A tale of two bookstores


Michael's bookstore frontWhen we first came into the little town of Bellingham in northwest Washington, more than a dozen years ago now, many things delighted us — the trees, the glimpses of mountains, and the shining Sound. But more directly, more pertinently, we found ourselves in a street which had two facing bookstores on it – Michael’s Books, and Henderson’s.

Michael’s was a more chaotic store, a warren of interleading rooms which felt almost Escheresque and interdimensional, dim corners, narrow aisles, and more books than your heart could believe possible, on pretty much every subject under the sun. There was a whole room devoted to SF/Fantasy, which was pretty amazing; some of the books on those shelves were pretty amazing as and of themselves.

The books spilled out of the store, and there was always a cardboard box or three filled with sometimes rather ratty esoterica which may not have been in good enough shape to sell in the store, labelled “FREE!”.

It was run by a genial owner who used to send us birthday cards with book specials on them.

It’s gone. I only just found out but apparently it’s been gone for a while now and I feel as though I have just discovered that a kind friend with whom I’d inadvertently lost touch had suddenly died, and I had no idea that they were even ailing.

Damn, but I’m going to miss that place. I’m going to miss those cavernous spaces teeming with books ranging from natty plastic-covered cared for hardcovers and first editions in closed cabinets, to broken-spined dog-eared and obviously treasured paperbacks of Golden Age science fiction novels complete with cheesy covers featuring tinny spaceships belching flames in the background while the foreground was peopled by bare-chested barbarians or weird angular robots carting about scantily dressed galactic pin-up girls, who sometimes came in Mere Human editions and sometimes turned up with skin which glowed blue or green, headdresses with horns or jewels hanging on the smooth glamorous brows. always wearing as little as could be decently got away with, and baring shapely ankles, and calves, and thighs, oh my.

I’m going to miss just knowing it was there, knowing that those babes and those heroes and those robots and the dragons and the poetry and the cookbooks and the history of papier mache and instruction books on origami and atlases with maps of countries which no longer exist and Doctor Who novelizations and stories of the Alaskan gold rush and Time Life photography books of historical events long in the past and biographies of bespectacled worthies whom you’d never heard of but who must have been important…

What happened to all those books? A part of me weeps, and doesn’t want to know any more…

Hendersons photoThe second store, Henderson’s, is still there, across the street. It’s another weird space, with its relatively narrow road frontage which hides a store that stretches back a full city block. It’s no less wonderful and cavernous and book-stuffed than Michael’s was, but there is a different feeling somehow. This place FEELS more businesslike and more organized. And oh my GOD is it a treasure trove. I found many many great research books there for when I was writing specific novels, and honestly, this is a resource beyond price, and if THIS one ever goes away it will leave a gaping wound. But I was in there today and I took some photos of the canyon walls, books labelled “Literature” and “YA fiction, vampire” and “Central Asia history” and “Local Interest” and the back room devoted to mysteries and science fiction and the how-to section and the sections on theater and the fall of empires and photography and computers and Greek philosophers and the geography of India and French cooking.

I’ve often bought research books here for novels that aren’t even coherent ideas yet – but something triggered a “oh, THAT’s interesting, maybe someday it will be useful” impulse. We’ve walked out of that store before with double armfuls of books, having laid down fifty or a hundred dollars – and this is a SECOND HAND store, remember, with prices mostly to match.

Long live the wonderful treasure troves that are second hand bookstores. Long live the second, third, fifth, ninth, twentieth lives that these books live in these spaces, and the minds and hearts to whom they speak, the hands that reach for them, the glory of their existence. There are modern stores with contemporary and new-published books which are a wonderful thing to visit and to behold, to be sure – but these, these old stores, they are the Temple of the Word and you go in there to worship, and to browse, and to never ever know what might be waiting and what you might find there.

Good bye, Michael’s – you were treasured. Good night, Hendersons – and hopefully I will see you again soon.

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. Details HERE

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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

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

The Radical Argument of the New Oxford Shakespeare

He didn’t do it alone,

Read the whole story at The New Yorker HERE

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

‘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

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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The acceptance of moose

A 5-star review of ‘Dawn of Magic’, the fourth and final book in my young adult series, Worldweavers, contains this delightful sentence:

“There is probably some truth there to carry away on what college is, diplomas, and the inevitable acceptance of moose.”

Everyone knows about diplomas, of course. But you might have to read the book to understand where the “acceptance of moose” comes into it. 🙂

Opening lines quizDawn Of Magic poster Which novel started with the above line?

1) “Molloy” by Samuel Beckett
2) “The Sirens of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut
3) “Murphy” by Samuel Beckett
4)  “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

I did OK. You?

See the whole quiz at Buzzfeed HERE

I so want to be Ursula Le Guin when I grow up…

The gift of Ursula Le Guin:

‘She makes the ordinary feel as important as the epic’:

Ursula Le Guin head shotsRead the whole article at The Guardian HERE

Another story from The Nation notes that:

Ursula Le Guin Has Stopped Writing Fiction—but We Need Her More Than Ever

The author on sexism, aging, and the radical possibilities of imaginative story telling.

Read it The Nation HERE

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Little Free Library photo

Photo by Mary Anne Mohanraj

You can read anywhere in time and space, but I’m not sure if it is bigger on the inside.

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The measure of a town

Bellingham is a bookish town. The plentiful new and used bookstores which we spotted as soon as we arrived on a scouting trip were in no small part the reason we decided to put down roots here.

There are bookstores which were far more seminal to our choice of Bellingham as home, but today I’m talking about one which we didn’t really discover until we had been here some time.Eclipse entrance photo

Eclipse Window Sign photoEclipse, a two-story book cave, is a second-hand bookstore in nearby Fairhaven. There’s something almost organic about the place, with books on all the walls, books stuffed on shelves arranged tightly in the midst of both floors, books rising like stalagmites from the floor in unsteady mounds, or stacked in rich and muddled towers on tables or counters wherever there is a bit of empty horizontal space. Books perch in a precarious pile on a corner of a railing outside the store.

Books. Books. Books. EVERYWHERE.


This isn’t the kind of place that gets steady foot go to the light, interior phototraffic – but there’s always someone here. People know about this store. Its name might mean an occlusion, but behind an eclipse is the light of a star, and these books SHINE. I don’t get there nearly often enough. I should go back far more frequently. It’s just that every time I GO there I end up carting home some more of its treasures, and my own shelves are groaning with words. Still…

Eclipse. Wonderful bookstore. Worth a visit, and getting lost in.


Long long ago in a country far far away I went to school in a castle.

Bodel Castle Autumn The school was located in Bodelwyddan Castle, in Wales, and I went there for a year back in the last century. While I was there I had thought the only ‘dangerous’ thing in its green fields was sheep poop.

But it seems that there was more – like live bullets…  grenades… Good grief.

The Daily Post has reported that a live bullet and remains of a grenade were found on the grounds during an excavations to create replica World War I style trenches as part of a tourist attraction.

The idea of ‘training trenches’ makes my hackles rise. Oh GOD that war. That stupid, pointless, pitiless war. I mean, yes, all wars are stupid, pointless, pitiless, but WWI was a particularly evil incarnation. If there is anything to the reincarnation theory of existence I may well have been some poor sod who bought it in those trenches. My reaction to WWI is visceral and gut-wrenching.

And the idea that those tranquil Welsh fields where I once went to school were once dug up to train cannon fodder young men how to die in Flanders almost makes me physically ill.

They want this… for a TOURIST ATTRACTION? I’d run a mile in the opposite direction, myself. That, or fall on my knees in those trenches and weep all the tears I ever carried inside me.

Read the whole story by Gareth Hughes at the Daily Post website HERE

NASA’s “Rocket Girls” Are No Longer Forgotten History

When Nathalia Holt stumbled upon the story of one of NASA’s first female employees, she was stunned to realize that there was a trove of women’s stories from the early days of NASA that had been lost to history. Holt was ultimately able to find a group of women whose work in rocket science dates back to before NASA even existed and wrote about them in “Rise of the Rocket Girls“.Computers In 1953 photoThe women “computers” pose for a group photo in 1953. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Read Naomi Shavin’s whole article at smithsonian.com HERE


Quote of the DayIQUOTE A Writer Is... posterAmen. Writing is not a choice.

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15 Words

15 wordsLovereading.co.uk has created an infographic for language enthusiasts called “15 Words You Never Knew Came from Literature.”

Some of the books featured in this image include The Hobbit, Catch-22, and Gulliver’s Travels.

See the whole infographic HERE

11 Types of People You Meet In Book Clubs

Not every book club is perfect, Kate Erbland writes in Bustle, and most of them involve a strange coterie of very different personalities with very different tastes, all battling it out to have their literary opinions be heard. She tells us about the 11 types of people who will bring passion to your friendly local book club.

For example:
NononoThe Deep Dissenter
No matter how carefully everyone picks each month’s book selection or how smoothly the discussion is guided, the Deep Dissenter finds something to pick apart that no one else noticed. Perhaps the author of this month’s book has a “better” novel you should have chosen instead or there were simply too many pages in the latest selection, no matter what, she’ll find fault anywhere and everywhere.

Read the rest HERE

It’s going to be a busy year

I’m racing along so fast this year that my head is spinning madly. This is the state of play…

February:Dawn of MagicThe fourth and final Worldweavers book, “Dawn of Magic,” has been cleared for landing. Before you order a copy, you might want to do some catch-up by re-reading books 1 through 3. (all now available as paperbcks from Sky Warrior Books) – because this fourth one is the finale, and it looks back over its predecessors with affection…

I’ve always had a soft spot for this book and I can’t wait to share it with you all. I think it winds up the Worldweavers series beautifully. It’s nothing short of the story of how the soul of human magic was lost – was STOLEN – and there’s an expedition to take it back, leading straight to the heart of the Alphiri Crystal City where Thea has to face some of her greatest fears and make some tough choices, the Trickster finally finds his true role in the grand scheme of things, and Nikola Tesla rises to meet his destiny.

RandomThere is also a reading for “Random” at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at Village Books here in Bellingham. If you are in the area, please come along,

I”ll be glad to see you there!

AbducticonAbduction: my first SF humor.

More about this – oh, MUCH more! – closer to the release date – you’ll see it here first!

In addition to my new book, there is Rainforest Writers Retreat where I have two possible projects I am still dithering about which I want to work on.

Later in March, there will be a book event for “Random” in Seattle at University Book Store. Again, if you’re local and I missed inviting you, please forgive me, and please come!

April: I think I have time to take a breath, but it’s going to be busy because it’s going to be ramping up for the release …


… of “Wolf”, the second of The Were Chronicles book. Exact release date not yet fixed.


Going to Odyssey Writing Workshop as visiting speaker. The annual summer writing workshop is an in-person, six-week workshop held on the campus of St. Anselm College, Manchester, NH. Guest Lecturers for the 2014 Summer.

They did an interview with me, here:

Then I hope to go on a little mini book tour on the east coast. Watch this space.

July: My birthday. I’m taking a bit of time off.


Worldcon, Spokane. Worldcons are always intense and fun. With several new books out… I am going to be BUSY at this one.

Not sure about September and October but there’s Orycon in November.

And then it’s Christmas again.

There goes the year.

I think I’d better stock up on caffeine.

FREE ebook

I will send a free ebook version of Random, Book 1 in my YA series The Were Chronicles, to the next 10 people who pledge to leave a review on Amazon.

To accept the offer, just send an email HERE with the subject line “Free Random Offer”
(1) a valid email address to send the ebook to
(2) a single sentence in the body of the email acknowledging that a review will follow.

I hope you love the book, but reviews, of course, need only be honest.

Amazon finally has the print version back in stock.

Pop-Up Books, not just for children anymore

When paper engineers turn their talents to books, the end result is the wonderfully tactile experience of pop-ups, Off the Shelf tells us.

You may think of pop-ups as solely the realm of children, but the books on this list are equally entertaining for adults, too! Each page will pull you into the sophisticated, multi-sensory world of intricately crafted paper scenes from classic literature to abstract art, cultural icons to poetry, wondrous creatures to mind-bending alphabets, and even a book that teaches you how to do-it-yourself.

For example:

M.C.-Escher-Pop-Ups1M.C. Escher Pop-Ups
by Courtney Watson McCarthy

The mesmerizing work of Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher has fascinated viewers for more than seventy years. His illustrations constantly play with our perceptions of reality by layering multiple conflicting perspectives. This book presents some of the artist’s most intriguing works in original three-dimensional pop-ups.


See more HERE

Open Letter to the Man offended by Locally Laid

(If these eggs were available to me here in Bellingham, I’d certainly buy them.)
Locally laidResponse

Dear Mr. (name withheld),

Thank you for reaching out to let us know your opinion of the Locally Laid Egg Company…

Here’s why we named our company, Locally Laid. We are the first pasture-raised egg company in the Upper Midwest providing you with eggs which are laid locally….The average food product in this country travels some 1,500 -2,000 miles from farmer to processor to distributor to your plate. That’s a lot of diesel burned and C02 pumped in the air. Our cartons travel a fraction of those miles.

We’ve turned down lucrative contracts that would have taken our eggs out of the area because of our environmental stance. Plus, we plant a tree with every delivery we make to offset our minimal carbon footprint.

Read the whole letter HERE


Google aims to be your universal translator. Its Translate app has the ability to instantly converse with someone speaking in a different language, and the capability to translate street signs into your native language.

That’s a godsend, because not everyone speaks Klingon, you know.

Oldest Facebook user celebrates 107th birthday — Edythe Kirchmaier, born on January 22, 1908, is the oldest registered user on the popular site.

Illinois Law Allows School Officials to Demand Students’ Passwords

Read more about the troubling law HERE

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Orycon time…

oryconSo, then. Let us start at the beginning.

After waking up at oh-dark-hundred, there I was at the Bellingham station ready to take the 8:32 Amtrak train to Portland.

The barriers went down at the appointed time… but instead of my train, one of those long endless freight trains lumbered past for what seemed like five solid minutes. And then it was through and gone and out came the announcement. Ladies and gentlemen, the Amtrak train you are all here for has been delayed out of Vancouver BC “because of wind and rain” and will be 20 minutes late.

It was closer to 9 AM that we finally got onto our train and it lumbered off southwards.

I asked the conductor what effect the late departure might have on the estimated arrival time in Portland. He said he thought they would just cut the time in Seattle layover down, and arrival in Portland would not be (greatly) affected.

The Amtrak app I downloaded on my tablet kept telling me that the estimated time of arrival in Portland was 3:15 – which was within the ballpark . After we had stopped to let past a freight train and then allow a northbound passenger train with “a broken air hose” to limp past us, arrival time read 3:34. And then 3:48.

And then… gentle reader… we came to a halt just on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Bridge. And then just sat there. And sat there. And sat there. And nobody was really saying anything to us at all. And time… kept on passing.

We were literally fifteen minutes out of Portland. But we sat there. And sat there. And sat there. TWO HOURS AND THIRTY EIGHT MINUTES LATER another engine attached itself to our train (which had “broken down” as we were informed) and we were finally dragged into Portland station. Where we found out the real cause of the problem.

The train. Had. Run. Out. Of. Gas.

My immediate cynical response to that was, oh great, the Republicans take over the country and not even the trains can run properly the next day. Someone else, after I arrived at the con hotel and was plied with a glass of wine to restore my equanimity, suggested it was a good thing I hadn’t decided to FLY down to Portland, running out of gas in a plane being a bit more dicey.

Oh, it’s all very funny. In retrospect.

I fully intend to inquire if the train has its full complement of gas when it comes time for the return journey.

All that aside, I was at Orycon. Friends were everywhere. I was hailed across the hotel lobby twice by people who spied me on the other side of the hall. It is so ENERGIZING, so good for one, to come to a con like this, a con where, like the proverbial bar called Cheers, everybody knows your name.

Friday morning, armed with a good solid double-shot latte, I sailed forth into con proper. This entailed, first of all, sitting in the Green Room catching up with everybody. And then, at 2 p.m. it was time for my first panel, “Dark Fairy Tales”.

I ambled across to the proper venue with another panelist, and discovered that the room contained nothing but three towering stacks of chairs.  We all just assumed that, this being a Dark Fairy Tales panel, the goblins had been there before us. Some of us set to getting the chairs into a useable conformation. Someone else was sent out in pursuit of hotel staff and a table. The table arrived; so did a snazzy elegant black tablecloth, and a gold table skirt.

The panel, which began with audience of four and quickly grew to a dozen or more, started with an astonishing display of erudition as panelists quoted from memory long sections of various Shakespearean plays. What did it have to do with fairy tales, you might ask? Why, probably not much. What of it…?

I then had to run over to a different wing of the hotel for my next panel, on dialogue, and then another on the “Death of the Standalone Novel.”

At that panel a nice young man came up to the front of the room and addressed me and said that I had “an enchanting way of expressing myself” on my panels and that it probably meant that I was “a great writer.”  I grinned in delight as I thanked him. I always try to “give good panel”. It is nice to know that it gets noticed, sometimes.

Had a nice dinner with a friend. Visited the dealer’s room, bought Jay Lake’s final story collection in memory of my lost friend, came meandering over again to the main lobby, got hailed once again by a bunch of people having drinks in the bar. So I joined them, had a nice chocolate Martini (you can blame the Governor’s Club bar at the Wiscon hotel for introducing me to these). The conversation ranged from winter sports and attendant injuries to how to give a compliment to a lady without skeeving her out. A great con unwind evening.

More later.

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Alma Alexander
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Just what is alternate history?

The Secrets of Jin-shei, hard coverWhen I wrote my signature novel, The Secrets of Jin-shei, I considered it a fantasy. It’s roots lie in the world of Imperial China and the secret language of women that then existed, but it is NOT China and I never thought of it as a historical novel or even alternative history.

I called my world Syai and took a lot of liberties with the Chinese culture that inspired and underpinned it. My story even contained a few elements of conventional fantasy.

Readers and reviewers around the world – it’s been published in 13 languages, so far –  see it differently. It has appeared in the history section of some bookstores; some reviewers have called it “historical fantasy”; a few readers fault my “historical research” as though the world of my imagination, Syai, is really China.

You won’t find my book among these listed in the following io9 article by Emily Stamm, but it shares many of the elements that make these stories/worlds so very different from our ‘real’ world.

Take His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik, for example:

DragonThe Napoleonic Wars were full of tales of heroism, adventure, intrigue — and in Naomi Novik’s version, dragons. The intelligent creatures are used in aerial warfare throughout Europe and Asia. His Majesty’s Dragon has all of your favorite Napoleonic battles, including The Battle of Trafalgar, with the added excitement of dragons. Let’s hope this starts a trend.

Check out the other books at the link. And if you haven’t read The Secrets of Jin-shei, give it a try.

Unusual Alternate History Novels

The Secrets of Jin-shei

BTW, if you think there is no magical aspect to the history of the ‘real’ world we live in, consider the following story found at history.com:

Rabbits Unearth Ancient Treasures at English Landmark

Christopher Klein reports that a trove of ancient artifacts dating back 5,000 years has been unearthed at one of England’s top tourist attractions. The find wasn’t discovered by sleuthing archaeologists, however, but a family of burrowing rabbits.

rabbitOne of the Land’s End “archaeobunnies” (Credit: David Chapman Photography for Land’s End Landmark)

The archaeobunnies

12 Reasons to Stop What You’re Doing and Read a Book

It will make you a smarter, happier, more interesting person, Julie Buntin says in Cosmopolitan.


Her reason Number One? It makes you more empathetic.

This is the most important reason of all. In his now-famous Kenyon College commencement address, David Foster Wallace argues that a liberal arts education, the foundation of which requires reading a lot of literature, makes you a kinder, more empathetic person.

When you read, you replace your own life with someone else’s. That is an act of empathy, and empathy is the cornerstone of human connection. Empathy will make you a better friend, a better lover, a better employee, a better sister, a better child — it will make you a better everything.

Read a book

Alma Alexander and friend
The Duchess of Fantasy and friend

It is always a pleasure to spend a little time with my friend, “Dirty Dan,” the Founder of Fairhaven.

Fairhaven is a lovely little corner of Bellingham, Washington, my hometown, and I sometimes like to sit beside Dan’s bronze statue, draped on one of the benches looking for all the world like he’d just sat down to take a breather. Particularly because our indie bookstore, Village Books, is just behind and to the left of him, and THAT is a place we visit often.

The statue of Dirty Dan, Daniel Jefferson Harris, is laid back, accepting, folksy. The smile-crinkled bronze eyes watch benevolently over the heart of his little kingdom, over toddlers waddling over Fairhaven’s village green, golden retrievers wagging plumed tails on the walkways, white-haired couples wandering by holding hands and discussing poetry, people and their critters living their lives under blue skies.

And he doesn’t appear to mind spending a little time with a visiting author.

The 5 Best Punctuation Marks in Literature

The muse gets all the press, Kathryn Schulz says at Vulture.com, but here’s a fact: Good writing involves obsessing over punctuation marks.

As a rule, the effect of all that obsession is subtle, a kind of pixel-by-pixel accretion of style. Once in a while, though, a bit of punctuation pops its head up over the prose, and over the prosaic, and becomes a part of a tiny but interesting canon: famous punctuation marks in literature.

But what follows is a — well, what follows is a colon, which sets off a list, which contains the most extraordinary examples I could find of the most humble elements of prose:

1. The parentheses in Nabokov’s Lolita

    “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three…”

The sentence goes on — for 84 more words, eleven commas, one colon, one semicolon, and another set of parentheses. But the reader, like Humbert Humbert’s unlucky mother, stops dead. Nabokov is a daredevil writer, and often a florid one, but what he shows off here is unbestable economy. Like the lightning inside it, this parenthetical aside is swift, staggering, and brilliant. It is also Lolita (and Humbert) in miniature: terrific panache containing terrible darkness.

Obsessing over punctuation

Quote of the Day

Will Rogers~~~~~

Alma Alexander

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