Goodbye to Giants

What we remember

Only the middle of January and already two giants have chosen this year to wander off into the sunset.
Rickman BowieDavid Bowie and Alan Rickman: photo www.chicagotribune.com

When I first saw the David Bowie headline, I had a quick moment of, ‘Hoax. It MUST be. One of those spoof things that is going to get quickly denied with a hollow laugh and perhaps an apology.’ But no. The first headline was followed by the second, and the third, and the rest, confirming, not denying.

I am not a fanatical follower; if any devoted fans knew that he was sick and ailing, that cancer had him in its claws, I did not. And I, like all too many others, was living in the kind of world where our icons don’t die. They hang there in the sky like a starman smiling down at us. They exist, they have existed, and they will always exist – right until the world changes and they are gone, a last smile fading like a Cheshire Cat’s that is a lingering memory of that fact that we once shared an Earth together, an era, a slice of time and space, even though we never met.

I remember Bowie in many of his incarnations. As I said in my first reaction to his death, he was the guy that made it OKAY for my generation to be weird, made it cool to be weird. He was sexy, and powerful, and dangerous, and talented, and instantly recognizable — and he was ours, he belonged to all of us, collectively, individually.

I remember watching “Labyrinth” for the first time and wishing I could have been Sarah, I could have stepped into Jareth’s arms and have him swing me into that lush music, dance with me in that crowd as though there was nobody else there at all. As the world falls down. Hell yes, I was a romantic. And that was just one aspect of Bowie. But it neither began nor ended there – before and after that there was the Bowie of Major Tom, of Changes, of Under Pressure, of Fame, of Young Americans, of Ziggy Stardust, of Starman.

I wasn’t the kind of fan who hung posters in my teenage bedrooms. But if I had been, there would have been no question about whose it would have been. He left us something huge and priceless. I’m glad I was here to see some if it being made. I’m glad I was part of the generation that lived while he lived, even though I was one of the millions of people who never met him, never even saw him in the flesh. But I was one of the millions who looked upon him with admiration, and with respect.

Yes, I know there have already been those who have dissecting his errors and his sins. That’s not unexpected, in its own way, and I guess it was coming – nobody gets a free pass, or should. But I might have wished for those who wanted to do it to either do it while he was still alive and there to respond if he wanted to, or failing that to have waited at least a week after he was gone before they dragged it all up. There are times to speak, and times not to. He was not – nor ever claimed to be – a saint, and anyone who expected him to be one was sadly ill-informed about life in general. Few of us live our lives unblemished.

I’m sorry he left us so soon. I think he had more to give, and now we will never see or hear it. But there it is – the memory. And in my dreams I will always have that last dance with the Goblin King, holding me as the world falls down.

The second act

And then – barely a handful of days later – another headline. Another “Oh no, it’s gotta be a hoax” which was not one. Alan Rickman. The man of whom I have said that I would listen to a telephone directory if he was the one reading it.

When I was 15 years old and at my English boarding school, they took the entire O Level English class for a field trip to Stratford Upon Avon one time, to see “Antony and Cleopatra”.

What I remembered from that trip, up front, was Glenda Jackson as Cleopatra – the way she walked onto that stage dressed in a plain beige caftan, with pretty much zero make up or accessories – no black-haired wig with dramatic bangs a la Elizabeth Taylor, no jewels, no kohl, no nothing. And within five minutes you would have attacked bodily anyone who so much as hinted that Cleopatra had ever looked anything different than that ginger-haired Englishwoman with close-cropped hair clinging to the shape of her skull and her pale eyebrows and eyelashes fringing English eyes. But that was the star, and that was the memory I took home with me, along with a theatrical program which I had obtained at the time.

Many many years later when I was tidying stuff up I came across that program and realized that I had been given more treasures than I had known at the time. The cast list of that production featured Patrick Stewart… and Alan Rickman.

I had seen Alan Rickman on stage. And it actually HURTS that I have no memory of that at all. If I could kidnap a TARDIS and go back in time this might be one of the moments I would wish to go back to – go back into that auditorium and watch for Alan Rickman as he came on the stage, and remember it.

I really fell in love with the actor and his voice in “Truly, Madly, Deeply”. It was because of him that I went out and bought a volume of Pablo Neruda. He made me laugh and cry in “Galaxy Quest”. He stole the Robin Hood movie from Kevin Costner so spectacularly that it wasn’t even funny. He broke your heart as the nice but clueless husband in “Love, Actually”.  He made one hell of an angel in “Dogma”. And Snape… always. Always. More him than anyone else in that movie, actually. Do I need to go on?

Where’s that phone directory? I have a dire need of a magnficent voice to read it to me. So that I can cry a little, perhaps.

Look, I know all of us are born, and all of us must die – but really – stop, 2016. Just stop. Stop taking people like this before we’re ready to let them go. They were both 69 years old. That’s no age. They had a lifetime still that they should have had to shine in the dark for us. They had so much more to give the world, they had so much more love to receive from it.

My sympathies go first of all to the families who have lost not just an icon but someone they have loved, a part of their hearts. That, first, of course.

But beyond that the world has lost irreplaceable people. And it isn’t even two full weeks into 2016 yet.

Is this the sort of year we can expect, then…? Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow?…

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Shifting the reader’s perspective

Shifter cover‘Shifter, the third book in The Were Chronicles, is now out and at Galleywampus I take a reflective look back on the first series (but not the last, there are more stories to be told in this world.)

I might write fantasy but these books, as one perspicacious reviewer pointed out, are more about being HUMAN than they ever were about non-human “monsters”. In fact, in this book, a lot of the monsters ARE pure human, and the creatures we so love to think of as monstrous are just as fragile and vulnerable as we would be. The enemy is ALWAYS us.

What I write about are the concerns of the human mind, the human body, the human heart, the human soul.

I do not, never have, never will, aim for preaching my own gospel through the bully pulpit of my own fiction. All I do, as the writer, is choose an issue, a problem, an idea, and use the power of story to reveal it, to explain it, to disarm it, perhaps to conquer it through understanding. I always want my stories to have more depth to them than just the surface glitter of pretty sunlight on the surface of water. When I tell a story the underlying stories are always there. Not preachily, not dogmatically, but they’re there. They will always be there.

Read more HERE

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Quote of the Day

“It’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible? What’s a fantasy?

Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.” ~ Alan Ricknan on the importance of storytelling

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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Jay Lake’s legacy

Last Plane to Heaven by Jay LakeJay Lake was an acclaimed short story writer. In his all too brief career he published more than three hundred works of short fiction. In “Last Plane to Heaven” we have winnowed that down to thirty two of the best of them.” (“Last Plane to Heaven” front matter)

I knew this collection was coming. I knew I was going to buy it. Jay Lake was my friend. This, I owed. To him; to my memory of him.

One of the stories included in the collection is the one he gave me for ‘River’, the anthology I edited. Its presence here was unanticipated. It was as though Jay himself grinned at me across the veil, a sort of ghostly high-five. I am delighted – but more than that, I am deeply honored – that this is one of the stories picked for his farewell book.

Let me tell you briefly about ‘River’ because it says a lot about Jay.

The anthology was something that was dear to my heart, an idea that sprang from my own deep and almost mystical connection to ‘my’ river, the Danube, on whose shores I was born, where I was young. When I got the green light for the book, I approached a handful of writers who were my friends – whose work I knew, and respected, and admired – and asked if they wanted to give me a story for this project, to tell me about rivers of their own.

Several declined, a couple accepted after carefully weighing whether it would be wise to allow their name and reputation to back a project by a novice anthology editor put out by a small press.

I asked Jay for a story just before a panel we were both on together at some con or other. He sat there, in his bright Hawaiian shirt, his feet in sandals and tie-dyed psychedelic socks, gazing at me with that concentrated and courteous focused attention that was his own peculiar gift – Jay might have been a big boisterous personality, he might have known how to be the life of a party and how to make other people laugh and play, but he also knew how to LISTEN, in a way that made you feel, when you spoke to him, as if you were the only other person in his universe at least in that moment – as I pitched my project. And when I asked for a story, all he said was:

When do you want it?”

I loved him for that. He TRUSTED me. And the book that was born was the better, the stronger, for his story in it.

And I am utterly humbled by its inclusion in this, in his last collection. Not only did he trust me with his story, but by putting it in this book he has made my ‘River’ part of his own legacy. This means more than I could ever have thought it might.

WORD: Word is the oldest angel of all. For you see, in the beginning Word made the world upon the waters when God spat Word from his mouth. Later, Word made flesh. Without their tongues, men would be no more tha animals. Without Word, men’s tongues would be no more than meat. Word is the beacon of our minds and the light of our days, withered proxy for an absent God.” ~  (From “Angels iv: Novus Ordo Angelorum”, “Last Plane to Heaven”)

Jay Lake’s stories – his words, his language, his ideas – are huge, great, astonishing, GIFTED things.

One keeps on reading a sentence, or a paragraph, and then stopping, and going back to savor it once more, word by word. Jay Lake wrote fiction but he wove a lot of devastating honesty into it and – you know – you can tell. There is a weight of pure emotional truth to these stories that is almost physical; you feel it settle on your shoulders and ride along with you for a long time after you’ve put the book down, like Odin’s ravens, whispering into your ear.

There is a way he sees the world – the way he takes what might seem to be something ordinary and then twisting it into things rich and strange – you walk into ruined cities with him, and into shadows, and into the light. You walk with an angel named Word, and you believe that Jay Lake might have actually met him, and talked to him, and learned wisdom at his side.

And this… all this… before he gets to the end of the book. And the most devastating, pitiless, brutal truth of all.

Every story in this book has a short preamble from Jay. And before the final story, “The Cancer Catechism”, there is this:

This is the end. Really, there’s not that much more to say. Never walk this road that I have walked if you can help it. If you must do so, take my hand. Maybe I can help you a few steps along the way.” ~ (From “The Cancer Catechism”, “Last Plane To Heaven”)

And then – the story –

But where surgery dropped you swiftly into a hole which then took a month to climb out of, chemo lowers you slowly, inch by inch, week after week, into a hole which you may never climb out of. Starting with your dignity and ending with your sense of self, chemo takes everything away from you.”~ (From “The Cancer Catechism”, “Last Plane to Heaven”)

THIS is the road on which he is offering to hold your hand. In your darkest hours. In the worst moments of your life… this writer, this angel called Word, who understands stories and who knows pain and loss from the inside, is there by your side.

“The Cancer Catechism” is not an easy read, not even for the healthy and the able bodied, let alone those in the grip of the same thing that held Jay himself in its sharp claws. But it is true, in the same way that you know that the summer sky is blue or the winter wind is cold. This is a savage and fundamental building block of the universe. And for this alone – if he had done nothing else at all in his life – Jay Lake, and that unflinching hand he is offering you to hold, has claimed his seat in that Last Plane to Heaven.

In the Afterword, Jay writes:

I love you all. It has been a real privilege to know you.”

Backatcha, big guy. It’s been a privilege, and an honor. Thank you for your words, for your courage, for choosing to be my friend.

I will miss you, and all the stories that will remain unwritten.

The back flap adds the coda: “Jay Lake died on June 1 2014, three months before the publication of this collection.”

I like to think that somehow, somewhere, from a dimension he himself could never quite manage to believe in, that magnificent laughing spirit that was his can see this book – the last book – in the world that had so recently been his own. And can enjoy the fact that with a legacy like this he is never really going to be gone from that world. Those of us who knew him will think of him every time we see a loud Hawaiian shirt, will remember the easy way he could laugh, the profound way that he could care, the courageous way that he could fight.

There are many out there who have never met him, and who will not know these things directly. But for all of us – even as we wave Jay goodbye as he boards that Last Plane and is carried away from us – these words remain. And will endure.

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Quote of the day

Writing is self-reinforcing. Don’t make a fetish out of it, and don’t surrender to the myth of the garret, or the myth of the chained muse. It’s like playing the guitar, or practicing taekwondo, or having sex. The more you do, the better you get. The better you get, the better it feels. The better it feels, the more you want to do.” ~ Jay Lake

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Alma Alexander
My books

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Happy Endings

11 YA Books With Happy Endings

I’m not really a fan of everything-will-turn-out-well-in-the-end books, either as a reader or author. In fact, a reader once asked me in exasperation, “Have you EVER written a happy ending?”

But once in a while…well, life is unpredictable.

Molly Horan at Mashable has put together a list of books that have their own forms of darkness, but the final chapters should leave you smiling.  For example:
To Be Perfectly HonestWritten in verse, this book starts out as a cute love story with a less than reliable narrator. Colette, the daughter of a movie star, is more than unreliable — she’s a semi-professional liar. The conclusion might not satisfy die-hard romantics, but there isn’t a more stereotypically happy ending than the one in this book. You can practically hear the cheerful conclusion soundtrack as you finish.

Happy endings

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One-minute video might save your life

Danger

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The tragedy of the dolphin who fell in love

Margaret Howe lived with a dolphin for ten weeks in the 60s, teaching it to speak English, Harry Mount reports at the Daily Mail.
Margaret and PeterPeter, a bottlenose, learned a few words of English. Initially, he listened attentively as Margaret went through lessons devoted to counting and shapes. But, like a lot of unruly six-year-olds, he preferred to talk rather than listen.

He seems to have lost his sense of conversation,” Howe wrote at the time: ‘He often overrides me. I cannot teach him if he is going to yell every time…”

When Margaret answered the telephone, Peter would get annoyed, making loud and competitive noises as she talked into the receiver.

Then tragedy struck

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The life and death of a nonpareil. Jay Lake truly was one of a kind.

The novelist who blogged his own death
Jay LakeIllustration by Mari Kurisato

Brutal honesty and an indifference to propriety and personal boundaries was inherent in Jay Lake’s blogging since 2008 when he discovered he had cancer and began writing about it.

Things looked hopeful in the beginning, but that soon changed, Simon Owens tells tells us at Dailydot.com. As anyone who regularly read his blog soon discovered, the cancer’s persistence proved invincible to both surgery and chemo. Early last year, his doctors told Lake that the cancer was terminal.

The then-48-year-old writer began to prepare himself—and his readers—for death.

The life and death of a nonpareil

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19 Rare Recordings of Famous Authors

At Mental Floss, Joy Lanzendorfer has assembled some fascinating recordings, ranging from JRR Tolkien reading Elvish to an inebriated Hemingway shout about pigeons. And then there’s Raymond Chandler, Sylvia Plath, and even  Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Virginia Woolf

 

This is the only known recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice. On April 29, 1937, she read an essay on words for a BBC radio series called “Words Fail Me.” It was published in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays in 1942. A sample: “Of course, you can catch [words] and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind.”

 

Rare Recordings

 

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Quote of the Day
love is pi~~~~~
Alma Alexander
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