Girls can. Girls SHOULD

How Thea Winthrop became the world’s greatest wizard

Back in 2002, back when Harry Potter WAS the YA genre – (Number One, and then twenty empty spaces behind it before the next contender), I attended that year’s World Fantasy Convention.

At that time, I had no real interest in paddling in the YA pool. My writing was aimed at an adult readership, not least because of the way I have always used language, rich and lush and peppered with words that might send some readers to a dictionary.

But then I heard Jane Yolen say during a panel discussion that she had never particularly liked the way that the Potter books had treated girls. I missed the rest of the panel because I was sitting in the back with a story flowering in my head. A story as American as Harry Potter was British. A story not about a boy but a GIRL…a girl named Thea Winthrop.

The story became the Worldweavers trilogy, published by HarperCollins.

Spellspam HarperCollins coverThea was a rare thing, a Double Seventh, a seventh child of two seventh children. In her world, her potential was unlimited, and its manifestation eagerly awaited. Except that she…COULDN’T. It wasn’t even that she was BAD at magic, it was that she couldn’t do ANY.

As a final attempt at triggering something, her father sends her back in time to the tender mercies of a shaman from a long vanished tribe, the Anasazi. Cheveyo of the Anasazi awakens something long sleeping in Thea, and introduces her to the world of the Elder Days and ancient magic rooted in Native American lore.

It is this that becomes the first part of the solid bedrock on which Thea learns to take a stand. That took up most of the first book, “The Gift of the Unmage” – that, and this glorious concept of the Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent, a school where untalented children of magical families are warehoused, safely out of the way of their more endowed siblings.

The second part of Thea’s coming of age is her unexpected ability to channel something that looks very like magic through computers. In her world, computers are almost the only thing that is proof against magic – they are practical and rooted in the empirical world, and they have been used to store magic spells because it’s safer than storing them in the classic grimoire books. Magic locked up inside a computer was supposedly tamper proof and escape proof.

Until that stops being the case. In the second book, “Spellspam”, the spam familiar to all of us start bearing real live spells. In the opening scene of that book,  an email offering “The clearest skin you can ever imagine” delivers precisely that – skin that turns TRANSPARENT. (Oh, I had fun with these.) It seems that Thea is no longer the only one who can tamper with magic through computers. There Is Another. And she is roped in to help find that other, and stop them.

In the process of doing this, a white cube is found that is clearly full of magic but which nobody can figure out how to open. Until Thea does in the third Worldweavers book, Cybermage, and discovers Nikola Tesla, the only human Wizard who could command all four of the elements, Air, Water, Earth, and Fire.

Thea helps Nikola Tesla, who had been tricked into losing his Elemental magic to regain it in the face of attempts of the grasping greedy race called the Alphiri (think High Elves with the souls of Star Trek’s Ferengi) to steal it for themselves. The Alphiri are defeated, Nikola Tesla is redeemed, and Thea finds her place in the world.

That seemed to be the end of it, a nice tidy place to finish, except… that it wasn’t.

Some years later a fourth book would come knocking, demanding to be written, the rest of Thea’s story, taking the whole tale neatly back to its beginnings. “Dawn of Magic” concludes the Worldweavers saga in epic fashion, and is one of my favorites amongst my books, because of the way that the main triad of characters – Thea, Tesla, and Coyote the Trickster who goes by the name of Corey – carry the story.

This book is all about human magic, and what it is, and what it means, and where it hides. There is a luminousness to it, a quiet shine.

Going back to that panel in 2002… I wrote a book about American magic, about an American girl. I wrote that book that Jane Yolen whispered about between the lines in that panel. I wrote a book about the GIRL who had the adventures. And it was good. Girls can. Girls SHOULD.

Thea Winthrop was nobody’s sidekick – she went out and grasped things with her own two hands. She didn’t follow – she sometimes walked beside (one can’t do better than that, with Nikola Tesla), but more often than that, she was in the lead. She did the difficult things that others shied from doing, and lived with the consequences. She could be hurt. She could falter. She could fall. But she had known the bitter taste of defeat once, and she would never go back there again.

The books, when they came out, garnered two very different sets of reviews. On the heels of the fade of the HP phenomenon, some reviewers came up with various iterations of “For those suffering from Harry Potter withdrawal, this is just the ticket”, implying that the books were more of the same HP juggernaut stuff.

Others begged to differ and specifically described the books as wholly original, owing nothing to Harry Potter. Either way, they were hitting SOME sort of target.

Because Thea isn’t (yet?) a household name, you will gather that they didn’t hit the HP bullseye. But for those who found and treasured them, the books seemed to find a very special niche.

Thea Winthrop was the girl who held her own against anybody.

There would be absolutely no problem in the way the Worldweavers books treated girls. They treated them as equals, as worthy, as real. These books treat girls as people. And I’m proud of that.

The essay in full can be read at the Book View Cafe HERE

In The Guardian, Alison Flood ponders

Classic novels retold in smileys

after studying this one
Dune Smiley tweetRead more at The Guardian site HERE    

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Who Won the West? posterIt all depends…

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The Power of Magic

Fantasy is a lens which sharpens and clarifies the sliver of reality viewed through it. Magic is one of the tools used to accomplish this, and it’s a powerful one.

Sufficiently advanced magic takes on a reality all of its own and begins to be something believed in on its own terms, with something approaching religious faith. This is possibly why the more fundamental Christian ilk feels so violently threatened by such things as the magic in The Golden Compass or Worldweavers.

They confuse a powerful system of magic being used to shape a fictional story with a potential rival to their own creed and dogma and set of beliefs and a false dichotomy of “people who like and believe THIS cannot possibly believe OUR magic faith and so they must be our enemies”.

I am going to take this one step further. If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then any sufficiently advanced magic can be indistinguishable from a religion.

If anything that is beyond our comprehension may be tagged with the word “magic”, then the Christian mythos starts to drip with it – what are miracles if not magic? Changing water into wine? Walking on water? Resurrection, for that matter? But over the course of two thousand years the magic has hardened into a cracked outer shell of dogma. It is no longer the original magic but the recasting of that magic into something useful and controllable by a series of human interpreters who have sought to use it as something that supported their own theory, or grip on power.

Upstairs To The Magic Land illustrationThere is real magic in belief. Sometimes wishing for something hard enough actually does make it come true because the sheer power of the act of visualization often means that you are also working in real-terms for the manifestation of that thing in your life.

I remember reading Richard Bach’s “Illusions: the adventures of a reluctant Messiah” I couldn’t remember the exact title so I just looked it up and this jumped out at me from one of the book’s Amazon reviews: “I’m a Christian, but believe that when you move beyond a literal interpretation of Christ’s words and see the symbolic message in them, it’s not too different from what’s in this book. But that’s a big leap for most Christians and this book will probably make their blood boil.”

True magic lies in weaving together something that is impossible with something that is yearning for the impossible in such a way that the impossible thing becomes not just possible but inevitable.

This is what writers do every day.

What is it that makes magic come alive for the reader? Is it that the writer must believe in it first, and to what degree should that belief be taken – philosophical, empirical, dogmatic? What is it about magic that pulls in the human mind? What are the riptides and the undertows of that wine-dark sea in which we all like to occasionally drown?

What makes magic… for YOU?

The full version of this essay can be read at at Book View Café HERE

Readers Resource

There are a myriad of websites devoted to books, reading, and readers. Here are just a few for your viewing pleasure. Others will be periodically added to this list. Your additions are welcome. (Click the balloon in the upper right to add comments.)

Online Book Club 
Publishers Weekly
young adultica
Readers’ Favorite

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Who made me?

In interviews I am often asked about authors who have influenced me and I usually name a couple or so. But there are many more and I have recently come up with a list of 15 who have been important to my own development as a writer.

Illustration of author in shadowPixaay illustration

Some on my list will be unfamiliar to a lot of readers. That’s what comes of having grown up bilingual and in two different cultures. Some of the authors write in a language that many people won’t even be able to identify immediately (google them… 🙂 )

The last name on the list is my grandfather. His poetry is my earliest exposure to the written word, to language. To him, I owe EVERYTHING.

1. Tolkien
2. Roger Zelazny
3. Guy Gavriel Kay
4. Ursula le Guin
5. Octavia Butler
6. Howard Spring
7. Neil Gaiman
8. T H White
9. Ivo Andric
10. Dobrica Cosic
11. Desanka Maksimovic
12. Henryk Sienkiewicz
13. Hans Christian Andersen
14. Oscar Wilde
15. Stevan Mutibaric

Anyone can join in on the list making, writer or reader. Who is on your list? I’d love to know. (Click on cartoon-style bubble at upper right)


25 Reasons Why I Stopped Reading Your Book

Well, not me.…The “I” in the title is Chuck Wendig, novelist, screenwriter, and game designer.

I found this on his blog terribleminds where, as he explains, he “talks a lot about writing. And food. And pop culture. And his kid. He uses lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.”

Amusing, with a lot of good writing advice for readers who are also writers. I particularly like reason 17:

Whoa, way too heavy a hand with the worldbuilding, pal. Ease back on the infinite details, okay? The worldbuilding should serve the story. The story is not just a vehicle for worldbuilding. I want to eat a meal, not stare at the plate. The plate can be lovely! You can work very hard on the plate. But not, I’m afraid, at the cost of the food that sits upon it.”

Read the other 24 reasons at terribleminds HERE

Lorraine Berry talks in The Guardian about

The horror of female adolescence – and how to write about it

Adolescent girls movie photo ‘Creatures’ … Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. Photograph: AP

Why does literature so often depict the onset of sexuality – or indeed any aspect of girls’ growing up – as a strange, feverish thing? Berry asks.

The only teenage girls I ever read about in literature classes were powerless; except for their sex, which we were made to understand made men weak….When I graduated from my high school in 1980, teenage girls were being used as messy political weapons by the US’s nascent religious right, to build its power. Our access to birth control, to abortion, and our rights to have sex as freely as young men, became one of the major issues around which the “Moral Majority” organised itself.”

Read Lorraine Berry’s whole story at The Guardian HERE

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Do men talk too much?

Jo Eberhardt took a look at her bookshelves and realized to her surprise that only 24% had a female protagonist. At Writer Unboxed, she wrote a thoughtful essay about it entitled

The Problem with Female Protagonists

I’d need to sit down and go through the books in my own library, but I am sure that I’d find similar percentages.

Rather depressing, that.

On the other hand, I’ve done my share of supplying female protagonists to the literary world.

The Secrets Of Jin Shei By Hoshiaka illustrationArtist Hoshiaka at Deviant Art

In my Jin-shei alternative world stories (The Secrets of Jin-shei, Embers of Heaven) there are at least ten strong female characters. (Illustration)

My newest historical fantasy, Empress, has a strong female protagonist (and at least two strong supporting characters of that gender). And my Changer of Days books feature a strong female lead.

My YA Worldweavers series centers on a young girl who grows up to become the greatest mage in the world. And in The Were Chronicles, one of the three books has a front-and-center female protagonist. The others have male protagonists but plenty of strong female support characters. I’m doing my best to balance the books.

In discussing the role of female protagonists, Eberhardt notes that it’s safe to say that the truism about women talking three times as much as men is exactly the opposite of truth. And men dominate the protagonists world.

Read her complete essay at Writer Unboxed HERE

Of late – or maybe I have just become sensitized to it – you just have to look at any article about the accomplishment of ANY woman and the headline or the photo associated with it is all about the man whose “other half” she is.

Apparently single women don’t achieve anything worth noting, and even married or partnered women don’t do it without their menfolk standing right there taking the credit. One wonders if the achiever would be mentioned, and in which terms, if she happens to be gay and her partner is another woman. This is where things get rather meta.

Either way. Women have been erased from science and history for a very long time. My personal bugbear is always the DNA story and Rosalind Franklin. But there are many.

In an article at Hazlit entitled

The Disappearing Act

Lauren McKeon writes that since she herself has been continually erased by men, she has grown obsessed with remembering the women history forgot.

Lise Meitner, The Mother Of Nuclear Power photoLise Meitner, the mother of nuclear power

McKeon cites, for example, the “most notorious theft of Nobel credit,” by Otto Hahn in 1944. He worked for decades with Lise Meitner studying nuclear fission, but he alone received credit. He didn’t see it as a big deal.

You can read her whole essay at Hazlit HERE

I received an unexpected honor when I was named to the fourth annual “40 Women To Watch Over 40” list.
Over 40 award winners, 4 head shotsThe award was founded to challenge age stereotypes and raise awareness that “over 40” is in fact when many women come into their most productive era.

Among other things, the award said that I was a “luminous writer who has been flying under the radar for far too long.” Kind words indeed.

You can see my listing HERE (and check out my fellow honorees)

At The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance offers us

The 200 Happiest Words in Literature

Using the website Mechanical Turk, where anyone can sign up for odd jobs, researchers asked people to rate the happiness quotient of the words they encountered. In the end, they had a huge list of words as ranked by happiness.

The happiest word: Laughter.
Happy Words list illustratiomRead more at The Atlantic HERE

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We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.” ~ George R.R. Martin

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Author vs Character

Or, this soapbox is not big enough for the both of us

There are three different people involved in any given story at any given time.

There is the writer, who brings to it all of their own preconceived notions, ideological dogmas, cultural prejudices, and all that goes into the baggage that any average living human being carts around with them all their lives.

There is the character through whose agency the story is being told.

And there is the reader.

Let’s leave the reader out of it for a moment, because the things that the readers bring to the story are not remotely in the writer’s bailiwick.

But the character and his or her creator can sometimes square off in epic battles which the reader will never know anything about at all.

An interviewer once asked Patrick Stewart how he could play a gay man in a movie. The heterosexual actor said, somewhat testily, that he had also played a starship captain but nobody had ever asked him how he had approached THAT role.

Starship illustrationBut you could see what the somewhat awkward questioner was getting at. In one sense, anyone can know what it takes to play a starship captain since every beloved starship that ever existed only lives in our minds, our hearts, our imaginations. Starships are non-threatening because they are, currently anyhow, impossible.


But playing a gay character on screen could be seen as challenging to a non-gay actor’s image or threatening his personal world view just because it IS possible.

As a real-life issue, as perceived by that interviewer and many like him, an artist – like actor or writer — must approach the possible somehow differently from the things rooted purely in the imaginary realm. The actor or writer is supposed, even expected, to have a personal opinion about about being gay in a manner that would never have been expected when it came to playing imaginary captains of non-existent starships.

Real-life issues have real-life agendas, and are thus subject to heated polemics.

And as every writer knows, it is entirely possible that a character will have strong opinions about such matters.

A character who may (unlike the writer who created him or her) actually BE gay. Or fat. Or black. Or Muslim. Or a Communist. Or simply a foreigner who comes from a place that someone else, reacting to him, may not understand or fears because it is seen as unfamiliar, odd, or strange. Worship a different god, and you’re suspect. Have a relationship with your body and your sexuality which is at odds with what is considered by society to be “the norm”, and you are suspect. Follow a different ideology than your neighbor, and you are suspect. Is it surprising that characters laboring under these burdens would have strong opinions about them, and about the society that created them?

The strongest, the best, characters will not be mealy-mouthed about these things.
They will, or should, be outspoken.

Someone fighting in the Russian Red Army may believe heart and soul in the Soviet, and is willing to die for those beliefs in a place like Stalingrad of apocalyptic reputation. A Muslim girl from an immigrant family may be reviled for wearing the hijab to a secular school. The Big Girl in the corner, who gets catcalls along the lines of “hey, Thunder Thighs!” every time she walks into her college cafeteria, might have extremely strong opinions about the people who are doing this, and about the body that she is wearing. That attitude towards her body can be an abysmally low self-esteem, a defiant acceptance of her shape, or a complex psychological elixir which contains both of these things mixed together in explosive proportions.

The point is, these characters will have thoughts and feelings about the circumstances in which they find themselves and the way they present themselves to and interact with their worlds.

They will have opinions. These opinions – and pay attention now, this is important – MAY BE COMPLETELY AND DIAMETRICALLY AT ODDS WITH THOSE OF THEIR CREATOR AUTHOR.

Some authors find it impossible to keep their own ideological opinions in check, and will use stories – and characters – as mouthpieces for their own beliefs, be they faith or ideology. The temptation is there to simply assign villain roles to those characters who happen to disagree with the author.

The trouble with this scenario is that it is painfully obvious that the author is the one on the soapbox, NOT the character, and that the character is either a limp ventriloquist’s dummy or is fighting valiantly against the muzzle bound on him by the author.

The soapbox is not big enough for both of them.

And in the best stories, told in the best manner, it is the AUTHOR who steps back, and leaves the characters to live their lives according to what the characters themselves believe.

This is a hard thing to do, because it requires, literally, carrying somebody else inside your head while you are writing the character who is not-you. The onus is on you to make that character live and breathe and not merely serve as a convenient place to hang the blackest villainy of your world. The best villains are not those who are mindlessly evil, but rather those whose thoughts and feelings you, the reader, can see and feel and understand and even empathize with – without EVER being asked or required to sympathize with them.

In my books, “The Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days”, I had to portray a bastard prince who who nearly destroys his kingdom because of what he perceives to be the slight given to his mother, whom the King had bedded but not married, because she didn’t have certain powers which the legitimately wedded Queen had. And that, in his mind, would have been the only reason, COULD have been the only reason, that the King had spurned the prince’s mother. The son grew up with a chip on his shoulder, and turned on the bearers of the gift possessed by the Queen but not by his own mother. He swore to destroy them all before they blighted any more lives in the manner in which his own had been blighted.

He was a black villain indeed, and did some deeply, desperately, terrible things. And yet, in the end, I aimed not for implacable hatred in the reader… but for pity. Because they would have understood, in the end, what had driven him. And it would have been very much a reaction along the lines, of, “Well, but what would I have done different if I had been in his shoes…? There but for the Grace of God…”

In a different book, “Embers of Heaven”, I portrayed a pair of star-crossed lovers who had violently opposed ideological and moral values. I gave them both EQUAL STAGE TIME. I took no sides. It was up to the reader, eventually, to figure it out. That’s because neither of those characters was purely right or purely wrong – but acted according to their own lights and their own faith, in the best way they knew how. Again, no black villains. Only real people with real pain.

And I let them ALL speak for themselves. Not an opinion amongst them was something that I had climbed up on the soapbox to expound.

The soapbox was not big enough for the both of us, my character and myself, and I was just the amanuensis, the hand that wrote down the words of the story – but the story did not belong to me. It belonged to its protagonist. The opinions therein are the protagonist’s, not the author’s. It is not the author’s place to reveal their own within the auspices of that story.

I, as the author, have had to learn to listen, have had to learn the art of silence. I have had to learn how to raise a character well, like a mother would raise a well-behaved child, and teach that character all that needs to be known in order for the story to happen. But after that… I step back, and get off the soapbox. If I have opinions on something, you will find them elsewhere. The story I am telling does not belong to me; it is the starship captain (whether or not he is in fact gay) who decides in which direction to take the ship, and which stars to aim for.

All I do is provide the ship. As for the rest… it’s over to you, captain. If the story, if the faith, if the beliefs, if the ideas are strong enough to shine through… they will. I have never in my life written a tale which was meant to “educate” the reader in any kind of overt way, or to be obvious propaganda aimed at changing that reader’s own set of ideas and beliefs.

The basic concept is this: what I do when I write a story is that I create a character to carry it, and then allow that character to develop a personality (which consists of ideas, and thoughts, and feelings, and faith) which is the best possible fit to the story in question. What that character then tells the reader who reads that story… is between the character and the reader.

By the time it gets to this point the writer is – or should be – back in the crowd of listeners, listening to the character speak his mind, and if that writer has done the job properly the writer’s voice and opinions and ideas (whether or not they match that character’s) will never intrude on what the character has to say.

This soapbox is not big enough for the both of us.

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And she wasn’t kidding!

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How to Con it

I went to my first SF con in 1995 – ConQuest in Auckland, New Zealand.

The primary reason I went was because Roger Zelazny, one of my personal literary gods, was one of the writer Guests of Honor. He carried out his GoH duties with grace and charm, despite the cancer that was ravaging him. The Con was in April, by June he was gone.

I will always be grateful for the chance to have met him, spoken to him, shook his hand, had him sign one of my favorites of his books, and to receive at his hand the words of benediction that have been my guiding light ever since. During a writers’ workshop where he had read a story I had submitted for critique, he told me:

“You have a voice all of your own. Nobody else will ever write this way.”

I remember very little of that convention, other than the Zelazny encounter. And my con-going was sporadic from 1995 until 2000, when I moved to the United States and began to get involved in the true hub of the SF con circuit. I started with a vengeance, attending as many as nine conferences a year before I slowed down.

I went to even these early conventions as a writer, interested in the literary aspects of the panels and the discussions, looking out to meet people whose books I had read and loved. As I climbed the ladder in my own right, many of those people became colleagues, and many of those moved forward again to become friends. If I go to a convention today it is usually as a panelist, a guest, an author, a pro; I’ve done a couple of GoH appearances of my own, since the day I gazed on Zelazny in that role.

Until the spring of 2015 I had not visited any of the more massive cousins of the smaller regional cons I usually frequented, a true Comic Con. When I did visit the Emerald City Comic Con in early 2016 it was once again as the newbie, someone who’d gone to a Comic Con for the experience of it, the costumes in the halls, the electric atmosphere fueled by stars of the literary world but also those of TV and the silver screen. Con-gone-Hollywood, as it were.

For any new con goers who might be just joining the circuit, I can offer a few major tips.

  1. Avoid overload.

    Unless it’s a VERY small single track convention, you are going to be faced with a thousand and one things to do, places to be, people to see. You’re going to go out of your mind trying to do it all. You need to prioritize – and most of all, you need to pay attention to things that don’t appear on your program but which are pretty much essential to your own well-being. Make time to eat. Make time to sleep. Do not schedule every minute of every day, allow yourself room for rest and for spontaneity.

  1. Be respectful of other people’s space and activities.

    Cons are a great place to meet like-minded people but nobody is going to thank you for your unbridled enthusiasm if you simply barge in uninvited into ongoing conversations, or if you interrupt your favorite writer’s breakfast with a breathless declaration of your undying devotion and demand a signature on books or program booklets. Also, and this is important, there are people in this sphere who are out-and-out extroverts and who are ready to party until they drop but there are also people who are NOT and who don’t particularly relish being joyfully accosted by other con-goers who try and infect them with their own puppy-like enthusiasm for things. Some cons have instituted special ribbons people can wear on their badges, indicating what level of social interaction they can cope with. Respect those. If your con doesn’t have those ribbons, respect the attitudes anyway and behave accordingly. If you err in your social interactions, have the grace to apologize and back off if asked. Nobody likes pressure. Don’t be that guy.

  1. Enjoy yourself

    Cosplay Superpeople photoThis is a living incarnation of your dream world, many of your dream worlds. This is the place where it’s okay to be yourself, to let the weird hang out a little if you have enough weird to hang out there. Having said that, don’t forget that others are there for their own reasons. When it comes to things like cosplay — performance art in which participants wear costumes to represent a specific character — remember the maxim that a lot of cons are now enshrining in their programs: Cosplay is not consent. There are people who will have gone to a great deal of time and trouble to perfect their costumes – but don’t assume that they did it with a particular audience in mind or with a particular agenda – they will have done it because of their own passions, for love, and no conclusions should be leapt to by those who think there was a hidden message in that cosplay.

As a more experienced con goer, or a pro who is there for a busman’s holiday and working the panels, there is a whole other set of rules. Be patient, be kind; smile; talk about the things you know about, don’t pretend you know things you don’t know, and generally don’t bring arrogance or one-upmanship into the game. Don’t use the entire convention to promote your books. Sure, there are moments where it is apposite to do so, but panelists who wall themselves off with a barrier made out of their published works; or who cannot seem to have a conversation about ANYTHING without bringing it around to themselves, will quickly find that the reactions of the fans will measure up to that.

What you bring in, will be given back to you in fulsome measure. Practical things which have nothing to do with any of the attitudes are legion. Hydrate. Make sure you know where the things you need are to be found. Be considerate. Be patient (yes, there will be times when you will want to swear at hotel elevators and how they’re always full or going in the wrong direction when you desperately need to be somewhere else in a hurry. Bring bandages because you will probably have blisters. I had to go to the professionals at ECCC because I rubbed my foot raw and didn’t have the right equipment handy.

Be helpful where you can (a tiny gesture like helping someone who is about to spill a full folder of papers or a cup of coffee over one will earn you lots of brownie points. Speak up, but don’t dominate conversations. Try not to get obnoxious (and if you know you get that way after a few stiff drinks monitor your intake).

Try not to be a complete ass and be loud and giggly in hotel corridors – in wings not designated as party wings – after a reasonable hour (take conversations into rooms, if you need to, but also remember that hotel rooms are not precisely sound proofed and if the person next door can report your conversation back to you verbatim because they could hear it through walls you are being way too loud about it).

Make it a point to say something nice to someone at least three times a day (if everyone did that you’d get nice things said to you, too. Remember that,) Bring aspirin (or equivalent) – it’s always handy to have. Try and learn something new. Bring money – you’ll find SOMETHING you will want in the dealers rooms, and make it a point to support the dealers, while you’re at the con; if you pick up something, no matter how small – a comic book, a new novel, a CD, a pair of earrings, a cute dragon puppet – that someone has made, it makes their day and supports the con you love and hey, YOU have something new to treasure. Volunteer, if you can, and you feel so inclined. Make at least one new friend.

Have fun.

I’ll see you there.

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A fundamental truth.

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The Only River

A couple of years ago I put together an anthology entitled simply “River”, a collection of stories by some remarkable writers, including Irene Radford, Nisi Shaw, Joshua Palmatier… In my editor’s foreword, I explained the concept and recounted my own history with a river.

That there is only one river in our world and our mind and our consciousness and our spirit, was not a new idea. I had been cherishing the concept of an anthology built on that premise for years, a collection of stories any of which may or may not take place on the banks of the same body of water as any other in the treasury of tales… and yet which would all tell of the same River, in essence, the River that flows through all the stories of all the world.
The River coverMap Of Contents When a friend and and colleague, Steven H. Silver, proposed an issue of an ezine edition of the St Petersburg Gazette on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death, I contributed an essay. This is what I wrote:

There is Only One River

I was born on the banks of the Danube – when it is already an old river, muddy, treacherous, full of shifting sandbanks and sucking mud and terrifying whirlpools. This was the river that held my own imagination. I was told stories about it when I was barely a toddler, of the years when the winters were so diamond-hard that the ice on the river was thick enough to bear sleighs and horses and they had sleigh races, complete with thundering hooves of iron-shod horses, up and down the frozen river.

The river which ate life during the war, when the invaders took the local residents out onto the ice and pushed them under, sometimes still alive, for the crime of being who and what they were. The river which threw out bright glints when the summer sun hit the water lapping at the muddy banks, or the deep green depths where sometimes the clear water lingered; the river whose bottom was trawled by great bewhiskered catfish whose smaller representatives you could see moving sluggishly in a large tank at the marketplace and you could walk up to it, point to the fish you wanted, and it would be expertly extracted and brained and decapitated and wrapped up for you while you waited – but I, even as a child, knew that there had to be bigger and wiser catfish in the river who had lived there for a century or more and were far too canny to get trapped into that death-tank…

I was told that when my grandfather was a child the river was still clean enough to drink from. When my mother was a child it was still clean enough to swim in (and you probably wouldn’t catch anything too bad if you swallowed a mouthful or two). By the time my time came, you’d probably catch seven different kinds of dysentery from the thing, and it smelled of diesel, closer to the main quay where the boats tied up, and, further down the embankment, of soft squelching ripe river mud, the kind that would suck the shoes off your feet if you wandered too deep into it.

The mud hid things that were known as bikovi, a kind of seed pod which was distinguished by sharp spikes – three of whom at any given time served as a steady tripod on which the thing rested and the fourth pointed straight up, sharp and solid and sturdy enough to drive through the sole of a shoe. One didn’t walk barefoot on the shore – at least not where there wasn’t open sand – without paying close attention to where one stepped.

I loved my river with a great love. The Danube which was not blue, not here, and never was. It does not matter. I worshipped the great brown water flowing swiftly by. I loved the ramshackle fishing boats pulled up on the sandbanks out where the river was not constrained by concrete or great levees. I loved the forests of cats’ tails and other water reeds that crowded its shallows, wading out into the stream. I even loved the sharp seedpods which I took such care to avoid. I loved the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it flowed through my own veins, like blood and memory.

I was, still am, in a sort of superstitious awe of the thing. When I returned to the city of my birth in the aftermath of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, the one that had taken out ALL the bridges that bound together the parts of the city on the river’s two banks, the only way across was by crowded ferries which often had standing room only and were stuffed with as much humanity as they could carry… or by cockleshell boats plied by private enterprise, which would take you across for coin, like the ferryman across the Styx. We did that, my mother and my aunt and I, one time, and sat in the little wooden boat as it was flung across the river by the good offices of a tiny outboard motor. I remember sitting on the wooden seat in the boat, next to the edge, with the boat low enough in the water that I could, if I wanted to, reach out a hand and trail it in the water as we crossed the river.

And I tried.

I put out a hand and spread out fingers that trembled… and I could not make myself touch that holy water. Holy, to me, for so long. I had been warned against its whirlpools as a child and now there they were, swirling brown and oddly innocuous right next to my boat… and I could not touch them. Because the legends I carried in my heart and in my spirit told me that there really WAS a river god living here, and that he was drowsing, and that my touch might wake him, and I would pay the price.

The great river. The old river. The river of dreams, and of power, and of eternity, flowing like time.

Mark Twain’s gift to me was to realize eventually that there was a way to make something into an archetype that transcended the mere quotidian. My Danube would have been a stranger to a Twain riverboat, or a black slave running away to freedom; the Mississippi would have equally been a stranger to sleigh races on ice, or to the specific kind of water reeds that grew on its banks. But I like to think that the catfish of both rivers would have found a common tongue between them as they slipped past the archetypical waters of all rivers and of all time. And I like to think that some day, if I find myself with my toes curled into the mud of the banks of the old downstream Mississippi of the Twain stories, I will instinctively be watching out for sharp seed pods which could not possibly be there.”

Buy a copy of River at Amazon HERE


At Daily Kos, Ojibwa tells us about

Women Warriors Among Northern Plains Indians

What is usually missing from the non-Indian descriptions of Northern Plains Indian warfare is the fact that women were often warriors. Take Tashenamani, for example:

TashenamaniTashenamani (also called Moving Robe; She Walks With Her Shawl) was a Lakota woman among thousands of other Sioux and Lakota camped at The Little Big Horn. When Lt. Col. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry attacked, she led the counterattack.

During the battle, when a soldier asked her not to kill him, she replied:
“If you did not want to be killed, why did you not stay home where you belong and not come to attack us?”

Read more at Daily Kos HERE


Quote of the Day

Like Books PosterBut make that strong coffee. 

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The Death of Beth

Over the mumble years since I first read “Little Women” as a girl, I have taken more than one quiz about which character I wanted to be, or was most like.

Of course, I always came out as Jo.

Because…well seriously, Jo is the only “real” one out there.

These reflections come in response to an essay by Stephanie Foote, The Thing About Beth (“Little Beth, loved by everyone: Except me“), in the LA Review of Books.

Beth at the piano drawingAmy was Vanity, Meg was Poisonously Good (with just that faint little dash of spirit in the end, but that got scotched pretty fast and she remained the Good Girl who Did What She Ought To). And Beth is a gentle ghost.

And not one that haunts, either. She wafts through the story, and then she’s gone. Perhaps it’s that she didn’t have TIME to do anything. She was just Sister #4 from central casting, the one destined for the weepy let’s-go-the-violins death scene which would serve to “strengthen” (in the virtuous “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger ” sense) everyone else.

This was a book I read when i was quite young, living in a very different world, and to me, the background and the setting of it was as incomprehensible as it would have been if it had been set on Mars. But I devoured it, and I fell in love with Jo, like everyone did. I felt betrayed when Laurie went and picked up silly flappy little Amy instead.

Yes, I cried when Beth died, but it really was a sad set-scene. I don’t think I wept because I had felt any kind of warmth or a kinship with poor little Beth. I wept because I was supposed to weep at that point, for that character. And everyone dutifully did.

I suspect that I would less susceptible to that if I read the book now. And yes, i suspect I would respond far more viscerally to the things that Beth left behind. So much of that character lives in “her things”: Too much. Not nearly enough of it lived in the girl herself…

Read the whole essay about Beth at the LARB website HERE

10 Terms cartoonAt Signature, Nathan Gelgud offers us

10 Annoying Literary Terms

You might not know it, Gelgud writes, but you have probably put a prolepsis into play recently.

“Did you know that a signature isn’t necessarily a scribbled name on a credit card receipt? You know that classic character that Gilda Radner played on “Saturday Night Live” who’d confuse “violence” with “violins”? Do you know what kind of mistake that is? You probably know what a climax is, and maybe even how to pronounce denouement, but do you know what part of a plot makes up the anagnorisis?”

A delightful essay you can read at the Signature website HERE

In the New York Times, Annie Correal writes about

The Quiz

For about four decades, applicants wanting to work at the Strand, the undisputed king of New York City’s independent bookstores, have confronted a final hurdle, the literary matching quiz.

There are tests for driver’s licenses and citizenship, for New York City landmarks preservationists and sanitation workers. But a quiz for an entry-level retail job at a bookstore?

Fred Bass photoFred Bass, 88,created the literary quiz in the 1970s. Credit George Etheredge

Bass, who owns the Strand along with his daughter, created the literary quiz in the 1970s. He had selected masterworks to appear on the quiz,

And then I did a sneaky thing. I made one not match. ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and no Mitchell,” he said

BTW, I took the quiz and got 40 out of 50 right. My husband refuses to tell me how well he did. [I always beat him at Scrabble, too. 🙂 ]

Read all about the Strand and take The Quiz at the NYT website HERE


New Pokémon Game Takes Bookstores By Storm

Book Store Display Sign
Photo courtesy Facebook/Main Street Books
The display sign outside Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo.

Booksellers are always looking for new ways to attract more customers to their stores, but it’s doubtful that many thought that Pokémon would be the answer. The sudden popularity of the smartphone video game Pokémon Go is driving people into bookstores and, in some cases, driving up sales.

The nature of the game is proving a boon for foot traffic at some bookstores, like Wild Detectives Bookstore in Dallas. “It’s crazy,” said Sam Villavert, a barista at the store.

Read the whole story at Publisher Weekly’s website HERE

Quote of the Day
Small Talk Poster

A truly twisted mind never thinks along a straight path. I like to travel that way. On the back roads. Seeing things that other people miss because they’re trying to get THERE from HERE way too fast…

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Read or listen?

Thinking about audiobooks

I listen to music, and music can move me to tears. It produce visuals which run like movies on the backs of my eyelids if I close my eyes while listening.

But words…? Words, I prefer to see.

When I was very young and in school, I could get away with listening in class and learning that (simple, young) stuff by osmosis – by the time I hit college and four subjects unloaded themselves into my brain through my overloaded ears that system collapsed completely and I had to learn to study all over again.

What this means is that when learning – i.e. words for studying, or for research – I will scribble cryptic little notes to myself while reading; glancing at those notes, after, brings to mind enire pages of text, almost verbatim. That works, because I have SEEN the words and they have imprinted on my visual memory. This is how I remember.

Perhaps that is why I’m not drawn to listening to books for pleasure, not as a way of enjoying literature.

My husband has ‘read’ hundreds of audio books because he claims it keeps his brain from going into snooze mode while doing repetitive tasks like household chores or exercise. But I am more likely to experience a visual of a description, for instance, while looking at words on a page rather than having those words whispered into my ear. And if the voice of the narrator doesn’t match the voice of the character as I have it inside my own head, that is a small constant nudge out of the story.

I have, to date, two audio book editions of my own work out – “Embers of Heaven” and “Gift of the Unmage“, two very different books. They each present their own peculiar  difficulties – and as genre books which have words or concepts or names (or accents) which are not part of a straight English-language adaptation they are already in choppy waters. I am told that HEARING these books adds a dimension for a lot of readers.

That, of course delights me and I am happy that so many people have found another way of ‘reading.’

In a thoughtful essay, James Wallace Harris explores his reaction to this form of storytelling:
James Wallace Harris photoWhen I listen to an audio book read by a great narrator…it’s like a book is a freeze-dried drama and the narrator is the water that reconstitutes the story…I think listening to audio books can be a superior way of decoding fiction…Thousands of years ago when humanity transitioned from an oral culture to a written culture, I wonder if they missed what went away when they started reading silently.

Read the whole essay at his blog HERE

In The Guardian, Rafia Zakaria suggests that:

A vogue for self-exposure has reduced feminism to naked navel-gazing

Her article begins:

Lena Dunham photoI get naked on TV. A lot,” writes Lena Dunham in her bestselling memoir Not That Kind of Girl. Exhibitionism isn’t new to her, she explains; in fact, she rather likes being naked, as her body is “a tool to tell the story”. That story is, of course, her own: a compendium of corporeal confessions, with an emphasis on their most awkward and impolite dimensions, belches and farts, periods and pubic hair.”

Read the whole article at The Guardian website HERE

The Most Feared Books of All Time

Most Feared Books illustrationSee the whole list HERE


22 Magical Cakes All Book Lovers Will AppreciateMoby Dick cake photo



I LOVE the Moby Dick cake.

But I wouldn’t dare try and eat the Shakespeare one.

It’s just too damn beautiful and it would be a shame to ruin it by you know CUTTING INTO IT…

See the Shakespeare and all the other cakes HERE


Quote of the Day

Mark Twain on Newspapers poster

Today’s 24-hour TV infotainment shows disguised as “News” programs make the old sage’s epigram more telling than ever.

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Are Writers Sexy?

At Bustle, Charlotte Ahlin says writers are sexy partners and offers

11 reasons to date a writer

One example:

They are good liarsWriters are Good Liars posterWriters lie for a living… sort of. You may think of lying as a negative attribute for your partner to have, but really, you want to date someone who can lie when it counts. They should be able to hide surprise parties from you, and to keep a straight face when you show them pictures of that new haircut you want to get. And they won’t lie about the big things, because their instinct to write a tell-all blog post is simply too strong.

See all the reasons at the Bustle website HERE

‘Where Writers Win’ shares an infographic from to solve a very vexing problem.

128 words writers can use instead of ‘very’

“We’re, um, very glad –oops, make that overjoyed– to share this very useful, or shall we say terrific, cheat sheet of words we can all use besides the well-worn ‘very.’ ”'Very' Synonyms infographicSee the whole graphic at the WWW website HERE

At Off the Shelf, Amy Hendricks shares her belief that gardens in literature are both magical and symbolic and shares

8 literary gardens to escape to this summer

For example:

The Red Garden coverThe Red Garden by Alice Hoffman
A mysterious garden where only red plants grow is the centerpiece of this sweeping novel, which explores more than three hundred years in a small Massachusetts town. Weaving magic and history, Alice Hoffman’s spellbinding look at small town America is not to be missed.

See all the gardens at Off the Shelf HERE

At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf reports on

The Danger of Being Neighborly Without a Permit

Little Free Library photoAll over America, people have put small “give one, take one” book exchanges in front of their homes. Then they were told to tear them down.

Read the whole story at The Atlantic website HERE


A border runs through it

At Atlas Obscura, Sarah Yahm writes about the only library in the world that operates in two countries at once.

The Border libary interior photoThe interior of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. (Photo: Jeffrey Frank/

Rumor has it that the 18th-century surveyors who drew the official line between the U.S. state of Vermont and the Canadian province of Quebec were drunk, because the border lurches back and forth across the 45th parallel, sometimes missing it by as much as a mile.

Read more at the Atlas Obscura website HERE

Quote of the Day

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

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