But it’s not real…Is it?

Every book has a story – of its origins, of the secrets and the inspiration which led to its existence, the surprises that leaped out at the writer during the process of creation, the dead end alleys, the astonishing moments of transcendence, the feelings that linger when the writer types “The End.” These essays about my books originally appeared at the Book View Café Blog,

Alma’s Bookshelf

The story behind ‘Midnight at Spanish Gardens’

Let me take you to a place which once was real and is now no more, a place that existed as the worst-kept secret of the University where I was young, handed down like a legacy from generation to generation. Called Spanish Gardens, it was curled up at the end of a nondescript alley waiting for you – if you knew it was there.

Even today, more than thirty years after I and others of my generation left it behind, if you cornered any of us anywhere in the world, we will all describe it to you perfectly in the exact same way, an image frozen in time, like a magical photograph.

It was just a matter of time before I returned to this place in spirit to immortalize it in a book.

The book is “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, and in it you will find this:

Spanish Gardens cover F&B

Evening. You walk down a shuttered street; turn into a narrow alley you should never have known was there. At the end of the alley, there’s a courtyard. And at the far end of the courtyard… there’s Spanish Gardens.

It does not look very Spanish. It certainly doesn’t look anything like a garden.

This place serves up your past like one of its fabled Irish Coffees – all froth and innocence on top and the dark, bittersweet mystery below – and watches you drain it, and then try to scry for your future in the patterns left behind on the walls of your glass.

You come here to laugh,  to cry, to mourn, to celebrate – the place where only truth can be spoken, where you are forced to look all your most cherished illusions in the eye and watch them look down first and slink away like ghosts into the shadows leaving only the shining core of your own true self behind.

This is where you come to learn who and what you were, and are, and may become. You leave the ivied and hallowed walls of the edifices of higher education, and your textbooks, and your professors, and your exams; you come here for the love and the laughter and the understanding. You abandon education, and come seeking wisdom.

Everyone has a place like this, a stop along the way on their life’s journey. Yours might be called Café Adagio, or Mama Rosa’s, or Ming’s Dim Sum – the name and the style and the ambience may be quite different – but if you start to tell me about that place it will not take me long to sigh, and smile, and murmur, “Ah, yes. I know the Spanish Gardens”.

It is a place out of time, a perfect location to marry with a moment that was gleefully proclaimed the end of days, the Mayan end of the world, and produce a novel that is all about choices.

I wrote a story about five people, old friends from college days, who were scattered to the four winds by betrayal, and estrangement, and, well, just life and living. But on this day, on the “last day of the world”, they get back together again for an evening of reunion. Many old bones are stirred and many skeletons rattle in their cupboards – and on the night this magical place offers up a piece of magic to all of these five people.

It gives them a glimpse of another life they might have lived had they, back in the time of their youth, made different choices, taken different life paths. At the end of that glimpse they have to choose – they can stay in that new life, and forget about the one that they had previously led, and it will be erased as though it had never been and all trace of it would vanish from their memory.

Or they can return to their old life.

Four of them choose to come back to the lives which they had been living, which had shaped them, which had made them into the people who they knew they were.

One does not.

It is a visceral thing, this choice. Everyone who has read and reviewed this book turned inward and asked, inevitably, “What would I have done?” You trace the forks in your own road and you wonder where you would have ended up if you had chosen a different direction at those crucial moments of decision which presented themselves.

But in the end most of us come back to the feeling that if we are at all happy with our lot then it is impossible to regret anything that led us to be where we are. And if we do have regrets… for us, there is no magic, not of the kind which I imbued my semi-mystical Spanish Gardens with. We have to live with our regrets. There is no going back to erase things, to do something else, something different. There are no do-overs. Our lives are our lives.

But still. That was a potent cocktail, that story. A place out of time, and a moment at the end of time (and maybe the beginning of a whole another universe). Married together, they made for a heady elixir. This was not an easy book to write, nor is it an easy book to read. This isn’t something you pick up and put down and then go back to later – it’s complex and full of unexpected aftertaste, much like those Irish Coffees for which Spanish Gardens was so justly famous.

This is a book of questions, and if I offered up answers for the characters who live within this story that doesn’t mean I offer up answers for the reader. You have to bring those along for yourselves. All I do is put the questions on the table, lay them out like a Tarot reading, and then sit back and watch you interpret the meanings for yourselves.

Would you have chosen a different life if you were given a chance? Would you have given up a lover, a career, would you have traded high achievement and unhappiness for a lesser but more content existence?

Nobody knows, except you.

Come with me. Come to Spanish Gardens. Take the first sip of that Irish Coffee story.

And choose.

Pick up your copy HERE

~~~~~
Flash fiction photo of lightningThe State of Flash Fiction

 

At Electric Literature, David Galef & Len Kuntz break down the newest developments, achievements and emerging classics in the world of chiseled prose.

Read the whole article HERE

~~~~~

Quote of the Day

A Flood of knowledge poster

https://www.facebook.com/writerscircle/photos/a.469562786290.301523.110046421290/10154697212786291/?type=3

~~~~~
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 real name is…

I am home from the hospital in time for Christmas and will be back to normal  activities, including blogging, soon. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
~~~~~

Regarding pen names

All y’all know me as Alma Alexander. Easy. Alliterative. But it was not always so. My maiden name and first author byline was Alma Hromic.

But back in the day when “The Secrets of Jin-shei” was first published, I got a call from my agent with a deal-breaker issue. The publishers didn’t want to put the book out under my maiden name, because “it was too difficult to spell, say, or remember”.

Granted, that’s been an issue ever since I waded into the English-speaking world. The English language mind cannot seem to get itself around the fact that two consonants such as H and R can follow one another. They keep on helpfully introducing a vowel between the two when they write it down, even if I am SPELLING IT FOR THEM AT THE TIME.  Spellcheck tosses its cookies and offers up “chronic” or “chromic” as alternatives. Other people equally helpfully assume that the H in front must be silent when pronounced. It isn’t.

I’m not the only who has ever faced this, of course. At LitHub, Emily Temple gives us

An Incomplete Guide to Proper Literary Name-Dropping

starting with Vladimir Nabokov, J.M. Coetzee, and Ayn Rand (It’s pronounced “ine,” like “eye” with an “n” at the end.)

Read the whole article at LitHub HERE

~~~~~
How to choose a book

If you are still searching hard for gifts, I’d like to remind you there is only one indispensable present for any occasion.

While there are hundreds of wonderful reads out there waiting to be discovered, I have a few suggestions involving… surprise… my own books. If you don’t know them, let me help you decide which ones might be of interest to you and your gift recipients.

If you  loved Harry Potter… try my Worldweavers series (Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, Cybermage, Dawn of Magic). It’s the story of a girl who couldn’t do magic, then grew up to be the greatest mage her world had ever known.

If you loved Jo Walton’s “My Other Children”, . try “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”

If you love Guy Gavriel Kay… try “The Secrets of Jin Shei”, “Embers of Heaven”, or my newest, “Empress”.

If you love Cassandra Clare or Suzanne Collins, try The Were Chronicles (Random, Wolf, Shifter)

if you Loved John Scalzi’s “Red Shirts”, try “AbductiCon” in which time-traveling androids kidnap a hotel full of Science fiction fans and take them for a loop around rge moon.

You can get further information and links to sales points on all of my books by going to “My Books” in the top menu under the header.

~~~~~
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.

Covering Lady Chatterley

I am recovering from surgery and my blog may not be as active as it usually is. I will get back to it as soon as possible.

~~~~~

25 Covers from Bland to Sensuous

First published in 1928 in Italy, the D.H. Lawrence novel was put out the following year in France and Australia. An unexpurgated edition was not published openly in the United Kingdom until 1960. Over the years there has been numerous covers ranging from sensuous to deliberately staid, even boring.

Lady Chatterley cover 1Lady Chatterley cover2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See all the covers at flashbak.com HERE

~~~~~

Why pen names?

All y’all know me as Alma Alexander. Easy. Alliterative. But it was not always so. My maiden name and first author byline was Alma Hromic.

But back in the day when “The Secrets of Jin-shei” was first published, I got a call from my agent with a deal-breaker issue. The publishers didn’t want to put the book out under my maiden name, because “it was too difficult to spell, say, or remember”.

Granted, that’s been an issue ever since I waded into the English-speaking world. The English language mind cannot seem to get itself around the fact that two consonants such as H and R can follow one another. They keep on helpfully introducing a vowel between the two when they write it down, even if I am SPELLING IT FOR THEM AT THE TIME.  Spellcheck tosses its cookies and offers up “chronic” or “chromic” as alternatives. Other people equally helpfully assume that the H in front must be silent when pronounced. It isn’t.

I feel for those poor Polish people who have lots and lots of what the English consider wildly inappropriate S’s Z’z and Y’s in the mix. They must all feel like they’re living their lives in an endless spelling nightmare, walking the English streets….

I’m not the only who has ever faced this, of course. At LitHub, Emily Temple gives us

An Incomplete Guide to Proper Literary Name-Dropping

starting with Vladimir Nabokov, J.M. Coetzee, and Ayn Rand (It’s pronounced “ine,” like “eye” with an “n” at the end.)

Read the whole article at LitHub HERE

~~~~~

My books are like…

Christmas and the end of the year are approaching and you are beginning to think about finding gifts for mom and dad and the kids, as well as Aunt Sarah, your best friend and maybe a work mate or two.

Personally, I think there is only one indispensable gift for any occasion — a book, naturally.

While there are hundreds of wonderful reads out there waiting to be discovered, I have a few suggestions involving… surprise… my own books. If you don’t know them, let me help you decide which ones might be of interest to you and your gift recipients.

If you  loved Harry Potter… try my Worldweavers series (Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, Cybermage, Dawn of Magic). It’s the story of a girl who couldn’t do magic, then grew up to be the greatest mage her world had ever known.

If you loved Jo Walton’s “My Other Children”, .try “Midnight at Spanish Gardens” in which five friends are offered the chance of a new life.

If you love Guy Gavriel Kay… try “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, “Embers of Heaven”, or my newest, “Empress”.

If you love Cassandra Clare or Suzanne Collins, try The Were Chronicles (Random, Wolf, Shifter)

if you loved John Scalzi’s “Red Shirts”, try “AbductiCon” in which time-traveling androids kidnap a hotel full of science fiction fans and take them for a loop around the moon.

You can get further information and links to places to buy all of my books by going to My Books in the Top Menu under the Header.

~~~~~
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.

5 things to do …

Another year is almost over, and it’s time to begin reflecting – amongst other things – on the act of writing, and those who perform it.

Here’s something true: before you can write about life, at least adequately, you have to have lived it. In some way, shape or form. And I don’t mean vicariously on Facebook, or even online at all.

Here are five things to do with your life before you’re ready to be a writer. There are  more than five things, of course. But these are pretty broad.  Feel free to add in your own subcategories, or nuances.

1) DO SOMETHING DANGEROUS.

Know what an adrenaline surge REALLY feels like. You cannot possibly write about one without that visceral knowledge. And “dangerous” is huge – you can fit in a lot of things under that umbrella – do something that your mother might have warned you about, or something that society considers “unsafe”, or something simply exhilarating.

Here are a few of mine.

*Three of my (young, female) friends and I once climbed down from Table Mountain in Cape Town, on foot, in the dark, sliding down scree slopes and falling into the switchback roads, until we finally ended up hitch-hiking a ride the rest of the way down in a solitary car coming down from the topside parking lot, with a single male occupant inside. He was nice. We were taken down the mountainside and deposited at its foot without any incident at all. I was in my twenties; this was half my life ago. The adrenaline rush remains to this day.

*I jumped off a mountain. In a parachute. With an instructor, to be sure, in tandem, but still – I parasailed off a mountainside. I have pictures to prove it. When my father saw them – unexpectedly, before I did, long story – his response was, “If you survived that, when you get home, I’m going to kill you.” Yeah. Adrenaline.

*I swam off the edge of a coral reef. The adrenaline of THAT makes my teeth ache right now while I am thinking about it. The experience can still make my heart race.

*I gave my heart completely. And had it broken. And it HURT. And I’m the better off for having dared to do it.

2) TRAVEL.

You will gain only a very limited understanding of humanity if you seek it only with people who live in the small town where you were born, and you’re too afraid to venture beyond the edges into the great wide world beyond. Learn at least the basics of another language in which you can communicate with people who are NOT LIKE YOU. The world will open up like an unexpected dream. It’s nice if your destination is far flung and exotic, but it doesn’t have to be. Take a road trip. A train ride. If you have to start small, begin by going an hour, two, four, six, outside your comfort zone. Then ,if you feel ready, tackle the world.

Some of the places I’ve been:

* Fiji and Tahiti (learned a few phrases of the Micronesian/Polynesian vernacular, learned to snorkel, swam with dolphins, saw an octopus and a coconut crab in the wild, made friends with local people and learned their dreams. And I will never forget the colors of the coral lagoons, nor the black depths of ocean that lie beyond them. The colors of the world.)

* Vienna (walked the polished wooden floors of Imperial palaces and the cobbles of its streets, listened to waltzes, drank young wine in the wine shops of Grinzig, tasted Sacher Torte in the Sacher Hotel where it was born.)

* Kruger National Park, South Africa, and Etosha National Park, Namibia (saw lions and leopards in the wild, saw an elephant pace slowly and majestically away into the purple African twilight, breathed in the dust and the heat while watching herds of impala and zebra and wildebeest. Learned that rhinos are the firemen of the African savannah, and run TO a fire instead of away from it, and stomp it out with those hard-soled stumpy little feet of theirs if they can – which means that they can be damned dangerous to campsites when they blunder into the midst of fragile human campers.

* Japan (the first and only place on this earth where I was ever totally functionally illiterate – but I managed. Learned about the Shinto and the Buddhist faiths, and what each means to the Japanese people. Saw many beautiful temples. Saw many beautiful gardens. Been aware that I walked the ground where an ancient and vivid civilization had thrived for CENTURIES, and felt breathless with that knowledge, particularly when gazing, in a museum, at a samurai sword from something like 1452 – still bright and shining steel and still probably capable of cutting a hair in half as it floated down upon its edge.)

You get the idea. The world is a wide and wonderful place, and it is FULL of gifts.

3) FEEL REAL GRIEF.

You cannot know what it’s like to lose a living thing that you love until you do that – until you lose the cat you’ve had by your side for the last fifteen or twenty years of your life from a simple and inevitable advent of old age, or watch a beloved pet waste away before its time from something you cannot do anything about and make the decision on their behalf that they have suffered enough, or sit by the bedside of a grandparent who is slipping away and holding the soft wrinkled hands in your own knowing that they may not feel your doing so but that somehow, somehow, they know that you are there.

Real grief is raw and bitter, and tastes of tears. Before you write of it, you have to have had it tear your own heart apart. Because everything else will feel inadequate to those readers of your future work who HAVE known such grief, and will know if you speak the truth.

4) FEEL REAL ANGER.

Something should make you feel your way down to your core, until you find that cold hard ember that is at the heart of you, not the swift mundane attacks of being cross about someone cutting you off in traffic or being rude to you on a subway. Something should reach all the way down to that primeval thing, the cold fury, the anger that does not leave you blinded with temporary passion but leaves you clear headed and clear eyed and knowing that ALL OF YOU hates this thing that you are seeing, hates with every fiber. True fury needs few words,  but if you want to write about it, you have to know what it FEELS LIKE. What it feels like to be REALLY that angry.

So look for something. Cruelty to animals. Cruelty to children. Pointless war. Something precious being willfully wasted. Ignorance and bigotry. Hypocrisy. Something, anything, something that you consider to be IMPORTANT ENOUGH to tap that cold fury in support of. Know it, understand it. Only then can you own it.

5) FAIL.

Because you will. it is inevitable. Do what you need to do anyway, knowing that it may meet this fate. Because fear of failure is otherwise going to put the brakes on too many things that you need to do or want or know in your life before you can understand any other human being alive deeply enough to write their story. You HAVE to know what it means to fail.

The lives of the very rich and the very happy seldom make for good story fodder – because these people can be seen as insulated from failure. Everything is handed to them, and if failure becomes a looming option then a scapegoat is found to take the weight of it leaving the one who truly failed unscathed by it all. The most interesting stories come from people who have failed HARD, and then learned from that failure, and risen up like proverbial phoenixes to touch fire again. Don’t be afraid to fail. Just be afraid of not trying.

Any questions…?

~~~~~

If you liked that book, you would surely like my…

Christmas and the end of the year are approaching and you are beginning to think about finding gifts for mom and dad and the kids, as well as Aunt Sarah, your best friend and maybe a work mate or two.

Personally, I think there is only one indispensable gift for any occasion — a book, naturally.

Wolf boy cartoonWhile there are hundreds of wonderful reads out there waiting to be discovered, I have a few suggestions involving… surprise… my own books. If you don’t know them, let me help you decide which ones might be of interest to you and your gift recipients.

If you  loved Harry Potter... try my Worldweavers series (Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, Cybermage, Dawn of Magic). It’s the story of a girl who couldn’t do magic, then grew up to be the greatest mage her world had ever known.

If you loved Jo Walton‘s “My Other Children”, . try “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”

If you love Guy Gavriel Kay… try “Secrets of Jin Shei”, “Embers of Heaven”, or my newest, “Empress”.

If you love Cassandra Clare or Suzanne Collins, try The Were Chronicles (Random, WOlf, Shifter)

if you Loved John Scalzi‘s “Red Shirts”, try “AbductiCon” in which time-traveling androids kidnap a hotel full of Science fiction fans and take them for a loop around the moon.

You can get further information and links to sales points for all my books by going to “My Books” in the top menu under the header.

~~~~~

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.