The Big Idea

We have a guest today.

My friend Joshua Palmatier has a new book out – more than that, it’s the culminating book of a series, and one which completes a fascinating story based on a shiny, shiny idea.

I invited him to tell you about it here – so, over to him:


 Reaping The Aurora

                Alma Alexander suggested that—since REAPING THE AURORA is the third and final volume in this series—I write about the big idea behind the series, what drove me to sit down and create this series, so that’s what I intend to do.

                The basic idea behind the series came from two sources actually.  The first comes from the 80s.  Yes, IT CAME FROM THE 80s!  Back then, almost every fantasy novel I read mentioned the ley lines—the mystical forces that connected stone monuments like Stonehenge and whatnot.  However, none of those books really USED the ley lines at all.  It was really just part of the setting, something that everyone would identify as fantasy.  It was annoying.  I vowed I would never write anything involving ley lines.

                Except that, years later, I began to wonder—how could you use the ley lines in a fantasy novel?  I mean, really USE them?

                As my subconscious began mulling this question over, I began to notice something coming up at conventions a lot:  the idea that there should be more variety in fantasy settings.  Why were they all medieval in tone?  Why couldn’t there be fantasies set in other time periods?  Most people began messing around with fantasies set in other cultures—Africa, Asia … basically non-European—but I began thinking, why couldn’t we have a “modern” fantasy?  What if that medieval setting that used magic continued its existence untouched?  What would the society look like in fifty years? a hundred?

                And that’s when the two ideas combined and the “Ley” series was born.  What if the culture in my world tapped into the natural ley line network and used that power in the same way we use electricity—to light the streets, to heat homes, to cook?  What would that initial medieval society look like fifty years later? a hundred?  In what other ways would such a society use the power they’d tapped into, this natural resource?  And most importantly, in what ways would they abuse it?

                When I sat down to write the first book, SHATTERING THE LEY, I knew I wanted a society that had been using the ley to make life easier for decades.  They’d become dependent upon it, the same way we’re dependent on oil.  And not just dependent, the society wanted to continue using the ley, to push it to its extremes, to build ever larger buildings and new and improved innovations, all while ignoring the signs that perhaps they system they’d tapped into was becoming strained.  That first book explored how such a system could be used in a fantasy setting and the consequences of its abuse.  There are “bad guys” and political infighting and even the threat of terrorism, but in the end the real “bad guy” in the novel is the society itself.

                The misuse of the ley leads to the catastrophic failure of the ley system, and the second and third novels in the series—THREADING THE NEEDLE and REAPING THE AURORA—both deal with how the survivors of the apocalypse deal with the consequences of that failure.  Essentially, the ley system is broken and those who created it and understood it the most are all dead.  It’s up to the remaining Wielders—those who can manipulate the ley—to figure out how to repair the damage that’s been done.  Of course, it isn’t easy, especially when you must also deal with the basic necessity of survival in a world where society has literally collapsed.

                So in essence, the Big Idea for this series was to actually explore an apocalyptic storyline, but in a fantasy setting.  Instead of having the “catastrophic event” happen sometime in the far past—which seems to be the back story in many fantasy settings—I wanted to explore that catastrophic event in person.  What brought it about?  What caused it?  And what happened immediately after? 

                That was the basic thought behind this series.  The fact that I could also introduce some subtle commentary on our own society—our misuse of our own natural resources—was simply a bonus.  Isn’t that what science fiction and fantasy are for?  A way to comment on our own society by reflecting some of our own issues onto a science fiction or fantasy setting?  Not that these novels are heavily literary at all.  I don’t browbeat the issue.  It’s simply there, if you care to pay attention.

                Of course, no series will ever be interesting or involving if it’s only based off of a concept or idea.  There’s far more to “story” than that.  The series would never have taken off if I hadn’t discovered the characters Kara and Allen.  Kara is the heart of the story, a Wielder who is just discovering her powers in SHATTERING THE LEY and who, because of her talent, feels personally responsible for repairing the ley.  Allan starts off as one of the vicious Dogs, controlled by the Baron, who in turn controls the ley system itself.  Without their personal story arcs stretching across all three books, the series and the world would never have come to life.

                So, if you’d like to try a fantasy that’s a little different, that has a more “modern” feel to it, that could perhaps be a blend of sci-fi and fantasy, then check the “Ley” series out.  With the release of REAPING THE AURORA on August 1st, the series is complete, so you can read it all at once.  Join Kara and Allan—and all of those they care about—as they traverse this fantasy world based on the ley lines and follow them as they survive the Shattering of the Ley … and fight to repair it.

The final book in the thrilling epic fantasy Ley trilogy, set in a sprawling city of light and magic fueled by a ley line network.

In a world torn apart by the shattering of the magical ley lines that formerly powered all the cities and towns of the Baronies, there are few havens left for the survivors. The uncontrolled distortions released by the shattering have claimed the main cities of the Baronial Plains. And many of the Wielders who controlled the ley died in the apocalyptic cataclysm their manipulation of the ley created.
 
Wielder Kara Tremain and former Dog Allan Garrett, survivors of the city of Erenthrall’s destruction, have seized control of the new Nexus created at the distant temple known as the Needle, the stronghold of the White Cloaks and their leader, Father Dalton.  With Father Dalton a prisoner, Kara intends to use the Needle’s Nexus to heal the major distortions that threaten to shake their entire world apart. 

But while she and the remaining Wielders managed to stabilize Erenthrall, they have not been able to stop the auroral storms or the devastating earthquakes sweeping across the lands. Now they are hoping to find a means to heal the distortion at the city of  Tumbor, releasing the nodes captured inside.  If they succeed, the ley network should be able to stabilize itself.

But the distortion over Tumbor is huge, ten times the size of the one over Erenthrall.  Kara will need the help of all of the Wielders at the Needle in order to generate enough power, including the rebel White Cloaks.  But can Kara trust them to help her, or will the White Cloaks betray her in order to free Father Dalton and regain control of the Needle, possibly destroying any chance of healing the ley network in the process?
 
Meanwhile, Allan journeys back to Erenthrall, hoping to form alliances with some of the survivors, only to discover that Erenthrall itself has sunk a thousand feet into the ground.  The vicious groups that plagued them on their last visit have banded together under a new leader—Devin, formerly Baron Aurek’s second-in-command.  While discussing an alliance with the Temerite enclave, Devin’s men attack, forcing Allan and the Temerites to flee back to the Needle, leaving Erenthrall in Devin’s hands.
 
But the Needle is no safe haven.  Father Dalton’s followers have begun to rebel, starting riots and creating unrest, all of it targeted at Kara and the Wielders.  The tensions escalate beyond control when Father Dalton declares he’s had a vision—a vision in which the Needle is attacked from the north by dogs and from the south by snakes; a vision that ends with the quickening of the distortions called the Three Sisters to the north . . . and the annihilation of reality itself!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A professor of mathematics at SUNY College at Oneonta, Joshua Palmatier has published nine novels to date—the “Throne of Amenkor” series (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, The Vacant Throne), the “Well of Sorrows” series (Well of Sorrows, Leaves of Flame, Breath of Heaven), and the “Ley” series (Shattering the Ley, Threading the Needle, Reaping the Aurora).  He is currently hard at work on the start of a new series, as yet untitled.  He has also published numerous short stories and has edited numerous anthologies.  He is the founder/owner of a new small press called Zombies Need Brains LLC, which focuses on producing SF&F themed anthologies, the most recent being Alien Artifacts and Were-.  Find out more at .joshuapalmatier dot com .  You can also find him on Facebook under Joshua B. Palmatier and Zombies Need Brains, and on Twitter at @bentateauthor and @ZNBLLC.

 

Girls can. Girls SHOULD

How Thea Winthrop became the world’s greatest wizard

Back in 2002, back when Harry Potter WAS the YA genre – (Number One, and then twenty empty spaces behind it before the next contender), I attended that year’s World Fantasy Convention.

At that time, I had no real interest in paddling in the YA pool. My writing was aimed at an adult readership, not least because of the way I have always used language, rich and lush and peppered with words that might send some readers to a dictionary.

But then I heard Jane Yolen say during a panel discussion that she had never particularly liked the way that the Potter books had treated girls. I missed the rest of the panel because I was sitting in the back with a story flowering in my head. A story as American as Harry Potter was British. A story not about a boy but a GIRL…a girl named Thea Winthrop.

The story became the Worldweavers trilogy, published by HarperCollins.

Spellspam HarperCollins coverThea was a rare thing, a Double Seventh, a seventh child of two seventh children. In her world, her potential was unlimited, and its manifestation eagerly awaited. Except that she…COULDN’T. It wasn’t even that she was BAD at magic, it was that she couldn’t do ANY.

As a final attempt at triggering something, her father sends her back in time to the tender mercies of a shaman from a long vanished tribe, the Anasazi. Cheveyo of the Anasazi awakens something long sleeping in Thea, and introduces her to the world of the Elder Days and ancient magic rooted in Native American lore.

It is this that becomes the first part of the solid bedrock on which Thea learns to take a stand. That took up most of the first book, “The Gift of the Unmage” – that, and this glorious concept of the Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent, a school where untalented children of magical families are warehoused, safely out of the way of their more endowed siblings.

The second part of Thea’s coming of age is her unexpected ability to channel something that looks very like magic through computers. In her world, computers are almost the only thing that is proof against magic – they are practical and rooted in the empirical world, and they have been used to store magic spells because it’s safer than storing them in the classic grimoire books. Magic locked up inside a computer was supposedly tamper proof and escape proof.

Until that stops being the case. In the second book, “Spellspam”, the spam familiar to all of us start bearing real live spells. In the opening scene of that book,  an email offering “The clearest skin you can ever imagine” delivers precisely that – skin that turns TRANSPARENT. (Oh, I had fun with these.) It seems that Thea is no longer the only one who can tamper with magic through computers. There Is Another. And she is roped in to help find that other, and stop them.

In the process of doing this, a white cube is found that is clearly full of magic but which nobody can figure out how to open. Until Thea does in the third Worldweavers book, Cybermage, and discovers Nikola Tesla, the only human Wizard who could command all four of the elements, Air, Water, Earth, and Fire.

Thea helps Nikola Tesla, who had been tricked into losing his Elemental magic to regain it in the face of attempts of the grasping greedy race called the Alphiri (think High Elves with the souls of Star Trek’s Ferengi) to steal it for themselves. The Alphiri are defeated, Nikola Tesla is redeemed, and Thea finds her place in the world.

That seemed to be the end of it, a nice tidy place to finish, except… that it wasn’t.

Some years later a fourth book would come knocking, demanding to be written, the rest of Thea’s story, taking the whole tale neatly back to its beginnings. “Dawn of Magic” concludes the Worldweavers saga in epic fashion, and is one of my favorites amongst my books, because of the way that the main triad of characters – Thea, Tesla, and Coyote the Trickster who goes by the name of Corey – carry the story.

This book is all about human magic, and what it is, and what it means, and where it hides. There is a luminousness to it, a quiet shine.

Going back to that panel in 2002… I wrote a book about American magic, about an American girl. I wrote that book that Jane Yolen whispered about between the lines in that panel. I wrote a book about the GIRL who had the adventures. And it was good. Girls can. Girls SHOULD.

Thea Winthrop was nobody’s sidekick – she went out and grasped things with her own two hands. She didn’t follow – she sometimes walked beside (one can’t do better than that, with Nikola Tesla), but more often than that, she was in the lead. She did the difficult things that others shied from doing, and lived with the consequences. She could be hurt. She could falter. She could fall. But she had known the bitter taste of defeat once, and she would never go back there again.

The books, when they came out, garnered two very different sets of reviews. On the heels of the fade of the HP phenomenon, some reviewers came up with various iterations of “For those suffering from Harry Potter withdrawal, this is just the ticket”, implying that the books were more of the same HP juggernaut stuff.

Others begged to differ and specifically described the books as wholly original, owing nothing to Harry Potter. Either way, they were hitting SOME sort of target.

Because Thea isn’t (yet?) a household name, you will gather that they didn’t hit the HP bullseye. But for those who found and treasured them, the books seemed to find a very special niche.

Thea Winthrop was the girl who held her own against anybody.

There would be absolutely no problem in the way the Worldweavers books treated girls. They treated them as equals, as worthy, as real. These books treat girls as people. And I’m proud of that.

The essay in full can be read at the Book View Cafe HERE

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Who Won the West? posterIt all depends…

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The Power of Magic

Fantasy is a lens which sharpens and clarifies the sliver of reality viewed through it. Magic is one of the tools used to accomplish this, and it’s a powerful one.

Sufficiently advanced magic takes on a reality all of its own and begins to be something believed in on its own terms, with something approaching religious faith. This is possibly why the more fundamental Christian ilk feels so violently threatened by such things as the magic in The Golden Compass or Worldweavers.

They confuse a powerful system of magic being used to shape a fictional story with a potential rival to their own creed and dogma and set of beliefs and a false dichotomy of “people who like and believe THIS cannot possibly believe OUR magic faith and so they must be our enemies”.

I am going to take this one step further. If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then any sufficiently advanced magic can be indistinguishable from a religion.

If anything that is beyond our comprehension may be tagged with the word “magic”, then the Christian mythos starts to drip with it – what are miracles if not magic? Changing water into wine? Walking on water? Resurrection, for that matter? But over the course of two thousand years the magic has hardened into a cracked outer shell of dogma. It is no longer the original magic but the recasting of that magic into something useful and controllable by a series of human interpreters who have sought to use it as something that supported their own theory, or grip on power.

Upstairs To The Magic Land illustrationThere is real magic in belief. Sometimes wishing for something hard enough actually does make it come true because the sheer power of the act of visualization often means that you are also working in real-terms for the manifestation of that thing in your life.

I remember reading Richard Bach’s “Illusions: the adventures of a reluctant Messiah” I couldn’t remember the exact title so I just looked it up and this jumped out at me from one of the book’s Amazon reviews: “I’m a Christian, but believe that when you move beyond a literal interpretation of Christ’s words and see the symbolic message in them, it’s not too different from what’s in this book. But that’s a big leap for most Christians and this book will probably make their blood boil.”

True magic lies in weaving together something that is impossible with something that is yearning for the impossible in such a way that the impossible thing becomes not just possible but inevitable.

This is what writers do every day.

What is it that makes magic come alive for the reader? Is it that the writer must believe in it first, and to what degree should that belief be taken – philosophical, empirical, dogmatic? What is it about magic that pulls in the human mind? What are the riptides and the undertows of that wine-dark sea in which we all like to occasionally drown?

What makes magic… for YOU?

The full version of this essay can be read at at Book View Café HERE

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Moving Potterverse

Once upon a time there was a literary phenomenon named Harry Potter.

The twenty first century YA and children’s literature has been dominated by this story like no other, with its midnight launch parties at bookstores across multiple nations, massively popular movies, and characters that became as iconic as the Potter crew… or the much-vaunted School of Magic itself, Hogwarts The Magnificent. (Well, all right, the honorific wasn’t in there. But it’s the unheard suffix to that name. You know it. The world believes it.)

The author of this grand literary endeavor, JK Rowlings, has been transformed into one of the world’s richest and most recognizable women. She could live in luxury on the Potter millions without writing another line for the rest of her life. But that’s not what writers do.

After the Potter books were done, she tried writing a couple of books in an entirely different and unrelated genre. They did… fair to middling. And in the end, she went back to to her magnificent Potterverse. Minor controversies dogged this endeavour – like the casting of a grown-up Hermione in the new Potter installment as black.

But then Rowlings tried to go global…and far bigger problems emerged.

Harry Potter coverLet’s just reiterate one thing about the original Harry Potter books – the canon, the history of HP himself, Hogwarts, all of that. What it all is, really, is the iconic British Boarding School Story with a layer of magic thrown over it like a cloak, set into a wildly inventive world.

You would have had to be heart-dead, if you love fantasy at all, not to respond to wonderful things like owls carrying mail, Diagon Alley, and that wonderful castle. (I went to boarding school in a castle, too, BTW, but it wasn’t anything like Hogwarts with the FEASTS they had for every mealtime.)

This is where Rowlings’ gift was – invention. She invented stuff, scattering these wonderful shiny ideas across the basic backbone of the story in double handfuls of fairy glitter until the thing fairly LOOKED like a unicorn – and people loved it. A couple of generations of kids have grown up with these things.

But the strength of these stories is this: they are bone-deep BRITISH. It’s English mythology, with a couple of generic things thrown in from somewhere else. It is something that Rowlings knew from within, being a part of it herself, and dammit, it showed, because you could take any part of that narrative and pull it out and it would be nicely and solidly BRITISH.

The appeal was double-pronged – for the home-crowd readers it was the beauty of familiarity and the ability to simply relax into a familiar story, comfortable in the knowledge that no matter what the story-inventions actually came up with in terms of the glittering ideas the basic narrative was a non-threatening one which would prop up and support an already existing worldview.

For the away team, the Across-The-Pond American readers, one attraction was the sense of delicious foreignness to it all, a layer of extra magic over the original story – first magical and Hogwartsy, then oh so British and weird. And so the scene was set and the foundation was laid and Harry Potter rode forth to conquer the world.
But the cozy British Boarding School narrative doesn’t work as well when planted in foreign soil.

To do this properly, it would require half a lifetime of research and dedication. You would practically have to get a PhD in comparative mythology and enchantment, or perhaps several, one from each different sphere of study – and there are so many spheres.  Unfortunately, Rowlings seems to have rushed her fences and assumed that the old trick would work – picking up that fairy dust and sprinkling it over a different base this time, and expecting the same magic to happen.

But the result was quite the opposite.

I won’t rehash it all here. Rowlings’ original stories about “Magic in North America” and the backlash to them from various indigenous groups and individuals are all over the net, and some of those people have already done a perfectly good job in reacting to Rowlings’ attempt to Potterize America. I will just make a few salient points.

1)    The most basic error here was the crass generalization – the “Native American community”, indeed. The reason for the generalization appears to be simply that it was easier to cherry-pick bits from this tribal culture and bits from that one, and just transmogrify it all into a great generic “Native American” cloth which covered an entire continent’s worth of stories. But there is no “Native American community” in this sense, any more that there would be a “European community” under which umbrella you would be writing about a mishmash of Celtic and Norse and Greek and Roman and Slavic gods and spirits, as if just calling them all “European” they would somehow coalesce into a magically coherent backdrop to an entirely unrelated story you wanted to tell.

2)    Rowlings was using Native American props to set her stage – but that was what they were, props. Look behind the (arguably magnificent) painted scenery and – oh, look – we’re back in an Anglocentric universe. All this “Native American” stuff is not treated as vivid, and living, and real, and ITSELF.

It was simply used as a new backdrop to Rowlings’ tried-and-true basic story, but that was ALL that it was good for. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of depth or research or respect for the material she was making this patchwork quilt out of. This is not what a writer does when creating a story. You can’t just mug other people’s worlds, stuff them willy-nilly into a gunny sack and take them home where you cut them up and piece them together in some fashion convenient to you — clandestinely, in the basement, by candlelight, and hope that nobody notices the stitching.

3)    The North American School of Magic. As and of itself – I mean, good grief, anyone would think that Rowlings invented the whole school of magic idea whole-cloth. Newsflash, she didn’t – lots of such schools exist in the literature, and have done long before Hogwarts ever fluttered into its pennanted and turreted existence. Her New World school story appeared to be  an extension of the Hogwarts idea, but there were…problems. They begin to multiply when the details are examined.

One, this particular school is called “Ilvermorny”, and it was started in America… by an Irish girl. It’s divided into Houses, much like the iconic Hogwarts is, but the Houses here… in a school founded by an Irish lass… are creatures from the Native American iconography. Creatures like the Horned Serpent, Thunderbid, the Pukwudgie, the Wampus. For Houses founded by Anglo folk. With English names.

Rowlings’ own account of the formation of this school, comes a rather telling sentence: “Faithful to the taboos of his people, the Pukwudgie refused to tell [Isolt, the school’s Irish lass founder] his individual name, so she dubbed him ‘William’ after her father.”

How many ways does this wave red flags? The magical Irish lassie finds an indigenous creature in the New World. The creature *does not trust her enough to tell her its true name*. So she just calls it William. As you do, when you’re the colonial power wading into the “lesser” and the “native”. You don’t know their true names or natures, so you just give them a name you understand and can handle and treat them exactly as though you would treat any other creature by such a name with whom you might be familiar, taking little account of all the background which you’ve just swept under the carpet.

So a School of Magic founded in a New World teeming with its own magic and mythology… sets itself up in a wonderful old-fashioned British Boarding School narrative… fits itself up with Houses (and because we’re Over Here now we’ll just play games and name the characters after local creatures we really have no deeper understanding of).

But then, a burning question.

4)    What does this school teach? And to whom? Because if it simply imports nice white colonial children to be taught the magic brought all the way from the Old World and therefore superior to anything in the new world, then it is problematic on a certain level of demanding a question as to just why it exists in the first place. Young (white) wizards and witches intent on learning traditional magic… could have been shipped “home” to learn it at the source. And if the student body were to be widened to include the native-born, things really start getting sticky.

If the magic being taught is the white colonial kind, then this is a rather prettily dressed up version of the horrors of the indoctrination schools where American Indian children of many tribes were forcibly taken to be “civilized”, forced to cut their hair and not to use their own language and follow their own culture, until they could be extruded on the other end of this “education” as properly improved. Or at least “improved” enough to POSSIBLY be considered as worthy of being included in the white man’s society (and even then treated as fourth-class citizens, demeaned and denigrated and discriminated against). All their own culture and language and legends and, yes, magic, shriveled and died underneath the heavy hand of those who came to “improve” the “native lot”.

This school is White Man’s Burden writ large. No amount of pretty window dressing will make it other. There isn’t enough fairy dust in the world to hide the ugliness of this. The indigenous magic had already existed in this place long before a magic white girl named Isolt thought to build a clone of Hogwarts here. The practitioners of such magic did not need this “school” – they would have been trained, in their own way and in their own magic, by their own elders and adepts.

This is an egregious way to try and paper the tried-and-true lucrative formula that drove the Potter phenomenon over an underlying structure which has no relationship to that formula, in the hope that the Potterverse juggernaut will just keep on sailing right along.

Well, she’s been called on these points, and more besides. The resounding silence from an author who’s been known to interact with her readers on social media and elsewhere on the Internet is something of a clue that Rowlings probably realizes what a mess this all is, and is trying to figure out which way to jump from here.

Personally, I see the whole mess as having been eminently avoidable. If only the author had been able to take that sideways step, to set aside the livery of Eurocentric and Anglocentric fairytale, if she had been willing to put in the time, to talk to people she needed to talk to. It would probably be best if she were willing to take responsibility for it all now, and by that I don’t mean a defensive retro-explanation of the whole thing, trying to make it all seem copacetic in the rear view mirror. I mean take a stand and come out from behind the silence and say “I messed up but let’s see where we can go from here”.

Rowlings has found out, the hard way, that you cannot simply endlessly recycle one good idea – and most emphatically you cannot simply clothe that idea into an “exotic” overcoat and call it a new idea. There are people out there – there are always people out there – who will discern the shape beneath the cloak, and who will know the cloak as an attempt to pull a fast one. This particular effort is akin to dragging out a pantomime horse (you know, the kind made up of two people, one of whom is the horse’s ass) onto a beautifully set stage, sticking a cardboard horn on its forehead, and insisting that the audience accept it as a real Unicorn.

If you don’t have the Unicorn of a true idea… your best bet is bring on something else entirely. A budgie. A squirrel. A Capuchin monkey. A salamander. Even (if you insist on staying with a four-footed equine of some description) a zebra. Something new. Dressing up an old idea in new clothes and then laying a cloak of silence over it all… is simply not going to work.

Not even for the woman who invented Harry Potter.

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When purple prose goes bad

“Things sometimes get transcendent bad, purple prose can transform into ultra violet.”

That was one of the more fascinating observations during a well attended Saturday morning panel on Description in Fiction that I moderated at Orycon, the annual science fiction/fantasy convention in Portland, Oregon. In fact, it could be the line of the con.

An hour later it was another panel, on the Limitations of Magic, before a very interested audience. I wish I could remember what it was that I said that brought the house down. There is enough ham in me to appreciate that kind of reaction, but there were a lot of good discussion by several good panelists and I don’t have a photographic memory.

The panel explored the concept of a “periodic table of magic.” I like that. It has possibilities that I am likely to muse on in further essays, and use in my own writing.

I went from that to the autographing session, where four of us sat forlornly behind a wall of signage pointing to OTHER interesting things going on around there while we waited to talk to people and sign stuff. We got far less attention than a young and shapely and very half-naked woman who was having a body-painting job done on a platform nearby.

The book autographing scene reminded me of the delightful video ,”Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall”. (Link at end, and worth looking at if you haven’t seen it.)

Random, The Were ChroniclesMy reading session that followed was really well attended and people listened with rapt attention as I read an excerpt from “Random,” the first book in The Were Chronicles, now out in e-book form and soon to be out in print. I concluded with a sneak preview from “Wolf”, the second book in the series, coming out early next year.

One of the people at the reading said that “Random” sounded like a lovely book for his book group to tackle. I handed out little sample excerpt brochures to people who went away happy. At least one person collared me in the corridor later to tell me that they’d just gone and bought a “Random” ebook, right there and then.

Tired, now. But energized, as always with cons. These things can be amazing elixirs for the soul.

I have a to-do list as long as my arm for when I get home. And the end of the year is hurtling down upon me with unseemly speed.

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Parnell Hall SigningParnell Hall book signing video

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The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Alma Alexander
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Werewolf DNA


The genetic basis of the Were Creatures

There is science fiction and there is fantasy, and never the twain shall meet. At least, that is the silly notion adopted by so many SF writers, readers and reviewers.

Personally, I find the StarTrek world, which I dearly love, to be one of the greatest fantasies in fiction. Beam me up, Scotty? Really? Warp nine, Geordi? Sure. Just let me reverse the polarity…

The distinction, as best as I can see, is that science fiction sometimes involves spaceships and uses pseudoscience as a basis for the magic of faster than light travel, teleportation and other marvels.

One way I’ve heard that particular hair split is that science fiction is the genre of things that could conceivably exist somedayonedaymaybe  but just haven’t happened yet, and fantasy is the genre of things that can simply never be without positing some sort of secondary-world factor. A bit of a distinction without a difference, if you split the hair far enough.

There is a new world out there, a world of Werewolves and Wereowls and Weremice and Werecats. I know all about it, because I created it. Welcome to my new series, The Were Chronicles.

But is it fantasy? You might say it is purest fantasy because there IS that “secondary world” touch to it all  And besides, Werewolves have been the stuff of fantasy – and nightmares – for eons, always conjuring up images of howling murderous mindless beasts.

But what if I can show you there is a genetic science underlying that world? Would that make it science fiction?Random blurbRandom, the first book in my new series, The Were Chronicles, is due out imminently.

I set out to develop a genetic basis for the “being Were” thing, which is touched upon in Random, and is more fully developed in the next two books, Wolf, and Shifter.

I wanted Weres to be real. I want the reader to start glancing nervously at the person sitting next to them on the bus or the subway and start to wonder whether that strange fox-faced sharp-featured woman or the pig-nosed broad-featured guy dozing in the corner actually turns into the things you think they might be turning into, when the moon is right.

I realized that the way to do that, to make them that real, was to develop a genetic basis for Were creatures. And I was just the woman to do that. After all, I do have a a MSc in Molecular Biology and Microbiology and even, briefly, worked toward getting a PhD in the field.

It all started when I sat down to write a wildly fun short story about Were-critters. The short story stopped being “short”, in any sense, very quickly. And started being a lot more solid, a lot darker, a lot more sophisticated…and I heard once again a still small voice I had not been listening to for years.

My long-gone youth, glittering with science, was speaking to me once again. And so I set out to do what is, likely, flatly impossible. After all, if Were had a “true” genetic basis, they would probably already exist. That did not stop me, however, from sitting down and working out how it would all work, if they did exist.

I was faced with the problem of a question of  science in a head-on collision with fantasy. ‘High Science and High Fantasy walk Into a bar…’

The crash was spectacular, the debris on the story road was fascinating, and putting everything back together again in a new and never before seen shape…was exhilarating.

I develop these thoughts a bit more in an SF Fiction article which you can read HERE:

Meanwhile, Random is due out from the publisher, Dark Quest Books, very soon now and you can pre-order it HERE:

or from Amazon HERE

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter of Random by clicking on ‘Free Story‘ in the menu at the top of the  blog.

it’s all real, the Were world. There is science behind it. Honest.

Were logoCome join my world, meet all the Were creatures. You’ll never look at your neighbor the same way again.

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Quote of the day

If you’re only reading the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ~ Haruki Murakami

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Alma Alexander
My books

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The art of time travel

I time travel quite a bit.

No, seriously, I do. It’s cheap and you can do it whenever you want, really. So long as you have photographs….

My father, the great photographer and organizer, died last year. While he was still with us I did a time capsule for him…here he was seventeen. Here he was in his twenties, and then in his late twenties and a soldier in uniform … one when he met my mother and then in his early thirties holding toddler me in his arms, and then in his forties still young and full of gung-ho optimism about the world flying out into adventure under the flag of the United Nations into Africa with wife and daughter in tow – and him in his fifties, and then his sixties, and then the later ones, in his seventies, thin and spare and white-haired…

…This is a time machine for the soul. And it looks back, only back

Read the article

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Five hundred new fairytales
King Golden HairSpinning a yarn … King Golden Hair – Illustration: Barbara Stefan

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years, Victoria Sussens-Messerer reports in The Guardian.

The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Read the Article

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Curch BookstoreImages courtesy of Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink

Medieval cathedral converted into a book shop

Completed in 2013, the 15th-century cathedral has been converted into a modern book store and can be found in Zwolle, The Netherlands. It spans over three floors and includes a shop in the former church building.

The architect radically changed the interior design of the 547-year-old Gothic building, but had to ensure they left the original features, such as the pipe organ, stained glass windows and decor intact.
Church BookstoreRead the Article

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The Secrets of Jin-shei, my novel about a world based on an Imperial China that never was, has been out in 13 languages for a few years now, but is still getting new reviews.

Just yesterday, a woman in Colombia posted a review on Amazon saying: “The book is beautiful, touching, sad, sweet and magical.”

I love it when a reader discovers a book of mine like this… and makes it young again.

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28 Brilliant Works Of Literary Graffiti

Daniel Dalton of BuzzFeed collects examples of graffiti from Animal Farm to Slaughterhouse-Five.
Alice In WonderlandAlice’s Adventures In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll. London, UK.

Samuel BeckettSamuel Beckett – Camden, London.

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Secrets of the Creative Brain

A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity, shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness.

Nancy AndreasNancy Andreasen

Doing good science is simply the most pleasurable thing anyone can do, one scientist told me,” Nancy Andreasen says in an article in the Atlantic. “It is like having good sex. It excites you all over and makes you feel as if you are all-powerful and complete.”

Among those who ended up losing their battles with mental illness through suicide are Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh, John Berryman, Hart Crane, Mark Rothko, Diane Arbus, Anne Sexton, and Arshile Gorky.

Some people see things others cannot, and they are right, and we call them creative geniuses. Some people see things others cannot, and they are wrong, and we call them mentally ill.

Read the Article

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Quote of the Day
Parker quote~~~~~
Alma Alexander
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