Love the Madness

7 Essential Books Starring Dysfunctional Families

Dysfunctional families are no laughing matter”, Off the Shelf reports, “more so when you’re a part of one. Who can stand your mother’s fiery tongue or your brother’s penchant for the absurd? Does Uncle Al always have to preach life lessons around the dinner table? Can’t we just eat for once?”

The Family Fang

The Family Fang

Kevin Wilson’s take on the art of surviving a masterpiece of dysfunction.

Meet The Family Fang, an unforgettable collection of demanding, brilliant, and absolutely endearing oddballs whose lives are risky and mischievous performance art.

 

 

See the others

 

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Excerpt from Mike Reeves-McMillan’s thoughtful review of Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles

“Depth and resonance and significance”

“There’s a group of YA authors – I’m thinking of Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, Justine Larbelestier, and a few others – who write the kind of books that snooty adults who look down on YA in Internet articles have clearly never read…

“This kind of YA has depth and resonance and significance. It shines a light on the path for young people (young women, in particular) who are looking for courage and a place in the world…

Random, The Were Chronicles“…this book is itself an example of what I mean. The experience of being an immigrant, the experience of being different, the experience of being treated unfairly by self-righteous authority and being powerless to do anything about it, are all here, beautifully depicted, unflinchingly described, shown with all their terrible consequences.

“…The book closes with a stunning revelation that left me unable to say anything but “Wow. Wow.”

 

 

Read the whole review
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Free copies of Random

I am extending my offer of free copies (the ebook version) of Random to an additional 10 people who pledge to leave a review — on Amazon, Goodreads, their own blog, what have you.

Send an email HERE with the subject line “Free Random Offer”

Include:
(1) a valid email address to send the ebook to
(2) a single sentence in the body of the email acknowledging that a review will follow.

Random isn’t just a story about shape-shifters, it’s a story about humanity. It’s about what it means to be a member of a family, a culture, a race.” ~ Angela’s Library review

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All too often, boys shy away from novels which have strong girls as protagonists or major characters; all too often, men refuse to read women authors for fear of … what…? Frankly I don’t know, but I’ve seen it.

Jennifer Schaffer of BuzzFeed offers some suggestions for the next time someone tells you they only like books by dudes.

If You Like This Book By A Man, You’ll Love This Book By A Woman

For example:
The LoverVladimir Nabokov, Lolita → Marguerite Duras, The Lover

If you were enthralled by Humbert Humbert’s twisted tale in Lolita, try Marguerite Duras’ The Lover. Both novels feature a love story between an older man and a young girl, but Duras tells us the tale from the eyes of the girl — all grown up.

Quotable line: “Suddenly, all at once, she knows, knows that he doesn’t understand her, that he never will, that he lacks the power to understand such perverseness. And that he can never move fast enough to catch her.”

See the others

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Hate peopleIra Madison III of BuzzFeed offers some advice and tells you whom you should give them to after you read them.

e.g.
The Talented Mr. RipleyThe Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

“The fact that I killed this man. It’s not going to change my life.”

Tom Ripley grew up as an orphan and, bitter with his lack of a place in high society, kills a rich guy and steals his life. But the murders don’t stop there, because two can only keep a secret if one of them is dead.

For: People who hate rich white boys in boat shoes.

 

See the others

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Top 10 imaginary friends in fiction

All characters in fiction are imaginary friends, AF Harrold writes in The Guardian. “We spend time with them, listen to them, laugh with them, sometimes fall in love with them. No one else knows them like we do. It can be embarrassing to talk to them when other people are in the room. But they’re not what this list is about.This list is about imaginary friends characters in books have had, so the imaginary friends of my imaginary friends, you might say.”

And the best example is, of course:
Hobbes and Calvin(sodahead.com)

Hobbes, from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes

To me, the most important imaginary friend, the most moving, the most delightful, the most grrr-ry, the most graceful, the wisest, most forebearing, most put upon, the funniest and handsomest (certainly the best drawn) is Hobbes. He’s a tiger and he’s perfect.

See the others

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THIS ‘n THAT

Says it all
Schools without libraries are a disgrace” ~ Russell Brand:

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Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the winner of a Canadian literary prize, has donated the $25,000 award to a grassroots coalition against the Tar Sands pipeline, sparking a wave of contributions.

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Quote of the Day

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” – George Orwell

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Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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Who said it first?

No word I invented made the Top Ten list below, but “jin-shei“, my word for the sisters-of-the-heart relationship, that I wrote about in ‘Secrets of JIn-shei, has circled the world.

I have seen photographs of Italian girls pledging jin-shei to one another on blogs, and the idea of the jin-shei bao, the heart-sister, even made its way into fanfic inspired by Joss Whedon’s fabled Firefly. If you ever wondered why Jayne won’t kiss a whore on the mouth, there’s a fanfic story that explains it, and it involves jin-shei.

Authorisms: The top 10 words invented by writers
Catch-22Photograph: Alamy

Neologisms coined by authors which have entered the wider language have been enriching English for centuries. From Shakespeare to Joseph Heller, Paul Dickson selects his favorites:

Read the article

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In Short

A review found on Amazon for ‘Gift of the Unmage’, the first book in my WORLDWEAVERS series (first published by HarperCollins, reprinted by Sky Warrior Books.)

Title: Four stars (no, seriously. That’s the TITLE of the review)

The review, in full:
A unique magic system. A treat.”

That’s it.

I believe it takes the prize for the pithiest review I have ever had, for ANY book.

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Isn’t it funny how many of these are WINTER photos? There’s just something fairytale-ish about snow, period.

Fairytales Come To Life In Magical Photos
Fairytale wolfMargarita Kareva is a Russia-based photographer who specializes in fantasy art photography, Bored Panda tells us. Her photographs beautifully portray women that have been transformed into fairytale princesses and witches. She adds surreal elements to her shots that make the photographs really stand out.

See all the magic

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32 Books Guaranteed To Make You Laugh Out Loud

You’ll probably want to read these books in private“, Erin Chack warns on BuzzFeed, “since spontaneous maniacal laughter may ensue.”

One of the books, A Hike in the Woods (below) is one of my own favorites. But this list has GLARING OMISSIONS. Where’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’? I challenge anyone to read the setting up camp scene without cackling out loud at some point. And where’s T.H. White’s ‘Once and Future King’? Go read the Sir Grummore/King Pellinore joust in the woods one more time, or the manufacture of the fake Questin’ Beast by Sir Grummore and Sir Palomides, and if you can keep a straight face through either of those scenes your funny bone is missing.
A walk in the woods

Two slightly out-of-shape hikers attempt to take on the Appalachian Trail. One of those hikers is Bill Bryson, prolific humor/travel writer.

This book is perfect for anyone looking for a laugh, or to be talked out of hiking the Appalachian Trail.

 

 
See all the books

 

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From Trail of Tears to texting in the native tongue

In Aljazeera, Juliana Keeping writes about efforts to teach Cherokee children their own language

There’s something wonderful about an ancient language embracing a new world – taking something rich and old and valuable, giving it new wings fashioned out of cybercloud and electrons, and watching it fly under the strange light of an unfamiliar sun. Languages have concepts built into them that no other language can ever match..
Cherokee on screenRead the article

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I’ve always loved foxes. There’s something intrinsically tricksterish, intelligent, bright, about their pointed red-furred faces. And they are unquestionably some of the most photogenic animals ever. They LOOK as though they could talk, if only they wanted to, if it was made worth their while.

And then you get the poor sad sodden little scraps like the very wet and very miserable little fox kit whom you just want to sweep into your arms and cuddle until he’s soft and furry and bright red and all mischevious all over again…
FoxletIntimate photos of foxes in one of world’s remotest regions

Ivan Kislov’s stunning pictures of foxes are guaranteed to take your breath away,” Dominique Mosbergen writes at the Huffington Post . Kislov is a mining engineer who works in Chukotka, a beautiful but desolate corner of the Russian Far East that lies partially above the Arctic Circle.

See all the amazing pictures

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THIS ‘n THAT
Winnie-the-Pooh

Tuszyn, Poland has banned Winnie-the-Pooh from a local playground because Pooh’s lack of pants and questionable gender are offensive and “wholly inappropriate for children.”

 
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HarperCollins will offer a selection of bestselling titles to JetBlue passengers as the book content partner for the launch of the airline’s Fly-Fi content platform. Customers can read excerpts from more than 20 books, and each e-sampler includes buy buttons.

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Quote of the Day

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

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Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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What do women want?

From time immemorial, men have been wondering about, and trying to understand, just what it is that “women want”.

And yet, when they’re told… there’s a chorus of anguish, angst, and angry disapproval. Because it turns out that they don’t want to hear what the women WANT. They want to hear THEIR version of what women want.

Which apparently begins and ends with … THEM.

I’ve read that the thing men fear most is being laughed at by women; and the thing that the women fear most is being killed by a man.

Failing to grasp this – the fundamentality of this – no matter if YOU YOURSELF ARE THE NICEST GUY IN THE WORLD AND IT WOULD NEVER OCCUR TO YOU TO RAISE YOUR HAND TO A WOMAN – is at the bedrock of it all. The #NotAllMen defense.

You want to know what women want? Or at the very least what THIS woman wants? It’s this. It’s being treated with the respect due to another human being, it’s sharing time and space and interaction without the feeling of obligation or entitlement or expecting something in return for the “nice thing” you said.

Treat us like human beings, respect our interests and our wishes and our SELVES, and you’ll get a lot further than you will ever get pointing out what a good ass I have or telling me how lucky I would be if I let you have your wicked way with me.

This rant that I posted on Facebook (if you want to read it all, go HERE) brought to mind an essay I wrote about feminism for Women Writers, Women, Books in June of 2012.

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The Accidental Feminist

I am not a feminist,” I told my husband, back when we got married.

I knew what I meant. I was not a militant feminist. I was not in the business of teachable moments, of being argumentative about my rights.

But I had absolutely no idea what I was saying.

I am of a generation which simply assumed that women are just – well – equal. I was born into a world where it was simply understood that I was worth as much as the boy next door.

All of my life I have been taken seriously, respected, given opportunities. Given love, given understanding … given political and social equality, at least on the face of it. Nobody ever raised a hand to me.

In my world, women ALWAYS have had the vote, ALWAYS have had reasonable access to birth control, ALWAYS have had access to education, to books, to culture, to being all they could be.

But I learned little things along the way. I learned about the way that women had been picked and trained as astronauts but never got into space. And then I watched women leap into the skies and look down upon our fragile blue planet from orbit. It was a huge step, but you see, it was INEVITABLE to me – because I took that world for granted, the world in which women could do this, could do anything.
Mercury 13The Famous Mercury 13 (NASA.gov)

And yet it was also the world where those original pioneers had the guts and the heart and the raw courage to put themselves forward as astronauts in an era where that was still not acceptable. The Mercury 13, as they became known, are finally celebrated today as heroines. And NASA produced a commemorative poster to honor them.  It was one of the proudest moments of my own life when NASA requested permission to use a fragment of one of my poems on that poster.

That was a piece of the puzzle.

I write books which have women as protagonists – strong women who have lives, opinions, who do hard things without running to the nearest man for help. I am proud of that. One of my books was once described as “feminist fantasy” and I’m rather proud of that label.

THAT’s another piece of the puzzle.

I grew up in an era where a woman walking up to the polls is as commonplace as seeing a daffodil bloom in springtime. But it was not always thus.

I keep on remembering the movie “Iron Jawed Angels” which detailed some of the sufferings that early suffragettes went through – for our sakes, for the sakes of their descendants, of posterity. A senator’s wife, locked up in a prison for her principled stance, is told in the movie by her husband about her daughters, “The girls miss you“.   Her face kind of crumples and then kind of glows, and she whispers, broken but proud, “It is for THEIR sake that I am here…”

She was there for my sake, too.

Last year I was inaugurated into the YWCA Pacific Northwest Women’s Hall of Fame – and a woman who attended the reception did so in the costume of a suffragette. I asked if I could have the privilege of having a photo taken with her – a photo that showed my allegiance, across all these years, to the movement, and the cause, and the courage, and the dream of these women who dared to dream that dream so that I would simply take it as my birthright.

It is so easy to forget that the 19th Amendment to the American Constitution was enacted only in 1920. In one of the most ‘progressive’ nations in the history of the world, the women have had the vote for less than a hundred years.

We haven’t had the choice to cut our hair, or wear trousers, or marry whom we choose, or own property, or have a college degree and be professionals like doctors and lawyers and lawmakers, for that long.

THAT was another piece of the puzzle.

I am a woman, a woman born in the mid-20th century, living in the 21st, and I believed that I understood my world.

But that is not the case.

The battles have to be fought again, and again, and again.

Speak your mind or assert the rights that your grandmothers have won for you, and you are called a slut, or worse. Men decide when or how you are allowed to have your children, or not. Men decide whether or not you’ve actually been raped or not, or whether you were ‘asking’ for it because you wore a skirt that ended at the knee.

Why is it that a man gets the final say on whether or not a given woman’s body is forced to gestate a clump of cells WHICH IS NOT, REPEAT NOT, YET A BABY, no more than a mitochondrion or a liver cell is? Why is it that a man gets to tell me anything at all about myself, and feels as though he has that right by virtue of the fact that he is a man and I… am not?

I told my husband, once, that I was not a feminist. But the older I get, the more I wake up to the fact that I am, I have always been, I always will be one.

And his response to this? A slow smile and a nod, and “I knew that all the time.”

I seem to be the quintessential Accidental Feminist, a woman who never bothered to question the fact that I could ever live a life in which my rights were not a given.

I find myself thinking about the deep debts I owe to the suffragette generation. To the women who stand up for our rights even today, and get vilified for it. How much I, as a woman, owe to those sisters who are still property, and who are still not in a position to write or even think the words that I am putting down here.

And so, finally, I believe.

And it looks like the people who love me have always known me a little better than I knew myself.


Original essay here

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Quote of the day
QUOTE Rebecca West~~~~~
Alma Alexander       My books       Email me

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Ever heard me?

I mean heard my real voice, not the one you hear in your head when you read one of my books? No? Well here’s your chance.The Skiffy and Fanty podcast is a, deservedly and perennially, award-nominated podcast show that I’ve been listening to for ages.
podcastI’ve heard their interviews with writers I’ve long known and loved, and sometimes writers I didn’t know but whose personalities and insights as they shone through these online chats made me sit up and become interested in what ELSE they had to say, in their books. And then, one day, like in ALL the best stories, it was my turn in the Skiffy and Fanty spotlight:
We talk about her werecritter culture, the immigrant experience, language, and much more!
I enjoyed this chat immensely; I hope you do too.  
Listen to it here
 
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In the dark of winterThe days seem impossibly short and the nights never ending, Emily Temple writes at Flavorwire, and suggests that it’s a great time for reading dark books. After all, there’s nothing better to cut through the literal gloom than to curl up with some intellectual doom. All you need is a tiny light to see your book by.  She offers 50 of them, starting with the REAL Grimm fairy tales we’ve been talking about recently.Then there is:
Wittgenstein’s Mistress

Wittgenstein’s Mistress, David Markson
A series of missives from the typewriter of the last woman on earth as she mulls over art, literature, life, and her own tragedies.
Or pick one of the other 49
 
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But to lighten the mood, The Stylist offers…
20 opening lines from our favorite Christmas books
My favorite is, of course…
The Grinch Who Stole ChristmasEvery who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot.” 
See the rest
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50 Writers You Need to See Read Live:  It’s a pleasant surprise when a writer is dynamite in person, Elisabeth Donnelly  writes at Flavorwire, “whether they’re reading their work or answering questions with confidence and something like charisma. The best live appearances by writers are able to cast a spell over the audience — through a variety of elements — and here are 50 writers make that achievement look easy.”e.g.
Gary ShteyngartGary Shteyngart
He’s very, very funny and quick-witted and he’s written scarily accurate speculative fiction about our future world. Your ribs will hurt from laughing after seeing him live.

See all 50

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A holiday reminder

Books make Great Gifts

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THIS ‘n THAT

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and a practice of an art,” Ursula K. Le Guin said at the 2014 National Book Awards.

And she had some thoughts about Amazon, the “profiteer” trying to “punish a publisher for disobedience.

“…I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds. But, the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

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An Upstate New York Home Gets the World’s Most Colorful Makeover
Rainbow housePhoto: Kat O’Sullivan

See ALL the photos here

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Quote of the Day

QUOTE Astrid Lindgren~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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Which would you buy?

QUIZ: Classic Houses In Literature on the Imaginary Real Estate Market

Anne of Green GablesBright, colorful farmhouse in rural Canadian townThe Western canon is having a real estate sale: All the settings of your favorite novels are now yours for the buying, Maddie Rodriguez writes at Bustle, from gorgeous English estates  to rural Canadian farmhouses.
See them all
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The other day we  looked at the grim original Grimm fairy tales. Now take a look at this:
The secret history of Maleficent
Sleeping BeautyHenry Meynell Rheam, “Sleeping Beauty,” Public Domain image.
iPinion Syndicate talks about murder, rape, and woman-hating in Sleeping Beauty, and then asks why women should care.The answer, it explains, is because reclaiming women from the stereotypes of fairy tales can empower real-life women to defy the roles too-long proscribed for them by men
 
.Interesting read
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8 Wicked Women From Grimm’s Fairy Tales You Probably Don’t Know
At Bustle, Laura I. Miller tells us that for thousands of years, fairytales reigned as the preferred mode of storytelling. Today we see these stories as simple-minded and didactic — kids’ stuff. But women in these stories prosper under the most gruesome circumstances. If you’re looking for inspirational heroines, these dark, magical, powerful ladies — not their watered-down, guileless Disney counterparts — certainly top the list.e.g.
The Girl With No HandsThe Girl With No HandsAfter making a deal with the devil, the girl’s father chops off her hands with an axe because they are too clean for the devil to touch. She cries her stumps spotless, thwarting the devil’s advances, but decides she must leave home — with her maimed arms strapped to her back — to find her own fortune. Eventually, a king marries her and fashions her a pair of silver hands, but her bad luck is far from over. Read the rest of the tale to find out what adventures befall her next!

Read the article

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And speaking of scary…

THE 10 scariest books of all time
Piercing, Ryu Murakami
Piercing, Ryu Murakami

This novel isn’t “boo” scary; it’s more like “set your teeth on edge for days and make you never want to be close to anyone for the rest of your life” scary.

Read the article

 
 
 
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THIS ‘n THAT
35 Gifts book lover will want to keep for themselves
So it goesoutofprintclothing.com, Poo-tee-weet, mofos
See them all
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Masai told to leave homeland so it can become a hunting reserve for royal familyIt never ends. A desire to shoot a trophy animal, to stick a decapitated head on your wall, or put an animal’s skin in front of your fireplace ALWAYS trumps the right of people who can’t afford to buy what should never have been for sale – their own heritage, their own past…
Read the article
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I will send free (ebook) copies of my new book, Random, the first book in the YA series The Were Chronicles, to the next 10 people who ask for it and pledge to leave a review (on Amazon, Goodreads, their own blog, what have you…)Send an email HERE with the subject line “Free Random Offer” Include:
(1) a valid email address to send the ebook to 
(2) a single sentence in the body of the email acknowledging that a review will follow.

Random, The Were Chronicles

 

“Random isn’t just a story about shape-shifters, it’s a story about humanity. It’s about what it means to be a member of a family, a culture, a race.” ~ Angela’s Library review

 

 

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Quote of the Day

“Closing libraries is endangering the future.” ~ Neil Gaiman

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Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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But what is it?

I am primarily a fantasy writer. That is how I view myself and my novels. But literary critics often have trouble labeling me, putting my books into neat little boxes.

Midnight at Spanish GardensPerhaps that shows most vividly in one of my recent novels, ‘Midnight at Spanish Gardens,’ a book that explores how our lives are changed by the paths we take, the choices we make.

Reviews were good, e.g. “the language is poetic and beautiful…characters are utterly compelling … on one occasion, I stood in a doorway,  flipping page after page, unable to take the steps that would lead to the end of my reading.” (Alana Abbott)

But Spanish Gardens uses a bit of fantasy to explore those choices, and booksellers and some reviewers don’t know how to classify it, what box to put it in.

I explored this problem a few years ago in an article that I wrote for The Interstitial Arts Foundation.

Interstitial art is made in the interstices between genres and categories, the foundation’s website explains. It crosses borders, is not constrained by category labels. “Just as how in nature the greatest areas of biodiversity occur in the margins of land between ecosystems, it is our belief that some of the most vital, innovative, and challenging art being created today can be found in the margins between categories, genres, and disciplines.”

Here is my 2009 article, a blast from the past as it were:

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It was a long time ago. A century ago. A millennium ago.

Well, all right, it was in 1999.

A man I met on a Usenet newsgroup concerned with writing – who became a friend, and subsequently my husband – and I collaborated on what must have one of the first few novels which could be described as “email epistolary”.

We each took on a character’s mantle, and we exchanged emails as these characters, within a given historical and political context – in this instance, the 78-day bombardment of Serbia by the United States and its often reluctant allies, in what became known as the Kosovo crisis.

Letters from the FireThe novel, ‘Letters from the Fire’, was written very fast, in pain and with passion, and got picked up for publication by Harper Collins in New Zealand, where I was living at the time. From conception to being on bookstore shelves, the book took just under six months – which has to be some sort of record in the publishing industry at the time.

The topic was hot, to be sure, and the themes were those of contemporary history – but it was a fictional account of those real events, a novel, and it was with a considerable amount of astonishment that I came upon a callow young assistant in one of the premier flagship bookstore on the main drag in Auckland, shelving the books… in the non-fiction section.

That’s a novel,” I told him. “It belongs in fiction.”

He looked at me with a gormless expression, and said, “Are you sure?”

Reasonably,” I said. “I wrote it.”

That’s bookend one. For bookend two, fast forward to 2004, with the release of my novel, ‘The Secrets of Jin-Shei.’ [Now published in 13 languages)

The Secrets of Jin-sheiThis was something which, as I wrote it, I conceived as alternate-history, or historical fantasy. The publishers had other ideas, and marketed it as mainstream, with most bookstores shelving it in the general fiction section.

Which had two complementary repercussions.

The first was that fantasy readers who might have loved this book simply never got to hear about it, because it wasn’t shelved in the section where they went to seek reading material.

The second was that mainstream readers, on the other hand, were uniformly thrown by what is essentially a very minor serving of magic in the book.

There appeared to be little I could do, despite repeated attempts, to convince people that the book was NOT in fact about China, about any China that actually existed, that there were certain aspects of the Imperial China which I used in the novel but that the land in which my own story took place was called Syai and did not, in fact, exist outside my own imagination. (And I STILL get questions like, “But what particular period of Imperial China were you writing about?”)

Part of the problem with the latter bookend is simply the fantasy cooties thing, something that apparently requires a warding off of the first order should its evil eye fall on your work – but as I keep telling everyone, ALL FICTION IS FANTASY. By definition.

And if the currently accepted definition of fantasy spills over into the mainstream shelves, or the mainstream books suddenly start having a dash of the fantastic – this should not be something that alienates readers from a book, bur rather it should be seen as an expanding of one’s horizons, an interstitial quest, a hunting for treasure in places you never thought to look in before.

Remember those optimistic, hardy, pretty urban weeds that spring with hope eternal from cracks in the pavement and put forth extravagant blooms as they dodge passing feet for a chance at a summer in the sun? That’s what we all are. Something beautiful in unexpected places, where you might least expect to see it. In the interstitial corners.

And perhaps it isn’t surprising that someone like Leonard Cohen put it best when he sang about there being a crack in everything. That, he said, was how the light gets in.

Read more about The Interstitial Arts Foundation HERE

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Quote of the day

ALL fiction is fantasy.” ~ Alma Alexander

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me

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Bloody fairy tales

Grimm fairy talesRapunzel is knocked up by her prince, the evil queen is Snow White’s mother, and a starving mother tells her daughters: “I’ve got to kill you so I can have something to eat.”

Never before published in English, the first edition of the Brothers Grimms’ tales reveals an unsanitised version of the stories that have been told at bedtime for more than 200 years.

‘It is time for parents and publishers to stop dumbing down the tales for children,’ the editor of the uncut edition tells The Guardian

Read the article

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Free ebook copies of Random

I will send free (ebook) copies of my new book, Random, the first book in the YA series The Were Chronicles, to the first seven people who ask for it and pledge to leave a review (on Amazon, Goodreads, their own blog, what have you…)

Send an email HERE with the subject line “Free Random Offer”

Include:
(1) a valid email address to send the ebook to 
(2) a single sentence in the body of the email acknowledging that a review will follow.

Random, The Were Chronicles

 

“Random isn’t just a story about shape-shifters, it’s a story about humanity. It’s about what it means to be a member of a family, a culture, a race.” ~ Angela’s Library review

 

 

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Africa if the white invaders had stayed home

What if the Black Plague had killed off almost all Europeans? Then Spain and Portugal wouldn’t have kickstarted Europe’s colonization of other continents. And this is what Africa might have looked like.
Uncolonized AfricaThe map – upside down, to skew our traditional eurocentric point of view – shows an Africa dominated by Islamic states, and native kingdoms and federations. All have at least some basis in history, linguistics or ethnography. None of their borders is concurrent with any of the straight lines imposed on the continent by European powers, during the 1884-85 Berlin Conference and in the subsequent Scramble for Africa.

By 1914, Europeans controlled 90% of Africa’s land mass.

Read the article

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The dumpster is his home
Dumpster addressDumpster livingJeff Wilson, Environmental Science professor and Dean of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin,

For one year an Austin man will live in a 33 square ft dumpster, Michelle Burwell writes at Daily Good, transforming the “home” from its bare bones to a high-tech sustainable living quarters.

Jeff Wilson will monitor the minimum needed to survive and thrive. For the first few months of The Dumpster Project, Wilson was sleeping on cardboard boxes. He has since upgraded to a bed, minimal storage and even air conditioning. He will soon be connecting a shower and toilet.

Read the article

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THIS ‘n THAT

First photo

Mashable finds the earliest known photograph to include a recognizable human form. It was taken in Paris, France, in 1838 by Louis Daguerre.Louis DaguerreRead the article

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Buzz Feed finds:
51 Books That Prove Reading Can Change Your Life
Like the Flowing River“I was so depressed for quite some time, I didn’t know where life was taking me. With this book on hand, I went on a vacation in the countryside, out of the noise and busy urban life, away from technology. I had this book, read it, and when I was done, I had a whole new outlook on life and how to deal with it. ~ —Kristoffer E., via Facebook”

See the other 50

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Temporary literary tattoos by Litographs
ulysseUlysses – by James Joyce

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Quote of the Day

After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

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Alma Alexander
My books

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Jay Lake’s legacy

Last Plane to Heaven by Jay LakeJay Lake was an acclaimed short story writer. In his all too brief career he published more than three hundred works of short fiction. In “Last Plane to Heaven” we have winnowed that down to thirty two of the best of them.” (“Last Plane to Heaven” front matter)

I knew this collection was coming. I knew I was going to buy it. Jay Lake was my friend. This, I owed. To him; to my memory of him.

One of the stories included in the collection is the one he gave me for ‘River’, the anthology I edited. Its presence here was unanticipated. It was as though Jay himself grinned at me across the veil, a sort of ghostly high-five. I am delighted – but more than that, I am deeply honored – that this is one of the stories picked for his farewell book.

Let me tell you briefly about ‘River’ because it says a lot about Jay.

The anthology was something that was dear to my heart, an idea that sprang from my own deep and almost mystical connection to ‘my’ river, the Danube, on whose shores I was born, where I was young. When I got the green light for the book, I approached a handful of writers who were my friends – whose work I knew, and respected, and admired – and asked if they wanted to give me a story for this project, to tell me about rivers of their own.

Several declined, a couple accepted after carefully weighing whether it would be wise to allow their name and reputation to back a project by a novice anthology editor put out by a small press.

I asked Jay for a story just before a panel we were both on together at some con or other. He sat there, in his bright Hawaiian shirt, his feet in sandals and tie-dyed psychedelic socks, gazing at me with that concentrated and courteous focused attention that was his own peculiar gift – Jay might have been a big boisterous personality, he might have known how to be the life of a party and how to make other people laugh and play, but he also knew how to LISTEN, in a way that made you feel, when you spoke to him, as if you were the only other person in his universe at least in that moment – as I pitched my project. And when I asked for a story, all he said was:

When do you want it?”

I loved him for that. He TRUSTED me. And the book that was born was the better, the stronger, for his story in it.

And I am utterly humbled by its inclusion in this, in his last collection. Not only did he trust me with his story, but by putting it in this book he has made my ‘River’ part of his own legacy. This means more than I could ever have thought it might.

WORD: Word is the oldest angel of all. For you see, in the beginning Word made the world upon the waters when God spat Word from his mouth. Later, Word made flesh. Without their tongues, men would be no more tha animals. Without Word, men’s tongues would be no more than meat. Word is the beacon of our minds and the light of our days, withered proxy for an absent God.” ~  (From “Angels iv: Novus Ordo Angelorum”, “Last Plane to Heaven”)

Jay Lake’s stories – his words, his language, his ideas – are huge, great, astonishing, GIFTED things.

One keeps on reading a sentence, or a paragraph, and then stopping, and going back to savor it once more, word by word. Jay Lake wrote fiction but he wove a lot of devastating honesty into it and – you know – you can tell. There is a weight of pure emotional truth to these stories that is almost physical; you feel it settle on your shoulders and ride along with you for a long time after you’ve put the book down, like Odin’s ravens, whispering into your ear.

There is a way he sees the world – the way he takes what might seem to be something ordinary and then twisting it into things rich and strange – you walk into ruined cities with him, and into shadows, and into the light. You walk with an angel named Word, and you believe that Jay Lake might have actually met him, and talked to him, and learned wisdom at his side.

And this… all this… before he gets to the end of the book. And the most devastating, pitiless, brutal truth of all.

Every story in this book has a short preamble from Jay. And before the final story, “The Cancer Catechism”, there is this:

This is the end. Really, there’s not that much more to say. Never walk this road that I have walked if you can help it. If you must do so, take my hand. Maybe I can help you a few steps along the way.” ~ (From “The Cancer Catechism”, “Last Plane To Heaven”)

And then – the story –

But where surgery dropped you swiftly into a hole which then took a month to climb out of, chemo lowers you slowly, inch by inch, week after week, into a hole which you may never climb out of. Starting with your dignity and ending with your sense of self, chemo takes everything away from you.”~ (From “The Cancer Catechism”, “Last Plane to Heaven”)

THIS is the road on which he is offering to hold your hand. In your darkest hours. In the worst moments of your life… this writer, this angel called Word, who understands stories and who knows pain and loss from the inside, is there by your side.

“The Cancer Catechism” is not an easy read, not even for the healthy and the able bodied, let alone those in the grip of the same thing that held Jay himself in its sharp claws. But it is true, in the same way that you know that the summer sky is blue or the winter wind is cold. This is a savage and fundamental building block of the universe. And for this alone – if he had done nothing else at all in his life – Jay Lake, and that unflinching hand he is offering you to hold, has claimed his seat in that Last Plane to Heaven.

In the Afterword, Jay writes:

I love you all. It has been a real privilege to know you.”

Backatcha, big guy. It’s been a privilege, and an honor. Thank you for your words, for your courage, for choosing to be my friend.

I will miss you, and all the stories that will remain unwritten.

The back flap adds the coda: “Jay Lake died on June 1 2014, three months before the publication of this collection.”

I like to think that somehow, somewhere, from a dimension he himself could never quite manage to believe in, that magnificent laughing spirit that was his can see this book – the last book – in the world that had so recently been his own. And can enjoy the fact that with a legacy like this he is never really going to be gone from that world. Those of us who knew him will think of him every time we see a loud Hawaiian shirt, will remember the easy way he could laugh, the profound way that he could care, the courageous way that he could fight.

There are many out there who have never met him, and who will not know these things directly. But for all of us – even as we wave Jay goodbye as he boards that Last Plane and is carried away from us – these words remain. And will endure.

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Quote of the day

Writing is self-reinforcing. Don’t make a fetish out of it, and don’t surrender to the myth of the garret, or the myth of the chained muse. It’s like playing the guitar, or practicing taekwondo, or having sex. The more you do, the better you get. The better you get, the better it feels. The better it feels, the more you want to do.” ~ Jay Lake

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Alma Alexander
My books

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Origami dragons et al

I enjoyed your panel,” a gentleman called out to me as I was walking past his table, at Orycon, the annual science fiction/fantasy convention in Portland, Oregon, over the weekend.

I stopped to thank him, and lingered to watch as he sat there folding an ASTONISHING origami dragon, complete with four tiny feet and spreading wings. I conveyed my amazement at his dragon and he told me I could have it.

He also had a tiny winged origami Pegasus and an even more wondrous dragon made out of a square of gleaming red origami paper. And then a perfect origami X-wing.

My original few minutes of stopping by stretched to more than a hour as I chatted with him and his wife.

I reluctantly left them to go to the Endeavour party where I had a glass of genuine original mead, and then steeled myself to go to the memorial for Jay Lake.
Jay LakeHis mother began by reading a story in which the protagonist, Jay himself, met a strange little man clad in a purple satin suit, who sat next to him on a Portland bus, a man to whom the only answer he’d accept, no matter what the question, would ever be ‘yes’.

When the question came, “Do you want to live forever?” he was told he had until the next stop to decide.

And although his first instinct was to answer ‘yes’, he hesitated … remembering the wife and the child who waited at home, and the piled bills waiting to be paid, and the sun going up and down on the passage of days.

The next stop came and went, and the man in the purple suit vanished softly and without a trace, and Jay – the narrator – “allowed the bus to take me back home to love.”

That came with the weight of words from an angel.

I had bought a copy of Jay’s last, posthumous, collection, “Last train to Heaven”. I just now finished reading it. One of the stories in it is one he had given to me for my River anthology. That it hit me unexpectedly hard. As for the rest of the stories…I’ll have more to say. Just not here. Not now. Not yet.

Sunday morning I went downstairs, my luggage in tow, checked out, and stopped for a double-shot latte to wake myself up before my last panel. Just outside the restaurant my origami friend from the previous evening came sailing out of the restaurant where he and his group were having breakfast to ask me to join them.

Before this was over, I was the richer for an origami Imperial Star Destroyer, an origami Tardis (who knows, it MIGHT be bigger on the inside….) and an origami Vorlon ship (which was literally invented on the spot from an image gleaned from the Internet on the fly). Obviously Saturday night was mostly for critters. Sunday was for serious hardware. The origami artist even showed me pictures of the origami Death Star that he had made (and said that took FIVE HOURS to get right). I remain astonished, and beyond impressed.

They followed me into my Sunday morning panel, which was quite a nice one and went rather well. And then I had a ride arranged to the station to catch a train back. Courtesy of Orycon. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

Another con over. Another year slipping fast towards its end. Outside, it is already night. And soon it will be morning, and another day, and things and people are waiting for me at my destination.

As Jay said in that story, I am waiting for the train to carry me back home through the dark, to carry me back home to love.

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Quote of the day

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Alma Alexander
My books

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When purple prose goes bad

“Things sometimes get transcendent bad, purple prose can transform into ultra violet.”

That was one of the more fascinating observations during a well attended Saturday morning panel on Description in Fiction that I moderated at Orycon, the annual science fiction/fantasy convention in Portland, Oregon. In fact, it could be the line of the con.

An hour later it was another panel, on the Limitations of Magic, before a very interested audience. I wish I could remember what it was that I said that brought the house down. There is enough ham in me to appreciate that kind of reaction, but there were a lot of good discussion by several good panelists and I don’t have a photographic memory.

The panel explored the concept of a “periodic table of magic.” I like that. It has possibilities that I am likely to muse on in further essays, and use in my own writing.

I went from that to the autographing session, where four of us sat forlornly behind a wall of signage pointing to OTHER interesting things going on around there while we waited to talk to people and sign stuff. We got far less attention than a young and shapely and very half-naked woman who was having a body-painting job done on a platform nearby.

The book autographing scene reminded me of the delightful video ,”Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall”. (Link at end, and worth looking at if you haven’t seen it.)

Random, The Were ChroniclesMy reading session that followed was really well attended and people listened with rapt attention as I read an excerpt from “Random,” the first book in The Were Chronicles, now out in e-book form and soon to be out in print. I concluded with a sneak preview from “Wolf”, the second book in the series, coming out early next year.

One of the people at the reading said that “Random” sounded like a lovely book for his book group to tackle. I handed out little sample excerpt brochures to people who went away happy. At least one person collared me in the corridor later to tell me that they’d just gone and bought a “Random” ebook, right there and then.

Tired, now. But energized, as always with cons. These things can be amazing elixirs for the soul.

I have a to-do list as long as my arm for when I get home. And the end of the year is hurtling down upon me with unseemly speed.

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Parnell Hall SigningParnell Hall book signing video

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Quote of the day

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Alma Alexander
My books

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