An electrifying museum

Spark museum signThis little town where I now make my home, tucked away in the beautiful foothills of the Cascades, would not be the first place you would think of if you were to consider the establishment of a museum dedicated to electricity in general and radio in particular, but here it is.

When I did a Literature Live event at Village Books for the Worldweavers series, the guy from this museum, Tana Granack, turned up with a portable Tesla Coil and proceeded to wow everybody with a fireworks display  never before seen in the Village Books reading room. The museum has a particular fondness for Tesla and he is amply represented in the exhibits. How could he not be, the New Wizard of the West, the man who invented the 21st century.
Alma and the Tesla coil pgotoAlma and the Tesla sparks
There are five unique collections which lead into one another. They are a mixture of audio-visual presentations, dioramas, more traditional discrete exhibits on shelves and in glass cases. There’s a little bit for everybody out here – for the kids who come to learn, for the adults who come to indulge in unashamed nostalgia.

You make a sharp right as you come in, straight into the The Dawn of the Electrical Age: Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries gallery. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Age of Enlightenment – the time in which electricity began to be more fully understood not as magic but as science. But it was STILL magic, this early on. This was the era of Ben Franklin and his legendary kites, Leyden Jars, experiments with static electricity.

You remember the times you got zapped when you were a kid – I recall climbing down a staircase in our high-class hotel on a winter holiday, and making the mistake of reaching out for a metal banister while wearing a woollen sweater positively stuffed with static electricity. The blue-white spark that leaped between the banister and my fingers – and which HURT! – was a Mystery of Life, the spark of life itself. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on the awe and majesty of the actinic blue arc which spanned the empty space between myself and that metal tube.

It was one of the most fundamental WOW moments of my childhood – it must have been because I can’t have been more than eight at the time and I still have an extremely clear mental image of this event.  

This museum – it just brings back that WOW moment. The early age of electricity-as-miracle gives way to the next gallery – Electricity Sparks Invention: Electricity in the 19th Century, the Industrial Age, the entry of electricity into homes where it brought light and a myriad other useful applications, the telephone, the telegraph. The world changed, fundamentally, and the way we all lived and thought and behaved and believed changed with it.

This place has the telephone used in the first transcontinental phone call – how cool is THAT? And how suddenly astonishing and somehow almost unbelievable it is to equate this to the way we take it all for granted today, that we can call somebody in Japan or in Germany and be instantly connected, that we all wander around glued to our cell phones.

This whole thing led to The Wireless Age: The Rise Of Radio. Again, it is difficult to imagine a time when radio contact was not a given. This particular gallery has a room dedicated to the event which helped to bring radio and its blessings into the forefront of human endeavor and imagination – the Titanic disaster, and recordings of the radio distress call placed by the ship as it met its epic end in the icy ocean. This is a living moment of history; listen to the tinny crackling voice on the recording, close your eyes, you’re there, you’re with that proud ship as it begs for help, your heart can’t help but beat faster. You learn – first-hand, from a moment so long ago – what it means to be IN CONTACT, what it means not to be alone. Electricity did this. Radio did this. The science of the human race and kindred did this. WE did this.

These days we can track a ship, an airplane, or a spaceship in trouble, we can communicate with miners trapped a mile underground, we can talk to the stars. We’ve come a long way from the Titanic, baby.

But we had to start somewhere…And we started by adopting this whole new technology, as a given, as our due, and we built a civilization on it – Radio Enters the Home. News broadcasts. Cultural events. The harbigingers of “War of the worlds”. By the end of the twenties almost two thirds of American households owned a radio set… and we were on the threshold of something else altogether.

The Golden Age of Radio. This particular gallery shows off the radio sets which were so much part of an average household – the kind that even I (pipsqueak that I am) begin to remember clearly. The large sets with woven yellow rattan kind of frontages, the large black bakelite knobs you turned to tune the thing and the whine and crackle of static as you rolled across the airwaves seeking the frequency you wanted. They crowd the shelves of the museum, these radios, some of them large enough to be free-standing pieces of furniture on their own. And already they were becoming obsolete, because a new thing was coming… TELEVISION. Poor old radio could not compete. Oh, it’s still around – but it isn’t the same thing that it was all those years ago.

Looking at these magnificent specimens, we’re straddling Then and Now, one foot firmly in the twenty first century as our cellphones slumber in our pockets and one ankle-deep in nostalgia, washing around our toes like the ocean on our first sight of the sea – just as memorable, just as intoxicating, a part of our shared past and our shared curiosity as a species, our history disappearing into the static as the knobs are turned and each new shining discovery is superseded by the next incredible and amazing thing that we have managed to put together, to comprehend, to find uses for. We really can be something special when we set our minds to it.

You step out again, into the real world, feeling just a little intoxicated with it all. It’s AMAZING. And it’s all right here, in little old Bellingham by the sea, unexpected and invigorating and wonderful.

But let me leave you with a story about another aspect of the museum – its sense of playfulness.

You see, it boasts… a theremin. And the last time we were there, the theremin had been discovered by an adventurous four-year-old who had found out that the thing made WONDERFUL noises when he waved his arms at it. And he was waving his arms at it with great glee. We know the kid’s name was George because his father kept on yanking him away from the wailing theremin with a recurring refrain of, “No! George! Stop that! George! Stop it!“ The kid was acting for ALL of us. He had come into a place where astonishing things lay piled on shelves all around him, and he had discovered… joy. And it was your joy, too. You could not help smiling, watching him leaning into the theremin, his small face wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen.

And perhaps that was a good envoi for us all. The world is a place where we trip over impossible dreams with every step that we take.

Sometimes it takes a museum to make you remember that.


Visit the Spark Museum HERE

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Terry Prachett photoHorizontal vs. Vertical Wealth

What happens when a horizontally wealthy person like Terry Prachett goes from $30,000 a year to $3 million?

Read the whole story HERE

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The Radical Argument of the New Oxford Shakespeare

He didn’t do it alone,

Read the whole story at The New Yorker HERE

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Cat’s Best Romance Reads of 2016

I had a great reading year with so many 5 Star reads.  And I needed it with so much going wrong. Here is a little sweet to ease the sour of this day. Here are my best Romance Reads…in no particular order. 1. Dark Deeds by Michelle Diener- Excellent Science Fiction Romance. 

See her choices HERE

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‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile
A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era. This anthology is an effort to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.
Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

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author illustrationYOU CAN HELP ME WRITE: As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Details HERE

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My life in a castle

When I was a young teen living with my family in Swaziland, my parents decided to ship me off to Lowther College, a well-regarded English boarding school, for a year. Don’t ask, it’s complicated.

Now Lowther College was situated in a castle – this one:
Castle AutumnBodelwyddan Castle was a real honest-to-goodness Victorian pile of a castle, turrets and portcullis gates and wood paneling and all. It was a magnificent place to go to school.

And, BTW, it was haunted. By a real ghost.

Using the ghost stories as a basis, the senior girls attempted to scare the junior boarders spitless one year by having one of their number dress up in a trailing white sheet and wander the halls wailing, carrying a pumpkin under her arm as her ‘head’.

Things went swimmingly until the ‘ghost’ turned around and saw… the REAL ghost… standing at the head of the stairs which she was about to go down. Let’s just say the screaming wasn’t just the JUNIOR boarders.

The place had odd things happening in it all the time. There would be footsteps in the corridor when nobody was there. And people woke up in the middle of the night in time to see the bedclothes on their beds indent gently, as though somebody had just sat down on the bed, when it was painfully obvious that there was nobody there to have done so. I heard that ghost myself, walking the halls. I swear it.

Lowther College folded in 1982, only a few short years after I left it. The castle, from what I could gather, went through an attempt at gentrification where it became a corporate retreat resort for a time. In the end it became… a museum.

The Lowther College years were acknowledged in an exhibit and I suppose I really am a wandering exhibit of that particular section of the museum myself, being a Lowther girl.

But the rest of it… has been prettified and restored and redone to the point that I couldn’t really find my way around when I visited the castle years later. I couldn’t pinpoint which room I had slept in, where exactly the wood-paneled library was where a visiting author came to speak to my class and, with her words, handed me my life wrapped up like a Christmas present, ensuring that I too would become a writer.

Nor could I find the refectory hall, where we ate food completely unlike the Hogwarts feasts of Rowling’s books and where I acquired a lasting aversion to any food which is PINK. But I did acquire a lasting addiction to Bourbon Creams, Custard Creams, Ginger Snaps and other English cookies with which they graced our English afternoon teas. I could not find any of it, any living trace of that schook, amongst the halls which are now festooned by portaiture and landscapes in ornate gilt frames and period furniture on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Lowther exhibit let me step through it into my own past. It all came back to me, ethereal like that drifting ghost whose identity I never learned.
There comes the echo of laughter – of my crying into my pillow some nights when my housemistress was particularly mean to me (and she WAS mean to me) – of a room-mate in one of the castle rooms which had been changed into sleeping quarters for the boarders standing on her bed and acting out Helen Reddy’s “I am woman hear me roar”, a song which I still cannot hear without vividly remembering that girl planted firmly on her bed in her stocking feet, one hand on hip and the other flung out theatrically to point at the rest of us as if in exhortation.

Other memories: the dusting of first snow, and our running out to take photographs in the winter wonderland with the castle as the backdrop – of the oogy dirty-old-man history teacher who would occasionally preside over a table in the refectory at dinner and offer a plate of exotic fruit around with a leer and a sleazy, “Would you like a date dear?”

– of the old-fashioned claw tubs in the bathrooms – of the clock ticking in silence while we all bent over our exam papers in the great hall – of the time the school choir, to which I belonged, took part in a multi-choir and choral society public concert of Benjamin Britten’s “St Nicholas” in St Asaph Cathedral – of the chickenpox scare that threatened a swift and inglorious end to my boarding school year and graduation from high school with a British diploma

– of outings to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company (which included Glenda Jackson, Patrick Stewart and Alan Rickman) perform “Antony and Cleopatra” – of days of persistent grey English rain, of games in soaking green fields where you sometimes had to be rather careful of the resident flock of sheep’s “calling cards” in the grass.

To today’s visitors, all of this is now part of a museum. To me, it’s part of a life, a life I’ve lived, my own personal history, my own past. Sometimes, a museum is not just dusty exhibits under glass.

Look at me.

I am a living part of this museum.

Me, and that ghost, who I hope hasn’t been driven away by all the hoopla. I never got the impression that it was malevolent or evil – perhaps it rather enjoyed having the company of all those shrieking young women, something that gave a sense of fun and a sense of purpose to its afterlife.

If you ever visit Bodelwyddan Castle, look out for the ghost. And tell it I said Hi.

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“Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile

A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

This anthology is an effort to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.

Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

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Quote of the Day

Quote Josh Whedon poster
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author illustrationHELP ME WRITE: As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Go HERE

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About me    My books    Email me

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Most Romantic Quotes In Literature

Romantic quotes posterAlice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever.” ―Alfred Tennyson

Read more at Buzzfeed HERE 

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Three Romance Novelists Discuss Their Craft

Q: What makes the romance community such a fun and vibrant one?

CD Reiss photoCD REISS: I used to write mysteries…and I picked up a few fans. I thought I really had something going there. But when I started writing romance I discovered what real fandom was. I never met a group of people more passionate about their genre.

I think the reason is that romance touches the heart instead of the mind. When you reach readers who want you to open them up and break their heart, you’re reaching people who prioritize love and understanding.

See the whole story at the LARB website HERE

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Striking photos of readers around the world

Reader in Serbia photoMKS Steelworks, Serbia, Yugoslavia, 1989 (Credit: Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos)

Steve McCurry’s photos of readers, spanning 30 countries

Readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment,” writes Paul Theroux in the foreword to the new Phaidon book Steve McCurry: On Reading.

Read the whole story HERE

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‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile

A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors you may know – e.g. Jane Yolen– and some who may be unfamiliar to you but have a visceral connection with the pain of exile. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

Back in the land I come from, there is a beloved poet called Aleksa Santic, and a beloved and well known poem entitled, “Ostajte ovdje” – “Stay Here”. Loosely translated it reads:

Stay here – the sun of a foreign sky
Will never warm you like this one in your own heaven
Bitter is the bread in that place
Where you you’re among strangers and not amongst your brothers.

Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

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Quote of the Day

There is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading” ~ Paul Theroux

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author illustration As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Details HERE

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About me    My books    Email me    

If you found this blog post interesting, amusing or helpful, then please use the icons below to share it with other writers, readers or the guy next to you on the subway. 

Sun of a foreign sky

Crowd-funded stories of war and exile to help refugees

The time has come for the stories from the ragged edges of silence to be given a voice, stories that will shine a light on some of the most painful conditions that a human being can endure: existence as an exile, a migrant, a refugee.

“Children of a Different Sky” is a crowdfunded anthology of short stories and poems from many authors you know – Jane Yolen, Brenda Cooper, Marie Brennan, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Patricia McEwen, Jacey Bedford, Irene Radford — and many others, some of whom may be unfamiliar to you, writers who might have a more intimate, more visceral, connection with the pain of exile.

Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

You can learn more about the project at the crowd-funding website HERE

Still from Alma videoIncluded on the website is my video explaining how it works and why I think it is so necessary. (Another link below)

I am one of the unmoored myself, although I was not driven from home by war like so many recent refugees.

But at age 10 I did leave the country of my birth, the ground where the bones of my ancestors are buried, where their ghosts walk, where a sliver of my spirit lives still, lives always. I understand on a visceral level what it means to be FORCED to leave a place one calls home.

Back in the land I come from, there is a beloved poet called Aleksa Santic, and a beloved and well known poem entitled, “Ostajte ovdje” – “Stay Here”. Young children of my heritage and culture know these lines – they are engraved on the souls of the humans of my nation.

Loosely translated,  with poetic license, they read:

Stay here – the sun of a foreign sky
Will never warm you like this one in your own heaven
Bitter is the bread in that place                                                                                   Where you you’re among strangers and not amongst your brothers.

This anthology is an effort to make sure that the dispossessed are not forgotten. It is my attempt to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.

If you marched in any city in the world…if you had the courage and the fury to join the thousands who protested Donald Trump’s heavy-handed refugee/immigrant travel ban in the last days of January 2017, I salute you.

Supporting this crowdfunding effort is another way you can help.

Watch the video and give what you can HERE

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11 Famous Authors Who Were Once Refugees

In a story at Bustle, Charlotte Ahlin writes: “Let’s clear something up right away, though, because some people seem to be confused: refugees are human. 100% of refugees are real, human people trying to survive, like you and your friends… Whether they go on to be famous authors, or Steve Jobs’ parents, or just ordinary, non-famous human people on the planet, every refugee deserves to live in safety.

Refugee author Ishmael Beah book coverIshmael Beah

At age 12, Ishmael Beah fled his home and family following an attack by rebels in Sierra Leone. At age 13, he was picked up by the government army and forced to fight as a child soldier for over two years. Beah was finally rescued by UNICEF, and eventually made his way to the United States, where he is now an author and human rights activist. A Long Way Gone is his harrowing, powerful memoir of his life as a boy soldier.

See all the authors at the Bustle website HERE

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But you didn’t

But You Didn't cartoon

I posted this story and a link to it more than a year ago, but it still keeps getting rediscovered and reopened. It is an incredibly moving poem.

“But You Didn’t” Poem Translated & Illustrated by Chinese Netizen: by Fauna

 

See the whole illustrated poem HERE

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HELP ME WRITE: author illustrationPublishing is in flux and most authors need new sources of income to remain full-time writers. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts.

Details on how you can help can be found HERE

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Quote of the Day

Blind is a man without a book ~ Icelandic proverb

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Children of a Different Sky

Telling the stories of war and exile

The time has come for the stories from the edge of darkness, from the ragged edges of silence, to be given a voice, and through that voice, the help that is so sorely needed. What I have to offer as a writer and a teller of tales is a way to shine a light into some of the most painful conditions that a human being can endure:

The almost impossible to comprehend existence as an exile, as a migrant, as a refugee.

Children of a Different Sky” will be a crowdfunded anthology which will provide a stage on which those stories can be presented to the world… and also, as a crowdfunded charity anthology, to collect donations which will be passed on to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

This project is a collection of stories, some by authors you might recognize quickly; others, from perhaps unfamiliar writers who might have a more intimate, more visceral, connection with the subject matter.

I am one of the unmoored myself, although not one of those truly adrift. I have never been forced out of a home, or a country, or made to go to strange places I could not understand, against my wishes, terrified and frozen.

But I did leave the country of my birth aged 10, never to live there again. This does not mean I ceased to love it – this is the ground where the bones of my ancestors are buried, where their ghosts walk. This is the place where the river I love so much runs eternally between shores of mud and thistle and weeping willow, the place where a sliver of my spirit lives still, lives always. So I understand, on that visceral level, what it means to be FORCED to leave a place one calls home.

I feel for the children whose memories involve bombs and fire and fury and guns and bullets and dust and blood and loss and grief. I feel for the emptiness I see blossoming behind their eyes, underneath the pain, the inability to understand why such things can be. I understand the way a child might feel when torn apart from those first precious friendships with one’s peers, from the security and warmth of a family home; when witnessing the carnage of a hot war blowing up around them, destroying everything they have ever believed to be true, like a dragon breathing a plume of flame on their lives and leaving ashes behind.

And I wonder what I can do. What I, and those like me, can do.

Well, what we can do is tell stories.

Not THEIR stories – those are theirs to tell, some day, maybe. But stories like theirs. Stories which will reach out and tell other people about the truth of their lives, through the “lies” of fiction, of fantasy. We can shine a light, we who create art, into the dark places of this world. That is what we are for. That is what we do. What we want to do. What we NEED to do

Back in the land I come from, there is a beloved poet called Aleksa Santic, and a beloved and well known poem entitled, “Ostajte ovdje” – “Stay Here”. Young children of my heritage and culture know these lines – they are engraved on the souls of the humans of my nation. They are these:

Ostajte ovdje – sunce tudjeg neba
Nece vas grijat k’o sto ovo grije.
Gorki su tamo zalogaji hljeba
Gde svoga nema i gde brata nije.

Loosely translated,  with poetic license, they read:

Stay here – the sun of a foreign sky
Will never warm you like this one in your own heaven
Bitter is the bread in that place
Where you you’re among strangers and not amongst your brothers.

We who were born under that sun, understand.

And this book, this collection, this effort to gather the stories and to make sure that they are not forgotten, this is my attempt to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.

The vast majority of the money raised by this crowdfunding project will be passed on to several agencies who work with and offer aid to the refugees of our era. They used to be Jewish and Gypsie children running from the German Reich; today, they might be Syrian kids running from the ruins of Aleppo or Yazidi women fleeing enslavement in the darkness of cultural recidivism;

Tomorrow, they might be ourselves.

If you marched in any city in the world where like-minded people gathered together… if you had the courage and the fury to follow your passion by being one of the thousands who streamed to America’s airports after Donald Trump’s heavy-handed blow of the refugee/immigrant travel ban in the last days of January 2017… if you spent your precious time on the phone to your representatives decrying the injustices of the new era… I salute you, and I love you all, very much.

If you could not march or raise your voices in the “No Fear/NoHate” cries at the airport or your voice strangles in your throat if you have to speak on the phone to a stranger… there are always ways to make your stand.

Supporting this crowdfunding effort, throws your support both towards the writers and artists and other publishing professionals who made this happen, and in the days of defunding the arts that also is a statement of defiance, and makes certain that you have been a part in funneling much needed funds to organizations which work directly with the lost and the dispossessed.

If you want to help — as an author, illustrator, someone who cares — write to me HERE

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Tea and a good book

My novel, ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’, was first published more than a decade ago and it made quite a splash at the time. It was published in 13 languages, got rave reviews in many unexpected quarters, and it was a bona fide bestseller in Spain.
 
I’m sure it is out of print some places, but Germany is no longer one of them. It is being reprinted as I speak.

Just the other day I came across an unusual reference to the book from the Tea Blog, “Official Blog of the English Tea Store.”
 
cover The Secrets of Jin-sheiAt the English Tea Store you can, or at least you used to be able to, buy “Oolong Orange Blossom Tea. And, learn all about ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’, illustrated with my favorite of all the covers, the hardcover from the HarperCollins US edition. There was text that read in part:
 
Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea that is only partly fermented, giving it an in-between character that lacks the bitterness and body of black tea, yet is richer and rounder than a conventional green. English Tea Store’s Oolong Orange Blossom Estate Tea is a particularly satisfying rendition of this Far East treat, with the gentle addition of the essence of orange blossoms…

In The Secrets of Jin-Shei, a novel by Alma Alexander, we are swept into (a) mythical Chinese kingdom , steeped in tradition and culture, that beckons us to pause, and to breathe in deeply. In the novel, we learn of the covert written language jin-ashu, the woman’s tongue, taught for generations from mother to daughter to allow a woman to reveal the dreams and desires deeply held in her heart. It is through these words that sister-bonds are formed….

Be patient in brewing Oolong Orange Blossom Tea, to give it the time it needs to unfurl into the richness of its character. And there’s no need to sweeten; it brings its own honeyed aftertaste. As well, give The Secrets of Jin-Shei time to reveal the depths of its characters and the fulfillment of its own sweet promise.

As tea-and-novel companions, Oolong Orange Blossom Tea and The Secrets of Jin-Shei are a most honorable match.

You can see the original story HERE

or HERE

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Dangerous Women

After the exhilaration brought on by the massive Women’s March, I found it both amusing and infuriating to browse through these

Postcards warning men about the dangers of women’s rights

They were put together by Tara McGinley who wrote: “Here’s a collection of totally ridiculous vintage postcards and posters dated from around 1900 to 1914 warning men of the dangers associated with the suffragette movement and of allowing women to think for themselves.”

postcards posterExcept for the clothes, I am not entirely sure that things have changed all that much.

See more postcards at Dangerous Minds website HERE

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HORIZONS MURALFeature image: detail from “Horizons” a mural by Robert McCall.

I always remain astonished at the disdain in which the literature of the future has always been held by the here and now.

It’s just so easy to wave a hand and close the door on the science fiction ghetto. 

Sometimes I think that the ‘real’ writers are so afraid of how they’ll be shown up by us genre folks that they’d rather just not compete at all and fondly imagine that keeping the gates locked will keep the cooties away. But I have news for them. it’s in HERE that the future lives. The fences and the locks and the keys…keepg THEM out, not US in. We’re already out there among the stars. Have the literati considered the possibility that it is around THEM, rather than us, that the locked gates and the iron bars really are…?

While I am better known for my fantasy than my science fiction (I sometimes combine the two), I believe that if anything, the sheer vision required to create ANY future from scratch should be a feature of literature, not the bug.

Here are two links to relevant articles well worth you time.

Why science fiction authors can’t win HERE

Building a Better Definition of Science Fiction HERE

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Andrew Hilleman offers

10 Great Westerns You’ve Never Read

My husband, who cut his teeth on westerns, has read a couple of these and urged this link on me. He is still haunted by ‘The Ox-Bow Incident‘, an exploration of mob rule that still echoes harshly for us even today.

Read all of Hilleman’s picks at the PW website HERE

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Surprise! Children’s Books Figured Out Life Long Ago

Children's Book wisdom poster
There’s a reason certain children’s books stay with you long after you’ve left elementary school, Crafty House tells us. “Deceptively simple, such evergreen stories absolutely brim with meaning and insight, serving to remind the reader of the most basic but vital lessons in life.”

 
See all the quotes at Crafty House HERE

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Quote of the Day

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein

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‘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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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

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