From what book…?

I have just sent out the first edition of the long promised newsletter. PSA:  It may have its share of the usual startup problems, which I hope will be worked out by the next edition. If you received the first one and you find things that need fixing, let me know!

Wings coverThere’s going to be news on what’s going on in the writing life, special offers, snippets of works in progress, news about my newest book, currently Wings of Fire…).

Ask questions, if you like. Tell me what you want me to talk about, what you want to see, what you want to know.

And there will be the occasional quiz. Here is a quote from one of my books. I would be DELIGHTED if you know and recognize it I will tell you if you are right in the next newsletter…

“She muttered a soft curse under her breath. The kitten’s tiny, vulnerable face, the delicate suckling on {…}’s finger,the scrabbling little wounded paws… […] jabbed a repair hook too deeply into the rope sole of her broken sandal, annoyed at the kitten’s insistent hold on her mind’s eye. She had interfered because two of the torturers had been Guard, damn it all, not because she was a bleeding heart for waifs and strays.She didn’t care what happened to it, after. She didn’t. She could swear she didn’t.She was glad the little thing had clung to life, but she’d tried to dismiss the creature from her orbit and she had every intention of forgetting about it. Especially now that she knew it had survived.”

What book is this from?

If you would like a copy of the next newsletter, drop me a line at

Museums I have known
A matter of faith

It was Sunday and the Montreal 2009 Worldcon was done, so a friend – Canadian West Coast novelist Donna McMahon – and I decided to go for a wander in the cobbled alleys of Old Montreal. We finally washed up on the stone steps of the chapel known as Notre Dame de Bon Secours.

You could enter directly into the gorgeous church itself, full of gilt and glory and stained glass, or you could tiptoe past all that along a narrow corridor to the side of the place, leaving the chapel itself till last, and buy tickets for the attached museum as well as access to the chapel’s tower which promised views of the river and the rooftops of the Old City.

Chapel photoAscending to the top of the tower was accomplished via a narrow twisted stair whose one wall was stripped down to expose the ancient stonework; along the uneven and creaking stairwell, signs popped up exhorting patrons to tread carefully on the “antique staircase” (although I have to admit that the “escalier patrimonial” concept was by far the more endearing than a mere antique stair…)

The top of the tower was a narrow little balcony guarded by two angels green with age, one on each side:

The roofs and alleys of the old city, lying revealed beneath us, and the river glimpsed across treetops a little futher away were a view worth the careful climb up the “escalier patrimonial”. The place inspired at least one subsequent short story (look it up, if you like – it appears here).

The view was fantastic because this edifice was built on top of an ancient promontory over the river, once a campsite for the native tribes who lived in this area before the first European settlers arrived, and subsequently the heart of one of the very first suburbs of the city founded by those settlers, the city beneath the mountain which was named Mount Royal, Mont Real. Once you descent the tower you can look at the history of the chapel whose foundation helped build this great city – traces of an old camping ground which dates back more than two millennia, and the remnants of the original stone chapel first built by Montreal settlers three hundred years ago.

There is a deep sense of history that’s wrapped up in the stones of this building, something that you can’t help but take in, by osmosis, through the air that you are breathing, looking at stones centuries old which were laid here by human hand and around which a whole city began to grow.

And when you make your way to the actual museum area, you discover that much of the history of this place is inextricably tied to one woman, Marguerite Bourgeoys, who lived in 17th-century Montreal and is the founder of the original Congrégation de Notre-Dame on this site.

It is Marguerite, one of the founders of this chapel and the first teacher at the associated school, who is being commemorated in the small museum housed here. Marguerite, born in France in 1620, and was only 20 when she experienced the call to a lifelong vocation of service and the foundation of a devout faith which would last her whole life. She had a remarkable ability, it would seem, to be the tie that binds, to gather up people and focus them all on a single goal, towards the achievement of a single cause.

She was recruited to the new colony of what was then Ville-Marie in 1653, becoming nurse, friend and confidante to the new colonists who arrived to triple the population of proto-Montreal. She was still a relatively young woman but she joined Montreal’s founder, Maisonneuve, and the hospital administrator of the settlement as an equal – she understood right from the start that the role of women in the new colony would be significant, and she started workshops and classes where ordinary women could learn skills which enabled them to earn a living.

Once the chapel was built, Marguerite was instrumental in establishing a school where the settlement’s children could be taught such things as counting, reading, writing, and of course catechism; the older girls also learned the domestic skills they would need to become wives and mothers and managers of their own households.

This was not a nunnery – the women were not cloistered – and although the community, the Congregation de Notre-Dame, survived and flourished and did lots of good works the approval for such a community by the Church was not actually granted until as late as 1698, only two years before Marguerite’s death. But Marguerite herself was a doughty soul, a woman with a mission, and she neither asked for nor needed such approval (from Bishop or from King) in order to continue doing the work she saw as her duty and her destiny.

She was canonized in 1982, and her remains were brought home to Notre Dame de Bon Secours in 2005, to rest in a crypt in the stone chapel which she had helped raise as a beacon of her faith.

But it is the museum rooms devoted to Marguerite’s life, not the aftermath of it, which is fascinating. It is… oddly childlike. There is a room which is devoted to envisioning the time-line of the colony, chapel, school and the woman who ran it all done in a series of dioramas populated by dolls, and the effect is rather like a very large and very busy and very detailed dolls-house, one into which you might walk and become immersed in its subject matter.

Another room features shadow boxes where similar scenes are depicted with the aid of images and holograms; you have to go and duck your head into a hood-like overhang, almost like one of those old-time photographers who covers his head with a cloth when taking a picture, and then the thing comes alive in front of your eyes. More playfulness; more invitation to learn from the simple things, the simple faith, the simple beginnings.

When we were done with the museum and finally made our way back into the chapel, I confess to feeling rather strange – I had just learned a great deal about this strong and gentle and pious woman who worked so hard to build a community and educate its women and children, and now I was in a position in which I had never been before, in that I was standing in her presence. In the presence, at least, of her mortal remains – the Church would have her spirit up there at the right hand of God, where the saints get to go when they die. It was the first time – and probably the last – that I stood in the presence of a saint.

Certain lyrics in Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” are apparently descriptive of this very chapel – the lines “And the sun pours down like honey/on our lady of the harbour” refer to the statue of the Madonna which adorns this particular church.

The concept of faith and the poetry of Leonard Cohen have a great deal in common, really. If you examine them closely, rationally, empirically, they make no real sense whatsoever – but put it all together, in a song like “Suzanne” or a chapel like Notre Dame de Bon Secours, and a bigger picture emerges, something that you understand with instinct and heart and spirit rather than with mind. With faith, you don’t KNOW. You BELIEVE.

And it takes an odd little museum in an ancient stone church with an “escalier patrimonial” to remind you of that.

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The Worldcon That Was

This year’s Worldcon report might as well have been entitled “Never yell fire in a crowded theater.”  Well, almost. I need to break it down into subheads for you to understand.

1)    Never Yell…
…when you can whimper .

I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my lower extremities recently. My doctor offered a diagnosis of osteoarthritis and sent me to physio. The therapist thought there was some soft-tissue problems as well as the potential arthritis. After four sessions, one in the pool that nearly destroyed me, I left the last session feeling quite pleased with myself. I didn’t feel like running a marathon, but at the very least I didn’t waddle like my hip joints were close to dislocated.

And then I got into the car Thursday morning, at an hour  at which I am not usually required to be compos mentis, let alone possessed of enough concentration and focus to drive a car over a mountain pass and for more than six hours.

The I-5 corridor was uneventful, but then we turned into the mountains and Stevens Pass was unusually murky. It might have been only mist and cloud, but I was primed for smoke. It didn’t smell like it, though, so I let it slide – and by the time we pulled into Leavenworth it was bright sunshine and clear skies anyway. We took a break, ate some nice German pastries, caffeinated, and hit the second half of the road. My body was starting to rebel. I had a knot at the back of my neck which felt hot – like something was literally on fire back there – and I could sense things that shouldn’t have been moving actually sliding over one another when I tried to shrug it into a more relaxed state. But it was the hips which were the real problem because I’d already been limping in Leavenworth and by the time we climbed out of the car in Spokane I was a full-on train wreck.

I managed the rest of Thursday with just a limp and a wince, dealing with all the responsibilities that had to be dealt with immediately – including my first panel. I ran into half a dozen people I knew – ranging from luminaries like Vonda McIntyre (the GoH) and Larry Niven to various friends I hadn’t seen in too long. I was also supposed to connect with a FB contact, Elizabeth Leggett, but missed her. By this stage I was hungry and footsore. There was supposed to be a party that night which I’d wanted to go to, but by the end of the day, I was moving vewwy vewwy carefully indeed. We wimped out completely and had room service for dinner.

On Friday I was hobbling along like someone had kneecapped me. Of course, my Friday programming involved items that were consistently alternating between the two furthest ends of the convention center. The air outside looked apocalyptic – the sun was just an orange blob in the fug that covered the sky – but see the next section, for all that.

This was my Friday:

10 AM :KaffeeKlatsch (one end of the Conference Centre): That went wonderfully well, with a mix of people I’ve known for years and new faces whom I only met for the first time on the day. I told some funny stories. They all had the grace to laugh. It was fun.
Back to the other end of the CC to deal with things.

12:30 PM: Back to the OTHER end of the CC for my pre-arranged `interview.

2 PM – Back to the OTHER end of the CC for my autographing slot. In something of a tradition, I shared a table with Stanley Schmidt on one side of me – I think if I ever do another Worldcon signing again I am going to insist that it be done this way, we appear to have become something of a Worldcon tradition this way, Mr Schmidt and myself. On the other side of me was a nattily attired L.E Modesitt, in one of his trademark brilliant waistcoats. I got to say hello briefly to Elizabeth Bear, at the next table, and completely failed to even find a moment to connect with Catherynne Valente, further down – because I had actual people who brought actual books to be actually signed and I didn’t just sit there staring into space.

4 PM: back to the OTHER end of the CC for the Writers Workshop, where I was one of the resident pros doing the critiques. Then it was BACK TO THE OTHER END OF THE CC to pick up the husband I had left waiting for me there and we barely managed to scrape by the rest of that evening. In fact, by the third trip across the CC I had actually left him sitting comfortably while I borrowed his cane to help me maneuver across the halls. I ran into any number of people who looked appropriately concerned to see me attached to one of those. By this stage I was in near agony and of course the one thing I had forgotten to pack was aspirin.  I could not get comfortable in bed and sleep was iffy.

Saturday dawned magnificently different, clear and sunny and we were off and running again:

11 AM: Interview and photo shoot, just off the Dealers Room area (again, the opposite end of the CC)

12-1 PM: Manning the SFWA table in the Dealers Room, and at the same time having an extra little hour of signing there. I actually did a brisk trade in my paperback copies of “Abducticon” while here. People picked the book up, begin reading the blurb on the back, started smiling, and then cackled when they hit “… and the coffee in the Green Room was DREADFUL.” Everyone who’s been to a con more than once recognizes this book and gets a look of warm affection when gazing upon it. Which is EXACTLY what I was aiming for. Very happy to see that it is hitting the right demographic.

The LuggageQuick visit to the Terry Pratchett exhibition (and a photograph with The Luggage!) and then it was on to
3:30 PM – My Reading.

People came, bless ‘em all, and I had a proper audience – which, given that this was a Worldcon and there were a dozen worthy alternatives of things to do and places to be, is always a win. More copies of “Abducticon” found homes at that reading and I am immensely pleased at the reception this book has been getting in con circles.

4 PM: interview with a grad student from the UK who asked me to be a part of her study on the role of things like fanfiction and derivative versions of people’s work and the pros’ reactions to this.

I was supposed to be attending the traditional Tea with the Duchess at 7 PM but somehow they couldn’t quite make the proper arrangements for the Tea and although the Duchess was present and accounted for it didn’t quite come together. So we went to the hotel restaurant to grab something to eat, and ended up being found, and then wrapped in a cocoon of loving care, by Gerald Nordley and his lady. They found me some aspirin, they delivered a loaner cane to get around for however long I needed it while still in Spokane, and they generally acted like a couple of guardian angels.

Sunday morning, I moderated a panel called “When we were young”, about books that had been formative influences on the panelists in our larval years. We had Steven Barnes, Scott Lynch, Marissa Meyer, Kevin J Anderson, and myself – and all I had to do, as moderator, was ride herd on a number of articulate, passionate, knowledgeable people who had ideas and opinions and who had the presence and the confidence and the vocabulary to present them. I had to call a halt long before we were really done – there hadn’t even been time for a proper question session from the audience.

And then it was homeward bound.

Of course, these were the bare bones of the con. No mention of meeting old friends, meeting new people, making wonderful serendipitous connections. All of that went on too. It was a WORLDCON and it was magic and the Sasquan people did a magnificent job of it. All kudos to them. But, er, wait a sec. Let’s backtrack just a little.

2)    …Fire…

I’d been following the news about the wildfires in Washington state. There seemed to be enough of them in between home and Spokane to be – well – a cause for travel concern. And then I extrapolated that and read a report about air quality in Spokane and the day before we left it was rated “unhealthy”, specifically singling out people older than 65 or those who had had a stroke, all of which describes my husband, and I was getting antsy. He said, we’re going, I don’t CARE. So we set off fully aware that there were flames out there, and that thousands of acres of forest and not a few homes had already been reduced to ashes and smoke.

Stevens Pass was murkier than we had ever seen it before – but then again we hadn’t driven it for some years, and we had to admit that we didn’t have a valid basis for direct comparison. But it was cool enough outside in the mountains for us to nod at each other and firmly agree that what was hiding the views from us was just mountain mist and high clouds. Yes. That was what it was.

On the road to Spokane, things thickened a little – but not remotely to the extent that I’d been reading on Facebook, about the sun rising as a tiny blood red orb in the smoky skies, making the whole place look extraterrestrial. There were pictures, yes. But it didn’t look so bad, when we approached the city. A bit muggy, yes, a bit brown, the air a tad too… uh… VISIBLE… for comfort… but not TOO bad.

And then, on Thursday night, it began to thicken.

On Friday morning, it was Apocalypse Now. Apparently there were signs on doors eventually dissuading people from venturing outside at all – but that was after I heard the story of an idiot who went jogging in that soup and ended up on a respirator. And you didn’t have to go outside – as the day wore on you started to smell smoke in the corridors. I could smell it in our room when we ended up there on Friday night. Smoke In SpokaneYou couldn’t see past the next couple of blocks out of our hotel room window, outside. There was no sky, no horizon, just this dirty-brown ashen and featureless pall that lay over everything. I had actually been contemplating the delight of a short stroll on the riverside path, just outside our hotel – but my troubles with my hip, and then Friday’s air quality, put paid to THAT.

Saturday was a bit better, blue skies and clear air, and the sun resembling its more usual self – but by Saturday night we were sliding again. When Sunday came, it was getting brownish out there again. I had my final panel, we collected our bits and bobs, and we drove out there. Out onto the highway.

Friends, it was spooky. You couldn’t see further than a few hundred feet to either side of the highway – further in, ghostly outlines of brooding poplars haunted the edges of vision, barely sketched in. Cars on the other side of the highway emerged out of a smoke bank, as though something was vomiting them out of that dragon’s mouth; cars in front of me vanished into that same bank a disconcertingly short way ahead. We stopped to get gas and I could smell the smoke in the thick air, I could taste ashes. TWO HUNDRED MILES WEST OF SPOKANE WE WERE STILL IN SMOKE. The West. Is. On Fire.

More than 500,000 acres (and untold human property and human lives – some literally) have been lost to this conflagration. That is almost too big to comprehend. And yet I viscerally know that it is true because of the air I saw swirling thick and brown through the city streets in Spokane, and blowing across Eastern Washington highways. It’s heartbreaking.

And yet…. This is Worldcon. We’re nothing if not a bunch of creators. I Tweeted at some point that the unofficial anthem of Sasquan was “Smoke gets in your eyes”. By Saturday lunchtime – completely independently of that tweet – someone else had already filked up an entire song about the circumstances surrounding us.

We will none of us forget this con. We were smoked like salmon. Some of us were lucky to get home in good time and in one piece and just the memory of the hint of what it must really be like closer to where real flames are rising. I’ve seen some pictures and it’s catastrophic, unbelievable, entire mountainsides scoured bare and black by the blaze. Oh God, my darling forests, my beloved cedars and maples, I am so sorry. For the whole towns evacuated in the inexorable advance of this conflagration, for people who gathered up kids and pets and a pathetic bundle of belongings and fled, I am so sorry. For the firefighters who are tirelessly trying to get this under control, you have my enduring respect and gratitude; to those who didn’t make it through… I don’t even have words.

The West is on fire. Don’t forget us.

But that wasn’t the only “scorched ground” that was being claimed in Spokane…

3)    …In A Crowded Theatre.

Lo these many years ago, I went and did one of those “sing your own Messsiah” things, where a group of volunteer singers, coached and directed by a professional, get together to sing the Messiah oratorio by Handel. We were doing tolerably well, dutifully following the music and the directions, until we got to the point where the Hallelujah Chorus was due to be sung. The director stopped for a moment, looked us with a small smirky smile, and said, “let’s face it, this is why you’re all here, isn’t it?”

In a situation that is almost but not completely unlike that incident, there were. the Hugo awards of 2015 at Sasquan. No, I dare say that it wasn’t why we were all there… but I would be prevaricating if I didn’t admit that we were all aware of the Hugos, and that a certain electric tingle in the air was building up as we rolled on towards Saturday night.
No, I am not going to go into great gory detail analyzing things here. It’s been done, by other people, elsewhere – you can start with io9, if you want to read more:

And there are other articles. Easily found. I’ll settle for a couple of comments.

I didn’t go to the ceremony itself. We found out a little late that it was a ticketed event because the theatre had fewer seats than warm bodies in attendance on site. I guess they thought first come first served could lead to chaos, so they announced that tickets, although they were free, could be got by queuing some two hours ahead of the ceremony at just the hour that most people were sitting down to dinner, so there was a lot of gnashing of teeth over that. I had been vacillating about going anyway so this tipped the scales; I ended up following the live-tweet feed, and learned of what happened almost in real-time anyway. Which was good enough.

And what happened was simply this. The body of fandom reacted to an infection, and the immune system went into overdrive. For now, at least, the virus is out and the body’s state of health looks to be preserved – I might have wished for a different ceremony, a different set of circumstances, the possibility that some of those nominated got caught up in the whole controversy and lost out in what turned out to be a gigantic and self-destructive paroxysm of “It’s not FAAAAA I I I R!” from the kindergartners in the corner who couldn’t seem to grow up well enough to play with the adults in the room in an equitable manner.

The end result measured up reasonably well with what I hoped was going to happen, and what I expected was going to happen.

What I had hoped was that those TRULY deserving of the rocket would end up holding it… and that those NOT deserving, those who had tried to wrest the award by  bullying and bickering and whining and blackmail, would NOT. I looked at the vote counts, afterwards; it is clear that the “no-award” wins were a message from fandom. And the message was, “You Will Not Pass.”

The what-I-expected part was the social media sphere exploding with puppies and their supporters screaming “We lost, so we won!” in full throat, no matter how little actual sense that made in any form of their narrative. Let’s unpack this – they thought the wrong people and the wrong stories were taking over the Hugos so they packed the ballot with the “right” candidates. This means that they valued the award enough to want to win it  and they LOST. Dramatically. The goal posts then shifted to “Well, *we were on the ballot*, and the fact that you didn’t vote for us means that our point is proved and there is a clique that’s in charge of things and that wants to exclude us”.

Except that the “clique” turned out to be all of fandom, which turned out in unprecedented numbers to vote (the tally was a whopping 65% higher than any previous Hugo vote!)… and the only “clique” in the room turned out to be the puppies themselves. I am told that the losing puppy candidates immediately got up and demonstratively left the theatre – which is more juvenile behavior. They spat out the dummy and they took their toys and they stalked home, sulking. And then the social media exploded with the blame game of the “other” side and how they were all bad and evil and how they were all in cahoots against the pups and their supporters.

One of them turned to someone in an elevator, after the ceremony, and said spitefully, “well, you got what you wanted, didn’t you? You burned the awards to the ground rather than give them to someone you didn’t want to win them.”

To which MY response would be, dude, no, YOU got what you wanted. YOU burned the bridges here. It’s all on YOU. And no, you can’t claim that you “deliberately lost” to win, because you couldn’t know this was going to happen. But that’s the narrative now, changing to fit the circumstances. They’re still put upon, and repressed, and somehow being oppressed… by the future into which they refuse to step. Even as the past to which they cling so violently crumbles to dust in their hands.

When the history books get written… well, I dare say that those referred to as “social justice warriors” are going to come out if it all as better than “sad/rabid puppies”. Even the names are self-selecting. You can’t rail against “social justice” and then claim that you are being oppressed in the name of social injustice. That’s illogical, Mr Spock.

Fandom did what needed to be done. The only thing that could have been done. What happens going forward… well, it’s the future. We shall see when the smoke (this time almost literally…) clears. In the meantime, the looming Hugopocalypse has been turned aside, and 2016 is a new game. Forward. It’s the only way we can go.

Postscript: “Smoke gets in your Eyes”, redux

And so, then, it was over, and we climbed into the car for the journey home. It was, as I said, brown and mucky. The air had taste and texture when I stopped for gas on the outskirts of Spokane. And then we hit the highway, going west.

And it was smoke smoke smoke smoke smoke all the way to the mountains, and well into them. Two hundred long miles of brown air and alien landscapes shrouded in sepia. Saddening, and scary.LeavenworthWe stopped in Leavenworth for supper, ate quickly, and pushed on – but by this stage I was really ready to stop driving. That knot in the back of my neck was the size of a pineapple, and the pineapple felt like it was on a grill – my muscles were hot and knotted and achy. And then we hit the post- Leavenworth road, going into the pass, and it was all I could do not to stop and just sit there taking photographs.

The skies turned unlikely shades of apricot and cinnamon, with shadowy mountain crags silhouetted against them – and in the middle of it all that round red bloody sun hung like a curse. And would not go away. Every time I thought we had put paid to it we’d round a corner or take a turn and there it was again, hanging lower, redder, more baleful. And I was driving directly west. It was a game of chicken and there were moments on the road that I literally had red flecks dancing on my retinas from the direct malevolent crimson glare.

It wasn’t until we hit the I-5, and Everett, literally an hour from home, that the sun finally set on Sasquan – and skies painted themselves into one of the most spectacularly picturesque sunsets ever (and I couldn’t even watch because I was driving, and I was TIRED, and I knew I couldn’t really afford to let my attention lapse).

Towards the end I was looking at my GPS and muttering to myself, “Fifty minutes… I can do this.” “Forty five minutes, I can do this.” I turned into my driveway  riding on fumes, staggered into the house, petted the cats,fell into bed, and slept for ten hours.

And then, because now that it’s over I’m sorry that it is and I wish I was still back there, I sat down to write this. You do realize you just read close to 4,000 words about an event that lasted less than four days in real time? Sasquan, I miss you already.

May the smoke grow less. May fandom continue strong. And we shall all see each other again. Soon.

Alma Alexander     My books     Email me
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Books & Booze, anyone?

“When I first arrived in LA,” Alex Heimbach writes at Bustle, “I was thrilled to discover the Library Bar. Unfortunately…the books were purely decorative… what I really wanted was a bookstore that also served booze — a place where I could simultaneously indulge my great loves for books and beer.”

She has collected some bookstores where you can do just that.

10 Awesome Bookstores Serving Booze
Prairie Lights BooksPrairie Lights Books — Iowa City, Iowa
Thanks in part to its proximity to the country’s most prestigious MFA program, Prairie Lights has a long tradition of hosting and nurturing great writers. Even better, the cafe is located in the former home of the city’s literary society, so you can have a glass of wine in the same place where authors like Robert Frost and e.e. cummings spoke to the local literati.

See the other 9 HERE

Brooklyn’s Most Eccentric Book Seller Explains Why He’s Cashing Out
Community BookstoreJohn Scioli (right) and a friend chat outside Community Bookstore (Scott Heins / Gothamist)

After 30 years running the beloved Community Bookstore, Cecilia D’Anastasio writes in The Gothamist, John Scioli is selling his building for $5.5 million and maybe moving to France.

“I’ve been going to the South of France since 2004 and I meet a lot of Russian women there—they go on holiday… I tell them I have a used bookstore, and they coo, ‘Oh, do you have Dostoyevsky?’ You know, they want to talk about literature.”

Scioli and his acerbic wit have roughly a year to move out of the bookstore and two more to leave his digs upstairs.
Community Bookstore 2Read the whole story HERE

Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library

A long-lost medieval cookbook, containing recipes for hedgehogs, blackbirds and even unicorns, has been discovered at the British Library.

Professor Brian Trump of the British Medieval Cookbook Project described the find as near-miraculous. “We’ve been hunting for this book for years. The moment I first set my eyes on it was spine-tingling.”
Grilled UnicornDetail of a unicorn on the grill in Geoffrey Fule’s cookbook, England, mid-14th century (London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, f. 137r).

Experts believe that the cookbook was compiled by Geoffrey Fule, who worked in the kitchens of Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England (1328-1369).

Might explain Midsummer Night’s Dream…

Was Shakespeare high?

Scientists have discovered that 400-year-old tobacco pipes excavated from the garden of William Shakespeare contained cannabis, Bonnie Malkin writes in The Telegraphic, suggesting the playwright might have written some of his famous works while high.

Residue from early 17th century clay pipes found in the playwright’s garden, and elsewhere in Stratford-Upon-Avon, were analzsed in Pretoria using a sophisticated technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry, the Independent reports.
Shakespeareshakespeare Photo: ALAMY

Read the whole story HERE

There are stories in here. Many. Try this one on for size.
MirrorYour Deepest, Darkest Fears

Illustrator Fran Krause asks people to tell him their deepest and darkest fears…but they never expected that he’d do this with them, BJ Rudd writes at

“Many of our fears have a connection to our childhood memories and have manifested over time to become what they are today. Krause started with his own fears, before venturing into others’ weird and creepy anxieties. He realizes that some fears might seem completely irrational to some people but are actually completely horrifying for others.    Below you’ll find some of the submissions he’s received over the years and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even submit some of your own.”

See more fears HERE

Ebook CoverEReader Cases That Look Like Beautiful Old Books

Sasquan is being held in Spokane this week, practically my backyard, so I’ll be there for my sixth Worldcon. I’ll be on a couple of panels, give a reading, attend a Kaffee Klatche with fans. I’ll also be hosting ‘Tea with the Duchess.’ If you’re coming to Sasquan, be sure and look me up.

Quotes of the Day

Some young people come in and they say, ‘Do you have a computer?’ I’m like, ‘No, do you want to buy a computer?’ and then they start to walk out. They don’t know how they’re supposed to find anything without a computer—like, they want Hemingway, and I tell him that their book is under the Hemingway section. ‘Oh my God, how did you find it?’ ” ~ John Scioli, retiring bookseller

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” ~ William Wordsworth

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Sasquan, here I come

Since the 73rd Worldcon is being held in Spokane in a couple of weeks, practically my back yard, I’ll be there — along with some guy you may possibly have heard of, George R.R. Martin? and a few thousand other people. It will be my fifth Worldcon.SasquanI’ll be on a couple of panels, give a reading, attend a Kaffee Klatche with fans, and do some book signings at an official session, or just stop me in the hall.

I’ll also be at attending a RadCon tradition being picked up by SpoCon – Tea with the Duchess. The Duchess, of course, would be me.

If you’re coming to Sasquan, be sure and look me up. It’s always lovely to meet new people, and to see old friends!

My final schedule for the con from the official bulletin:

31 Flavors of Fantasy Devoured by Kids and Teens
Thursday 17:00 -17:45, 401C (CC)

Fantasy has become a catch all category for all of the subgenres featuring “fantastic” elements from action adventure to urban and epic fantasy, romantic fantasy, and more! How many sub genres are out there and what elements help to define them? Does the reader’s age affect the growth or definition of a subgenre? Join our panel of young adult and middle grade authors for a lively discussion that gives you a little taste of each sub-genre as they share some of their favorite works across the fantastic spectrum that help to define the various sub-genres.


Kaffee Klatche with Alma Alexander
Friday 10:00 – 10:45, 202A-KK2 (CC)

Join me and my fans for a small discussion. Coffee and snacks available for sale on the 2nd floor. Please come along and hear all about recent projects, and ones on the drawing board! I will ALSO have some special books on offer – a Kaffeeklattch special! Attendance is limited to nine, so come early. (Though I suspect we can squeeze in a few more if need be,)


Friday 14:00 – 14:45, Exhibit Hall B – (CC)

I’ll be available to sign books, along with Katherine Addison, Marissa Meyer, L. E.Modesitt, Jr., Stanley Schmidt, and Catherynne Valente.


Saturday 15:30 – 16:00, Spokane Falls Suite A/B (Doubletree)

I’ll be reading from one of my most recent works – Abducticon, Wolf or Random of The Were Chronicles, or maybe even something from Midnight at Spanish Gardens. I may give you a choice of material…


Tea Party with the Duchess
Saturday 19:00 – 1945, Grand Ballroom: Salon IV (Doubletree)

SpoCon presents a RadCon tradition; join us for Tea with the Duchess! (The Duchess, yes, that would be me.) Chose a delicate tea cup to represent your unique personality. Every tea cup is different! Enjoy a variety of teas and delicate snacks. This is an experience to enjoy that memories are made on!

Alma Alexander (M)


When We Were Young
Sunday 11:00 – 11:45, 300C (CC)

Panelists share their favorite books from when they were teens, tweens, and children. Find out what books inspired their imaginations, which ones hooked them on SF and fantasy, and which ones made them want to try their own hand at creating stories. Are these books still inspiring today’s young minds? Which of today’s books might be tomorrow’s great memories?


I hope to see a lot of you there.

Alma Alexander     My books     Email me
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The Absence Of Serendipity…

…Or, Why Tim Worstall Hates Shopping At Amazon.

It’s an intensely irritating way to buy a book, he writes in Forbes.

Cheap, yes, convenient, most assuredly, but intensely irritating. For I’m almost never going out to buy a book that I know that I want to read. I am, rather, browsing to try and find one that I do want to read. And that is something fueled almost entirely by serendipity and in my case it’s what makes second hand bookshops near to nirvana.

Being able to flip through the first couple of pages of twenty to forty books, spotting the pile of mouldering 50s sci-fi pulps, shying from the radioactive evil of the chick lit shelves, it is this browsing that has done more to introduce me to new and interesting authors and or genres than anything else. And try as I might I cannot gain that same experience from Amazon…

Amazon and the Absence of Serendipity

A Box of Otherworldly Notes

A friend of Reddit user TramStopDan found a box discarded on the street next to the trash. When he managed to open it, Dan found a mind-boggling collection of posters, illustrations, text, maps, technical drawings and personal belongings.

So let’s take a peek at what he found…

Found in the box“It seems that the artist saw something in Tampa, FL in 1977 that changed him … This appears to be an early sketch of the event”.

Apparently the guy went slightly insane over finding extraterrestrials in the bible, TramStopDan says. He was obsessed with “living creatures” described in Ezekiel 10 that are described as having four faces: ‘the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.’ I guess he really wanted for that to be an alien encounter.

A mysterious box

Maya Angelou the star at National Book Awards

Accepting the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, Angelou dazzled the crowd, Ron Hogan reports for Shelf Awareness.

For over 40 years, I have tried to tell the truth as I understand it,” she said. “I haven’t tried to tell everything I know, but I’ve tried to tell the truth.” And, she noted, “easy reading is damn hard writing.”

James McBride, who won the award for Fiction, recalled a moment several years ago when E.L. Doctorow had spoken out against the war in Iraq during a commencement speech and was booed. To his regret, McBride said, he had done nothing. He then cited one of the key figures in his novel, the 19th-century radical abolitionist John Brown, as a “great American,” and added: “E.L. Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou… they’re our John Browns.”

E.L. Doctorow received the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Mary Szybist won the National Book Award for Poetry, George Packer for Nonfiction, and Cynthia Kadohata for YA Literature.James

Atlantis Found?

Giant Pyramids and Sphinxes have been found in The Bermuda Triangle, a story at Altering Perspectives claims.

Two scientists using a robot submersible say that a gigantic city exists at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Cuba. The story says “evidence points to the city being simultaneously inundated with rising waters and the land sinking into the sea. This correlates exactly with the Atlantis legend.

Artists interpretation AtlantisArtist’s rendering of the ‘city’

The disaster may have occurred at the end of the last Ice Age. As the Arctic icecap catastrophically melted it caused sea levels to rise quickly around the world, especially affecting the Northern Hemisphere. Coast lines changed; land was lost; islands (even island continents) disappeared.

Atlantis found?

Is the Internet Conscious?

Where consciousness come from is a question that’s perplexed philosophers for centuries and scientists for decades. How it arises from chemistry and electricity in our brains is an unsolved mystery.

Neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, thinks he might know the answer, according to a story in Wired. According to Koch, consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the internet could be. That’s just the way the universe works.

Is the Internet Conscious?

World’s Biggest Bookstore to close

Chapters World’s Biggest Bookstore will close in February because the downtown Toronto site is being sold to a developer, Shelf Awareness reports.

World's biggest
Biggest bookstore closing

Frescoes may show early women priests

The Vatican has unveiled frescoes in the Catacombs of Priscilla said by some to show women priests in the early Christian church, Nicole Winfield reports for the AP.

The labyrinthine cemetery complex stretching for kilometers underneath northern Rome is known as the “Queen of the catacombs” because it features burial chambers of popes and a tiny, delicate fresco of the Madonna nursing Jesus dating from around 230-240 A.D., the earliest known image of the Madonna and Child.

More controversially, the catacomb tour features two scenes said by proponents of the women’s ordination movement to show women priests:

Woman priest?One features a group of women celebrating a banquet. Another fresco in a richly decorated burial chamber features a woman, dressed in a dalmatic — a cassock-like robe — with her hands up in the position used by priests for public worship.

Early women priests?
Alma Alexander

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Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee a day?

10 Bizarre Literary Myths and Conspiracy Theories

There are people who spend years trying to prove certain literary myths and conspiracy theories, Jason Diamond writes in Flavorwire, but most never quite do it.

“Some of those theories are hilarious,” he says, “a couple are totally pointless, others are impossible to prove right or wrong, while the most entertaining ones are borderline batshit insane. These are a few of our favorites.”

Did Honore de Balzac really drink that much coffee on a daily basis? I mean, I drink 50 cups a week and everyone thinks I am an addict, but 50 a day? Come on!

honore-de-balzacUnfortunately, no outside source — a 19th-century barista, perhaps — stepped forward as a witness to Balzac’s chain-drinking of black coffee, and that would have been a whole lot of caffeine coursing through his veins (not to mention liquid swimming around in his stomach).

Bizarre Literary Theories

“My Bookstore Needs Your Help”

“I am making a personal appeal for funds to catch up on back rent and back taxes owed,” Patty Cryan writes, “due to high medical expenses.”

It will be a day worth celebrating when bookstores have enough to stay in business without having to jump through hoops while the military has to go and beg for money to fund the latest useless killing toy to add to their gadget closet. But until that day comes… save books. If you have a buck or two to spare, throw it thisaway.

Save a bookstore

Author pleads: Please don’t buy my new novel on Amazon

Jaime Clarke, a Boston-based author and independent bookstore owner, has sent out a public plea that readers resist buying his new novel from the e-commerce giant.

Don’t buy my book

Never such a good time for a political rant as right now…


Personal rant

Family hosts 200 homeless for dinner after daughter’s wedding is called off

When an engaged couple calls off the wedding, it is usually a time of sadness and anger. But one family in Atlanta found a way to turn a terrible situation into a beautiful one.

Carol and Willie Fowler’s daughter Tamara was set to get married at the Villa Christina catering hall, when the wedding was called off just 40 days before the event. Initially the Fowlers were upset to hear that the lavish gathering they had planned and paid for was not going to happen.

Then they had a wonderful and generous idea: They invited 200 of the city’s homeless to feast on the four-course meal that would have been part of Tamara’s wedding reception.

Wedding feast for homeless


Alma Alexander

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Hiding a painting in plain sight…

…on the edge of a book

Colleen Theisen at the University of Iowa has shared an amazing gif she made that demonstrates something called fore-edge painting on the edge of a 1837 book.


Fore-edge painting, which is believed to date back as early as the 1650s, is a way of hiding a painting on the edge of a book so that it can only be seen when the pages are fanned out. There are even books that have double fore-edge paintings, where a different image can be seen by flipping the book over and fanning the pages in the opposite direction.

Fore-edge book painting

31 Day Blog Challenge, #13


I was three or four years old, and my mother (some might say prematurely, but hey, look what happened next…) was reading me “Heidi” for my bedtime story every night. When she was done I demanded it again and she refused. So – I went away and taught myself to read.

I walked into the kitchen where she was drying dishes and asked her if she wanted me to read to her. She misunderstood and assumed that I was asking HER to read to ME.

She told me that she would do it later. She nearly dropped the pot she was holding when I calmly opened the book I was holding and began to read to her from it.

You don’t keep this girl from the stories she wants.

37 Conversation Rules for Gentlemen from 1875


Number 4 suggests:

It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject.

And rule number 13 instructs:

Speak of yourself but little. Your friends will find out your virtues without forcing you to tell them, and you may feel confident that it is equally unnecessary to expose your faults yourself.

And who can possibly argue with number 16:

Avoid, in conversation all subjects which can injure the absent. A gentleman will never calumniate or listen to calumny.

Rules for Gentlemen

Translators are a waste of space…

…this youtube presentation asserts with devastating impact.

But halfway through, it makes a remarkable turn.

Brilliantly done.

Translators in reverse

10 Books Every College Freshman Should Read

Timeless stories offer students context for whatever path they embark on.

From Stephen King to Kingsley Amis

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