‘I fell out of bed laughing’

Funny Books poster

‘There’s a snobbishness in our literary world that equates laughter with shallowness. How untrue that is’ … Deborah Moggach. Illustration: Leon Edler

At The Guardian, David Nicholls asked some writers to name their favorite funny book. I was happy to see that one of them picked ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K Jerome because that’s the funniest damn thing ever.

Another one of my choices would be a book I have tried to read out loud to my husband several times but never succeed because I continue to crack up when trying to do so — ‘The Once and Future King’, an Arthurian fantasy novel written by Terence Hanbury White. The duel scene between Sir Grummore and King Pellinore in the forest is exquisite and belly-aching funny, as well as the construction of the Questing Beast (“Puce? what is that? And anyway, we don’t have any!”)

And we can’t forget “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson,  

You can see all the other writers’ choices at The Guardian HERE

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Some kind words about my words.

Cary Ballew-Renfro wrote on Facebook:

I am starting a new series of posts, talking about the best books I read in 2016. First off, the great series by Alma Alexander. Random, Wolf, and Shifter. Without giving anything away, let us just say werewolf stories told as science fiction, not fantasy, thus perhaps a new genre – urban SF.

At the end of Random, I had to read Wolf to see what happened next.

At the end of Wolf, you guessed it – had to read Shifter.

At the end of Shifter I was in tears – truly a three hankie ending and if you read it and aren’t bawling you don’t have a heart.

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On Sherlock

Now that the last episode of this season of Sherlock – and possibly the series – is out of the way, a moment of reflection. If you are leery of spoilers please look away now.  

Sherlock exploded on the scene with its first season and it was UNBELIEVABLE. Everything we thought we knew about the story and the characters was still there but it was beautifully brought forward into the world of high tech and high science and smarphones and computers.

And I loved what it did to ancient established relationships. John Watson was fleshed out and made into a Real Boy (TM) to the point that had never even been attempted before, made into Sherlock’s almost-equal in all but that insane deductive reasoning ability. And Mycroft emerged from the shadows as a brilliantly re-drawn character.

When they brought in Moriarty, it was another epiphany. That character has never been more elegantly sketched, and the casting was nothing short of perfect. It all worked beautifully.

Loved it. LOVED IT. It was a glorious thing.

And then the series gained a fan following. That perhaps is the reason the series fall in love with itself, and the results… were not so great.

In Season 3 the introduction of Mary the love interest… might well have worked, and did, in small doses – but then somebody made the fateful decision that MARY MUST HAVE AN EXPLOSIVE ENOUGH BACKSTORY to make her rank up there with the two stars, and in stepped the ex-secret-agent-assassin-who-just-wanted-a-normal-life.

That got away from them fast. The show became ‘clever’ in that it tried to weld together two stories which didn’t go together very well. The moment Mary became a front-and-center thing, the main relationship of the series got upset and wobbled dangerously.

In the Season 4 it fell over. The whole Holmes gestalt got thrown out in favor of some sort of psychological game which put Holmes and Watson in supporting roles. Mycroft devolved into a caricature. And the whole promise of that cliffhanger Moriarty “Miss me?” thing which had ended Season 3 – turned out to be a massive smelly decaying red herring.

I was BORED during the vast sequence of improbabilities in the final episode of Season four — the weird game playing and random murders orchestrated by the randomly invented wild-card Evil Sister who appears to be omnipotent and who is so much cleverer than EITHER Sherlock or his ‘smarter brother’. Mycroft is, in fact, suddenly transformed into a complete blithering idiot. Moriarty? With THAT SISTER? Unsupervised? For a “Christmas treat”? Please.)

I don’t know if they plan on bringing Sherlock back for another season and the worst thing is that right now, I don’t really care. In the past I had eagerly awaited new Sherlock episodes. In Season 4 I went from anticipation to trepidation, and now I’ve gone beyond, to disinterest.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE complex stories and complexity in story telling. Read any of my own books and you’ll find that out, in spades – I practice what I preach.

But what I resent, here, is throwing in things because they thought they were shiny, clever. This sister thing, where did that come from? And could they not have even TRIED to make it remotely plausible?

The early Sherlock seasons gave me, the viewer, the fan, respect. This last season was a jigsaw puzzle which was forced together from pieces that almost but not QUITE fit and then hammered in where the series creators wanted them, whether they organically fit there or not.

I am vastly disappointed, Sherlock. The game may have been wonderfully afoot, but somehow it twisted its ankle and fell in an ungainly heap by the wayside. And no amount of crutches, in this last season, could possibly suffice to hide the fact that what once flew now stumbled, limping badly, towards the shadows which were gathering under darkening clouds  ahead of it on the story road.

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brave Knights  poster  ~~~~~
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How long should it be?

I don’t write short novels. As a rule. Most of them are quite long, some behemoths.

In fact my epic fantasy novel (with the original title for the whole thing having been “Changer of Days”) weighed in at a quarter million words – and the publisher took one look at it and squawked, “Split that puppy up into two!” That’s how the duology was born, not by design – and the place where it naturally fell into the two volumes was at a terrifying cliffhanger – but that was meant to lead to the next CHAPTER not the next VOLUME and I hope readers forgave me for that. I didn’t do it deliberately.

Letters from the Fire cover

But I did do a couple of short(er) novels.

Letters from the Fire“, my searing email epistolary collaboration with the man whom I eventually married is a slight book – at least by my wordy standards, although collaborating with a fairly taciturn co-writer might have contributed to that.

 

 

 

Abducticon cover

Last year’s “AbductiCon” was another shorty – but it said all it wanted to say, at that.

There’s a new novel in the works for 2017, another shorter one.

I will never really stop writing lush and long. But maybe, just maybe, sometimes fewer words deliver the greater punch.

At Lithub, Emily Temple offers

20 Short Novels to stay up all night reading

Check out her selection at Lithub HERE

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I do write a fair number of short stories.

Want to read one of my best, for free? One that earned a Pushcart nomination?

“The Bones of Our Ancestors, the Blood of Our Flowers”

is now available HERE

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Self destruction on screen

TiVo recently recorded a movie I was long interested in seeing, “Maleficent.” It was … a major disappointment.

Fantasy and fairy tale are not the same. When a fairy tale is retold well, it is transforms it into fantasy because the basic world of the story has been reworked into something sturdier and more REAL. The original folktale has been deepened and broadened, something gets added.

But the basic fairy tale is a formula — linear and predictable, fairy tales are built solely on tropes and archetypes, and that is all that is asked of them — the sprinkling of fairy dust, the idea of magic, and in most of them the happily-ever-after that follows. In fairy tales there IS no truer true love than the prince and the princess in a rosy glow on their wedding day. You want something more? You have to work harder.

When “Maleficent” first came out, I was interested in the addition of the backstory about the prior relationship between Maleficent and Aurora’s father, and about the destruction of her wings, and how that changed her into the villain we all know. As a writer who counts world-building and character building as utterly essential in the crafting of a good story, I was interested in how they would re-tell the essentially sweet Sleeping Beauty story in the shadow of Maleficent and her stolen wings.

Dear God, what a mess.

Yes there’s a back story but it feels sad and tacked on. The whole fairy kingdom is unbearably twee. And those three fairy godmothers of legend who raised Aurora in the woods are utterly annoying. It is hard to believe that Aurora stayed remotely sane while growing up with those three very trying and very silly creatures.

Then they took one of the great villains of literature and they tried to make her… human. And did a really botched job of that. I find it hard to reconcile the revenge against a reprobate human by telling him “your baby will die”.

None of this makes sense any more — not as a fairy tale, and not as fantasy. And a lot of it becomes an excuse for — whee! — CGI galore and special effects rather than a story vehicle. They took a beloved fairy story, and they CHANGED IT FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON.

The whole idea was supposed to be the Princess and the Prince and True Love’s Kiss. The fairy tale princess isn’t supposed to be woken up by a motherly pressing of lips on her brow. Is this why it was called feminist? Because it is Maleficent’s chaste kiss that wakes the sleeping princess, not that rather dweeby prince who shows up for the job? Come on, people. At least pretend that things make sense in the fairy tale context.

Those wings — they’re supposedly a part of the living creature — hacking them off with a DAGGER would have taken TIME, and dear God, wouldn’t the living creature to whom these things were attached have reacted by waking up to the pain? And just how much value did those wings really have? They’re ripped off and taken as trophies to the old king in the human kingdom — but Maleficent doesn’t seem to have lost an ounce of her magic power, so what purpose did the wingclipping serve?

What was the purpose of rehashing this tale? All they did was unravel and destroy the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. The Maleficent fantasy just never stepped up to take its place.

And then…Well, we’ll talk about Sherlock later. Watch this space.

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Le Quin quote Poster ~~~~~
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Read it! Now!

The New Jersey bookstore Inkwood has a list of reading resolutions for 2017.
2017 Reading Resolutions chalk board
Here’s my own handful of resolutions – your mission, should you choose to accept it.

1) If an author you like has a handlea-able number of books out there and you haven’t read them all, become the completist. Find and read ALL of their work. Then write and tell them so.

2) Commit to reading at least 12 books this year – it’s ONLY one book a month and it won’t take that long . No, they don’t have to be 1000-page books (and if they are, you can make a case of that book counting for two or even three ordinary books…)

3) Be a word-spreader. if you like a book, tell other people about it. Writers will thank you for it.

4) Read at least one book in a genre you’ve never read before. You might still not find it congenial but at least you’ll know WHY.

5) Read at least one author you’ve never read before or never HEARD of before. You might hate the book (and you aren’t REQUIRED to finish) but at least you aren’t going to be reading the same handful of authors over and over again. Reading is an adventure. Get your ticket punched for a destination you’ve never ben to before.

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And speaking of lists…

I tend to ignore them myself.

I know, I know, I just offered you a list. Sue me.

Lists I hate graffittiI’ll admit to running through the the occasional list invoving books to see how many of them I have read.

Some lists are more esoteric than others – there are lists I can confidently say I”ve pretty much covered comprehensively and there are other lists which leave me scratching my head and wondering if I live in some alternate universe because I haven’t heard of any of those books or their “acclaimed” authors. Books lists are one of the oldest and dodgiest forms of literary criticism.

Here’s a list that’s left me interested and intrigued. It has books I’ve heard of but haven’t read yet although I’ve been meaning to (Le Guin’s “Lavinia”, for one) and it has books by authors whose names I recognise – but not from THIS book. I think I may have some catch-up reading to do…

Let down by the lists

Read more HERE

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At Off-the-Shelf,  Kerry Fiallo offers us:

17 Favorite Book First Lines to start 2017

One of mine is: “All this happened, more or less.”
Another is: “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

The Secret History coverAnd then there is:

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

From The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

Read the whole article HERE

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Writers Block posterNote to my husband: Not in the winter you don’t!

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But it’s not real…Is it?

Every book has a story – of its origins, of the secrets and the inspiration which led to its existence, the surprises that leaped out at the writer during the process of creation, the dead end alleys, the astonishing moments of transcendence, the feelings that linger when the writer types “The End.” These essays about my books originally appeared at the Book View Café Blog,

Alma’s Bookshelf

The story behind ‘Midnight at Spanish Gardens’

Let me take you to a place which once was real and is now no more, a place that existed as the worst-kept secret of the University where I was young, handed down like a legacy from generation to generation. Called Spanish Gardens, it was curled up at the end of a nondescript alley waiting for you – if you knew it was there.

Even today, more than thirty years after I and others of my generation left it behind, if you cornered any of us anywhere in the world, we will all describe it to you perfectly in the exact same way, an image frozen in time, like a magical photograph.

It was just a matter of time before I returned to this place in spirit to immortalize it in a book.

The book is “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, and in it you will find this:

Spanish Gardens cover F&B

Evening. You walk down a shuttered street; turn into a narrow alley you should never have known was there. At the end of the alley, there’s a courtyard. And at the far end of the courtyard… there’s Spanish Gardens.

It does not look very Spanish. It certainly doesn’t look anything like a garden.

This place serves up your past like one of its fabled Irish Coffees – all froth and innocence on top and the dark, bittersweet mystery below – and watches you drain it, and then try to scry for your future in the patterns left behind on the walls of your glass.

You come here to laugh,  to cry, to mourn, to celebrate – the place where only truth can be spoken, where you are forced to look all your most cherished illusions in the eye and watch them look down first and slink away like ghosts into the shadows leaving only the shining core of your own true self behind.

This is where you come to learn who and what you were, and are, and may become. You leave the ivied and hallowed walls of the edifices of higher education, and your textbooks, and your professors, and your exams; you come here for the love and the laughter and the understanding. You abandon education, and come seeking wisdom.

Everyone has a place like this, a stop along the way on their life’s journey. Yours might be called Café Adagio, or Mama Rosa’s, or Ming’s Dim Sum – the name and the style and the ambience may be quite different – but if you start to tell me about that place it will not take me long to sigh, and smile, and murmur, “Ah, yes. I know the Spanish Gardens”.

It is a place out of time, a perfect location to marry with a moment that was gleefully proclaimed the end of days, the Mayan end of the world, and produce a novel that is all about choices.

I wrote a story about five people, old friends from college days, who were scattered to the four winds by betrayal, and estrangement, and, well, just life and living. But on this day, on the “last day of the world”, they get back together again for an evening of reunion. Many old bones are stirred and many skeletons rattle in their cupboards – and on the night this magical place offers up a piece of magic to all of these five people.

It gives them a glimpse of another life they might have lived had they, back in the time of their youth, made different choices, taken different life paths. At the end of that glimpse they have to choose – they can stay in that new life, and forget about the one that they had previously led, and it will be erased as though it had never been and all trace of it would vanish from their memory.

Or they can return to their old life.

Four of them choose to come back to the lives which they had been living, which had shaped them, which had made them into the people who they knew they were.

One does not.

It is a visceral thing, this choice. Everyone who has read and reviewed this book turned inward and asked, inevitably, “What would I have done?” You trace the forks in your own road and you wonder where you would have ended up if you had chosen a different direction at those crucial moments of decision which presented themselves.

But in the end most of us come back to the feeling that if we are at all happy with our lot then it is impossible to regret anything that led us to be where we are. And if we do have regrets… for us, there is no magic, not of the kind which I imbued my semi-mystical Spanish Gardens with. We have to live with our regrets. There is no going back to erase things, to do something else, something different. There are no do-overs. Our lives are our lives.

But still. That was a potent cocktail, that story. A place out of time, and a moment at the end of time (and maybe the beginning of a whole another universe). Married together, they made for a heady elixir. This was not an easy book to write, nor is it an easy book to read. This isn’t something you pick up and put down and then go back to later – it’s complex and full of unexpected aftertaste, much like those Irish Coffees for which Spanish Gardens was so justly famous.

This is a book of questions, and if I offered up answers for the characters who live within this story that doesn’t mean I offer up answers for the reader. You have to bring those along for yourselves. All I do is put the questions on the table, lay them out like a Tarot reading, and then sit back and watch you interpret the meanings for yourselves.

Would you have chosen a different life if you were given a chance? Would you have given up a lover, a career, would you have traded high achievement and unhappiness for a lesser but more content existence?

Nobody knows, except you.

Come with me. Come to Spanish Gardens. Take the first sip of that Irish Coffee story.

And choose.

Pick up your copy HERE

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Flash fiction photo of lightningThe State of Flash Fiction

 

At Electric Literature, David Galef & Len Kuntz break down the newest developments, achievements and emerging classics in the world of chiseled prose.

Read the whole article HERE

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A Flood of knowledge poster

https://www.facebook.com/writerscircle/photos/a.469562786290.301523.110046421290/10154697212786291/?type=3

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My real name is…

I am home from the hospital in time for Christmas and will be back to normal  activities, including blogging, soon. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
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Regarding pen names

All y’all know me as Alma Alexander. Easy. Alliterative. But it was not always so. My maiden name and first author byline was Alma Hromic.

But back in the day when “The Secrets of Jin-shei” was first published, I got a call from my agent with a deal-breaker issue. The publishers didn’t want to put the book out under my maiden name, because “it was too difficult to spell, say, or remember”.

Granted, that’s been an issue ever since I waded into the English-speaking world. The English language mind cannot seem to get itself around the fact that two consonants such as H and R can follow one another. They keep on helpfully introducing a vowel between the two when they write it down, even if I am SPELLING IT FOR THEM AT THE TIME.  Spellcheck tosses its cookies and offers up “chronic” or “chromic” as alternatives. Other people equally helpfully assume that the H in front must be silent when pronounced. It isn’t.

I’m not the only who has ever faced this, of course. At LitHub, Emily Temple gives us

An Incomplete Guide to Proper Literary Name-Dropping

starting with Vladimir Nabokov, J.M. Coetzee, and Ayn Rand (It’s pronounced “ine,” like “eye” with an “n” at the end.)

Read the whole article at LitHub HERE

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How to choose a book

If you are still searching hard for gifts, I’d like to remind you there is only one indispensable present for any occasion.

While there are hundreds of wonderful reads out there waiting to be discovered, I have a few suggestions involving… surprise… my own books. If you don’t know them, let me help you decide which ones might be of interest to you and your gift recipients.

If you  loved Harry Potter… try my Worldweavers series (Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, Cybermage, Dawn of Magic). It’s the story of a girl who couldn’t do magic, then grew up to be the greatest mage her world had ever known.

If you loved Jo Walton’s “My Other Children”, . try “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”

If you love Guy Gavriel Kay… try “The Secrets of Jin Shei”, “Embers of Heaven”, or my newest, “Empress”.

If you love Cassandra Clare or Suzanne Collins, try The Were Chronicles (Random, Wolf, Shifter)

if you Loved John Scalzi’s “Red Shirts”, try “AbductiCon” in which time-traveling androids kidnap a hotel full of Science fiction fans and take them for a loop around rge moon.

You can get further information and links to sales points on all of my books by going to “My Books” in the top menu under the header.

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Covering Lady Chatterley

I am recovering from surgery and my blog may not be as active as it usually is. I will get back to it as soon as possible.

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25 Covers from Bland to Sensuous

First published in 1928 in Italy, the D.H. Lawrence novel was put out the following year in France and Australia. An unexpurgated edition was not published openly in the United Kingdom until 1960. Over the years there has been numerous covers ranging from sensuous to deliberately staid, even boring.

Lady Chatterley cover 1Lady Chatterley cover2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See all the covers at flashbak.com HERE

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Why pen names?

All y’all know me as Alma Alexander. Easy. Alliterative. But it was not always so. My maiden name and first author byline was Alma Hromic.

But back in the day when “The Secrets of Jin-shei” was first published, I got a call from my agent with a deal-breaker issue. The publishers didn’t want to put the book out under my maiden name, because “it was too difficult to spell, say, or remember”.

Granted, that’s been an issue ever since I waded into the English-speaking world. The English language mind cannot seem to get itself around the fact that two consonants such as H and R can follow one another. They keep on helpfully introducing a vowel between the two when they write it down, even if I am SPELLING IT FOR THEM AT THE TIME.  Spellcheck tosses its cookies and offers up “chronic” or “chromic” as alternatives. Other people equally helpfully assume that the H in front must be silent when pronounced. It isn’t.

I feel for those poor Polish people who have lots and lots of what the English consider wildly inappropriate S’s Z’z and Y’s in the mix. They must all feel like they’re living their lives in an endless spelling nightmare, walking the English streets….

I’m not the only who has ever faced this, of course. At LitHub, Emily Temple gives us

An Incomplete Guide to Proper Literary Name-Dropping

starting with Vladimir Nabokov, J.M. Coetzee, and Ayn Rand (It’s pronounced “ine,” like “eye” with an “n” at the end.)

Read the whole article at LitHub HERE

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My books are like…

Christmas and the end of the year are approaching and you are beginning to think about finding gifts for mom and dad and the kids, as well as Aunt Sarah, your best friend and maybe a work mate or two.

Personally, I think there is only one indispensable gift for any occasion — a book, naturally.

While there are hundreds of wonderful reads out there waiting to be discovered, I have a few suggestions involving… surprise… my own books. If you don’t know them, let me help you decide which ones might be of interest to you and your gift recipients.

If you  loved Harry Potter… try my Worldweavers series (Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, Cybermage, Dawn of Magic). It’s the story of a girl who couldn’t do magic, then grew up to be the greatest mage her world had ever known.

If you loved Jo Walton’s “My Other Children”, .try “Midnight at Spanish Gardens” in which five friends are offered the chance of a new life.

If you love Guy Gavriel Kay… try “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, “Embers of Heaven”, or my newest, “Empress”.

If you love Cassandra Clare or Suzanne Collins, try The Were Chronicles (Random, Wolf, Shifter)

if you loved John Scalzi’s “Red Shirts”, try “AbductiCon” in which time-traveling androids kidnap a hotel full of science fiction fans and take them for a loop around the moon.

You can get further information and links to places to buy all of my books by going to My Books in the Top Menu under the Header.

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5 things to do …

Another year is almost over, and it’s time to begin reflecting – amongst other things – on the act of writing, and those who perform it.

Here’s something true: before you can write about life, at least adequately, you have to have lived it. In some way, shape or form. And I don’t mean vicariously on Facebook, or even online at all.

Here are five things to do with your life before you’re ready to be a writer. There are  more than five things, of course. But these are pretty broad.  Feel free to add in your own subcategories, or nuances.

1) DO SOMETHING DANGEROUS.

Know what an adrenaline surge REALLY feels like. You cannot possibly write about one without that visceral knowledge. And “dangerous” is huge – you can fit in a lot of things under that umbrella – do something that your mother might have warned you about, or something that society considers “unsafe”, or something simply exhilarating.

Here are a few of mine.

*Three of my (young, female) friends and I once climbed down from Table Mountain in Cape Town, on foot, in the dark, sliding down scree slopes and falling into the switchback roads, until we finally ended up hitch-hiking a ride the rest of the way down in a solitary car coming down from the topside parking lot, with a single male occupant inside. He was nice. We were taken down the mountainside and deposited at its foot without any incident at all. I was in my twenties; this was half my life ago. The adrenaline rush remains to this day.

*I jumped off a mountain. In a parachute. With an instructor, to be sure, in tandem, but still – I parasailed off a mountainside. I have pictures to prove it. When my father saw them – unexpectedly, before I did, long story – his response was, “If you survived that, when you get home, I’m going to kill you.” Yeah. Adrenaline.

*I swam off the edge of a coral reef. The adrenaline of THAT makes my teeth ache right now while I am thinking about it. The experience can still make my heart race.

*I gave my heart completely. And had it broken. And it HURT. And I’m the better off for having dared to do it.

2) TRAVEL.

You will gain only a very limited understanding of humanity if you seek it only with people who live in the small town where you were born, and you’re too afraid to venture beyond the edges into the great wide world beyond. Learn at least the basics of another language in which you can communicate with people who are NOT LIKE YOU. The world will open up like an unexpected dream. It’s nice if your destination is far flung and exotic, but it doesn’t have to be. Take a road trip. A train ride. If you have to start small, begin by going an hour, two, four, six, outside your comfort zone. Then ,if you feel ready, tackle the world.

Some of the places I’ve been:

* Fiji and Tahiti (learned a few phrases of the Micronesian/Polynesian vernacular, learned to snorkel, swam with dolphins, saw an octopus and a coconut crab in the wild, made friends with local people and learned their dreams. And I will never forget the colors of the coral lagoons, nor the black depths of ocean that lie beyond them. The colors of the world.)

* Vienna (walked the polished wooden floors of Imperial palaces and the cobbles of its streets, listened to waltzes, drank young wine in the wine shops of Grinzig, tasted Sacher Torte in the Sacher Hotel where it was born.)

* Kruger National Park, South Africa, and Etosha National Park, Namibia (saw lions and leopards in the wild, saw an elephant pace slowly and majestically away into the purple African twilight, breathed in the dust and the heat while watching herds of impala and zebra and wildebeest. Learned that rhinos are the firemen of the African savannah, and run TO a fire instead of away from it, and stomp it out with those hard-soled stumpy little feet of theirs if they can – which means that they can be damned dangerous to campsites when they blunder into the midst of fragile human campers.

* Japan (the first and only place on this earth where I was ever totally functionally illiterate – but I managed. Learned about the Shinto and the Buddhist faiths, and what each means to the Japanese people. Saw many beautiful temples. Saw many beautiful gardens. Been aware that I walked the ground where an ancient and vivid civilization had thrived for CENTURIES, and felt breathless with that knowledge, particularly when gazing, in a museum, at a samurai sword from something like 1452 – still bright and shining steel and still probably capable of cutting a hair in half as it floated down upon its edge.)

You get the idea. The world is a wide and wonderful place, and it is FULL of gifts.

3) FEEL REAL GRIEF.

You cannot know what it’s like to lose a living thing that you love until you do that – until you lose the cat you’ve had by your side for the last fifteen or twenty years of your life from a simple and inevitable advent of old age, or watch a beloved pet waste away before its time from something you cannot do anything about and make the decision on their behalf that they have suffered enough, or sit by the bedside of a grandparent who is slipping away and holding the soft wrinkled hands in your own knowing that they may not feel your doing so but that somehow, somehow, they know that you are there.

Real grief is raw and bitter, and tastes of tears. Before you write of it, you have to have had it tear your own heart apart. Because everything else will feel inadequate to those readers of your future work who HAVE known such grief, and will know if you speak the truth.

4) FEEL REAL ANGER.

Something should make you feel your way down to your core, until you find that cold hard ember that is at the heart of you, not the swift mundane attacks of being cross about someone cutting you off in traffic or being rude to you on a subway. Something should reach all the way down to that primeval thing, the cold fury, the anger that does not leave you blinded with temporary passion but leaves you clear headed and clear eyed and knowing that ALL OF YOU hates this thing that you are seeing, hates with every fiber. True fury needs few words,  but if you want to write about it, you have to know what it FEELS LIKE. What it feels like to be REALLY that angry.

So look for something. Cruelty to animals. Cruelty to children. Pointless war. Something precious being willfully wasted. Ignorance and bigotry. Hypocrisy. Something, anything, something that you consider to be IMPORTANT ENOUGH to tap that cold fury in support of. Know it, understand it. Only then can you own it.

5) FAIL.

Because you will. it is inevitable. Do what you need to do anyway, knowing that it may meet this fate. Because fear of failure is otherwise going to put the brakes on too many things that you need to do or want or know in your life before you can understand any other human being alive deeply enough to write their story. You HAVE to know what it means to fail.

The lives of the very rich and the very happy seldom make for good story fodder – because these people can be seen as insulated from failure. Everything is handed to them, and if failure becomes a looming option then a scapegoat is found to take the weight of it leaving the one who truly failed unscathed by it all. The most interesting stories come from people who have failed HARD, and then learned from that failure, and risen up like proverbial phoenixes to touch fire again. Don’t be afraid to fail. Just be afraid of not trying.

Any questions…?

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If you liked that book, you would surely like my…

Christmas and the end of the year are approaching and you are beginning to think about finding gifts for mom and dad and the kids, as well as Aunt Sarah, your best friend and maybe a work mate or two.

Personally, I think there is only one indispensable gift for any occasion — a book, naturally.

Wolf boy cartoonWhile there are hundreds of wonderful reads out there waiting to be discovered, I have a few suggestions involving… surprise… my own books. If you don’t know them, let me help you decide which ones might be of interest to you and your gift recipients.

If you  loved Harry Potter... try my Worldweavers series (Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, Cybermage, Dawn of Magic). It’s the story of a girl who couldn’t do magic, then grew up to be the greatest mage her world had ever known.

If you loved Jo Walton‘s “My Other Children”, . try “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”

If you love Guy Gavriel Kay… try “Secrets of Jin Shei”, “Embers of Heaven”, or my newest, “Empress”.

If you love Cassandra Clare or Suzanne Collins, try The Were Chronicles (Random, WOlf, Shifter)

if you Loved John Scalzi‘s “Red Shirts”, try “AbductiCon” in which time-traveling androids kidnap a hotel full of Science fiction fans and take them for a loop around the moon.

You can get further information and links to sales points for all my books by going to “My Books” in the top menu under the header.

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Whence AbductiCon?

Every book has a story – of its origins, of the secrets and the inspiration which led to its existence, the surprises that leaped out at the writer during the process of creation, the dead end alleys, the astonishing moments of transcendence, the feelings that linger when the writer types “The End.”  These essays about my books originally appeared at the Book View Café Blog.

From Alma’s Bookshelf

AbductiCon: When time-traveling androids take a hotel full of SF fans for a trip around the moon

When people ask writers “Where do you get your ideas?”, they might get a growl, or an answer for some value of “EVERYWHERE!”, or some snarky comment about backyard idea trees. Or sometimes they get a bewildered look and disavowal of having any inkling whatsoever as to the provenance of a story that swam into the writer’s mind and demanded to be told.

Abducticon coverI am not entirely sure where ‘AbductiCon’ came from.

It’s like nothing I have ever done before. It is science fiction, not fantasy, although as  I frequently point out most SF is fantasy: (Beam me up? Really?).

It is contemporary, its characters are people you will probably recognize. It is funny. It is metaphysical. It touches on the lore of my tribe and our favorite pastime, the SF Convention. At its heart, it’s a love letter to the con culture and the tropes of the world of SF&F. I actually deliberately named a character something in order to have ONE PARTICULAR LINE appear in the book (and you’ll know it when you see it. Trust me.)

It is one of the most polarizing books I have ever written. People don’t have meh feelings for this thing. They love it and laugh and hug it to themselves in recognition, or they berate me for having wasted my time on it and call it frivolous, shallow, silly, not worth the time spent ticking off the tropes that appear in its pages on the AbductiCon bingo card.

In what is known in the industry as an elevator pitch, a summary of the book in one or two pithy sentences, this one comes in as possibly — “It’s like the cult movies ‘Paul’ and ‘Galaxy Quest’ had a love child”.

The basic plot: What we have is a classic comedy of errors which happens with any convention, anywhere. It is thrown into a higher gear when a bunch of time traveling androids kidnap the entire con – HOTEL AND ALL – and take it for a swing around the moon while they finish figuring out their own origins

It is a book for people who love science fiction. It is a book for people like me, for people I love, for all the friends and colleagues I have met over the years – it is a thank you to that world for being all that it has been for me in its time, for giving me strength, and courage, and fellowship, and laughter – yes, even while I was writing this, the book was giving me warmth and support and permission to laugh while I sometimes escaped into it, writing it as I did during a wretched period of my father’s last illness.

This book is both for new or casual con goers, and for those who actually know what FIAWOL means.

Get your copy Here

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Featured art: Fritz Scholder, “Indians with Umbrellas.”

With thousands of veterans on the way to Standing Rock to help defend Dakota Pipeline protesters against militarized police, Obama under increasing pressure to take a stand, and the timid corporate media beginning to admit there may be a story to cover, things are likely to get even more complicated and ugly.

This might be a good time to look at…

10 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Read

For example:
Last Standing Woman cover

 

Winona LaDuke, Last Standing Woman

This novel spans decades and generations of people living on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, telling stories of struggle, strength and resistance that culminate in an uprising for independence.
See all the books at Lithub HERE

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Why not?

Today’s Quote

Holiday Foe Books poster

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What is Slava?

Where I come from, under the wing of the Orthodox Christian church, birthdays have long been secondary in importance to one’s “Imendan” (name-day) which is celebrated on the day that belongs to the saint after whom one is named.

It is in some ways akin to the naming rules of some religious more Western countries where it’s the Catholic faith that holds sway and whatever the actual name given to a baby might be, there has to be an honest-to-goodness saint’s name embedded in there somewhere. In Serbia, where I was born, the “Imendan” was the important personal celebration.

A Slava Dish photoBut more than that, there is another custom which hinges on a saint’s identity and which is I believe unique to the Serbian Orthodox faith. This is something that we know as “Slava”.

The word literally means “Celebration”  or “Thanksgiving”. It is not an individual but rather a family celebration, and it is kept on the feast day of the patron saint of the entire family. Continue reading

How can I write…?

I and 33 other authors offer advice.

I wasn’t consulted, but my best advice?

Nothing is EVER finished – but you have to know when to let go. It won’t be perfect. Not EVER. Live with it. Get your story as good as you can and then let it step out into the world to seek its fortune. Hope it sends you a postcard to show you how it’s doing.”

That’s it. But it took me a score of books and a few million words to really recognize the truth of it. And between you and me, I sometimes have a hard time practicing what I preach.

I particularly like this advice:

33. “Ignore all lists of writing tips. Including this one…every time you hear a writing tip, you have to decide whether it means something to you, resonates with you, or (it’s) the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. It’s your book, you need to learn to write it your way. Now please ignore this advice. – Marcus Sedgwick, author of The Ghosts of Heaven and others

And this:
As Bad as it gets posterimages.unsplash.com

07. First drafts are always horrible and ugly. Don’t worry about that – it’s the same for everyone…if you keep redrafting, one day you will look at your horrible book and realise that you’ve turned it into something actually quite beautiful. – Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series

See all the advice at Buzzfeed HERE

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The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like faces

Rock faces 1Rocks have faces? Rocks have souls?

This is FABULOUS. this is a cabinet of stories waiting to happen. It gives me a happy and slightly insane urge to go out and start turning rocks over and asking them to talk to me.

Speaker to Rocks. There are worse things to aspire to be…

The museum is called the Chinsekikan (which means hall of curious rocks) and it houses over 1700 rocks that resemble human faces. It’s in Chichibu, two hours northwest of Tokyo and may be the only one of its kind.
Rock face 2 photoThe story in Colossal suggests this looks like Elvis Presley. I think it looks rather like our lamentable president-elect.

Read the whole story at the Colossal website HERE

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26 Very Long Books Worth the Time They’ll Take to Read

My choice in this list of books selected by Boris Kachka in Vulture might be obvious if you know my background. I was born in Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists. Clifton Fadiman of the New Yorker called it “one of the great books of our time“. I certainly agree.

I find the comments on the back cover of my own copy that was given to me shortly after the US and NATO’s war on my homeland to be very perceptive:

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon coverBlack Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia,  Rebecca West (1941, 1,181 pages)

Written on the brink of World War II, West’s classic examination of the history, people, and politics of Yugoslavia illuminates a region that is once again the center of international concern. A magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, it goes into the troubled history of the Balkans and the uneasy relationships among its ethnic groups. The landscape and people Yugoslavia are brilliantly observed as Rebecca West and untangles the tensions that rule the country’s history as well as its daily life.

See all the other books at the Vulture website HERE

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Quote of the Day

The best novels are those that are important without being like medicine; they have something to say, are expansive and intelligent but never forget to be entertaining and to have character and emotion at their centre.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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