A trip down memory lane

I tripped over a few things concerning one of my older books, “Secrets of Jin Shei”. The first was this delightful review, in lively Portuguese, from a Brazilian reader.

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Click for Brazilian video review

I understand maybe one word in ten but the sheer flow of enthusiasm gives me joy. And when I tossed it out for the collective wisdom of the Internet to see if anyone spoke Portuguese well enough to give me the gist of what she is saying, a friend of a friend came up with this:

“The girl talks about the book. Gives a description of what the story is about. She liked it a lot. She loved the dynamics of the relationships between the women, the drama of women and their lives. The reviewer loves novels regarding strong women. She loves the history that was incorporated in the book and the lives that these women have. Anyone who loves a book regarding strong women will love this book. She found it very refreshing and was able to get lost in the book. She highly recommends this book. Now I want to read this book. lol”

I also didn’t quite realise that people continued posting their reviews to Goodreads long after the original publication date of the novel. There were some surprisingly heartwarming bits in there. Witness this one, from just over a year ago:

Feb 17, 2012
Tonya rated it 4 of 5 stars

It was the recommendation on the front that intrigued me when i
purchased this book. “This evocative novel is sure to be popular with
fans of Amy Tan, Gail Tsukiyama, and eve Marion Zimmer Bradley.” I
bought it because I was very skeptical that writer could be herald as
a combination of these three authors. I stand corrected.

A book filled with love, tragedy, suspense, and a little magic; I
devoured every page. As I read I was reminded of all the jin-she I
have in my life. All women from different backgrounds that fate moved
our paths to cross and we soon walked them together.

Very well written and spellbinding mastery of imagery that I have not
seen in written word in quite some time, this book is one I most
highly recommend. Gave four stars because I would have liked more at
the end. And I do hope there is a sequel out there somewhere, if not
already written, but being written. These women left a legacy filled
with unanswered questions that, as the reader, you either want to see
the continuation. Or maybe we are to imagine them ourselves.

Or this one, of similar vintage, although my copy-and-paste didn’t seem to capture the actual date for reproduction here:

E_bookpushers rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: historical, own-it

Alexander has a way of ripping my heart out with her writing. I can’t
read her often because I get so invested in her characters and they
experience such hardship. Unlike a romance that I know will have a HEA
these characters usually don’t have a HEA. Some of them live, some of
them die and they are all permanently changed from their experiences.
The chain that brought this entire book together was that of a
friendship/sisterhood so unbreakable that it changed history in more
ways then one for the characters. The thought of such a bond and how
it is innocent at first but then could become heavy and painful as
people change from what they could have become to what they became.

I want to go back and read the first duology I read by her and then
dive into her world weavers series but I need some recovery

I am so absolutely delighted that this story is still out there, still being read, still being loved. Delighted, and amazed, and yes, grateful. And if you have an opinion on it which you haven’t shared, please, please, please do – there are lots of places – Goodreads, Librarything, Amazon, my website, my blog, my Facebook fan page (which is here, for those who haven’t found and/or “liked” it yet. This author is always more than happy to hear from you.

The Tea and the Book

The Taste Of English Tea Blog sometimes pairs teas with books. Some time ago they paired my novel, “The Secrets of Jin-Shei,” with Oolong Orange Blossom Tea. Here is an excerpt from the delightful pairing.

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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 the mythical Chinese kingdom of Linh-an, 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. And it is through this language, as the heady perfume of sweet tomorrows, that vows are made. In that way, the jin-shei is a promise.

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.

From the official blog of The English Tea Store here 

Fan Art!

I recently came across some fan art for “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, at Deviant Art, by an artist who goes by the name of sivvus (site here)

Here’s one of the paintings:

Gorgeous. And so I dropped the artist an email to say thank you. And got the further gift of being told that she was amazed and delighted to have heard from ME, and how much she loved that book.

It isn’t every day that you handed both a compliment and a gift like that. Please do go swing by her site and take a look at some of her other stuff – she has some artwork for sale, too! – but in the meantime, feast your eyes on the image she did for my beloved characters.

My thanks. My grateful thanks. I will always be astonished and delighted to have readers respond to the children of my heart in this wise.

What are your Five Favorite Books?

I know, I know. Picking your favorite book feels like picking your favorite child. You love them all. But give it a try.

Here are mine, in generally random order. (Some of the items on the list are technically cheats, because they are trilogies or series in their own right.)  

1. “Tigana”, Guy Gavriel Kay

This simply one of the best books I have ever read, period, EVER. And the reasons why boil down to two reasons.

One, the characters. This is a book full of characters who are solid, three-dimensional, who carry grudges and vows and honour and pain, and who *change* with all of these things in play. Kay understands what makes people change, and this is huge, HUGE, and it plays an enormous part in this book. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys” here, not exclusively, everybody does things for what appear to be good and valid reasons to THEM, and the reader, even if not expected to approve those reasons, is invited to understand them. This matters enormously.

Perhaps the best exemplar of this is Dianora. This is a woman who puts into play a horrendously complicated and meticulously planned chain of events whose ultimate outcome entails her taking revenge for the death of her country and her family at the hands of a great enemy… and is then hamstrung by something so unexpected, so completely inescapable, that it nearly grinds her into glass dust. Oh, if you haven’t read this book, if you are a reader looking for an experience of a lifetime, if you are a writer who wants to know how to make a character immortal, go read “Tigana”, just for Dianora. Trust me on this.

Two… and this is deeply personal for me … I don’t know how someone like Guy Gavriel Kay, who comes from the kind of calm, civilised, privileged background that he does, who is polite and Canadian, knows what it feels like to lose your country, and your soul. But he does. HE DOES. And he tells that story in “Tigana”. It reaches deep inside of me and wrings my heart until it screams. This, my friends, is the best kind of fantasy. This is the kind of fantasy that is TRUE.

2. “Lord of the Rings”, J R R Tolkien

I read and enjoyed “The Hobbit”, initially, but it was a light and almost fluffy kind of book.  It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of the first book in the LOTR trilogy that I really felt like I had come home. Things… things… clicked for me. I drank it in, in great gulping draughts, and the potion changed me dramatically.

I became a fantasy writer because of this book, probably. Oh, there were other reasons – but this one, this one gelled it, cemented it.

Here was a world that HAD BEEN CREATED WHOLLY AND COMPLETELY FROM THE WRITER’S OWN VISION AND IMAGINATION. It had been done – I held the evidence in my hands, in my heart, in my head. It could be done again. By me. And once I had that bit between my teeth there was no stopping me at all.

3. The Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny

The first five books, really. The second five, well, I read them, I liked them well enough, but it was the first five that grabbed me and held me. Again, for several reasons.

One, there was the seamlessness of the whole thing. THESE FIVE VOLUMES WERE A PERFECT CIRCLE. Book Five ended where Book One begins, but because of all the stuff that you’d just read in between that beginning and that end the beginning now gained a WHOLE NEW PERSPECTIVE, and it just demanded that you pick the first book up again and begin from the beginning. And this could go on forever. It was the freaking Worm Ouroboros in literary form, and I was smitten smitten smitten smitten.

Two, well, the COMPLEXITY of it all. I have never really liked “simple” books, they merely end up being predictable and annoying. The imagination and the ideas behind these books lodged somewhere deep into my creative soul and I have never been free of them since. I owe Roger Zelazny for that, a huge debt.

4. “Dune”, Frank Herbert

Once again, complexity… but I have a deeply ambivalent relationship with these books. I loved the first one, the original Dune, because of the depth of the worldbuilding, because of the organic way that the story and the milieu fitted together – it all made sense, it was connected, it was soul-stirring.

And then the books kind of began a slow slide, and that has never stopped, only became steeper when Frank stopped writing the Dune books and the franchise was taken over by the heirs who really should have known better. Some horses, when they die, are truly dead, and should be beaten no longer – and this one is mere articulated bones, by now.

5. “Fool on the Hill”, Matt Ruff

So okay, I”ll save the last for a shout out to a writer who has since become a friend. But his inclusion in this list is by no means any kind of literary “nepotism”, and is not influenced in the least by the fact that I very much like the person behind the story here.

The story, itself, is important. And I dived into it and sank without a trace.

A three-fold narrative that involved events as they unfolded in the “human” stratum of Cornell University, with real humans, interleaved by the story set in the animal underbelly of Cornell and involved a Dog Convocation and a story set amongst the Cornell Fae. And they all get tied together by an overlay of the trope of a thousand monkeys typing on a thousand typewriters to produce a Story, and the ghostly Founder of Cornell wandering about talking to $Deity$ and discussing everything in a kind of delightful Greek Chorus – dear, GOD, this was just plain briliant stuff.

Matt Ruff has since proved that he was no flash in the pan – if you want to see the more mature edition of the novelist who produced “Fool on the Hill” I highly recommend “Set This House in Order”, which isn’t on this list only because it has only five spots to fill.

Want to play? I would love to know what your choices are.

I don’t write down

From a Fantasy Literature interview sometime ago.

How would you distinguish, if in fact you do, the writing you do for adults versus the writing you do for YA? Is there anything different about the process? The crafting? Thematically?

If there is one thing that I myself resented mightily when I was growing up, it was a sense of a grown-up — particularly a writer — talking down to me as to a child. I was brought up as an intellectual equal who had not quite caught up to my adult family as yet, never as a child for whom everything needed to be simplified and EXPLAINED. As a result I treat my own younger audience with both the respect they deserve, and with an expectation that they will stretch to reach the things they don’t quite get without my needing to hand it to them on a platter.

My first-ever published book was a slim volume of Oscar Wilde-like fairy tales which was published in an educational context by Longman UK, and used as a reader in schools and in classrooms — but these were ALL stories originally written for an adult audience in mind, not fifteen-year-olds. I was afraid that they would edit the things into a pablum, that they would remove the complexity of tale and language, in order to render the thing “comprehensible” to the YA reader — but they did not. They did very little editing, made very few changes. The stories remained complex, on every level. And it didn’t seem to matter to the audience to whom the book was marketed — not at all.

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I instinctively write lush, poetic, complex. I find it hard to even write short stories because they rarely give me the room I need to spread my wings with a tale. I was aware that I had to watch certain things with a YA readership — for instance, in Spellspam, there were certain kinds of spam that were, uh, not really appropriate for the intended audience of the book, but I had no trouble writing within the limits of that framework and producing a book with as much emotional “truth” and heft that I would expect to produce for a more grown-up readership.

I believe that my intended audience will find its level, and I trust them to do this. My own contribution is to hope to provide a story that is enjoyable and entertaining and yet solid enough for that reader-writer relationship to be one of mutual respect.

Read the rest here.