I will walk with you…

When I was a little girl one in my family’s extensive collection of 45 rpm singles — remember those? turntables? vinyl? — was a record of Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite.

I’ve always loved that entire set of music – The Hall of the Mountain King, Anitra’s Dance, the Morning Mood air – but my particular favorite has always been Solveig’s Song. It touched some part of me that I could not, when that young, properly articulate, and did not even know why back then – understanding came well after I first heard the piece of music, and actually read the Ibsen play.

The epiphany explaining that bittersweet, noble, pure, high-minded *joy* of Grieg’s music came when I read the exchange between a remorseful, grieving, bereft Peer Gynt to Solveig, his lady, his love, and he cries out to her, in his anguish, “when have I ever been all I can be,  when have I ever been entitled to call myself honest, true, a *man*?”

She answers, “In my faith. In my hope. In my understanding.”

That piece of absolution rang for me like a bell.

What it means is simply this: it is human to blunder, it is human to make mistakes, it is human to be afraid. But if you are brave enough and honest enough to admit to these human flaws, then there is faith, and hope, and understanding.

In the aftermath of the Hugo drama unfolding this year, writer Vonda McIntyre just wrote a short note which put Solveig’s words into a certain context.

It may not be pure understanding – it is certainly not implied that there is, or will be, complete acceptance – but she is offering herself as a buffer between anyone who is afraid, and all the shadows which are starting  to look as though they might haunt the halls of this year’s Worldcon.

Here’s what Vonda McIntyre said:

“I will walk with you at Worldcon.

I’m not very fond of confrontation. I’m a courtesy 5’1? and my 67th birthday (how did that happen?!) is just after the convention and I’m walking with a hiking pole while recovering from a hiking fall, an injury that’s taking way longer to heal than when I was a pup.

On the other hand I’m a shodan in Aikido.

On the third hand, which I can have because I’m an SF writer, shodan — first degree black belt — is when you realize how much you still have to learn.

But I’m thinking that maybe it would make folks who feel threatened feel a little safer to have someone at their side, maybe even someone with a bunch o’ fancy ribbons fluttering from her name badge, even if that person is shorter, smaller, and older than they are, white-haired and not physically prepossessing. It’s another person’s presence.

It might cause some abuse not to happen.”
I am no less scared by some of those shadows than the next vulnerable con-goer – but if my presence will help someone else walk a little taller past a threatening shadow in some dark corner, I am stepping up with the same words.

I will walk with you at Worldcon.

VB RandomA Random treat

“Books are great, no question,” my favorite local bookstore, Village Books, says. “But books signed by the author? Now that’s some exceptional reading material right there.”

My Random, Book 1 of The Were Chronicles, is featured here. If you haven’t read it, hurry up. Book 2, Wolf, is coming out next month.

Order Random from Village Books HERE

Or go to MY BOOKS in the masthead menu above for more options, including the chance to pre-order Wolf.

Or don’t forget your library. And if they don’t have a copy of Random, ask why not?

The Best Books about Libraries and Librarians

At Off the Self, Caitlin Kleinschmidt  offers some intriguing books in time for National Library Week.

One you might not put in this category until you think about it…

Time Traveler's WifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger:

This untraditional love story is the tale of Henry DeTamble, a dashing adventuresome librarian who inadvertently travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course.

Their passionate affair tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love.



Read the whole story HERE

25 Beverly Cleary Book Covers on her 99th Birthday

Beverly Cleary book covers are classics, Alison Nastasi writes at Flavorwire.

Often, there was nothing more exciting than getting a new Cleary book and seeing what kind of young adult dramas were playing out on the page, lovingly illustrated by artists like Louis Darling and Alan Tiegreen. The Newbery Medal-winning author celebrates her 99th birthday today. We’re honoring Cleary’s memorable characters — Ramona Quimby, Beezus, Ralph S. Mouse, and friends — with a look back at some of the best vintage book covers.
socksRead the whole story HERE

Writing a great female character

Justine Graykin blogged some sterling writing adice:

In a recent discussion, a fellow writer said, “This is how to create a good female character: Write a good character. Add female pronouns.”

pronounsAnd I say, ‘Amen.’

Read the whole story HERE


I can finally go into space.

The International Space Station Finally Gets an Espresso Machine, and It’s Called ‘ISSPresso’

Quote of the Day
QUOTE Words you speak~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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RiverRivers have always been very important to humankind, I say in the intro to my anthology, River.

They’ve been called gods. They’ve been blessed and cursed and venerated and used and enjoyed and exploited and polluted since the beginning of recorded history. They’ve been sung about and dreamed about and followed on epic journeys of discovery.

Gypsy Ninja has picked 10 mighty rivers which made the world in what it is today, including MY river, the Danube, on whose banks I was born in a country which no longer exists.

DanubeThe Danube is the most international river basin in the world. It springs in Germany’s romantic Black Forest, travels a total distance of 2850 km (1770 mi.), passing through 10 countries and 4 capital cities. It was an important transport route for medieval Europeans. Throughout most of its history, the Roman Empire held the Danube as its northern border. Before the Romans, the Greeks were navigating the river’s lower reaches. With more recent events like the Main-Danube Canal being built in 1992, the Danube is connected to the Rhine and from there to the North Sea.

Read the whole story HERE

Buy River, the anthology, HERE

You’ve read how many?
How manyBuzzFeed

So little time, so much to read, Michelle Regna says in introducing this list at BuzzFeed.

It’s not a definitive list — it doesn’t even have one of mine, for example — but a neat quiz nevertheless. How did you do?

Read the whole story HERE

29 Surreal Places In America You Need To Visit Before You Die

If you live in the U.S., Arielle Calderon says at Buzzfeed, you don’t need a passport to see what mother nature has to offer.
TulipsRuthChoi / shutterstock.com
Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington

This is one place I know well. It is only a few miles from my home and I have scores of photos like this one.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the tulip fields between April 1–30 to see these gorgeous flowers in bloom. The festival is designed as a driving tour since there is no one designated “site”.

See all the remarkable places HERE

Elves and Dragons Doing a Fantastic Job of Protecting Iceland’s Environment
Elves Hill
Originally Icelanders used mythological creatures as a way to deter people from coming to their island, now they protect it, Sola Agustsson writes at AlterNet.


Read the whole story HERE

Nasa’s Curiosity rover finds water below surface of Mars

New measurements from the Gale crater contradict theories that the planet is too cold for liquid water to exist, Hannah Devlin reports at The Guardian.
water on mars
The Curiosity rover is currently ascending Mount Sharp, in the centre of the Gale crater.
Illustration: Stocktrek Images, Inc./Alamy

Prof Andrew Coates, head of planetary science at the Mullard Space, said: “The evidence so far is that any water would be in the form of permafrost. It’s the first time we’ve had evidence of liquid water there now.””

Read the whole story HERE

Quote of the day

A child who reads will be an an adult who thinks.

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s
story in the slightest.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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Turning 90

Today marks the 90th anniversary of Scribner’s publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsy“During my junior year of high school,” Kara Watson writes at Off the Shelf, “my English teacher spent several weeks preparing us for the honor of reading The Great Gatsby….Chapter by chapter, sentence by sentence, he dazzlingly brought Fitzgerald’s book to life, and for the first time I grasped the link between literature and society and learned firsthand how an excellent teacher can change the course of one’s life.”

Here, twelve authors recall their first encounters with Fitzgerald’s classic.


Read the whole story HERE

JawsRay Collins

Ray Collins, The World’s Best Water Photographer

At first glance, these photographs look like looming mountains, standing guard over a dark universe found in a Tolkien novel, Amanda of Lifebuzz says. But look again: These stunning images are actually ocean waves, captured at their peak point of crash by photographer Ray Collins.

See all the photos HERE

And then there is photographer Clark Little
Wave windowClark Little

Many people know his photos, Lisa Be of LifeBuzz reports, but they don’t know his amazing story. Eight years ago, Clark Little didn’t even own a professional camera. One day he threw a waterproof casing over a cheap camera and went into the ocean to capture a shore break shot when his wife wanted a picture to decorate the bedroom wall.

See more of his photos HERE

48 Of The Most Beautiful Lines Of Poetry
I have loved the starsSarah Galo / BuzzFeed / Thinkstock

Sarah Galo asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share their favorite line of poetry with us in honor of National Poetry Month. Here are some of their responses.

From “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

From “Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden:
“He was my North, my South , my East and my West
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.”

From “Suicide’s Note” by Langston Hughes:
“The calm,
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.”

See all the choices HERE

New York hotel inspired by Dewey Decimal System is every bibliophile’s dream
Book lovers never...The luxurious Library Hotel has more than 6,000 books scattered throughout its guest rooms and public spaces. Each floor is dedicated to one of 10 of the Dewey Decimal System’s categories, including history and technology. Every one of the hotel’s 60 rooms is decorated according to a genre or topic within the categories. On the fifth floor – devoted to math and science – guests stay in rooms themed after astronomy and dinosaurs.

Read the whole story HERE

The One-Book Wonder Phenomenon

The Off the Shelf staff looks at one-book authors. In some cases they started their careers late or their lives were tragically cut short. In other cases, the reasons their output was so limited remains a mystery to this day.

“However, each was a unique and brilliant voice and we can only hope that someone will discover another dusty, long-forgotten manuscript.”

For example:
The Opposite of LonelinessThe Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
by Marina Keegan

Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she tragically died five days after her graduation from Yale. Days later, her deeply moving last essay for The Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral. Marina left behind a rich and expansive body of work that captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation and articulates the universal struggle of figuring out what we aspire to be.


Read the whole story HERE

The 20 Best Books in Translation You’ve Never Read

Chad W. Post, director of Open Letter Books and When Stephen Sparks of Green Apple Books offer some great translated books. Including:

Dolly CityDolly City, Orly Castel-Bloom, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Dalkey Archive Press)

Castel-Bloom’s satire on everything from motherhood to the state of Israel is as scathing as they come. Doctor Dolly, a doctor in name only who practices illegally in her home laboratory, finds a baby in a plastic bag, names him Son and grows increasingly, hysterically concerned about this well-being. It might not help you understand the political situation in Israel, but it’ll give you an idea of its insanity.


Read the whole story HERE


Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and founder of The Mission Continues, gave a reading for his latest book “Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life,” while in the sky on a Southwest Airlines flight.

17 Seattle-area bookstores have teamed up for the Indie Bookstore Challenge in which winning customers will receive year-long 25% discounts. Customers can compete by picking up a bookstore passport from any of the participating stores, then have it stamped at that and the other 16 stores.

Quote of the Day
QUOTE John-Steinbeck~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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My God: It’s been 10 years?

A reader in Spain,  Amy P, posted this note on Goodreads about my miracle novel, The Secrets of Jin-shei:

Jin-shei SpainCuarta vez que leo este libro y no será la última. Es una historia mágica y preciosa, con unos personajes que se quedan grabados y que te acompañan mucho más allá después de que termines la lectura. Siempre que lo acabo me quedo pensando como habría sido vivir en un mundo así y si sería capaz de afrontar todo lo que conlleva ser parte de un círculo jin-shei.  

(Google translation)

Fourth time I read this book and will not be the last. It is a magical and beautiful story, with characters that are recorded and accompany you much further after you finish reading. Whenever I am thinking just as it would have been like to live in such a world and if I could handle everything that comes with being part of a jin – shei circle.

It’s been more than ten years since The Secrets of Jin-shei was published (in 13 languages, so far) and distributed around the world. It achieved, to my delight and utter surprise, best seller status in Spain.

And reviews are still trickling in.

This is a novel of 200,000 words which was written at white heat in the space of less than three months. It was in SO MANY WAYS a special book. And to see – and know – that it is still being read and loved all these years later… that it is one of those recurring-favorite books to which devoted readers return again and again for a re-read…that it is loved, and cherished, and treasured…


…all I can say is, to every reader out there who has ever picked up a child of my heart that wanders the world, the story tucked between its covers and waiting to be (re)discovered…

…the writer thanks you.

And every time a reader writes a review like this, an angel gets his wings, and a writer somewhere finds the strength and courage and joy to go on telling the stories that clamor to be told.

Amy P.’s review HERE

BTW, I am currently reading the proofs for Wolf, the second book in The Were Chronicles, coming out in the spring. The cover is not quite as colorful as Random, but it is quite striking.
Wolf, The Were ChroniclesJazz’s brother Mal is the star of the second book. He is my favorite character in the series, dark, conflicted and capable of extraordinary things. I hope you like him as much as I do.

All About Madness

At Flavorwire, Emily Temple has selected 50 great novels that deal with a kind of literary madness — obsession and absurdity and hallucination. There is Lolita, of course, Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And 46 others.

Take, for example,
Endless Love, Scott SpencerEndless Love, Scott Spencer:

A novel that gets about as close to the experience of your first, teenage love as print on paper can possibly get (you know: fantasy, sex, obsession, arson).

Read the whole story HERE




From madness to crime.

9 Brilliant Books that Will Change How You See True Crime

At Off the Shelf, Caitlin Kleinschmidt admits that she loves true crime. “The greatest examples of the genre provide not only the pleasures of a gripping, whodunit plot, but they are also an examination of complex psychology and civilization when the tranquility of everyday life has been shattered.

She selects her favorites, including:

God'll Cut You DownGod’ll Cut You Down: John Safran, a Jewish Australian documentarian, spent two days in Mississippi with Richard Barrett, a notorious white supremacist, for a film about race.

When Barrett was brutally murdered a year later by a young black man, Safran “realized this was [his] Truman Capote moment” and hightailed it from Melbourne back to Mississippi.

As he became entwined in the lives of those connected with the murder—white separatist frenemies, oddball neighbors, even the killer himself—the more he discovered how complex the truth about someone’s life—and death—can be. This is a brilliant, haunting, hilarious, unsettling story about race, money, sex, and power in the American South from an outsider’s point of view.

Read the whole story HERE

10 Authors Who Wrote Gritty, Realistic Fantasy Before George R.R. Martin

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders takes a look at several other authors, like Ursula K. Le Guin, of course, Mary Gentle, and Michael Moorcock. For example:

Robin Hobb
Robin HobbHobb’s novel The Assassin’s Apprentice came out in 1995, a year before A Game of Thrones (and George R.R. Martin actually blurbed it, as Hobb blurbed the first edition of Thrones.) And this story of Fitz, a young bastard who’s looked down on and mistreated by everyone — but who secretly gets trained in the ancient art of the assassin — has some obvious parallels to certain aspects of Martin’s storytelling. In particular, Hobb’s willingness to paint a dark and terrible world where virtue isn’t always rewarded, and where horrors — in this case, the Red Ship Raiders that turn their victims into quasi-zombies — lurk just on the edges of the world

Read the whole story HERE

Quote of the day

Words are valuable and insanely powerful. Words can be used for both good and evil and they should never be used lightly.” ~ Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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The womanless cannon

At Strange Horizons, Kari Sperring writes about Katherine Kurtz.

Matrilines: The Woman Who Made Fantasy

“Kurtz’s debut novel, Deryni Rising, came out from Ballantine Books in 1970,” Sperring writes, “…and it changed the face of modern fantasy.” She uses Kurtz for a springboard into the continuing and vexing problem of women writers being mostly ignored in the cannon.

Katherine KurtzI myself have ALL the Deryni books. ALL of them. Dear GOD I ate them up. These were the kind of books I craved – complex, convoluted, character-driven, immensely detailed, utterly believable, beautifully contextualised – and these were thus the kinds of books I went on to write.

I haven’t heard much about Kurtz in a long time now, to be sure. Erased and sidelined. Some day I should go back to the beginning and re-read the Deryni books, all of them.

Such things bear rediscovery.



Read all of Sperring’s wonderful essay HERE

11 Unforgettable First Lines in Literature

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, Off the Shelf says, then the first line is the window to the book.

“A first line can drag you in, shock you, confuse you, or touch you. A first line is what makes you read on. Here are some of our favorite first lines that set the tone for some incredible books.”

For example, what book begins?
“I was not sorry when my brother died.”

Javiar MaríasTsitsi Dangarembga










Check your answer (or guess) HERE


Stunning street art tribute to author Terry Pratchett appears in east London
Terry Pratchett
Mural showing Terry Pratchett off Brick Lane (Picture: Ella Finch)

Characters such as the skeletal, dry-humoured Death and inept wizard Rincewind dance across the walls of the Pillow Cinema, The London Evening Standard reports .

Pratchett wrote 40 Discworld and sold more than 85 million books during his lifetime. Now his legacy is set to live on in Brick Lane with reproductions of the original book art by Josh Kirby.

Read the whole story HERE

“But You Didn’t”

I posted this poem, story and link long long ago in a galaxy…well, I posted it months ago anyway, but it still keeps getting discovered, opened and shared. It is incredibly moving.

The poem was written by an unknown American woman but has now been brought to life through the art of a Chinese cartoonist and shared here on VIRALNOVA. All that’s really known about the poem is the title.
But you didn't
Poem Translated & Illustrated by Chinese Netizen on Sina Weibo

See the whole illustrated poem HERE

The Book Cover That Judges Readers

On Galley Cat, Dianna Dilworth tells us that Thijs Biersteker has given the idiom, “don’t judge a book by its cover” a new meaning.

The Dutch artist has invented The Cover That Judges You. The book cover is designed to detect how a reader is judging it based on a scan of the reader’s face.
Cover that judges you

If you approach the book, the face recognition system picks up your face and starts scanning it for signs of ‘judgement’. If your face shows a skeptical expression, the book will stay locked. But if your expression is neutral, the book will unlock itself.

Read the whole story HERE


Charlotte’s Web by EB White has been voted the most popular children’s book ever, according to a new survey from BBC.com.

Top 10 books about reading

Books about books, where literature is integral to life, are a genre in themselves, as terrific titles by authors from Nicholson Baker to Geoff Dyer very readably show.  One example:

The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller: Miller is a book critic for Salon magazine; someone who’s had the good fortune to turn her love of reading into a career. In The Magician’s Book she tells where that love began, in the world of Narnia, and shows how literature can work its spell on a young reader.

Read the whole story HERE

Quotes of the Day

‘I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.’ Ed Begley, Jr.

‘Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.’ Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Alma Alexander     My books     Email me
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Touching 2,000 years

Ishtar_Gate_at_Berlin_Museum“Ishtar Gate at Berlin Museum” by Rictor Norton

2.000 Years Ago in Babylon

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

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

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

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

…and then you looked closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Berlin was… another world.

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

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

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

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

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

A magnificent achievement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alma Alexander

Quote of the day

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

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‘Victory for dirt’

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

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

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

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

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

I like him already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My response to Dan Meadows was this:

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

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

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

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

What do you all think?

Alma Alexander      

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The novel is dead – again

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

Read the whole story HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Read the whole article HERE

EpicReads has selected:

The 18 Most Beautiful YA Endpapers in the World

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

See other breathtaking YA endpapers HERE

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

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

Read the whole story HERE

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

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

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

Read the whole story HERE


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

See all the “reasons” HERE

Quote of the Day

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

Alma Alexander     My books      Email me

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Perfect short stories?

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole story HERE

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

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

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

Read the whole story HERE
See how many YOU read HERE

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

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

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

Read the whole story HERE

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

Author and historian Thomas Asbridge picks his favorite medieval adventurers.

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

Read the whole story HERE

Cats and books, what’s not to love?

8 Great Novels Starring Cats
Cats & booksPhoto: Shutterstock

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

Read the whole story HERE

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

Read the whole story HERE

Books quizJordan Matter / Via pinterest.com

I got 66 out of 80. How about you?

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

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

Read the whole story HERE

200 years of immigration to the US

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

Quote of the Day  

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

Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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Meadows or Dragons?

On Fantasy Mountain, or, My Dreams are Doozies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, there are dragons.


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

Disney clones womenDisney womenImages by Disney/GIF via Cartoon Brew

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

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

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

Read the whole story HERE

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

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

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

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

Read the whole story HERE

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

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

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

See the other stars HERE

Literary Posters for Book Lovers and Minimalists Alike

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

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



See the others HERE

10 Unusual Library Collections Around the World

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

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

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

Read the full story HERE


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

Story/video HERE

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

Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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