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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Read it! Now!

The New Jersey bookstore Inkwood has a list of reading resolutions for 2017.
2017 Reading Resolutions chalk board
Here’s my own handful of resolutions – your mission, should you choose to accept it.

1) If an author you like has a handlea-able number of books out there and you haven’t read them all, become the completist. Find and read ALL of their work. Then write and tell them so.

2) Commit to reading at least 12 books this year – it’s ONLY one book a month and it won’t take that long . No, they don’t have to be 1000-page books (and if they are, you can make a case of that book counting for two or even three ordinary books…)

3) Be a word-spreader. if you like a book, tell other people about it. Writers will thank you for it.

4) Read at least one book in a genre you’ve never read before. You might still not find it congenial but at least you’ll know WHY.

5) Read at least one author you’ve never read before or never HEARD of before. You might hate the book (and you aren’t REQUIRED to finish) but at least you aren’t going to be reading the same handful of authors over and over again. Reading is an adventure. Get your ticket punched for a destination you’ve never ben to before.

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And speaking of lists…

I tend to ignore them myself.

I know, I know, I just offered you a list. Sue me.

Lists I hate graffittiI’ll admit to running through the the occasional list invoving books to see how many of them I have read.

Some lists are more esoteric than others – there are lists I can confidently say I”ve pretty much covered comprehensively and there are other lists which leave me scratching my head and wondering if I live in some alternate universe because I haven’t heard of any of those books or their “acclaimed” authors. Books lists are one of the oldest and dodgiest forms of literary criticism.

Here’s a list that’s left me interested and intrigued. It has books I’ve heard of but haven’t read yet although I’ve been meaning to (Le Guin’s “Lavinia”, for one) and it has books by authors whose names I recognise – but not from THIS book. I think I may have some catch-up reading to do…

Let down by the lists

Read more HERE

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At Off-the-Shelf,  Kerry Fiallo offers us:

17 Favorite Book First Lines to start 2017

One of mine is: “All this happened, more or less.”
Another is: “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

The Secret History coverAnd then there is:

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

From The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

Read the whole article HERE

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Quote of the Day

Writers Block posterNote to my husband: Not in the winter you don’t!

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20 Serial Killers?

Unh… 20 Killer Series?

It’s satisfying to have a stand-alone book. When you are writing it, that’s the story, and when you’re done you’re done. You can go onto something else without a qualm of conscience.

But series are something else again. They don’t let you go. With the first book, they open the door just a crack. But when you come inside, you realise that there are more doors waiting for you, and it’s irresistible, you can’t NOT open them to see what happens next.

My first series was inadvertent – a 250,000-word novel was picked up by a publisher who demanded that it be split into two more manageable volumes. That became “The Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days”.

After that, I wrote what was essentially two stand-alone novels which were set in the same world, but 400 years apart – “Secrets of Jin-shei” and “Embers of Heaven”.

And then I stepped into the series world.

The Worldweavers books were born in the aftermath of the Harry Potter mania, and happened when I heard Jane Yolen say that she wasn’t at all sure that she liked the way the Potter books treated girls. And I was off and running with Thea Winthrop and her adventures. That series was a trilogy for the longest time and then I wrote the fourth and final book in the Worldweavers canon. “Dawn of Magic” was published in 2015.

My latest series, also YA, is The Were Chronicles – “Random”, “Wolf”, “Shifter”. The genesis of these books was an anthology about the Were creatures for which I sat down to try and write a story… and discovered that my idea was far too big to fit into a short story mold. It wanted to be a novel. And then it wanted to be THREE novels. And it is possible that the ramifications of those three novels may mean that it eventually becomes SIX novels.

Series. They never let you go.

The Book Depository has come up with their list ofTop 20 SeriesIt rounds up the usual suspects: Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter…

What would you add, or subtract, from their list?

Best series ever? HERE

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Wolf Cover

 

WOLF, Book 2 in The Were Chronicles, is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

Other online vendors to follow.

 

 

 

Buy it at Amazon HERE

 

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My first book – the very very first book I sold – was a collection of new-minted fairy tales which were a cross between Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. The three stories eventually became “The Dolphin’s Daughter”, a book that went into NINE PRINTINGS and still gave me a trickle of royalties more than ten years after it was first published, which speaks volumes about the power of the fairy tale. So I do have a vested interest in the area.

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders offers
10 Books That Will Change How You Think About Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are everywhere these days, she says. They rival superheroes at the movies and TV, and novelists rush to create their own darker, more relevant versions. But how well do you really know fairy tales? Do you know this one?

e.g.
Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen
Jane YolenThe prolific Jane Yolen has been called America’s Hans Christian Andersen, and with this book she hunts down great folktales from around the world and presents them for young readers.

Read the whole story HERE

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25 Genre Novels That Should be Classics

At Flavor Wire, Emily Temple notes that there’s a stigma that keeps worthy works of genre fiction (mostly SF/fantasy, with a little historical, mystery and crime thrown in) from reaching classic status: being taught in high schools, appearing on all-time best-book lists, etc.

Some genre novels have already crossed the border into pure classic territory — Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five and 1984, for example. Here are 25 genre novels that should be considered classics.

e.g.
Solaris, Stanislaw Lem

Solaris

 

Lem’s weird, surrealist space novel is a classic of sorts for those in the know, but epidemically under-read.

The book vacillates between beautifully ruminative and action-packed exciting, as the inhabitants of a space station deal with the clones of their loved ones that the sentient planet they’re on continually sends their way. Also, best depiction of an alien sea that has ever been committed to print.

 

 

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS n THAT

Uhtceare: An Old English word meaning ‘lying awake before dawn and worrying.’

9 other Old English Words You Need to Be Using

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Literacy Falling From The Sky In Brazil!

In a part of the world where most adults don’t have books, it’s highly unlikely the kids will as well. Enter the “Stories In The Sky Project”. Brazilian writers donated stories and the stories were than printed on kites and handed out to kids. They would fly the kites and at some point, would cut the string and let the story kites fall to the ground where other kids could pick them up and enjoy the stories. Then those kids would start the process over again. What a brilliant way to give kids the opportunity to read!

See video HERE

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Quote of the DayQUOTE Nietzche~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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The womanless cannon

At Strange Horizons, Kari Sperring writes about Katherine Kurtz.

Matrilines: The Woman Who Made Fantasy

“Kurtz’s debut novel, Deryni Rising, came out from Ballantine Books in 1970,” Sperring writes, “…and it changed the face of modern fantasy.” She uses Kurtz for a springboard into the continuing and vexing problem of women writers being mostly ignored in the cannon.

Katherine KurtzI myself have ALL the Deryni books. ALL of them. Dear GOD I ate them up. These were the kind of books I craved – complex, convoluted, character-driven, immensely detailed, utterly believable, beautifully contextualised – and these were thus the kinds of books I went on to write.

I haven’t heard much about Kurtz in a long time now, to be sure. Erased and sidelined. Some day I should go back to the beginning and re-read the Deryni books, all of them.

Such things bear rediscovery.

 

 

Read all of Sperring’s wonderful essay HERE

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11 Unforgettable First Lines in Literature

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, Off the Shelf says, then the first line is the window to the book.

“A first line can drag you in, shock you, confuse you, or touch you. A first line is what makes you read on. Here are some of our favorite first lines that set the tone for some incredible books.”

For example, what book begins?
“I was not sorry when my brother died.”

Javiar MaríasTsitsi Dangarembga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check your answer (or guess) HERE

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Stunning street art tribute to author Terry Pratchett appears in east London
Terry Pratchett
Mural showing Terry Pratchett off Brick Lane (Picture: Ella Finch)

Characters such as the skeletal, dry-humoured Death and inept wizard Rincewind dance across the walls of the Pillow Cinema, The London Evening Standard reports .

Pratchett wrote 40 Discworld and sold more than 85 million books during his lifetime. Now his legacy is set to live on in Brick Lane with reproductions of the original book art by Josh Kirby.

Read the whole story HERE

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“But You Didn’t”

I posted this poem, story and link long long ago in a galaxy…well, I posted it months ago anyway, but it still keeps getting discovered, opened and shared. It is incredibly moving.

The poem was written by an unknown American woman but has now been brought to life through the art of a Chinese cartoonist and shared here on VIRALNOVA. All that’s really known about the poem is the title.
But you didn't
Poem Translated & Illustrated by Chinese Netizen on Sina Weibo

See the whole illustrated poem HERE

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The Book Cover That Judges Readers

On Galley Cat, Dianna Dilworth tells us that Thijs Biersteker has given the idiom, “don’t judge a book by its cover” a new meaning.

The Dutch artist has invented The Cover That Judges You. The book cover is designed to detect how a reader is judging it based on a scan of the reader’s face.
Cover that judges you

If you approach the book, the face recognition system picks up your face and starts scanning it for signs of ‘judgement’. If your face shows a skeptical expression, the book will stay locked. But if your expression is neutral, the book will unlock itself.

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

Charlotte’s Web by EB White has been voted the most popular children’s book ever, according to a new survey from BBC.com.

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Top 10 books about reading

Books about books, where literature is integral to life, are a genre in themselves, as terrific titles by authors from Nicholson Baker to Geoff Dyer very readably show.  One example:

The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller: Miller is a book critic for Salon magazine; someone who’s had the good fortune to turn her love of reading into a career. In The Magician’s Book she tells where that love began, in the world of Narnia, and shows how literature can work its spell on a young reader.

Read the whole story HERE

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Quotes of the Day

‘I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.’ Ed Begley, Jr.

‘Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.’ Jacques-Yves Cousteau

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Alma Alexander     My books     Email me
 
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What Lisa Simpson Reads

At Bustle, Becky Schultz talks about the 11 Books You’d Find On Lisa Simpson’s Shelf because she has great literary taste.

For example:
Amy TanJoy Luck Club by Amy Tan

After destroying Lisa’s room with fireworks, Bart and Homer make it up to her by spending a day at the Springfield Festival of Books. There, they encounter Stephen King, Tom Wolfe, John Updike, and Amy Tan, who Lisa admires for Joy Luck Club, a novel that follows four Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco who start a mahjong (for money) club.

Lisa: Ms. Tan, I loved the Joy Luck Club. It really showed me how the mother-daughter bond can triumph over adversity.

 Amy Tan: No, that’s not what I meant at all, you couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.

Lisa: But

Amy Tan: Please, just sit down. I’m embarrassed for both of us.

See the other great books HERE

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I wonder what Lisa would think of my new novel, Abducticon?

It just got its first review on Amazon (5 stars) from Rainy Day, who says in part:

If you’ve ever been to a Science Fiction/Fantasy convention, ‘con’ to most people, you will love this book. If you’ve ever been involved in a con, either in setting one up, working one, or as a guest, you will recognize every single person Ms. Alexander writes about. Perhaps not every single episode that happens, as, well, the entire con and the hotel, complete with mundane guests, is hijacked by time-traveling androids and taken for a ride around the moon.

Wouldn’t that be a con to end all cons? And the reactions from the gamers? Absolutely priceless! Everything you could possibly want in a con is in this book, up to and including the replicators.

If you like cons, you will absitively posolutely LOVE this book. This is truly one of the funniest SF books I’ve read in years. Job well done, Alma Alexander!

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To write, you must read, read, read – and don’t forget to read

I’ll be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop In an interview with me for their website, I was asked: What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers? I replied:

One young and aspiring writer, asking for advice of this nature, once unforgettably told me that she “didn’t have time to read.” I knew then that she would never really be a writer.

Reading is the primary education for any writer. People who don’t read never develop the love and the reverence for the written word–and how, then, can they hope to tease out its wonders?…

Beyond that, if you are serious about pursuing this as a craft, as a vocation, as a career… well… Write. Practice. It comes only with practice, this inner instinct about whether something you’ve just written is good, or if there is something wrong with it, and what, and how it needs fixing. I once wrote a page and half of something and realized that what I had there was a very dense summary of the thing I needed to actually write. Once I teased out everything that got condensed into it until it weighed as much as a literary neutron star, it turned into nearly three chapters of the book that came out of it all. But without the millions of words of practice I had already put in… I would not have known this, recognised this, figured out what I needed to do to fix it.

Read the whole interview HERE

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Speaking of reading…

Pat Conroy says:

The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language.

Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in “Lonesome Dove” and had nightmares about slavery in “Beloved” and walked the streets of Dublin in “Ulysses” and made up a hundred stories in the Arabian nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”

I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.

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The only book of mine that I have ever had reservations about is a collection of some of my teenage poems, self published by my proud father. Some of them were okay, but others. Well, they were the work of a young teen. ‘Nuf said.

At Mental Floss, Rudie Obias has written about authors with more serious problems with something they published.

9 Authors Who Regretted The Success of Their Work

An author who made a shark the villain, later became a shark champion; a man who wrote how to build bombs later rejected the idea that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change.

Octavia E. Butler despised her third novel Survivor because it featured some of the worst clichés of the genre.

Survivor“When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way,” she told Amazon.com. “They were a little sly, or a little like ‘the natives’ in a very bad, old movie. … People ask me why I don’t like Survivor, my third novel. And it’s because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel.”

After its initial edition, Butler refused to bring Survivor back into circulation.

Read all the author regrets HERE

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Author Stops Reading White Male Authors For a Year

No white males Reads Nisi Shawl

 

Every time I tried to get through a magazine,” K. T. Bradford wrote, “I would come across stories that I didn’t enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.

So Bradford decided that instead of reading everything, “I would only look at stories by women or people of color or LGBT writers. Essentially: no straight, cis, white males.”

The result was that she enjoyed reading short stories more, and she also became aware of how often certain magazines published whole issues in which no women or POC authors made an appearance. She went on the hunt and discovered several that published new-to-me writers and also a surprising number of magazines dedicated to under-heard voices.

Read the whole article HERE

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The top 10 liars in fiction

Nick Lake, author of There Will be Lies, selects his favorite fictional tricksters and tellers of untruths in books
GatsbyGatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the greatest liar in literature? Photograph: Warner Br/Everett /Rex

Rich playboy Gatsby (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald) lies about a lot of things. His romantic life; his past; the origins of his ostentatious wealth, actually amassed through grubby bootlegging. But the small, practical lie that has always stuck in my mind is the fact that the handsome books in his library have uncut pages, proving that he hasn’t ever opened them. F Scott Fitzgerald called the jazz age the “cut glass age”, for its glitter, outward beauty and inward emptiness. But I almost think the uncut books are a more resonant metaphor.”

See the other liars HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

Researcher accidentally invents glasses to solve color blindness

The glasses were designed for surgeons. A doctor’s friend tried them out and discovered trees are green, flowers come in limitless colors, and a sunset can take your breath away.

Read the whole article HERE

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Quote of the Day

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~ William Arthur Ward

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Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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Men’s Lib in Austen

The comic Manfeels Park takes comments from men on the internet and puts them into scenes from Jane Austen’s stories, Jenna Guillaume of BuzzFeed reports. The comic is the brainchild of Mo and Erin, who were inspired after discussing the “man-feels” on an internet comment thread and realising it was the perfect pun for Mansfield Park.
Men's lib in Jane AustenRead the Article

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Hilarious archive of librarians’ harsh children’s book reviews

One hundred years before post-millennial parents were deeming Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs inappropriate for young vegans, Jenni Avins writes at Quartz, the children’s librarians of the New York Public Library kept a card catalog of hand-typed kids’ book reviews.

“There’s about a billion card catalogs in the library,” says librarian Lynn Lobash. “But these are special in that they were used as a tool for collection development, for the staff to evaluate the children’s collection.”
Kid's book reviewRead the Article

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27 Reasons Literary Nerds Will Love Tumblr

Book lovers and Tumblr were basically made for each other, Heben Nigatu tells us at BuzzFeed, and offers examples from

PUNS
Tumblr punsto an examination of “the underlying anxieties of your favorite genres.”
TumblrRead all the reasons

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Speaking of puns…

Isaac Fitzgerald of BuzzFeed offers puntastic book titles “that will make you laugh out loud.”

Here's Looking at EuclidSee them all

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Chillingly Evil Corporations in Literature

In Flavorwire, Jason Diamond looks at novels that no longer seem so farfetched. There is Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, of course, any corporation in any William Gibson book, CHOAM from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Or take Rachel Cantor’s debut novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario, for example:
Rachel CantorCan you imagine a world where Burger King really is the king, where Papa John is Big Brother, or where Colonel Sanders was worshiped as a deity? It might seem farfetched, but in a real world where some corporations earn more than some entire countries, and employ armies of workers, the idea might be more plausible than you think.

In A Highly Unlikely Scenario, the book’s protagonist works for Neetsa Pizza, a new bizarre corporation with memorably insane businesses ideas.

Read the Article

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This Cat is the Stationmaster in Her Own Train Station
Trainmaster catMeet Tama, the highly praised “Stationmaster” at a train station in Japan. She has her own office, greets all of the passengers, and is paid in cat food. Never before has there been a stationmaster so adored by those who ride through her platform. And check out her Tama-themed train.

Read the article

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Quote of the Day

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” ~ Scott Adams

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Alma Alexander
Check out my books
Email me 
Comments welcome. What do you think?

She hunts with eagles

Girl & eagleA 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia – Photo by Asher Svidensky

The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, William Kremer says at the BBC World Service. Today there are around 400 practicing falconers.

Photographer Asher Svidensky took pictures of five boys learning the skill – and Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter.

Hunting with eagles

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The 13 greatest opening lines from novels of the 1950s

There are many things that make us read the first page of a book, JPW tells us at Whizzpast.

It can be an author’s reputation, a favorable review, a recommendation by a trusted friend or a breathtaking cover. Yet all these pale into insignificance compared against the importance of a wonderful opening line.

C.S. LewisThere was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

Great opening lines

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10 Words and Phrases You Won’t Believe Are 100 Years Old

They may have been on people’s tongues even earlier, but 1914 marks the earliest year the lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary could document these words and phrases in print, Judith B Herman tells us at Mental Floss.

DoohickeyBig screen: A hundred years ago, before there was television with its small screen to provide contrast, the big screen already meant the movies. The Fresno (Calif.) Morning Republican on October 24, 1914 reported, “The stage hands will devise noise effects to help carry out the illusion on the big screen.”

Old words

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The Underrated, Universal Appeal of Science Fiction

Why do so many readers still look down on the genre of Orwell and Atwood? Chris Beckett asks.

People who know me have read a book of mine out of curiosity and then told me, in some surprise, that they liked it—”even though I don’t normally like science fiction.” Indeed, when a short story collection of mine won a non-genre prize, it was apparently a surprise to the judges themselves: According to the chair of the judging panel, “none of [them] knew they were science-fiction fans beforehand.”

The assumption seems to be that a book that comes with a genre label like “science fiction” must necessarily be lightweight stuff—not really comparable with “non-genre” works.

SF-FantasyThe appeal of science fiction

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Libraries are dying? Think again

Like many visitors in Seattle, Glenn Nagel found himself in the city trying to avoid the rain. After wandering around, he eventually made his way to the Seattle Public Library to escape the dreary weather, Jareen Imam writes for CNN.

Seattle LibraryGlenn Nagel was awestruck by the Seattle Central Library

“It’s just an incredible building,” he said. “I spent an hour and a half just taking pictures, and while doing that, I was getting the idea that I should visit other libraries.”

This past year, Nagel has traveled to 12 libraries across the United States, photographing their shelves and hallways like an explorer.

San AntonioThe main public library in San Antonio was designed to tap into the city’s Hispanic heritage, according to Robey Architecture Inc.’s website.

Thriving libraries

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Quote of the Day

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Alma Alexander

Check out my books

Email me 

Comments welcome. What do you think?

—–

 

Back Door into Magic

I’m not sure if this was something that is hard-wired in us or if it is something that we have acquired along the evolutionary path but we seem to have a need to CLASSIFY something when we meet it. Including books.

 If you walk into any given bookstore you will find things shelved and classified according to rigorous  criteria. Cookbooks, hither, not to be confused with memoirs, there, or history, over there. There is entire section called FICTION which now has to be chopped and sorted into its own little sub-boxes. Mysteries. Romance. Science fiction and Fantasy.

 And then you hit the sub-boxes– what KIND of fantasy? Is it historical fantasy (with hints about a real historical era)? Is it urban fantasy (gritty city streets with a chick with a kickass butt on the cover)? Is it high fantasy (a dragon on the cover)?

 My novels have had their share of labels. “Secrets of Jin Shei” – by virtue of being carried by eight female protagonists – has been called feminist fantasy. “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, has been called religious fantasy, although I myself would struggle to find anything overtly religious in it.

 There’s a new kid on the block, now. An article on io9.com calls it “backdoor fantasy”. Here’s what they mean by that: “What characterizes a backdoor fantasy is that it uses all the tricks and tropes of a fantasy story without ever actually showing us anything that can’t be explained by science.”

 This sounds rather like what I so often write.

 The io9 article uses “Among Others”, Jo Walton’s Nebula- and World Fantasy Award-winning novel, as a possible flagship for the new moniker. “…(it) is a perfect example. In it, we encounter familiar fantasy ideas: there is more to the world than meets the eye; evil is a part of nature; we can control reality with our minds. And yet Walton’s protagonist could easily be spinning a fantasy story in her head to escape the horrors of her home life. The fantasy in Among Others may, in other words, be a fantasy.”

If you haven’t read that book, go read it. I’ll wait. Seriously. But here’s the thing about that book, for me. Walton’s heroine… was kind of… ME. Okay, I didn’t have a vanished twin, or a witchy mother, or an estranged dad who sent me off to a posh boarding school… but the boarding school, and the escape into books, that was my own life, and at much the same age as the heroine of this book.

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

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

The only magic in this book is the faintest sprinkling of fairy dust – there is a character who is a being manifestly supernatural in form, a creature who refers to himself as “the Messenger” although never specifying from whom, someone that the readers have identified as variously an angel or a sprite of some sort – someone through whom the power to make a choice is transferred to a human soul. And it is in that choice that the magic lies.

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

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

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

The first one concerns a skating pond in the woods behind one of the world’s great hotels in Banff. This is one of those unreal hotels build in the shape and form of a castle, situated amongst tall firs, and I was there one cold, cold winter. You could rent a pair of skates and then go down a winding stair into the woods to a frozen pond, I got skates, went down the stair – and somehow, in the midst of a busy and bustling holiday season, I found myself alone on the pond, which was gloriously and completely empty of any other soul except me.

 There were Christmas fairy lights in the trees surrounding the pond, and they twinkled on the snow around me. The trees stood like silent white sentinels in the dark, and in the night sky above the stars were bright and sharp like shards. I put my skates on, and stepped on the pond and started skating, alone in the night, the swish of skate blades on ice, multicoloured shadows falling about my feet. And I felt like weeping with a holy joy because I felt as though I could pass right through this unreal scene and step – or skate – into a whole other world which trembled just there, just in the corner of my eye, just out of reach.

 This moment had  magic in it. True magic. Real magic. MY magic.

 And yet in the hotel just up the slope, beyond the trees, women in off-the-shoulder gowns sat sipping chocolate martinis at polished wooden counters in bars, or couples laughed at one another over dinner tables set with white linen and heavy silverware, or danced to music with a disco beat – a different world.

 

My encounter with dolphins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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