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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Children of a Different Sky

Telling the stories of war and exile

The time has come for the stories from the edge of darkness, from the ragged edges of silence, to be given a voice, and through that voice, the help that is so sorely needed. What I have to offer as a writer and a teller of tales is a way to shine a light into some of the most painful conditions that a human being can endure:

The almost impossible to comprehend existence as an exile, as a migrant, as a refugee.

Children of a Different Sky” will be a crowdfunded anthology which will provide a stage on which those stories can be presented to the world… and also, as a crowdfunded charity anthology, to collect donations which will be passed on to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.

This project is a collection of stories, some by authors you might recognize quickly; others, from perhaps unfamiliar writers who might have a more intimate, more visceral, connection with the subject matter.

I am one of the unmoored myself, although not one of those truly adrift. I have never been forced out of a home, or a country, or made to go to strange places I could not understand, against my wishes, terrified and frozen.

But I did leave the country of my birth aged 10, never to live there again. This does not mean I ceased to love it – this is the ground where the bones of my ancestors are buried, where their ghosts walk. This is the place where the river I love so much runs eternally between shores of mud and thistle and weeping willow, the place where a sliver of my spirit lives still, lives always. So I understand, on that visceral level, what it means to be FORCED to leave a place one calls home.

I feel for the children whose memories involve bombs and fire and fury and guns and bullets and dust and blood and loss and grief. I feel for the emptiness I see blossoming behind their eyes, underneath the pain, the inability to understand why such things can be. I understand the way a child might feel when torn apart from those first precious friendships with one’s peers, from the security and warmth of a family home; when witnessing the carnage of a hot war blowing up around them, destroying everything they have ever believed to be true, like a dragon breathing a plume of flame on their lives and leaving ashes behind.

And I wonder what I can do. What I, and those like me, can do.

Well, what we can do is tell stories.

Not THEIR stories – those are theirs to tell, some day, maybe. But stories like theirs. Stories which will reach out and tell other people about the truth of their lives, through the “lies” of fiction, of fantasy. We can shine a light, we who create art, into the dark places of this world. That is what we are for. That is what we do. What we want to do. What we NEED to do

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. They are these:

Ostajte ovdje – sunce tudjeg neba
Nece vas grijat k’o sto ovo grije.
Gorki su tamo zalogaji hljeba
Gde svoga nema i gde brata nije.

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.

We who were born under that sun, understand.

And this book, this collection, this effort to gather the stories and to make sure that they are not forgotten, this is my attempt to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.

The vast majority of the money raised by this crowdfunding project will be passed on to several agencies who work with and offer aid to the refugees of our era. They used to be Jewish and Gypsie children running from the German Reich; today, they might be Syrian kids running from the ruins of Aleppo or Yazidi women fleeing enslavement in the darkness of cultural recidivism;

Tomorrow, they might be ourselves.

If you marched in any city in the world where like-minded people gathered together… if you had the courage and the fury to follow your passion by being one of the thousands who streamed to America’s airports after Donald Trump’s heavy-handed blow of the refugee/immigrant travel ban in the last days of January 2017… if you spent your precious time on the phone to your representatives decrying the injustices of the new era… I salute you, and I love you all, very much.

If you could not march or raise your voices in the “No Fear/NoHate” cries at the airport or your voice strangles in your throat if you have to speak on the phone to a stranger… there are always ways to make your stand.

Supporting this crowdfunding effort, throws your support both towards the writers and artists and other publishing professionals who made this happen, and in the days of defunding the arts that also is a statement of defiance, and makes certain that you have been a part in funneling much needed funds to organizations which work directly with the lost and the dispossessed.

If you want to help — as an author, illustrator, someone who cares — write to me HERE

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Tea and a good book

My novel, ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’, was first published more than a decade ago and it made quite a splash at the time. It was published in 13 languages, got rave reviews in many unexpected quarters, and it was a bona fide bestseller in Spain.
 
I’m sure it is out of print some places, but Germany is no longer one of them. It is being reprinted as I speak.

Just the other day I came across an unusual reference to the book from the Tea Blog, “Official Blog of the English Tea Store.”
 
cover The Secrets of Jin-sheiAt the English Tea Store you can, or at least you used to be able to, buy “Oolong Orange Blossom Tea. And, learn all about ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’, illustrated with my favorite of all the covers, the hardcover from the HarperCollins US edition. There was text that read in part:
 
Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea that is only partly fermented, giving it an in-between character that lacks the bitterness and body of black tea, yet is richer and rounder than a conventional green. English Tea Store’s Oolong Orange Blossom Estate Tea is a particularly satisfying rendition of this Far East treat, with the gentle addition of the essence of orange blossoms…

In The Secrets of Jin-Shei, a novel by Alma Alexander, we are swept into (a) mythical Chinese kingdom , steeped in tradition and culture, that beckons us to pause, and to breathe in deeply. In the novel, we learn of the covert written language jin-ashu, the woman’s tongue, taught for generations from mother to daughter to allow a woman to reveal the dreams and desires deeply held in her heart. It is through these words that sister-bonds are formed….

Be patient in brewing Oolong Orange Blossom Tea, to give it the time it needs to unfurl into the richness of its character. And there’s no need to sweeten; it brings its own honeyed aftertaste. As well, give The Secrets of Jin-Shei time to reveal the depths of its characters and the fulfillment of its own sweet promise.

As tea-and-novel companions, Oolong Orange Blossom Tea and The Secrets of Jin-Shei are a most honorable match.

You can see the original story HERE

or HERE

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Jay Lake’s legacy

Last Plane to Heaven by Jay LakeJay Lake was an acclaimed short story writer. In his all too brief career he published more than three hundred works of short fiction. In “Last Plane to Heaven” we have winnowed that down to thirty two of the best of them.” (“Last Plane to Heaven” front matter)

I knew this collection was coming. I knew I was going to buy it. Jay Lake was my friend. This, I owed. To him; to my memory of him.

One of the stories included in the collection is the one he gave me for ‘River’, the anthology I edited. Its presence here was unanticipated. It was as though Jay himself grinned at me across the veil, a sort of ghostly high-five. I am delighted – but more than that, I am deeply honored – that this is one of the stories picked for his farewell book.

Let me tell you briefly about ‘River’ because it says a lot about Jay.

The anthology was something that was dear to my heart, an idea that sprang from my own deep and almost mystical connection to ‘my’ river, the Danube, on whose shores I was born, where I was young. When I got the green light for the book, I approached a handful of writers who were my friends – whose work I knew, and respected, and admired – and asked if they wanted to give me a story for this project, to tell me about rivers of their own.

Several declined, a couple accepted after carefully weighing whether it would be wise to allow their name and reputation to back a project by a novice anthology editor put out by a small press.

I asked Jay for a story just before a panel we were both on together at some con or other. He sat there, in his bright Hawaiian shirt, his feet in sandals and tie-dyed psychedelic socks, gazing at me with that concentrated and courteous focused attention that was his own peculiar gift – Jay might have been a big boisterous personality, he might have known how to be the life of a party and how to make other people laugh and play, but he also knew how to LISTEN, in a way that made you feel, when you spoke to him, as if you were the only other person in his universe at least in that moment – as I pitched my project. And when I asked for a story, all he said was:

When do you want it?”

I loved him for that. He TRUSTED me. And the book that was born was the better, the stronger, for his story in it.

And I am utterly humbled by its inclusion in this, in his last collection. Not only did he trust me with his story, but by putting it in this book he has made my ‘River’ part of his own legacy. This means more than I could ever have thought it might.

WORD: Word is the oldest angel of all. For you see, in the beginning Word made the world upon the waters when God spat Word from his mouth. Later, Word made flesh. Without their tongues, men would be no more tha animals. Without Word, men’s tongues would be no more than meat. Word is the beacon of our minds and the light of our days, withered proxy for an absent God.” ~  (From “Angels iv: Novus Ordo Angelorum”, “Last Plane to Heaven”)

Jay Lake’s stories – his words, his language, his ideas – are huge, great, astonishing, GIFTED things.

One keeps on reading a sentence, or a paragraph, and then stopping, and going back to savor it once more, word by word. Jay Lake wrote fiction but he wove a lot of devastating honesty into it and – you know – you can tell. There is a weight of pure emotional truth to these stories that is almost physical; you feel it settle on your shoulders and ride along with you for a long time after you’ve put the book down, like Odin’s ravens, whispering into your ear.

There is a way he sees the world – the way he takes what might seem to be something ordinary and then twisting it into things rich and strange – you walk into ruined cities with him, and into shadows, and into the light. You walk with an angel named Word, and you believe that Jay Lake might have actually met him, and talked to him, and learned wisdom at his side.

And this… all this… before he gets to the end of the book. And the most devastating, pitiless, brutal truth of all.

Every story in this book has a short preamble from Jay. And before the final story, “The Cancer Catechism”, there is this:

This is the end. Really, there’s not that much more to say. Never walk this road that I have walked if you can help it. If you must do so, take my hand. Maybe I can help you a few steps along the way.” ~ (From “The Cancer Catechism”, “Last Plane To Heaven”)

And then – the story –

But where surgery dropped you swiftly into a hole which then took a month to climb out of, chemo lowers you slowly, inch by inch, week after week, into a hole which you may never climb out of. Starting with your dignity and ending with your sense of self, chemo takes everything away from you.”~ (From “The Cancer Catechism”, “Last Plane to Heaven”)

THIS is the road on which he is offering to hold your hand. In your darkest hours. In the worst moments of your life… this writer, this angel called Word, who understands stories and who knows pain and loss from the inside, is there by your side.

“The Cancer Catechism” is not an easy read, not even for the healthy and the able bodied, let alone those in the grip of the same thing that held Jay himself in its sharp claws. But it is true, in the same way that you know that the summer sky is blue or the winter wind is cold. This is a savage and fundamental building block of the universe. And for this alone – if he had done nothing else at all in his life – Jay Lake, and that unflinching hand he is offering you to hold, has claimed his seat in that Last Plane to Heaven.

In the Afterword, Jay writes:

I love you all. It has been a real privilege to know you.”

Backatcha, big guy. It’s been a privilege, and an honor. Thank you for your words, for your courage, for choosing to be my friend.

I will miss you, and all the stories that will remain unwritten.

The back flap adds the coda: “Jay Lake died on June 1 2014, three months before the publication of this collection.”

I like to think that somehow, somewhere, from a dimension he himself could never quite manage to believe in, that magnificent laughing spirit that was his can see this book – the last book – in the world that had so recently been his own. And can enjoy the fact that with a legacy like this he is never really going to be gone from that world. Those of us who knew him will think of him every time we see a loud Hawaiian shirt, will remember the easy way he could laugh, the profound way that he could care, the courageous way that he could fight.

There are many out there who have never met him, and who will not know these things directly. But for all of us – even as we wave Jay goodbye as he boards that Last Plane and is carried away from us – these words remain. And will endure.

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Quote of the day

Writing is self-reinforcing. Don’t make a fetish out of it, and don’t surrender to the myth of the garret, or the myth of the chained muse. It’s like playing the guitar, or practicing taekwondo, or having sex. The more you do, the better you get. The better you get, the better it feels. The better it feels, the more you want to do.” ~ Jay Lake

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Alma Alexander
My books

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Life, like a river

Exploring the Inner Seasonality of Being Human

Maria Popova in Brain Pickings writes that the book of watercolors, “The River”, by Italian Artist Alessandro Sanna is a beautiful reminder that despite its occasional cruelties, life is mostly joyful, radiant, and above all ever-flowing.

The RiverThe book exposes with remarkable sensitivity that gossamer connection between the physicality of the land and our transcendent experience of the passage of time, the inner seasonality of being human. Through his soft watercolors shines the immutable light of existence.

 In each of the four chapters, a new season unfolds, beginning with autumn and ending with summer, and out of it spring to life vignettes of different experiences along the banks of a shared river.

The River 2The River in SummerThe River

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The Coolest TOC I’ve Ever Seen

I had my own experience with a shared river when I created and edited an anthology of short stories called simply “River”.

I was proud of my unique Table of Contents and was happy when reviewers commented on it. Bradley Beaulieu, for example, wrote that it was: “The Coolest TOC I’ve Ever Seen.”

 The new anthology from Dark Quest Books called River, edited by Alma Alexander is notable not only for its contributors, but also for its theme, which is, if you hadn’t guessed, river-themed stories. What really surprised me, though, was the Table of Contents. It’s really more of a Map of Contents. It’s, a map of… Well, easier if I just show you.

Map of Contents

He then quoted from my introduction:

 It begins. Somewhere. An insignificant trickle of water. And it changes. And it grows up, and  gathers a history, and finds its way into atlases  and maps, until it finally reaches the sea, and vanishes into its vastness. You might think it is of no importance. That it does not matter. But you follow where it leads… Rivers have always been very important to humankind. They’ve been explored. They’ve been navigated. They’ve been called gods.

 They’ve been blessed and cursed and venerated and used and enjoyed and exploited and polluted since the beginning of recorded history. They’ve been sung about and dreamed about and followed on epic journeys of discovery. The capitals of empires have risen on banks of rivers—and so have a thousand fishing villages, and river landings, and water mills.

 There is only one River. Really. And it’s all of them. Every river is different—and yet they’re all the same, vast and full of life and death and mystery and history and adventure and quiet dreams. Full of life. Full of mystery.

 Full of stories.

 The coolest TOC

River

You can find River in bookstores, and online here and here

 

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The gaps in my shelves

Well, they’re not GAPS. My shelves are too stuffed to have actual gaps in them. If one appears it’s quickly reabsorbed and things arise to fill it, to take up its place – a bookshelf of a true bibliophile abhors a vacuum, after all.

But the books I never liked. The books I tried but could not finish. The books that bugged me. The books that were evicted from my shelves, or never took up residence there at all. Those books. The books missing from people’s shelves tell just as much of a story as those who jostle one another for space there.

 I suppose my first pick would be one of the most polarizing pieces of literary work I’ve ever encountered:

Read the rest at SF Novelists

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19 Magical Photos of Animals In Winter

 The Bored Panda offers some amazing photos.

 We’ve written about how the world around us changes during the winter, but that’s not the only thing that changes; throughout the animal kingdom, birds and beasts that live in colder climates have special adaptations to help them survive the winter’s harsh weather.

 The animals in some of these photos may look like they’re freezing, but that’s not 100% certain – in most cases, the photographers are probably colder than the animals that they’ve photographed.

Winter 1Image credits: Roeselien Raimond

Winter2Image credits: Mikael Sundberg

Animals in winter

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Also from the Bored Panda

 40 Worst Book Covers and Titles Ever

Scouts in BondageSex

Worst book covers

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Quote of the Day

 “Love the earth and sun and the animals….read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life.” ~ Walt Whitman

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Alma Alexander

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 Comments welcome. What do you think?