Charnas, Suzy McKee 1939–
Charnas, Suzy McKee 1939–
PERSONAL: Born October 22, 1939, in New York, NY; daughter of Robinson (an artist) and Maxine (an artist; maiden name, Szanton) McKee; married Stephen Charnas (a lawyer), October 4, 1968; children: (stepchildren) Charles N. Joanna. Education: Barnard College, New York, NY, B.A., 1961; New York University, M.A.T., 1965. Politics: "Disgusted; liberal when active." Religion: Jewish.
ADDRESSES: Office—212 High St., N.E., Albuquerque, NM 87102. Agent—Jennifer Lyons, Joan Davis Agency, Writers' House, 21 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer and educator. U.S. Peace Corps, Washington, DC, teacher of history and English at girls' high school in Ogbomosho, Nigeria, and lecturer in economic history at University of Ife, Ibadan, Nigeria, both 1961–63; junior high school teacher of ancient history and African studies in New York, NY, 1965–67; Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital, New York, NY, in curriculum development with Division of Community Mental Health, 1967–69; writer, 1969–. Judge for James Tiptree, Jr., Retrospective Award, 1991.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Horror Writers of America, Dramatists Guild, Poets and Writers, PEN Southwest.
AWARDS, HONORS: Nebula Award, 1980, for novella "The Unicorn Tapestry"; Hugo Award, 1989, for short story "Boobs"; Gigamesh Award, 1990, for best fantasy stories; Aslan Award for best children's book, Mythopoeic Society, 1993, for The Kingdom of Kevin Malone; James Tiptree, Jr., Retrospective Award, 1996, for Walk to the End of World and Motherlines; James Tiptree, Jr., Retrospective Award, 2000, for The Conqueror's Child.
"HOLDFAST CHRONICLES" TETRALOGY
Walk to the End of the World, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1974.
Motherlines, Berkley (New York, NY), 1979.
The Furies, Tor (New York, NY), 1994.
The Conqueror's Child, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
The Slave and the Free (includes Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines), Orb (New York, NY), 1999.
The Vampire Tapestry, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980, revised edition published as an e-book, ElectricStory.com, 2001.
The Bronze King, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1985.
Dorothea Dreams, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1986.
The Silver Glove, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
The Golden Thread, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
The Kingdom of Kevin Malone, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993.
(As Rebecca Brand) The Ruby Tear, Forge (New York, NY), 1997.
Music of the Night (e-book), ElectricStory.com, 2001.
The Unicorn Tapestry (play; adaptation of chapter three of novel, The Vampire Tapestry), produced in San Francisco, 1990.
Listening to Brahms (story collection), Pulphouse (Eugene, OR), 1991.
Moonstone and Tiger Eye (story collection), Pulphouse (Eugene, OR), 1992.
Strange Seas (nonfiction; e-book), Hidden Knowledge (San Jose, CA), 2001.
Vampire Dreams (play), Broadway Play Publishers (New York, NY), 2001.
My Father's Ghost: The Return of My Old Man and Other Second Chances (memoir), Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms (essays and fiction), Tachyon (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
Contributor to anthologies, including Future Females: A Critical Anthology, edited by Marleen Barr, Bowling Green Popular Press, 1980; New Voices III, edited by George R.R. Martin, Berkley, 1980; New Dimensions 11, edited by Marta Randall, Pocket Books, 1980; A Very Large Array, edited by Melinda Snodgrass, University of New Mexico Press, 1988; Seaharp Hotel, edited by Charles Grant, Tor, 1990; Under the Fang, edited by Robert R. McCammon, Borderlands Press, 1991; A Whisper of Blood, edited by Ellen Datlow, Morrow, 1991; The Mammoth Book of Werewolves, edited by Stephen Jones, Carroll & Graf, 1994; Modern Classics of Fantasy, edited by Gardner Dozois, St. Martin's Press, 1997; Vanishing Acts, edited by Ellen Datlow, Tor, 2000; Vampires: Encounters with the Undead, edited by David J. Skal, Black Dog & Leventhal, 2001.
Contributor of short stories, reviews, essays, and interviews to magazines, including Khatru, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and Omni.
SIDELIGHTS: Suzy McKee Charnas is, according to a contributor to the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers, "the author of one of the most original and highly regarded vampire novels of all time," The Vampire Tapestry. The Vampire Tapestry is the story of dream researcher and vampire Dr. Edward Weyland. Told in episodic form, the novel follows Weyland as he confronts a Satanist intent on using him to gain mystical power, undergoes psychoanalysis, and finally confronts the lonely knowledge that he seems to be the last of his kind. "Although there have been numerous attempts to write stories from the vampire's point of view in recent years, most notably by Anne Rice, none rival The Vampire Tapestry's straightforward, intelligent treatment," wrote the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers contributor.
Charnas's The Furies has also won her considerable praise. A feminist tale set in a post-apocalyptic world Charnas first envisioned in her earlier novels Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines, The Furies tells of Holdfast, a dystopian society where women are held as slaves by men. When a revolt ensues, the two genders are soon in a bloody war in which sexual relations are twisted by violence and rivalry. Calling the story "powerful and poignant," a reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded that it is "not for the weak of stomach." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, noted, "Charnas throws our own confusions about gender roles, sex and procreation, and same-sex love into high relief, while also considering the implications of revenge, retribution, justice, and forgiveness." According to Susanna Sturgis in the Lambda Book Report: "When you read The Furies, images will lodge in your memory fiery enough to make you cry, weep, squirm, and scream. Some pages will char in your hands. What is familiar and what is exotic will blur in your mind until you're not sure what you are reading and what you already knew."
Charnas once told CA about the writing of The Furies and her other novels set in Holdfast: "After many years of delay (during which six other novels and a number of stories have happened instead), I find myself finally completing the third volume of the futuristic, feminist epic begun with my first novel, Walk to the End of the World, and thinking about the fourth and final book in this cycle. The whole project now appears to be a sort of 'life work,' if 'life' is taken to mean the life of one's career. By the time I'm done, a good twenty to twenty-five years will have passed since the publication of Walk.
"So what took me so long? For one thing, The Furies is about war between men and women—not metaphorical war but real war, killing war, slave-taking war, and this bitter concept had me buffaloed. In fact, the actual writing turns out to be absorbing and energizing because of the insistent liveliness, not to say unruliness, of the characters; but first I had to get over a habit of shying away into other, less daunting projects. I think in part this was due to fear of presenting a very difficult book to a culture that had turned actively hostile (during the disgusting eighties) to the impulses behind that book and to the ideas contained within it.
"To my good fortune, I have come after all this time to refocus on this work (for about the fifth time in a dozen years) just as a new wave of feminist feeling is beginning to break over this country. Early signs were the books of [Gloria] Steinem and [Susan] Faludi, and reactions to the shameful Clarence Thomas hearings, the shameful William Kennedy Smith trial, and the increasingly fanatical excesses of the anti-abortion, anti-women-as-human-being radical Right. All of this has finally jarred thinking women out of the stupor and timidity of the previous reactionary decade.
"So here I am finishing a book about the anger of women; the justified anger of women, the price of the justified anger of women as exacted (in my fiction though rarely in life) by victorious women from vanquished men, and as exacted by the workings of human nature and the human soul from victorious women by the impact of their own actions. Here I am writing about not skipping over that anger, no matter how frightening or unpleasant it may be to acknowledge. The anger is real, and it requires that both men and women admit its legitimacy before moving on to a place of resolution beyond anger.
"I know this because part of what kept me paralyzed all this time was trying in my own work to jump right to reconciliation and rejoicing without first confront-ing anger. Volume four will, I think, be about glimpsing possible solutions, and trying to make ways for them to come into being. But that comes after volume three; after I say a few words about honest, expressed anger. After The Furies have passed, through my own consciousness if not yet through my culture let alone my world."
The fourth and final book in what has come to be known as the "Holdfast Chronicles," titled The Conqueror's Child, begins where The Furies ended and features the woman Sorrel and her adopted son as they get caught up in the intrigue leading up to war. "There is a great deal of story here … but Charnas is primarily engaged in elucidating certain key facets of human nature," wrote Seaman in Booklist. In a review in the Library Journal, Jackie Cassada called the effort a "dark and brooding story."
In the e-book Strange Seas, the author presents a metaphysical-type of memoir based on the readings of a friend who became a medium after a car accident and who tells the author about her past lives. Dale Farris, writing in the Library Journal, commented that the book "reads quickly, and its format is suitable for the topic." In another e-book called Music of the Night, the author presents a collection of her previously published short stories, including the Nebula Award-winning "The Unicorn Tapestry." Library Journal contributor Philip Santo commented that the author "commands a wide range of voices" and also noted the stories' "gripping narration and convincing, in-depth characterization."
Charnas presents a more straightforward memoir than Strange Seas in her book My Father's Ghost: The Return of My Old Man and Other Second Chances. This time, the author focuses on her father who, because of illness and increasing age, comes to live with the author and her husband in New Mexico. As she tells the story, Charnas reminisces about the past and her young life with her difficult father, who left his family when Charnas was young. Whitney Scott, writing in Booklist, commented that the author "holds our attention on the sometimes elusive, often baffling bonds that make a family." Commenting on the author's ultimate decision to place her father in an elderly care center as his health deteriorates, Women's Review of Books contributor Patricia Moran wrote: "Charnas' search for the right place for her father, her maneuvering through the Medicaid system, and her forthright discussion of the Catch-22s facing her will be of interest to anyone who has to make this kind of decision."
Charnas presents some short stories and a new novella in her collection Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms. The book also includes two essays in which she discusses the writing process. Kristine Huntley, writing in Booklist, commented that the collection "ably showcases Charnas' creativity and talent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 43, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Barr, Marleen, and Nicholas D. Smith, editors, Women and Utopia, University Press Library, 1983.
Charnas, Suzy McKee, My Father's Ghost: The Return of My Old Man and Other Second Chances, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Cranny-Francis, Anne, Feminist Fiction, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Lefanu, Sarah, Feminism and Science Fiction, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1989.
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Booklist, June 1, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of The Furies, p. 1781; May 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The Conqueror's Child, p. 1676; October 1, 2002, Whitney Scott, review of My Father's Ghost, p. 296; December 15, 2004, review of Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms, p. 715.
Extrapolation, spring, 2002, Kathy S. David, "Beauty in the Beast: The 'Feminization' of Weyland in The Vampire Tapestry, p. 62.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of My Father's Ghost, p. 1087.
Lambda Book Report, September-October, 1994, Susanna Sturgis, review of The Furies, p. 28.
Library Journal, June 15, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of The Conqueror's Child, p. 1121; August, 2001, Dale Farris, review of Strange Seas, p. 84; November 1, 2001, Mark Bay, review of The Vampire Tapestry, p. 72; December, 2001, Philip Santo, review of Music of the Night, p. 98.
Publishers Weekly, May 9, 1994, review of The Furies, p. 67; April 26, 1999, review of The Conqueror's Child, p. 60; August 5, 2002, review of My Father's Ghost, p. 64.
Science-Fiction Studies, November, 1999, Joan Gordon, "Closed Systems Kill: An Interview with Suzy McKee Charnas," p. 447.
Women's Review of Books, January, 2003, Patricia Moran, review of My Father's Ghost, p. 10.
Suzy McKee Charnas Home Page, http://www.suzymckeecharnas.com (December 5, 2005).