How can I write…?

I and 33 other authors offer advice.

I wasn’t consulted, but my best advice?

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

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

I particularly like this advice:

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

And this:
As Bad as it gets

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

See all the advice at Buzzfeed HERE

The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like faces

Rock faces 1Rocks have faces? Rocks have souls?

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

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

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

Read the whole story at the Colossal website HERE

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

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

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

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

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

See all the other books at the Vulture website HERE

Quote of the Day

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

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Literary Winters


Ice on trees and snow on the ground, beauty mixed with danger. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

In The Guardian, Richard Hirst gives us ghost stories by the fireside and perilous journeys in the snow: from Emily Dickinson to Raymond Briggs, great writing that gets to the heart of the coldest season.

And the first tale is: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anonymous (14th century)

This, one feels, is an early example of a tale to be told by firelight. At the court of King Arthur, the winter festivities are disrupted by the arrival of a spectral green knight. There is a duel, in which the knight is beheaded by Arthur’s nephew, Sir Gawain; he then picks his head up, holds it aloft and promises that the two of them shall meet again. It’s a hell of an opening. The poem only came to light during the Victorian era which, as any Christmasologist will tell you, is the yuletide’s golden age. So much here prefigures the tropes found in modern winter literature: family and friends gather for warmth and jollity, feasting is the order of the day, good cheer is lubricated by heroic quantities of booze … and then the stranger arrives.

Read the rest HERE


Talk to me

Join me at Bitten by Books today to chat about the World of Weres, my new book, and everything.

I’m HERE (today only)

Book Dedications that Basically Say “Screw You”
Image credit: ThinkStock

Not all authors’ dedications are nice. Some—like these—are just plain mean, Arika Okrent says at Mental Floss.

This Boy’s Life, Tobias Wolff (1989)
My first stepfather used to say that what I didn’t know would fill a book. Well, here it is.”

The acknowledgements section of Wolff’s memoir of a difficult adolescence with abusive stepfathers ends on a finely honed knifepoint.

Read the others HERE

Five Destructive Myths Perpetuated by Roleplaying Games

Actually a set of ideas which aren’t only applicable to games, Oren Ashkenazi writes at Mythcreants. “This works for writers, too, in terms of world creation and building up realistic milieux and protagonists with anchors and not just adrift at the whim of the plot.”

For example:

The Explorer Fallacy

Sacagawea.jpgBronze statue of Sacagawea, without whom Lewis and Clark would have been hopelessly lost.

Western culture has a bit of a fetish for explorers. We idolize them, from Marco Polo to Lewis and Clark…The vast majority of people we think of today as explorers were traveling through places where people already lived. They weren’t conquering untamed wilderness; they were asking for directions and buying supplies from the locals….When natives are mentioned at all, they are documented more as part of the terrain than as actual residents. This is dehumanizing, and it justifies claiming a land’s resources for ourselves. After all, no one was really living there.

Read the whole article HERE

Take The Reading Challenge!
Reading chartBook-lovers, start your reading engines, Tara Block writes at PopSugar. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to read more books in 2015, get started now with our ultimate reading challenge. From a book your mom loves to a book with a love triangle, we’re giving you a wide range of reads, spanning eras and genres, instead of specific books. You don’t have to read all 50 books (technically 52, since one is a trilogy), but it’s a fun incentive to diversify your reading — you may be surprised by what you find you enjoy!

See the whole chart HERE

21 Hilariously Misspelled Signs

Spelling is hard. But there’s no exuse to make misteaks like this!
porn and beansSee the other signs HERE

Gentlemen, I’m here to mansplain Dickens … okay?

“Occasionally, I write a column and brace myself for angry e-mail”, Tabatha Southey writes at The Globe, “but I didn’t when I wrote about Ebenezer Scrooge giving Bob Cratchit’s family a turkey at Christmas…protesting e-mail pinged in… I respectfully add Charles Dickens to the List of Things Canadians Are Vehement About.”

“I mostly dearly appreciate reader feedback, as about seven out of 10 times it seems to indicate “reader,” and some were very genial about their criticism. But the number of people willing to die on this Dickensian Goose Hill – and the bodies really did pile up – was striking.”

Read the rest HERE

Quote of the Day

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” ~ Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

Alma Alexander      My books      Email me 

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It’s only Stardate -309971.68

…but we already have 12 Star Trek Gadgets from the 24th Century

John Brandon tells you about them at Mental Floss.
Star Trek BadgeWikimedia Commons
On the original series, Kirk and crew carried handheld communicators. But in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Starfleet personnel wore communicator badges on the left breasts of their uniforms. A California start-up called Vocera has created a similar device you pin to your shirt. They’re used mostly in hospitals to avoid having constant overhead pages.

See all the StarTrek gadgets HERE

It means WHAT?

Every language has some untranslatable words, my mother tongue included.

In Serbian, ‘inat’ means so much more than the simple translation of the word. In the simplest terms, it maps onto “stubbornness” – but it goes beyond that, to “I’m digging my heels in and this is where I stand, for good or ill, against all comers” or “DON’T tell me what I can’t do!” or, somewhat more metaphysically, “Yeah? you and what army?”

The word is a foundational one for the mindset and the culture, a never-say-die thing that has kept us alive through centuries of historical EVENTS that have rolled over us. It’s a survival thing, sometimes harsh and unlovely but always solid and strong and only getting stronger in the face of adversity.

Which brings us to:

The Illustrated Book Of Untranslatable Words

Last year published a blog post titled ‘11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures’ with illustrations by Ella Sanders, 19, who was interning with them in Morocco. The next morning they woke to a torrent of emails and tweets from thousands upon thousands of people who had commented, shared, or volunteered more suggestions for these untranslatables.

A year later, Ella Sanders’ book was published by Random House.
Book unreadTsundoku—Japanese | The tsundoku scale can range from just one unread book to a serious hoard, so you are most likely guilty of it. Illustration by Ella Sanders
SunlightKomorebi—Japanese | It may be temporarily blinding but it’s most definitely beautiful. There is something wonderfully evocative and uniquely magical about sunlight filtered through green foliage. Illustration by Ella Sanders

Read more about Ella HERE

Who made Shakespeare?

The creation of William Shakespeare: How the Bard really became a legend

Shakespeare wasn’t always a literary icon — or even the most popular writer of his era, Cameron Hunt McNabb tells us at Salon.

Shakespeare’s current status is often described as “bardolatry,” an excessive veneration of the man marked by elaborate myths about who he was and what he really accomplished. One of the more popular myths involves Shakespeare’s “wildly extensive” vocabulary and ferocious knack for coining new words. (In reality, Shakespeare’s vocabulary was less than half of the average person’s today and he only coined 229 new words, coming in 4th among English wordsmiths.)

So how did he get so big? Well, there were three things…

Read the article HERE

Best Women AuthorsDaniel Dalton of BuzzFeed selects the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction that killed it this year. Ranked in no particular order.

Station ElevenStation Eleven: “Emily St. John Mandel’s time-hopping tale of a worldwide epidemic, postapocalyptic Shakespearian thespians, the problematic nature of fame, and the importance of art, love, and companionship when it comes to survival is an incredible feat of a novel.” – Isaac Fitzgerald



Read the article HERE

Welcome to winter. The fox is heart crushing.

When Mother Nature unleashes a cold front, she often freezes everything in her path, creating the most incredible scenes.

The 30 Most Amazing Photos Of Frozen Things You’ll Ever See
Frozen-ThingsFrozen Lake Michigan Light House
Photo Credits: EliteDaily,

See all the photos HERE

All I want for Christmas is …

…books, of course. If you are a book lover too and looking for a good fantasy, let me introduce you to Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles.

I have put up a page for the  series HERE which includes a link to an excerpt from the first chapter of Random.

The ebook version is out now, of course, but if you want to give a Paperback for Christmas, you can pre-order it from the publisher Dark Quest Books HERE and slip a note into your loved one’s stocking that the book is on its way.


“Merriam-Webster names ‘culture’ word of the year

“Buy Every Book You Read Next Year from a Bookshop”

I claim to love books; and, more than that, to love bookshops. Yet for eight years I have poured money into a company that many booksellers regard as the greatest threat to their survival…. It is the time of year to make resolutions. You could resolve to eat less, or jog more. Or you could join me in making a simple pledge: to buy every book you read next year from a bookshop. I don’t know about you, but Amazon has had quite enough of my money already.” ~ Laura Freeman in a piece for the Daily Mail

Third Place Books, which has stores in Lake Forest Park, Wash., and in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle, is opening a third store, in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle, in late 2015.

Quote of the Day

“True art selects and paraphrases, but seldom gives a verbatim translation.” ~Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Alma Alexander      My books      Email me
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When purple prose goes bad

“Things sometimes get transcendent bad, purple prose can transform into ultra violet.”

That was one of the more fascinating observations during a well attended Saturday morning panel on Description in Fiction that I moderated at Orycon, the annual science fiction/fantasy convention in Portland, Oregon. In fact, it could be the line of the con.

An hour later it was another panel, on the Limitations of Magic, before a very interested audience. I wish I could remember what it was that I said that brought the house down. There is enough ham in me to appreciate that kind of reaction, but there were a lot of good discussion by several good panelists and I don’t have a photographic memory.

The panel explored the concept of a “periodic table of magic.” I like that. It has possibilities that I am likely to muse on in further essays, and use in my own writing.

I went from that to the autographing session, where four of us sat forlornly behind a wall of signage pointing to OTHER interesting things going on around there while we waited to talk to people and sign stuff. We got far less attention than a young and shapely and very half-naked woman who was having a body-painting job done on a platform nearby.

The book autographing scene reminded me of the delightful video ,”Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall”. (Link at end, and worth looking at if you haven’t seen it.)

Random, The Were ChroniclesMy reading session that followed was really well attended and people listened with rapt attention as I read an excerpt from “Random,” the first book in The Were Chronicles, now out in e-book form and soon to be out in print. I concluded with a sneak preview from “Wolf”, the second book in the series, coming out early next year.

One of the people at the reading said that “Random” sounded like a lovely book for his book group to tackle. I handed out little sample excerpt brochures to people who went away happy. At least one person collared me in the corridor later to tell me that they’d just gone and bought a “Random” ebook, right there and then.

Tired, now. But energized, as always with cons. These things can be amazing elixirs for the soul.

I have a to-do list as long as my arm for when I get home. And the end of the year is hurtling down upon me with unseemly speed.

Parnell Hall SigningParnell Hall book signing video

Quote of the day

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Alma Alexander
My books

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You rejected WHAT!?!

Evan Hoovler has selected for Blastr examples of a number of unfortunate publishing decisions.

The poster child for misguided rejections is Harry Potter. Author J.K. Rowling received rejection letters for the first book in the series from a dozen publishers before the eight-year-old daughter of the chairman for the relatively small Bloomsbury Press took to the story so much that she begged her father to publish it. The rest is history — the series has sold close to half a billion copies.

But there are a lot of other bad decisions. e.g.

Time Travelers WifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife: The 2003 novel about a man with chronological impairment was rejected by 25 publishing companies. Author Audrey Niffenegger finally sent the manuscript, unsolicited, to a small San Francisco publisher. It took off from there, selling millions of copies and inspiring a hit film.


Read the article

British Prison Book Ban

Justice ministers have defended their push to prevent prisoners in England and Wales from having family and friends send them books. They argue that prisoners can earn the right to buy books through the prison’s book selling program, The Guardian reports.

Writers have called the move barbaric.

Describing whitesHeben Nigatu of Buzzfeed welcomes us to the mocha-chocolate-coffee-bean-exotic-butterscotch-caramel-cinnamon-cafe-au-lait side of town.

e.g. He traced his fingers along her supple, cauliflower skin.

Beauty, eye of beholder, what. Reminds me of that priceless moment from “The Gods Must Be Crazy” when the Bushman describes the blonde blue-eyed heroine – perfectly earnestly and to him perfectly truthfully – as looking like something you might find if you turned over a rock.

More descriptions of whites

35 Most Amazing Roads In The World

There are few things more invigorating than exploring a new road alongside a beautiful landscape, Ali Lawrence writes at Lifehack.

To be perfectly honest, some of these roads don’t really have much to recommend them except that THEY SEEM TO GO ON FOREVER – which fact would make it dangerous for me to drive them because it would just put me to sleep.

But some of those roads that look like someone has dropped a tangled ribbon on a mountainside… YOW. *That* would keep you awake all right. Possibly for a week after you’ve left the road behind, as you come down from a life-threatening adrenaline high.
Stelvio Pass, ItalyStelvio Pass, Italy

Be that as it may. That Chapman’s Peak Drive thing? I have been there. Driven on it. A lot of times. It was the site of one of my South African Adventures.
Chapmans-Peak-Drive-South-AfricaChapman’s Peak Drive, South Africa

There’s a gorgeous restaurant which you get to via that road. I once went to a wedding reception with my then-boyfriend. It was a beautiful nigh when we began the drive home,  big full moon, wild ocean on our left full of sparkling moonlight, a totally romantic setting. So when the car sputtered to a stop at some point and we sat there on the narrow shoulder of that spectacular road, you might have thought that the boyfriend was just taking advantage of the moonlight and the romance.

“If you tell me the tank is empty,” I said, “i am not going to believe you.”

He just looked at me, smiled, and gave a small shrug.

“Er. Yeah. The tank is empty.”

The road is amazing. You should go see it. Just bring a full tank of gas for the ride.

Oh, BTW, we eventually flagged down a van full of happy hippy types, and they gave us a lift to the nearest police station… from where I phoned my parents, and we all somehow staggered home. But I still remember that exchange on the roadside in the moonlight.

See the rest of the amazing roads.

You’re probably using the wrong dictionary

NoahJames Somers steers you to the right one and explains why it’s necessary.

For example, he examines: …the fine differences in meaning between words in the penumbra of “flash”:

 … Flashing differs from exploding or disploding in not being accompanied with a loud report. To glisten, or glister, is to shine with a soft and fitful luster, as eyes suffused with tears, or flowers wet with dew.

Did you see that last clause? “To shine with a soft and fitful luster, as eyes suffused with tears, or flowers wet with dew.” I’m not sure why you won’t find writing like that in dictionaries these days, but you won’t. Here is the modern equivalent of that sentence in the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster: “glisten applies to the soft sparkle from a wet or oily surface <glistening wet sidewalk>.”

Who decided that the American public couldn’t handle “a soft and fitful luster”? I can’t help but think something has been lost. “A soft sparkle from a wet or oily surface” doesn’t just sound worse, it actually describes the phenomenon with less precision. In particular it misses the shimmeriness, the micro movement and action, “the fitful luster,” of, for example, an eye full of tears — which is by the way far more intense and interesting an image than “a wet sidewalk.”

It’s as if someone decided that dictionaries these days had to sound like they were written by a Xerox machine, not a person, certainly not a person with a poet’s ear, a man capable of high and mighty English, who set out to write the secular American equivalent of the King James Bible and pulled it off.

Read the article

Postcards to Authors

“A little project to say thank you to authors for making good books.” ~ George Dunkley
CaliforniiaEdan Lepucki is the author of California

See the others

Quote of the Day

I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun at it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh my God, what work…’ The hell with that. It is not work. If it’s work, stop it and do something else…..I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me my joy.” ~ Ray Bradbury, 2001.

Alma Alexander
My books

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Bedroom Quirks

The Bedroom Quirks of 10 Great Authors
Bedroom quirksYou know that Shakespeare, James Joyce and Lord Byron were geniuses when it came to their ways with words, but as anyone who knows a writer can tell you, scribes frequently come with some serious quirks, Stacy Conradt writes at Mental Floss. I’m reading Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg, and the secrets definitely come out. So, without further ado, I give you 10 intimate quirks of some of the finest writers ever.
Read the Article

Teenage rebels in fiction – quiz

To celebrate the 66th birthday of SE Hinton, The Guardian wants to test your knowledge of the great tales of teen trouble-makers and asks: You got a problem with that?

I love the second choice in Question #4.

Take the Quiz

The 10 best bookstores … make that 11

The rumors of the death of indie bookstores have been greatly exaggerated, Leif Pettersen says in USA TODAY, then hedges:

Well, moderately exaggerated. The harsh fact is that these institutions are facing unprecedented competition from a website named for a river, and many struggle just to stay open. Still, a determined few are thriving.

He misses one of the great ones, Village Books in Bellingham WA, but lists most of the usual suspects. I’ve covered the best bookstores before but I like this one for all the great photos.
Skylight-BooksSkylight Books, Los Angeles – One of the most respected independent bookstores in the country. The hipster-ometer is buried in the red here (in a good way), from the eclectic customers, to the well-read staff, to Franny the store cat, to the arts annex two doors down.

Read the Article

Women’s Rights News says:
Women Didn’t Just Join Geek Culture, They Invented It
GeeksRead the Article

Mary Poppins Stumps for Minimum Wage Increase

Mary Poppins

A hilarious video. You will never hear “supercallifagilisticexpialliBULLSHIT”  the same way again.


Read the Article

Retirement Community’s Awesome Calendar Of Famous Movies

The Contilia Retirement Group in Germany released a calendar that featured  scenes from their favorite movies, Ashley Burns writes at Filmdrunk.

The folks at the Senior Living Communities in the US thought it was a spectacular idea and decided to give it a whirl. The result is an 18-month calendar that takes on classic movies from A Christmas Story to Cleopatra, as well some other great moments in pop culture history that your own great grand-grandparents might call the bee’s knees.
ghostbustersVia Senior Living Communities

Read the Article

28 Beautiful Quotes About Libraries

The libraries of the world are under threat. At Buzzfeed, Daniel Dalton offers some reasons to care.
EinsteinRead the Article

Are you a book hoarder? There’s a word for that

How many books is too many books, Hector Tobar asks in the LA Times? What makes you a book hoarder? In Japanese, tsundoku is a noun that describes a person who buys books and doesn’t read them, and then lets them pile up on the floor, on shelves, and assorted pieces of furniture.

Just looking around our house – the books left to breed and multiply on the coffee table, the books stacked sideways on nearby shelves, the double-stacked books on at least three bookshelves in two different rooms – and then there’s the library…
Our libraryWe not only MEET the rather low-ball criterion they offer up in the article, we are POSTER CHILDREN for the Compulsive Book Hoarder Group. Still, there are worse things to be addicted to than books.

Read the Article

Quote of the Day

Someone asked Pablo Casals when he was 90 why he still practiced every day.  “Because I think I am making some progress,” he answered.

Alma Alexander
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Comments welcome. What do you think?