Touching 2,000 years

Ishtar_Gate_at_Berlin_Museum“Ishtar Gate at Berlin Museum” by Rictor Norton

2.000 Years Ago in Babylon

In the year Berlin turned 750 years old, I boarded a train in Hamburg bound for West Berlin. It was still very much a divided city, then, with the Berlin Wall an impregnable and deadly barrier. I still remember, vividly, seeing the crosses set up on the fences next to the Wall, in memory of those who tried and failed to escape.

The train started its journey in what was then West Germany, and once it crossed the border into East Germany, it was not allowed to stop until it reached its destination and dumped out its passengers in the enclave that was West Berlin. It was surreal, hurtling through this land that we could only look at through grimy train windows – while the light lasted, and then, when night fell, not at all. We might as well have been on a starship, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

West Berlin was an isolated oasis of western mores and customs, like some odd piece of shattered piece of mirror-glass that glittered like a shard of a jewel set into a grim, grey, utilitarian machine – we are the Borg, you will be assimilated, resistance is futile.

The main drag of West Berlin, the Kurfurstendamm, was a cross between Broadway and Soho and the Champs d’Elysees, brightly lit, full of ads (which included larger-than-life pictures of showgirls wearing feathers and sequins and very little else). It was full of shiny and sleek modern cars – Mercedes, Audi, Volvo, the pricier and very much the upper-bracket versions of those brands. It was full of people, many young, most clearly moneyed, out for a good time. Shops were numerous, not hard to find, well-stocked. It looked and felt like any great Western city…

…and then you looked closer.

Every so often a tour bus would fall silent as the gawping tourists were shocked at the sight of a ghostly ruin, left precisely as was after the bombing of Berlin during World War 2 so that the citizens of this place might remember what had gone before. We were told that a significant percentage of modern Berlin was rebuilt using bricks hand-salvaged from the wreckage of the post-war city – but some of the ruins were left standing, deliberately, in a cold and stern reminder of what horrors the demon of war brings in its wings.

One of the most pointed statements is made by the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, or the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, whose original tower stands beside the modern incarnation of the church like a malevolent spirit, a powerful presence, a shadow on all that Kurfurstendamm lights. Perhaps, in some ways, the young and the beautiful and the well-heeled of the present played as hard as they did – in that brittle and diamond-edged kind of defiance – because they had these old walls standing behind them, there to remind them, to always remind them. These were not ruins of the Roman empire, or something left behind from another century. These walls were cast down within living memory, and the memory still burned.

This entire city, microcosm after microcosm of it, was a museum.

I joined a tourist group for an expedition into East Berlin – we piled into a bus, on a group visa, and were painstakingly counted, and then counted again, and warned over and over and over again not to stray from the group because we were there “on a group visa” and if any one of us was caught wandering off alone we were not covered by that and the tour company could not help us. Somewhat disconcertingly, we were told to have the numbers of our respective embassies or consulates handy, just in case.

These were the days when Checkpoint Charlie was still Checkpoint Charlie and not the Disney ride with a gift shop which it later became.

Our bus was stopped, two East German police officers in grey uniforms and peaked caps and black leather gloves and cold eyes came on, our passports were handed over, and for the next several minutes while we all held our breath each individual passport was scrutinized by each of the two men who’d stare at the passport, then look up and skewer the holder of the passport with a gimlet gaze, then back at the passport, back at the person, several times, until the hapless foreigner began to be really afraid that he might have done something of which he was unaware but that these people might find objectionable – and make life incredibly unpleasant as a consequence. But in the end we all passed muster, and the bus was waved through.

East Berlin was… another world.

Beyond the wall, the streets were narrower, shabbier, more old-world. There were also ruins but in some strange sense these bore more the stamp of “we can’t do anything about this, just leave it there” than the Western idea of “lest we forget”.

The very air smelled different because the cars on this side of the walls were old Trabbies rather than new Mercedes, and probably coughed up more Bad Stuff out of their ramshackle exhausts in an hour than their West Berlin peers did in a month of Sundays. But there was beauty here – the tree-lined old streets, the sense of a slower, older, more restrained world, with the beautiful women who passed in the streets owing their beauty to their skin and their bone structure and their beautiful eyes and not to cosmetics used to enhance them…

Queen Nefertiti…and speaking of beautiful women, our bus was supposed to be heading to the Neues Museum, to feast our eyes upon this.

But it was not to be. Of all the days in all the years, it was on the single day that I was in East Berlin that the Neues Museum was closed – and so I would not be privileged to set eyes on Nefertiti.

We were diverted to the Pergamon Museum instead. I had no idea what to expect, but what I found… made me forget the Egyptian Queen completely. The Pergamon Museum showcased artefacts from atniquity (Greece, Rome, Babylon) but of necessity these tended to be fragments and shards, and not anything complete and whole which could be shown as fulfilling the function it was originally meant to fulfill.

A magnificent achievement

What made the Pergamon unique was that they looked into the artefact and not so much showed it as a ragged and inadequate remnant of something bigger and more glorious… but REIMAGINED it as it must have once looked, should have once looked, performing functions it must once have performed.

This entailed using the fragments that they had and “filling in” the rest of the artefact – a bass relief, a tiled gate – with contemporary materials carefully chosen to complement the original material but not in any way pretend to BE that material. So you were looking at yet another ghost – this one reconstructed – seeing the shape of the fragment which the museum had obtained and then, through and beyond that fragment, getting a glimpse of what the whole original structure must have looked like.

This might sound odd or weird or strange or even unbelievable and disrespectful – how do they dare to tamper with these ancient things in this manner? – until you actuall GET there, and you SEE it, and you realize what a magnificent achievement it all is.

The one thing that still stands out in my memory is the Ishtar Gate, a reconstruction of a tiled gate from ancient Babylon, made, in part, from tiny blue tiles which were MORE THAN TWO THOUSAND YEARS OLD.

This was enough to stop my heart for a moment. I was looking at something made by human hand two millennia ago. It was unbelievable. It was impossible to process. It was… there. Right in front of me.

When I was there, so many years ago, the gate was accessible – it was possible to reach out and actually touch this thing, this thing that was two thousand years old, with your own fingertips. You, and some ancient tilemaker, passing a small mosaic tile from one human hand into another over the span of two thousand years.

This is one of the few things that completely blew my mind in this lifetime, something that still makes my heart beat faster when I think about it even today. That I was privileged enough to have had this experience still humbles me. And there are times I still dream of the Ishtar Gate.

It’s been a long time since Berlin was just Berlin, and not East and West. It was a painful and sundering time… and yet… I am glad to have had the chance to have experienced that older, divided, city. To remember that Wall. To know what it means to be Divided. In many ways the life I have lived has served to inform my writing – and I have taken many valuable lessons from Berlin, the Berlin I walked in, the Berlin I met.

I know what it means to be afraid. I know what it means to pretend not to care. I know what it means to look over into a Promised Land, knowing that Hell lies between you and its shores. I know how the passions of an ideology can hold a society captive to its whims and then its guns.

I also learned, two years after I left the city and the Wall fell, what it means to have borders erased.

I never saw the Egyptian Queen but I don’t regret it – the things I took from the Ishtar Gate were far more enduring than just that glimpse of fabled beauty.

I crossed a threshold in a museum building in what would turn out to be a memory of a museum city, and I still remember what it was like to be human two thousand years ago in Babylon.

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NOTE: This was posted more than four years ago on my LiveJournal blog as part of a month-long series on museums I have visited around the world. You can find the original of this and can see the rest of the series by scrolling back or forward from this entry.   Museum series HERE

Alma Alexander

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Quote of the day

There are times I still dream of the Ishtar Gate.” ~ Alma Alexander

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‘Victory for dirt’

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, has always been my hero, now more than ever since she led the charge against the The Clean Reader, an app which enabled customers to “read books, not profanity”. A filter could be applied to ebooks purchased from its online store, which exchanged words that were judged to be offensive with alternatives.

Joanne HarrisJoanne Harris. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod
Explaining in The Guardian why she felt the filter was “censorship, not by the state, but by a religious minority”, Harris said it “misunderstand[s] the nature of fiction writing” and gives a “toxic message” to young people.

The app is being pulled and Harris claimed that it is a “small victory for the world of dirt”.

Harris, of course, isn’t the only author who objected. Among the many others is someone whose bio reads: “Chris Farnell is an author whose work has been described as containing “plenty of ripe profanity”. His anthology, Dirty Work, is sadly not available through Clean Reader, but you should feel free to go through it removing all the swearing and replacing all his characters with wombles.”

He has come up with other apps he thinks should be made available, including Dirty Reader, which will go through any book replacing “heck” with “hell”, etc. and Naked Reader, which will essentially replace any mention of clothes with the words “bare flesh” and “skin”.

I like him already.

While the protests ended with the app apparently being pulled. someone else connected with it is talking about “updates” so that implies a continued zombie existence.

Dan Meadows commented on the site where The Clean Reader was originally put up that he finds “the attitude many writers have shown here to be very off-putting. I wouldn’t use it, I’d make a case for not using it to anyone who does but I’m not going to tell someone who paid for the book how they’re allowed to read it. They bought it, they own it as far as I’m concerned. If they choose to use a glorified find/replace text, knock yourself out. Getting into dangerous territory here claiming the right to determine what people do with the things they’ve bought after they’ve bought them. Where does that stop, exactly? Throwing up both middle fingers with a big old “F#&$ you!” to folks with concerns over profanity is pretty egregiously arrogant and disrespectful too.

It’s disrespectful to insist on the integrity of one’s own work? In the face of pure primness and ideological bias?

I’m writing for readers whom I assume to be mature enough to choose what they want to read. They may not choose to read my books, but that’s their choice. I am not going to write goshdarned vanilla pablum because someone cannot handle a swear word in context.

Please note, it starts here. From here on, it gets worse. What if someone does not wish to read a book with a gay character because it conflicts with their ideology? What then? Is there an app that can EXCISE AN ENTIRE CHARACTER, a whole plotline, which a reader might find unsavoury?

Isn’t it just easier to find other reading material, people? Stuff that won’t offend your delicate sensibilities? Here’s a novel idea – DON’T READ THE STUFF YOU DON’T LIKE.

My response to Dan Meadows was this:

As an author with more than a dozen books out there… here’s the thing. There’s silent contract out there between the Writer and the Reader. The Writer writes the story that the Writer writes, and that is the thing that the Writer puts into the contract. The Reader has several options at their end of the contract. They choose to buy the book, or they do not.

If they do not, this is where it ends and the silent contract is voided – the Reader does not choose to take up their side of it. The reasons for this may include the use of profanity in the book which the Reader does not wish to see or interact with. That’s fine. That’s the reader’s choice. If the Reader has particular requirements of their books (like for instance no swear words) it is UP TO THE READER to find books which match those criteria. Nobody is forcing any Reader ANYWHERE to pick up a book they find offensive in any way.

If they buy the book, they have three options. They can read the book and like it, in which case the contract is fulfilled from both ends and everything is just great. They can read the book and go, meh, I’ve read better – in which case the contract is fulfilled because the Writer provided a story, the Reader wasn’t particularly enthralled by the story, and there was simply a mismatch of tastes and intent. Or they can read (or not finish, as it were, that’s option 3A) the book because they virulently hate it, and in this case (assuming they have a valid reason for hating it) they’re perfectly free to go out and tell everyone what a terrible horrible book this is.

THERE IS NO OPTION 4. You don’t, as a Reader, get to rewrite an existing book according to your sensibilities, beliefs, or ideology. Your choices are to like the thing, to not like the thing and yell about about it to like-minded friends, or NOT TO READ IT. As written, that story is the product of someone ELSE’s imagination, dedication, and hard work. If that person felt that a swear word was necessary, it probably was. You are under no obligation to read that word, or the book it appears in. But your choice here is simply to put the damned book down and walk away. You don’t get a do-over. Period.

What do you all think?

Alma Alexander      

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The novel is dead – again

On Vox, Kelsey McKinney remembers the 30 times the novel has been declared dead since 1902

Read the whole story HERE

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Since I have written many coming-of-age stories –from the Worldweavers and The Were Chronicles books to the Syai Empire Tales and The Hidden Queen — I was recently asked in an interview what the lure was for me.

Life is change,” I answered, and …”There is a particular age when change can be monumental, can place you between heartbreaking choices, can alter you or your circumstances in a fundamental way, so as to leave you in an entirely different space, both inside your own head and in the world around you. The story then becomes how you have evolved to fit those changes.

“That is the crux of the coming-of-age story, this evolution, and watching human beings change fascinates me. There are just so many possible individual responses to any given stimulus, so many alternate futures waiting, that it’s a breathless thing to wait and see which road a particular character will choose to take and how that choice will affect everyone else around them.”  (Read my interview HERE)

Camille DeAngelis, the author of Bones & All, a coming-of-age novel about a girl who’s also a cannibal, picked for Publishers Weekly:

The 10 Best Coming-of-Age Books You’ve Never Read

Her remarks are similar to mine. “…when we see fictional people growing into themselves to meet the seemingly-impossible challenges thrust upon them, , we feel better prepared to handle our own. This process is particularly critical during adolescence…”

Her choices include:
Prim ImproperPrim Improper by Deirdre SullivanThis Irish coming-of-age trilogy is alternately hilarious and poignant. When Primrose O’Leary’s mother dies in a bike accident involving a drunk driver, she has to move in with her dad Fintan—the quintessential Celtic fat cat—who’s been pretty much an absentee father up to this point. Written in diary format, the Prim Improper books are witty and tender without ever straying into sentimentality, emphasizing the value of compromise and of looking for the good in people who aren’t remotely like you—especially when you’re stuck with them because they’re family.

 

 

Read the whole article HERE

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EpicReads has selected:

The 18 Most Beautiful YA Endpapers in the World

Cracking the spine of a hardcover book and discovering beautiful endpapers is a lot like opening the door to a literary surprise party. At first, you’re taken aback. A stunning cover immediately followed by equally stunning endpapers? Yes, let it sink in, because book designers know, sometimes you deserve to be spoiled.Angel endpaperThe Shadowhunter’s Codex by Cassandra Clare – photo posted by Brenda Franklin (@beefranklin613)

See other breathtaking YA endpapers HERE

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Listen to what the English of Shakespeare, Beowulf, and King Arthur actually sounded like in these videosbeowulfThe English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible may seem flowery, but it’s basically just an older version of what we speak now, James Harbeck explains in The Week. In fact, it’s what linguists call Early Modern English. But it’s not what you hear in the movies, more like a mix of Irish and pirate. Watch the video and hear Ben Crystal perform a sonnet in the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time.

Old English is not understandable at all to modern English speakers; you’d have an easier time learning Dutch or Danish. The most famous bit of literature from the Old English period is Beowulf. Listen to Benjamin Bagby, who sounds like he grew up then, read from it.

Read the whole story HERE

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I don’t know who this woman is but I want to be her… these are my totem beasts, and my whole spirit just cried out watching that video. They are BEAUTIFUL.White Wolf PactThe Mysterious Connection Between Wolves and Women (Video)

All strong women who believe the Spirit heals.. who believe in spirituality, myth and medicine of the soul, should read this amazing work. It is a truly profound spiritual testimony to the Wild Wolf Woman within! ~ Selkywolf…

White Wolf Pact instructs us that healthy woman is much like a wolf – strong life force, life-giving, territorily aware, intuitive and loyal. Yet separation from her wildish nature causes a woman to become meager, anxious, and fearful….Without us, Wild Woman dies. Without Wild Woman, we die. Para Vida, for true life, both must live. © Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

Buzzfeed offers 33 tongue-in-cheeks reasons You Should Never Read A BookLost vistasAll those magnificent vistas lost forever while you are home reading

See all the “reasons” HERE

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Quote of the Day

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”  ~ James Baldwin

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Alma Alexander     My books      Email me

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Perfect short stories?

At io9 Charlie Jane Anders, has picked:
18 Perfect Short Stories that pack more punch than most novels

One example of hers is:
Bradbury Soft Rains“There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray BradburyThis story is in a special league in the knife-twisting sweepstakes. Like a lot of stories in the years following World War II, it’s concerned with the threat of nuclear annihilation, but also with how our technology might outlive us. The whole thing is one big gut-punch.

I wholly agree with the Bradbury. And the Asimov; it is one of his best stories, ever. And of course, the Le Guin. I haven’t read some of the others, but maybe it’s just my sensibilities in that some of the more recent examples on this list – although technically brilliant and beautifully rendered – have left little permanent mark on me. They just lacked the HEART of some of that older classic stuff.

There is at least one Arthur C. Clarke story I would have added to the list. The Star offers an emotional punch to the gut that is unforgettable.

Agree with her list? Disagree? What would you add?

Read the whole story HERE

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I read only 34 out of the 57 books on this list. I should be ashamed of myself. I am less well read than a cartoon sitcom character. I hang my head in shame.

Daria Morgendorffer’s Reading List
DariaMTV’S much-loved animated sitcom Daria centered on a smart, disaffected teenager with a caustic wit. The show was filled with literary references.

Here are 57 books that Daria read or that were mentioned during the episodes. As DariaWiki puts it, “If it’s old, morbid, or esoteric, Daria will read the hell out of it.”

Read the whole story HERE
See how many YOU read HERE

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Top 10 castles in fiction
Howl's Moving CastleThe ‘extraordinary and bracingly complicated’ Howl’s Moving Castle.

From classic scary Gothic settings to warm and dreamy refuges, fiction is full of castles. Jessamy Taylor picks the most memorable

There are many things you can do with a good castle. Hide in it. Feast in it. Break into it. Break out of it. Plot in it. Live your whole life in it. Fiction is full of castles: on hillsides, in forests, in towns, on clifftops. Castles dreaming in the distance, or castles looming over your head. Castles made of stone, of wood, of ice; with passageways tunnelling deep into the ground, or spiralling high with turrets and stairways. Castles safe and warm, or frightening and oppressive; busy and functional, or lonely and ruined. They’re everywhere.

Read the whole story HERE

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The top 10 knights in literature
KnightsIllustration by Michael Foreman from the book Arthur, High King of Britain by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont). Photograph: Publisher

Author and historian Thomas Asbridge picks his favorite medieval adventurers.

Whether it be a gallant, armour-clad noble racing to the rescue of an imperilled damsel, or a blood-soaked warrior engaged in a savage massacre, the image of the knight in action is inimitably linked to our popular conception of the medieval world. Knights stood at the forefront of European history for centuries, serving as conquerors and keepers of the peace in a barbarous era fraught with conflict and immortalised as heroes in epic myths and romanticized tales.

Read the whole story HERE

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Cats and books, what’s not to love?

8 Great Novels Starring Cats
Cats & booksPhoto: Shutterstock

“When I’m not busy working at my day job and writing for Catster,” JaneA Kelley says, “I love to read. I especially love to read about cats, and even a quick glance at my bookshelf or my Kindle library proves that. The stories below are ones I found entertaining, engaging, and fun to read (even during the sad parts).
Silent MiaowThe Silent Miaow by Paul Gallico: This delightful and at times sad memoir is actually a manual for stray cats and homeless kittens on how to convince people that they need a cat in their lives. Written by an older cat who has succeeded in this task, he instructs his feline readers in the art of manipulation, sweet talking, and generally looking cute, and extols the virtues of living with people in a warm, loving home. The Silent Miaow was written in 1964, predating the Internet and its obsession with cats by decades, and includes 200 photos by photographer Susan Szasz.

Read the whole story HERE

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Giraffes are…
giraffes_are.Google’s autocomplete, which attempts to guess what you’re searching for by looking at the most common searches, can take you to dark, sometimes hilarious places. Looking at autocomplete results also happens to be a great pastime, which is probably why some geniuses decided to create the game Google Feud.

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT
Books quizJordan Matter / Via pinterest.com

I got 66 out of 80. How about you?

Take the quiz HERE
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Stephen King: I’m rich, tax me

In an expletive-filled condemnation of America’s tax system, the bestselling novelist, who donates $4m a year to charity, says wealthy Americans have a ‘moral imperative’ to pay higher taxes”

Read the whole story HERE

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200 years of immigration to the US

“It’s easy now to assume that Mexico has always been among the main sources of immigration to America,” Dara Lind writes at VOX. “but as this wonderful chart by Natalia Bronshtein shows, that’s not even close to true.”
200 years of immigrationRead the whole story HERE

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Quote of the Day  

Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves… read to live.” ~ Gustave Flaubert

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Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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Meadows or Dragons?

On Fantasy Mountain, or, My Dreams are Doozies.

This time it’s a voice-over, reading matter-of-factly from something that sounds an awful lot like an essay, or a script, with my dream-eye providing some amazing visual illustrations. The text part of the whole thing – and yes, I woke up remembering it almost verbatim – is as follows:

You begin to climb the foothills and very soon, not very far up Fantasy Mountain, the road diverges. The one that goes off to the right is on the pleasant side of the mountain.
alpine-meadow_It twists and turns through flower-strewn alpine meadows, the views that fall off to the side are fabulous and amazing, rich countryside riding off to the horizon as far as the eye can reach. The road passes through villages with pretty houses which have window-boxes planted with scarlet geraniums, and carved wooden edges to their roofs like in high Bavarian villages; there are inns with colourful signs swinging before them, and plump smiling women sweeping stone front steps with rustic brooms, and there’s a smell of good food and fine drink coming from the inviting and open front door. There are children with cute goats in tow.

There are large good natured blundering dogs which come along to drool on you in ecstasy when you pet them, and somnolent cats sunning themselves on window ledges. Somewhere there are photos of this cupcake village on a winter evening, covered with snow, lights twinkling in the silent darkness of the high country like some eternal Christmas. It’s all pretty, and pleasant, and the people are kind and good and polite, and everyone smiles until their faces ache.

The left-hand road, twists off into the grey and the dark.
Stark landscape© Jim Patterson Photography

The views are just as breathtaking – but they are precious and few and far between and not for everybody because they are merely glimpsed now and then through veils of mist or walls of fog. There’s usually snow on the ground even in high summer. There are inhospitable crags.

The dogs are more than half wolves, and they are not pettable – they are far more likely to stand their ground and snarl at you and stare at you out of yellow eyes while you sidle past them on the far side of the street. Everything is narrow and brooding and sharp and dark. There isn’t enough light for flowers. There isn’t even enough light to grow the necessary wheat which will make bread, and so what bread there is mean, hard and black, and doled out with a stingy hand.

The FEW children look pinched and hungry. The wind howls and screams and weeps endlessly while whipping around echoing mountaintops; there are other, more fell, noises in there somewhere, carried by the wind but not of it, which you can hear if you listen for them, and they turn the blood in your veins into ice.

And yes, there are dragons.

Sigh.

Guess which side of the mountain I usually end up on…?

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Disney clones womenDisney womenImages by Disney/GIF via Cartoon Brew

Disney has a bizarre tendency to animate female characters with minor variations of the same doe-eyed, button nosed template, Isis Madrid writes at Good.

Tumblr User, Every Flavored Bean, made the troubling discovery, Madrid wrote, that for some reason Disney/Pixar refuses to animate women in any way that is realistic, unique, interesting, or *gasp* unpretty:

“Apparently every Disney woman is a clone/direct descendant of some primordial creature with huge round cheeks and a disturbingly small nose, because there is no other explanation (yes there is(it’s lazy sexism)) for the incredible lack of diversity among these female faces.”

Read the whole story HERE

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Nine Tips for Finishing That Novel
by Hanya Yanagihara at PowellsBooks.Blog

“My second novel …will be published in March. Because my first book…came out in August of 2013, people have been asking me…why did the first book take 16 years to write, and the second only 18 months?

The answer is: I don’t know…but not knowing is not going to stop me from sharing the following nine rules for anyone working on their manuscript, wondering if, and when, and how, they too might be published.

1) You don’t need an MFA to write a novel.
2) Publishing is not a foot race….

Read the whole story HERE

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If the Sun were replaced with other stars…Kepler 35Halcyon Maps shows us how the sunset could look like to a human observer if our Sun was replaced by some of the other stars in our galaxy such as Barnard’s Star, Gliese 581, Tau Ceti, Kepler-23, Alpha Centauri A, Procyon, Sirius, Pollux, Arcturus and Aldebaran.

I say don’t forget your sunglasses when you go visit any of Aldebaran’s worlds.

But Halcyon Maps cautions that it is just a concept, as liquid water and the Earth as we know it could not exist in the vicinity of the most stars in this graphic.

See the other stars HERE

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Literary Posters for Book Lovers and Minimalists Alike

QUOTE Herman MelvilleIf there’s one thing bibliophiles can’t get enough of, Elizabeth Vogt tells us at Electric Literature, it’s literary posters.

And Obvious State’s minimalist offerings, she says, make the case for covering an entire wall with them. Drawing inspiration from such beloved authors as Hemingway, Salinger, and Dostoevsky, the posters feature simplistic yet metaphoric black and white designs that reflect the literary quote displayed across the page.

 

 

See the others HERE

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10 Unusual Library Collections Around the World

Imagine walking into the home of a recently deceased resident after getting a mysterious phone call about a massive collection of maps, Alison Nastasi writes at Flavorwire.

That’s what happened to Glen Creason, the map librarian at Los Angeles Central Library. He walked out of the home with boxes of historical maps and coveted city guides that instantly doubled the library’s collection.

eyeballsDuke University’s History of Medicine Collections features anatomical manikins, surgical saws, and other spine-tingling instruments you hope to never see in your doctor’s office. Students and researchers are free to study the institution’s collection of prosthetic glass eyeballs.

Read the full story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

The most important political problem in the modern world is the position of women. I think all of the other oppressions, whether it be homophobia, whether it be racism, or what have you, are all modeled on the oppression of women.” ~ Samuel R. Delany

Story/video HERE

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Quote of the Day
QUOTE Words you speak~~~~~

Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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They read WHERE?

Good place to readWashington Square North, Nov. 2, 2013.

At Slate, David Rosenberg offers proof that New Yorkers will read absolutely anywhere by examing the work of photographer Lawrence Schwartzwald, who started a prolific series of people reading.

All of the images were taken spontaneously, apart from some of the celebrities he has seen reading.

See all the photos HERE

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I’ll be giving a reading in Seattle this Thursday evening and I’d love to see you there if you are within driving distance…

or have your own a private jet, of course.

WHO:      Alma Alexander (me)
WHEN:   Thursday, March 19, 7 p,m.
WHERE:  University Book Store, U District, 4326 University Way NE, Seattle
WHAT:     Reading and book signing

Random“There are werewolf stories and there are high school stories. Then there’s Alma Alexander’s new YA fantasy series The Were Chronicles. Set in a world of changelings as diverse as the many different creatures they can turn into. Strict regulation, isolation, and discrimination keep Weres always one notch below the normals they share the world with. And when Jazz—a teenage Random whose form is not completely fixed every Turn—uncovers startling secrets about her sister’s death, what begins is a complex and gripping story about family, culture, race and rebellion that will stay with you long after you turn its last page. Join us for a reading and signing, Alexander will share her brave new work, and maybe even spill a few secrets about what we can look forward to next!”

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How Genre Fiction Became More Important Than Literary Fiction

The book war is over, Stephen Marche writes in Esquire, the aliens, dragons, and detectives won.
literary vs genreThe forms of genre—science fiction, fantasy, the hardboiled detective story, the murder mystery, horror, vampire, and werewolf stories—have become the natural homes for the most serious literary questions, he writes.

Only idiots or snobs ever really thought less of ‘genre books’ of course. There are stupid books and there are smart books. There are well-written books and badly written books. There are fun books and boring books. All of these distinctions are vastly more important than the distinction between the literary and the non-literary.

Time has a tendency to demolish old snobberies. Once upon a time, Conan Doyle was embarrassed by the Sherlock Holmes stories; he wanted to be remembered for his serious historical novels.

Read the whole article HERE

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Doctor Who takes the Bechdel Test

Blogger Sarah Barrett watched all 117 episodes of modern-day Doctor Who and analyzed how many passed the Bechdel Test which asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

Turns out that 96 pass the Bechdel Test, giving Doctor Who an overall pass rate of… 80%! That strikes me as not bad, but not outstanding either, for a show that has so many female main characters. I give you a B+, Doctor Who. I know you can do better.
Doctor Who Bechdel Test Infographic

See the story and full infographic HERE

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Extraordinary photos from NASA

NASA continues to blow our minds, Answers.com says, with photos of the vast unknown corners of space. From far away galaxies to our familiar Man in the Moon, these photos will show you things that are hard to fathom as realistic.
Whirlpool galaxyWhirlpool Galaxy: A spiral galaxy like our Milky Way, but is located about 30 million light-years from Earth. The photo combines X-ray wavelengths (purple), with ultraviolet (blue), visible light (green) and infrared light (red). A spectacular image to leave us astounded.

See all the photos HERE

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Author says Colonizing Mars Won’t Be As Easy As He Thought
MarsKim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy filled us all with hope that we could terraform Mars in the 21st century, Charlie Jane Anders writes at io9. But in the face of what we’ve learned about Mars in the past 20 years, the author no longer thinks it’ll be that easy.

Robinson explains that his ideas about terraforming Mars, back in the 1990s, were based on three assumptions that have been called into question or disproved:

See the rest of the story HERE

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Huge ocean confirmed underneath solar system’s largest moon
GanymedeGanymede’s magnetic field

The solar system’s largest moon, Ganymede, in orbit around Jupiter, harbors an underground ocean containing more water than all the oceans on Earth, Eric Hand reports in Science.

Ganymede now joins Jupiter’s Europa and two moons of Saturn, Titan and Enceladus, as moons with subsurface oceans—and good places to look for life.

Read the article HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

If there’s one thing that every human on this earth has in common, it is that, at some point, we will have to deal with death, Elisabeth Donnelly writes at Flavorwire. She offers  25 books that look straight into the face of death and reveal something new about what it’s like to be alive, saddled with that knowledge that someday, we and our loved ones will die.

See all the books HERE

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Vertical Forest: An Urban Treehouse That Protect Residents from Air and Noise Pollution
Tree HouseApartment building in Turin, Italy – © Beppe Giardino

Read the story HERE

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Quote of the Day  

Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves… read to live.” ~ Gustave Flaubert

~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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Don’t touch my books!

At MindBodyGreen, Lisa Westmoreland has offered us 10 Ways To Declutter Your Home (And Life!)

She lost me at #4 where says that if you don’t read a book right away, get rid of it, if you have read it, get rid of it because yoiu won’t reread it…and spend your time with the one book you’re excited about right now.

“ONE” book? Block your ears while I scream.

Look, don’t get me wrong – clutter free is good if you can get it – but BOOKS AREN’T CLUTTER.

Books are life. Together, my husband and I have an estimated 5,000 plus. They are in the library, they are in the spare non-bedroom, they are in the living room piled on the coffee table, besides Deck’s chair, on the piano…Well, actually, there are books in every room of the house.Checking out my booksLiving in a “clutter free” home devoid of books? Well – shoot me now. I would rather you did that than make me give away every single book that might not meet “current needs”.

Yes, some of them I read years ago and never re-read – but I look at them and they bring back a moment in which they were a joy to me.

Yes, some of them I have bought and haven’t read YET – and so what? Who is to police the use of my time, and the timeline in which I read my books? Right now, each of my my unread books are a Schrodinger book – not yet read and/or beloved still brand new and in the wrapper with all the anticipation still to come… or possibly never to be read, in which case it serves its own purpose as a marker of my state of mind, my attitudes, my beliefs, the things I suround myself with.

Books are a world, they’re MY world, and while I just did give a box of books I had no further use for to the second-hand store, it was because those particular books were ready to leave this house, not because I was “decluttering”.

It would break my heart to get rid of books for no reason other than they “take up space”, or “gather dust”. it’s precious dust. it’s word-dust. It whispers to me even when the book is not open to my eyes..

Clutter is as clutter does. Don’t touch my books.

That said, much of her approach to decluttering makes sense.

Read the whole article HERE

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I’ll be giving a reading in Seattle this Thursday evening.  

If you are within driving distance, I’d love to see you there

WHO:       Alma Alexander (me)
WHEN:    Thursday, March 19, 7 p,m.
WHERE:  University Book Store, U District, 4326 University Way NE, Seattle
WHAT:     Reading and book signing

Random“There are werewolf stories and there are high school stories. Then there’s Alma Alexander’s new YA fantasy series The Were Chronicles. Set in a world of changelings as diverse as the many different creatures they can turn into. Strict regulation, isolation, and discrimination keep Weres always one notch below the normals they share the world with. And when Jazz—a teenage Random whose form is not completely fixed every Turn—uncovers startling secrets about her sister’s death, what begins is a complex and gripping story about family, culture, race and rebellion that will stay with you long after you turn its last page. Join us for a reading and signing, Alexander will share her brave new work, and maybe even spill a few secrets about what we can look forward to next!”

~~~~~
Quote of the day

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

~~~~~
Alma Alexander       My books       Email me

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Terry in quotes

Terry PrachettTerry Pratchett on an archive picture. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/Eamonn McCabe

As the literary world mourns the death of Discworld creator Terry Pratchett, The Guardian has selected some of his most inspiring and memorable quotes. Including:

“Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can.”

More Terry Pratchett quotes HERE

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He said WHAT?
Writers' insultsFamous Writer Insults

Shari Stauch puts together what writers REALLY think of their brethren.

For example:
Faulkner HemingwaySee them all HERE

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Literary Instagrams worth a look

I haven’t tried Instagram yet, but at HuffPost Claire Fallon has written a story that has me thinking about it. While tweeting has become important among the literati, Instagram’s more visual platform hasn’t caught on to the same degree.

Twitter encourages writers to use words more conscientiously, engage in conversations with other authors, and hop on to bookish hashtags; Instagram asks us to think aesthetically, Fallon notes. “We book nerds love a good visual as much as anyone, especially if that image includes our favorite things: books.”

Author and artist Miranda July greeted fans with a provocative twist on a book announcement pic: her new novel posed between bare, spreadeagled legs.  “The birth of my Instagram account,” she dryly captioned her first photo on the site. After just this one post, July already has over 6,000 followers.
Book Birthhttps://instagram.com/mirandajuly/

And, of course:

Cats Only Book Club
catbookclub
Cats+books=yes. Yes forever.
Cats and booksOther bookish Instagram sites HERE

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I got 71. Wow. I spend a lot of time reading.

How about you?

NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Books

More than 5,000 of you nominated. More than 60,000 of you voted. And now the results are in, NPR says. The winners of NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey are an intriguing mix of classic and contemporary titles. There are no young adult or horror books on this list, but those genres will come another time.

The Top 100 HERE

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What Am I Looking At?!
IllusionCanadian artist Rob Gonsalves is a genius when it comes to optical illusions. His surreal paintings seem ordinary enough at first, but move your eyes across the frame and suddenly the scene is something completely different.

In Gonsalves’ paintings, up is down, down is sideways…

More illusions HERE

~~~~~
11 Essential Reads for Women’s History Month

We are all familiar with Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Doris Lessing, Simone de Beauvoir, and the contributions they made to feminist literature, Off the Shelf says. But great literature concerning feminist themes is not confined to these classics.

Many of our most exciting contemporary literary writers are expanding and complicating our understanding of what it means to be a woman today. Encompassing the thrill, rage, devastation, and range of the female experience, these essential voices should not be ignored. I’d argue that my own The Secrets of Jin-shei fits that, though it wasn’t among the 11 they chose.

One remarkable book that was picked was:
AmericanahAmericanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: This powerful story of race and gender is centered on Ifemelu, a brilliant and self-assured young woman who departs military-ruled Nigeria for an American university where, for the first time, she is forced to grapple with her identity as a black woman. Ifemelu faces difficult choices and challenges, suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, and eventually achieves success as the writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. Fearless and gripping, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world.

 

See the others HERE

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Author Katharine Norbury includes one of the funniest books ever written, one I hectored my husband into reading, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, in her list of:

The top 10 books about rivers
GilgameshCuneiform tablet with Gilgamesh Flood Epic. Babylonian, c17th century BC. Photograph: Universal Images Group/Getty Images

She also includes The Epic of Gilgamesh: The oldest story ever told, or at any rate, ever written down, was inscribed onto 11 clay tablets around 1800 BC and rediscovered in Mesopotamia in 1853 AD. In 1998, the opening lines turned up in a vault in the British Museum. Rivers run through it, as they do through all the great origin myths.

Her other fascinating choices HERE

I never wrote a novel about rivers, but I did produce an anthology filled with stories by some wonderful writers.

[My anthology, River, HERE]

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THIS ‘n THAT

Maine bed & breakfast owner will sell her inn to anyone for just 200 words

Offer your words HERE

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10 words we’ve forgotten how to pronounce

Pronounce THIS

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Quote of the Day

Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.” ~ Terry Prachett

~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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Hug your editor

Megan Paolone at BuzzFeed selected 24 haiku in honor of the National Grammar Day. (It’s over. Sorry you missed it.)

(Nothing lonelier
than a parenthetical
opened but not closed
allison n. chopin @allisonchopin
#GrammarDay #haiku

Copy editors
Are the doctors of writing,
Curing bad grammar.
Nehaly Shah @nms077
#GrammarDay #haiku

See the others HERE

~~~~~
Yike. Yike, Yike, Effing YIKE.

Bowdlerization, Take 2

Claire Fallon tells us in the Huffington Post about an app that removes “obscenities” from books.

We’ve come a long way since the early 19th century publication of Thomas Bowdler’s Family Shakespeare, a famously sanitized edition meant to make Shakespeare’s classics appropriate for children and the gentler sex. Today, cleaning up obscene texts is as easy as downloading an app.

No comment.

Read the article HERE

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The 11 Most Surprising Banned Books

Well, there is the dictionary, of course (it dares to define oral sex!), “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and…

Brown Bear“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Bill Martin Jr.
This beloved children’s book was banned in January 2010 by the Texas Board of Education because the author has the same name as an obscure Marxist theorist, and no one bothered to check if they were actually the same person.

And so it goes.

See them all HERE

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9 Amazing Female Graphic Novelists, Illustrators And Cartoonists

It’s been a big couple of years for women in the comic book world, with Marvel Comics unveiling female versions of their previously male-dominated troop of heroes, Maddie Crum writes in The Huffington Post. “For further girl-centric graphic reading, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite female graphic artists, focusing on those have a clear, engaging narrative.”

For example:

Jillian TamakiJillian Tamaki makes illustrations for The New Yorker and The New York Times, but she also writes wonderful webcomics. Her SuperMutant Magic Academy, which is as whimsical as it sounds, will be collected into a book this spring.

She’s also the co-author of This One Summer, a graphic novel she created with her sister, who’s written about the necessity of more female protagonists with less-than-perfect bodies.

 

 

See the others HERE

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The Making of a Novel

I spent some time on overdue website maintenance recently. In addition to discovering several bad links, I found a couple of things that I barely remembered putting up. Under the menu item, On Writing, for example, I have an essay on how my novel The Secrets of Jin-shei came to be. It is a fascinating tale.

The Secrets of Jin-shei is my signature novel. It has been published in 13 languages so far, all over the world. I still get fan letters about it several years after publication.

It all began one day when I wrote one-paragraph each sketches for ten little girls in a Chinese context. But this was going to be a fantasy and my country wasn’t going to be the real historical China.  It was going to be a story about the lives of these almost Chinese girls and how they grew into the women they became.

I had no idea how that was going to happen. but as I began doing research, my characters stirred. When I read about the dragon lady of Chinese history, the Dowager Empress, one of my girls stood up and said,

“That would be me.”

“Sit down,” I said. “Shut up. I’m working. What is your name anyway?“

I learned about my characters’ lives the same way the reader did, one page at a time. Take a journey with me:

Through the mind of a writer HERE

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Fay Weldon disses readers of ebook

At The Guardian, Alison Flood reports that the novelist has advised writers to publish easier, event-driven versions of their books for impatient digital audiences.
Fay WeldonFay Weldon. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/Antonio Olmos

She suggested to the Bath Literature festival that “writers should ‘abandon literary dignity’ and write page-turning versions of their thoughtful masterpieces for the ebook audience. …The writer has to focus on writing better, cutting to the chase and doing more of the readers’ contemplative work for them.”

Are ebook readers a lesser breed?

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LegoLaw !
scotus-womenFor 192 years, the constitutionality of U.S. law was decided by men alone. Then in 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to become the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Three women have since joined O’Connor in representing the female half of the U.S. population: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

Women of the Supreme Court in LEGO

~~~~~
THIS ‘n THAT

Where do these literary titles come from?

You know the books, but do you know where the authors found their names? Find out with The Guardian’s fiendish questions about the books behind the books.

Take the quiz HERE

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“Put Someone in Charge of His Liquor”

Foreign-Service Rules for Handling William Faulkner

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“Love her as my wife? Love you as my friend? I might as well have gone to work for Ringling Brothers and been shot out of the cannon twice a day.”

Saul Bellow letter

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Paramount To Turn Sci-fi Classic The Stars My Destination Into A Movie
Stars My DestinationParamount is in the process of acquiring the rights to Alfred Bester’s classic scifi novel The Stars My Destination. The story is centered on Gully Foyle, who faces off against massive megacorps. Marooned in space for months, his solitude is broken by a rescue crew deliberately passing him by. Foyle is completely consumed by rage and hatred for those who ignored him, and spends the rest of his days seeking revenge.

The whole story HERE

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Quote of the Day  
Leave a review~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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What Lisa Simpson Reads

At Bustle, Becky Schultz talks about the 11 Books You’d Find On Lisa Simpson’s Shelf because she has great literary taste.

For example:
Amy TanJoy Luck Club by Amy Tan

After destroying Lisa’s room with fireworks, Bart and Homer make it up to her by spending a day at the Springfield Festival of Books. There, they encounter Stephen King, Tom Wolfe, John Updike, and Amy Tan, who Lisa admires for Joy Luck Club, a novel that follows four Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco who start a mahjong (for money) club.

Lisa: Ms. Tan, I loved the Joy Luck Club. It really showed me how the mother-daughter bond can triumph over adversity.

 Amy Tan: No, that’s not what I meant at all, you couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.

Lisa: But

Amy Tan: Please, just sit down. I’m embarrassed for both of us.

See the other great books HERE

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I wonder what Lisa would think of my new novel, Abducticon?

It just got its first review on Amazon (5 stars) from Rainy Day, who says in part:

If you’ve ever been to a Science Fiction/Fantasy convention, ‘con’ to most people, you will love this book. If you’ve ever been involved in a con, either in setting one up, working one, or as a guest, you will recognize every single person Ms. Alexander writes about. Perhaps not every single episode that happens, as, well, the entire con and the hotel, complete with mundane guests, is hijacked by time-traveling androids and taken for a ride around the moon.

Wouldn’t that be a con to end all cons? And the reactions from the gamers? Absolutely priceless! Everything you could possibly want in a con is in this book, up to and including the replicators.

If you like cons, you will absitively posolutely LOVE this book. This is truly one of the funniest SF books I’ve read in years. Job well done, Alma Alexander!

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To write, you must read, read, read – and don’t forget to read

I’ll be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop In an interview with me for their website, I was asked: What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers? I replied:

One young and aspiring writer, asking for advice of this nature, once unforgettably told me that she “didn’t have time to read.” I knew then that she would never really be a writer.

Reading is the primary education for any writer. People who don’t read never develop the love and the reverence for the written word–and how, then, can they hope to tease out its wonders?…

Beyond that, if you are serious about pursuing this as a craft, as a vocation, as a career… well… Write. Practice. It comes only with practice, this inner instinct about whether something you’ve just written is good, or if there is something wrong with it, and what, and how it needs fixing. I once wrote a page and half of something and realized that what I had there was a very dense summary of the thing I needed to actually write. Once I teased out everything that got condensed into it until it weighed as much as a literary neutron star, it turned into nearly three chapters of the book that came out of it all. But without the millions of words of practice I had already put in… I would not have known this, recognised this, figured out what I needed to do to fix it.

Read the whole interview HERE

~~~~~
Speaking of reading…

Pat Conroy says:

The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language.

Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in “Lonesome Dove” and had nightmares about slavery in “Beloved” and walked the streets of Dublin in “Ulysses” and made up a hundred stories in the Arabian nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”

I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.

~~~~~
The only book of mine that I have ever had reservations about is a collection of some of my teenage poems, self published by my proud father. Some of them were okay, but others. Well, they were the work of a young teen. ‘Nuf said.

At Mental Floss, Rudie Obias has written about authors with more serious problems with something they published.

9 Authors Who Regretted The Success of Their Work

An author who made a shark the villain, later became a shark champion; a man who wrote how to build bombs later rejected the idea that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change.

Octavia E. Butler despised her third novel Survivor because it featured some of the worst clichés of the genre.

Survivor“When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way,” she told Amazon.com. “They were a little sly, or a little like ‘the natives’ in a very bad, old movie. … People ask me why I don’t like Survivor, my third novel. And it’s because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel.”

After its initial edition, Butler refused to bring Survivor back into circulation.

Read all the author regrets HERE

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Author Stops Reading White Male Authors For a Year

No white males Reads Nisi Shawl

 

Every time I tried to get through a magazine,” K. T. Bradford wrote, “I would come across stories that I didn’t enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.

So Bradford decided that instead of reading everything, “I would only look at stories by women or people of color or LGBT writers. Essentially: no straight, cis, white males.”

The result was that she enjoyed reading short stories more, and she also became aware of how often certain magazines published whole issues in which no women or POC authors made an appearance. She went on the hunt and discovered several that published new-to-me writers and also a surprising number of magazines dedicated to under-heard voices.

Read the whole article HERE

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The top 10 liars in fiction

Nick Lake, author of There Will be Lies, selects his favorite fictional tricksters and tellers of untruths in books
GatsbyGatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the greatest liar in literature? Photograph: Warner Br/Everett /Rex

Rich playboy Gatsby (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald) lies about a lot of things. His romantic life; his past; the origins of his ostentatious wealth, actually amassed through grubby bootlegging. But the small, practical lie that has always stuck in my mind is the fact that the handsome books in his library have uncut pages, proving that he hasn’t ever opened them. F Scott Fitzgerald called the jazz age the “cut glass age”, for its glitter, outward beauty and inward emptiness. But I almost think the uncut books are a more resonant metaphor.”

See the other liars HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

Researcher accidentally invents glasses to solve color blindness

The glasses were designed for surgeons. A doctor’s friend tried them out and discovered trees are green, flowers come in limitless colors, and a sunset can take your breath away.

Read the whole article HERE

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Quote of the Day

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~ William Arthur Ward

~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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