Why epigraphs?

“Dune” did it to incredible effect. Asimov’s Foundation series did it beautifully. There are other books where this was used to enhance and deepen the worldbuilding.

I am talking about epigraphs, quotes that open chapters or sections of novels, quotes which often come from Science Fiction or Fantasy worlds that do not exist outside the book being read.

The Ages of Mankind

When I wrote “The Secrets of Jin-shei“, I used epigraphs to define the Ages of Mankind, as seen through the eyes of the culture and beliefs of my imagined country of Syai – Liu, Lan, Xat, Qai, Ryu, Pau, and Atu.In that order, they cover emergence (birth and babyhood), growing (childhood), coming of age (becoming adult), reproducing and replacing one’s self (the age of childbearing), the secondary stage of reproducing and replacing one’s self, and growing old (sliding into senescence), the sunset and twilight of one’s life (death), and that existence that bridges the end of the last life and the beginning of a brand new one, a sort of hovering in the waiting room of the gods (the closing of the circle).Jin-shei Ages of Mankind Liu poster

What emerged as the quotes for each section were these delicate ‘Chinese’ poems, fragile and ethereal, almost written by brushwork rather than typed on hard keys on a computer keyboard. They were astonishing to me, who created them, but they had a sturdy reality – despite their tender fragility – which served to anchor my new-made world firmly to a reality which would not otherwise have been possible. There is a power here which is difficult to define, but which is palpable. This would not have been the book it is without the epigraphs which serve as the scaffold on which the entire structure was built.

I did a similar thing with the follow-up to that book, “Embers of Heaven”, where the epigraphs came from various works of reference and literature and liturgy. Imaginary, all. But, again, the quotes serve to anchor the novel into its world, a world where these books existed, where they would have been recognizable and familiar to someone of that world, of that culture. They anchored my own mind in that world, in the way it was thinking and feeling, in the unquestionable reality of its existence.

This is powerful stuff. Even now, rereading the material, years after it was written, I find myself transported straight back into the world of Jin-shei by these quotes.Jin-shei Ages of Mankind Lan poster

The right epigraphs, even if they have been as wholly invented by an author as the novel which they anchor, serve to link the words of fiction to a world which is only a sideways step from our own, as real as that which we see when we look out of our own windows. They serve as windows, also, and they allow the reader of a book to glance directly into the mind of its writer, and understand more completely the fictional realm into which the writer has led them. The epigraphs are the keys to a massive door which open into a place which we may not have ever seen before… but which, because of those imagined yet easily recognized quoted words, we *know*.

I’ve built a series of posters based on those Ages Of mankind, the first two enclosed here. I’ll post the others at another time.

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HELP ME BUILD NEW WORLDS: 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 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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From what book…?

I have just sent out the first edition of the long promised newsletter. PSA:  It may have its share of the usual startup problems, which I hope will be worked out by the next edition. If you received the first one and you find things that need fixing, let me know!

Wings coverThere’s going to be news on what’s going on in the writing life, special offers, snippets of works in progress, news about my newest book, currently Wings of Fire…).

Ask questions, if you like. Tell me what you want me to talk about, what you want to see, what you want to know.

And there will be the occasional quiz. Here is a quote from one of my books. I would be DELIGHTED if you know and recognize it I will tell you if you are right in the next newsletter…

“She muttered a soft curse under her breath. The kitten’s tiny, vulnerable face, the delicate suckling on {…}’s finger,the scrabbling little wounded paws… […] jabbed a repair hook too deeply into the rope sole of her broken sandal, annoyed at the kitten’s insistent hold on her mind’s eye. She had interfered because two of the torturers had been Guard, damn it all, not because she was a bleeding heart for waifs and strays.She didn’t care what happened to it, after. She didn’t. She could swear she didn’t.She was glad the little thing had clung to life, but she’d tried to dismiss the creature from her orbit and she had every intention of forgetting about it. Especially now that she knew it had survived.”

What book is this from?

If you would like a copy of the next newsletter, drop me a line at AlmaAlexander@AlmaAlexander.org

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Museums I have known
A matter of faith

It was Sunday and the Montreal 2009 Worldcon was done, so a friend – Canadian West Coast novelist Donna McMahon – and I decided to go for a wander in the cobbled alleys of Old Montreal. We finally washed up on the stone steps of the chapel known as Notre Dame de Bon Secours.

You could enter directly into the gorgeous church itself, full of gilt and glory and stained glass, or you could tiptoe past all that along a narrow corridor to the side of the place, leaving the chapel itself till last, and buy tickets for the attached museum as well as access to the chapel’s tower which promised views of the river and the rooftops of the Old City.

Chapel photoAscending to the top of the tower was accomplished via a narrow twisted stair whose one wall was stripped down to expose the ancient stonework; along the uneven and creaking stairwell, signs popped up exhorting patrons to tread carefully on the “antique staircase” (although I have to admit that the “escalier patrimonial” concept was by far the more endearing than a mere antique stair…)

The top of the tower was a narrow little balcony guarded by two angels green with age, one on each side:

The roofs and alleys of the old city, lying revealed beneath us, and the river glimpsed across treetops a little futher away were a view worth the careful climb up the “escalier patrimonial”. The place inspired at least one subsequent short story (look it up, if you like – it appears here).

The view was fantastic because this edifice was built on top of an ancient promontory over the river, once a campsite for the native tribes who lived in this area before the first European settlers arrived, and subsequently the heart of one of the very first suburbs of the city founded by those settlers, the city beneath the mountain which was named Mount Royal, Mont Real. Once you descent the tower you can look at the history of the chapel whose foundation helped build this great city – traces of an old camping ground which dates back more than two millennia, and the remnants of the original stone chapel first built by Montreal settlers three hundred years ago.

There is a deep sense of history that’s wrapped up in the stones of this building, something that you can’t help but take in, by osmosis, through the air that you are breathing, looking at stones centuries old which were laid here by human hand and around which a whole city began to grow.

And when you make your way to the actual museum area, you discover that much of the history of this place is inextricably tied to one woman, Marguerite Bourgeoys, who lived in 17th-century Montreal and is the founder of the original Congrégation de Notre-Dame on this site.

It is Marguerite, one of the founders of this chapel and the first teacher at the associated school, who is being commemorated in the small museum housed here. Marguerite, born in France in 1620, and was only 20 when she experienced the call to a lifelong vocation of service and the foundation of a devout faith which would last her whole life. She had a remarkable ability, it would seem, to be the tie that binds, to gather up people and focus them all on a single goal, towards the achievement of a single cause.

She was recruited to the new colony of what was then Ville-Marie in 1653, becoming nurse, friend and confidante to the new colonists who arrived to triple the population of proto-Montreal. She was still a relatively young woman but she joined Montreal’s founder, Maisonneuve, and the hospital administrator of the settlement as an equal – she understood right from the start that the role of women in the new colony would be significant, and she started workshops and classes where ordinary women could learn skills which enabled them to earn a living.

Once the chapel was built, Marguerite was instrumental in establishing a school where the settlement’s children could be taught such things as counting, reading, writing, and of course catechism; the older girls also learned the domestic skills they would need to become wives and mothers and managers of their own households.

This was not a nunnery – the women were not cloistered – and although the community, the Congregation de Notre-Dame, survived and flourished and did lots of good works the approval for such a community by the Church was not actually granted until as late as 1698, only two years before Marguerite’s death. But Marguerite herself was a doughty soul, a woman with a mission, and she neither asked for nor needed such approval (from Bishop or from King) in order to continue doing the work she saw as her duty and her destiny.

She was canonized in 1982, and her remains were brought home to Notre Dame de Bon Secours in 2005, to rest in a crypt in the stone chapel which she had helped raise as a beacon of her faith.

But it is the museum rooms devoted to Marguerite’s life, not the aftermath of it, which is fascinating. It is… oddly childlike. There is a room which is devoted to envisioning the time-line of the colony, chapel, school and the woman who ran it all done in a series of dioramas populated by dolls, and the effect is rather like a very large and very busy and very detailed dolls-house, one into which you might walk and become immersed in its subject matter.

Another room features shadow boxes where similar scenes are depicted with the aid of images and holograms; you have to go and duck your head into a hood-like overhang, almost like one of those old-time photographers who covers his head with a cloth when taking a picture, and then the thing comes alive in front of your eyes. More playfulness; more invitation to learn from the simple things, the simple faith, the simple beginnings.

When we were done with the museum and finally made our way back into the chapel, I confess to feeling rather strange – I had just learned a great deal about this strong and gentle and pious woman who worked so hard to build a community and educate its women and children, and now I was in a position in which I had never been before, in that I was standing in her presence. In the presence, at least, of her mortal remains – the Church would have her spirit up there at the right hand of God, where the saints get to go when they die. It was the first time – and probably the last – that I stood in the presence of a saint.

Certain lyrics in Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” are apparently descriptive of this very chapel – the lines “And the sun pours down like honey/on our lady of the harbour” refer to the statue of the Madonna which adorns this particular church.

The concept of faith and the poetry of Leonard Cohen have a great deal in common, really. If you examine them closely, rationally, empirically, they make no real sense whatsoever – but put it all together, in a song like “Suzanne” or a chapel like Notre Dame de Bon Secours, and a bigger picture emerges, something that you understand with instinct and heart and spirit rather than with mind. With faith, you don’t KNOW. You BELIEVE.

And it takes an odd little museum in an ancient stone church with an “escalier patrimonial” to remind you of that.

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What is the Living Literary?

If you haven’t seen Living Literary, the new feature on my Patreon page, let me tell you how it works.

Living Literary consists of writing prompts. If you are a writer, you know all about prompts and have probably responded to them in the past. They are those suggestions that present an idea or describe a situation in a graph or two and then urge you to begin writing with that as a starting point.

author illustrationWhether you have writers block, or are just trying to keep your hand in with a little warmup writing, prompts are a godsend.

But writing prompts are not just for the committed writer. They can be fun for anybody.

One prompt that I offered in February:

The famous Ringling Brothers circus is closing down after 146 years. A Big Top is like walking through a gateway into the past, back to the days of innocence where we sat there big-eyed and watched the handlers do things with lions and tigers and bears and elephants oh my, and it never occurred to us to wonder what happened to those animals after the lights went down. Once we did, it became impossible to continue enjoying that kind of show. There will now come a day when a generation of kids will NEVER have been to a circus. Have you ever been to a circus show? What stays with you, if you have?… Do you remember circuses…?

The prompts that I offer come in two parts. The first is the prompt itself, and that is for everybody. Just go to my Patreon site to try it out.

The second part contains the essay that I wrote from that prompt, and that can only be read by my patrons. (You can become a patron for as little as a $2 monthly pledge.)

I hope that some of you will share your thoughts about my essay, or share the pieces you yourself write from the prompts in the comments section.

The latest prompt went up today.

When I was growing up, the International Day of Women was a big deal. In grade school, the teachers lined us up according to height, boys and girls, and each boy would have to produce a “gift” for the girl opposite him. I remember one time particularly well because I lined up with the boy who was my crush that year. In the grown-up world, men brought flowers to their wives or girlfriends.

It was a BIG DEAL, but the message was mixed – women mattered, and also, women were these pretty sheltered things to whom offerings of flowers was all you needed. Have you seen much change for women in your lifetime? Tell us what you think.

Check out my Patreon page HERE

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Rebel Girls has a new video: The Ugly Truth of Children’s Books.

Books with girls photoIt is an eye-opening and very disturbing demonstration of how girls and women are portrayed in children’s books — if they are visible at all. Watch it and I’m sure you will be as appalled as I was.

Most of my books are noted for strong female characters and I itched to put some of them in the bookshelves the mother and daughter in the video are unloading. My books would have stayed on that shelf, dammit. My Worldweavers books would have, anyway, for that age group. Rebel Girls, have you met Thea Winthrop yet?

Watch the video at Rebel Girls HERE

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Quote of the Day

Alma Quote poster

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‘Children of a Different Sky’: Stories of war and exile — A crowd-funded anthology from great authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to help the dispossessed human tides of our era. Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

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Why do characters lie?

Fictional liars

The Unreliable Narrator is a character who tells the reader a story which cannot be entirely trusted, or taken at face value. The narrator might be deliberately deceptive, or they may be telling a perfectly reasonable story according to THEIR worldview, their reality, which may not be the reader’s. Perhaps they are working from a misconception because they are not privy to all the relevant information.

Basically, the unreliable narrator storytellers cannot be entirely trusted to tell YOUR truth.

Here’s a piece of homework – think of a story with an unreliable narrator. I’ll start you off. “Clockwork Orange”. “Life of Pi”. “Rebecca”. “Gone Girl”. Justine Larbalestier’s “Liar”. Quite possibly Alice, of Wonderland fame (I mean, she dreamed it ALL…) That’s a start. Cast your mind over books you have read. Add them to the list.

If you are creating your own unreliable narrator, there can be pure exhilaration in doing it, doing it well, and knowing that at some point the reader will gasp sharply when they realize that the things they have been led to believe are real and true… may not be. It is a very delicate web to weave, but when done properly it is an amazing dance between the writer and the reader, and these are books that are remembered for a long time after they are done.

There are a number of ways of doing this. The hardest one is the clue layering all the way in, right from the start, nudging the reader along inch by inch until you pull the curtain on the reveal. The dangers there are obvious. It is possible to give too many clues, leaving the character way too open to being unmasked too early in the game.

It is possible not to give enough clues so that the reveal comes out of left field and the reader feels ambushed by something that was never properly foreshadowed.

The writer can be subtle about this, giving out information through the reactions of other characters (indicating that something about the narrator’s thoughts or actions is considered ‘off’ in his context and circumstances), or simply by placing the narrator within a setting where it is clear that the perceptions being conveyed to the readers are filtered through a lens of a very different set of convictions or a worldview and the things the narrator perceives as being good or right… may not be entirely correctly perceived.

In this sense, the character does not exactly LIE to the reader, he or she simply presents their own version of the truth. This can be tougher than it looks, particularly when the author is not the narrator and does not necessarily share any views that the reader might find abhorrent. It is important not to confuse the voice of the narrator with that of the author. A good author can project an entirely different person with a remarkable degree of verisimilitude.

Facts are empirically provable, but truth is not so easily pinned down. Truth is perceived rather than proved. One person’s truth may not be another’s – a deeply religious person’s truth is that God is responsible for absolutely everything and is all-powerful, while an atheist prefers to trust this world rather than the next. You define yourself as a good person by doing what you perceive are good deeds. That is a fact. But whether you do those good deeds because you are hoping for a reward in Heaven, or because they are in themselves reward enough in this world and you have no expectations of ever seeing another, that is your truth, and your own truth governs how your perceive your life, your world, your experiences, and how you convey your ideas to someone else.

Person A might well consider Person B an unreliable narrator simply because the two of them do not necessarily inhabit the same truth sphere, even though they are both physically very present in the same world. Both persons are telling the truth – their OWN truth – and both persons might be perceived as bending that truth, or actively lying about important things, by the other. They are being perceived as unreliable narrators. And in some ways it is the reader who governs the unreliability of the narrator – simply by providing their own set of lenses through which they might view a particular story. Readers will always find in any story worth its salt far more than the author ever thought they put in there.

All fiction is by definition a lie. None of it “really happened”. But you as the reader get to decide which of the characters within any given story you actually trust to provide you with the inner scaffolding of meta-truth with exists within the narrative you are reading.

And if you’re the writer, you have to decide what aspect of your story is the ‘true’ one, the right one, and which you will present to your readers as subtly skewed… and then you have to trust those readers to perceive it. You get to shine the light of your choice on your story – and you hope that, in the minds of your readers, you get to cast the shadows you wanted.

Within your story, however, on a more granular level, you will sometimes make the choice of having a character tell a blatant untruth at some point.

Why do people lie?

There are people who are incapable of stopping – whose entire lives are built of lie upon lie, one making the next one necessary, and they are just placed one on another and mortared in place until there’s a wall of lies it is impossible to work your way free of even if you tried. There are people who might do this because they want to trap others behind that wall, and there are people who build it to protect some inner core of themselves. Either way, it’s an inevitability, in the end – it’s like pushing a snowball down a hill and watching it get bigger and bigger and bigger and obliterating everything in its path in the end – but that final result is not entirely your fault. All you did was push the snowball off the hill. Everything else it did by inertia, by itself. Unless the character in question is a certifiable sociopath, though, this is a tough row to hoe. Keeping a wall of lies straight is not the easiest thing to do. While some of them are solid they are also very vulnerable to the presence of the smallest inadvertent truth.

There are people who will lie out of compassion – the “it will be all right” lie, to someone who is mortally wounded or who is dying of an incurable disease, the “it’s better this way” lie when some unspeakable tragedy occurs and you’re trying to make it lighter by implying that a greater tragedy would have happened had events fallen out otherwise. That sort of thing.

There are people who lie in the heat of the moment and then have to live by that lie. There are people who will lie to protect themselves. There are people who will lie to protect others to the point of damning themselves.

There are people who will lie for personal gain, who will sell second-hand lemon cars or bad mortgages or shady investments to gullible or vulnerable people. There are people who will not so much lie as simply not speak of something to a third party (who may or may not have a right to know).

There are people who will lie because they don’t like their truth and they simply speak of it in terms that they can live with even if those terms are not real or true. Self deceiving is all too easy because you are lying to yourself and you have no outside way to verify that information..

There are people who will lie for gain, or for pity, or for love, or for incandescent hate, or for indifference. There are people who will lie for the joy of hearing themselves do it.

The first lie told begins a story. The rest of the story… is a search for truth. Not, necessarily, the facts. Just the truth.

 

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Quote of the Day

Building Castles poster

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‘Children of a Different Sky’: Stories of war and exile
A crowd-funded anthology from great authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to help the dispossessed human tides of our era. Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

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HELP ME BUILD NEW WORLDS: 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 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

~~~~~
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.

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

~~~~~
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. 

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

~~~~~

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

~~~~~
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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