Why do we keep some books forever?

Books with tenure

Falling Books Bookcase photoSometimes I get an urge to run a finger down my bookshelves and remember books – why I got them, why I loved them, why I still own some but not others, what it is that makes a book get tenure in my library.

I still have a bunch of the early Asimov stuff – the robotics stories, the  detective-in-the-stars tales – and this is what I cut my SF teeth on… it was my password – “Hello stars, Asimov sent me”.

I still love some of the robotics stories, but it’s a sentimental affection. I, and the world, have moved on from the early simple sweet Asimovian storytelling. Comparing Asimov with, say, Stross, is like going from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian universe.

I can pinpoint exactly when McCaffrey began to go south on me. It was the Crystal Singer books. Good grief, but that woman was unpleasant. Tough, sure, able to fend for herself, talented, but MAN was she unpleasant. Why would I care about what happened to an unpleasant woman? I read the Crystal Singer books. I no longer own them.

I still have the Dragonflight/Dragonquest/White Dragon trilogy. EVERYTHING that has been said about them in so many other places is absolutely true. McCaffrey tapped into a powerful fantasy with her dragon-human bond – who wouldn’t want to have such a creature for a pet, a friend, a companion? But those books fail me TODAY in that they are too linear, too simplistic, too damned obvious. My tastes have gravitated towards the complex and the layered, the rich and the lush.

I first read Orson Scott Card’s Songmaster novel as a partial published in a magazine. I fell in love with the story, with the power of the tale, with the voice in which it was told, with the compassion and the tragedy that followed the development of the relationships of young Ansset and those who surrounded him, loved him, molded him, ruined him, redeemed him.

I picked up Ender’s Game – and really loved it. But then that franchise ran out of steam fast, and by the third book in that series I was gone.

The original Dune took my breath away then, and still does today. Here was my thirst for complexity slaked, and then some. It was incredible, and powerful, and it found a deep place within me. But the sequels – ah, the sequels – I managed to read the first three. I haven’t touched any since then.

Roger Zelazny’s Amber. I LOVE the original five. I am less devoted to the second set, but I still have them. Those books have full tenure. And not just because one of them happens to be signed.

Mary Stewart’s Merlin books? Keepers, all. One of the best and most powerful tellings of a story told many, many times. Spider Robinson’s stuff – ye gods, do I have to explain? The man’s a Pun King, and for someone similarly afflicted his books are a constant joyride of rolling-eye groaning delight. Keepers, again – and once more not because one of them is signed thusly: ‘To Alma, who obviously has The Callahan Touch herself.’

What else have I got there? Gene Wolfe? Larry Niven? Michael Moorcock?

Guy Gavriel Kay? Oh, him I’ve got – ALL of his books I’ve got. I could rank them for you, sure, from the astonishingly sublime (Tigana) to the merely magnificent (Song for Arbonne, Lions of Al-Rassan). I’ve got ’em all. He’s a keeper. Always will be.

Glenda Larke – friend and colleague – who understands story, worldbuilds with passion, and Writes Good Character. Keepers. Newer favorites, like Catherynne Valente, Elizabeth Bear.

Some books get bought, get read, get evicted. Others… stay.

They’ve got their hooks into my heart and my memory, somehow, and they are more than just the contents of a bookshelf. They are a set of signposts for the literary road I’ve traveled so far. They are not possessions. They are that part of me that is – that part that CAN be – written in other people’s words. They represent the bits of my mind and heart and spirit which THAT writer, THAT story, made possible.

So. What’s on your bookshelves, then…?

The complete version of this can be found at the Book View Cafe HERE

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In a lithub interview, Joyce Carol Oates talks about:

Great Editors, Bad Reviews, and the Internet

Joyce Carol Oates head shotJoyce-Carol-Oates- Photo Dustin Cohen

“The internet can provide a kind of visual beauty, but it does not seem somehow permanent, or “objective”—it can so readily be replaced by the next image. A book on a table, in the hand, on a shelf seems to exude a degree of integrity and “there-ness” totally missing in the digital world. However, I do much of my reading online and even on an iPhone. There is nothing wrong with this, and such reading is far better than no reading at all.”

Read the whole interview at lithub.com HERE

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At bustle.com, Joan Didion offers

11 Writing Tips

Joan Didion head shotJemal Countess/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Sound just like me.

Read the whole interview at bustle.com HERE

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What would happen if a first-born child is promised to two different witches? someone asked.

The question was irresistible. I began writing a short tale. 

To read my version of the story, consider making a small donation HERE

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Quote of the DayClive Barker quote

And it is one that all fiction writers bend their knee to.

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A candle in the bitter dark

Hold the light illustration

#HoldOnToTheLight is a campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world to raise awareness about treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. My contribution is below.      -0-

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There was this throwaway conversation about a compelling What-If — what happens if the same first-born child is promised to two different witches? There was even a brand new niche subgenre coined for the resulting tale.

Helping Hands - Witches story illustrationI said,

That’s almost irresistible.”

So why are you resisting?”

I was asked , and so I stopped.

 

 

To read my version of the newborn “morewitchcentriclesbianfairytaleromcom” literary genre, think about making a small contribution HERE

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13 Books About Books for Big Book Nerds

At offtheshelf.com, Kerry Fiallo offers us a meta reading experience. “Here are thirteen great novels in which books play a prominent role—usually instigating the plot.”

First Impressions CoverFirst Impressions, by Charlie Lovett

A Jane Austen superfan takes a job in a London antiquarian bookshop when two different customers request the same obscure book. What should be a simple inquiry turns into a gripping mystery about the true authorship of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Bibliophiles will love this compelling novel celebrating the love of books.

See the other selections HERE

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A candle in the bitter dark

No story worth telling – no matter how meticulously planned – has ever survived intact its first encounter with good characters, or the first really unexpected twist in the plot.

That transformation is precisely what happened to me when I set out on the story journey that turned into my YA series, The Were Chronicles.

Let me give you just a little bit of a background snapshot. Someone put out a call for a new anthology which would revolve around the idea of Were-creatures – but “not wolves”, the guidelines said emphatically. “Give me something OTHER than wolves.”

I immediately came up with the idea of the Random Were – a kind of Were-critter hitherto unknown (or at the very least unexplored) in the genre literature. Randoms were Weres who had a primary form, to be sure – and yes, that could really be anything so long as it was a warm-blooded creature (as in, no insects, no fish, no snakes). Without any further stimuli it would be this primary animal form that they would assume when their time of change came – they would Turn at the full moon, like every other Were, and stay in that shape for their three changed days before they return to being themselves.

But if any Random, at the cusp of their transformation,  so much as glimpses something ELSE, another creature, anything warm-blooded that isn’t themselves or their primary form… THAT is the shape they will assume. That happened to a character in my own novel, an unfortunate farmyard accident ensured that she went through  the rest of her life as a Were-chicken.

The comedic potential for all of this is high and the original story I started to write was, well, light. And comic. And possibly laugh-out-loud. But it didn’t stay that way. Much like the Random of the title, my story seemed to catch a glimpse of something very different and much darker, and turned into that instead.

The story that came out of all of this was not simply a light-hearted Were-critter yarn. It changed into a story which was, as one reviewer said, more about what it means to be human than what it means to be a Were. My changeling creatures became avatars, taking on the mantle of everyone who has ever been feared, mistrusted, mistreated, herded, concentration-camped, studiedly annihilated… because they were different from the rest.

And this story turned into a very sharp light that shone starkly into the dark shadows where the bullied and the battered souls lived.

Without spoiling the books, let me just tell you that Celia, one of the pivotal characters of this story, a Random Were by birth, accidentally Turns into an animal shape in front of the eyes of her entire school filled mostly with Normals, not Were, because she was too close to her Turn. From the moment that she is seen changing into a cat, she is marked – as someone with a scarlet letter on her forehead, perhaps, in this instance a large red W.

In Celia’s world, the Were have been marginalized by strict laws which have been promulgated “for their own safety” but which mean that it is impossible to run away from being one in a normal everyday society.

Much like a parallel pattern in our own historical reality, in the manner of, perhaps, the yellow stars forced on Germany’s Jewish population during a period not too long ago, my Were are permitted to live amongst and mingle with the “Normal” human population but only if they carry identity cards which are marked with a paw print. The mark of “shame”. The mark of being different and therefore fair game.

Celia’s life descends into nightmare. Her peers, goaded by the mores and expectations of their society, begin to make her days miserable. And because she is still a child, under control of authority figures who choose to take the side of the bullies, there is literally nobody to whom it is possible to appeal for help.

I did not sugar coat it. I wanted it to be stark and brutal and terrifying. And for poor Celia, that’s exactly what it was.

Paraphrasing one of my favorite G K Chesterton quotes, the value of fantasy lies not so much in scaring our children with the idea that dragons exist – but in giving them hope and courage in grasping the thought that they can be defeated.

It is invaluable for someone who feels lonely, isolated, backed into a corner, despised, feared, and cast out by a society to which they desperately want to belong to know that although it might often seem that way *they are not alone*.  And my story grew the dark wings of a brooding and dangerous kind of a guardian angel – the kind that doesn’t necessarily defend you against harm but which arms you against it so that you learn how to stand up to it all by yourself.

When I was young, I was a solitary, bookish child, often by myself, and certainly (given my peripatetic wandering childhood) always somehow *other.* I was lucky in that I was never bullied for it. I was simply left alone. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what being bullied is like, I’ve seen plenty of it. I can understand what gives it form, strength, power. I can feel the pain visited upon the victims.

Candle in the dark imageWhat all of that does mean is that I found myself writing a story which was vastly more important than the one I thought I was embarking on when I started out. I was holding out a light in a dark place. Perhaps it wasn’t a flaming sword – perhaps it wasn’t making a victim into a warrior, at least not directly – but this story turned into writing on the wall, “You are not alone.”

That is a powerful message, and it resonated with readers. I got feedback about how much it mattered to someone who had either direct or indirect experience with these things. It was a story which may have been hard to read, for some. It might even rate a trigger warning, for some. But the catharsis was very real, too, and this story – this #HoldOntoTheLight story that was born out of a moment of lighthearted whimsy – is perhaps the most important thing I have ever written, or might indeed ever write.

This is a fantasy that is more real than I would have believed possible – and it is at once an indictment of what people do to other people who are deemed to be “not-us” and therefore ripe for being dehumanized and called enemies, and a shining story about how at least one of those marginalized people stood up and took matters into her own hands and said “No more”.

Everyone matters. It is sometimes hard to get people who have been downtrodden or hated for a long time to believe that truth about themselves. That’s why a story which shows them that they own their own place in the universe can be so important. Sometimes it’s very dark out there, when you’re the only one holding a tiny flickering candle – and sometimes it just helps when someone else steps up beside you holding another.

You still have to wait for the sunrise to see things in the bright light of another day – but sometimes, truly, all it takes to drive away a sense of darkness and keep your spirits up through the remainder of the night is knowing that you aren’t out there in the shadows all by yourself.
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#HoldOnToTheLight believes fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment. Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go HERE

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Quote Jodi Picoult poster~~~~~
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My River!

I was born on an ancient river in a country which no longer exists. The country, then Yugoslavia, split into many parts, including my home, Serbia. The river was the Danube, an old river, muddy, treacherous, full of shifting sandbanks and sucking mud and terrifying whirlpools.

And I love both the river and my home country with a passion and a longing that is part of my very being.

This come to mind now because of a wonderful video,

The Danube in Serbia: 588 ImpressionsDanube in Serbia photo

(Link to video at end)

I was told stories about the Danube 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  – 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-tan.

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. 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.

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 superstitious awe of it. 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.

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The above was excerpted from an ezine edition of the St Petersburg Gazette on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death.

You can watch the whole wonderful video at YouTube HERE

Comments welcome HERE

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How Long Did it Take to Write the World’s Most Famous Books?

When inspiration strikes, a work of fictional brilliance can be produced in a matter of days. Others take a bit longer.

From ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ which the author, John Boyne, claims to have written in 2 ½ days, to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien which took 16 years to complete, printerinks.com has collated 30 of the world’s most famous books to compare how long they took to create.

One of my longest novels, The Secrets of Jin-shei, was written in less than four months; another took …mumbleyears.
How long did it take? infograpicRead more at printerinks.com HERE

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Books, not Pokemon

Inspired by the success of Pokemon Go, a Belgian headmaster has developed an online game for people to search for books instead. Aveline Gregoire’s version is played through a Facebook group called “Chasseurs de livres” (“Book hunters”).

Players post pictures and hints about where they have hidden a book and others go to hunt them down. Once someone has finished reading a book, they “release” it back into the wild.

Searching for books: Reuters story HERE

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Alma Quote poster~~~~~
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When the words die…

It seems so very long ago that I first tripped over a low-key article about a little known “women’s language”, called nu shu, which once existed in China, passed down from mother to daughter, totally hidden from male eyes.

The article mourned the loss of the last speaker of nu shu who had learned the language in the organic, traditional way – at her mother’s knee. With her passing, the language died too – at least as a living thing, spoken and used. From now on it would only be studied and remembered and dissected, but as a living language it was gone.

It was this story that gave me the inspiration for my highest-flying book, “The Secrets of Jin Shei“, where a similar language formed the basis for my imagined society.

Last Wichita speaker passes away

Just recently I became aware of another language vanishing into those same shadows – this time because of the death of Doris Jean Lamar-McLemore, the last fluent native speaker of Wichita (link, and story by Rhiannon Poolaw of KSWO below). Once again a language once used and shared and vibrant has withered away, and will soon only be a memory.

Bird Of Stone photoIt’s like languages were birds on the wing, soaring on the winds, diving into clouds, full of the joy of living and of existence – until, eventually, inevitably, things start turning to stone, the wings getting stiff, the hearts getting heavy, until the creature falls to the ground, only a stone image of the joyful flying thing it once was, to be picked up and picked over and examined and wondered at by those who come after, those who had never known the living thing that flew.

And with every loss of language comes an inevitable loss of culture, of memory, of things that could only be said or understood in that language.

The loss of words, any words, anybody’s words, makes me sad.

Read more about Doris Jean Lamar-McLemore, the last Wichita speaker HERE

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Sometimes world creators like writers and artists don’t have to make up things. Sometimes things get made up for us that we could never have invented…like a radioactive mineral that exists nowhere else on Earth than in the grave of a nuclear disaster – something rare, and precious, and something that could kill you faster and more thoroughly than any monster in any fairy tale.

In the radioactive woods arond the place that was once known as Chernobyl, there now lives a thing called the Red Forest which crawls with mythological creatures and radioactive fungi that glow in the dark.
Chernobyl desolate sceneChernobyl was a tragedy. Its aftermath is a blend of mythology old and new and it is hypnotic in its stark and deadly beauty.

Read this astonishing essay; it’s well worth your time.

(All images featured are film stills from Stalker. Credit: Filmgrabber All quotations of Chernobyl survivors are excerpted from Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Holocaust.)

Reads the whole essay HERE

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Oh, to live in a bookish town…

When we moved to the place we now call home, it was partly because of two AMAZING second hand bookstores we found in the heart of the town. It could only bode well for the spirit of the place.

But the English town, Hay on Wye, is… a special thing. It’s SPECIAL. How many spots on this planet could bear the weight of this many words congregated together?
Hay On Wye, bookstore photoHay on Wye has been known to me for many years. No, I’ve never been there. Yes, I’d love to go. What other form of paradise is there for someone who loves reading, loves the feel and smell and the promise of books – for someone who is always a little breathless with anticipation before starting a new book, and often breathless with a sense of wonder after finishing a particularly glorious one – than this…?

Read the whole story at storypick.com HERE

Other book towns in the world HERE

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Archive of 6,000 Historical Children’s Books, Digitized and Free to Read Online

An astonishing treasure trove at openculture.com HERE

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A review of Wolf, the second book in my Were Chronicles, by L. Bruce Diamond is the kind authors pick for their blurbs. He says, for example, that Wolf

“is simultaneously frustrating, engrossing, infuriating, and satisfying.”  

If a book can stir up that kind of reaction in a discerning reader, the author’s labors in producing it were well worth it.

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Quote of the Day
Was the West won or lost? posterWinners and losers

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Your favorite quote?

At bookwitty.com, Véesah Afifi offers:

Alice in Wonderland cover photoChildren…in their innocence can’t fathom the weight of some of the most important quotes they hear in bedtime stories,” Afifi writes. “However, we’re adults now, and it’s time we appreciated some of the most profound quotations in the literature of our youth.”

e.g. “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
– Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

What’s your favorite quote from a beloved children’s book?

See the other quotes at Bookwitty HERE

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A 5-star review of ‘Wolf’, the second book in The Were Chronicles, by L. Bruce Diamond is the kind authors pick for their blurbs. He says, for example, that ‘Wolfis simultaneously frustrating, engrossing, infuriating, and satisfying.”  If a book can stir up that kind of reaction in a discerning reader, the author’s labors in producing it were well worth it.

He was a bit less pleased with ‘Shifter,’ the last book in my series. He gave it four stars,  noting that it was “A somewhat satisfying and slightly frustrating end-piece to an otherwise entertaining shape-changing triptych.”

You can read his and other reviews of ‘Wolf‘ at Amazon HERE

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At  My Modern Met, Sarah Ann Loreth interviews Seattle-based photographer Kindra Nikole about her:

Portraits of Medieval Knights Reimagined as Fearless Women

CursedWightKindraNikole photoPhoto by Kindra Nikole

For her latest series entitled Árísan, Kindra drew inspiration from a visit to Glastonbury, the legendary resting place of Arthur, King of the Britons (aka King Arthur)”, Loreth writes. “The photographer now captures the essence of the ancient castle ruins and imbues its historical setting with new meaning. Although women did not originally take part in battle, Kindra’s images recreate history, imagining round table knights as strong, fearless women adorned in period armor.”

See all her stunning photos at mymodernmet.com HERE

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Quote of the Day

All Men Dream - T.E Lawrence poster

Always dream with your eyes open.

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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

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At BuzzFeed, Chelsey Pippin offers us

27 Literary Prints To Hang In Your Home Library

“For all the wallspace that isn’t already taken up by bookshelves.”
Books Are Dreams Neil Gaiman wall hangingSee them all at Buzzfeed HERE

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Quote of the Day
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

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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.)

goodreads
librarything
Online Book Club 
Signature
Litsy
Publishers Weekly
young adultica
Readers’ Favorite

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Quote of the Day

No Tears Frost QUOTE posterA lesson every writer must learn.

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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)

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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

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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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Quote of the Day
ALMA Rewriting History poster

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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

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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

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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)

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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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Quote of the Day

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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Quote of the Day

Quote FERBER poster

And she wasn’t kidding!

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