Today, May 1st, marks the publication of Paulina Claiborne's first novel set in the Forgotten Realms. It's very possible that this will be her last, and if you read her bio you'll understand why. It says "She enjoys quilt making, knife fighting, and alcohol." These three things, whether enjoyed in combination or separately, are enough to raise the attention of even the most reckless among us. Really, it's the addition of alcohol that makes you wonder. I know people into knife fighting and I know quilt makers—my grandma was among the latter and the writer Mark Teppo among the former, but neither pursuit is enhanced much by booze, Hunter S. Thompson be damned.
This isn't to suggest that Ms. Claiborne will meet an untimely end to her days, either quilting while drunk or knife fighting sober, even though I'm sure drunkenness is a major factor in most knife fights. If her current life is any testament to her ability to survive, then I am quite sure that whatever fortune has brought her this far will surely take her deep into the December twilight. I say this, of course, based only on her bio—and by its account, fortune has dealt her a strange hand. Even so, I'm pretty sure that Paulina Claiborne isn't into knife fighting—or quilting, for that matter. It may be true she likes alcohol, though. So why does she say this among some other very interesting things in her bio? Sometimes it's necessary for an author to create themselves in the same way they create their story, in order to reach a greater correspondence with the reader.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is a prime example. He coined the term Gonzo journalism and put himself right in the middle of his often alcohol- and drug-fueled stories. He made a reputation for himself through his work and behavior. "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro," after all. Thompson created himself as an outrageous, hard-drinking public persona. Perhaps in the end, he simply did not have the capacity to continue as he did. To borrow a line from Dr. Eldon Tyrell, "the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long." To extend the metaphor, Dr. Thompson's filament simply couldn't stand up to the current he channeled.
Charles Bukowski is another figure who created himself as a writer through a larger-than-life public personality, placing himself (or a stand-in for himself) at the center of much of his prose work. It was necessary for him to appear publicly as he presented himself vis-à-vis the intimacy of his fiction. He was widely known as an alcoholic and a womanizer, but private accounts reveal a much different person. He wrote "There's a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out / but I'm too tough for him, / I say, stay in there, I'm not going to let anybody see you."
There is a certain deception in both writers that is a necessary tool of their craft. Both Bukowski and Thompson use their selves in their work as a means to break down traditional perceptions of narrative distance. They bring readers deeper into the experience through a familiarity with the narrator. The more we understand the narrator, the better we are able to live through their creation.
So what does this have to do with Paulina Claiborne? Well, it's hard to say exactly. Paulina Claiborne may not be who she says she is—and, yes, I am being more than a little coy about this fact. Initial research, which is to say a Google search, might lead you to a Goodreads page that describes one of her lost classics, Wail of the Lonely Barbarian, in which the titular character has dealings with a wizard named Zaza who is sometimes an angry pig. It doesn't reign itself in the slightest bit. The book sounds fantastic in every sense of the word. Another writer named Grady Hendrix goes so far as to call Wail of the Lonely Barbarian a cross between Jack Vance and The Eye of Argon; and he even excerpts a piece, although its authenticity cannot be verified. However, to equate Claibourne's prose with that of The Eye of Argon is a vast understatement of her skill with the written word, even as demonstrated in Lonely Barbarian, a work that surely qualifies as juvenilia. This, however, is taking me away from the point of this article, which, believe it or not, was sharp when I sat down to write it.
Who is Paulina Claiborne? Was she indeed "home-schooled in Kansas by Chinese missionaries?" And what does that mean anyway? They were missionaries from China? What possibly was their mission?
Sadly, I can only offer speculation on those questions. In the final analysis, in almost diametrical opposition to the writers I previously mentioned, it is the obscurity of Paulina Claiborne's personality that allows her work to stand out. Because we don't know her, because she is presented as an almost unreal person, we can read her work as we might see a stream on a bed of clay—clear and unobstructed by the stones that influence the creative flow.
As for my opinion: Ms. Claiborne is an excellent writer with a startling imagination. I'm very confident that you have not read any Forgotten Realms book quite like The Rose of Sarifal, but it will surely be one by which you measure future books. From a genasi who muses about the many exotic confections of distant lands, to the Savage, a golden elf whose real name is a mystery revealed to no one, this novel of the Moonshae Isles makes the unreal real. It peoples a world we know so well with characters born as much out of the author's fantastic persona as they are out of the pure ether of creative energy surrounding the world.
Paulina Claiborne is a literary trickster, creating through the destruction of our preconceptions. Please read The Rose of Sarifal, even if it's just the sample chapter. I think you'll like it.