Random Werewolf

Excerpt from1st chapter of Random, Book 1 of The Were Chronicles

In ‘The Were Chronicles’, shapeshifting Weres and normal humans live in an uneasy alliance. The Weres are officially tolerated but face constant discrimination, must carry dehumanizing paw-print ID cards, and are forced to live in isolation or imprisonment during their 3-day Turns. With increasing tensions between shapeshifters and normals, three young Weres walk a dangerous path with open war suddenly becoming a frightening possibility.

In Random, the first book in the trilogy, we meet Jazz Marsh, a Random Were, capable of becoming whatever warm-blooded creature that she last saw just before she changed shape at the full moon. When her First Turn came, the results were stunningly unexpected. And the world of the Weres and the normals would never be the same again.Transformation illustrationPhoto by Darkness on Unsplash

The Boy in The Basement

Vivian Ingram, the family caretaker and my babysitter, arrived just before the ascent of the full Moon, as usual – locking everybody except me into their Turning rooms in the basement and making sure everything was secure.

Charlie was with her. The first time she’d brought him, he had been thirteen and I was only eleven. You’d think that a newly-teenaged boy would have disdained the company of a kid like me, but we somehow bucked the odds – we missed out on the standard boy-from-girl-from-boy recoil in response to unnamed cooties, and we had become buddies instead. Of course, he was going on sixteen now, and he’d Turned – at his proper New-Moon trigger, only a few months before – into a vampire bat, like the rest of his family.

My brother Mal had glared at Charlie thunderously as he was escorted yet again into his Turning room in the hope that this time would finally prove the charm. Mal, almost eighteen, still un-Turned, having to be marched off into yet another attempt at becoming an official adult in the Were community, being watched by a boy two years his junior who had already passed him on that road.

Charlie knew better than to offer any commentary while Mal was still in hearing range – but once my brother and his temper were safely locked away behind secured doors, he gave me one of his crooked smiles, half sympathy, half mischief.

“Still no joy for him?”

“Nope. And he’s kind of running out of time. They’re not sure what they’re going to do if he passes his eighteenth birthday and is still… like this. Is it even possible for someone to un-Were?”

“What’s he trying for this time?”

“Still a weasel. It’s been quite a come-down, really. He started out all gung-ho, with the wolverine, but after my folks had to keep hiring the wolverine for months it got…a little expensive. So he’s had to bring his sights down some. He wanted something with teeth, though, so – well – weasel.”

“And if that doesn’t work, what, a rat?” Charlie asked.

“Don’t be mean,” I said sanctimoniously.

“Shall we stay and see how he and the weasel are getting on? The Moon ought to be up by now – or is about to be, anyway. It should be fun.”

I smacked him on the shoulder. “You know how he hated seeing us peering in the last time.”

“We’ll be careful,” Charlie said. “Come on.”

Vivian was busy – one of her other sons fortuitously picked a perfect moment to call her on the phone, and while she was talking to him she had momentarily lost track of Charlie and me. We hadn’t really bothered to check on the Moon’s status in the sky – it was close enough for our purposes. We stood jostling outside the door of Mal’s room, and I stood on tiptoe to peer inside through the glass in the door.

“What’s he doing?” Charlie asked, crowding in beside me, careful to keep to the edges so he could duck away if Mal showed signs of looking up and seeing us there.

“Nothing,” I said. “As usual.”

Mal was in fact sitting in the middle of the room, cross-legged and wrapped in his Turning cloak, staring with smoldering eyes at the weasel which stood with its back to the wall staring back at him. Other than the staring contest, which was a sadly familiar outcome of locking Mal into the Turning room at the advent of full Moon, there was nothing of any interest going on inside that room – and it looked like Vivian would soon have to let him out, as she had done every Turn so far since he was fifteen, and he’d still be… Mal. The full Moon was in up the sky; if he hadn’t Turned by now, he probably (yet again) wasn’t going to.

I had already lost interest – but for Charlie, this was a train wreck he couldn’t stay away from. He was still staring into the room by the time I had turned away – from Mal and his continued failure, from the annoyed weasel in the corner – and I was actually looking at Charlie’s fascinated face when something began to impinge itself on my consciousness.

There was nothing going on inside the room. But out here in the corridor, outside… I was starting to feel distinctly strange. Ill, even. There was something deep in the back of my throat, an odd sort of nausea, but it didn’t feel as though I wanted to throw up – it was just… there… as though I had tried to swallow something, either too big or too disgusting, that I shouldn’t have even considered putting into my mouth, and now it was stuck halfway down my gullet and Continue reading

“For you are everywhere.”

Shape of Water phoyoFrom Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight

A few years ago, on the lam from a convention which was utterly failing to hold our interest, my husband and I and a good friend found ourselves snatching at other possibilities of entertainment, which ended up being an afternoon at the movies.

The movie we saw, which left an indelible impression, was Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

I have had a wide exposure to things fairytale-ish and fantastic. I had never seen anything quite like this movie before. It haunted me. All of it, from its incredible fantastic imagery, to that plaintive lullaby theme tune, to the uncompromising attention to detail, to the way it was set in a cruel “reality” and did not shy away from violence and viciousness to underline some luminous idea, to the punch to the heart when the whole thing unspooled and played out.

This was no pretty happily ever after fairytale. This was a fairytale filled with pain and with sorrow… and then with transcendence. It was astonishing. It was etched into memory. It was transforming. It was something that I had simply never quite experienced before.

Shape of Water

When the first whispers of “The Shape of Water”, the director’s new movie, drifted into my focus, I sat up and started paying attention. I tripped on the trailer almost accidentally, and watched it, spellbound. This was a movie I knew I was going to have to go and see.

I did, at last, on Christmas Day of 2017. And… oh. It’s savage. It’s beautiful. It’s funny. It’s spellbinding.

It’s no “Pan’s Labyrinth”. That stands alone. But this… is its own thing, and it is powerful in all the unexpected ways that Guillermo del Toro has apparently made his trademark.

There’s a moment where the mute female protagonist, who cannot speak, has never been able to speak, is driven through the power of an unspeakable, impossible, forbidden love to try and whisper not just words but  a song.

It’s like watching someone’s soul singing.

You want to look away because it’s so shiningly vulnerable, so private, so obviously not meant for YOU to see, but you can’t look away, you’re mesmerized, and the song stays with you, after, drifting through your mind, carrying love.

Visually magnificent, full of wounded human beings who respond to their hurts as best they know how and are either healed by that courage or stabbed even deeper through the attempt to succor themselves, visceral, unexpectedly funny, tragic in that way that apparently only Guillermo del Toro knows how to make shine with a dark and beautiful light.

This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but oh, if it is yours, you’ll drink it dry, you’ll taste the poison at the bottom of the cup, and you’ll treasure the bitter aftertaste of it because it is a hope and a truth and a vision. This director doesn’t  fob you off with anything that’s less than whole. He doesn’t give you half-truths, or white lies, or in any way gloss over the harshness that is part of life and living.

And yet… and yet… there is a fairytale hidden in it all, and when you open yourself to that, you open yourself to understanding life, and the universe, and EVERYTHING.

There’s a poem quoted at the end – not entirely sure of the provenance, but it might (some say) be either directly translated from or inspired by a poem by Rumi:

“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, for You are everywhere.”

You’ll remember this story. Because it will be everywhere. And if you tell me that you won’t have at least the ghost of this tale peer at you from the shadows of your mind every time you hear that song play again, the one she sang to him, I’ll tell you that you’re wrong.

You may not even remember what you are remembering – it might take all sorts of different forms – but… well… that’s just the shape of water.

~~~~~

A new treat for my Patrons

I have written a new short story set in a world I may revisit some day: Val Hall, the Bruce Wayne Foundation-funded Home for Retired Superherors (Third Class). It’s all about…well, you’ll just have to read it.

A note about Patreon: 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 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

The Last Jedi and Me

Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi photoI was there. Oh yes, I was there. I was one of the original “virgins” who walked into a movie theatre in 1977 – in my case, between to life-size cardboard cutouts of white-armored Stormtroopers, I remember them well – and heard for the first time that iconic music, watched the scroll unfold across the stars, gasped as that starship came and kept coming and coming and coming.

I was there when Carrie Fisher first put up those unforgettable hair buns to frame a face still round with youth – she was 19, only a handful of years older than me – and turned into the princess who would change my life.

I was there when Luke Skywalker, God help his sweet naïve wet-behind-the-ears whiny teenage “but I was just going to go get the power converters!” ass, tried to become the action hero, only to be totally eclipsed when Han Solo first strutted onto the silver screen (and shot first). I was there. I was there.

I was there when they destroyed the first Death Star. I was there when they destroyed the second. I was there to laugh at Yoda’s first grammar-bollixed sentences, to watch him lift a drowned X-wing out of the swamp and tell the young Luke when he said that he “didn’t believe it” that this was the reason that he failed, to hear him utter “No! Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try.”

I was there when Luke (bless Hamill’s soul, he still managed to sound young and naïve, even when he was the young Jedi hope saving the galaxy (and his father) in the darkest hour…) began to turn into the legend. I was there when the Ewoks yub-yubbed their way into everyone’s world, love them or hate them. I was there for it all.

I was also there when they flubbed the next three movies – with a story like “how does a man become Darth Vader” it might have been hard to imagine how they could mess that up, but they did it, and how. I was there. Let’s not talk about that.

When “The Force Awakens” burst onto our screens a couple of years ago, I was there for that, too, and I was now the ageing grey-haired elder in the audience. I went there to see what happened to the characters who had once so comprehensively built themselves into the foundations of the world I had built for myself to live in. Continue reading

Which door would you pick?

Doors (archways) photo
Photo by Michael Lomza at Ubsplash: Marianne's Palace, Kamieniec Ząbkowicki, Poland

There was a question posted in LiveJournal a few years back: You find yourself in front of seven identical doors. A voice from above tells you, “These doors lead to seven different places: Narnia, Neverland, Wonderland, Hogwarts, Camelot, Middle Earth, and Westeros. Which door do you go through?”

Well, first of all I would add two more doors that lead into my own worlds:

Syai, the China-that-never-was-but-might-have-been, either in “The Secrets of Jin-shei” or the book set in the same world hundred of years later, “Embers of Heaven.”

Worldweavers, the home of Thea Winthrop and Elemental Magic, where you could walk and talk with Nilola Tesla and Corey the Trickster.

Okay. My answers on the original seven because asking an author which of her own worlds  she would choose to live in is like asking her which of her children she loves best:

First off, the obvious NO: Westeros. I’ve never read the whole entire series but what I’ve seen of the TV show basically tells me that unless I step out of that door on the far side as ALREADY a queen (and even THEY often don’t fare all that well), my life would tend to be short sharp and brutal and thank you very much. I’ll pass. Besides, for some reason, what I HAVE seen of George R R Martin’s epic I’ve enjoyed on the level that it’s a punchy story that rolls you forward but on some deep and fundamental level it just never did satisfy me.

Narnia – if you has asked me this question when I was 14 I would probably have run, not walked, to Narnia. Particularly if I could meet Aslan (who was not, after all a TAME lion). There was just… something. Something magical.

But then I fatally read, or was educated about, the stuff between the lines, and Narnia lost its gloss. I can still love it, and enjoy it, but there is a tight wary part of me that wants nothing to do with the allegorical layering within it and I do NOT want to end up where I think I would end up if I went there, with Aslan magically transforming into one of those religious-postcard blue-eyed Jesuses with an expression of inexpressible beatitude and an attitude of “you will be just fine if you do what I say you do and think only what I say you think”. I’m sorry, but I’m way beyond that. I have my own ideas. If I could be guaranteed Aslan and ONLY Aslan, I might consider it. Otherwise…

Neverland and Wonderland share a particular characteristic which means I’d love to visit but not stay there long term – an overwhelming preponderance of the twee and the whimsical. In the case of Alice – particularly in the Looking Glass books – you might say that it all means an entirely different thing and that if you pay attention you might actually understand this and have an experience that is vastly different from what you think you are seeing. And while I do ADORE Lewis Carroll’s obvious and irrepressible love of language – if I had to LIVE with that I’d be insane in short order. I’d probably TURN into a Jabberwock and start eating people.

Hogwarts – oh, I don’t know. There are wonderful things in that world. There are also things that make me roll my eyes mightily and go, oh, REALLY?!? And learning pig latin to do spells… would lose its charm fast.

Which leaves us with Camelot, and Middle Earth.

Camelot was an enduring love affair, for me. I LOVE the Arthurian cycle (well, the parts of it before it turns into a Christian tract and the only thing that matters is finding the metaphysical equivalent of salvation in the shape of the Holy Grail. But it had a power to it that I responded to, the power of PEOPLE living a MYTH.

When I was 19 I even wrote an entire novel from the POV of Guinevere (and discovered that it was a damnably difficult thing to do because she could not POSSIBLY know half the things that I needed her to know in order to carry the plot forward, without resorting to silly little-girl tricks like listening at doors…) Given a chance to go through that door and find myself in Camelot… ah, well, the rub here is WHICH Camelot, and what I will find there. But this one would tempt me. Tempt me hard.

In the end there is only one door for me, though, and I am sure those of you who know me picked this one for me right from the start.

I am a Tolkien girl.

For a very long time I have lived and breathed Middle Earth. I may not know Quenya, but my heart speaks that, and Entish, and knows how to sing “Misty Mountains” in the original tongue of the Dwarves who wrote it. I understand this world, and I treasure it. In fact, I hardly need to open that door and step through… because I am already there.

I’ve been there for as long as I know.

~~~~~
A new treat for my Patrons

I have written a new short story set in a world I may revisit some day: Val Hall, the Bruce Wayne Foundation-funded Home for Retired Superherors (Third Class). It’s all about…well, you’ll just have to read it.

A note about Patreon: 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 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

~~~~~
Wired asked writers to create 6-word SF stories

Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so. – Joss Whedon

More from Wired HERE

~~~~~
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Continue reading

The secret lives of books

My grandfather's book photo

My grandfather’s well-loved book that he read nearly every day

You trip over many listicles and other interesting things on the web while browsing – like the strictures at Mental Floss about how to keep your books looking good.

I stopped dead at #4: AVOID WRITING IN YOUR BOOKS : Don’t even think about writing your name on the first page. Modern ownership inscriptions are considered unsightly flaws in the current collectible market. But if you cannot resist the compulsion, use pencil. Even better: Keep a notebook … where you record quotes and thoughts from the books you’re reading.”

Yes. In theory, yes. But then I look up on the shelf above my desk where a bunch of my own books live – they, and one other – a very precious one.

It’s a tattered ancient dull gray old-fashioned hardcover, falling apart at the seams, stray threads poking out from the ageing spine. A workaday edition, nothing special, printed in 1940 (wartime Europe) and put out as a part of a series (#294, to be precise) by a literary endowment. It’s a book of personal essays and short prose pieces by one of my grandfather’s favorite poets.

It is in fact my grandfather’s book, perhaps his favorite. It used to live on the cabinet next to the couch where he took his daily afternoon naps, and usually before or after the nap he’d pick up the book – which he had read many times – and peruse its familiar pages again.

Inside, the book has many passages underlined in pencil by his hand, with particular bits annotated (in handwriting I can no longer read) in the margins.

It may be a sin to write in a book. But oh, am I glad he did so here.

Framed photo of my grandfatherBecause his spirit lives in this book, in his notes, in his faded chickenscratch handwriting, in the carefully cut out and pasted in (another no-no from the original list) newspaper cuttings about the poet who wrote the book, in the ratty pair of bookmarks (ANOTHER no-no from the list!) which have now lived in the places where he last left them for decades – one of them is a really worn old leather one which I gave him once a long time ago and the other is an incomplete bus punch ticket – incomplete, because the last date on it is shortly before he died.

Every time I pick up the book I see his gnarled brown hands folded around it. Every time I bring it to my face I catch a whiff of his pencils. Every time I look at it I see him, I remember him, and every underline, every scribble, every annotation reminds me of the man who woke my own love for poetry and for language, who made me what I am today.

I treasure that ratty old written-all-over book. No, it isn’t in “great shape”. But what it is – all of it, every sacred page, every blessed line of it – is a beloved reminder of somebody I loved, a memory I would HATE not to have.

So write in your books. Someday your grandchildren may remember and love you by those penciled thoughts you left behind.

Books don’t have to be pristine. They just have to be loved.

~~~
Mental Floss tips to keep your books looking great HERE

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Wired asked writers to create 6-word SF stories – e.g.

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time – Alan Moore

More from Wired HERE

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Please Help Me Build New Worlds

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 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.

Click HERE

~~~~~
If you found this blog post amusing, interesting, or helpful, then use the icons below to share it with other readers, writers, family, or friends.

The Moment

Woman reading photo

Photo by Hisu Lee at Unsplash.com

In fiction and in life

A life is made of moments. It is stitched together from the things you remember most vividly — the peaks and the valleys, the turning points, the places where you paused, or hurried, or changed direction.

In fiction, these are the things that will linger in a reader’s mind after the story is over.
And this is when a visual medium definitely has a edge on the written word. A moment in a movie can hinge on a gesture, an exchange of meaningful glances without a word being spoken. It can be the tiniest change of expression.

In an episode of the TV series “The Mentalist” a few years ago, one of the characters was a young man who was ‘slow’, developmentally disabled. The character presentation was utterly perfect – the open and trusting expression on the boy’s face, the way everyone spoke to him with an edge of pitying kindness and his apparent grateful acceptance of that attitude… right until the moment when everything changed.

The boy whom we had thought of as simple-minded was sitting in a chair in an interrogation room when his bluff was called and something indescribable happened. His eyes hardened and sharpened, somehow, and you realized with an electric jolt that he had been stringing everyone along in an expert con, that this was no simpleton but instead a very cold, calculating and dangerous mind.

Sometimes the entire emotional landscape of a character – frustration, hatred, love, triumph, envy, pity, sorrow, exultation, surrender, regret, fury, even a lapse into full and chaotic madness – can be distilled into a single gesture, a single glance. What you can convey in less than thirty seconds of film time… might take you a chapter to convey properly in a book.

This is the thing with the written word. It requires more mental engagement. A visual moment is seen, and shared, and immediately understood. A written moment needs more set-up, and develops more slowly in your head; it is probably never quite the same for any two readers of the same given scene because what is built up in each reader’s head is different and utterly beyond any writer’s control.

It is not to say that the written moments are the lesser. They can be more enduring because of the simple fact that the readers paint them with their own imagination, their own mental scenery, and etch it into permanence in their mind. But a book needs time, and effort, and attention to do this. You can look at a scene on a screen and you can respond immediately, viscerally, because you are responding to what your senses are handing you, to what you can see and hear.

But you have to give a book far more than that. You need to get deeply enmeshed, you need to reach in and wrap the words around you like so many tangled Christmas lights. A good book, one with good moments, becomes a lifelong friend and one to which you will return again and again because of that moment that it shared with you.

There are dozens of books with “moments” I remember, where the plot revolves around those moments, where the characters are built and wrapped around those moments. Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Tigana” has a lot of such moments. If you haven’t read that remarkable book I suggest you hie off and get yourself a copy now.

There are such moments in all of my novels. In “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, for example, there is one which has been singled out by many readers. It occurs when John, my young doctor, is on rotation in the children’s cancer ward. In the beginning, he copes by treating the kids simply as patients with a disease and he as The Doctor who has all the answers.

The ‘moment’ comes when he realizes how utterly beyond his control it all really is – and everything instantly changes. The patient becomes a little dying boy; the disease becomes a monster against which he is helpless. And that breaks him

Before that moment he was one person, after it he was another. And there is no reconciling those two people. In the blink of an eye he has crossed from one world into another and he can’t go back.

Writers have to invest far more into that moment because all they have with which to evoke that visual and sensory response from you, are the words on the page. A writer doesn’t have the luxury of showing a viewer the transformation in a character’s personality just because the viewer is watching that character’s eyes change from “good natured, slightly simple” to “cold calculating potential serial killer.”

A writer has to describe this to you, the reader, and then you have to visualize it – there is an extra step in there, and you BOTH have to work harder for it, writer and reader alike.

As a writer, I am sometimes profoundly envious of the way that a movie scene of less than a minute, can convey a feeling, an attitude, that is an instant  gratification – something that it would take me pages and pages to properly present and explore in a book. But also as a writer I am also grateful that the medium of the written word allows me a more enduring connection with a reader’s mind… because what I present in those pages is not so much the destination as a map and then I allow the reader to create their own destination which will color and enrich their own experience of the things that I wrote.

A writer allows readers to create their own moments.

~~~~~

Tea With The Duchess

The latest edition of my newsletter, Tea With The Duchess, has just been sent out to subscribers. It contains news about my latest fantasy novel, “Wings of Fire”, other projects I am working on, and plans for the coming year.

You can read it online

Ever After book coverNew subscibers to my newsletter will receive a FREE ebook, “Ever After”, containing four stories about how the princesses you knew from your childhood became refugees facing far greater strength, far greater loss, far greater courage than you ever knew?

If you wish to subscribe, and receive your free ebook, send your email address HERE – or send it to me at AlmaAlexander@AlmaAlexander.org.

Please join us.

~~~~~
Wired asked writers to create 6-word SF stories

He read his obituary with confusion.” – Steven Meretzky

More from Wired HERE

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Quote of the Day

Occasionally, there arises a writing situation where you see an alternative to what you are doing, a mad, wild gamble of a way for handling something, which may leave you looking stupid, ridiculous or brilliant — you just don’t know which. You can play it safe there, too, and proceed along the route you’d mapped out for yourself. Or you can trust your personal demon who delivered that crazy idea in the first place. Trust your demon.” ~ Roger Zelazny

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A back door into magic

Skating alone on a pond photoPHOTO by Filip Mroz at Unsplash

If you walk into any bookstore you will find things shelved and classified according to rigorous  criteria. Cookbooks, hither, not to be confused with memoirs, there, or history, over there. There is an entire section called FICTION sorted into boxes such as Mysteries, Young Adult, Romance, Science fiction, Fantasy. .

And then you hit the sub-boxes – what KIND of fantasy? Is it historical fantasy with hints in the background about a real historical era? s it urban fantasy with gritty city streets? Is it high fantasy with a dragon on the cover? Secondary world fantasy? Tolkien clone? Does it take place in Hogwarts?…

My novels have had their share of labels.

For example, “The Secrets of Jin-shei” – by virtue of being carried by eight female protagonists – has been called “feminist fantasy.”

My “Midnight at Spanish Gardens“ has been called “religious fantasy” by someone struggling to pin this rather uncategorizable book down to a soundbite, although I struggle to find anything overtly “religious” in that novel.

An article on io9 a few years ago offered a new sub-category — “Bckdoor Fntasy”. Here’s what they meant by that:

When our everyday lives are full of devices and discoveries that feel magical, it’s time for fantasy to reinvent itself. And it has, in a new form you could call backdoor fantasy… instead of drawing us deeper into an alternate world of magic that seethes just beneath the city…it draws us deeper into the real world. What characterizes a backdoor fantasy is that it uses all the tricks and tropes of a fantasy story without ever actually showing us anything that can’t be explained by science.”

This sounds like most of my novels.

The io9 article says a Jo Walton novel “Among Others” is a perfect example of Back Door Fantasy. “In it we encounter familiar fantasy ideas: there is more to the world than meets the eye; evil is a part of nature; we can control reality with our minds. And yet Walton’s protagonist could easily be spinning a fantasy story in her head to escape the horrors of her home life. The fantasy in Among Others may, in other words, be a fantasy.”

If you haven’t read that book, I urge you to do so. But here’s the thing about that book for me. Walton’s heroine… was kind of… me. Okay, I didn’t have a vanished twin, or a witchy mother who could do actual awful crazy magickal stuff, or an estranged guilt-ridden dad who sent me off to a posh boarding school… but the boarding school and the escape into books, that was my own life.

I daresay that this particular back door is hardly likely to be there for other readers who haven’t shared my own particular life and times and experiences. The point, however, is that the magic in these cases might just lie in that kernel of pure recognition – something that leaps from the page at you and catches you by the throat and screams, YOU KNOW ME! YOU LIVED ME!

I touched that for readers of “Midnight at Spanish Gardens“. I know I did  because readers and reviewers have spoken of a feeling that they got from the book, a feeling of being able to identify with the place in which the novel is set, with the circumstances in which it takes place, with the relationships of once-friends who were being picked up after years of hiatus. Reviewers and readers said things like: 
“It feels like you had just sat down for a cup of coffee with some old friends”,
“It seemed as if I had been to this particular café before”,
“I kind of knew the people in this book, because they were me, they were my friends”

The only magic in this book is a sprinkling of fairy dust. There is a manifestly supernatural character who refers to himself as “the Messenger”, although he never says whose messenger he is. Readers have identified him as variously an angel or a sprite of some sort – someone through whom the power to make a choice is transferred to a human soul.

And it is in that choice that the magic lies.

I write about people. I write about what makes people change. Like I said to someone in a conversation about this very novel, what makes people change are answers to two polar-opposite questions: what makes you happy, and what do you fear. The first will make you run towards something; the second, away. But both will MOVE you, and once you are in motion you cannot help but encounter choices.

The io9 people go on to say, “This strand in fantasy writing is exploding right now. The more we suck information out of light waves and glowing boxes, the more we are slain by invisible assassins called viruses, the more obvious it becomes that we are living in what feels like a fantasy. Just because your world has been transfigured by science doesn’t mean your imagination will stop seeing terrible sorcery in it.”

I say, amen. There is just so much magic in our world, the “real” world, which we are so often too busy to stop and appreciate. Let me give you some examples from a real life. Mine.

The first one concerns a skating pond in the woods behind one of the world’s great hotels in Banff. This is one of those unreal hotels build in the shape and form of a castle, situated amongst tall firs, and I was there one cold, cold winter. You could go down a winding stair into the woods to a frozen pond. I went down the stair and found that it gloriously and completely empty of any other soul except me. Christmas fairy lights in the trees twinkled on the snow around me. The trees stood like silent white sentinels in the dark, and the stars in the night sky were bright and sharp like shards. It was just me and the wilderness.

I started skating, alone in the night, the swish of skate blades on ice, multicoloured shadows falling about my feet. And I felt like weeping with a holy joy because I felt as though I could pass right through this unreal scene and step – or skate – into a whole other world which trembled just there, just in the corner of my eye, just out of reach.

Tell me this moment had no magic in it. True magic. Real magic. MY magic.

The second example is a long way from that night, a bright day in the Florida Keys. I’m kneeling on a low wooden platform next to a pool with two dolphins, a mother and son I had just spent a half hour swimming with, holding out treats. The younger dolphin was still very much a “child” in every sense – exuberant, playful, pushy and completely and passionately free with his emotions. Instead of coming for his treat, this baby dolphin came swimming full-tilt at the jetty, leaped out of the water completely, and tucked himself under my arm. Our eyes met, and I swear he smiled. And then, with one flip of that powerful tail, he had reversed himself and had slid back into the water.

A dolphin had HUGGED me.

A little piece of magic, right there. Right in my arms.

The third one. A letter arrived at my house one day. From NASA. FROM NASA.

They were producing a commemorative poster for the Mercury 13, the women who trained in the early astronaut program back when women had no chance of going into space. They had stepped up anyway, because they refused to relinquish the dream of the stars or the idea that those stars belonged to them just as much as to men. NASA wanted to know whether I would grant them permission to use an excerpt from one of my poems on that poster.

I cried. I was so humbled, so proud, so full of feelings I cannot begin to describe to you.

Like the Mercury 13 themselves, I would never myself float out there amongst the stars – but my words are there now, for keeps, on a poster which commemorates women reaching for that then impossible dream. That is a piece of magic that I treasure, a very real piece of magic, something that I am reminded of every time I walk past the wall in my house on which a framed copy of that poster hangs.

I will find some little piece of magic to build into my next story, too, and the next, and the one after that. If that is what they want to call it, a back door fantasy, I’ll take it. But I’ll keep on opening those back doors. There is too much joy and beauty and sadness and glory and pure humanity behind them to leave them closed, and people need to be reminded – always, and constantly – that the magic is there for the taking, just by reaching out and touching it.

In this December, if you live somewhere where you might be expecting snow, remember this presence of magic in the white silence of a snowfall – go out and walk in one, and let that silence and whiteness surround you, and listen for the songs of that silence. If you live in a place where you aren’t expecting snow, wander out into the balmy air in your shorts and your short sleeves and wonder at the magic that lets you walk along a beach with your toes in warm water breaking into white foamy lace at your feet while someone else out there is wandering in that joyous snow.

When you wake up January 1 of the new year, open your eyes and know that you are living in a brand new world, just born with the sun. And that, right there, is a piece of magic that you can carry with you every day of your life.

Open the back door. Step into magic. It is waiting.

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Wired asked writers to create 6-word SF stories

“Epitaph: He shouldn’t have fed it.” – Brian Herbert

More from Wired HERE

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Quote of the day

“The ability to “fantasize” is the ability to survive. It’s wonderful to speak about this subject because there have been so many wrong-headed people dealing with it…. The so-called realists are trying to drive us insane, and I refuse to be driven insane…. We survive by fantasizing. Take that away from us and the whole damned human race goes down the drain.” ~ Ray Bradbury

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