The Death of Beth

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

Of course, I always came out as Jo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole essay about Beth at the LARB website HERE

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10 Terms cartoonAt Signature, Nathan Gelgud offers us

10 Annoying Literary Terms

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

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

A delightful essay you can read at the Signature website HERE

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In the New York Times, Annie Correal writes about

The Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Pokémon Game Takes Bookstores By Storm

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

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

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

Read the whole story at Publisher Weekly’s website HERE

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Quote of the Day
Small Talk Poster

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

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Read or listen?

Thinking about audiobooks

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

But words…? Words, I prefer to see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole essay at his blog HERE

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In The Guardian, Rafia Zakaria suggests that:

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

Her article begins:

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

Read the whole article at The Guardian website HERE

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The Most Feared Books of All Time

Most Feared Books illustrationSee the whole list HERE

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22 Magical Cakes All Book Lovers Will AppreciateMoby Dick cake photo

 

 

I LOVE the Moby Dick cake.

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

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

See the Shakespeare and all the other cakes HERE

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Quote of the Day

Mark Twain on Newspapers poster

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

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Are Writers Sexy?

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

11 reasons to date a writer

One example:

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

See all the reasons at the Bustle website HERE

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

128 words writers can use instead of ‘very’

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

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

8 literary gardens to escape to this summer

For example:

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

See all the gardens at Off the Shelf HERE

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At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf reports on

The Danger of Being Neighborly Without a Permit

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

Read the whole story at The Atlantic website HERE

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A border runs through it

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

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

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

Read more at the Atlas Obscura website HERE

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Quote of the Day

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

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The LEY of the land

I first crossed paths with Joshua Palmatier, who would also go on to write under the name Benjamin Tate, at a con – where else does one make friends who are also writers like oneself, after all?  In the years that have passed since that first meeting, he’s written a number of fabulous books – and he also graciously consented to be part of a project that was very dear to my own heart, the anthology, “River”, which I edited and to which he contributed a story rooted in one of his own fantastical worlds.

He has a new book out. Let him tell you a bit about that, and about himself.

(Bowing out with a gesture introducing my guest blogger for the day, Joshua Palmatier)


The LEY Series

First of all, thanks, Alma, for sharing your blog with me today! I really appreciate it.

Alma asked me to talk about the inspiration, reasoning, and process of writing the LEY series, so blame her.  *grin*

Well the inspiration is easy. I was reading fantasy rather heavily back in the *coughcough* 80s and back then nearly every fantasy novel had ley lines in them. They were mentioned, but never used, basically just part of the background of the world. Maybe someone used a stone monument like Stonehenge or something like that, with ley lines connected to it, but the lines themselves … not much. It was such a cliché that I vowed … VOWED … I would never use ley lines in any of MY books.

Ha ha!  Fast forward 20 years. After long thought, I realized that what bothered me about the mentions of the ley in all of those books back in the 80s was that the authors never really USED the ley.  It was there, but it wasn’t significant, really.

So I started asking myself, how could the ley be used more effectively in a book?  Instead of it being just background, what if it was the focus? What if the people in the fantasy world started to actively use it in their daily lives, tapping into it for things like light and heat and all of the things that we use electricity for? How would this change the society?

And then this idea combined with a few others, most notably the idea that fantasy doesn’t have to be set in a medieval setting. So, if we tapped into the ley, what kind of city could be built with it? And thus the city of Erenthrall was born, where everything is powered by the ley (for those that can afford it) and the ley is, of course, controlled by the Baron, his Wielders, and his Dogs. Because of course it can’t be a utopia.

After that, it just came down to sitting down and writing.  I’m a very organic writer, meaning I don’t plot things out much ahead of time.  I just write and see where everything takes me. For the first book in the ley series, SHATTERING THE LEY, it took me in the direction of how we abuse our natural resources and what the consequences of that might be. In the new book, THREADING THE NEEDLE, my characters are dealing with some of those rather nasty consequences.

That’s generally the process for how all of the ideas for my books are generated.  I have something I think is cool (the ley) and it melds with some other idea (a fantasy with cities like New York) and then the book happens. There’s usually a third idea in there somewhere as well, but if I told you what it was for the LEY series, it would be spoilery. So you’ll just have to check the books out for yourself!  *grin*

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Threading the Needle CoverThreading the Needle

The Nexus—the hub created by the Prime Wielders to harness the magical power of the ley lines for the city of Erenthrall, the Baronial Plains, and the world beyond—has Shattered, the resultant pulse cascading through the system and leaving Erenthrall decimated, partially encased in a massive distortion.
The world has fared no better: auroral storms plague the land, transforming people into creatures beyond nightmare; silver-white lights hover over all of the major cities, the harbinger of distortions that could quicken at any moment; and quakes brought on by the unstable ley network threaten to tear the earth apart. The survivors of this apocalypse have banded together in desperate groups, both in the remains of Erenthall and without, scrounging for food and resources in an ever more dangerous world.

Having survived the initial Shattering, Wielder Kara Tremain and ex-Dog Allan Garrett have led their small group of refugees to the Hollow, a safe haven in the hills on the edge of the plains.  But the ley system is not healing itself. Their only option is to repair the distortion that engulfs Erenthrall and to fix the damaged ley lines themselves. To do that, they’ll have to enter a city controlled by vicious bands of humans and non-humans alike, intent on keeping what little they’ve managed to scavenge together.

But as soon as they enter the streets of Erenthrall, they find themselves caught up in the maelstrom of violence, deception, and betrayal that the city has descended into—including the emergence of a mysterious and powerful cult calling themselves the White Cloaks, whose leader is called Father . . .The same man who once led the terrorist group called the Kormanley and brought about the Shattering that destroyed the world.

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Author Bio:

Joshua Palmatier photoJoshua Palmatier is an epic fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics. He has had eight novels published by DAW Books, including “The Throne of Amenkor” trilogy, Shattering the Ley, and Threading the Needle. He is currently hard at work on the third novel in the “Ley” series, Reaping the Aurora. In addition, he’s published numerous short stories in various anthologies and has edited four SF&F themed anthologies with co-editor Patricia Bray. He is also the founder of the small press Zombies Need Brains LLC.  Find out more about him at www.joshuapalmatier.com or on Facebook or Twitter (@bentateauthor).

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Additional Information:

Webpage:  www.joshuapalmatier.com

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/joshua.b.palmatier

Twitter:  @bentateauthor

ZNB Webpage:  www.zombiesneedbrains.com

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Quote of the Day

'Nuf said photo of stone engraving‘Nuf said.

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Moving Potterverse

Once upon a time there was a literary phenomenon named Harry Potter.

The twenty first century YA and children’s literature has been dominated by this story like no other, with its midnight launch parties at bookstores across multiple nations, massively popular movies, and characters that became as iconic as the Potter crew… or the much-vaunted School of Magic itself, Hogwarts The Magnificent. (Well, all right, the honorific wasn’t in there. But it’s the unheard suffix to that name. You know it. The world believes it.)

The author of this grand literary endeavor, JK Rowlings, has been transformed into one of the world’s richest and most recognizable women. She could live in luxury on the Potter millions without writing another line for the rest of her life. But that’s not what writers do.

After the Potter books were done, she tried writing a couple of books in an entirely different and unrelated genre. They did… fair to middling. And in the end, she went back to to her magnificent Potterverse. Minor controversies dogged this endeavour – like the casting of a grown-up Hermione in the new Potter installment as black.

But then Rowlings tried to go global…and far bigger problems emerged.

Harry Potter coverLet’s just reiterate one thing about the original Harry Potter books – the canon, the history of HP himself, Hogwarts, all of that. What it all is, really, is the iconic British Boarding School Story with a layer of magic thrown over it like a cloak, set into a wildly inventive world.

You would have had to be heart-dead, if you love fantasy at all, not to respond to wonderful things like owls carrying mail, Diagon Alley, and that wonderful castle. (I went to boarding school in a castle, too, BTW, but it wasn’t anything like Hogwarts with the FEASTS they had for every mealtime.)

This is where Rowlings’ gift was – invention. She invented stuff, scattering these wonderful shiny ideas across the basic backbone of the story in double handfuls of fairy glitter until the thing fairly LOOKED like a unicorn – and people loved it. A couple of generations of kids have grown up with these things.

But the strength of these stories is this: they are bone-deep BRITISH. It’s English mythology, with a couple of generic things thrown in from somewhere else. It is something that Rowlings knew from within, being a part of it herself, and dammit, it showed, because you could take any part of that narrative and pull it out and it would be nicely and solidly BRITISH.

The appeal was double-pronged – for the home-crowd readers it was the beauty of familiarity and the ability to simply relax into a familiar story, comfortable in the knowledge that no matter what the story-inventions actually came up with in terms of the glittering ideas the basic narrative was a non-threatening one which would prop up and support an already existing worldview.

For the away team, the Across-The-Pond American readers, one attraction was the sense of delicious foreignness to it all, a layer of extra magic over the original story – first magical and Hogwartsy, then oh so British and weird. And so the scene was set and the foundation was laid and Harry Potter rode forth to conquer the world.
But the cozy British Boarding School narrative doesn’t work as well when planted in foreign soil.

To do this properly, it would require half a lifetime of research and dedication. You would practically have to get a PhD in comparative mythology and enchantment, or perhaps several, one from each different sphere of study – and there are so many spheres.  Unfortunately, Rowlings seems to have rushed her fences and assumed that the old trick would work – picking up that fairy dust and sprinkling it over a different base this time, and expecting the same magic to happen.

But the result was quite the opposite.

I won’t rehash it all here. Rowlings’ original stories about “Magic in North America” and the backlash to them from various indigenous groups and individuals are all over the net, and some of those people have already done a perfectly good job in reacting to Rowlings’ attempt to Potterize America. I will just make a few salient points.

1)    The most basic error here was the crass generalization – the “Native American community”, indeed. The reason for the generalization appears to be simply that it was easier to cherry-pick bits from this tribal culture and bits from that one, and just transmogrify it all into a great generic “Native American” cloth which covered an entire continent’s worth of stories. But there is no “Native American community” in this sense, any more that there would be a “European community” under which umbrella you would be writing about a mishmash of Celtic and Norse and Greek and Roman and Slavic gods and spirits, as if just calling them all “European” they would somehow coalesce into a magically coherent backdrop to an entirely unrelated story you wanted to tell.

2)    Rowlings was using Native American props to set her stage – but that was what they were, props. Look behind the (arguably magnificent) painted scenery and – oh, look – we’re back in an Anglocentric universe. All this “Native American” stuff is not treated as vivid, and living, and real, and ITSELF.

It was simply used as a new backdrop to Rowlings’ tried-and-true basic story, but that was ALL that it was good for. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of depth or research or respect for the material she was making this patchwork quilt out of. This is not what a writer does when creating a story. You can’t just mug other people’s worlds, stuff them willy-nilly into a gunny sack and take them home where you cut them up and piece them together in some fashion convenient to you — clandestinely, in the basement, by candlelight, and hope that nobody notices the stitching.

3)    The North American School of Magic. As and of itself – I mean, good grief, anyone would think that Rowlings invented the whole school of magic idea whole-cloth. Newsflash, she didn’t – lots of such schools exist in the literature, and have done long before Hogwarts ever fluttered into its pennanted and turreted existence. Her New World school story appeared to be  an extension of the Hogwarts idea, but there were…problems. They begin to multiply when the details are examined.

One, this particular school is called “Ilvermorny”, and it was started in America… by an Irish girl. It’s divided into Houses, much like the iconic Hogwarts is, but the Houses here… in a school founded by an Irish lass… are creatures from the Native American iconography. Creatures like the Horned Serpent, Thunderbid, the Pukwudgie, the Wampus. For Houses founded by Anglo folk. With English names.

Rowlings’ own account of the formation of this school, comes a rather telling sentence: “Faithful to the taboos of his people, the Pukwudgie refused to tell [Isolt, the school’s Irish lass founder] his individual name, so she dubbed him ‘William’ after her father.”

How many ways does this wave red flags? The magical Irish lassie finds an indigenous creature in the New World. The creature *does not trust her enough to tell her its true name*. So she just calls it William. As you do, when you’re the colonial power wading into the “lesser” and the “native”. You don’t know their true names or natures, so you just give them a name you understand and can handle and treat them exactly as though you would treat any other creature by such a name with whom you might be familiar, taking little account of all the background which you’ve just swept under the carpet.

So a School of Magic founded in a New World teeming with its own magic and mythology… sets itself up in a wonderful old-fashioned British Boarding School narrative… fits itself up with Houses (and because we’re Over Here now we’ll just play games and name the characters after local creatures we really have no deeper understanding of).

But then, a burning question.

4)    What does this school teach? And to whom? Because if it simply imports nice white colonial children to be taught the magic brought all the way from the Old World and therefore superior to anything in the new world, then it is problematic on a certain level of demanding a question as to just why it exists in the first place. Young (white) wizards and witches intent on learning traditional magic… could have been shipped “home” to learn it at the source. And if the student body were to be widened to include the native-born, things really start getting sticky.

If the magic being taught is the white colonial kind, then this is a rather prettily dressed up version of the horrors of the indoctrination schools where American Indian children of many tribes were forcibly taken to be “civilized”, forced to cut their hair and not to use their own language and follow their own culture, until they could be extruded on the other end of this “education” as properly improved. Or at least “improved” enough to POSSIBLY be considered as worthy of being included in the white man’s society (and even then treated as fourth-class citizens, demeaned and denigrated and discriminated against). All their own culture and language and legends and, yes, magic, shriveled and died underneath the heavy hand of those who came to “improve” the “native lot”.

This school is White Man’s Burden writ large. No amount of pretty window dressing will make it other. There isn’t enough fairy dust in the world to hide the ugliness of this. The indigenous magic had already existed in this place long before a magic white girl named Isolt thought to build a clone of Hogwarts here. The practitioners of such magic did not need this “school” – they would have been trained, in their own way and in their own magic, by their own elders and adepts.

This is an egregious way to try and paper the tried-and-true lucrative formula that drove the Potter phenomenon over an underlying structure which has no relationship to that formula, in the hope that the Potterverse juggernaut will just keep on sailing right along.

Well, she’s been called on these points, and more besides. The resounding silence from an author who’s been known to interact with her readers on social media and elsewhere on the Internet is something of a clue that Rowlings probably realizes what a mess this all is, and is trying to figure out which way to jump from here.

Personally, I see the whole mess as having been eminently avoidable. If only the author had been able to take that sideways step, to set aside the livery of Eurocentric and Anglocentric fairytale, if she had been willing to put in the time, to talk to people she needed to talk to. It would probably be best if she were willing to take responsibility for it all now, and by that I don’t mean a defensive retro-explanation of the whole thing, trying to make it all seem copacetic in the rear view mirror. I mean take a stand and come out from behind the silence and say “I messed up but let’s see where we can go from here”.

Rowlings has found out, the hard way, that you cannot simply endlessly recycle one good idea – and most emphatically you cannot simply clothe that idea into an “exotic” overcoat and call it a new idea. There are people out there – there are always people out there – who will discern the shape beneath the cloak, and who will know the cloak as an attempt to pull a fast one. This particular effort is akin to dragging out a pantomime horse (you know, the kind made up of two people, one of whom is the horse’s ass) onto a beautifully set stage, sticking a cardboard horn on its forehead, and insisting that the audience accept it as a real Unicorn.

If you don’t have the Unicorn of a true idea… your best bet is bring on something else entirely. A budgie. A squirrel. A Capuchin monkey. A salamander. Even (if you insist on staying with a four-footed equine of some description) a zebra. Something new. Dressing up an old idea in new clothes and then laying a cloak of silence over it all… is simply not going to work.

Not even for the woman who invented Harry Potter.

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Quote of the Day

Adamtroy Castro Quote poster

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Day of the Writer

I have coffee, then get up. (Coffee in bed was part of the marriage proposal.) Nothing is done without coffee. Concentrate. it’s the COFFEE.

Hubby always gets breakfast. (yes. I know. I am beyond lucky). So I play on the computer for a half hour while he cooks. First round of email checking, deleting things I know I won’t read or get to, or consider unimportant, leaving things I need to consider.

Leave the computer, have breakfast. Pour another cup of coffee.

Alma Coffee photoGo to my computer. Load Facebook. I need to know what is going on, especially on morning-after-the-night-befores like a Brexit vote, for instance. As it always happens with social media, one thing leads to another. I respond to stuff that interests me. Then people respond to me, needing a response in turn. I glance at the clock on the wall. The minutes are ticking by.

Deal with the rest of the email from yesterday/last night. Check mail. Get a fresh batch in. Deal with those.

I need another cup of coffee.

Look over research notes. there is something I need to know. Google that. Get distracted by side-research. Finally get it under control. Go back to notes.

Then I write a few words, or a few hundred words.

Need another cup of coffee. Glance into FB. Some things need replying to.

At some point, my husband fixes our second daily meal, usually at 6 p.m.

Watch a bit of TV.

Following that, depending on how much TV and what it was we watched, it’s back to the computer and catch up on the news of the day, perhaps write some more but perhaps run out of time.

Around midnight most days, bed.

There’s a fresh batch of emails brewing for me for next morning. And so it goes.

My routine sounds like a classic case of endless procrastination, doesn’t it.

But then one day…

A story grabs me by the throat and wants told nownownow.

Suddenly everything else disappears and I tunnel-vision into writenowwritenowwritenow. I HAVE to write!

Those are the days when THOUSANDS of words happen. I once wrote a 100,000 novel, my most successful, in a little over two months.

But you know what? Those days are only possible because *I already know what to write*. And THAT happened on all those days I was not furiously putting words on screen, but rather thinking about them while I Facebooked and browsed and skimmed email – and drank coffee.

There IS no procrastination. It’s simply the way I write.

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I just wrote an essay about loss for Book View Cafe. As is almost always the case, the essay was related to one of my novels, ‘Letters from the Fire’, that was also written during one of my writenowwritenowwritenow moments.

Letters was a much smaller book and was written with a co-author. But from conception to bookstore took less than six months, practically an instant book which was based on current events.

Loss and longing

I tell people that I was born in a country that no longer exists – and it doesn’t, not on the maps, not in atlases, not on globes. It has vanished into history, now.

Novi Sad Bridges photoBut the land that the “country” maps onto, that exists, will always exist. That little piece of earth is where I first opened my eyes to the world, first knew the love of family, first saw the sky and the stars, first told stories, first watched the grand old river flow past ancient shores and underneath iconic bridges… ah, but remember those bridges. They will become important in a moment.

This was the piece of land which held my ancestral spirit and it is the piece of land where my ancestors’ bones are buried.

I did not even know how much that mattered until that piece of land became the target for an unprovoked, undeserved attack, a war waged on the strength of spin and propaganda, something ginned up to achieve a political goal by the greater powers no matter how much was lost by somebody else whose welfare they didn’t care all that much about.

I had left the country once known as Yugoslavia when I was ten years old – and it was still that, then. It was later, during a bloody series of wars of secession, that it disintegrated, and what was left of that country-of-origin was a place called Serbia. And a town called Novi Sad.

Read more at The Book View Cafe HERE

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The disappearing women

At LitHub, author Dorthe Nors writes about the conundrum that so many middle-age women face.

I write books about middle-aged, childless women on the brink of disappearing—or you could say—on the brink of losing their license to live. If a woman has kids, she will always be a mother, but a woman who has chosen not to procreate and who now no longer is young and sexy is perceived by many as a pointless being.”

Later on in her article, Nors says that a journalist told once told her that she was glad that she writes about middle-aged women without children because “there are so many of us, and because it quite often feels as if we’re not really here.”
Middle Aged Women, movie framePhoto: A still from “Another Year”, dir. Mike Leigh (2010).

Read the whole article at LitHub HERE

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Road Tripping While Female

Also at LitKub, Bernadette Murphy writes about the absence of women in the literature of American adventure;

“In American letters, there are plenty of male adventure tales unspooling on our nation’s highways and byways…(but) the story of a woman on the road—joyfully, expansively, freely, experiencing this land in the way these male authors do—it turns out, is a rare thing.

There are exceptions, she says. For example:

Wild CoverWild, Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, lauded by Oprah and made into a feature film starring Reese Witherspoon, tells of the author’s life-enhancing and resolve-testing solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to reclaim the woman she had been.

Read more at LitHub HERE

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Women may be mostly absent on the road, but when it comes to other books, Terrence Rafferty writes at The Atlantic,

Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels

They don’t seem to believe in heroes as much as their male counterparts, which in some ways makes their storytelling a better fit for the times, Rafferty writes in his article, adding:

“When in doubt,” Raymond Chandler once told his genre brethren, “have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” When today’s crime writers are in doubt, they have a woman come through the door with a passive-aggressive zinger on her lips…their books are light on gunplay, heavy on emotional violence.

Darkest Secret cover photoDeath, in (some) women’s books, is often chillingly casual, and unnervingly intimate.

As a character in Alex Marwood’s brilliant new novel, The Darkest Secret, muses: “They’re not always creeping around with knives in dark alleyways. Most of them kill you from the inside out.

Read more at The Atlantic HERE

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Quote of the Day
OneTrue Sentence illustration

Ah, if only it really were that easy.

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When I was young and innocent

Queen Guenevere illustrationBack when I was nineteen years old and steeped up to my innocent ingenue ears in The Matter of Britain, I wrote a novel about Queen Guenevere.

A publisher who was considering it sent it to South Africa’s pre-eminent novelist for comment. He started his report thusly:

“This is an impressive piece of writing, especially if it is taken into account that it was written by a 19-year-old. I have no doubt that this young woman will be a major writer one day.”

But…’

You heard the but coming, didn’t you?…

Read the whole story at the Book View Cafe HERE

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Passing over the Rainbow Bridge

Just found out today that a friend I knew as Cat but had never met in real life has died.

For over twenty years, Vickie Barcomb was and always will remain this wonderful, wise, larger-than-life Internet friend whom I loved. For a reason. Usually the first question asked over one of our phone calls was “How many cats do you have now?” And it was always answered by a laconic, “Oh, I’m down to about 40.”

Forty cats and kittens rescued and fostered under the umbrella of her organization, Kittens, Inc. – some of them very young, some of them severely special-needs,
all of them loved and cared for by this great-hearted woman who knew everything there was to know about things feline and who was my go-to source of advice when megrims threatened my beloved fur family.

I’ll never have that again – those conversations over the phone, usually punctuated by random crashes in the background and “HEY! GET OFF THAT!” addressed to the cats in her vicinity.

She had one cat, Ivy, who would ‘talk’ to me on the phone. Cat would put the receiver next to Ivy and I would ask how are you feeling today. “Mmmrrrow?” – and how was the weather? – “Mmroweoweow. Meow.” – Oh, I see, too hot, was it? – “MEOW. meowowowow.” And then Cat herself would take back the phone and we’d just carry on where we had stopped.

Cat was always phoning me from her cell phone while negotiating traffic. “Hang on a sec, there’s a moron in front of me who has no clue what he’s doing. TURN, YOU IDIOT! Okay, where were we?”

She was also one of the most, um, breakable people I knew. The other common theme of those phone calls was “What have you broken lately?” There was always something. A finger. A hand. A hip. But she was always up and at it anyway, typing with a broken hand, crawling around with a leg in a cast to clean cat boxes. Never give up, never surrender.

She was always full of awful jokes, but her full-throated laugh made even the worst of them hilarious. And we laughed together a lot.

DAMN. I am going to miss this friend whose face I never saw with my own physical eyes, whose hand I never shook, whose voice I never heard other than through the telephone. She was always geographically distant from me – but she was a kind of a soul sister. And I will miss her.

Rest in light, Cat. And I just KNOW that you were smothered with love and wet kisses at the far end of the Rainbow Bridge. And only the BEST people are.

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Author buries latest manuscript for a hundred years

David Mitchell photoDavid Mitchell ‘Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

At The Guardian, Alison Flood reports that the author of Cloud Atlas has delivered his new work to Oslo’s Nordmarka forest as part of the Future Library project.

David Mitchell is used to his novels being picked over by the critics, so it’s something of a relief, he says, that his latest work won’t be seen by anyone until 2114.

Mitchell is the second contributor to the Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s Future Library project, for which 1,000 trees were planted two years ago in Oslo’s Nordmarka forest. Each year for the next 100 years an author will deliver a piece of writing which will only be read in 2114, when the trees are chopped down to make paper on which the 100 texts will be printed.

The Future Library Project offers “hope that we will be here, that there will be trees, that there will be books, and readers, and civilization.”

Read more at The Guardian HERE

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Did you hear how the sandwich was invented?

Since the first cave paintings thousands of years ago, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods, Leo Widrich says at Life Hacker, because it is the most powerful way to activate our brains.

What does this mean? Well gather around while he tells you a story.

Read more at Life Hack HERE

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Mortifification! Reading from your adolescent diaries on stage

At KQED News, Linda Flanagan tells us that when Georgia Gootee examines the journals she wrote as a 15-year-old, she sympathizes with her younger flailing self.

“You can read through these journals and tell that at some points I’m just so terrified that it’ll never come together, I’ll never find my place in the world, I’ll never feel loved or love anyone myself.”

Now 26, Gootee can chuckle at the overwrought nature of her youthful preoccupations. “It’s a weird duality,” she said.

She read excerpts from her teenage journal at a Mortified performance in Portland last year. Mortified shows, as they’re called, feature adults reading aloud and on stage from their adolescent diaries.

Read more at KQED News HERE

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Quote of the Day
Noun Or Verb posterI knew what I was before I could hold a crayon in my hand. How about you?

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Are you a god?

If you are a writer, yes.

In a very real sense what you do when you create a fictional world is neither more nor less than being a god of a universe of your own creation.

We writers, we artists, we take the building blocks of the familiar and go on to make something different from them, something rich and strange. There is a train station where all the trains to these places stop, and we all stand there on the platform selling tickets, tickets to OUR worlds, and we smile when someone picks one up and boards a particular train and sits there leaning forward with shining eyes full of anticipation.

The worlds we create can be filled with intricate and painstaking detail – or they can be just hinted at, with the larger picture there for you, the reader, to fill in when you lift your eyes from the words on the page and the ideas blossom in the back of your mind.

Some of the best world-creating moments are almost incidental – like in a fairly silly episode of Doctor Who named “Gridlock” where the premise rests on this ludicrous idea of a traffic jam that has literally lasted for lifetimes… and yet this silliness is lifted into the transcendent.

Right at the end of the episode, the Doctor speaks with passion and pain and longing and regret and nostalgia and the purest love, of his lost home, Gallifrey. The world is built, sketched in a a few powerful words, a couple of incandescent sentences.

I’ve never been to Gallifrey. I can’t have ever been there. It does not exist any longer – the Doctor said it’s been destroyed. But, of course, it never REALLY existed at all, outside the story, outside the Doctor’s own mind and heart and memory.

Gallifrey illustrationAnd yet some part of me thrills to the “burnt orange sky”, and the “mountains that shine when the second sun rises.”

 

(With a little search you can find a video clip of this brief scene online and it’s worth the effort.)

I do this thing, worldbuilding. I take pride in creating worlds that live and breathe.

And sometimes I get rewarded.

“I could almost smell the cold and the freshness of the air and the tremble of the earth,” someone told me the other day, in reference my novel ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei‘.

I took a reader into a world that rose, real, around her as she rolled into the heart of it. One journey into a sense of wonder, validated. There are moments of which entire days are made. This gave me one of those moments.

Professor Tolkien wrote about all this, powerfully:

Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons- ’twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made.

Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker. — J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien on Fairy-stories

In a LiveJournal essay a few years ago I challenged my readers to:

“Take me to a place you’ve never been and make me homesick for it. Make me yearn for it and believe in it and love it and miss it as though it once belonged to me and I still carry it in my heart.”

It’s easy – well, easier, anyway – to write about a place one has personally known and loved. I have done it talking about the Danube and the way I feel about that river; I’ve done it about the places of my childhood.

But can you be homesick for a place you have never been, can never go? Is it possible for an Earthbound human to be homesick for a planet called Gallifrey, or a wood known as Lothlorien? Is it possible to be homesick for some patch of this our own world which one has never seen or visited?

For instance…

Oh, the moment in which the sun is not yet quite risen, not yet quite ready to pour itself around the shadowed crags in their veils of mist, but the day has started – and the light is pearly and nacred, shifting and shining, and the mists flow and coil around their great standing rocks and islands as though they are saying farewell to a lover. And the sky is lost in a brightening glow and the silhouettes of stones sharpen into individual sharp edges, and trees, and in between all there is the river, and the water is starting to change from darkness to a dull pewter glow which echoes the pre-dawn light to the glitter of sun on water as the first fingers of sunlight touch the ancient river and wake it into day once more, another day.

Already there are boats moving, and men silhouetted against the sky, and the faint shimmery lines of nets being cast into the water where the fish are waking, too, and waiting to offer themselves in the daily act of love and sacrifice that feeds the people of these crags, of this river. And the shadows are black, and the crags are charcoal gray and deep deep green in the faint light, and the water is turning golden and the sky is turning a faint blue, like the delicate shell of a bird’s egg, and soon the sun will come and the water will blaze with glory.

I am talking about a real place, the Li river, Guilin, China. But I’ve never been there. I’ve never seen this, outside of pictures.

River in China photo

I found this photo AFTER I wrote that paragraph above. I went looking for images that matched the view from my mind’s eye. I wasn’t describing the pictures; the pictures were found later to match and illustrate what I had already described…

And yet it’s there in my mind’s eye. And I can make myself homesick for it by letting the image live in my mind.

Perhaps it is possible to take a soul to Gallifrey. And make that soul love a place never seen, impossible to reach, a place that may never have existed outside the mind and heart of a character in a story…

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My first book audiobook – Paper and ebook and voice, oh my.

I am a very visual writer. I sometimes basically close my eyes and just transcribe the movie that’s unfolding before me on the backs of my eyelids. I SEE things.

Some writers dictate their books into a recorder before transcribing them onto the page, and some use software such as Dragon to dictate their books directly onto the screen. But that is not the way I think, not the way I write. I need to see the words dance on the page. Not hear them.

For the same reason, I haven’t really taken to audio books the way others, my husband for example, have. I don’t take in stories JUST by listening to them.

But the times they are a-changing, audiobooks are becoming more popular and I have now taken a step into the future with my first book in audio format, ‘Embers of Heaven‘.
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Embers of Heaven coverI listened to the sample on the Amazon page for the audio book and it’s eerie to hear my own words spoken at me. It’s well done, at least in the sample I heard. (I have to admit that I would probably have chosen a female narrator voice since my main protagonist is a woman and the final section of the book is pretty much a first-person journal-like narrative from her POV.)

My first audiobook. Huh. I feel all grown up now.

You can sample or buy it at Amazon HERE

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Quote of the DayBenjamin Franklin posterIn his own way, he was talking about building a world.

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DON’T READ THAT!

It’s YA; aren’t you embarrassed to be caught with that book?

First of all… repeat after me: “There is no such thing as ‘YA LITERATURE‘.”

There isn’t. Not really. Not specifically. The category was created, whole-cloth, as a marketing niche for those who wanted to capture a particular kind of readership. But let’s unpack that a little bit.

1) Kids tend to read “older”. That is, they like protagonists older than they are. Ten-year-olds will yearningly read about teens. Young teens will read about older teens. Older teens… well, most of them will read adult literature.

In short, any book marked as a YA book is going to be read, at least at first, by young teens.

2) Quite often the people who actually PURCHASE books for young(er) readers are not those readers themselves but parents, grandparents and other adults who are paying the money and making the choices. Yes, they will choose the books that they think their kids are likely to enjoy, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is the adults who are choosing.

And those adults might well have a personal stake in what they choose.

3) I have written books with young protagonists that have been marketed as YA.

Girl Reading WordweaversMy heroine in the Worldweavers books starts out aged 14, and is 16 at the conclusion of the final book. In The Were Chronicles my POV characters are 14, 17, 19+. Both series deal with serious, some life changing, situations.

The Worldweavers books have been marketed as for “12 and up”, and The Were Chronicles for possibly slightly older teens – but these are books that have been read by 9-year-olds at one end and by grown ups of a range of ages at the other, and enjoyed by all of them according to reader responses that I am getting.

And here’s the truth of it: these were books WRITTEN for all of those readers. A good story is a good story and can be enjoyed by anyone from 10 to 100. A reader will find their own level, a place where they are reading things they understand and enjoy. This means that I am perfectly fine with younger readers reaching for a slightly “older” book, and I am also more than happy when a reader who is beyond – often well beyond – the “YA” criterion reaches for the same book.

Those readers are likely getting different things from the same novel, and that is absolutely fine. But just because something is flung out there with a warning label that screams “YA LIT AHEAD! PICK UP AT YOUR OWN PERIL!” is absolutely no reason for ANY reader to avoid it, whether for being “too young” or “too old” for it.

Readers, hearken! My books are for all of you. As one reviewer so perfectly put it, my books are for everyone who is or might once have been a child. Read freely, regret
nothing, and choose to read whatever you wish without knuckling under to the stigma of reading “outside of your age range”, of what has always been no more than a marketing label designed to sell more books.

Read. All the stories are yours.

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Another blogger had some interesting thoughts on this. Austin Hackney wrote:

“…an article I recently came across in Slate vilifying adults who read young adult or children’s literature rubbed me up so far the wrong way that I simply had to write this if only to let off some steam. And mix up a few metaphors while I’m at it. I’m not going to link to it. If you want to read it you can find it for yourself…

“No matter what the self-appointed cultural guardians at Slate may think, the facts speak for themselves. All the recent surveys I’ve been able to find suggest that well over 55% of the readership for YA literature is made up of people 18 years old and up. Namely, adults..quite frankly some of the very best writing in English today is categorized by the publishing houses and the booksellers as being for the young adult market.”

Read more at Austin Hackney blog HERE

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The page 69 quiz

Reader selecting book photoCan you identify the classic book from a single paragraph? 69 is a big number: in 1969, man walked on the moon. Bryan Adams had a summer. At the age of 69, Marshall McLuhan died, leaving behind his theory of how to choose a book: if you like what’s on page 69, chances are you’ll like the rest too. Can you pick these page 69s?

From what book did this passage come?
“Boleyn is still smiling. He is a poised, slender man; it takes the effort of every tuned muscle in his body to keep the smile on his face.”

I personally liked this item because I never could figure out why the book in question worked. But it did. BTW, I won’t tell you how I did on the rest of the quiz.

Take the quiz at The Guardian website HERE

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Quote of the Day
Book Reviews poster

Once upon a time, at the bright dawn of my career, I had an international megahit. A few other books went international, but nothing like the Blessed Book, “The Secrets of Jin Shei”. I’ve written LOTS more books since then and some of them – just as worthy – have been lagging in the review department. If you read them, and liked them, mosey on to Amazon and tell the world…

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