SF then and now

To The Moon artHubble image

Science Fiction in the 2nd and 21st Centuries

Lucian of Samosata’s ‘True Stories‘, written in the 2nd Century, might be the first science fiction novel, Tibi Puiu writes at ZME Science.

“The characters venture to distant realms including the moon, the sun, and strange planets and islands. The star protagonist is Lucian himself who happens to stumble upon aliens on the moon and finds himself in the midst of a war between the lunar and sun empires.”

“More fantasy than science fiction? I guess it’s best we leave it to art and literature historians to settle the matters. What’s certain is that this is a hilarious book.”

And you can download it from the Internet.

Read the whole article HERE

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Hmmm, I think my light-hearted SF novel, ‘AbuctiCon,’ might have a bit in common with Lucian’s story.

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders also moves us a bit forward in time from the 2nd Century, talking about

Science Fiction in the Early 21st Century
Galaxy image from NASAImages via NASA/Hubble Space Telescope

While I was performing the disheartening task of writing the obituary for David G. Hartwell, the incredibly influential science fiction editor, I came across his introduction for an anthology called The Science Fiction Century,” Anders writes.

“Back in 1996, Hartwell wrote: ‘The twentieth century is the science fiction century. By the middle of the 1990s, we are living in the world of the future described by genre science fiction of the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, a world technologies we love and fear, sciences so increasingly complex and steeped in specialized diction and jargon that fewer and fewer of us understand science on what used to be called a ‘high school level.'” Science fiction, Hartwell wrote, is a literature for people who want to understand how things work.’

Anders adds that she believes that science fiction’s best days are ahead of it, in large part because “if this genre has taught me anything, it’s optimism about human ingenuity—along with a belief that the unexpected is just around the corner.”

Read the whole story HERE

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The Spanish Edition

I was approached the other day by Lecturalia, a Spanish website about Literature.

“To complete your profile on our site,” the email said, “could you send us a picture or allow us to use one of the photos you have on your website?”

I didn’t know I had a presence on a Spanish-language website, but it’s HERE     

Neat. They had  only a handful of  my books, ones that had already been translated, but I am delighted to be on it. Since I don’t speak Spanish, I am not 100% sure, but apparently the website is located in Spain. If so, I’m particularly delighted since my first major book ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’, was a bestseller in Spain.

I sent them the photo, of course.

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Quote of the Day
Ursula quote~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books       Email me
 
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Lie that tells the truth

Five reasons I write fantasy

ALL fiction is fantasy. By definition. But I am using “fantasy” in its more commonly applied genre sense here, the literature of true wonder – the worlds of JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling and GRR Martin. (Is there something magical about initials? For the record, I’m AA Alexander… unh, I’m AAA?)

There are many reasons to love the genre, MANY more than five. But here are MY top five reasons that I love writing in this sphere.

1.The breathtaking sense of wonder

Good fantasy will give you this, even when it’s describing something that might otherwise be totally mundane. You can get to Wonderland in a train or down a rabbit hole, there are a million roads leading there, and if you look around you while you’re traveling there are amazing things all around you. REALLY good fantasy won’t tell you everything – but it will hint at things glimpsed out of the corner of your eye and you’ll go crazy trying to turn quickly enough to see it and might never do, but the knowledge of its presence will give you wings.

Tolkien once famously wrote of the charge of “Escapism” that is all too frequently leveled at fantasy. The only people who resent escapism, he said, are jailors. That is exactly right, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with setting your imagination free.

River Map ToC And as the writer in whose own imagination these things are born… well, there’s something that’s absolutely amazing about standing there in the middle of some place full of color and music and the scents that bring back memories or hint at things not yet known, a place YOU have just touched with power and made to come alive, and beckoning in somebody else. And watching their faces change as they come closer, and watching their eyes widen, and their lips curve into a smile, and their hands reach out for something magical that’s fluttering around them enticingly. Making up stuff? Yeah, sure. But waking up someone else’s sense of wonder? Priceless.

2.The ability to tell hard truths through the silver tissue of lies

There are times that reality is just grim, and dark, and terrible. There are times that talking about these things in realistic terms will make at least some people curl up into a fetal ball and whimper quietly in a dark corner. And those people will see nothing but the darkness, they will believe that light is forever extinguished and things will never be right again.

But in fantasy… you can look that darkness in the eye, and then you can close the book, and you are safe. And it gives you the sense that it is possible to be safe from the “real” thing too. That things really might get better.

The famous G K Chesterton quote that always spoke to me in this context is that fairy tales are not there to teach our children that there are dragons – it is to teach them that dragons can be conquered.

And nothing beats fantasy at this. Because the heart of fantasy is raw courage, the kind that can stand against anything, no matter how much pain is piled upon it – the kind that might bend, that might buckle, but all of that is in the end temporary and when dawn comes (and it comes) you can get back on your feet and stand again. Nights are dangerous, and they teem with fell things, but they don’t last forever.

Fantasy gives you the opportunity, by presenting your monsters in guises in which they don’t seem quite so overwhelmingly threatening (at least not to yourself, they are after OTHER PEOPLE in these stories….) to actually face these monsters down – to learn how to deal with them outside the book covers, in your own lives. Fantasy can call out the hard stuff, and deal with it. Fantasy can make you feel better about monsters and dramas and tragedies. Fantasy is the lie that tells the ultimate truth.

That is a rare and magnificent power.

3. It is bigger on the inside

Fantasy is a TARDIS – you step into something skimpily enough described and great vistas open before you. Entire unmarked virgin worlds. And the further you go the more there is. It’s the great magnificent power of the words “WHAT IF…?”, words which you can follow anywhere, and they will always be leading you on, and forward, into something new and not looked for.

Sure, there are fantasies which are deeply rooted in places that look very much like the modern world, or perhaps the historical middle ages, and which will function according to at least some real world rules. You might ask, so how is looking back over well-trod trails the same as looking forward into an unmapped future? Well… it’s like this. The roads might be the same. But the people who travel them – and the reasons those people have for taking to them – are ever different, and new.

The reason that fantasy is so rewarding is that every reader brings their own baggage along with them on that journey. The writer gets to lay down the road, to draw a rough map, but what’s carried on that journey enriches both the writer and the reader. I love the idea of selling a ticket to this world which lived in my own mind’s eye and then waving goodbye to the reader who takes it from my hand and smiling as they walk away from me, shouldering their own particular backpack, looking around, inevitably finding things in this world that I never put there, that only they can see. And because they see it, they make me see it too. And my own vision is the richer for it.

Fantasy is bigger on the inside because of all the things that we all bring into it with us. It’s glorious.

4.Stories are about people, and the characters who populate fantasy are often astonishing

They are you… only… BIGGER. They are the same as you… only… different. They live through adventures and lifetimes and you get to live through those things with them, and it’s a gift to be able to give readers companions who will never quite leave their side again. I have read reams of fantasy books in my time, and some of the characters from those stories STILL walk with me. I have so many spirit-friends out there. And so does everyone who reads fantasy. It is my joy to create characters who are destined to be such companions – it is my privilege as a writer to create them well enough to be remembered, and taken into the future with my readers, and remembered.

I am forging lifelong friendships, here. It’s breathtaking, when I stop to think about it.

5. You get to say what happens

As a writer, you lay down the law – it is your world and what you say GOES. If you repeat “Winter is coming” often enough it becomes a mantra, a promise, a threat, a warning for the ages – and yet all you have really said is that a particular season is on its way. But in THAT world, WINTER MATTERS.

In your world, as a writer, you can make things like this matter. And you can lay down the law and the consequences for breaking that law. And your word is law.
You point to a mountain, and it will crumble. You hover above a battlefield like an angel of doom, and the battle swings to your will. You create planets, and you destroy them; you make the sun rise, and you make it set, and you make the tides come in, and the birds migrate, and the quiet fires of the heart of a world roil and rumble unseen and unsuspected beneath your characters’ feet until you see fit to make the ground shake under the soles of their boots.

You decide what’s good, and what’s bad, and what’s punished, and what’s rewarded. YOU decide what’s triumph and what’s tragedy. You get to rule it all. And dammit, sometimes it’s just good to be God Emperor.

I’ve written every kind of fantasy, from Epic High Fantasy (the Changer of Days books) to historical (the sweeping sagas of ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’, and ‘Embers of Heaven’, and the upcoming ‘Empress’), to YA (the Worldweavers books, which are full of their own whimsy, and The Were Chronicles, which are much darker). And a book, ‘Midnight at Spanish Garden’, which has been labeled a ‘contemporary’ fantasy. All of them have been this kind of joy.

I live in the heart of fantasy… and it is home.

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There’s a (m)ap for that

Yeah, we’ve all seen recent maps of fantasy worlds – most of us who read in the genre would be able to find our way around Narnia, or Middle Earth, or Syai, or Weseteros. But have you ever wondered about the Elder Lands, the fantasy landscapes of myth, and legend, and earlier fantasy?
Fairyland mapThis 1917 map of fairyland is like a Where’s Waldo of fantasy, Andrew Liptak says at 1o9.

Titled ‘An anciente mappe of Fairyland: newly discovered and set forth’, it was created by Bernard Sleigh in 1917 as a comprehensive mashup of a whole bunch of fairy tales.

See the whole story HERE

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Fairy tales much older than previously thought
Beauty And Beast image

Beauty and the Beast, one of the fairytales believed to date from thousands of years ago. Photo: Durham University/PA

Studies of the origin of stories like Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin show that they trace back thousands of years, with one tale dating back as far as bronze age, Alison Flood writes in The Guardian.

Using techniques normally employed by biologists, they studied common links between 275 Indo-European fairy tales from around the world and found some have roots that are far older than previously known, and “long before the emergence of the literary record”.

Read the whole story HERE

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In her blog, Anne R. Allen discusses

“10 Misconceptions a College Education Taught Me about Writing”

“I had what is known as a ‘good education,’ I attended East Coast and European prep schools and Ivy League colleges. Both my parents were college professors with PhDs in literature. All of which left me uniquely unqualified for my chosen profession: writing novels.

Why?

Because I grew up knowing almost nothing about what kind of writing actually sells.”

Read the whole story HERE

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Quote of the Day

Read and be nice image

If only…sigh.

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Alma Alexander      My books       Email me

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Badass Women

History, historical fiction, historical fantasy   When worlds collideAt Bustle, Hannah Jewell offers us

14 Badass Historical Women To Name Your Daughters After

Take Nancy Wake, for example:

Nancy Wake photocommons.wikimedia.org(1945).jpg / Creative Commons

Wake was a spy, a journalist, and a hero of the French Resistance during World War II. Would you like your baby to be exceedingly glamorous? Then name her Nancy.

Born in New Zealand, Nancy ended up settling in Paris, where she worked as a journalist and passed her time in the enjoyment of “a good drink” and handsome French men. When WW2 broke out, she joined the Resistance and saved the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers and downed airmen by escorting them through occupied France to safety in Spain”, and later joined the British Special Operations Executive as a spy.

One time, Nancy got her parachute stuck in a tree. A nearby Frenchman said he wished all trees could bear such “beautiful fruit”, to which Nancy responded, “Don’t give me that French shit.”

Just think, these could be your baby girl’s first words, Hannah Jewell suggests.

Read about all these amazing women HERE

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When worlds collide – History, historical fiction and historical fantasy

A couple of years ago, I blogged about ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei,’ a novel I wrote as a historical fantasy. Its roots lie in Imperial China and the secret language of women that then existed, but it is NOT China – I called my world Syai — and it is NOT a straight historical novel. It was never intended to be.

But HarperCollins put on a cover for the American edition which was far more mainstream than fantasy. Despite the earnest protestations in the Author Note in the novel, there were  bookstores that placed the book in the history section – and, inevitably, those readers and reviewers who expected real history were in for a disappointment. A few readers and reviewers have faulted my ‘historical research’, even demanding to know precisely WHICH Chinese Imperial dynasty my book is supposed to reference, as  though the world of my imagination is really the historical China of our world.

It isn’t. It never was. China was an inspiration for the fictional fantastical land of Syai, not its direct historical antecedent.

That all came to mind because of an essay by Disha Jani in The Toast

Who Tells Your Story? Historical Fiction as Resistance

Jani is talking about real historical fiction, set in a real world, not my China-that-never-was. But I found her article fascinating because I too have loved historical fiction.

“What drew me to reading about the past in the first place” Jani writes, “…is fiction in the literal sense. Specifically, children’s historical fiction presented as the diaries of girls my age, living through various periods in Canadian and world history.

“The librarian at my elementary school pointed me towards the one about Marie Antoinette one day, and I was instantly consumed. The Dear Canada and Royal Diaries books meant that I could hunker down with a friend who was escaping to a New York tenement from Russian pogroms, or being shipped to Quebec as a fille du roi, or studying with the imperial Chinese because her tribe needed to establish diplomatic relations.

“Today, I continue to love anything about a badass genius woman in an old-timey world.”

Hmmm. Maybe she should read my “Empress” when it comes out. Except that once again… the ‘historical’ in that book is very much tempered with the ‘fantasy’.

Fair warning. I love history and the depths of its roots but I prefer not to be constrained by the exact “and this is what happened” boxes when I am writing a story – which is why the historical fantasy field is something I am so delighted with. I’ll meet you all in the not-quite-REAL lands of my imagination…

Read the whole Disha Jani article HERE

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A ‘Happy Gent’ At 100

Herman Wouk has written an autobiography entitled ‘Sailor and Fiddler, The Reflections of a 100-year-old Author’. The sailor represents his life as a writer, the fiddler his spiritual side.

Herman WoukStephanie Diani/Simon & Schuster

Wouk quickly became a best selling author with such novels as Marjorie Morningstar and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Caine Mutiny, which was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart as the unforgettable Captain Queeg.

Growing up in the Bronx, Wouk wanted to be a writer, but Judaism was always important to him as well. He loved Mark Twain and Alexandre Dumas, and he also fondly remembers listening to his father read the stories of Sholem Aleichem on Friday nights.

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS & THAT    

At Bustle, Sadie L. Trombetta selected

10 Jane Austen Tattoos For The Classic Lit Lover In You

including this one from ‘Pride and Prejudice’
Austen TatSee the other nine HERE

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A bookseller recently emailed me that she had sold out of my books at Rustycon, adding that she had hand delivered a copy of ‘Random’ to a customer in Keizer, Oregon on the way home.

The customer was the member of a book club which was about to discuss the novel and she wanted to get it in time to read it before the meeting.

“Since she’s apparently a night owl,” A. Carpenter (AmyCat.BookUniverse) wrote, “she was fine with me delivering it on my way home. Thus, I ended up delivering a copy of your book in Keizer at 2 am!”

Over and beyond the call of duty.

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Write what you know means ‘before you write about something, know it.’ As a living human being, you must constantly learn new things anyway, or you are obsolete and will be replaced with a newer model. Make one of the new things you learn what you want to write about.” ~ Jerry Kindall

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At Buzzfeed, Alex Alvarez has discovered

31 Funny Tweets That Are Way, Way Too Real For Writers

e.g.
When fantasy writing is contagious:
Writers TweetsSee all the tweets HERE

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Quote of the Day

The difference between an optimist and a pessimist? An optimist laughs to forget, but a pessimist forgets to laugh.” ~ Tom Boddet

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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Ode to the literary cat

It is a a writerly thing. Some of us have dogs, to be sure, but the classic writerish badge of belonging to the scribe tribe is…a cat.

In some ways it’s inevitable. Dogs worship us, and although that can be invaluable in a world which otherwise largely doesn’t care, it is the cat who serves the ultimate purpose in writers lives, keeping us grounded, and keeping us humble.

In the throes of epic inspiration, wrapped in the arms of your Muse? Forget it. The food bowl is empty, the litter box needs cleaning, and those things need attention now. Screw the Muse. there is first and forever and always CAT. And Cat must be obeyed.

Cats go perfectly with books and cups of tea or coffee, in homes, in libraries, in bookstores, so many bookstores.

I well remember the somewhat disconcerting gaze of the Borderlands Sphynx – the naked hairless ubercat who came to perch on my lectern when I did a reading there and stared at me with those ageless eyes, at the same time giving approval and waiting for me to stumble on a word so that it could have its little snicker of schadenfreude.

There’s Dewey, the library cat whom I knew only from a book but still wept oceans of tears over. There are multifarious fictional cats, whose roles range from window-dressing to full-on characters. And real-life cats named after them.

Boboko in the LibraryA friend of mine named one of his own after Pixel, the Cat Who Walked Through Walls. My own heart’s-beloved, Boboko, was named after a fabulous feline in Charles de LInt’s “Mulengro”, and he apparently knew about his bookish origin. He hung around books in my library, as the photo attests.

Make today a read-a-book-and-hug-your-cat day. I do it every day.

Mashable takes note of the bookstore-owning felines of Instagram and offers us some delightful pictures.

e.g.
Book store cat“Right this way to the picture book section.”

See more photos HERE

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From a review of ‘Shifter, the third book in The Were Chronicles, by Angela Cabezas at her blog, Angela’s Library:

“Alexander’s writing is gorgeous and insightful, and she uses it to full advantage. I’m always sad when I finish a great story, but as I wrote to Alma in a Facebook message while in the throes of book withdrawal, ‘I just finished Shifter and now I have to cancel my plans for the day to eat chocolate and cry!’ The best books leave a hole in you when they’re over, and Shifter certainly left a gaping void in me.

“The experience is worth it, though. And look at it this way – once you’re finished you can always go back and re-read the book’s perfect last line over and over again to bring yourself comfort, as I’ve been doing. So what are you waiting for? Go get some chocolate and start reading this book!”

Read the whole review HERE

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HOW many pages? The 10 longest books ever written

Look, I am no slouch in the word-count department. Several of my books – “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, “Embers of Heaven’, the forthcoming “Empress” — even the “Changer of Days” duology, written as a single novel but published in two parts because that’s the only way the skittish publishers would tackle a quarter-million-word epic — all fall in the 200,000 words plus category. That’s a million published words right there.

And I haven’t even counted the epic I wrote in my teens which is just as many words but as yet only exists on 500+ handwritten – in pencil – pages in three hardcover A4 sized notebooks.

Even my YA books are pushing the envelope. Three of the four Worldweavers books are longer than 100,000 words. I managed to contain myself a little more with the Were  Chronicles books because they all fall in roughly at 95-99K words apiece.

But the books here put together by Short List, are in a class beyond that – way beyond that!

Perhaps the headline ought to read ‘The 10 longest stories ever written‘ because the Short List collection includes novels told over several volumes.

But we are talking about long – very long – coherent stories, ranging from near a million words to 2.1 million words.

The number of words is the way most writers judge length, but most readers probably think more in terms of pages. So how many pages are we talking about here?

Well, the shortest book here, the piker, is only 2,400 pages, while the longest is…

drum roll, please

… 13,095 pages.

I suspect you won’t finish it in a day, or maybe a lifetime.

A lot of the books you may never have heard of – OK, probably never heard of. But every reader in the western word has heard of Proust and his ‘In Search of Lost Time’. It might even be on the bottom of their to-read pile – the very bottom.

Short List tells that it is 1,267,069 words in 3,031 pages.

Proust cover

There’s no doubt that Proust’s masterpiece could quite easily double as a mightily  effective doorstop, with 13 volumes clocking up nearly 1.3 million words. Its theme of involuntary memory is repeated through the course of following the narrator’s life, from childhood to adulthood. Published between 1913 and 1927, it had a profound influence on many works that were to follow in the 20th Century; it’s considered the definitive modern novel by many leading scholars. So, to summarize: really long, but really good.

 

But the undisputed winner in this list is basically a romance, ‘Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus’, 2.1 million word, 13,095 page romance. In 10 volumes.

Le Grand coverThis 17th century novel obliterates the opposition. The work is credited on the page to Geroges de Scudéry, but is usually attributed to his sister Madeleine. The ultimate example of the roman héroïque form, it is, essentially, a romantic novel, with endless twists to keep the suspense, and the action, going. Despite its gargantuan length, at the time it was hugely popular.

However, it was not subsequently published again until an academic project was launched to make it available to read on the Internet.

Yes, you can read it ON THE INTERNET HERE

So what are you waiting for? Those 13,095 pages aren’t going to read themselves, Short List chides..

See the other books HERE

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Quote of the Day
Slices Of Trees posterYour choice but I know which I opt for.

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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Goodbye to Giants

What we remember

Only the middle of January and already two giants have chosen this year to wander off into the sunset.
Rickman BowieDavid Bowie and Alan Rickman: photo www.chicagotribune.com

When I first saw the David Bowie headline, I had a quick moment of, ‘Hoax. It MUST be. One of those spoof things that is going to get quickly denied with a hollow laugh and perhaps an apology.’ But no. The first headline was followed by the second, and the third, and the rest, confirming, not denying.

I am not a fanatical follower; if any devoted fans knew that he was sick and ailing, that cancer had him in its claws, I did not. And I, like all too many others, was living in the kind of world where our icons don’t die. They hang there in the sky like a starman smiling down at us. They exist, they have existed, and they will always exist – right until the world changes and they are gone, a last smile fading like a Cheshire Cat’s that is a lingering memory of that fact that we once shared an Earth together, an era, a slice of time and space, even though we never met.

I remember Bowie in many of his incarnations. As I said in my first reaction to his death, he was the guy that made it OKAY for my generation to be weird, made it cool to be weird. He was sexy, and powerful, and dangerous, and talented, and instantly recognizable — and he was ours, he belonged to all of us, collectively, individually.

I remember watching “Labyrinth” for the first time and wishing I could have been Sarah, I could have stepped into Jareth’s arms and have him swing me into that lush music, dance with me in that crowd as though there was nobody else there at all. As the world falls down. Hell yes, I was a romantic. And that was just one aspect of Bowie. But it neither began nor ended there – before and after that there was the Bowie of Major Tom, of Changes, of Under Pressure, of Fame, of Young Americans, of Ziggy Stardust, of Starman.

I wasn’t the kind of fan who hung posters in my teenage bedrooms. But if I had been, there would have been no question about whose it would have been. He left us something huge and priceless. I’m glad I was here to see some if it being made. I’m glad I was part of the generation that lived while he lived, even though I was one of the millions of people who never met him, never even saw him in the flesh. But I was one of the millions who looked upon him with admiration, and with respect.

Yes, I know there have already been those who have dissecting his errors and his sins. That’s not unexpected, in its own way, and I guess it was coming – nobody gets a free pass, or should. But I might have wished for those who wanted to do it to either do it while he was still alive and there to respond if he wanted to, or failing that to have waited at least a week after he was gone before they dragged it all up. There are times to speak, and times not to. He was not – nor ever claimed to be – a saint, and anyone who expected him to be one was sadly ill-informed about life in general. Few of us live our lives unblemished.

I’m sorry he left us so soon. I think he had more to give, and now we will never see or hear it. But there it is – the memory. And in my dreams I will always have that last dance with the Goblin King, holding me as the world falls down.

The second act

And then – barely a handful of days later – another headline. Another “Oh no, it’s gotta be a hoax” which was not one. Alan Rickman. The man of whom I have said that I would listen to a telephone directory if he was the one reading it.

When I was 15 years old and at my English boarding school, they took the entire O Level English class for a field trip to Stratford Upon Avon one time, to see “Antony and Cleopatra”.

What I remembered from that trip, up front, was Glenda Jackson as Cleopatra – the way she walked onto that stage dressed in a plain beige caftan, with pretty much zero make up or accessories – no black-haired wig with dramatic bangs a la Elizabeth Taylor, no jewels, no kohl, no nothing. And within five minutes you would have attacked bodily anyone who so much as hinted that Cleopatra had ever looked anything different than that ginger-haired Englishwoman with close-cropped hair clinging to the shape of her skull and her pale eyebrows and eyelashes fringing English eyes. But that was the star, and that was the memory I took home with me, along with a theatrical program which I had obtained at the time.

Many many years later when I was tidying stuff up I came across that program and realized that I had been given more treasures than I had known at the time. The cast list of that production featured Patrick Stewart… and Alan Rickman.

I had seen Alan Rickman on stage. And it actually HURTS that I have no memory of that at all. If I could kidnap a TARDIS and go back in time this might be one of the moments I would wish to go back to – go back into that auditorium and watch for Alan Rickman as he came on the stage, and remember it.

I really fell in love with the actor and his voice in “Truly, Madly, Deeply”. It was because of him that I went out and bought a volume of Pablo Neruda. He made me laugh and cry in “Galaxy Quest”. He stole the Robin Hood movie from Kevin Costner so spectacularly that it wasn’t even funny. He broke your heart as the nice but clueless husband in “Love, Actually”.  He made one hell of an angel in “Dogma”. And Snape… always. Always. More him than anyone else in that movie, actually. Do I need to go on?

Where’s that phone directory? I have a dire need of a magnficent voice to read it to me. So that I can cry a little, perhaps.

Look, I know all of us are born, and all of us must die – but really – stop, 2016. Just stop. Stop taking people like this before we’re ready to let them go. They were both 69 years old. That’s no age. They had a lifetime still that they should have had to shine in the dark for us. They had so much more to give the world, they had so much more love to receive from it.

My sympathies go first of all to the families who have lost not just an icon but someone they have loved, a part of their hearts. That, first, of course.

But beyond that the world has lost irreplaceable people. And it isn’t even two full weeks into 2016 yet.

Is this the sort of year we can expect, then…? Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow?…

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Shifting the reader’s perspective

Shifter cover‘Shifter, the third book in The Were Chronicles, is now out and at Galleywampus I take a reflective look back on the first series (but not the last, there are more stories to be told in this world.)

I might write fantasy but these books, as one perspicacious reviewer pointed out, are more about being HUMAN than they ever were about non-human “monsters”. In fact, in this book, a lot of the monsters ARE pure human, and the creatures we so love to think of as monstrous are just as fragile and vulnerable as we would be. The enemy is ALWAYS us.

What I write about are the concerns of the human mind, the human body, the human heart, the human soul.

I do not, never have, never will, aim for preaching my own gospel through the bully pulpit of my own fiction. All I do, as the writer, is choose an issue, a problem, an idea, and use the power of story to reveal it, to explain it, to disarm it, perhaps to conquer it through understanding. I always want my stories to have more depth to them than just the surface glitter of pretty sunlight on the surface of water. When I tell a story the underlying stories are always there. Not preachily, not dogmatically, but they’re there. They will always be there.

Read more HERE

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Quote of the Day

“It’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible? What’s a fantasy?

Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.” ~ Alan Ricknan on the importance of storytelling

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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David Bowie’s books

Bowie Books illustration“The two chaps in the middle of our montage are David Bowie sporting a Clockwork Orange T-shirt with his old chum, George Underwood”

At davidbowie.com, they have posted: David Bowie’s top 100 books

As a reader and a writer I am, of course, fascinated by the rather eclectic reading list (from Beano all the way to “The Clockwork Orange”…?).

I have to admit that I have read only 12 books on his list. I am impressed at the wondrous variety of reading material here – but then, Europeans tend to have that breadth because they are reading books from across Europe and by writers from different cultures and languages; also, I suspect that even though the David Jones who existed before David Bowie still had the seeds of the Bowie persona inside him all the way back to when he was a tadpole he also looked like a teenager who might have found solace in the word over direct interactions with people. Before he made that what he was a  cool thing to be, he was, as he had been described in some article about him, ” a snaggle-toothed skinny white boy” and those – even when they’re proto-David-Bowie – can be lonely.

For my generation, David Bowie was special. He made it okay to be weird. More than okay, he made it the epitome of cool to be weird. He had virility and sex appeal — and an edge of danger, even though people who worked with him described him as kind. He was that ultimate of creatures – a practically feline lean mean hunter, but also someone capable of disarming you with a smile, or a softening of those improbably mismatched eyes, or an intelligent word.

Or a reading list.

Once, in an interview, David Bowie described reading as one of life’s greatest joys. It’s interesting to see what kind of stories shaped his own, what helped to make him into that icon that he became.

I might choose an offering or two from his list I haven’t read yet, and read them this year. In his memory.

See the whole list HERE

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Jarry Lee of BuzzFeed tells us about

29 Hilarious Literary Internet Puns

They were sparked by a Comedy Central’s twitter game with the hashtag #InternetABook that involved playing word and Photoshop games with book titles’

One example – “ The Time Traveler’s Wifi “.

Another is this photo
Charlotte's Web Bowser cover
See ALL the puns HERE

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At Off the Shelf, Emma Volk offers us

14 Must-Read Books Set Under the African Sun

Through the beauty of armchair adventuring, Volk says, you can see lush African landscapes and dream of savannahs while you are stuck in suburbia. She selects some books for us.

For example, one of my all time favorites

Poisonwood Bible coverThe Poisonwood Bible:

Barbara Kingsolver charts cultural clashes, political upheaval, and failed fundamentalism in this ambitious epic. When an evangelical Baptist preacher moves his wife and daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959, the African soil proves to be the family’s undoing and salvation.

And there is this delightful series I first encountered on TV

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency coverThe No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency:

The first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed series tells the story of Botswana’s best (and indeed, only) female detective, Precious Ramotswe, a good-hearted detective with a keen moral eye who specializes in everything from missing husbands and wayward daughters to con men and imposters.

See the other 12 books HERE

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Old Words and Phrases remind us of the way we were

Richard Lederer once wrote about expressions that have become obsolete because of technology — Don’t touch that dial, Carbon copy, You sound like a broken record, Hung out to dry.

“A bevy of readers have asked me to shine a light on some more faded words and expressions, and I am happy to oblige,” he says. “Where have all those phrases gone? Long time passing. Where have all those phrases gone?….Long time ago…”

Banned in Boston
It’s your nickel
Knee high to a grasshopper
Domino theory
Don’t take any wooden nickels
And Awa-A-ay We Go!”

“It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging. We can have archaic and eat it, too!”

Read the whole column HERE

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Guardian Book Quiz
Adult Coloring BooksThe book trend of 2015, coloring books for adults. Illustration: Leanne Italie/AP

Who found the manuscript for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman? Which taunt did Martin Amis level at Jeremy Corbyn? And who hasn’t had an adult coloring book devoted to them (yet)?

I got nearly half right, although some by the process of elimination, My husband refused to tell me how badly…err,  how well he did.

Test your knowledge of last year’s books HERE

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Quote of the Day
Dave Bowie BooksHe knew his poetry.

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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You feel WHAT?

Invented words for emotions you never realised anyone else felt

Daniel Dalton of BuzzFeed writes about perfect words invented by graphic designer John Koenig that you can find in his book, “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.”

Take for example an emotion that every writer knows all too wellJouska invented word Daniel Dalton / BuzzFeed / unsplash.com / Via dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com

Then there is a feeling that my husband and I shared at our first meeting in person after months of chatting on the Internet. Walking across a bridge in Vancouver, we both looked at a towering high rise across the river and silently marveled at all the lighted windows and the hidden lives behind them. Neither of us said a word out loud and only discovered our thoughts had been mirrored that night during a discussion years after we were married.
Sonder invented wordDaniel Dalton / BuzzFeed / unsplash.com / Via dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com

See 21 other perfect newly invented words HERE

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At The Guardian, author Carolyne Larrington notes that from George RR Martin to Umberto Eco, many writers have been inspired by stories of the middle ages and she selects “some of the best.” (see below)

As I write fantasy and I love that period myself, it made me reflect on my own reading and writing history, which is one reason, of course, that such lists are always popular.

“Kristin Lavransdottir” was a fat book that I picked up when I was thirteen or so and I sank into it and happily drowned in it. But that’s a straight HISTORICAL novel. So, if you leave out the slightly romantizised aspects, it is something like “Ivanhoe”, another early love of mine.

But Larrington’s list also includes mythology (Beowulf) and straight fantasy (the Game of Thrones stuff) – so it’s very much a cart of mixed apples and oranges. Do we want straight history? Then why isn’t Sharon Kay Penman on this list? Do we want historical fantasy? Where’s Judith Tarr or Guy Gavriel Kay?

I realize that it’s only a short list and they were trying for exhaustive, but that’s the problem with lists like this. People like T H White and J R R Tolkien get mentioned only in passing in order to leave space for the “modern”, i.e. post mid-last-century, contributions. Apples and oranges…

I write fantasy myself, both the epic high-fantasy kind (“Hidden Queen”/”Changer of Days” duology) and historical (“Secrets of Jin Shei”, broadly based in a milieu inspired by historical China,  or my forthcoming Byzantine epic, “Empress”), So I have a stake in books like this, I love reading them, I love getting immersed in them, I love the fact that they underlay, through fiction, a real and inspired interest in both literature and history in those who read them… but this list is a little, erm, eclectic…What exactly are the criteria here?

Larrington’s Top 10 modern medieval tales include:
Name Of The Rose, movie

Sean Connery and F Murray Abraham in the film version of The Name of the Rose. Photograph: THE RONALD GRANT ARCHIVE

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1980): This dazzling first novel has brilliant plotting and witty in-jokes (its hero – played by Sean Connery in the film version – is William of Baskerville in a nod to the great detective), combined with a profound understanding of medieval intellectual history. How might medieval – and, indeed, our own culture – have been different if Aristotle’s lost second book of the Poetics, exploring the importance of comedy, had survived? Vividly explaining the primary political and theological questions of the 13th century, the novel finds a kind of sequel in Baudolino (2000), but it’s this one that I regularly reread.

See the rest of Larrington’s list HERE

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In an essay at The Los Angeles Review of Books, Christopher Grobe discusses

The Case of the Missing Detective: William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes

Gillette As HolmesWhen an actor playing Sherlock Holmes dons the the deerstalker cap, smokes a curved pipe, and crows, ‘Elementary, my dear fellow’, he may believe he’s being faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle, Grobe writes.

“But he’s actually paying homage to William Gillette, the American actor who wrote, produced, and starred in the first dramatization of Doyle’s tales.”

When I tweeted about Grobe’s article and confessed that I had never heard of William Gillette, a New England friend quickly enlightened me.

Gillette CastleNobody does until the 5th grade field trip to Gillette Castle,” Mary Jo Place told me. “After that I think it’s on the Connecticut Residency Test.”

She offered to take me to the castle the next time I visit and I may have to take her up on that.

It is common, Grobe writes in his LARB article, to calculate Gillette’s contribution to the Sherlock Holmes mythology — one deerstalker hat plus a meerschaum pipe times a half-dozen Elementaries! But, he adds, this hardly does justice to Gillette’s impact.

Doyle may have invented the character, but it was Gillette who created the man. He gave a body to that infamous mind, a voice to those words, and a style to Holmes’s very being. As one critic observed in 1929, while announcing Gillette’s return to the stage, Gillette’s face and figure, his voice and manner, gave the entire English-speaking world their mental image of Sherlock Holmes.”

Read the whole fascinating article HERE

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Quote of the Day
He RemembersAnd you forget THAT at your peril!

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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