Review of Balancing the Weave, by Marshall Wayne Lee

Balancing the Weave

By M.W. Lee (aka Marshall)

Colonial Heights, VA: JMS Books, 2023

Anansi, god of the storytellers, has a story to tell.

The gods have never left humanity and some have moved with humans, across continents, across oceans, transforming themselves as human cultures changed and transformed over time and place.

They are still looking after us, even if we no longer believe, having relegated them to myth and dreams. In Balancing the Weave, the Three Fates, here reimagined, as the Triumvirate Sisters, Clotho, Parcae, and Moirae, still “weave tapestries in the colors, lengths, and patterns which suggest themselves to the Sisters’ discerning eyes,” These goddesses “decide who a person might  become .. [as] Humans always choose from the opportunities the goddesses present.”

In this story, the Sisters are interested in the life of Mark, a young gay man in fictional Yamasee County, in South Carolina. The goddesses are displeased with Mark, who has become a selfish and self-centered lover. His last breakup was hurtful, and he is convinced himself the blame rests entirely on his ex. They want to offer him another choice, a new pattern, but he needs to grow, and realize his role in the breakup.  He must “comprehend neediness.” I would argue he needs to grow up. Mark is denial of the truth of his actions and their consequences, and the limitations of his friends who are shallow and self-centered.

The work of the goddesses, through dream and memory, begins on Pride Weekend. Will Mark see he shares the blame? Can he accept he may be fault? Will he see that he needs to grow up?

I didn’t find Mark likeable at first, but I found myself cheering him on as he started to tell himself the truth. Growth is sometimes painful, even as it is necessary. There is hope that Mark might come to recognize that with love comes mutual respect, responsibility, and caring, and that we are all needy in one way or another.

This a well-told tale indeed. 


Posted: 12 March 2023

2022: Reflections on Writing

January 12, 2023

I wanted to start what I hope will be the first of many annual reflections on my writing in the past year with an interview posted on January 8. J. Scott Coatsworth, founder and administrator, with Mark Guzman and some others, of Queer Sci Fi and Liminal Fiction. Scott and Mark are also the founders of Other Worlds Ink, which provide such services as blog tours, and this spotlight below. I highly recommend the blog tours, and, signing up for a spotlight! They are good folks indeed.

This Author Spotlight got a surprising amount of attention and positive responses. Scott did post it on various Facebook group pages, such as LGBT Writers, Queer SF, his blog, SF fan groups, and so on. Sales, I don’t know yet. But, interest was sparked.

This brings me to the three writing highlights of the year: the publications of In Light’s Shadow: A Fairy Tale, in September, “Ghosts,” a flash fiction shorty story, in October, and of Susurrus, a stand-alone novella, in November.

In an earlier reflection (see below) I have written about In Light’s Shadow‘s writing history, starting back in 2003, when the short story, “The Golden Boy,” was published in The Silver Gryphon (Golden Gryphon Press, 2003). In January 2022, as mentioned in the earlier post, I sent off the novel to a press in Canada, Mirror World Publishing. They asked for 3 more chapters–which makes any writer cautiously optimistic and excited. The rejection letter was 3 pages long. I took it to heart, in the spirit in which it was written. More revisions, then even more, with an amazing free-lance editor I know (who happens to be my best friend), Ellen McQueen.

We worked on revising the novel for several months. This was an immense amount of fun and hard work. We discussed characters and their motivations, their authenticity, and believability. We discussed idea and metaphor and trope. Pages of text from the Mirror World version were edited out. We discussed the world of the novel, the Columbian Empire. We talked about telling the truth, the job of any writer and editor. Our finished work was sent to JMS Books, my publisher. More revisions, another editor with a different eye. Art work and blurbs and proofreading and proofreading and proofreading, and the novel was published in September in ebook format, in paperback in October.

Sigh. Even with that much proofreading, yes, there were published mistakes. But not big, plot holes, thank God. One reviewer did ask where were the “good Columbians,” like the “Good Germans” in World War II? A fair question and while I know they were there, and helping the persecuted fairies, as they risked (and sometimes lost) their own lives, I could have, and should have, made it more explicit. All that said, I am proud of this book.

Susurrus came out in November. Like Light’s, this stand-alone novella grew out of a shorter work, in this case, “Ghosts,” a flash fiction short story also published, in 2022, in Clarity: Queer Sci Fi’s NinthAnnual Flash Fiction Contest (Other Worlds Ink).

The writing prompt for the contest is as follows: Clarity (noun): 1) coherent and intelligible; 2) transparent and pure; (3) attaining certainty about something; and (4) easy to see or hear. The 300-word stories, Clarity-themed, SF, fantasy, paranormal, or horror, with LGBTQ+ characters. I went with 2. Transparent, ghosts are transparent, what if people were becoming ghosts and were still alive, if something had happened to turn them transparent, a disease, maybe, but nobody knew for sure. I followed two characters, two gay men, a married couple, Russell and Theo, as the disease progressed.

I was pleased when “Ghosts” earned an Honorable Mention in the flash fiction contest.

Like many of my stories, I found myself wanting to know more about my characters, and the world in which they lived. What happened next to Russell and Theo? How did they get this disease? Where did the disease come from? Was it human-made? So, I started a longer version in response to a call for stories from JMS Books. Every year, the press holds an Advent Calendar Sale, a free story (12,000-20,000 words) for each day of Advent. The world of the flash fiction story, I knew. It was a world I have explored in several stories, particular those in The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories (JMS Books, 2021). This fantasy world grew over the years, and has its own timeline, dynastic lists, and so on.

Russell and Theo lived in the Kingdom of Lothia, north of Joria, in a small city in the north, Ciara. I learned more about them, such as their past, families, details of their jobs, and so on. And I learned more about the ghost disease. It was not natural, but rather magical disease made by the royal magician, Varon Cambeul, at the request of his lover, King Aloysius of Lothia. And to my surprise, this longer story, Susurrus, was not about Russell and Theo, but Varon. Pause, reset, shift, edit, revise, proofread several times, work with an editor–and Susurrus was published in November. The title refers to a stage of the ghost disease, when the afflicted become like a susurrus (noun: whispering, murmuring, rustling, ex. the wind in trees).

I like this story a lot. So, those are the highlights of my year in writing, 2022. This year, I am working on a new story collection, of which Susurrus will be a part, the sequel to In Light’s Shadow: A Fairy Tale, and, I hope, getting a good start on the sequel to The Werewolf and His Boy (JMS Books, 2021, a re-release of the 2016 Samhain Publishing edition).

2022 was a good year. Onward!

Review of The Laran Gambit, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Deborah J. Ross

San Francisco, CA: Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, 2022 Available from Publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Book, Audible, and other sources

November 23, 2022

I haven’t journeyed to Darkover and its universe for some time. I have been looking forward to a return trip ever since I placed my order for The Laran Gambit, by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah Ross. I was sure I was in for a grand adventure.

I was right.

The journey begins in a somewhat deceptive calm on Terra, with an also somewhat unlikely hero. Bryn Haslund is a child psychologist who works with traumatized children, traumas inflicted upon them by the brutal policies of the Star Alliance, the successor to the Terran Federation, and its tyrannical First Minister, Arthur Nagy. Bryn is leaving the clinic to go visit her sister, meet her activist “young man,” Leonin Vargas, and to watch her father, Senator Ernst Haslund, deliver an important speech critical of Nagy.

She steps out into the street, and looks up. “A glory of orange and violet bathed clouds was piled high like mountains. She felt as if she was gazing into a faraway country, a land of fjords and rolling plains … A planet circling a ruddy sun … The light shifted …” Bryn stands on the same city street. Another “one of those odd premonitions she’d had since her teen years”?— or, she has been working too hard. Settling for the more prosaic answer, Bryn boards a tram—and the calm of her life as a therapist ends. The gun goes off, the flag drops. Bryn’s life goes into high gear. In the next few hours, she meets Black, a creepy man, on the tram, a really creepy man, and her intuition tells her something is wrong. To get away from him, she jumps off the tram and winds up in the middle of a political protest against Nagy. The protest turns very violent, and she gets dosed with knockout gas. Bryn wakes up in what seems to be a hospital, only to meet Black again, Finally Bryn gets to her sister’s apartment. Her father’s speech is in support of Nagy. Bryn is shocked. This is impossible. Something is really wrong. Bryn and Leonin are soon on the run from the secret police, led by Black.

Bryn finds herself on double quests, one public, the other, other private and personal, yet these quests are interconnected. They will take Bryn from Terra to Alpha, “the Alliance’s center for scientific and medical research,” to Darkover, a “Lost Colony world circling a dim red star, where telepathic powers, [laran], have been developed to an extraordinary degree.” Eventually, as often happens on a quest, she will have to return to where her journey began, for a confrontation, made all the more dangerous with the uncertainty of success and the greatness of the risk involved.

The public quest forces her into the political arena she wanted to avoid. She has to engage in a confrontation between good and evil, in a struggle between freedom and oppression, between the machine and the natural. Bryn has to find and help her father; his very self is in danger of being lost. His mind has clearly been tampered with, by the insertion of a device she later learns is a theta-corticator, a mind probe that alters his thoughts so much he supports Nagy, whom he opposed. Her second quest is deeply personal and private, yet still connected to the public. Coupled with Bryn’s desperate need to help her father, and free him of this device implanted into his brain, her second quest is to know and accept who and what she is. Her premonitions, her danger-sense, are part of the psychic abilities that she didn’t know she had. Can she learn to master them? Or will they master her?

She and Leonin do find her father on Alpha, directed there with the help of Leonin’s brother and a cell of the dissident Free Worlds Movement. They trace the Senator’s broadcast to Alpha and help Bryn and Leonin get off Terra. On Alpha, where Bryn was a graduate student, she enlists the help of a former professor, Felicity Sage, and she seeks information in the university library. Felicity has knowledge of such probes as the one in the Senator’s head. In the library, Bryn learns of Darkover and its natural telepaths, who may know to neutralize the mind-control device. They manage another escape, this time, at a terrible cost. In a firefight, with Black and his secret police, Leonin dies. Bryn and Felicity’s ship is attacked in route. The shuttle down to Darkover crash-lands in ice-bound mountains, which are inhabited by such denizens as “blood-thirsty bandits to giant carnivorous birds.” She mentally calls for help before the shuttle crashed, and someone answered. What does this mean? Who answered? Bryn and her professor are rescued, yes, but more trials await them on Darkover, and so do the answers to her questions.

Readers new to “the marvelous world of Darkover,” will be, at first, like Bryn, a stranger in a strange land. But as Bryn learns how to live on Darkover, so does the reader. She learns how to control and use her laran, and, at the same time, she also learns how to negotiate a complex and ancient culture, with its own factions and politics. She begins to understand Darkover’s troubled history with Terra, a history that complicates her personal relationships with Darkovans. I felt a traveler myself, as I re-learned and remembered this compelling world, from its social order and customs to the food served in its inns.

Bryn, and the others, are appealing and compelling characters. Felicity Sage, the professor, spoke to me on a personal level. As a retired professor myself, I knew who she was. I cheered for Leonin, the firebrand revolutionary, and mourned his death. I also cheered for Desiderio (Desi), the Darkovan telepath, who is first assigned to Bryn by the Regent, only for both of them to find they are drawn to each other. He becomes a friend, a supporter, and the hint of something more—but that’s another story. In many ways, Desi and Leonin are mirrors of each other. Leonin is a wild card, a firebrand; Desi, assigned to help her, is calm, urbane, and gifted with laran.

This doubling and mirroring are inherent in the novel’s structure. The two quests mirror each other, and, as mentioned, inextricably connected. The personal is political as Bryn learns more than once. She treats traumatized children, and she is traumatized herself, by Leonin’s death, the violence done to her, the mental rape of her father, the evil of Black. The theta-corticator’s dark technology is linked to the benign therapeutic devices Bryn has used in her work. Light and dark, good and evil, are recurring, threads weaving the adventure into a whole.

Also inherent in the novel’s structure, in its story, is feminism. Yes, the protagonist is an intelligent and capable woman, but also here is a culture that demands collaboration, cooperation, and community, not power or force. Laran exemplifies these values, which has changed one world—can they change another? Can the Darkovans help Bryn? Will the natural telepathy and mental powers of the Darkovans, their laran, be a match for machines that can change an intelligent, strong man into a servile mouthpiece of a mad dictator? Will Bryn, a stranger on a strange world, master her own psychic abilities, her own laran, and can she learn how to use it in the inevitable confrontation with the agents of the dictator, the evil Black, the dictator himself? Can she do so without violating the deep cultural ethics of Darkovan laran use: it is not, and most not be, a weapon. Can one woman change everything? Will the laran gambit succeed—and save Bryn, her father, and Darkover itself?

Perhaps the ultimate question of this novel, the one that faces Bryn throughout her journeys, is one Ross asks in her introduction, “What will [Bryn] do with the time that is given her?” This time of political upheaval, violence, and the threat of war is not the life she wanted. But no one want such a life. Ross notes a conversation in The Fellowship of the Ring that gives me pause whenever I read it:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live in such times. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us” (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1965: 60).

For Bryn, I think, the answer to this question is to take action, both publicly and privately, for herself, and for those she loves. The public and the private are not truly separate, nor can they be. Each influences the other. The actions of one person, as Bryn comes to learn, do make a difference.

Yes, the journey of The Laran Gambit is well worth taking, and this journey is a grand adventure.

Highly recommended.

Post 3, May 22, 2023: Some Thoughts on Jewels of Darkover, edited by Deborah Ross

The title of the latest Darkover anthology, Jewels of Darkover, is aptly fitting. One opens up this collection of short stories, all inspired by the Darkover series, to find a box of jewels. Inside, of course, are the blue matrices, or starstones that helps those gifted with laran to use their powers. Readers will find other gems inside: some golden and dark, others small and rare, some set in necklaces, others, the colors of flames. Readers will find treasures.

The range of the stories here is remarkable. For example,”Golden Eyes” is set about a hundred years after the first humans come to the planet. The protagonist of “Little Mouse” is a young blind woman who borrows the eyes of mice. Other protagonists include woman of the Sisterhood of the Sword, a man and a woman, strangers to each other, marrying to preserve their families. One story is told by a woman of a certain age. And not all protagonists are human.

Somewhat at random, I wanted to go into more detail about two stories in this rich jewel box. I hav easily selected two different ones. “Pebbles,” by Rhondi Salsitz, introduces Paulin, a twelve-year-old poor boy, an orphan, and a double minority on Darkover: brown-skinned, and the grandson of a Terran. His one friend, Tyrmera, is a Traveler, another outsider on Darkover. But Paulin, is Comyn, and gifted with laran. His gift is the ability to hear voices from the future, a rare gift, if not a unique on, and thus the Comyn want him as one of theirs. But what does Paulin want? And others–do they want him, or what he represents? Can this boy and his friend, both outsiders, find a place on Darkover? “Berry-Thorn,” Berry-Thorn, by Leslie Fish, has a nonhuman protagonist, Toshmi, a Kyrri, and like Paulin and Tyrmera, another outsider. Something is happening. Toshmi leads other Kyrri to find out what’s going on, and, if necessary to stop this “great work.” But what is at stake, for Toshmi, for the kyrri, for Darkover itself?

Darkover fans, take note. Jewels await you.

And other note: sadly, this is the 20th, and apparently the last, Darkover anthology. There will be other Darkover novels, Arilinn, by Debrah Ross is forthcoming. But such tales, from the many writers who find inspiration under the red sun, alas, no.

Post 2, June 2022

My fifth novel, In Light’s Shadow: A Fairy Tale, is forthcoming and will be released on September 3, 2022, by JMS Books, LLC. This novel has been a long time coming. It had its genesis in a 2003 short story, “The Golden Boy,” published in The Silver Gryphon, eds. Gary Turner and Marty Halpern, by the late and lamented Golden Gryphon Press, in 2003. “The Golden Boy” was a finalist for the 2004 Spectrum Award for Short Fiction.

And here it is, 2022, and the novel based on this short story is due out in a few months. The story was well received. Gary Turner, the publisher of Golden Gryphon Press, suggested I turn it into a novel. So I did. I started sending out The Golden Boy no later 2007. By 2022, The Golden Boy had been sent to thirteen different presses. Yes, thirteen. The responses ranged from nothing, not even an acknowledgment of receipt, to a long and detailed letter. Each time the novel, I edited and revised–and often, when it came back, more editing and revising.

Now, you may be wondering how it took 15 years to get to print. Life sort of intervened. Harvest of Changelings came out in 2007, its sequel, The Called, in 2010, from Golden Gryphon Press. Not longer that, Golden Gryphon had to close its doors. I did get the press’s logo tattooed on my left shoulder. The Werewolf and His Boy was published by Samhain Press in 2016–and sadly, a year or so later, Samhain closed its doors. Small independent presses all too often don’t have long lifespans. But, that said, of the thirteen to which I sent The Golden Boy–and I did not send it to Golden Gryphon or Samhain–eleven still seem to be alive and well.

In addition to sending various incarnations in the past 15 years, I was busy teaching at the University of Mary Washington, which had its own academic writing demands, and the lesson plans, conferences, classes, and all the rest. Sometimes the book just sat there. Then, ahhh, I’d try again. And again.

Then came 2020, another revision, out to Mirror World in Windsor, Ontario, three chapters, a request for the rest, and then, a long, thoughtful, and detailed rejection letter explaining why, with suggestion for improvement. All right …. but 2020 intervened. I was already on track for retirement, then the pandemic, going online to teach, moving from Fredericksburg to Charlottesville, and finally in 2021, I got back to the novel. A revision. Then, my extraordinary friend and free-lance editor, Ellen McQueen, went to work on The Golden Boy.

Now here we are, with a new title, In Light’s Shadow: A Fairy Tale, and a signed contract with JMS Books, whom I contacted to re-release The Werewolf and His Boy in 2020. The golden boy is still alive and well, but over the years, some things have changed, and Gavin Bookers is a far more active hero. The novel is about him, and about their relationship, as it evolves from their boyhood to adulthood in a dystopian world. The motifs of light and dark, shadow and light, multicolored lights, are sharper, and more vivid.

I hope you like the novel.

Post 1, January 2022

If you are reading this post, then my website, Kingdom of Joria ( has gone live.


This is my second website. The first I created with the assistance of Jim Groom, former head of DTLT, at the University of Mary Washington. Well, more like I assisted him. For various and boring reasons, that website has been buried in a local cyber graveyard. Thank you, Jim!

Here, you will find descriptions of and excerpts from my published fiction, cover art, and buy links. There is a calendar of upcoming events, as they are scheduled. Also, you will find a writer’s bio and contact information.

I want to thank Digital Learning Support’s amazingShannon Hauser and Jerry Slezak. Without their support, hands-on assistance, and troubleshooting, and answering questions, I could not have constructed this website. I want to especially thank Shannon, who directly shepherded me through this process.

So, what can you expect to find here in these occasional posts? Raves and rants, reflections and musings on writing–my writing and the writing of others, for starters. Thoughts on storytelling and the craft of writing, on language, on metaphor. On science fiction and fantasy, on fairytale and folklore, especially gay-themed science fiction and fantasy, as this is mostly what I write. Gay SF and fantasy I see as rhetorical acts, and ongoing arguments for their inherent value, their essential nature, their truths,

Yes, I know not to expect a large audience, or an audience period, especially not at first.

So be it. Thanks for stopping by.