Why do we keep some books forever?

Books with tenure

Falling Books Bookcase photoSometimes I get an urge to run a finger down my bookshelves and remember books – why I got them, why I loved them, why I still own some but not others, what it is that makes a book get tenure in my library.

I still have a bunch of the early Asimov stuff – the robotics stories, the  detective-in-the-stars tales – and this is what I cut my SF teeth on… it was my password – “Hello stars, Asimov sent me”.

I still love some of the robotics stories, but it’s a sentimental affection. I, and the world, have moved on from the early simple sweet Asimovian storytelling. Comparing Asimov with, say, Stross, is like going from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian universe.

I can pinpoint exactly when McCaffrey began to go south on me. It was the Crystal Singer books. Good grief, but that woman was unpleasant. Tough, sure, able to fend for herself, talented, but MAN was she unpleasant. Why would I care about what happened to an unpleasant woman? I read the Crystal Singer books. I no longer own them.

I still have the Dragonflight/Dragonquest/White Dragon trilogy. EVERYTHING that has been said about them in so many other places is absolutely true. McCaffrey tapped into a powerful fantasy with her dragon-human bond – who wouldn’t want to have such a creature for a pet, a friend, a companion? But those books fail me TODAY in that they are too linear, too simplistic, too damned obvious. My tastes have gravitated towards the complex and the layered, the rich and the lush.

I first read Orson Scott Card’s Songmaster novel as a partial published in a magazine. I fell in love with the story, with the power of the tale, with the voice in which it was told, with the compassion and the tragedy that followed the development of the relationships of young Ansset and those who surrounded him, loved him, molded him, ruined him, redeemed him.

I picked up Ender’s Game – and really loved it. But then that franchise ran out of steam fast, and by the third book in that series I was gone.

The original Dune took my breath away then, and still does today. Here was my thirst for complexity slaked, and then some. It was incredible, and powerful, and it found a deep place within me. But the sequels – ah, the sequels – I managed to read the first three. I haven’t touched any since then.

Roger Zelazny’s Amber. I LOVE the original five. I am less devoted to the second set, but I still have them. Those books have full tenure. And not just because one of them happens to be signed.

Mary Stewart’s Merlin books? Keepers, all. One of the best and most powerful tellings of a story told many, many times. Spider Robinson’s stuff – ye gods, do I have to explain? The man’s a Pun King, and for someone similarly afflicted his books are a constant joyride of rolling-eye groaning delight. Keepers, again – and once more not because one of them is signed thusly: ‘To Alma, who obviously has The Callahan Touch herself.’

What else have I got there? Gene Wolfe? Larry Niven? Michael Moorcock?

Guy Gavriel Kay? Oh, him I’ve got – ALL of his books I’ve got. I could rank them for you, sure, from the astonishingly sublime (Tigana) to the merely magnificent (Song for Arbonne, Lions of Al-Rassan). I’ve got ’em all. He’s a keeper. Always will be.

Glenda Larke – friend and colleague – who understands story, worldbuilds with passion, and Writes Good Character. Keepers. Newer favorites, like Catherynne Valente, Elizabeth Bear.

Some books get bought, get read, get evicted. Others… stay.

They’ve got their hooks into my heart and my memory, somehow, and they are more than just the contents of a bookshelf. They are a set of signposts for the literary road I’ve traveled so far. They are not possessions. They are that part of me that is – that part that CAN be – written in other people’s words. They represent the bits of my mind and heart and spirit which THAT writer, THAT story, made possible.

So. What’s on your bookshelves, then…?

The complete version of this can be found at the Book View Cafe HERE

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In a lithub interview, Joyce Carol Oates talks about:

Great Editors, Bad Reviews, and the Internet

Joyce Carol Oates head shotJoyce-Carol-Oates- Photo Dustin Cohen

“The internet can provide a kind of visual beauty, but it does not seem somehow permanent, or “objective”—it can so readily be replaced by the next image. A book on a table, in the hand, on a shelf seems to exude a degree of integrity and “there-ness” totally missing in the digital world. However, I do much of my reading online and even on an iPhone. There is nothing wrong with this, and such reading is far better than no reading at all.”

Read the whole interview at lithub.com HERE

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At bustle.com, Joan Didion offers

11 Writing Tips

Joan Didion head shotJemal Countess/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Sound just like me.

Read the whole interview at bustle.com HERE

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What would happen if a first-born child is promised to two different witches? someone asked.

The question was irresistible. I began writing a short tale. 

To read my version of the story, consider making a small donation HERE

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Quote of the DayClive Barker quote

And it is one that all fiction writers bend their knee to.

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A candle in the bitter dark

Hold the light illustration

#HoldOnToTheLight is a campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world to raise awareness about treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. My contribution is below.      -0-

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There was this throwaway conversation about a compelling What-If — what happens if the same first-born child is promised to two different witches? There was even a brand new niche subgenre coined for the resulting tale.

Helping Hands - Witches story illustrationI said,

That’s almost irresistible.”

So why are you resisting?”

I was asked , and so I stopped.

 

 

To read my version of the newborn “morewitchcentriclesbianfairytaleromcom” literary genre, think about making a small contribution HERE

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13 Books About Books for Big Book Nerds

At offtheshelf.com, Kerry Fiallo offers us a meta reading experience. “Here are thirteen great novels in which books play a prominent role—usually instigating the plot.”

First Impressions CoverFirst Impressions, by Charlie Lovett

A Jane Austen superfan takes a job in a London antiquarian bookshop when two different customers request the same obscure book. What should be a simple inquiry turns into a gripping mystery about the true authorship of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Bibliophiles will love this compelling novel celebrating the love of books.

See the other selections HERE

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A candle in the bitter dark

No story worth telling – no matter how meticulously planned – has ever survived intact its first encounter with good characters, or the first really unexpected twist in the plot.

That transformation is precisely what happened to me when I set out on the story journey that turned into my YA series, The Were Chronicles.

Let me give you just a little bit of a background snapshot. Someone put out a call for a new anthology which would revolve around the idea of Were-creatures – but “not wolves”, the guidelines said emphatically. “Give me something OTHER than wolves.”

I immediately came up with the idea of the Random Were – a kind of Were-critter hitherto unknown (or at the very least unexplored) in the genre literature. Randoms were Weres who had a primary form, to be sure – and yes, that could really be anything so long as it was a warm-blooded creature (as in, no insects, no fish, no snakes). Without any further stimuli it would be this primary animal form that they would assume when their time of change came – they would Turn at the full moon, like every other Were, and stay in that shape for their three changed days before they return to being themselves.

But if any Random, at the cusp of their transformation,  so much as glimpses something ELSE, another creature, anything warm-blooded that isn’t themselves or their primary form… THAT is the shape they will assume. That happened to a character in my own novel, an unfortunate farmyard accident ensured that she went through  the rest of her life as a Were-chicken.

The comedic potential for all of this is high and the original story I started to write was, well, light. And comic. And possibly laugh-out-loud. But it didn’t stay that way. Much like the Random of the title, my story seemed to catch a glimpse of something very different and much darker, and turned into that instead.

The story that came out of all of this was not simply a light-hearted Were-critter yarn. It changed into a story which was, as one reviewer said, more about what it means to be human than what it means to be a Were. My changeling creatures became avatars, taking on the mantle of everyone who has ever been feared, mistrusted, mistreated, herded, concentration-camped, studiedly annihilated… because they were different from the rest.

And this story turned into a very sharp light that shone starkly into the dark shadows where the bullied and the battered souls lived.

Without spoiling the books, let me just tell you that Celia, one of the pivotal characters of this story, a Random Were by birth, accidentally Turns into an animal shape in front of the eyes of her entire school filled mostly with Normals, not Were, because she was too close to her Turn. From the moment that she is seen changing into a cat, she is marked – as someone with a scarlet letter on her forehead, perhaps, in this instance a large red W.

In Celia’s world, the Were have been marginalized by strict laws which have been promulgated “for their own safety” but which mean that it is impossible to run away from being one in a normal everyday society.

Much like a parallel pattern in our own historical reality, in the manner of, perhaps, the yellow stars forced on Germany’s Jewish population during a period not too long ago, my Were are permitted to live amongst and mingle with the “Normal” human population but only if they carry identity cards which are marked with a paw print. The mark of “shame”. The mark of being different and therefore fair game.

Celia’s life descends into nightmare. Her peers, goaded by the mores and expectations of their society, begin to make her days miserable. And because she is still a child, under control of authority figures who choose to take the side of the bullies, there is literally nobody to whom it is possible to appeal for help.

I did not sugar coat it. I wanted it to be stark and brutal and terrifying. And for poor Celia, that’s exactly what it was.

Paraphrasing one of my favorite G K Chesterton quotes, the value of fantasy lies not so much in scaring our children with the idea that dragons exist – but in giving them hope and courage in grasping the thought that they can be defeated.

It is invaluable for someone who feels lonely, isolated, backed into a corner, despised, feared, and cast out by a society to which they desperately want to belong to know that although it might often seem that way *they are not alone*.  And my story grew the dark wings of a brooding and dangerous kind of a guardian angel – the kind that doesn’t necessarily defend you against harm but which arms you against it so that you learn how to stand up to it all by yourself.

When I was young, I was a solitary, bookish child, often by myself, and certainly (given my peripatetic wandering childhood) always somehow *other.* I was lucky in that I was never bullied for it. I was simply left alone. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what being bullied is like, I’ve seen plenty of it. I can understand what gives it form, strength, power. I can feel the pain visited upon the victims.

Candle in the dark imageWhat all of that does mean is that I found myself writing a story which was vastly more important than the one I thought I was embarking on when I started out. I was holding out a light in a dark place. Perhaps it wasn’t a flaming sword – perhaps it wasn’t making a victim into a warrior, at least not directly – but this story turned into writing on the wall, “You are not alone.”

That is a powerful message, and it resonated with readers. I got feedback about how much it mattered to someone who had either direct or indirect experience with these things. It was a story which may have been hard to read, for some. It might even rate a trigger warning, for some. But the catharsis was very real, too, and this story – this #HoldOntoTheLight story that was born out of a moment of lighthearted whimsy – is perhaps the most important thing I have ever written, or might indeed ever write.

This is a fantasy that is more real than I would have believed possible – and it is at once an indictment of what people do to other people who are deemed to be “not-us” and therefore ripe for being dehumanized and called enemies, and a shining story about how at least one of those marginalized people stood up and took matters into her own hands and said “No more”.

Everyone matters. It is sometimes hard to get people who have been downtrodden or hated for a long time to believe that truth about themselves. That’s why a story which shows them that they own their own place in the universe can be so important. Sometimes it’s very dark out there, when you’re the only one holding a tiny flickering candle – and sometimes it just helps when someone else steps up beside you holding another.

You still have to wait for the sunrise to see things in the bright light of another day – but sometimes, truly, all it takes to drive away a sense of darkness and keep your spirits up through the remainder of the night is knowing that you aren’t out there in the shadows all by yourself.
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#HoldOnToTheLight believes fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment. Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go HERE

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Quote Jodi Picoult poster~~~~~
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My River!

I was born on an ancient river in a country which no longer exists. The country, then Yugoslavia, split into many parts, including my home, Serbia. The river was the Danube, an old river, muddy, treacherous, full of shifting sandbanks and sucking mud and terrifying whirlpools.

And I love both the river and my home country with a passion and a longing that is part of my very being.

This come to mind now because of a wonderful video,

The Danube in Serbia: 588 ImpressionsDanube in Serbia photo

(Link to video at end)

I was told stories about the Danube when I was barely a toddler, of the years when the winters were so diamond-hard that the ice on the river was thick enough to bear sleighs and horses and they had sleigh races, complete with thundering hooves of iron-shod horses, up and down the frozen river. The river which ate life during the war, when the invaders took the local residents out onto the ice and pushed them under, sometimes still alive, for the crime of being who and what they were.

The river which threw out bright glints when the summer sun hit the water lapping at the muddy banks, or the deep green depths where sometimes the clear water lingered; the river whose bottom was trawled by great bewhiskered catfish whose smaller representatives you could see moving sluggishly in a large tank at the marketplace  – but I, even as a child, knew that there had to be bigger and wiser catfish in the river who had lived there for a century or more and were far too canny to get trapped into that death-tan.

When my grandfather was a child the river was still clean enough to drink from. When my mother was a child it was still clean enough to swim in. By the time my time came, you’d probably catch seven different kinds of dysentery from the thing, and it smelled of diesel, closer to the main quay where the boats tied up, and, further down the embankment, of soft squelching ripe river mud, the kind that would suck the shoes off your feet if you wandered too deep into it.

The mud hid things that were known as bikovi, a kind of seed pod which was distinguished by sharp spikes – three of whom at any given time served as a steady tripod on which the thing rested and the fourth pointed straight up, sharp and solid and sturdy enough to drive through the sole of a shoe.

I loved my river with a great love. The Danube which was not blue, not here, and never was. It does not matter. I worshipped the great brown water flowing swiftly by. I loved the ramshackle fishing boats pulled up on the sandbanks out where the river was not constrained by concrete or great levees. I loved the forests of cats’ tails and other water reeds that crowded its shallows, wading out into the stream. I even loved the sharp seedpods which I took such care to avoid. I loved the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it flowed through my own veins, like blood and memory.

I was, still am, in superstitious awe of it. When I returned to the city of my birth in the aftermath of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, the one that had taken out ALL the bridges that bound together the parts of the city on the river’s two banks, the only way across was by crowded ferries which often had standing room only and were stuffed with as much humanity as they could carry… or by cockleshell boats plied by private enterprise, which would take you across for coin, like the ferryman across the Styx.

We did that, my mother and my aunt and I, one time, and sat in the little wooden boat as it was flung across the river by the good offices of a tiny outboard motor. I remember sitting on the wooden seat in the boat, next to the edge, with the boat low enough in the water that I could, if I wanted to, reach out a hand and trail it in the water as we crossed the river.

And I tried.

I put out a hand and spread out fingers that trembled… and I could not make myself touch that holy water. Holy, to me, for so long. I had been warned against its whirlpools as a child and now there they were, swirling brown and oddly innocuous right next to my boat… and I could not touch them. Because the legends I carried in my heart and in my spirit told me that there really WAS a river god living here, and that he was drowsing, and that my touch might wake him, and I would pay the price.

The great river. The old river. The river of dreams, and of power, and of eternity, flowing like time.

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The above was excerpted from an ezine edition of the St Petersburg Gazette on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death.

You can watch the whole wonderful video at YouTube HERE

Comments welcome HERE

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How Long Did it Take to Write the World’s Most Famous Books?

When inspiration strikes, a work of fictional brilliance can be produced in a matter of days. Others take a bit longer.

From ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ which the author, John Boyne, claims to have written in 2 ½ days, to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien which took 16 years to complete, printerinks.com has collated 30 of the world’s most famous books to compare how long they took to create.

One of my longest novels, The Secrets of Jin-shei, was written in less than four months; another took …mumbleyears.
How long did it take? infograpicRead more at printerinks.com HERE

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Books, not Pokemon

Inspired by the success of Pokemon Go, a Belgian headmaster has developed an online game for people to search for books instead. Aveline Gregoire’s version is played through a Facebook group called “Chasseurs de livres” (“Book hunters”).

Players post pictures and hints about where they have hidden a book and others go to hunt them down. Once someone has finished reading a book, they “release” it back into the wild.

Searching for books: Reuters story HERE

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Alma Quote poster~~~~~
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When the words die…

It seems so very long ago that I first tripped over a low-key article about a little known “women’s language”, called nu shu, which once existed in China, passed down from mother to daughter, totally hidden from male eyes.

The article mourned the loss of the last speaker of nu shu who had learned the language in the organic, traditional way – at her mother’s knee. With her passing, the language died too – at least as a living thing, spoken and used. From now on it would only be studied and remembered and dissected, but as a living language it was gone.

It was this story that gave me the inspiration for my highest-flying book, “The Secrets of Jin Shei“, where a similar language formed the basis for my imagined society.

Last Wichita speaker passes away

Just recently I became aware of another language vanishing into those same shadows – this time because of the death of Doris Jean Lamar-McLemore, the last fluent native speaker of Wichita (link, and story by Rhiannon Poolaw of KSWO below). Once again a language once used and shared and vibrant has withered away, and will soon only be a memory.

Bird Of Stone photoIt’s like languages were birds on the wing, soaring on the winds, diving into clouds, full of the joy of living and of existence – until, eventually, inevitably, things start turning to stone, the wings getting stiff, the hearts getting heavy, until the creature falls to the ground, only a stone image of the joyful flying thing it once was, to be picked up and picked over and examined and wondered at by those who come after, those who had never known the living thing that flew.

And with every loss of language comes an inevitable loss of culture, of memory, of things that could only be said or understood in that language.

The loss of words, any words, anybody’s words, makes me sad.

Read more about Doris Jean Lamar-McLemore, the last Wichita speaker HERE

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Sometimes world creators like writers and artists don’t have to make up things. Sometimes things get made up for us that we could never have invented…like a radioactive mineral that exists nowhere else on Earth than in the grave of a nuclear disaster – something rare, and precious, and something that could kill you faster and more thoroughly than any monster in any fairy tale.

In the radioactive woods arond the place that was once known as Chernobyl, there now lives a thing called the Red Forest which crawls with mythological creatures and radioactive fungi that glow in the dark.
Chernobyl desolate sceneChernobyl was a tragedy. Its aftermath is a blend of mythology old and new and it is hypnotic in its stark and deadly beauty.

Read this astonishing essay; it’s well worth your time.

(All images featured are film stills from Stalker. Credit: Filmgrabber All quotations of Chernobyl survivors are excerpted from Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Holocaust.)

Reads the whole essay HERE

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Oh, to live in a bookish town…

When we moved to the place we now call home, it was partly because of two AMAZING second hand bookstores we found in the heart of the town. It could only bode well for the spirit of the place.

But the English town, Hay on Wye, is… a special thing. It’s SPECIAL. How many spots on this planet could bear the weight of this many words congregated together?
Hay On Wye, bookstore photoHay on Wye has been known to me for many years. No, I’ve never been there. Yes, I’d love to go. What other form of paradise is there for someone who loves reading, loves the feel and smell and the promise of books – for someone who is always a little breathless with anticipation before starting a new book, and often breathless with a sense of wonder after finishing a particularly glorious one – than this…?

Read the whole story at storypick.com HERE

Other book towns in the world HERE

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Archive of 6,000 Historical Children’s Books, Digitized and Free to Read Online

An astonishing treasure trove at openculture.com HERE

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A review of Wolf, the second book in my Were Chronicles, by L. Bruce Diamond is the kind authors pick for their blurbs. He says, for example, that Wolf

“is simultaneously frustrating, engrossing, infuriating, and satisfying.”  

If a book can stir up that kind of reaction in a discerning reader, the author’s labors in producing it were well worth it.

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Was the West won or lost? posterWinners and losers

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