Category: books

WellREAD and The Wonder of Witches

Last weekend I was sick with a cold, and because I was sick I turned on the tv and thereby caught this program about books, WellREAD, on OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting).  I’m always excited to find a show about books, and it was doubly exciting to come in on a show discussing books on witches with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff. She was talking about her latest, The Witches: Salem, 1692, which is another exploration of the witch trials.

Schiff clearly has a real passion for her subject. I also liked that she said she can’t seem to write a book in less than four or five years when authors now are pressured to crank out a book every few months to keep up momentum (although this likely applies solely to fiction. I can’t see any sort of respectably researched historical book being done well in less than a couple of years). As much as I’ve read over the years on the witch trials I will consider adding Ms. Schiff’s book to my TBR pile. The reviews on Amazon are split pretty evenly between those who loved it and those who thought it was a ‘tedious slog’ so my expectations are tempered.

Be that as it may, the show itself was going great until about the last five minutes when Mary Ann Gwinn, who gives further reading suggestions, excitedly talked about Alex Mar’s “Witches of America.” Mar’s book has been roundly criticized by the pagan/witchcraft community, and you can read one take on that here. It’s obvious Gwinn knows absolutely nothing about modern witchcraft, or was even aware of its existence. I got the impression neither of the show’s hosts has ever met anyone who didn’t believe exactly what they do; they both seemed amazed that there are people today who call themselves witches. Gwinn went on to mockingly describe modern witches saying, “In one way you want to make fun of these subjects: the weird tattoos, the costumes, blue hair, the free-form sex, the witches’ convention at a Doubletree Inn. Really?” Nice. She openly wants to make fun of them. Ok, I admit the Doubletree Inn is a little weird seeing as how my coven always meets in Lucifer’s penthouse. But what the hell.

Maybe she thinks we should all look as bland and asexual as she does. Finally, the show’s host Terry Tazioli gives a shudder and says “I’m done with witches.” Good for you, buddy. Very disappointing to see such a derisive dismissal of alternative spirituality in this day and age. Their way or the highway, it would seem. They might be interested to know witchcraft practitioners and practices are as varied as any segment of the population, and many hold advanced degrees, including PhDs, and careers in the sciences and academia. I, for one, look more like a Sunday school teacher. My hair is not blue (although I really like the look) because I need to fit in in Corporate America. But not everyone does, and this is not the 1950s. You can watch the show here.

I shudder to think of the judgment the two of them sit in towards other marginalized population groups.

And for your edification and enlightenment, here are some reading suggestions if you really want to learn about paganism and/or Witchcraft in the modern world:

Margot Adler, “Drawing Down the Moon”

Scott Cunningham, “The Truth About Witchcraft Today”

Scott Cunningham, “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner”

Pauline Campanelli, “The Wheel of the Year”

Starhawk, “The Spiral Dance”

For real basics, The Witches’ Voice website has “Witchcraft 101: So You Wanna Be a Witch?”

If nothing else, Mar’s book introduced people at The New York Times to the idea that there are practicing witches today. We may not fly on brooms (the old joke is we ride Hoovers now) but we have been known to dance under a full moon.

Full moon

Russia’s Open Book

Having an insomniac night, and find reading to be of no help in settling my mind, I switched on the tv at 4 o’clock in the morning. After flipping through the handful of channels I get on the antenna (I don’t have tv cable) I ran across this on OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting). It’s a 2-year-old documentary hosted by the actor Stephen Fry about a handful of contemporary Russian authors. Russia kind of fascinates me after being closed off to the West for so long. It makes me wonder what we in the West have missed. The documentary website is here. I do have a couple of books by Russian contemporary writers, one fantasy (Nightwatch, by Sergei Lukyanenko, and The Stranger, by Max Frei) but haven’t gotten to them in the TBR pile.

If it makes you curious for more, and aren’t the type to read the comments, I found this guy’s blog which has much more on Russian writing and writers.

 

I’m Meeeellllttttiinnnnggg

Going into our third straight week of temps in the upper 90s. This is crazy, this is Oregon. It shouldn’t be allowed. Wonder if the crazy old coot down the street feels silly about his “Stop Global Cooling” bumper sticker yet?

I think I gave myself heat exhaustion yesterday. Went out kind of midday, which I thought would have been ok, and mowed the yard, washed the car, and watered the veggie garden. Apparently it was already too hot because I felt really ill later. I brought water out with me, but forgot to stop and drink it often enough, I guess. Be careful out there.

In writing news, I’m making slow progress on the Revenants Abroad sequel, and also working on a couple other things. I probably shouldn’t split my focus, but when you get an idea you need to write it down. Or at least I do.

I can’t help thinking of this every time I see balloons up.

FINALLY! Revenants Abroad available in paper!

Revenants Abroad - Final for Web Display 501x800

Never thought I’d see the day, but I approved the proof on CreateSpace moments ago, which means Revenants Abroad is officially available in paper through the CreateSpace store! It said it’ll be 2-3 days before it’s up on the main Amazon.com site, I have no idea why. It is still, and will remain, available for Kindle and for KindleUnlimited. I’m going to order a few copies for giveaways and for those who’ve requested signed copies. I have to say wanting a signed copy strikes me as surreal in the extreme. All I can say is I have the best friends who think more of me than I deserve. Thanks you guys, love you all.

 

Links updated 3 June 2015

Revenants Abroad Paper Proceeding

The good news is: paper copies of Revenants Abroad are back on! I finally caved and contacted my cover artist, Jason Juta, and he graciously said he’d provide me a lighter version of the cover at no charge. I love this guy so hard. I felt bad going back to ask him for yet another change (of course I intended to pay him, but still) because I know he’s busy. He graciously said he’d do it gratis, since it’ll only take him about 30 seconds to lighten the image up. If the book ever really takes off, I’ll be throwing a few extra dollars his way, believe you me.

If all goes according to plan, the paper copies should be available in a couple of weeks. Once I get the file from Jason, I need to upload it to CS, and get another proof copy to make sure they don’t hose it up again. Those of you holding out hope for a paper copy shouldn’t have long to wait now.

The advantage to publishing paper books via CreateSpace is that it’s no charge, unless you hire them for design, edit, and marketing. It’s not cheap. “Custom covers” from them are $399 (starting with a stock image), a custom cover ‘Premier’ is $599, and still starts with a stock image. After the customer support I’ve experienced (essentially, none), I don’t think I’d trust them with something this important. So the disadvantage to going through them rather than another self-publishing route that would charge hundreds or thousands of dollars is lack of support. Also, while some bookstores will now stock self-published books, those same bookstores are often not happy about stocking books pubbed through CS, as Amazon takes a bigger cut of sales.

So, if you’re going to self-publish hard/paper copies of your book, do your homework. There are so many options it makes my head spin. That’s one reason I decided to use CreateSpace. I basically had everything (electronic files, cover art) and not a lot of cash up front.

And here are some of my latest shots, just for fun.

‘Cause I Just Don’t Have Enough To Do

So my latest thing is I’m thinking about doing a newsletter focusing on my book and the upcoming sequel as well as other writing, and offering some exclusive content (backstory on characters, new stuff related to the Revenants series and other projects), contests and giveaways. Yeah I know, like I don’t have enough to do already, right?

If you’d like to sign up you can do so here. Unfortunately with WordPress.com sites you can’t embed the forms so I have to have an off-site page for it. I’ll be moving the blog to a self-hosted site soon, though. I’m not sure when I’ll start sending out the newsletter, and it will be monthly if I can keep up. Otherwise maybe every other month, so you won’t be inundated with stuff every week.

The white flowers below are Oregon’s state flower, the trillium. It’s protected, so don’t pick them if you see them.

We’re still getting a lot of fog in the mornings, as you can see.

The Stars Seem So Far Away – Margrét Helgadóttir

I’d like to introduce you to Norwegian-Icelandic writer, Margét Helgadóttir, whose first book, The Stars Seem So Far Away, has just been released through Fox Spirit Books. Congratulations, Margét! Let’s talk about the book.

image2

What is The Stars Seem So Far Away about?

The Stars Seem So Far Away is a story set in a distant future, where plagues, famine and wars rage across the dying Earth. The last shuttles to the space colonies are long gone. Fleeing the deadly sun, humans migrate farther and farther north. The story is told through the tales of five survivors: One girl who sails the Northern Sea, robbing other ships to survive; one girl who guards something on a distant island; one guerrilla soldier; and finally, two siblings who become separated when the plague hits Svalbard.

It’s not a novel, but it’s not a collection of stories either. It’s a hybrid, a fusion of linked tales that together tell a larger story.

What inspired you to write the book?

I think the idea of this alternative future for the northern parts of the world has been dormant in me for many years.I have long pictured a world where humans, due to climate changes, must flee to the northern world, and where places that today are sparsely populated could become covered with cities. I’ve had the image of the skyscraper city on Svalbard in my mind for many years. But mostly it’s the small details of this dark and apocalyptic world I have mulled over for a long time. I have for instance been fascinated by the doomsday vault, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, ever since it was built. Also, the image of the killer whale in Nuuk has stayed with me for a while.

 

It’s such a beautiful cover. Could you tell us a little about it?

The lovely cover is by the talented Sarah Anne Langton. I am very happy about it because I feel it reveals some of the atmosphere in the book like I picture it. The cover has ice, snow, ocean, a giant bear, a crashed Hercules, an apocalyptic city and the human who longs for the stars. Sarah even made sure it’s the correct star maps on the cover.

 

What is your relationship to the speculative genres?

It’s more about what mood particular books/stories put me in, rather than who wrote them or what genre they are within. I’m the same with movies. Fantasy and science fiction are always good choices when needing to escape real world and seek comfort.

But I also find that these genres challenge the readers/audience, force them to think in new ways, be it space exploring, new species, new ways of thinking, new technology. They turn the world as we know it upside down, and few things are impossible. I love this. There are of course often used tropes and clichés in these genres too, but still, now and then I can read something or watch something which is so challenging, so brilliant, I almost can feel my brain cells squeal in delight. I love the space opera subgenres and I adore the science fiction classics from 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, filled with optimism and confidence. But my favourite science fiction is the narratives close to contemporary fiction, often about power structures and dystopian societies. They are not new, but we have seen these stories more often the last decades. I am also increasingly fascinated by stories within ‘the weird’, twisted and dark stories, often very surreal and surprising.

Could you tell a little about your writing and other stories?

It was only two and half years ago that I found confidence enough to start writing fiction for publication. A few of the stories in the book are actually amongst the first stories that I wrote. I have chosen to write fiction in English, which is not my native tongue, so working on the book has also been part of a tough language-learning process. Today, when I read through the book, I can see clearly how I have developed as a writer; the later stories flow better and have a more sure voice.

I know my writing and language can’t compete with Hemingway or other great authors, but I’m very concerned about telling a good story, so I hope I have succeeded in this and that people will like the stories and the characters.

My stories have appeared in several magazines and journals, including Gone Lawn and Luna Station Quarterly. My fiction has also been or will be published in nine print anthologies, including Impossible Spaces, six volumes of Fox Pockets, and two more Fox Spirit publications. I am co-editor of the coffee table book European Monsters, a collection of fiction and art released from Fox Spirit Books in December 2014. It is the first of an annual monster series. In 2015 I will co-edit the second volume in this series, African Monsters, and I will also edit an anthology of winter tales. Hopefully there will be time to continue writing as well.

 

You have an unusual background, can you tell a little about yourself?

I’m born in East-Africa to a Norwegian mother and an Icelandic father. I grew up in East- and West-Africa and in Norway. On my webpage you can find small musings about different aspects of being a third culture and cross cultural child. I moved to Denmark two months ago, where I will stay for a few years due to work. I am a movie junkie and a book worm, and can often be found in the history museums and galleries in the weekends. Learn more about me at my webpage, or on Twitter, where I am @MaHelgad

Thanks so much, D.D., for inviting me to talk about my debut book.

The Stars Seem So Far Away was published by Fox Spirit Books and released on Valentine’s Day. It can be ordered as paperback and Kindle from Amazon. Epub is coming soon.

Amazon UK (paperback): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stars-Seem-So-Far-Away/dp/1909348767

And Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stars-Seem-Far-Away-ebook/dp/B00TSR8U6W

Amazon US (paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Seem-So-Far-Away/dp/1909348767

And Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Seem-Far-Away-ebook/dp/B00TSR8U6W

 

Thanks so much, Margrét, and best wishes for the success of your book!

Revenants Abroad – Chapter 26

Chapter 26 went live yesterday, sorry to be a day late with the notice! Only two more chapters to go after this so time is winding down to read it for free online. There have now been over 5000 reads of Revenants Abroad on Wattpad, so thank you everyone! :D