Off to see the…

Radcon illustration

Unh, no, not the wizard…maybe an android?

In the years I have spent in the United States, I have gone through cycles of going to conventions in my genre.

It started out slowly in Florida when I introduced my husband to his first-ever con and then it built from there. Some of the cons I went to in those early days I’m still attending these many years later – for instance, Orycon, which I’ve been going to faithfully for more than fifteen years now.

I went through a frantic period where I was attending up to nine cons a year – and a handful of years in which I attended every Worldcon, no matter where it wandered in the world; I’m still mad at myself for missing Helsinki last year.

And then there’s Radcon.

I started going to Radcon more than ten years ago. Its commitment to school visits by attending pros have given me rich rewards, and it’s the only con so far which has given me the accolade of having me as their official Guest of Honor Writer.

I’ve always liked this con. In fact, when I wrote my “AbductiCon”, it was set in a hotel which was very much based on Radcon’s venue – a combination of two con hotels, anyway, partly the Norwescon Doubletree in Seatac and partly Radcon’s Red Lion in Pasco. The elevator that features  prominently in “AbductiCon” was quite definitely Radcon’s. Regulars at either con would be quite at home at my fictional con, able to find their way around that hotel quite handily with my novel as a guide — other than the inescapable fact that THIS hotel never went for a ride around the moon.

Well, it’s that time of year again and I’m off to Radcon in the morning.

I”ll see you on the other side.

Best writing advice? READ

Reading everywhere photo

Jakub Pavlovsky  https://www.almaalexander.org/read-anywhere

A couple of years ago, the Odyssey Writing Workshop in New Hampshire invited me as a guest lecturer and asked some interesting questions. (Slightly abridged)

What is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

One young and aspiring writer 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.  You need to have an inoculation of language in your writerly stream before your own words can take form. People who don’t read never develop the love and the reverence for the written word, how then can they hope to tease out its wonders?

If you are serious about pursuing writing as a craft, as a vocation, as a career… well… Read, 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 remember writing a page and half of something once and stopping and staring at this thing I had just produced and coming a realization that what I had there was a dense–a very dense–summary of the thing I needed to actually write. Eventually that page and a half turned into nearly three chapters of the final book. But without the millions of words of practice I had already put in… I would not have known this, recognized this, figured out what I needed to do to fix it.

So–two very obvious pieces of advice.  Read.  Write.

Rinse and repeat.

Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What were you doing wrong in your writing in those early days?

I always wrote seriously. I won national writing awards when I was a pre-teen. I sold stories way way wayyy back… for pretty much almost nothing. I was into my 30s when I wrote the first published book, Dolphin’s Daughter, a collection of fairy tales.

As to what I was doing wrong… I don’t think I was doing anything “wrong.” I was not ready. That doesn’t mean I was wrong. I was raw, and unpracticed, and maybe sometimes hasty (I learned the more intricate truths of self-editing as I went along). I was… young. With some writers maturity comes early–with others, you have to grow into it.  

Here’s an example–at age nineteen, I wrote a novel about the Matter of Britain, from the POV of Guinevere that almost got published. An editor who was quite taken with it, enlisted the aid of a very senior beta reader–a man who was a Big Name in South African publishing at that time (that’s where I was living). The only problem was that he was very much a High Literary Guru, and entirely the wrong audience for my work. He nixed the Guinevere book and it didn’t go anywhere after all.  

His report began like this: “I have no doubt that this is a writer who is destined for great things in times to come.”  Unfortunately that was followed by the proverbial BUT. His objection was that my story lacked, in his words, “…what Kazantzakis called ‘madness’…” That was true, because I was young  and my understanding of what drove that story–betrayal and adultery and sexual obsession–was limited and flawed. I would write a very different story if I were writing that thing today.

In other words, he was probably totally right. Although I hated him for saying so at the time.

Why do you think your work began to sell?

I have no idea. What sells or doesn’t sell is so, so subjective and audience-driven. Luckily there are as many kinds of readers as there are writers and there is an audience for any storyteller. The problem is connecting with it, of course–and sometimes you connect on the level of a Gaiman or a Rowling, and sometimes you barely scrape together a fiercely devoted but numerically small following. In my mind it never mattered whether it sold–it mattered whether it connected.

How many stages does your work go through? How much of your time is spent writing the first draft? How much time is spent in revision?

I tend to blurt out a very clean “first draft” but that’s because I don’t really just put down whatever comes into my head. In some sense my truly awful chaotic first draft tends to get distilled into a second iteration while still inside my head, and it’s the “second draft” that becomes my “first,” in a way. 

Then it gets tossed to what I am very fortunate in having–an in-house editor, my husband, who is a professional in that field and who is always my first reader and my first editor. He’s pretty damn ruthless and does not pull his punches. When he tells me there is a problem there usually is. That’s my polish pass–taking his suggestions on board, going through the manuscript for anything that I myself may have missed or want to add. Then I’ll let it sit for a little while just until the image and the imprint of it drains from my system, and I”ll give it another reading, another once-over, cold.

After that, it’s ready to go out.

But revision and rewriting is my least favorite part of this whole process. I will do the edit and the polish and the rewrite–but I won’t bury myself in those. They, to my mind, are just the final tweaks. My work has already been done.

The kind of revisions I find myself doing most often tend to be two of my husband’s favorite editorial caveats. There are scenes which I may have avoided writing and fleshing out for whatever reason, and they need more development–and I have to go back and fix that. Or there are scenes which I fleshed out a tad too much, and which actually need condensing. I’ve done both. It’s story, and pacing, that I sometimes do need to pay closer attention to.

What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?

My husband has these things he calls my “weasel words” and he goes after them with a passion and a vengeance. I then need to go through my manuscript expunging wishy-washy descriptors like kind ofsort of, almost, nearly, apparently,  and the like. I get told very firmly to decide what it is that I want to say, or what is going on, and to go there, and to stop dancing around the edges.

A writer’s work is often done in solitude, but the writer often craves community. Do you find community or solitude more helpful.

A lot of my writerly interactions actually comes from a network of online friends–and while it is nice to meet those friends every so often at conventions and what have you, my email and chat exchanges are not bounded by geographical proximity. Some of my best friends are in the Antipodes, for Heaven’s sake. But yes, there IS something very nice in just hunkering down over a cup of coffee and hashing out a plot point or whining about current woes.  

But honestly, these days if you and your chum are both on something like Skype, for instance–you can share an hour of writing time while connected and bounce things off each other in real time that way. The Internet is a gift for those of us working alone in our cubbyholes and offices. The whole entire world is just on the other side of our monitors and only a point and a click away. Use that. Find a community. This is your tribe.  Find a way to talk to each other.

Plotters use outlines while pantsers write by the seat of their pants. As a self-identified pantser, how do you make your plots powerful and unified?

Things… worlds­­­­­… live in my head.  Some people may need to have all of that down on a piece of paper before they can make sense of it.  Me, I carry the whole dream inside until it is ready to come out. I’ve occasionally written down things like family trees, but most of the time, it all lives inside.  And it is a messy complex complicated tangle. If anyone could see the inside of my head during the writing of a complex novel it would be a lot like looking at the back of a tapestry–where chaos reigns, and threads intersect and stretch across other threads and interconnect and tangle–and it all looks impossible and utterly without meaning. But on the other side, the tapestry, there is a real picture that you can see and everything makes perfect sense. And there are times that the picture that emerges, when I am done, is a surprise even to me.  That’s what being a “pantser” means.  A plotter would be doing things on a pre-printed canvas or meticulously counting stitches.  Pantsers connect threads by instinct working from the back of the tapestry and somehow… somehow… get the picture right on the other side of the fabric without ever seeing it being made.

How to build a world

alternative worlds illastration

In the beginning, the author created…

When I first began writing historical fantasy, I was inspired by times and places rooted in our own familiar world – but leavened with a dash of the unreal. A world that might have been.

I wrote about locations which might have been identifiable, with greater or lesser ease, as something that had existed in our own history and geography, as we know them – except that I gave such places different names of my own devising, and if I used things that were supposed to have happened in the “true” history of our world I sometimes fudged the precise timing, or the order of events, so that I could create a more consistent story rooted in my own world.

I wrote the book that became “The Secrets of Jin-shei” at white heat, 200,000 words in less than three months. It was set in a China that never was, a mythical land inspired by Imperial China which I named “Syai”.

I’ve been explaining ever since that no, I did NOT set out to write a historical novel, that Syai was a place INSPIRED by China, not China itself.

After I had written “the end” at the conclusion of Jin-shei, the history of Syai and the mythical world in which it existed didn’t stop there. It continued, and it blossomed naturally into the events I wrote about in “Embers of Heaven”, a follow-up and not a sequel to the original Jin-shei book.

It was becoming clear that this was a developing and ongoing story in a developing and ongoing world which had the same kind of timeline as our own did.

While Jin-shei took place in Syai, my world inspired by Imperial China, I moved the the country’s history forward four hundred years for Embers in a time very similar to China’s Cultural Revolution.

A great deal of research was done for both historical periods in our own – our “Real” – world, and my alternate history is built on very solid foundations. In Embers this was particularly important as I was dealing with issues and events which were much more historically recent, and within reach of, if not a living memory for most people, then certainly the memory of a descendant of somebody who had lived through that time. It would have been disrespectful to this kind of recent history and its survivors not to ensure that all necessary research and education had been undertaken, and properly applied to my alternate world that is so very like the China that never was.

This was a real world, to me. It just wasn’t OUR world. It was an alternate universe, with its own rules and laws and history, existing beside and in spite of our own.

Alternate History for a World That Might Have Been

Map where three books were set in Alma's worldMy recent novel “Empress” was set in my alt-historical fantasy of ancient Byzantium, a bit further back in time and in a different part of the same alternate world. Things became looser in terms of what I could do with the material I was working with, in order to make my story flow more smoothly,

I reversed the order in which two documented historical events took place in “real” time and place – but that decision made absolute sense in the context of the world I was creating in my story, a world which was deeply rooted in and inspired by a certain era in the Byzantine empire but which was also a story seen through my own reinvented prism.

I made the studied decision, for example, not to use any known form of a religious faith in this context. That meant working out a complex hierarchy of Heaven and its denizens for the Syai books, with an intricately detailed Great Temple in which these were worshipped (in a manner which was – again – inspired by some real things but which was also organically reinvented for the time and place I was creating.

In “Empress”, I created a system of belief that was similar to, but deliberately not directly using the religions we know as Judaism or Christianity. That meant, once again, reexamining what we think we know as “historical” events or decisions in the light of these newly re-imagined systems of belief.

Just when I became aware that I was literally writing the stories which would build that alternative history into a complete and cohesive whole, setting books in times and places which would somehow fit on the same alternative geo-historical timeline, I’m not entirely sure – but by the time I came to write “Empress”, it was already gelling into that idea. A world explorer in “Empress” talked quite naturally about taking the trade road to a place called Syai. My world was already real enough for that.

More such books are coming. All of them will become integrated into a lush alternative world with its own past, its own current events, its own future. I am literally rewriting the (fantastical) history of our world, novel by novel, building it brick by brick, character by character, word by word.

The Alma Alexander Historical Fantasy Bundle

The first three strands of this net are the three currently published historical fantasies – “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, “Embers of Heaven”, and “Empress” – and I am now offering them a Book Bundle.

The bundle is currently only in ebook format. In the meantime, print copies of each book are available now on Amazon and elsewhere and I will offer them as a bundled package later.

Purchasing a three-eBook bundle of these historical fantasies as a package also subscribes you to a quarterly newsletter, and it puts your name on a list of people who will be notified first when the next historical fantasy volume appears. One is currently in progress, and at least one other planned – dealing with medieval Balkans, and the shifting empires and loyalties which roiled in that era, with protagonists which are crying out to have their stories told.

Buy eBook Bundle 1 for $10 via PayPal HERE

I wanted to be Ursula when I grew up

Ursula Le Guin photo posterA few years ago at a local SF/Fantasy con, I was getting food for myself and my husband at the buffet while he, because he is unable to move AND carry something at the same time, waited patiently where I had left him sitting.

A slight, grey-haired woman slipped into the empty seat beside him in my absence and gave him a friendly smile.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Ursula.”

*Le GUIN*. Ursula Le Guin.

When I got back with the food I almost dropped the entire contents of the plates at my feet. It was literally almost impossible to believe that I was going to find a perch next to one of the giants of my game, while both of us polished off buffet food off our plates.

I’ve long said that I wanted to be Ursula Le Guin when I grew up.

I wanted to grow into her wisdom, her talent, her dignity, her grace. While she was still with us, that was something I always had in my sights, the epitome of achievement, the rarefied heights of being one of those rare people who could write for the angels and have mere mortals also read her words and find power and glory in them.

And now she is gone.

We all die in the end; immortality is given to none of us. And Ursula Le Guin has lived a good, a GREAT, life, and 88 is a respectable age.

But I wanted THIS one to be immortal. I wanted an Ursula Le Guin shining ahead of me forever.

We have lost an elder, a wise woman, a great writer, a friend. I have had the great good fortune to have had the gift of having met her, spoken to her, read her work and shared her worlds while she was still here amongst us. There is now a last generation who can claim to have done that.

For those who come after, she will be one of the names enshrined in the pantheon of the greats, a memory, no more than the distant shining light of a guiding star. But I have sat beside her perched on uncomfortable hotel chairs at a convention, both of us part of the same tribe, and our lives have touched in real time. I will be grateful for that.

And for the rest… steer that swift, elegant, gold-sail’d craft of yours into the stars, my lady. And may you find light and rest and stories there.

~~~~~

Another story.

At a different convention, there was a panel which was supposed to be more of a discussion – for “mid-career” writers. Trading insights, advice, grumbles, triumphs, the state of the craft. An exploration of where you were, and where you go from here.

I desperately wanted to go to this but I was stuck on another panel at the same time – so I asked my husband to go and listen for me, and tell me what was discussed. When he turned up and entered the room where the panel was to be held, a participant (from a circle of people sitting in in the middle of the room) looked up and told hubby that this was a “closed panel” and that he couldn’t just crash it. He said he was there by proxy, as it were, but he was ready to honor the command, and wirhdraw.

Until one voice spoke in the silence.

“No,” it said, very softly but with an air of command. “Let him in.”

Yes, Ursula le Guin.

And once she spoke, nobody gainsaid her. And hubby came in and sat quietly in his chair, and listened, and brought home treasure to me….

by Ursula’s Word.

~~~

It falls to others to write obits, or remembrances, or perhaps get quoted by others in pithy one-liners. The world knows who people like Neil Gaiman and Guy Gavriel Kay and Karen Joy Fowler and Mary Robinette Kowal are, and when they say something in public they’ll get published by big newspapers, or quoted and requoted in social media. But my name is not recognizable enough for that.

People with qualifications in that arena will write treatises on her work, and its place in literature and genre, but that won’t be me either – I haven’t the standing to do that.

Her close friends and her family have the floor when it comes to more personal reminiscences about Ursula Le Guin the person as opposed to the writer, the legend. That, too, is not my province.

What I am, what I will always be, is a reader who gloried in her work and her worlds, and a writer who was in awe of the magic she found in language and story.

For the times my life interesected hers, I am grateful – because there are many out there who would have loved the opportunity but never got a chance of one. For the gifts that she leaves behind, I give thanks – because those are a legacy that will not fade ro tarnish.

For the generations that come, who will never have known her except as a name on a book cover, I say this. Lift your eyes to the stars. FInd a bright one. Think of her.

RUMInations

The poet speaks of Love

A little while ago I wrote an essay-review of the movie “The Shape of Water”, which incorporated the poem quoted at the story’s end, attributed to the poet Rumi:

“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, for You are everywhere.”

The essay became the most widely read in the entire history of my website, and that quote was one of the things that people searched for and led them to that post.

When I was 17, my father gave me two books of poetry, one by Omar Khayyam and the other by, yes, Rumi, the 13th century mystic poet who was one of the most passionate and profound in history.

I can see both books in my mind’s eye perfectly, but I can’t seem to lay my hand on them. They’re somewhere among the 5,000-plus books in my house, but their exact location is not precisely known at this moment. It is of no matter, these poets are well enough known that quotes from them are everywhere – and I was moved by the response to that quote from the movie to go and dig out more Rumi.

A Rumi quote illustration

Which turned out to be quite the springboard for further thoughts and, well yes, Rumi-nations.

There’s all kinds of threads to be followed in these quotes but we’ll start with the same one that infused the “Shape of Water” quote – love.

Love in the RUMIverse

It is timely enough, because the moment we shook off the glitter of Christmas, we woke up to entire aisles in our local stores and supermarkets filled with pink and scarlet heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and racks and racks of cards which speak (with a greater or lesser degrees of schmaltz) of the undying devotion that lovers profess for one another.

Valentine’s Day. When all that is love is apparently for sale.

But if you go back to Rumi, the whole thing suddenly takes on a whole new layer. For all we know, these quotes belong to verses which were the Valentine card equivalents, back in the day – but oh, how different they are. 

“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.

They’re in each other all along.”

Is this an answer about whether or not soulmates literally exist? That when you meet the “right” person”, something already inside of you wakes and trembles and seeks life and release? That “love at first sight” isn’t so much that as “love at first recognition”?

Someone recently said to me, finding someone to share your life with is hard. The “being in love” feeling, that first flutter of something huge and unbearably beautiful, something whose name you can only barely begin to comprehend and cannot quite say out loud for fear that the thing it names might vanish with the utterance – that is wonderful, and amazing, but it doesn’t (as and off itself) last.

Even couples who swear they’re still “in love” after fifty years of marriage… aren’t. Not like that. It’s never like that first flush. In the words of another poet, Robert Browning, “you never can recapture… that first fine careless rapture”.   But while it’s young and living and powerful that feeling is heady, it makes you dizzy and brave and unwise, and nothing matters except the beloved

“I want to see you.
Know your voice.
Recognize you when you
first come ’round the corner.
Sense your scent when I come
into a room you’ve just left.
Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.
Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.
I want to know the joy
of how you whisper
‘more’ ”

More”. This is the stage of “more”. This is the stage of where your thirst is too big to quench and you gulp down great mouthfuls of this state of being because it intoxicates you. Because – as Rumi describes above – the air itself is alive with recognition of the Beloved, of the mere presence of the Beloved, of the scent and the whisper of a footfall and the close-focused glimpse of parted lips of the Beloved. You eat, drink, breathe, dream the Beloved. The world shrinks to the Beloved. You know when your other is in the same city, never mind the same street, the same house, the same room… the same bed. You feel their heartbeats as your own. You swear that you would know the moment something happened to them because you literally breathe the same molecules of air at the same time and you would know – you would KNOW – if they stopped breathing those molecules.

But that more isn’t quite the same mindless state of bewildered joy that the initial encounter brings. Because love unleavened with friendship is not true love – if all you ever share is a physical intoxication that simply isn’t enough to make an elixir that would last a lifetime. There is, indeed, “more”.

“When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.
Praise God for those two insomnias!
And the difference between them.”

The first time a good friend of mine returned from meeting the man she would eventually marry, I asked what happened on the date.

“We talked,” she said. “All night.”

That’s when I knew that she had found someone she could be happy with.  That loving insomnia that Rumi speaks of in his quatrain. The ability to spend time with someone else – to actively spend time with them – doing nothing but exchanging shining thoughts that take form between the two of you like some sort of magical cloud – the ability to do so constantly, consistently, and to consider that time as well spent and never in any way shape or form the kind of hours that you would want back to spend in what could be considered a more “constructive” way – that is a priceless gift, and when the person is discovered with whom you can share this ability that is the person you hold on to because this is the moment when life stops being lonely. It isn’t crowded – but there is ALWAYS someone there if you need them.

This is a far greater thing than just that first breathless and intoxicating infatuation of the physical because this is a meeting of minds and souls and this bond, once forged, lasts, and outlasts. The outer packaging might change but the inner beings, if they change, now change together and that means that they perceive the rest of the world as changing and themselves – their relationship – as the single immutable pivot point of the universe. You give up sleep for that. It’s worth it. Because there is always something there to talk about all night.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Barriers are always there. Barriers can include all the “you shouldn’t” caveats born of things that are, in the end, probably irrelevant. You shouldn’t love this man or that woman because they’re wrong class, the wrong color, the wrong faith, the wrong age, sometimes the wrong gender. But love is what you carry within you – and when you find a person to rest it on, the “you shouldn’t” warnings become unimportant.

If you marry someone much older than you, you might do it in the full knowledge that that person had a life before you were born and that you are going to have a life after they die – because your chronological streams are not properly aligned. But you do it anyway, knowing all this, because the trade-off are the years in between – the shared years – which you get to spend together, and which are all the more shining and precious because they may not be as many as you might have wished.

If you marry someone of a different color or culture than yourself, that means you become part of a greater world than you might otherwise have known. You learn things you might never have believed possible; you take part in rituals and ceremonies which may not be the ones that you grew up with, you meet different gods, you learn to understand different points of view and different beliefs, and it opens you up and makes you greater than you believed you could be. More fully human, perhaps, because you are integrating other human beings within you and making it all work. Through love, you become wise. Through sharing, you become generous, and you become humble. Through learning, you become capable of a greater understanding.

If you love someone who is not like you – in any way – you learn about what it means to be them, and it deepens and broadens both of you. And that love bears fruit – be it progeny to carry on this shared understanding and enrich the human race with it, or simply new ideas to carry forward into the future. Love is worthy, for the sake of love, and for what love brings as the gifts that it carries.

For some of us – like Rumi, like the poets – that becomes an inspiration.

“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

And so we paint. Or sculpt. Or make music. Or write.

Love is great. Love is good. May love live forever in your heart.

Dreaming to Publication

A couple of weeks ago I posted my awestruck reactions to the movie ‘Shape of Water’, writing “It’s savage. It’s beautiful. It’s funny. It’s spellbinding.”  I wrote about the moment where the mute female protagonist who cannot speak, has never been able to speak, is driven through the power of an unspeakable, impossible, forbidden love to try and whisper not just words but  a song, and added:

“It was like watching someone’s soul singing.”

I had rather hoped the film might win ‘Best Movie’ at the Golden Globes. It didn’t, but it did garner a win for Guillermo del Toro as best director.

~~~~~

Dreaming Stories illustration

by Lacie Slezak at Unsplash photos

I dream (some) of my stories

A favorite anecdote about the way the creative mind works concerns an artist who was happily asleep next to her husband when she suddenly sat up in bed sharply, still asleep, jolting him awake, and declared,

I got it! If storks bring babies, then vultures bring zombie babies!

Then she fell back down into bed and continued sleeping leaving him owl-eyed and awake and completely unable to banish the image from his brain and go back to sleep himself. In the morning, confronted with this, she flatly refused to believe that she had done anything of the sort.

But we do escape into our dreams, we who dabble in creating worlds, whether we do our painting on canvas or on a page.

I dream. Oh boy, do I dream. There have been times that I serial-dreamed . I’d wake from a storyline in the morning, and then simply pick up where I left off when I fell back asleep that night. And there have been multiple times when I woke with entire stories in my brain, and sometimes I had to get up in the middle of the night to write them. Sometimes they make me smile; most times they scare me silly.

The level of detail is indescribable I know people say they don’t dream in color, or they don’t dream anything at all except purely visual – but that is so not the case with me. My dreams are in color and surround sound. My dreams are vivid. I dream all the noises and the smells and the textures that go with the visual images.

And yes, I’ve dreamt whole stories.

There was the one that got published in Time and Space as “To  Remember Riobarre” I dreamed the dialogue for that one. And in my dream I felt the winds of the high skies, where forbidden memories of wings lived, touch and tangle my hair.

There was “The Butterfly Collection of Letitia Willoughby-Smythe”, and yes, I have cyberpunk vampire butterflies flitting around inside my head, apparently. In my defense I wrote that one after a night of flu fever and it might have literally been a fever dream. Please forgive me.

There was “Vision”, the story which appears in the anthology “Athena’s Daughters”, which I woke up terrified from in the dark and whose images haunted me so much that I could not even begin to go back to sleep.

There was “Princess of Ashes”, the first story in what became either a story-in-four-parts or a mini-collection of four tales that was published as “Ever After” – a story my husband caught me writing furiously at HIS computer (because it was closer than mine) at five in the morning, cold and bleary eyed, my bare feet curled up against each other for warmth and my fingers clawed at the keyboard.

There was the image of the flowering tree which grew into “To Leave Via Callia”.

And there was, just the other night, a single vision from which a trail of ghostly footsteps led back into an enormous and magnificent idea – the image was that of two lovers frozen in a moment just before a shared kiss, and the idea was that there were these frozen moments in the world and in them lived the world and if they were ever nudged into completion, into the next inevitable moment, they would lead inexorably to the end of the world. The end of a world, anyway. Things like this get fuzzy as I am just waking up – and then I start talking about them to my husband, and lo, there’s the vultures flying in bearing the zombie babies and the story basically falls into place. The story is written but so far unpublished.

There are dreams that don’t make it into stories, of course – some are just too incomplete, or too weird, or too SOMETHING that disqualifies them. But you know, that question, the eternal question always asked of writers, the “where do you get your ideas” question – for me, at least, at least part of the answer is simply, “Well, I go to sleep”.

I know. I am not being helpful. But there you have it. It is close to midnight as I write these words and I am about to drift towards my bed – and I honestly don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow morning with another story nibbling at my brain and the completely inadequate response, when asked about it…

“I must have dreamed  it.”

Random Werewolf

Excerpt from1st chapter of Random, Book 1 of The Were Chronicles

In ‘The Were Chronicles’, shapeshifting Weres and normal humans live in an uneasy alliance. The Weres are officially tolerated but face constant discrimination, must carry dehumanizing paw-print ID cards, and are forced to live in isolation or imprisonment during their 3-day Turns. With increasing tensions between shapeshifters and normals, three young Weres walk a dangerous path with open war suddenly becoming a frightening possibility.

In Random, the first book in the trilogy, we meet Jazz Marsh, a Random Were, capable of becoming whatever warm-blooded creature that she last saw just before she changed shape at the full moon. When her First Turn came, the results were stunningly unexpected. And the world of the Weres and the normals would never be the same again.Transformation illustrationPhoto by Darkness on Unsplash

The Boy in The Basement

Vivian Ingram, the family caretaker and my babysitter, arrived just before the ascent of the full Moon, as usual – locking everybody except me into their Turning rooms in the basement and making sure everything was secure.

Charlie was with her. The first time she’d brought him, he had been thirteen and I was only eleven. You’d think that a newly-teenaged boy would have disdained the company of a kid like me, but we somehow bucked the odds – we missed out on the standard boy-from-girl-from-boy recoil in response to unnamed cooties, and we had become buddies instead. Of course, he was going on sixteen now, and he’d Turned – at his proper New-Moon trigger, only a few months before – into a vampire bat, like the rest of his family.

My brother Mal had glared at Charlie thunderously as he was escorted yet again into his Turning room in the hope that this time would finally prove the charm. Mal, almost eighteen, still un-Turned, having to be marched off into yet another attempt at becoming an official adult in the Were community, being watched by a boy two years his junior who had already passed him on that road.

Charlie knew better than to offer any commentary while Mal was still in hearing range – but once my brother and his temper were safely locked away behind secured doors, he gave me one of his crooked smiles, half sympathy, half mischief.

“Still no joy for him?”

“Nope. And he’s kind of running out of time. They’re not sure what they’re going to do if he passes his eighteenth birthday and is still… like this. Is it even possible for someone to un-Were?”

“What’s he trying for this time?”

“Still a weasel. It’s been quite a come-down, really. He started out all gung-ho, with the wolverine, but after my folks had to keep hiring the wolverine for months it got…a little expensive. So he’s had to bring his sights down some. He wanted something with teeth, though, so – well – weasel.”

“And if that doesn’t work, what, a rat?” Charlie asked.

“Don’t be mean,” I said sanctimoniously.

“Shall we stay and see how he and the weasel are getting on? The Moon ought to be up by now – or is about to be, anyway. It should be fun.”

I smacked him on the shoulder. “You know how he hated seeing us peering in the last time.”

“We’ll be careful,” Charlie said. “Come on.”

Vivian was busy – one of her other sons fortuitously picked a perfect moment to call her on the phone, and while she was talking to him she had momentarily lost track of Charlie and me. We hadn’t really bothered to check on the Moon’s status in the sky – it was close enough for our purposes. We stood jostling outside the door of Mal’s room, and I stood on tiptoe to peer inside through the glass in the door.

“What’s he doing?” Charlie asked, crowding in beside me, careful to keep to the edges so he could duck away if Mal showed signs of looking up and seeing us there.

“Nothing,” I said. “As usual.”

Mal was in fact sitting in the middle of the room, cross-legged and wrapped in his Turning cloak, staring with smoldering eyes at the weasel which stood with its back to the wall staring back at him. Other than the staring contest, which was a sadly familiar outcome of locking Mal into the Turning room at the advent of full Moon, there was nothing of any interest going on inside that room – and it looked like Vivian would soon have to let him out, as she had done every Turn so far since he was fifteen, and he’d still be… Mal. The full Moon was in up the sky; if he hadn’t Turned by now, he probably (yet again) wasn’t going to.

I had already lost interest – but for Charlie, this was a train wreck he couldn’t stay away from. He was still staring into the room by the time I had turned away – from Mal and his continued failure, from the annoyed weasel in the corner – and I was actually looking at Charlie’s fascinated face when something began to impinge itself on my consciousness.

There was nothing going on inside the room. But out here in the corridor, outside… I was starting to feel distinctly strange. Ill, even. There was something deep in the back of my throat, an odd sort of nausea, but it didn’t feel as though I wanted to throw up – it was just… there… as though I had tried to swallow something, either too big or too disgusting, that I shouldn’t have even considered putting into my mouth, and now it was stuck halfway down my gullet and Continue reading