) and was somewhat dubious about its appropriateness, but being the uhm… precocious… kid I was, I read it anyway, and from then on bought every Lindskold book I could and loaned Brother to Dragons to all my friends, starting a chain of events culminating in fabulous friendship.

    College: Child of a Rainless Year. I felt like I could recommend it to a different audience, and I liked that it was about New Mexico, which made it Culturally Significant.

    Current: Recommending Thirteen Orphans to absolutely everyone, sometimes touting it as an antidote to overwrought paranormal fiction about young people who think stalking and emotional abuse is totally sexy.

  11. raartori Says:

    Changer is the one that I push the most. “Urban fantasy” is hot right now and it fits the bill without ever coming near cliches that are making the genre notorious. You say you don’t like urban fantasy? I DARE you to read Changer and not like it.

    Plus Changer is one of my favorite novels, period. I will loan out my copy – with an application and a list of references first. Boy am I glad they reprinted Brother to Dragons at least.

  12. janelindskold Says:

    Changer seems a favorite in this group so far, with Child of a Rainless Year and Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls as runners up.

    I’m interested that only Nicholas mentioned the Firekeeper books — is that because of the series aspects, or are these Wanderings not reaching the wolf fans?

    Interesting.

    I’m happy to announce that within a very short period of time, Changer going to be out as both an e-book and POD. I’m very excited about it, so I’ll be making a fuss when it’s ready.

    I hope you all consider it for your Christmas lists!

    And I still have limited copies of my earlier out of print works available via the bookstore on my website. Since those come from me directly, I can sign and personalize.

    Just saying…

  13. Paul Says:

    I agree with much of what’s already been said: first, that the specific book depends on the reader (“Child of a Rainless Year” for a friend who loved urban fantasy; “The Buried Pyramid” for Indiana Jones fans, etc.), and, second, unless I trust the person implicitly, they don’t get to borrow the book; they either get a recommendation or an outright gift.

  14. Laura Says:

    I lent Brother to Dragons to a friend who happened to work in the mental health industry, simply because I loved the story, and the idea that inanimate objects have a say (don’t cuss at your computer!). She later told me she didn’t often read or enjoy fictional books that dealt with her professional life, (schizophrenia etc), but that she had really enjoyed it, and found it an ‘honest’ depiction of the ‘hearing voices’ phenomenon. I was taken aback that she thought it depicted mental illness. 🙂

    I have gifted Changer to others, as well, but it is a keeper for me, and not lent out. It has helped me get through some tough times in my life… more so than ‘Who moved my cheese’. So, thanks for that!

    I think I never lent any of the Firekeeper books to anyone, because at first, I found ‘Through Wolf’s Eyes’ hard to get into. I didn’t give up, and continued to buy the series, and eventually I was in the right headspace to enjoy the series, but that is probably the reason I don’t think of the Firekeeper series as an introduction to your works.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Brother to Dragons… is certainly a book in which mental illness is an element. Sarah’s voices are real to her, but not to anyone else. I was more inspired by early accounts of autism than by schizophrenia, however.

      Firekeeper is another character who is best understood as insane — by human standards or by wolf standards. Her mind belongs to one, her body to the others. She’s lucky to find people of both species who are willing to accept her difference.

      Initially, I was going to write the book only from her point of view, but I realized that would drive the reader nuts!

  15. Other Jane Says:

    I’m pretty much with the group: Changer is fun and covers so many mythos. Child of a Rainless Year and Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls are also easy recommendations. I think it’s easier to recommend on a book or two rather than a series.

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