How do you…

… get your ideas/write a book?’

One of the perennial questions posed to authors in many many many interviews is the fabled “Where do you get your ideas?

I too often answer with a snarky quip…”Off the Idea Tree in my backyard.” The true answer is simply, “Everywhere.”

A much harder question is “How do you write a book?

The “you” is generally generic. The questioner might mean how does anyone write a book, or how can s/he write a book, or how do I, Alma Alexander, write a book.

The first answer to that is another question: “Which book?” Because one of the fundamental truths of the craft is that there are a lot different kinds of writers.

One kind is the writer who tends to write the same book over and over again. Different characters, different settings, but very similar plots.

Barbara Cartland, who wrote 723 mostly romance novels, comes to mind. Writing things like category romances or the average mystery tends to be a fairly regimented process because of the often rigid set of rules which governs the finished product. If you’re writing your third, tenth, twenty seventh book, you’ve got it honed down to a fine art. You can probably churn out a decent story within a month – you’re putting together a product very similar to something you’ve done before and familiarity breeds speed and confidence.

Another kind is the writer of a fabulously successful series that his/her fans want more of, sometime even if s/he wants to go on to something else. The author of a series is constrained by a certain amount of stuff already established in previous books – a certain setting, a certain character, things you can’t just arbitrarily shift because you’ve now made it canon and the reader will roar in outrage if you futz with canon.

A third kind of writer is like me. Even if the fundamentals of our approach to worldbuilding, to style, remains basically unaltered, even if we continue to write in our favorite genre (fantasy for me), EVERY book we write is different.

How does that happen? It depends on our initial approach to a specific book. What was the inspiration? What were we trying to do? What kind of story were we intending to tell?

Let me illustrate that by offering you a quiz about a few of my own books. Here’s a selection of paths by which I arrived at specific books. If you have read a book or two of mine, or are a fan who has read several, see if you can match the initial inspiration I describe here to the book that was published.

1) I wrote a single scene featuring the protagonist and a handful of the main characters. I liked the scene, and set out to write the book in which it would appear. But when I started writing the story, and I began to write it fairly linearly, from the beginning, it took me literally 2/3 of the tale to actually GET TO THE FRIGGING SCENE WHICH STARTED IT ALL.

If I asked you to pick the scene I am talking about, all y’all would probably pick a different scene. Truth is, it’s integral to the plot, to the book, and it is impossible, once the story was done, to actually pry that one single brick out of the mortared wall. It is impossible to tell that the entire wall once hinged on the existence of that one single brick, or which brick it was. The whole effort took… years. At least a year to write, and then more years before it saw publication.

2) I wrote down a list of ten characters. Nameless, milieu-free characters. Just a short paragraph about each. When I showed it to my husband, he asked me what it was.

“My next novel.”

“What’s it about?”

“I have no idea?

It was the simple truth. At that point I had NO clue what the story was that these characters wanted to tell. Then somebody sent me a newspaper article about a real-life situation – and the fantasy which involved that news story and those characters blossomed into my mind, fully formed, with the characters taking on a vivid and brilliant life and literally dictating the book to me,

I wrote 200,000 words in three months. I didn’t stop to think, to breathe, practically not to sleep or eat – I wrote it at a white-hot fury. What’s more the draft I wrote down was not draft zero or even draft one. It was pretty much the finished thing, with a few tweaks but no major changes. It was a miracle book that was sold worldwide in 13 languages.

3) After finishing the miracle book, I was asked if there was a sequel. I denied it, right until the moment… there was one. An editor was involved with this one right from the start; we discussed the bones of the book, I presented a loose sack of ideas, she approved them, and I wrote the book. It came back to me with an editorial fiat that unequivocally demanded that I rewrite the ending completely. I did. It still worked and the book was published.

4) A combination of a series of ideas culled out of frustrations with the popular culture, a real-life but rather larger-than-life character I wanted to write about, and a desire to explore a different magic gelled to produce a story about a youngster coming into her potential through fraught circumstances.

It was a difficult story to write because it was more structured than some of my other tales were – and I don’t work well to outlines. But while I tried to stick to the original proposal, my OWN jaw drops at the difference between what I proposed to the finished series. 

This story took me longer to write than anything I had written before. In pure
wordage, it adds up to not THAT much more than Book 2 above – but while that took me three months, this series took several years. 

5) This book started life as a short story for a themed anthology. When I was almost 5000 words into the “short story” *and was still worldbuilding, I realized I was writing a book. And if I fitted certain things together in a certain way… I had a considerable amount of story I didn’t know I had. In the end I had a powerful trilogy.

So, then. You want to know how I write a book?

WHICH BOOK?!? They are all different for me. Every. Single. One. I reinvent myself as a writer with every single manuscript I produce.The answer that vexed question is that there IS no single way that a book can be written or has to be written. If it works for you, and produces something good, it all comes out even in the end.

Stop worrying whether you’re writing a book “the right way”. There IS no right way. No two books are exactly alike. Listen to them, and they’ll tell you what their preferred process is. And after that… just TRUST them. Your stories know what they are doing.

Were you able to figure out which of my published books came from the paths described above? They are:

1) Hidden Queen/Changer of Days
2) The Secrets of Jin-shei
3) Embers of Heaven
4) Worldweavers trilogy – (“Gift of the Unmage”, “Spellspam”, “Cybermage”, “Dawn of Magic.”)
5) The Were Chronicles (“Random”,”Wolf”, “Shifter”)

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Wings of Fire coverA copy of my latest book, Wings of Fire,

is up for a giveaway. If you want to get

on the list

Sign up HERE

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YA and the ‘Real World’

The Were Chronicles: “Random”, “Wolf”, “Shifter”

At a certain level, the line between YA and adult literature becomes so fine as to be totally irrelevant.

Yes, there are always some readers whose worlds are so cushioned, so protected, so absolutely walled off from reality that they can can find reading about real problems to be distancing and completely alien. But those readers are very few, And even they, growing up, have to deal with SOME issues in their lives no matter how gilded they are.

There are books which are labelled YA that deal with a lot of subjects which might be considered difficult. Subjects like suicide, like discrimination, like loss, like fear, like helplessness.

The books aren’t there to exacerbate or underline a reader’s own issues. As with all literature, they exist primarily to tell a story. At least, the best of them do. They don’t moralize, they don’t frighten or terrorize, they don’t stroke a love of violence

But they do have real power. It lies in the fact that they let readers know that they are not alone, that they aren’t the only ones to suffer such things or feel such feelings. That can be empowering for the reader. Sometimes it is safer to sublimate such feelings into the pages of a powerful story, to learn how to deal with one’s own situation through the prism of storytelling, than it is to blunder about trying to solve overwhelming problems.

YA literature isn’t sweetness and light. It can be harrowing. Because young people can sometimes live harrowing lives.

When Weres become human

The Were Chronicles logoWhen I set out to write The Were Chronicles books, the whole thing started as a light-hearted thing. The project began as a short story intended for a Were-creatures anthology which wanted something other than the traditional wolves. So I pulled an odd creation out of the story-cauldron, something I’d never seen anyone play with before – a Random Were, a creature which can literally become the last living warm-blooded thing they see just before the Turn comes upon them. The idea had immense comic possibilities. In fact – as I put it in the first book – due to an “unfortunate farmyard accident”, my main protagonist’s mother is a Were-Chicken.

But while I was clucking to myself about that… the story changed under my touch, became bigger and darker. What was originally a short story became abook – and the book became series. It changed into that most amazing thing, a YA story but also a story about what it means to be human.

My Weres became a persecuted minority in society, and themes of discrimination and bullying reared up and demanded to be addressed. What do you do when your peers are bullying and threatening you and making you miserable, because you are “different”? That’s hard enough as and of itself, but what happens if those attitudes are then taken up by people in authority over you, whom you aren’t in a position to question or to fight?

My Weres touched off a nerve – because they explored, in my fantasy setting what it means *in our own world* for people to be a different color, or a different faith, or a different sexual orientation. I wrote about the power of persecution, and the power of spirit necessary to rise against and above that.

And then the themes multiplied. What does it mean to be considered an abject failure at something – by your own peers, your own class? How far would you be willing to go to prove yourself worthy? What things, what people, what ideas in your life are you willing to fight and die for? What happens if you are the only one of your kind, and you don’t know where you came from, or what is going to happen to you because there is no precedent for what you are?

The story unwound in a powerful and explosive way, the same story seen through the POV of three different characters who play a major part in the tale, a story seen through three separate prisms which thus acquires a certain three-dimensionality which was never before so obvious in any of my stories.

This is a work of fiction, a work of FANTASY no less, but its world… is our world, and it matters. It matters deeply. These are some of my most beloved, most astonishing characters, avatars of so many out there who face pain with courage and with knowledge and with earned wisdom.

The power of story

That is part of the power of story – this identification with a protagonist, who somehow arrives out of nowhere ready to completely understand our own innermost feelings and secrets. For adult readers who have had years of living under their belt, who have been working to acquire that necessary wisdom for a long time, stories like this may be memories – a look back into a time when things were difficult for themselves, and a recollection (with or without pain) of how they dealt with those situations.

For young readers, stories like these are part of that acquisition of wisdom and experience. If there is a good reason for a YA label at all then this is it – stories of people LIKE THE YOUNG READER, characters who are potential friends, but also potential role models in how they react and respond to fictional situations that the reader might find something to identify with. The best such stories are not moralizing or didactic or arrive with a knuckle-rapping “lesson” embedded inside – the best such stories are involving, enveloping, enfolding, they are things in which you can wrap yourself, and come out of wearing them as armour against the realities which might be out there waiting to assault you.

The best “lessons” are not the ones that are forcefully and insistently taught, but those answers which you find within yourself when a story like this helps you ask the right questions. What, then, would you do? In that story, in similar circumstances, what then would you do? How would you overcome?

The story gives you the pieces, the hints, but they don’t add up to anything that is a overweening Answer To Everything. Those pieces are different for every reader. They combine with pieces you bring to the story yourself. And every book connects with every reader in a different way, and the answers are always YOURS, deeply and personally yours, because every reader is unique and there are no two questions out there about people’s identity or their life situation which are exactly alike.

Stories are powerful. And stories aimed at, and read by, young readers are amongst the most powerful stories of all. We may read many books during the course of our lives – but by the time we get to be forty, fifty, sixty years old and half a century has rolled away from underneath us… for all too many of us, it is the books we read when we were sixteen which somehow remain with us, and in which we finds the roots of many things that we grew up to become.

You can find the first book in The Were Chronicles, Random, HERE

Wolf is HERE

Shifter is HERE

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The world I built

 

Fact, historical fiction, & fantasy, oh my!

It might be because I grew up in a land where history is still lurking behind a sheer veil, always present and within the reach of not so much individual as a tribal memory, that I look on it a way not easy for a Western mindset to understand.

To me and so many people of my blood and ancestry, history isn’t just a dead account of ancient battles and who whacked whom when. It’s WHY the whacking took place. It’s WHO did the whacking and WHO got whacked. In my head, history isn’t a dead letter, it lives. I can close my eyes and BE those people who once walked the ground on which I took my own first toddler steps. My umbilical is tied back to something greater and vaster than just a single gentle mother

I am a child of my people and of my past, part of something much bigger than myself, a mosaic in which I am just a single tessera but which, seen as a whole, makes for a huge complex picture of a world.

I can close my eyes and BE those people who once walked the ground on which I took my own first toddler steps. My umbilical is tied back to something greater and vaster than just a single gentle mother.

Hold that thought for a moment, and let me step back a little here.

The Secrets Of Jin Shei By HoshiakaWhen I wrote the novel, “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, it was not my own historical background that I referenced, but that particular time frame and setting, a land inspired by Imperial China which I called Syai and it became the foundation of an entire alternate world.

I wrote it as historical fantasy – as a sweep of history which takes place in an imaginary country – and I succeeded so well that I have been rapped on the knuckles for being “wrong” about some historical detail despite there being no historical detail to be wrong about. What this said to me is that I got the SENSE of history right, a sense of this being “real” in some aspect of it, that people feel that it has been rendered with enough verisimilitude for them to be able to believe that it (or something very like it) must have REALLY happened.

I fast-forwarded my story 400 years and wrote “Embers of Heaven”, which is set in the same land as “The Secrets of Jin-shei” but after four centuries have wrought their changes on the people and the social fabric of that country. A lot can change in four hundred years, and much – too much! – did change, here; This second book was still inspired by China but this was the China of the Cultural Revolution, much harsher, much more visceral than the first novel set in Syai – and yet, and yet, “Embers” has some of the most lyrical passages I have ever written, some of the most tender scenes of love and caring and passion that I have ever conceived. Set against the harshness of the milieu, these scenes shine.

But more than that – I extended the geography of this world. There are other countries in this world I am creating, just as there are countries which are not China in this our own familiar world. I introduced Ellas, which to anyone reading the scenes set in it can simply be nothing other than what maps in OUR world is Greece.

And having established the fact that my imagined world is is a complete world, I then wrote a third book set there. “Empress” is a historical fantasy just as lush and lyrical as the previous two, but this time set in the glory days of the empire of Byzantium, a story based on the immortal tale of the relationship between Emperor Justinian and the Hippodrome-bred actress and courtesan who became the Empress Theodora. If you pay attention you will notice a tiny detail in “Empress” – there is a caravan which is preparing to set off for exotic lands far away to pursue trade in silks and spices… a land called… Syai.

I am drawing a map here.

Six hundred and fifty years after the events of “Empress”, the empire which I called Visant still exists – it is old now, and rotting from the inside, and ripe for all kinds of disasters and outside influences… and I come full circle here.

Go back to that first paragraph. Read it again. Read it carefully. Because here is what I am writing about now: a historical fantasy about 14th century Balkans, my own history, my own past, rich rich rich with story. The novel is already well wrapped in the layers of history and of drama, but here’s the thing.

When I wrote the Jin-shei novels, editors and booksellers sometimes INSISTED that these things were pure historical fiction, which they weren’t, and marketing them as such tended to doom them because the history buffs got annoyed when I committed “faux pas” atrocities against known and accepted historical fact. And the fantasy buffs who would have loved those liberties, never found them because they didn’t look for this book where it was shelved, with “real” historical fiction.

When I first offered “Empress” for publication, I was given to understand that it would be considered much more acceptable if I went back and reversed my careful filing off of the serial numbers and retold the story as a straight historical fiction, without inventing an empire called Visant or an Emperor and Empress called Maxentius and Callidora, or a religion which I coldly and deliberately created so as to be parallel but NOT identical to Christianity.

I declined. This wasn’t THAT world, our world, the real world. This was a parallel world of my own creation where I had the freedom to follow what history I needed to but then to people it with characters and incidents and events and faith and social constructs that I required to tell the story that I wanted to tell.

Writer Bernard Cornwell was asked in a recent interview whether he saw the boundary between historical fiction and historical fantasy as being a blurred line or clear and distinct, and he said that he believed it to be totally distinct, that writers of fantasy have “a freedom which an historical novelist doesn’t enjoy… A fantasy writer might well ground his or her work in a real historical background, but they have no duty to that history. The historical novelist does!”

Cornwell is right.

It isn’t that I don’t feel as though I have a “duty” to history. I do. But I also feel the necessity to be able to break from the “real” history if I need to make a change to suit my story – in “Empress” I took two real historical incidents and I reversed the order in which they occurred because that was the way MY story fell out better, and it worked just fine; I also melded a little bit of two historical characters of the era, the scholarly bookish Justinian and the great general Belisarius, in order to create the character of Maxentius who would be a little of both and his own man who just happens to be in the shoes that a “real” historical character might have occupied in the annals of our own accepted historical record.

Now I have been urged to write my current novel – the 14th-century Balkans one – as a “straight” historical, because honestly, I couldn’t invent some of the stuff that was going on back then and there seems to be plenty of material in the raw history for me to play with – but it’s already bigger than me, and this story is part of the larger body of alt-history which I am building for that other world in which I write, and this is a part of the history of THAT world as much as my own forebears were part of the literal historical 14th century Balkan backdrop.

I NEED to mythologize and to render larger-than-life. I need the freedom of that empty canvas, not one already painted with a backdrop to which I absolutely have to hew. I need the space for my mind’s wings to spread out, for my imagination to soar, for my vision to see things that may or may not have been “Real”.

You might say that it would be all too easy to do something like that in a 14th century setting because primary sources are few and often iffy. That is true; researching details behind this story turned up stuff in the crevices of the stuff I already did know, osmotically, as part of my upbringing, stuff that astonished me and is almost too hard to believe. Bur a lot of such stuff is directly contradicted by other period accounts. I can literally pick the history I WANT to be true and I wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s still constraining. I don’t know these characters, these real characters, well enough to write their true motivations, and I balk at the idea of trying.

Make them semi-mythological, however, and I can get inside their minds and their hearts and their souls, I can imagine what they thought and they believed, and I can make something true spring up to hold and support them. That is my gift, the creation of worlds; if I use a historical base, a sourdough starter if you will, to bake the bread of my tale that is something that I use as a foundation – and what I create from that starter, from that foundation, is something that I have made from raw material mixed with pure imagination. It is what I love about creating stories like these.

There are many ways that history is taught “wrong” in our schools. Our children are never made to feel as though history is a part of them, only that it is a boring record of What Went Before and has nothing to do with their here and now. Who cares who was king when and which battle was fought where or who won, not when those facts are something that you have to learn by rote and regurgitate on command as a litany of “facts” as dull and dry and dusty as ashes. Our students are never shown that history as the fire that preceded those ashes, are never made to feel as though they themselves belonged in it.

The way *I* was raised – it is easy to reach out and lift the veil and look upon the years and the centuries that had gone before as being just someone else’s present, things that are happening to people JUST LIKE US but simply of another place or time. History can be a huge unifier for the human race because we are all living it, different parts of it that make the whole. Instead, it’s been as divisive as anything can be. History is iconically written by the “winners” of those battles which the children are forced to learn and remember; the “losers” of those battles find their voices stilled, silenced, erased.

There are many stones in the landscape of history which would reveal incredible narratives if they were permitted to be turned, and what lies underneath them to be examined.

This is the basic constraint of what we consider to be historical “fact”, and therefore also of what is strictly considered to be historical “fiction”, a novelized account of something that really happened and is on record as having happened. Because historical fiction that is true to historical fact is inevitably only true to that accepted account, the “winners” account. Deviate one iota from what is “known” to be true, and you’re already writing fantasy, because there is no way any more to document that other narrative that you want to tell. The loser’s side. Because of the silence in which it is wrapped.

But all the stories need to be told. And that’s why I choose to wrap my truths into the silver tissue paper of lies which is called “fantasy” by some. Because my stories aren’t a regurgitation of history-as-was. They are a retelling of an emotional and empathetic and wide-eyed greater truth – the things that didn’t “really” happen out there, but “really, REALLY” happened in here, inside the human heart and mind and vision. The stories that will resonate because on a fundamental level they are truer than the truth. That is the gift of fantasy. That is the world in which I choose to walk.

Watch for the latest installment of the history of my world – coming soon.

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Dangerous Women

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

Postcards warning men about the dangers of women’s rights

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

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

See more postcards at Dangerous Minds website HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why science fiction authors can’t win HERE

Building a Better Definition of Science Fiction HERE

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Andrew Hilleman offers

10 Great Westerns You’ve Never Read

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

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

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Surprise! Children’s Books Figured Out Life Long Ago

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

 
See all the quotes at Crafty House HERE

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Quote of the Day

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

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How long should it be?

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

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

Letters from the Fire cover

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

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

 

 

 

Abducticon cover

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

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

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

At Lithub, Emily Temple offers

20 Short Novels to stay up all night reading

Check out her selection at Lithub HERE

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I do write a fair number of short stories.

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

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

is now available HERE

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Self destruction on screen

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

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

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

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

Dear God, what a mess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Quote of the Day
Le Quin quote Poster ~~~~~
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Whence AbductiCon?

Every book has a story – of its origins, of the secrets and the inspiration which led to its existence, the surprises that leaped out at the writer during the process of creation, the dead end alleys, the astonishing moments of transcendence, the feelings that linger when the writer types “The End.”  These essays about my books originally appeared at the Book View Café Blog.

From Alma’s Bookshelf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy Here

~~~~~Indians With Umbrellas illustration

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

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

This might be a good time to look at…

10 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Read

For example:
Last Standing Woman cover

 

Winona LaDuke, Last Standing Woman

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

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Whence The Weres?

One of a series of essays about the backstories of my books – the origins, the inspiration, the difficulties, the surprises. The essays originally appeared in the Book View Café Blog.

Every book has a story – a story of origin, of the secrets and the inspiration which led to its existence, the surprises that waited to leap out at the writer during the process of creation, the dead end alleys one wanders into and then has to battle to reverse out of when it becomes obvious that one is astray, the astonishment at the moments of transcendence that sometimes come unlooked for, the feelings that linger when the writer types “The End” and lifts hands from the keyboard.

These are the stories of my books, the children of my mind and my heart, and how they came to be.

~~~~~

Alma’s Bookshelf

The Were Chronicles

The origins of this series lie in my quintessential problem: I don’t write short stories, at least not easily or often or even willingly.

But when I got wind of an upcoming anthology about Were-kind, with the specific fiat that the editor did not want just the iconic wolves but OTHER creatures, exploring the possibilities of the trope, I had a wild idea out of absolutely nowhere.

It involved a Random Were, a creature that has its own primary form into which it Turns at its changing time under the proper moon, but if another warm-blooded creature is seen by the Were entity just as the Turn begins… then it is THAT creature which the Were turns into.

The potential for trouble and comedy was high, and that was the way I began to write the short story – and the tone was set early. For instance, my protagonist’s mother was… a Were-chicken. Because of an unfortunate farmyard accident at the moment of her first Turn.

You can see where this was going. I giggled to myself and began to write the story I thought I had started to write…

right until the moment that I realized that it was turning into something potentially much darker than the comic little tale I was originally pursuing, and that I was more than 5000 words into it and I hadn’t  even properly said hello yet. This thing wanted to be a novel.

And the further I waded into it and the more it unfolded it became clear that it was even more complex than that.

It ended up being three novels. But not your classic trilogy. More of a triptych, with each of the three books presented as a first-person narrative from a different POV character… involved in the same central tragedy. The different prisms through which the world and its events were viewed by these three very different characters gave my story an unparalleled depth and dimension. I was writing something very special.

Thematically, the books differentiated according to their protagonists.

The Were Chronicles coversJazz, the voice of “Random” (Book 1) was the youngest of the POV characters and one who was, perhaps, by far the most innocent of them. It fell to her to explore the dark and vindictive shadows of bullying and discrimination, of finding out about the bitterness of being “other” in the world, of having to struggle with the harsh realities of being alone and not quite knowing who or what to trust. It turned out to be a harrowing book, holding up a mirror to the truths which were being played out in many a reader’s real life – and for some readers it proved to be an unexpected spar of salvation and insight and understanding. (Buy it HERE)

Book 2, “Wolf” dealt with Science. I finally went back to my own educational background, my MSc in Molecular Biology, and I worked out the genetics behind being Were as opposed to being human. The book also dealt with the dangers of dogma and agendas when hidden behind the shield of that science, and explored those issues as well as ideas of guilt and expiation, of sacrifice and salvation, of growing up and finding one’s place in an uncaring world. Mal, my protagonist, Jazz’s older brother, was a brooding and moody angsty teenage BOY, in every sense of that word, until circumstances made him step up and take responsibility – and I was in awe of this character and what he brought to me and to my story, of how he showed the process of coming of age. (Buy it HERE)

And then came Book 3, “Shifter”, where Mal’s friend Saladin van Schalkwyk , better known as Chalky, took center stage. A Don Quixote of a character, a lost boy, a creature lonely and wary and abandoned, and the greatest and most unique Were of them all. He was a white knight and a trickster both, a transcendent creature, a joy to write about. And his book dealt with the dangers and the heady triumphs brought on by that isolation and that responsibility – and also, in broader terms, circled back to the original issues of being “different” and being hated and feared and where those things could lead (open warfare) when fueled by the torches of fundamentalism and malice. (Buy it HERE)

The three books are some of the best and potentially some of the most important things I’ve ever written. And I am immensely proud of them.

Quite aside from the main characters, all of whom were absolute gifts, there were moments of unexpected beauty and poignancy. There was the love between siblings, between family, which was stronger than anything that the world piled on and had to be honored. There was the love between friends, which was the bond of promise and trust. There was the love between mates, the two halves of a couple, and the bonds that are forged when two soulmates meet one another. And all of this was luminous. And then there was the dark light of hatred and fear and the wicked shadows that it cast across the world.

These may be be books about Were kind in title, but at their fundamental root they are actually books about what it means to be human.

People tell me they wept when they reached the conclusion of “Shifter.” I’m glad. It shows me that these books have reached a deep emotional core within people, as they had been meant to.

Writers are often asked  which of their books are their favorites – and it’s an impossible question to answer because it’s like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. But if I had to pick the books of which I am proudest – well – I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of anything I wrote than I am of these books. They matter. They are part of a huge human story, instantly recognizable to those who pick up the books and yet breathlessly followed from narrator to narrator into places where the reader might not have expected to go.

I am lighting a path. I hope that readers will follow it.

~~~~~

Buy Random HERE

Buy Wolf HERE

Buy Shifter HERE