An electrifying museum

Spark museum signThis little town where I now make my home, tucked away in the beautiful foothills of the Cascades, would not be the first place you would think of if you were to consider the establishment of a museum dedicated to electricity in general and radio in particular, but here it is.

When I did a Literature Live event at Village Books for the Worldweavers series, the guy from this museum, Tana Granack, turned up with a portable Tesla Coil and proceeded to wow everybody with a fireworks display  never before seen in the Village Books reading room. The museum has a particular fondness for Tesla and he is amply represented in the exhibits. How could he not be, the New Wizard of the West, the man who invented the 21st century.
Alma and the Tesla coil pgotoAlma and the Tesla sparks
There are five unique collections which lead into one another. They are a mixture of audio-visual presentations, dioramas, more traditional discrete exhibits on shelves and in glass cases. There’s a little bit for everybody out here – for the kids who come to learn, for the adults who come to indulge in unashamed nostalgia.

You make a sharp right as you come in, straight into the The Dawn of the Electrical Age: Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries gallery. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Age of Enlightenment – the time in which electricity began to be more fully understood not as magic but as science. But it was STILL magic, this early on. This was the era of Ben Franklin and his legendary kites, Leyden Jars, experiments with static electricity.

You remember the times you got zapped when you were a kid – I recall climbing down a staircase in our high-class hotel on a winter holiday, and making the mistake of reaching out for a metal banister while wearing a woollen sweater positively stuffed with static electricity. The blue-white spark that leaped between the banister and my fingers – and which HURT! – was a Mystery of Life, the spark of life itself. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on the awe and majesty of the actinic blue arc which spanned the empty space between myself and that metal tube.

It was one of the most fundamental WOW moments of my childhood – it must have been because I can’t have been more than eight at the time and I still have an extremely clear mental image of this event.  

This museum – it just brings back that WOW moment. The early age of electricity-as-miracle gives way to the next gallery – Electricity Sparks Invention: Electricity in the 19th Century, the Industrial Age, the entry of electricity into homes where it brought light and a myriad other useful applications, the telephone, the telegraph. The world changed, fundamentally, and the way we all lived and thought and behaved and believed changed with it.

This place has the telephone used in the first transcontinental phone call – how cool is THAT? And how suddenly astonishing and somehow almost unbelievable it is to equate this to the way we take it all for granted today, that we can call somebody in Japan or in Germany and be instantly connected, that we all wander around glued to our cell phones.

This whole thing led to The Wireless Age: The Rise Of Radio. Again, it is difficult to imagine a time when radio contact was not a given. This particular gallery has a room dedicated to the event which helped to bring radio and its blessings into the forefront of human endeavor and imagination – the Titanic disaster, and recordings of the radio distress call placed by the ship as it met its epic end in the icy ocean. This is a living moment of history; listen to the tinny crackling voice on the recording, close your eyes, you’re there, you’re with that proud ship as it begs for help, your heart can’t help but beat faster. You learn – first-hand, from a moment so long ago – what it means to be IN CONTACT, what it means not to be alone. Electricity did this. Radio did this. The science of the human race and kindred did this. WE did this.

These days we can track a ship, an airplane, or a spaceship in trouble, we can communicate with miners trapped a mile underground, we can talk to the stars. We’ve come a long way from the Titanic, baby.

But we had to start somewhere…And we started by adopting this whole new technology, as a given, as our due, and we built a civilization on it – Radio Enters the Home. News broadcasts. Cultural events. The harbigingers of “War of the worlds”. By the end of the twenties almost two thirds of American households owned a radio set… and we were on the threshold of something else altogether.

The Golden Age of Radio. This particular gallery shows off the radio sets which were so much part of an average household – the kind that even I (pipsqueak that I am) begin to remember clearly. The large sets with woven yellow rattan kind of frontages, the large black bakelite knobs you turned to tune the thing and the whine and crackle of static as you rolled across the airwaves seeking the frequency you wanted. They crowd the shelves of the museum, these radios, some of them large enough to be free-standing pieces of furniture on their own. And already they were becoming obsolete, because a new thing was coming… TELEVISION. Poor old radio could not compete. Oh, it’s still around – but it isn’t the same thing that it was all those years ago.

Looking at these magnificent specimens, we’re straddling Then and Now, one foot firmly in the twenty first century as our cellphones slumber in our pockets and one ankle-deep in nostalgia, washing around our toes like the ocean on our first sight of the sea – just as memorable, just as intoxicating, a part of our shared past and our shared curiosity as a species, our history disappearing into the static as the knobs are turned and each new shining discovery is superseded by the next incredible and amazing thing that we have managed to put together, to comprehend, to find uses for. We really can be something special when we set our minds to it.

You step out again, into the real world, feeling just a little intoxicated with it all. It’s AMAZING. And it’s all right here, in little old Bellingham by the sea, unexpected and invigorating and wonderful.

But let me leave you with a story about another aspect of the museum – its sense of playfulness.

You see, it boasts… a theremin. And the last time we were there, the theremin had been discovered by an adventurous four-year-old who had found out that the thing made WONDERFUL noises when he waved his arms at it. And he was waving his arms at it with great glee. We know the kid’s name was George because his father kept on yanking him away from the wailing theremin with a recurring refrain of, “No! George! Stop that! George! Stop it!“ The kid was acting for ALL of us. He had come into a place where astonishing things lay piled on shelves all around him, and he had discovered… joy. And it was your joy, too. You could not help smiling, watching him leaning into the theremin, his small face wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen.

And perhaps that was a good envoi for us all. The world is a place where we trip over impossible dreams with every step that we take.

Sometimes it takes a museum to make you remember that.


Visit the Spark Museum HERE

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Terry Prachett photoHorizontal vs. Vertical Wealth

What happens when a horizontally wealthy person like Terry Prachett goes from $30,000 a year to $3 million?

Read the whole story HERE

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The Radical Argument of the New Oxford Shakespeare

He didn’t do it alone,

Read the whole story at The New Yorker HERE

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Cat’s Best Romance Reads of 2016

I had a great reading year with so many 5 Star reads.  And I needed it with so much going wrong. Here is a little sweet to ease the sour of this day. Here are my best Romance Reads…in no particular order. 1. Dark Deeds by Michelle Diener- Excellent Science Fiction Romance. 

See her choices HERE

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‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile
A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era. This anthology is an effort to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.
Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

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author illustrationYOU CAN HELP ME WRITE: As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Details HERE

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About me    My books    Email me    

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Most Romantic Quotes In Literature

Romantic quotes posterAlice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever.” ―Alfred Tennyson

Read more at Buzzfeed HERE 

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Three Romance Novelists Discuss Their Craft

Q: What makes the romance community such a fun and vibrant one?

CD Reiss photoCD REISS: I used to write mysteries…and I picked up a few fans. I thought I really had something going there. But when I started writing romance I discovered what real fandom was. I never met a group of people more passionate about their genre.

I think the reason is that romance touches the heart instead of the mind. When you reach readers who want you to open them up and break their heart, you’re reaching people who prioritize love and understanding.

See the whole story at the LARB website HERE

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Striking photos of readers around the world

Reader in Serbia photoMKS Steelworks, Serbia, Yugoslavia, 1989 (Credit: Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos)

Steve McCurry’s photos of readers, spanning 30 countries

Readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment,” writes Paul Theroux in the foreword to the new Phaidon book Steve McCurry: On Reading.

Read the whole story HERE

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‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile

A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors you may know – e.g. Jane Yolen– and some who may be unfamiliar to you but have a visceral connection with the pain of exile. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

Back in the land I come from, there is a beloved poet called Aleksa Santic, and a beloved and well known poem entitled, “Ostajte ovdje” – “Stay Here”. Loosely translated it reads:

Stay here – the sun of a foreign sky
Will never warm you like this one in your own heaven
Bitter is the bread in that place
Where you you’re among strangers and not amongst your brothers.

Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

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Quote of the Day

There is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading” ~ Paul Theroux

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author illustration As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Details HERE

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Sun of a foreign sky

Crowd-funded stories of war and exile to help refugees

The time has come for the stories from the ragged edges of silence to be given a voice, stories that will shine a light on some of the most painful conditions that a human being can endure: existence as an exile, a migrant, a refugee.

“Children of a Different Sky” is a crowdfunded anthology of short stories and poems from many authors you know – Jane Yolen, Brenda Cooper, Marie Brennan, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Patricia McEwen, Jacey Bedford, Irene Radford — and many others, some of whom may be unfamiliar to you, writers who might have a more intimate, more visceral, connection with the pain of exile.

Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

You can learn more about the project at the crowd-funding website HERE

Still from Alma videoIncluded on the website is my video explaining how it works and why I think it is so necessary. (Another link below)

I am one of the unmoored myself, although I was not driven from home by war like so many recent refugees.

But at age 10 I did leave the country of my birth, the ground where the bones of my ancestors are buried, where their ghosts walk, where a sliver of my spirit lives still, lives always. I understand on a visceral level what it means to be FORCED to leave a place one calls home.

Back in the land I come from, there is a beloved poet called Aleksa Santic, and a beloved and well known poem entitled, “Ostajte ovdje” – “Stay Here”. Young children of my heritage and culture know these lines – they are engraved on the souls of the humans of my nation.

Loosely translated,  with poetic license, they read:

Stay here – the sun of a foreign sky
Will never warm you like this one in your own heaven
Bitter is the bread in that place                                                                                   Where you you’re among strangers and not amongst your brothers.

This anthology is an effort to make sure that the dispossessed are not forgotten. It is my attempt to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.

If you marched in any city in the world…if you had the courage and the fury to join the thousands who protested Donald Trump’s heavy-handed refugee/immigrant travel ban in the last days of January 2017, I salute you.

Supporting this crowdfunding effort is another way you can help.

Watch the video and give what you can HERE

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11 Famous Authors Who Were Once Refugees

In a story at Bustle, Charlotte Ahlin writes: “Let’s clear something up right away, though, because some people seem to be confused: refugees are human. 100% of refugees are real, human people trying to survive, like you and your friends… Whether they go on to be famous authors, or Steve Jobs’ parents, or just ordinary, non-famous human people on the planet, every refugee deserves to live in safety.

Refugee author Ishmael Beah book coverIshmael Beah

At age 12, Ishmael Beah fled his home and family following an attack by rebels in Sierra Leone. At age 13, he was picked up by the government army and forced to fight as a child soldier for over two years. Beah was finally rescued by UNICEF, and eventually made his way to the United States, where he is now an author and human rights activist. A Long Way Gone is his harrowing, powerful memoir of his life as a boy soldier.

See all the authors at the Bustle website HERE

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But you didn’t

But You Didn't cartoon

I posted this story and a link to it more than a year ago, but it still keeps getting rediscovered and reopened. It is an incredibly moving poem.

“But You Didn’t” Poem Translated & Illustrated by Chinese Netizen: by Fauna

 

See the whole illustrated poem HERE

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HELP ME WRITE: author illustrationPublishing is in flux and most authors need new sources of income to remain full-time writers. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts.

Details on how you can help can be found HERE

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Quote of the Day

Blind is a man without a book ~ Icelandic proverb

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Dangerous Women

After the exhilaration brought on by the massive Women’s March, I found it both amusing and infuriating to browse through these

Postcards warning men about the dangers of women’s rights

They were put together by Tara McGinley who wrote: “Here’s a collection of totally ridiculous vintage postcards and posters dated from around 1900 to 1914 warning men of the dangers associated with the suffragette movement and of allowing women to think for themselves.”

postcards posterExcept for the clothes, I am not entirely sure that things have changed all that much.

See more postcards at Dangerous Minds website HERE

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HORIZONS MURALFeature image: detail from “Horizons” a mural by Robert McCall.

I always remain astonished at the disdain in which the literature of the future has always been held by the here and now.

It’s just so easy to wave a hand and close the door on the science fiction ghetto. 

Sometimes I think that the ‘real’ writers are so afraid of how they’ll be shown up by us genre folks that they’d rather just not compete at all and fondly imagine that keeping the gates locked will keep the cooties away. But I have news for them. it’s in HERE that the future lives. The fences and the locks and the keys…keepg THEM out, not US in. We’re already out there among the stars. Have the literati considered the possibility that it is around THEM, rather than us, that the locked gates and the iron bars really are…?

While I am better known for my fantasy than my science fiction (I sometimes combine the two), I believe that if anything, the sheer vision required to create ANY future from scratch should be a feature of literature, not the bug.

Here are two links to relevant articles well worth you time.

Why science fiction authors can’t win HERE

Building a Better Definition of Science Fiction HERE

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Andrew Hilleman offers

10 Great Westerns You’ve Never Read

My husband, who cut his teeth on westerns, has read a couple of these and urged this link on me. He is still haunted by ‘The Ox-Bow Incident‘, an exploration of mob rule that still echoes harshly for us even today.

Read all of Hilleman’s picks at the PW website HERE

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Surprise! Children’s Books Figured Out Life Long Ago

Children's Book wisdom poster
There’s a reason certain children’s books stay with you long after you’ve left elementary school, Crafty House tells us. “Deceptively simple, such evergreen stories absolutely brim with meaning and insight, serving to remind the reader of the most basic but vital lessons in life.”

 
See all the quotes at Crafty House HERE

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Quote of the Day

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein

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‘I fell out of bed laughing’

Funny Books poster

‘There’s a snobbishness in our literary world that equates laughter with shallowness. How untrue that is’ … Deborah Moggach. Illustration: Leon Edler

At The Guardian, David Nicholls asked some writers to name their favorite funny book. I was happy to see that one of them picked ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K Jerome because that’s the funniest damn thing ever.

Another one of my choices would be a book I have tried to read out loud to my husband several times but never succeed because I continue to crack up when trying to do so — ‘The Once and Future King’, an Arthurian fantasy novel written by Terence Hanbury White. The duel scene between Sir Grummore and King Pellinore in the forest is exquisite and belly-aching funny, as well as the construction of the Questing Beast (“Puce? what is that? And anyway, we don’t have any!”)

And we can’t forget “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson,  

You can see all the other writers’ choices at The Guardian HERE

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Some kind words about my words.

Cary Ballew-Renfro wrote on Facebook:

I am starting a new series of posts, talking about the best books I read in 2016. First off, the great series by Alma Alexander. Random, Wolf, and Shifter. Without giving anything away, let us just say werewolf stories told as science fiction, not fantasy, thus perhaps a new genre – urban SF.

At the end of Random, I had to read Wolf to see what happened next.

At the end of Wolf, you guessed it – had to read Shifter.

At the end of Shifter I was in tears – truly a three hankie ending and if you read it and aren’t bawling you don’t have a heart.

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On Sherlock

Now that the last episode of this season of Sherlock – and possibly the series – is out of the way, a moment of reflection. If you are leery of spoilers please look away now.  

Sherlock exploded on the scene with its first season and it was UNBELIEVABLE. Everything we thought we knew about the story and the characters was still there but it was beautifully brought forward into the world of high tech and high science and smarphones and computers.

And I loved what it did to ancient established relationships. John Watson was fleshed out and made into a Real Boy (TM) to the point that had never even been attempted before, made into Sherlock’s almost-equal in all but that insane deductive reasoning ability. And Mycroft emerged from the shadows as a brilliantly re-drawn character.

When they brought in Moriarty, it was another epiphany. That character has never been more elegantly sketched, and the casting was nothing short of perfect. It all worked beautifully.

Loved it. LOVED IT. It was a glorious thing.

And then the series gained a fan following. That perhaps is the reason the series fall in love with itself, and the results… were not so great.

In Season 3 the introduction of Mary the love interest… might well have worked, and did, in small doses – but then somebody made the fateful decision that MARY MUST HAVE AN EXPLOSIVE ENOUGH BACKSTORY to make her rank up there with the two stars, and in stepped the ex-secret-agent-assassin-who-just-wanted-a-normal-life.

That got away from them fast. The show became ‘clever’ in that it tried to weld together two stories which didn’t go together very well. The moment Mary became a front-and-center thing, the main relationship of the series got upset and wobbled dangerously.

In the Season 4 it fell over. The whole Holmes gestalt got thrown out in favor of some sort of psychological game which put Holmes and Watson in supporting roles. Mycroft devolved into a caricature. And the whole promise of that cliffhanger Moriarty “Miss me?” thing which had ended Season 3 – turned out to be a massive smelly decaying red herring.

I was BORED during the vast sequence of improbabilities in the final episode of Season four — the weird game playing and random murders orchestrated by the randomly invented wild-card Evil Sister who appears to be omnipotent and who is so much cleverer than EITHER Sherlock or his ‘smarter brother’. Mycroft is, in fact, suddenly transformed into a complete blithering idiot. Moriarty? With THAT SISTER? Unsupervised? For a “Christmas treat”? Please.)

I don’t know if they plan on bringing Sherlock back for another season and the worst thing is that right now, I don’t really care. In the past I had eagerly awaited new Sherlock episodes. In Season 4 I went from anticipation to trepidation, and now I’ve gone beyond, to disinterest.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE complex stories and complexity in story telling. Read any of my own books and you’ll find that out, in spades – I practice what I preach.

But what I resent, here, is throwing in things because they thought they were shiny, clever. This sister thing, where did that come from? And could they not have even TRIED to make it remotely plausible?

The early Sherlock seasons gave me, the viewer, the fan, respect. This last season was a jigsaw puzzle which was forced together from pieces that almost but not QUITE fit and then hammered in where the series creators wanted them, whether they organically fit there or not.

I am vastly disappointed, Sherlock. The game may have been wonderfully afoot, but somehow it twisted its ankle and fell in an ungainly heap by the wayside. And no amount of crutches, in this last season, could possibly suffice to hide the fact that what once flew now stumbled, limping badly, towards the shadows which were gathering under darkening clouds  ahead of it on the story road.

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Quote of the Day
brave Knights  poster  ~~~~~
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How long should it be?

I don’t write short novels. As a rule. Most of them are quite long, some behemoths.

In fact my epic fantasy novel (with the original title for the whole thing having been “Changer of Days”) weighed in at a quarter million words – and the publisher took one look at it and squawked, “Split that puppy up into two!” That’s how the duology was born, not by design – and the place where it naturally fell into the two volumes was at a terrifying cliffhanger – but that was meant to lead to the next CHAPTER not the next VOLUME and I hope readers forgave me for that. I didn’t do it deliberately.

Letters from the Fire cover

But I did do a couple of short(er) novels.

Letters from the Fire“, my searing email epistolary collaboration with the man whom I eventually married is a slight book – at least by my wordy standards, although collaborating with a fairly taciturn co-writer might have contributed to that.

 

 

 

Abducticon cover

Last year’s “AbductiCon” was another shorty – but it said all it wanted to say, at that.

There’s a new novel in the works for 2017, another shorter one.

I will never really stop writing lush and long. But maybe, just maybe, sometimes fewer words deliver the greater punch.

At Lithub, Emily Temple offers

20 Short Novels to stay up all night reading

Check out her selection at Lithub HERE

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I do write a fair number of short stories.

Want to read one of my best, for free? One that earned a Pushcart nomination?

“The Bones of Our Ancestors, the Blood of Our Flowers”

is now available HERE

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Self destruction on screen

TiVo recently recorded a movie I was long interested in seeing, “Maleficent.” It was … a major disappointment.

Fantasy and fairy tale are not the same. When a fairy tale is retold well, it is transforms it into fantasy because the basic world of the story has been reworked into something sturdier and more REAL. The original folktale has been deepened and broadened, something gets added.

But the basic fairy tale is a formula — linear and predictable, fairy tales are built solely on tropes and archetypes, and that is all that is asked of them — the sprinkling of fairy dust, the idea of magic, and in most of them the happily-ever-after that follows. In fairy tales there IS no truer true love than the prince and the princess in a rosy glow on their wedding day. You want something more? You have to work harder.

When “Maleficent” first came out, I was interested in the addition of the backstory about the prior relationship between Maleficent and Aurora’s father, and about the destruction of her wings, and how that changed her into the villain we all know. As a writer who counts world-building and character building as utterly essential in the crafting of a good story, I was interested in how they would re-tell the essentially sweet Sleeping Beauty story in the shadow of Maleficent and her stolen wings.

Dear God, what a mess.

Yes there’s a back story but it feels sad and tacked on. The whole fairy kingdom is unbearably twee. And those three fairy godmothers of legend who raised Aurora in the woods are utterly annoying. It is hard to believe that Aurora stayed remotely sane while growing up with those three very trying and very silly creatures.

Then they took one of the great villains of literature and they tried to make her… human. And did a really botched job of that. I find it hard to reconcile the revenge against a reprobate human by telling him “your baby will die”.

None of this makes sense any more — not as a fairy tale, and not as fantasy. And a lot of it becomes an excuse for — whee! — CGI galore and special effects rather than a story vehicle. They took a beloved fairy story, and they CHANGED IT FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON.

The whole idea was supposed to be the Princess and the Prince and True Love’s Kiss. The fairy tale princess isn’t supposed to be woken up by a motherly pressing of lips on her brow. Is this why it was called feminist? Because it is Maleficent’s chaste kiss that wakes the sleeping princess, not that rather dweeby prince who shows up for the job? Come on, people. At least pretend that things make sense in the fairy tale context.

Those wings — they’re supposedly a part of the living creature — hacking them off with a DAGGER would have taken TIME, and dear God, wouldn’t the living creature to whom these things were attached have reacted by waking up to the pain? And just how much value did those wings really have? They’re ripped off and taken as trophies to the old king in the human kingdom — but Maleficent doesn’t seem to have lost an ounce of her magic power, so what purpose did the wingclipping serve?

What was the purpose of rehashing this tale? All they did was unravel and destroy the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. The Maleficent fantasy just never stepped up to take its place.

And then…Well, we’ll talk about Sherlock later. Watch this space.

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Quote of the Day
Le Quin quote Poster ~~~~~
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Read it! Now!

The New Jersey bookstore Inkwood has a list of reading resolutions for 2017.
2017 Reading Resolutions chalk board
Here’s my own handful of resolutions – your mission, should you choose to accept it.

1) If an author you like has a handlea-able number of books out there and you haven’t read them all, become the completist. Find and read ALL of their work. Then write and tell them so.

2) Commit to reading at least 12 books this year – it’s ONLY one book a month and it won’t take that long . No, they don’t have to be 1000-page books (and if they are, you can make a case of that book counting for two or even three ordinary books…)

3) Be a word-spreader. if you like a book, tell other people about it. Writers will thank you for it.

4) Read at least one book in a genre you’ve never read before. You might still not find it congenial but at least you’ll know WHY.

5) Read at least one author you’ve never read before or never HEARD of before. You might hate the book (and you aren’t REQUIRED to finish) but at least you aren’t going to be reading the same handful of authors over and over again. Reading is an adventure. Get your ticket punched for a destination you’ve never ben to before.

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And speaking of lists…

I tend to ignore them myself.

I know, I know, I just offered you a list. Sue me.

Lists I hate graffittiI’ll admit to running through the the occasional list invoving books to see how many of them I have read.

Some lists are more esoteric than others – there are lists I can confidently say I”ve pretty much covered comprehensively and there are other lists which leave me scratching my head and wondering if I live in some alternate universe because I haven’t heard of any of those books or their “acclaimed” authors. Books lists are one of the oldest and dodgiest forms of literary criticism.

Here’s a list that’s left me interested and intrigued. It has books I’ve heard of but haven’t read yet although I’ve been meaning to (Le Guin’s “Lavinia”, for one) and it has books by authors whose names I recognise – but not from THIS book. I think I may have some catch-up reading to do…

Let down by the lists

Read more HERE

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At Off-the-Shelf,  Kerry Fiallo offers us:

17 Favorite Book First Lines to start 2017

One of mine is: “All this happened, more or less.”
Another is: “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

The Secret History coverAnd then there is:

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

From The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

Read the whole article HERE

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Quote of the Day

Writers Block posterNote to my husband: Not in the winter you don’t!

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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Whence AbductiCon?

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.

From Alma’s Bookshelf

AbductiCon: When time-traveling androids take a hotel full of SF fans for a trip around the moon

When people ask writers “Where do you get your ideas?”, they might get a growl, or an answer for some value of “EVERYWHERE!”, or some snarky comment about backyard idea trees. Or sometimes they get a bewildered look and disavowal of having any inkling whatsoever as to the provenance of a story that swam into the writer’s mind and demanded to be told.

Abducticon coverI am not entirely sure where ‘AbductiCon’ came from.

It’s like nothing I have ever done before. It is science fiction, not fantasy, although as  I frequently point out most SF is fantasy: (Beam me up? Really?).

It is contemporary, its characters are people you will probably recognize. It is funny. It is metaphysical. It touches on the lore of my tribe and our favorite pastime, the SF Convention. At its heart, it’s a love letter to the con culture and the tropes of the world of SF&F. I actually deliberately named a character something in order to have ONE PARTICULAR LINE appear in the book (and you’ll know it when you see it. Trust me.)

It is one of the most polarizing books I have ever written. People don’t have meh feelings for this thing. They love it and laugh and hug it to themselves in recognition, or they berate me for having wasted my time on it and call it frivolous, shallow, silly, not worth the time spent ticking off the tropes that appear in its pages on the AbductiCon bingo card.

In what is known in the industry as an elevator pitch, a summary of the book in one or two pithy sentences, this one comes in as possibly — “It’s like the cult movies ‘Paul’ and ‘Galaxy Quest’ had a love child”.

The basic plot: What we have is a classic comedy of errors which happens with any convention, anywhere. It is thrown into a higher gear when a bunch of time traveling androids kidnap the entire con – HOTEL AND ALL – and take it for a swing around the moon while they finish figuring out their own origins

It is a book for people who love science fiction. It is a book for people like me, for people I love, for all the friends and colleagues I have met over the years – it is a thank you to that world for being all that it has been for me in its time, for giving me strength, and courage, and fellowship, and laughter – yes, even while I was writing this, the book was giving me warmth and support and permission to laugh while I sometimes escaped into it, writing it as I did during a wretched period of my father’s last illness.

This book is both for new or casual con goers, and for those who actually know what FIAWOL means.

Get your copy Here

~~~~~Indians With Umbrellas illustration

Featured art: Fritz Scholder, “Indians with Umbrellas.”

With thousands of veterans on the way to Standing Rock to help defend Dakota Pipeline protesters against militarized police, Obama under increasing pressure to take a stand, and the timid corporate media beginning to admit there may be a story to cover, things are likely to get even more complicated and ugly.

This might be a good time to look at…

10 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Read

For example:
Last Standing Woman cover

 

Winona LaDuke, Last Standing Woman

This novel spans decades and generations of people living on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, telling stories of struggle, strength and resistance that culminate in an uprising for independence.
See all the books at Lithub HERE

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How can I write…?

I and 33 other authors offer advice.

I wasn’t consulted, but my best advice?

Nothing is EVER finished – but you have to know when to let go. It won’t be perfect. Not EVER. Live with it. Get your story as good as you can and then let it step out into the world to seek its fortune. Hope it sends you a postcard to show you how it’s doing.”

That’s it. But it took me a score of books and a few million words to really recognize the truth of it. And between you and me, I sometimes have a hard time practicing what I preach.

I particularly like this advice:

33. “Ignore all lists of writing tips. Including this one…every time you hear a writing tip, you have to decide whether it means something to you, resonates with you, or (it’s) the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. It’s your book, you need to learn to write it your way. Now please ignore this advice. – Marcus Sedgwick, author of The Ghosts of Heaven and others

And this:
As Bad as it gets posterimages.unsplash.com

07. First drafts are always horrible and ugly. Don’t worry about that – it’s the same for everyone…if you keep redrafting, one day you will look at your horrible book and realise that you’ve turned it into something actually quite beautiful. – Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series

See all the advice at Buzzfeed HERE

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The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like faces

Rock faces 1Rocks have faces? Rocks have souls?

This is FABULOUS. this is a cabinet of stories waiting to happen. It gives me a happy and slightly insane urge to go out and start turning rocks over and asking them to talk to me.

Speaker to Rocks. There are worse things to aspire to be…

The museum is called the Chinsekikan (which means hall of curious rocks) and it houses over 1700 rocks that resemble human faces. It’s in Chichibu, two hours northwest of Tokyo and may be the only one of its kind.
Rock face 2 photoThe story in Colossal suggests this looks like Elvis Presley. I think it looks rather like our lamentable president-elect.

Read the whole story at the Colossal website HERE

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26 Very Long Books Worth the Time They’ll Take to Read

My choice in this list of books selected by Boris Kachka in Vulture might be obvious if you know my background. I was born in Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists. Clifton Fadiman of the New Yorker called it “one of the great books of our time“. I certainly agree.

I find the comments on the back cover of my own copy that was given to me shortly after the US and NATO’s war on my homeland to be very perceptive:

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon coverBlack Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia,  Rebecca West (1941, 1,181 pages)

Written on the brink of World War II, West’s classic examination of the history, people, and politics of Yugoslavia illuminates a region that is once again the center of international concern. A magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, it goes into the troubled history of the Balkans and the uneasy relationships among its ethnic groups. The landscape and people Yugoslavia are brilliantly observed as Rebecca West and untangles the tensions that rule the country’s history as well as its daily life.

See all the other books at the Vulture website HERE

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Quote of the Day

The best novels are those that are important without being like medicine; they have something to say, are expansive and intelligent but never forget to be entertaining and to have character and emotion at their centre.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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