Disappearing sounds

I remember the nearly extinct sound of the typewriter that I used before I embraced computers for my writing. My husband not only remembers typewriters, he also fondly recalls the sound of teletype machines from his days as a newsman in the ancient past.

TypewriterTeletype Machine

That trip down memory lane comes because I just discovered Brendan Chilcutt’s

The Museum of Endangered Sounds

I launched the site in January of 2012,” Brendan writes at his website. “as a way to preserve the sounds made famous by my favorite old technologies and electronics equipment.

“Imagine a world where we never again hear the symphonic startup of a Windows 95 machine. Imagine generations of children unacquainted with the chattering of angels lodged deep within the recesses of an old cathode ray tube TV. And when the entire world has adopted devices with sleek, silent touch interfaces, where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that. And tell me: Who will play my GameBoy when I’m gone?”

Hear all the saved sounds HERE

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Noting that books are always a great gift, Crystal Paul at Bustle offers

9 DATE Ideas For Book-Lover Couples This Valentine’s Day

For example:

Literary Road Trip photoTake a Literary Road Trip – Head out to some literary museum and sites. If you’re in Boston, for example, you could probably hit up a talk at Edith Wharton’s home and have a picnic at Walden Pond in the same day. You could even trace the tracks of Kerouac or follow the tracks of famous literary travels.

Read all the selections HERE

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If a movie is ever made of one of my books, The Secrets of Jin-shei let’s say, I don’t know that I’d dare go see it because there is no guarantee that I would not be in tears — and not the good kind. And that would be lousy advertising for the movie, wouldn’t it.

At Mental Floss, Stacy Conradt tells us about

11 Authors Who Hated the Movie Versions of Their Books

Mary PoppinsImage credit: Disney

Some of the most beloved movies ever were based on books, Conradt says. But just because moviegoers loved them doesn’t mean the original author did.

For example:

P.L. TRAVERS // MARY POPPINS

Disney’s Mary Poppins might be a cherished childhood memory for a lot of people, but for author P.L. Travers, it was a complete slap in the face. Despite having script approval, Travers’ edits were largely disregarded. Travers loathed the movie’s animated sequences and was perturbed that Mary Poppins’ strict side was downplayed. After some heated meetings, Travers reluctantly approved. She would have been shunned from the star-studded premiere had she not shamed a Disney exec into an invite. The 65-year-old Travers spent most of the movie crying and ultimately refused to let Disney touch the rest of the series.

Read the whole story HERE

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I am always happy to talk to book clubs, in person if they are nearby, or on Skype. (See “Book Clubs” in the menu under my header.) But I don’t have a great deal of experience with them.

At Bustle, Alex Weiss offers us

10 Ways To Make Book Clubs Fun

Book ClubsOne of the ways he suggests is ‘Switch Up Your Meeting Spots’.

But the one I find of most interest, for obvious reasons, is: ‘Choose Local Authors’. (Attention local book clubs: contact information is on my blog. :)  )

Read the whole article HERE

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At Lithub, Stuart Evers claims that

Jokes Make the Best Weapons

This is something that the best fiction understands, Evers says, that when people are together they are compelled to joke, to laugh, to smile. No matter how bleak, no matter how downtrodden, someone, somewhere will try to lighten the load.

As Twain had it: “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.

It’s a thoughtful essay that begins with his favorite joke, a joke about comedy:

Everyone laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now.

“This is a Bob Monkhouse joke…an initially enthusiastic delivery, then bitterly self-lacerating. It’s a perfect story of failure, distilled into a setup and punchline: a joke that is both funny and self-aware, sad but satisfying. And it’s gone so quickly, so fleetingly this joke, like every joke: the audience and performer already moving on to the promise of the next gag.”

Read the whole story HERE

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Quote of the Day
Salinger Quote posterThe man knew the way to my heart.

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What book…?

What book changed you life posterMine?
My Son My Son cover imageTigana By Guy Gavriel Kay coverLord Of The Rings By JRR Tolkien

‘My Son, My Son’ by Howard Spring

The book, and the writer. Spring taught me that EVERY story is about character. ‘My Son, My Son’ was the first book that made me cry over it.

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‘Lord of the Rings’ by JRR Tolkien

This book brought EVERYTHING to life for me.

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‘Tigana’ by Guy Gavriel Kay

Because this book proved that people who did not share your life’s experience were still capable of understanding it COMPLETELY.

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Your turn. What book or books changed YOUR life? Why and how?

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First joke ever told?

100 jokers who shaped modern comedy

100 Jokes illustrationIllustration by Giacomo Gambineri

4,000 years of humor

At Vulture, Jesse David Fox talks about 100 sketches and one-liners that changed humor forever — from the Marx Brothers to ​The Simpsons, Richard Pryor to Amy Schumer.

The oldest joke on record, a Sumerian proverb, was first told all the way back in 1900 B.C. Yes, it was a fart joke, Fox says, and adds it’s just a shame we’ll never know the name of the Sumerian genius, but much easier to assign credit for innovations in joke-telling, which is exactly what Vulture set out to do with this list of the 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy.”

For example:

Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Surely you can’t be serious.
I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley.

Airplane! is arguably the quintessential cinematic example of brilliantly stupid humor, and this joke may be the stupidest — and therefore, the best. The 1980 classic abounds with quotable one-liners and layered jokes that improve with time, but no one steals the show more than the straight-faced Leslie Nielsen imploring Robert Hays to land their out-of-control plane.

See all the humor and jokes HERE

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THIS & THAT

Gun Insanity 1: Texas bookstore gives 10% discount to anyone openly carrying a gun

Gun Insanity 2: Pro-gun picture book for kids

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How Joan Didion the Writer Became Joan Didion the Legend

In Vanity Fair, Lili Anolik writes:

In a 1969 column for Life, her first for the magazine, Joan Didion let drop that she and husband, John Gregory Dunne, were…in Honolulu “in lieu of filing for divorce,” surely the most famous subordinate clause in the history of New Journalism.  

The poise of it, the violence, the cool-bitch chic—a writer who could be the heroine of a Godard movie!—takes the breath away, even after all these years….Didion…is a brilliant writer, sentence for sentence, among the best this country’s ever produced…
Joan Didion photoJoan Didion and John Gregory Dunne at work in Trancas, California, in 1972.
By Henry Clarke/The Condé Nast Archive.

What I do want to do is get her right. And… since 2005, when she published the first of her two loss memoirs, one about Dunne, the other about Quintana, her daughter, she’s been gotten … egregiously wrong… I’m talking about the canonization of Didion, Didion as St. Joan, Didion as Our Mother of Sorrows.

Didion is not, let me repeat, not a holy figure, nor is she a maternal one. She’s cool-eyed and cold-blooded, and that coolness and coldness…is the source of her fascination as much as her artistry is; the source of her glamour too, and her seductiveness, because she is seductive, deeply. What she is is a femme fatale, and irresistible. She’s our kiss of death, yet we open our mouths, kiss back.

Read the whole fascinating article HERE

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12 Powerful War Novels that Transcend War

That war stories must occur in strange lands far from home, filled with bullets and blood, remains a powerful fallacy, novelist Matt Gallagher writes at Off the Shelf, and, he adds, the consequences and effects of war can’t be contained so neatly.

“Stories of war are stories of love, stories of loss and longing, stories of hope. Stories of war are stories of before and after, of inheritance and memory. The best stories of war are so much more than stories of armed conflict. They are stories of humanity.”

For example
Democracy Joan Didion cover

Democracy by Joan Didion 

To call this a Vietnam novel would be both accurate and far too constraining.

Set against the backdrop of the Fall of Saigon, DEMOCRACY chronicles an ill-fated romance and the beginning of the end of the American empire.

See all the books HERE

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17 Uncomfortable Images That Tell The Cynical Truth About Our World

Art has the incredible ability to reveal uncomfortable truths about our world and evoke some serious emotions, a story in Higher Perspective says.

Truly, the modern world is pretty crazy and strange. It’s easy to ignore it – it’s pretty much all our culture tries to get us to do. That’s why Joe Webbart, an artist responsible for making these collages, decided to step up and reveal the truth.
Wallpaper composit photo“All of my images are hand-made, without the use of computers,” writes Webbart. “I find the images in newspapers, magazines given on trains, buses and bins. My collages work to a basic rule of sourcing just two or three images. With these I can reinvent the original scene to communicate a new idea. I suppose I’ve become fairly anti-technology. Although I now promote my art on websites, own an iPhone and use Facebook. It’s confusing, I wish I had been born 100 years ago.”

See all the photos HERE

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Quote of the Day
Love Reading Poster QuoteThere’s only one month for this?

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Does romance pay?

The woman who rewrote the rules of romantic fictionNora Roberts portraitNora Roberts photo by Evelyn Hockstein/Polaris

There are more than 400 million Nora Roberts novels in print, Carole Cadwalladr writes in The Guardian, she has spent more than 893 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and earns an estimated $60 million a year.

But you may never have heard of her, Cadwalladr says, because she writes romance. All genres are scorned by literary types, but none more so than romance, a genre written by women for women.

But if “a guy writes one…they call it something else. And it gets reviewed and made into a movie,” says Roberts.

The unspoken words ‘David Nicholls’ and ‘One Day’, hover in the air. One Day was a romantic novel, taken seriously by publishers, given a non-chick-lit cover, and treated as a worthy subject for reviews in major newspapers.

A woman writes it and it’s just one of those,” Roberts says.

Roberts is not one to mince her words. Talking about one of her recent books, Chasing Fire, she points out that it doesn’t have “a nursing mother cover”. A what? “You know, where she’s falling out of her dress and he has his mouth on her tit.”

At a book signing she is answering questions and is equally phlegmatic.

What does she find helps keep her going when she’s writing?

“Alcoholic beverages.”

Does she tweet?

“I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a flaming stick.”

What does she think of the recent news story claiming that romantic
fiction gives women unrealistic expectations?

“We’re pretty smart. I think we know the difference between reality and fiction. I don’t think that people read Agatha Christie, and then think: I know, I’ll go and murder someone.”

Read the whole wonderful story HERE

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Where in the world?

I try to avoid posting material when I don’t know the source, like this selection of Fascinating-If-True stories that came to me in a much forwarded email without any provenance.

But googling it on Bing suggests that it came from BeforeIt’sNews.com.

Entitled “Where is the world’s…?” it has photos and descriptions of things like the wettest place on earth (Mawsynram, India with 467 inches of rain per year), driest (The Atacama Desert with 4 inches of rain – a CENTURY), coldest place, hottest place, biggest city, city with the best Internet connections, city with the most bike riders…you get the picture.

One example:

Where is the world’s oldest city?Damascus city sceneThere’s quite a bit of controversy over which city gets to officially claim the title of “oldest continuously inhabited city”. However, Damascus is the safest bet, with evidence of civilization that extends back over 11,000 years.

See all the photos HERE

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So okay. I’ve been to cons before. Many cons. I went to my first one LAST CENTURY, back in New Zealand, the year that Roger Zelazny died (he was GoH at my first con. I was that lucky.)

Since that first one, many have come and gone, I’ve been on uncounted panels and signings, I’ve been to six Worldcons and a handful of World Fantasy Cons, I’m a seasoned con pro.

But this year… this year I am going to my first Comic Con.
Comicon logoThe Emerald City Comicon in Seattle has just brought me on board as a pro guest. I’m wildly excited and not a little terrified (from what I’ve heard about Comic Cons from others). I mean to enjoy every minute of it.

Can’t wait until April!

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At Mental Floss, Judith B Herman gives us

25 Words That Are Their Own Opposite

Cups imageImage credit: IStock

What we’ve done is stumble into the looking-glass world of “contronyms”—words that are their own antonyms. Words such as…

Fight with can be interpreted three ways. “He fought with his mother-in-law” could mean “They argued,” “They served together in the war,” or “He used the old battle-ax as a weapon.” (Thanks to linguistics professor Robert Hertz for this idea.)

Or

Dust is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.

Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).

See all the other words HERE

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Quote of the DayMovie vs book image

I couldn’t have said it better.

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Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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SF then and now

To The Moon artHubble image

Science Fiction in the 2nd and 21st Centuries

Lucian of Samosata’s ‘True Stories‘, written in the 2nd Century, might be the first science fiction novel, Tibi Puiu writes at ZME Science.

“The characters venture to distant realms including the moon, the sun, and strange planets and islands. The star protagonist is Lucian himself who happens to stumble upon aliens on the moon and finds himself in the midst of a war between the lunar and sun empires.”

“More fantasy than science fiction? I guess it’s best we leave it to art and literature historians to settle the matters. What’s certain is that this is a hilarious book.”

And you can download it from the Internet.

Read the whole article HERE

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Hmmm, I think my light-hearted SF novel, ‘AbuctiCon,’ might have a bit in common with Lucian’s story.

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders also moves us a bit forward in time from the 2nd Century, talking about

Science Fiction in the Early 21st Century
Galaxy image from NASAImages via NASA/Hubble Space Telescope

While I was performing the disheartening task of writing the obituary for David G. Hartwell, the incredibly influential science fiction editor, I came across his introduction for an anthology called The Science Fiction Century,” Anders writes.

“Back in 1996, Hartwell wrote: ‘The twentieth century is the science fiction century. By the middle of the 1990s, we are living in the world of the future described by genre science fiction of the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, a world technologies we love and fear, sciences so increasingly complex and steeped in specialized diction and jargon that fewer and fewer of us understand science on what used to be called a ‘high school level.'” Science fiction, Hartwell wrote, is a literature for people who want to understand how things work.’

Anders adds that she believes that science fiction’s best days are ahead of it, in large part because “if this genre has taught me anything, it’s optimism about human ingenuity—along with a belief that the unexpected is just around the corner.”

Read the whole story HERE

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The Spanish Edition

I was approached the other day by Lecturalia, a Spanish website about Literature.

“To complete your profile on our site,” the email said, “could you send us a picture or allow us to use one of the photos you have on your website?”

I didn’t know I had a presence on a Spanish-language website, but it’s HERE     

Neat. They had  only a handful of  my books, ones that had already been translated, but I am delighted to be on it. Since I don’t speak Spanish, I am not 100% sure, but apparently the website is located in Spain. If so, I’m particularly delighted since my first major book ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’, was a bestseller in Spain.

I sent them the photo, of course.

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Quote of the Day
Ursula quote~~~~~
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Lie that tells the truth

Five reasons I write fantasy

ALL fiction is fantasy. By definition. But I am using “fantasy” in its more commonly applied genre sense here, the literature of true wonder – the worlds of JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling and GRR Martin. (Is there something magical about initials? For the record, I’m AA Alexander… unh, I’m AAA?)

There are many reasons to love the genre, MANY more than five. But here are MY top five reasons that I love writing in this sphere.

1.The breathtaking sense of wonder

Good fantasy will give you this, even when it’s describing something that might otherwise be totally mundane. You can get to Wonderland in a train or down a rabbit hole, there are a million roads leading there, and if you look around you while you’re traveling there are amazing things all around you. REALLY good fantasy won’t tell you everything – but it will hint at things glimpsed out of the corner of your eye and you’ll go crazy trying to turn quickly enough to see it and might never do, but the knowledge of its presence will give you wings.

Tolkien once famously wrote of the charge of “Escapism” that is all too frequently leveled at fantasy. The only people who resent escapism, he said, are jailors. That is exactly right, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with setting your imagination free.

River Map ToC And as the writer in whose own imagination these things are born… well, there’s something that’s absolutely amazing about standing there in the middle of some place full of color and music and the scents that bring back memories or hint at things not yet known, a place YOU have just touched with power and made to come alive, and beckoning in somebody else. And watching their faces change as they come closer, and watching their eyes widen, and their lips curve into a smile, and their hands reach out for something magical that’s fluttering around them enticingly. Making up stuff? Yeah, sure. But waking up someone else’s sense of wonder? Priceless.

2.The ability to tell hard truths through the silver tissue of lies

There are times that reality is just grim, and dark, and terrible. There are times that talking about these things in realistic terms will make at least some people curl up into a fetal ball and whimper quietly in a dark corner. And those people will see nothing but the darkness, they will believe that light is forever extinguished and things will never be right again.

But in fantasy… you can look that darkness in the eye, and then you can close the book, and you are safe. And it gives you the sense that it is possible to be safe from the “real” thing too. That things really might get better.

The famous G K Chesterton quote that always spoke to me in this context is that fairy tales are not there to teach our children that there are dragons – it is to teach them that dragons can be conquered.

And nothing beats fantasy at this. Because the heart of fantasy is raw courage, the kind that can stand against anything, no matter how much pain is piled upon it – the kind that might bend, that might buckle, but all of that is in the end temporary and when dawn comes (and it comes) you can get back on your feet and stand again. Nights are dangerous, and they teem with fell things, but they don’t last forever.

Fantasy gives you the opportunity, by presenting your monsters in guises in which they don’t seem quite so overwhelmingly threatening (at least not to yourself, they are after OTHER PEOPLE in these stories….) to actually face these monsters down – to learn how to deal with them outside the book covers, in your own lives. Fantasy can call out the hard stuff, and deal with it. Fantasy can make you feel better about monsters and dramas and tragedies. Fantasy is the lie that tells the ultimate truth.

That is a rare and magnificent power.

3. It is bigger on the inside

Fantasy is a TARDIS – you step into something skimpily enough described and great vistas open before you. Entire unmarked virgin worlds. And the further you go the more there is. It’s the great magnificent power of the words “WHAT IF…?”, words which you can follow anywhere, and they will always be leading you on, and forward, into something new and not looked for.

Sure, there are fantasies which are deeply rooted in places that look very much like the modern world, or perhaps the historical middle ages, and which will function according to at least some real world rules. You might ask, so how is looking back over well-trod trails the same as looking forward into an unmapped future? Well… it’s like this. The roads might be the same. But the people who travel them – and the reasons those people have for taking to them – are ever different, and new.

The reason that fantasy is so rewarding is that every reader brings their own baggage along with them on that journey. The writer gets to lay down the road, to draw a rough map, but what’s carried on that journey enriches both the writer and the reader. I love the idea of selling a ticket to this world which lived in my own mind’s eye and then waving goodbye to the reader who takes it from my hand and smiling as they walk away from me, shouldering their own particular backpack, looking around, inevitably finding things in this world that I never put there, that only they can see. And because they see it, they make me see it too. And my own vision is the richer for it.

Fantasy is bigger on the inside because of all the things that we all bring into it with us. It’s glorious.

4.Stories are about people, and the characters who populate fantasy are often astonishing

They are you… only… BIGGER. They are the same as you… only… different. They live through adventures and lifetimes and you get to live through those things with them, and it’s a gift to be able to give readers companions who will never quite leave their side again. I have read reams of fantasy books in my time, and some of the characters from those stories STILL walk with me. I have so many spirit-friends out there. And so does everyone who reads fantasy. It is my joy to create characters who are destined to be such companions – it is my privilege as a writer to create them well enough to be remembered, and taken into the future with my readers, and remembered.

I am forging lifelong friendships, here. It’s breathtaking, when I stop to think about it.

5. You get to say what happens

As a writer, you lay down the law – it is your world and what you say GOES. If you repeat “Winter is coming” often enough it becomes a mantra, a promise, a threat, a warning for the ages – and yet all you have really said is that a particular season is on its way. But in THAT world, WINTER MATTERS.

In your world, as a writer, you can make things like this matter. And you can lay down the law and the consequences for breaking that law. And your word is law.
You point to a mountain, and it will crumble. You hover above a battlefield like an angel of doom, and the battle swings to your will. You create planets, and you destroy them; you make the sun rise, and you make it set, and you make the tides come in, and the birds migrate, and the quiet fires of the heart of a world roil and rumble unseen and unsuspected beneath your characters’ feet until you see fit to make the ground shake under the soles of their boots.

You decide what’s good, and what’s bad, and what’s punished, and what’s rewarded. YOU decide what’s triumph and what’s tragedy. You get to rule it all. And dammit, sometimes it’s just good to be God Emperor.

I’ve written every kind of fantasy, from Epic High Fantasy (the Changer of Days books) to historical (the sweeping sagas of ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’, and ‘Embers of Heaven’, and the upcoming ‘Empress’), to YA (the Worldweavers books, which are full of their own whimsy, and The Were Chronicles, which are much darker). And a book, ‘Midnight at Spanish Garden’, which has been labeled a ‘contemporary’ fantasy. All of them have been this kind of joy.

I live in the heart of fantasy… and it is home.

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There’s a (m)ap for that

Yeah, we’ve all seen recent maps of fantasy worlds – most of us who read in the genre would be able to find our way around Narnia, or Middle Earth, or Syai, or Weseteros. But have you ever wondered about the Elder Lands, the fantasy landscapes of myth, and legend, and earlier fantasy?
Fairyland mapThis 1917 map of fairyland is like a Where’s Waldo of fantasy, Andrew Liptak says at 1o9.

Titled ‘An anciente mappe of Fairyland: newly discovered and set forth’, it was created by Bernard Sleigh in 1917 as a comprehensive mashup of a whole bunch of fairy tales.

See the whole story HERE

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Fairy tales much older than previously thought
Beauty And Beast image

Beauty and the Beast, one of the fairytales believed to date from thousands of years ago. Photo: Durham University/PA

Studies of the origin of stories like Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin show that they trace back thousands of years, with one tale dating back as far as bronze age, Alison Flood writes in The Guardian.

Using techniques normally employed by biologists, they studied common links between 275 Indo-European fairy tales from around the world and found some have roots that are far older than previously known, and “long before the emergence of the literary record”.

Read the whole story HERE

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In her blog, Anne R. Allen discusses

“10 Misconceptions a College Education Taught Me about Writing”

“I had what is known as a ‘good education,’ I attended East Coast and European prep schools and Ivy League colleges. Both my parents were college professors with PhDs in literature. All of which left me uniquely unqualified for my chosen profession: writing novels.

Why?

Because I grew up knowing almost nothing about what kind of writing actually sells.”

Read the whole story HERE

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Quote of the Day

Read and be nice image

If only…sigh.

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Alma Alexander      My books       Email me

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Badass Women

History, historical fiction, historical fantasy   When worlds collideAt Bustle, Hannah Jewell offers us

14 Badass Historical Women To Name Your Daughters After

Take Nancy Wake, for example:

Nancy Wake photocommons.wikimedia.org(1945).jpg / Creative Commons

Wake was a spy, a journalist, and a hero of the French Resistance during World War II. Would you like your baby to be exceedingly glamorous? Then name her Nancy.

Born in New Zealand, Nancy ended up settling in Paris, where she worked as a journalist and passed her time in the enjoyment of “a good drink” and handsome French men. When WW2 broke out, she joined the Resistance and saved the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers and downed airmen by escorting them through occupied France to safety in Spain”, and later joined the British Special Operations Executive as a spy.

One time, Nancy got her parachute stuck in a tree. A nearby Frenchman said he wished all trees could bear such “beautiful fruit”, to which Nancy responded, “Don’t give me that French shit.”

Just think, these could be your baby girl’s first words, Hannah Jewell suggests.

Read about all these amazing women HERE

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When worlds collide – History, historical fiction and historical fantasy

A couple of years ago, I blogged about ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei,’ a novel I wrote as a historical fantasy. Its roots lie in Imperial China and the secret language of women that then existed, but it is NOT China – I called my world Syai — and it is NOT a straight historical novel. It was never intended to be.

But HarperCollins put on a cover for the American edition which was far more mainstream than fantasy. Despite the earnest protestations in the Author Note in the novel, there were  bookstores that placed the book in the history section – and, inevitably, those readers and reviewers who expected real history were in for a disappointment. A few readers and reviewers have faulted my ‘historical research’, even demanding to know precisely WHICH Chinese Imperial dynasty my book is supposed to reference, as  though the world of my imagination is really the historical China of our world.

It isn’t. It never was. China was an inspiration for the fictional fantastical land of Syai, not its direct historical antecedent.

That all came to mind because of an essay by Disha Jani in The Toast

Who Tells Your Story? Historical Fiction as Resistance

Jani is talking about real historical fiction, set in a real world, not my China-that-never-was. But I found her article fascinating because I too have loved historical fiction.

“What drew me to reading about the past in the first place” Jani writes, “…is fiction in the literal sense. Specifically, children’s historical fiction presented as the diaries of girls my age, living through various periods in Canadian and world history.

“The librarian at my elementary school pointed me towards the one about Marie Antoinette one day, and I was instantly consumed. The Dear Canada and Royal Diaries books meant that I could hunker down with a friend who was escaping to a New York tenement from Russian pogroms, or being shipped to Quebec as a fille du roi, or studying with the imperial Chinese because her tribe needed to establish diplomatic relations.

“Today, I continue to love anything about a badass genius woman in an old-timey world.”

Hmmm. Maybe she should read my “Empress” when it comes out. Except that once again… the ‘historical’ in that book is very much tempered with the ‘fantasy’.

Fair warning. I love history and the depths of its roots but I prefer not to be constrained by the exact “and this is what happened” boxes when I am writing a story – which is why the historical fantasy field is something I am so delighted with. I’ll meet you all in the not-quite-REAL lands of my imagination…

Read the whole Disha Jani article HERE

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A ‘Happy Gent’ At 100

Herman Wouk has written an autobiography entitled ‘Sailor and Fiddler, The Reflections of a 100-year-old Author’. The sailor represents his life as a writer, the fiddler his spiritual side.

Herman WoukStephanie Diani/Simon & Schuster

Wouk quickly became a best selling author with such novels as Marjorie Morningstar and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Caine Mutiny, which was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart as the unforgettable Captain Queeg.

Growing up in the Bronx, Wouk wanted to be a writer, but Judaism was always important to him as well. He loved Mark Twain and Alexandre Dumas, and he also fondly remembers listening to his father read the stories of Sholem Aleichem on Friday nights.

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS & THAT    

At Bustle, Sadie L. Trombetta selected

10 Jane Austen Tattoos For The Classic Lit Lover In You

including this one from ‘Pride and Prejudice’
Austen TatSee the other nine HERE

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A bookseller recently emailed me that she had sold out of my books at Rustycon, adding that she had hand delivered a copy of ‘Random’ to a customer in Keizer, Oregon on the way home.

The customer was the member of a book club which was about to discuss the novel and she wanted to get it in time to read it before the meeting.

“Since she’s apparently a night owl,” A. Carpenter (AmyCat.BookUniverse) wrote, “she was fine with me delivering it on my way home. Thus, I ended up delivering a copy of your book in Keizer at 2 am!”

Over and beyond the call of duty.

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Write what you know means ‘before you write about something, know it.’ As a living human being, you must constantly learn new things anyway, or you are obsolete and will be replaced with a newer model. Make one of the new things you learn what you want to write about.” ~ Jerry Kindall

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At Buzzfeed, Alex Alvarez has discovered

31 Funny Tweets That Are Way, Way Too Real For Writers

e.g.
When fantasy writing is contagious:
Writers TweetsSee all the tweets HERE

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Quote of the Day

The difference between an optimist and a pessimist? An optimist laughs to forget, but a pessimist forgets to laugh.” ~ Tom Boddet

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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Ode to the literary cat

It is a a writerly thing. Some of us have dogs, to be sure, but the classic writerish badge of belonging to the scribe tribe is…a cat.

In some ways it’s inevitable. Dogs worship us, and although that can be invaluable in a world which otherwise largely doesn’t care, it is the cat who serves the ultimate purpose in writers lives, keeping us grounded, and keeping us humble.

In the throes of epic inspiration, wrapped in the arms of your Muse? Forget it. The food bowl is empty, the litter box needs cleaning, and those things need attention now. Screw the Muse. there is first and forever and always CAT. And Cat must be obeyed.

Cats go perfectly with books and cups of tea or coffee, in homes, in libraries, in bookstores, so many bookstores.

I well remember the somewhat disconcerting gaze of the Borderlands Sphynx – the naked hairless ubercat who came to perch on my lectern when I did a reading there and stared at me with those ageless eyes, at the same time giving approval and waiting for me to stumble on a word so that it could have its little snicker of schadenfreude.

There’s Dewey, the library cat whom I knew only from a book but still wept oceans of tears over. There are multifarious fictional cats, whose roles range from window-dressing to full-on characters. And real-life cats named after them.

Boboko in the LibraryA friend of mine named one of his own after Pixel, the Cat Who Walked Through Walls. My own heart’s-beloved, Boboko, was named after a fabulous feline in Charles de LInt’s “Mulengro”, and he apparently knew about his bookish origin. He hung around books in my library, as the photo attests.

Make today a read-a-book-and-hug-your-cat day. I do it every day.

Mashable takes note of the bookstore-owning felines of Instagram and offers us some delightful pictures.

e.g.
Book store cat“Right this way to the picture book section.”

See more photos HERE

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From a review of ‘Shifter, the third book in The Were Chronicles, by Angela Cabezas at her blog, Angela’s Library:

“Alexander’s writing is gorgeous and insightful, and she uses it to full advantage. I’m always sad when I finish a great story, but as I wrote to Alma in a Facebook message while in the throes of book withdrawal, ‘I just finished Shifter and now I have to cancel my plans for the day to eat chocolate and cry!’ The best books leave a hole in you when they’re over, and Shifter certainly left a gaping void in me.

“The experience is worth it, though. And look at it this way – once you’re finished you can always go back and re-read the book’s perfect last line over and over again to bring yourself comfort, as I’ve been doing. So what are you waiting for? Go get some chocolate and start reading this book!”

Read the whole review HERE

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HOW many pages? The 10 longest books ever written

Look, I am no slouch in the word-count department. Several of my books – “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, “Embers of Heaven’, the forthcoming “Empress” — even the “Changer of Days” duology, written as a single novel but published in two parts because that’s the only way the skittish publishers would tackle a quarter-million-word epic — all fall in the 200,000 words plus category. That’s a million published words right there.

And I haven’t even counted the epic I wrote in my teens which is just as many words but as yet only exists on 500+ handwritten – in pencil – pages in three hardcover A4 sized notebooks.

Even my YA books are pushing the envelope. Three of the four Worldweavers books are longer than 100,000 words. I managed to contain myself a little more with the Were  Chronicles books because they all fall in roughly at 95-99K words apiece.

But the books here put together by Short List, are in a class beyond that – way beyond that!

Perhaps the headline ought to read ‘The 10 longest stories ever written‘ because the Short List collection includes novels told over several volumes.

But we are talking about long – very long – coherent stories, ranging from near a million words to 2.1 million words.

The number of words is the way most writers judge length, but most readers probably think more in terms of pages. So how many pages are we talking about here?

Well, the shortest book here, the piker, is only 2,400 pages, while the longest is…

drum roll, please

… 13,095 pages.

I suspect you won’t finish it in a day, or maybe a lifetime.

A lot of the books you may never have heard of – OK, probably never heard of. But every reader in the western word has heard of Proust and his ‘In Search of Lost Time’. It might even be on the bottom of their to-read pile – the very bottom.

Short List tells that it is 1,267,069 words in 3,031 pages.

Proust cover

There’s no doubt that Proust’s masterpiece could quite easily double as a mightily  effective doorstop, with 13 volumes clocking up nearly 1.3 million words. Its theme of involuntary memory is repeated through the course of following the narrator’s life, from childhood to adulthood. Published between 1913 and 1927, it had a profound influence on many works that were to follow in the 20th Century; it’s considered the definitive modern novel by many leading scholars. So, to summarize: really long, but really good.

 

But the undisputed winner in this list is basically a romance, ‘Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus’, 2.1 million word, 13,095 page romance. In 10 volumes.

Le Grand coverThis 17th century novel obliterates the opposition. The work is credited on the page to Geroges de Scudéry, but is usually attributed to his sister Madeleine. The ultimate example of the roman héroïque form, it is, essentially, a romantic novel, with endless twists to keep the suspense, and the action, going. Despite its gargantuan length, at the time it was hugely popular.

However, it was not subsequently published again until an academic project was launched to make it available to read on the Internet.

Yes, you can read it ON THE INTERNET HERE

So what are you waiting for? Those 13,095 pages aren’t going to read themselves, Short List chides..

See the other books HERE

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Quote of the Day
Slices Of Trees posterYour choice but I know which I opt for.

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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Goodbye to Giants

What we remember

Only the middle of January and already two giants have chosen this year to wander off into the sunset.
Rickman BowieDavid Bowie and Alan Rickman: photo www.chicagotribune.com

When I first saw the David Bowie headline, I had a quick moment of, ‘Hoax. It MUST be. One of those spoof things that is going to get quickly denied with a hollow laugh and perhaps an apology.’ But no. The first headline was followed by the second, and the third, and the rest, confirming, not denying.

I am not a fanatical follower; if any devoted fans knew that he was sick and ailing, that cancer had him in its claws, I did not. And I, like all too many others, was living in the kind of world where our icons don’t die. They hang there in the sky like a starman smiling down at us. They exist, they have existed, and they will always exist – right until the world changes and they are gone, a last smile fading like a Cheshire Cat’s that is a lingering memory of that fact that we once shared an Earth together, an era, a slice of time and space, even though we never met.

I remember Bowie in many of his incarnations. As I said in my first reaction to his death, he was the guy that made it OKAY for my generation to be weird, made it cool to be weird. He was sexy, and powerful, and dangerous, and talented, and instantly recognizable — and he was ours, he belonged to all of us, collectively, individually.

I remember watching “Labyrinth” for the first time and wishing I could have been Sarah, I could have stepped into Jareth’s arms and have him swing me into that lush music, dance with me in that crowd as though there was nobody else there at all. As the world falls down. Hell yes, I was a romantic. And that was just one aspect of Bowie. But it neither began nor ended there – before and after that there was the Bowie of Major Tom, of Changes, of Under Pressure, of Fame, of Young Americans, of Ziggy Stardust, of Starman.

I wasn’t the kind of fan who hung posters in my teenage bedrooms. But if I had been, there would have been no question about whose it would have been. He left us something huge and priceless. I’m glad I was here to see some if it being made. I’m glad I was part of the generation that lived while he lived, even though I was one of the millions of people who never met him, never even saw him in the flesh. But I was one of the millions who looked upon him with admiration, and with respect.

Yes, I know there have already been those who have dissecting his errors and his sins. That’s not unexpected, in its own way, and I guess it was coming – nobody gets a free pass, or should. But I might have wished for those who wanted to do it to either do it while he was still alive and there to respond if he wanted to, or failing that to have waited at least a week after he was gone before they dragged it all up. There are times to speak, and times not to. He was not – nor ever claimed to be – a saint, and anyone who expected him to be one was sadly ill-informed about life in general. Few of us live our lives unblemished.

I’m sorry he left us so soon. I think he had more to give, and now we will never see or hear it. But there it is – the memory. And in my dreams I will always have that last dance with the Goblin King, holding me as the world falls down.

The second act

And then – barely a handful of days later – another headline. Another “Oh no, it’s gotta be a hoax” which was not one. Alan Rickman. The man of whom I have said that I would listen to a telephone directory if he was the one reading it.

When I was 15 years old and at my English boarding school, they took the entire O Level English class for a field trip to Stratford Upon Avon one time, to see “Antony and Cleopatra”.

What I remembered from that trip, up front, was Glenda Jackson as Cleopatra – the way she walked onto that stage dressed in a plain beige caftan, with pretty much zero make up or accessories – no black-haired wig with dramatic bangs a la Elizabeth Taylor, no jewels, no kohl, no nothing. And within five minutes you would have attacked bodily anyone who so much as hinted that Cleopatra had ever looked anything different than that ginger-haired Englishwoman with close-cropped hair clinging to the shape of her skull and her pale eyebrows and eyelashes fringing English eyes. But that was the star, and that was the memory I took home with me, along with a theatrical program which I had obtained at the time.

Many many years later when I was tidying stuff up I came across that program and realized that I had been given more treasures than I had known at the time. The cast list of that production featured Patrick Stewart… and Alan Rickman.

I had seen Alan Rickman on stage. And it actually HURTS that I have no memory of that at all. If I could kidnap a TARDIS and go back in time this might be one of the moments I would wish to go back to – go back into that auditorium and watch for Alan Rickman as he came on the stage, and remember it.

I really fell in love with the actor and his voice in “Truly, Madly, Deeply”. It was because of him that I went out and bought a volume of Pablo Neruda. He made me laugh and cry in “Galaxy Quest”. He stole the Robin Hood movie from Kevin Costner so spectacularly that it wasn’t even funny. He broke your heart as the nice but clueless husband in “Love, Actually”.  He made one hell of an angel in “Dogma”. And Snape… always. Always. More him than anyone else in that movie, actually. Do I need to go on?

Where’s that phone directory? I have a dire need of a magnficent voice to read it to me. So that I can cry a little, perhaps.

Look, I know all of us are born, and all of us must die – but really – stop, 2016. Just stop. Stop taking people like this before we’re ready to let them go. They were both 69 years old. That’s no age. They had a lifetime still that they should have had to shine in the dark for us. They had so much more to give the world, they had so much more love to receive from it.

My sympathies go first of all to the families who have lost not just an icon but someone they have loved, a part of their hearts. That, first, of course.

But beyond that the world has lost irreplaceable people. And it isn’t even two full weeks into 2016 yet.

Is this the sort of year we can expect, then…? Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow?…

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Shifting the reader’s perspective

Shifter cover‘Shifter, the third book in The Were Chronicles, is now out and at Galleywampus I take a reflective look back on the first series (but not the last, there are more stories to be told in this world.)

I might write fantasy but these books, as one perspicacious reviewer pointed out, are more about being HUMAN than they ever were about non-human “monsters”. In fact, in this book, a lot of the monsters ARE pure human, and the creatures we so love to think of as monstrous are just as fragile and vulnerable as we would be. The enemy is ALWAYS us.

What I write about are the concerns of the human mind, the human body, the human heart, the human soul.

I do not, never have, never will, aim for preaching my own gospel through the bully pulpit of my own fiction. All I do, as the writer, is choose an issue, a problem, an idea, and use the power of story to reveal it, to explain it, to disarm it, perhaps to conquer it through understanding. I always want my stories to have more depth to them than just the surface glitter of pretty sunlight on the surface of water. When I tell a story the underlying stories are always there. Not preachily, not dogmatically, but they’re there. They will always be there.

Read more HERE

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Quote of the Day

“It’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible? What’s a fantasy?

Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.” ~ Alan Ricknan on the importance of storytelling

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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David Bowie’s books

Bowie Books illustration“The two chaps in the middle of our montage are David Bowie sporting a Clockwork Orange T-shirt with his old chum, George Underwood”

At davidbowie.com, they have posted: David Bowie’s top 100 books

As a reader and a writer I am, of course, fascinated by the rather eclectic reading list (from Beano all the way to “The Clockwork Orange”…?).

I have to admit that I have read only 12 books on his list. I am impressed at the wondrous variety of reading material here – but then, Europeans tend to have that breadth because they are reading books from across Europe and by writers from different cultures and languages; also, I suspect that even though the David Jones who existed before David Bowie still had the seeds of the Bowie persona inside him all the way back to when he was a tadpole he also looked like a teenager who might have found solace in the word over direct interactions with people. Before he made that what he was a  cool thing to be, he was, as he had been described in some article about him, ” a snaggle-toothed skinny white boy” and those – even when they’re proto-David-Bowie – can be lonely.

For my generation, David Bowie was special. He made it okay to be weird. More than okay, he made it the epitome of cool to be weird. He had virility and sex appeal — and an edge of danger, even though people who worked with him described him as kind. He was that ultimate of creatures – a practically feline lean mean hunter, but also someone capable of disarming you with a smile, or a softening of those improbably mismatched eyes, or an intelligent word.

Or a reading list.

Once, in an interview, David Bowie described reading as one of life’s greatest joys. It’s interesting to see what kind of stories shaped his own, what helped to make him into that icon that he became.

I might choose an offering or two from his list I haven’t read yet, and read them this year. In his memory.

See the whole list HERE

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Jarry Lee of BuzzFeed tells us about

29 Hilarious Literary Internet Puns

They were sparked by a Comedy Central’s twitter game with the hashtag #InternetABook that involved playing word and Photoshop games with book titles’

One example – “ The Time Traveler’s Wifi “.

Another is this photo
Charlotte's Web Bowser cover
See ALL the puns HERE

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At Off the Shelf, Emma Volk offers us

14 Must-Read Books Set Under the African Sun

Through the beauty of armchair adventuring, Volk says, you can see lush African landscapes and dream of savannahs while you are stuck in suburbia. She selects some books for us.

For example, one of my all time favorites

Poisonwood Bible coverThe Poisonwood Bible:

Barbara Kingsolver charts cultural clashes, political upheaval, and failed fundamentalism in this ambitious epic. When an evangelical Baptist preacher moves his wife and daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959, the African soil proves to be the family’s undoing and salvation.

And there is this delightful series I first encountered on TV

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency coverThe No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency:

The first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed series tells the story of Botswana’s best (and indeed, only) female detective, Precious Ramotswe, a good-hearted detective with a keen moral eye who specializes in everything from missing husbands and wayward daughters to con men and imposters.

See the other 12 books HERE

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Old Words and Phrases remind us of the way we were

Richard Lederer once wrote about expressions that have become obsolete because of technology — Don’t touch that dial, Carbon copy, You sound like a broken record, Hung out to dry.

“A bevy of readers have asked me to shine a light on some more faded words and expressions, and I am happy to oblige,” he says. “Where have all those phrases gone? Long time passing. Where have all those phrases gone?….Long time ago…”

Banned in Boston
It’s your nickel
Knee high to a grasshopper
Domino theory
Don’t take any wooden nickels
And Awa-A-ay We Go!”

“It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging. We can have archaic and eat it, too!”

Read the whole column HERE

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Guardian Book Quiz
Adult Coloring BooksThe book trend of 2015, coloring books for adults. Illustration: Leanne Italie/AP

Who found the manuscript for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman? Which taunt did Martin Amis level at Jeremy Corbyn? And who hasn’t had an adult coloring book devoted to them (yet)?

I got nearly half right, although some by the process of elimination, My husband refused to tell me how badly…err,  how well he did.

Test your knowledge of last year’s books HERE

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Quote of the Day
Dave Bowie BooksHe knew his poetry.

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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