This isn’t entirely a review. Sarah asked me to write the introduction for this collection of her short stories, and I greedily agreed, knowing it meant I would get to read them all as part of creating a good introduction. Since she has priced it very, very reasonably, I do hope you pick a copy up: it is well worth the minimal cost for what you get. This is only an introductory sale price, though, so don’t delay.
Some time ago, in the lost mists of time, a young woman who thought she would like to write fell in with a group of other writers. She knew she had it good, because she had learned that not all writing groups are created equal. So, her skin already calloused from legendary SFF semi-anonymous group Critters, where no-one knows your name and everyone has an opinion (not always based in her reality) she shyly hung around the fringes and mostly listened.
This group was not like the others, she quickly learned. It boasted professional published authors that really wanted to help. One of those was Sarah Hoyt. The young writer was myself. I can look back at that time and think that I was a different person, back then. Like a phoenix, I’ve been through fire and reborn anew. But Sarah has been a constant, along with Dave Freer, in mentoring my writing until the current day.
Sarah calls me, and the others who share her mentoring, her fledglings. It was due to Sarah that I finally became a published author and proved my feathers were fully grown-in and could keep me aloft. She was the person who suggested that Independency was not only possible, but feasible to the businesswoman I had become.
I think this collection of stories reflects that facet of Sarah very well. She is enamoured of life, liberty, and the freedom that our American Founders espoused. They were borne, as the main characters in Around the Bend are, by hope. She started the concept called Human Wave, stories that don’t condemn our human race as hapless and vile, but hopeful.
Sarah’s stories often explore the human condition by peering through odd filters at it. What if vampires were real, and threatening an ancient France? What would the fabled Musketeers be, and why would humans join together against a terrible evil that seemed hopeless to resist in First Blood? Ah, hope!
Not to say that all the stories have happy endings. Although I suppose I shouldn’t spoil that one, even if… Nope. You have to read them yourself and discover which one I’m referring to. This collection shows some of the breadth of Sarah Hoyt’s mind, and it can be a dizzying glimpse of range, from kittens cute and fluffy to the multitude of Chinese Hells and gods therein.
Even then, when all seems lost, she never loses the reader to despair. Hope or horror, humor is the leavening she sprinkles in to keep her characters going through the worst she can throw at them. As an author, Sarah and I both focus on our characters. Whatever else the story tells, the characters must live, breathe, and ultimately sacrifice in order to grow. Both of us have a special fondness for families. We know what a mother’s sacrifice is, and you can see her love of her own children in her tales of family life and love. It’s not a rosy glow, she sees the reality that not everything will have a happy ending. She’s very good at showing love, rather than telling us that her characters love one another.
Because it is love, she reminds us in tales like Shepherds and Wolves, that ultimately makes us human. In an era when packs of roving bullies harass people on the internet, allowing their prejudices and assumptions to blind them to the reality in front of them, we need this reminder. Humans, one race, each one a unique individual who loves, and is loved. By someone, somewhere. Even if we don’t love that person, we cannot forget that they are human like we are.
Unless they aren’t human. Sarah often writes about vampires, the undead who have become a common theme in our culture. Her take on them is by no means flat, however. You will find more than one note in the immortal, deadly beings she brings to life (you should excuse my deplorable humor…) in tales like Blood Ransom. Sick of vampires? Don’t worry. You haven’t met Sarah’s conflicted, all-too-human characters yet.
One thing I have always enjoyed about her characters is their realism. From the middle-aged woman called out on one last mission, to the over-talented youngster who still struggles with school, you feel like you might know them. Sarah doesn’t fall into the trap of the perfect hero or heroine who can do no wrong. Just like you and me, her characters screw up. They have more snark than they ought to, and they are stubborn, just like Sarah can be.
In the years I’ve known Sarah, I’ve come to learn that a good writer can mimic those around them onto the paper. It’s a writer’s gift, after all, to bring words into life, worlds from our minds drawn onto a flat plane that yet invoke imagination beyond the bounds of what the reader knows to be true. A great writer can spin whole universes into being from the neuron web of the brain and then hang shimmering globes of tales into that cobweb universe. People talk, fight, love, and die in those tales, and the reader weeps for the reality that isn’t there at all.
Reading is, in the end, the ultimate goal of the writer. We do not write to lock the story in a desk drawer to gather dust. We write that the tales might be read. Sharing the worlds with readers breathes new life into them. Writers learn from their readers. Sarah’s readers interact with her at her blog, According to Hoyt, and let her know what they want to see. It doesn’t always happen, but I know as a writer that it helps, to hear others ask for more when they have just devoured your worlds and found them good. That feedback loop helps the writer give more.
I’ve learned so much from Sarah. One of the things I learned by observation. Writers often despair. We get to a certain point in a story and throw our hands up. This is horrible! We tell ourselves. No-one could possibly enjoy this. Fortunately, we’re wrong. Sure, we’ll never please every reader. Some won’t get what we were trying to say. But if we use the skills we’ve learned to spin the tales as they come to us, then we can make magic. Even if it isn’t the sort of magic that will leave you with a dress made of silk and butterfly wings, it is a magic worth having.
Magic comes with a price, they say, and certainly we write of prices. This, then, is the price writers pay, the sadness and joy of creation. Sarah advised me that to write a story that would grip the reader, you must metaphorically open a vein and bleed on the page. I’ve done that, and discovered that this is true. However, if you go too far, you write horror. Spilling one’s heart’s blood results in a story that is so emotionally painful it makes your readers flinch. I tried again, and found that a few drops of my essence… like the story of Heart’s Fire, where the young heroine is reading a paperback novel, the key to her downfall. Wry humor here. Sarah and I share a love of reading, and furthermore, reading stuff that everyone tells us is trashy and why aren’t you reading works with great and lofty messages?
Because sometimes it’s not about the message that blinks and flashes like a giant neon light tearing the quiet night apart. Sometimes it’s about the little stories, the lives of people who work and love and live quietly, never thinking they could make a difference until they have no choice. Because that is a message in itself. Stories give us hope, which enables us to continue. Stories show us how heroism really works, and romance, and all the big things that make us human and keeps us going onward into the future which might hold magic in the form of technology. Or maybe not, it could be things we haven’t even dreamed of yet, writers nor readers.
We won’t know until we are in the future. Here in the present, we can look clear-eyed at the world around us, the history behind us, and we can tell stories. Mothers and grannies have always told stories. Sometimes they were stories to teach, or to give hope, or to simply make a child laugh. We could attain no higher praise than that simple laughter.
Enjoy Sarah’s stories, the worlds that she has woven with her words. Live with the people she heard in her mind, and then remember to say thank you, for the simple pleasure. Authors are people too, and it means a lot. One of the best ways to say thanks? Leave an honest review for the book you just read. I’m saying thank you, for the stories, and the way she has poked, prodded, critiqued, and teased me into becoming a writer too. I’m a better person for knowing her and learning from her.
Ready to travel the universes? Go read!