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Tis the season, it would seem...


Seriously, this after a year of writing two novels (200,000 words there alone) plus all kinds of other stuff - and things ACCUMULATED. Folks, it's this simple - it's the first time I've actually seen the surface of my desk for... for ...for a long time... [gulp] (and i still have a small pile of to-deal-with stuff sitting off to the side. But enough for one day. Tmorrow. I'll have a clean(ish) office for Christmas, anyway.)

The City Where I Was Born...

that first video - more elegant, slower, with more time to look around - it shows, amongst other things, the door on the corner of Matica Srpska, the Archive of Serbia, which leads into their storefront there on the street - behind that, in teh building beyond, on many floors, along many corridors, is the gathered wealth of our language and literature, a treasure house that's been there for centuries - and the place where, in the company of my beloved grandfather, I began to fall in love with language. The video shows two church towers in loving lingering detail - the first one is the pretty colourful Catholic cathdedral which dominates the main city square, but the second, the more baroque one, belongs to the Orthodox cathedral of St George which is the place that GOd lives...

The second video, teh time-lapse one, is more manic (and the speed of life in that city is very much NOT that...) but it shows other iconic places. Dunavska Ulica (Dunavska Street) which is an old and beloved street leading from the orthodox cathedral to the park beyond where I used to stand holding onto the self-same fence around the central shown in the image there and watch the resident swans (I have a black-and-white picture of a chubby toddler that was me back then holding on to that fence which was then just chin-high and staring at the birds in the water beyond...); a glimpse of the old market to which I used to go so often with my grandmother; and, of course, the river, The River, my Danube which I love so much...

Eh. It's the end of another year. if this isn't the time for a bit of nostalgia, when is...

Spamology, November edition

1. "You are Dead". - well if this is true and you are still sending me the email that raises two possibilities. I am a ghost or I am a zombie. Although I have to admit that I have had my share of zombie-like days I don't think I have ever had a particularly strong yen for eating brain, nor has flesh been falling off me in that delectable and inimitable zombie manner (that I know of). And I am still physical enough to type this so not a ghost (maybe I am a poltergeist???) Either way, sending me this email - MULTPLE times, no less, how many times can a human being DIE, exactly? - serves zero purpose. Because I still cling to life, and the rumours of my death (to misquote with glee) have no doubt been greatly exaggerated. (By the way I have never opened one of these emails. So I have no idea what exactly they want with a dead person. Or what it is that is about to kill me. And it was entertaining the first time - I laughed, I really did. But being told that I am dead, over and over and over again, is beginning to lose its charm. So quit already. Do. Thanks.)

2) "You do not have to be afraid of loud noises". Oh. Okay. Thanks for letting me know. I'll take it under advisement.

3) a double whammy - "GENUINE letters from Santa!" and "Time is running out for your child" - seasonal nonsense, but several questions are going begging here. "Genuine" letters? Rewally? From the ACTUAL Santa? What do you know that I don't? And it's his busy season, you know. He really doesn't have the time to sit and handwrite letters to every kid out there who thinks they ought to getone. So let's ease up on the"genuine" shall we? I yanked on that beard. It comes off. it's cotton wool. Let's say no more about that. But that is followed by the rather more dire "time is running out" message. What happens after the sands run out? Does your kid start getting letters saying "you are dead", signed, Santa, merry christmas ho ho ho ho?

The endless fun in my spam folder. Really.

Brought to you as a Publice Service, so that you don't have to bother wading through the mess.

Signing off, until the next time.
"Jay 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.

I did not know that one of the stories included in the collection, one of those "thirty two best" which was chosen for it, would be the story he gave me for the anthology I edited, 'River'. 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 honoured - that this is one of the stories picked for his farewell book.

Let me tell you, briefly, about 'River'. It 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, I was young. When I got the green light for the anthology, 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, because of whatever reasons loomed large in their lives right then. One or two accepted, after hesitation, after weighing their options, after weighing whether to allow the valuable power of 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 (they blur; I forget which). I remember him sitting there, in his bright hawaiian shirt, his feet in sandals and tie-dyed psychedelic socks, gazing at me with concentrated and courteous focused attention as I pitched my project. And when I asked for a story, all he said was,

"When do you want it?"

I kind of loved him for that. He TRUSTED me. 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 the 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 honour. 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 publicaton 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 Train and is carried away from us - these words remain. And will endure.
Well, then. Saturday proved to have an ending, after all - above and beyond where I left off on the previous entry.

I came down to try and connect with people, and ended up at a rowdy table where people variously came to eat something for supper, drink iced teas or coffee, or (if you were me) had another slice of the delicious raspberry and chocolate cake on offer. Plots were hatched and rehatched. Laughter was had. There. Are. Pictures. On Facebook.

Then I had a little bit of time in between this and the beginning of the Endeavour Award party up on the 14th floor. And while walking past this one table I was hailed by a gentleman who sat there folding an ASTONISHING origami dragon (complete with four tiny feet and spreading wings). He was kind enough to tell me he had enjoyed one of my panels. I conveyed my amazement at his dragon. He told me I could have it. That, and a tiny winged origami pegasus. And then another even tinier origami pegasus. And then an even more wondrous dragon made out of a square of gleaming red origami paper. And then a perfect origami X-wing.

My original few minutes of stopping by stretched to more than a hour as I made a couple of new friends. And then I wandered up eventually to the Endeavour party where I had a glass of genuine original mead and grabbed something a little more food-like to eat from the spread on the table (caprese salad, people? Classy!)

And then I steeled myself to go back down again, to the memorial for Jay Lake.

They invited those of us in the audience to share our memories of him. This was begun by his mother reading one of his stories - about him, Jay, meeting a strange little man clad in a purple satin suit, sitting next to him on a Portland bus a man to whom the only answer, no matter what the question, could only ever be 'yes'. Except that the question, when it came, was "Do you want to live forever?" and he had until the next stop to decide. And although the first answer was 'yes'... he hestitated... remembering the wife and the child who waited at home, and the piled bills waiting to be paid, and the sun going up and down on the passage of days. And the next stop came and went, and the man in the purple suit vanished softly and without a trace, and Jay - the narrator - "allowed the bus to take me back home to love."

That came with the weight of words from an angel.

I had bought a copy of Jay's last, posthumous, collection, "Last train to Heaven". I just now finished reading it. One of the stories in it is one he gave to me, for the River anthology, and this I hadn't expected, and it hit me harder than I had thought. And as for the rest of the stories in here - some of them I had read before, some I had not - I have more to say on this. Just not here. Not now. Not yet.

It was close to midnight that I crept back to my room. Packed up almost everything I could. Crawled into bed.

Not sure what dreams there came.

Sunday morning I came downstairs, my luggage in tow, checked out, and stopped for a double-shot latte to wake myself up before my panel. Just outside the restaurant my origami friend from the previous evening came sailing out of the restaurant where he and his group were having breakfast and since I was looking for a place to drink my coffee I accepted the invitation to join them.

Before THIS was over, I was the richer for an origami Imperial Star Destroyer, an origami TARDIS (who knows, it MIGHT be bigger on the inside....) and an origami Vorlon ship (which was literally INVENTED on the spot from an image gleaned from the Internet on the fly). Obviously Saturday night was mostly for critters. SUnday was for SERIOUS HARDWARE. The origami artist even showed me pictures of the origami Death Star that he had made (and said that took FIVE HOURS to get right). I remain astonished, and beyond impressed.

They followed me into my Sunday morning panel, which was quite a nice one and went rather well. And then I had a ride arranged to the station to catch a train back. Courtesy of Orycon. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

As of current writing, am on the train. The train is moving. That is all. If I don't turn up at home before midnight... pray for me.

Another con over. Another year slipping fast towards its end. Outside, it is already night. And soon it will be morning, and another day, and things and people are waiting for me at my destinaton. As Jay said in that story, I am waiting for the train to carry me back home through the dark, to carry me back home to love.

Orycon Saturday

I had a panel - I was supposed to be MODERATING a panel - at 10 AM on a Saturday morning. I wouldn't have been surprised if the audience was sparse. But instead we had a good panel, and lively audience participation, on the subject of descriptions in writing (quote of the panel: "things sometimes transcent bad, purple prose can transform into ultra violet...") After that, I went to the Green Room to grab coffee and a bite to eat, and an hour later it was another panel, on the limitations of magic. Again, lots of audience participation, and I don't remember what it was that I said, precisely, but I brought the house (or at least the room) down with some offhand comment during the panel, which always makes me pleased. The idea of the panel was the concept of a "periodic table of magic"... I like that quite a lot. It had possibilities. It was a nice panel in a packed room, and it went very well. I went from that the autographing, where four of us sat forlornly behind a wall of signage pointing to OTHER interesting things going on around there but not us lot sitting there waiting to talk to people and sign stuff, and resigned to getting 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. Oh well. I left about 15 minutes from the end of the hour, aiming to get to my reading on time - and the reading was really well attended, as far as readings go. People listened with rapt attention as I read an excerpt from "Random" and then a sneak preview from "Wolf", the second book in the series, Coming Soon. One of the people at the reading said that "Random" sounded like a lovely book for his book group to tackle. All good. 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. Again, all good.

Grabbed something to eat, and then sat in the bar over a glass of cider with a friend, trying to connnect with another fried with whom I'd crossed paths with earlier, briefly, but of whom I had now completely lost track. Didn't find Friend #2, but had a nice get-together with Friend #1. Then decided to take a break, came up to my room to kick my shoes off and write an update, before I sally forth again shortly into the fray.

One more panel tomorrow morning and then I have to find my way to the station by 2 PM to catch a train back home. Hopefully this time they will have loaded a full complement of fuel...

Tired,now. But energised, as always with cons. These things can be amazing elixirs for the soul. I will permit myself another half hour or so of down time and then I'll dive back into the fracas and see what else I can find going on.

I will report back on trains tomorrow. And then I'll be home. And I have a to-do list as long as my arm for when I get there. And the end of the year is hurtling down upon me with unseemly speed.

More anon.

Orycon time...

So, then. Let us start at the beginning.

I arrived at the station bright and early on Thursday morning, to take the train down to Portland - like I've done so many times before. The train, whose departure time changed often enough for me to have printed out at least two separate tickets that Amtrak sent out as the timetable was amended, was due to depart at 8:32 AM. This of course meant that I had to be at the station by 8 at the latest, which in turn meant that I had to leave FOR the station no later than 7:30, which in turn meant waking up at oh-dark-hundred (for me) in order to get ready - all of which was accomplished, and there I was, at the right time and the right place, waiting.

The barriers went down at the appointed time... but instead of my train one of those long endless freight trains lumbered past for what seemed like five solid minutes. And then it was through and gone and out came the announcement. Ladies and gentlemen, the Amtrak train you are all here for has been delayed out of Vancouver BC "because of wind and rain" and will be 20 minutes late.

It was closer to 9 AM that we finally got onto our train and it lumbered off southwards.

I asked the conductor what effect the late departure might have on the estimated arrival time in Portland. He said he thought they would just cut the time in Seattle layover down, and arrival in Portland would not be (greatly) affected. I figured maybe we might be half an hour late - but the Amtrak app I donwloaded on my tablet kept teling me that the estimated time of arrival in Portland was 3:15 - which was within the ballpark - right until the moment (after we had stopped for the fourth time, to let past a freight train or to allow a northbound passenger train with "A broken air hose" to limp past us in the direction from which we had just come) it read 3:34. And then 3:48. And then... gentle reader... we came to a halt just on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Bridge. And then just sat there. And sat there. And sat there. And nobody was really saying anything to us at all. And time... kept on passing.

We were literally fifteen minutes out of Portland. But we sat there. And sat there. And sat there. TWO HOURS AND THIRTY EIGHT MINUTES LATER another engine attached itself to our train (which had "broken down" as we were informed) and we were finally dragged into Portland station. Where we found out the real cause of the problem.

*The train. Had.Run.Out.Of.Gas.*

My immediate cynical response to that was, oh great, the Republicans take over the country and not even the trains can run properly the next day. SOmeone else, after I arrived at the con hotel and was plied with a glass of wine to restore my equanimity, suggested it was a good thing I hadn't decided to FLY down to Portland.

Oh, it's all very funny. In retrospect.

Turns out that someone else's truck broke down half an hour outside Portland, and Orycon's own truck broke down TWICE this weekend, so it seems that somebody somewhere had forgotten to offer the proper goat to some transportation god this year. But I fully intend to inquire if the train has its full complement of gas when it comes time for the return journey.

So, then, anyway. All that aside, I was at Orycon. Friends were everywhere. I was hailed across the hotel lobby twice by people who spied me on the other side of the hall. It is so ENERGISING, so good for one, to come to a con like this, a con where (like the proverbial bar called Cheers) everybody knows your name.

Friday morning, armed with a good solid double-shot latte, I sailed forth into con proper. This entailed, first of all, sitting in the Green Room catching up with everybody. And then, at 2PM it was time for my first panel, "Dark Fairy Tales".

I ambled across to the proper venue with another panelist, and we discovered several other people involved with the panel sitting on the floor outside the designated room, whose doors were closed, patiently waiting for our own appointed hour. But they didn't appear to have checked as to whether anything else was really going on inside that room at all - and when we finally did so a bunch of jaws dropped collectively when we discovered that the room in question contained three towering stacks of chairs. That was ALL. They hadn't been set oout in panel conformation, nor was there a panel table there, nothing of the sort. So we all just assumed that (this being a Dark Fairy Tales panel) the goblins had been there before us. Some of us set to getting the chairs into a useable conformation. Someone else was sent out in pursuit of hotel staff and a table. The table arrived; so did a snazzy elegant black tablecloth, and a gold table skirt. From a DIY panel this was turning into some style.

The panel began with audience of something like four people and quickly grew to at least a dozen or more - and then it started with an astonishing display of erudition as panelists quoted from memory long sections of various Shakespearean plays (what did it have to do with fairy tales, you might ask? why, probably not much. What of it...?) That panel being over, I had to run over to an etirely different wing of the hotel for my next panel, on dialogue. That went rather nicely (at least this room had the proper set up already in place - panel table, audience seating..) and then I had a bit of a break, and then the following panel, on the "Death of the standalone novel" (or lack thereof, as it were). Some interesting points were made here - but just before we began this nice young man came up to the front of the room and addressed me and said that I had "an enchanting way of expressing myself" on my panels (apparently he had attended another on which I had been, earlier that afternoon) and that it probably meant that I was "a great writer" - all I could do was grin in delight and say thank you very much. I always try to "give good panel". It is nice to know that it gets noticed, sometimes.

Had a nice dinner with a friend. Visited the dealer's room, bought Jay Lake's final story collection in memory of my lost friend, came meandering over again to the main lobby, got hailed once again by a bunch of people having drinks in the bar. So I joined them, had a nice chocolate Martini (you can blame the Gvernor's Club bar at the Wiscon hotel for introducing me to these and for providing the bar which all other chocmartinis had to meet in order to be considered good... this one came pretty close...) the conversation ranged from winter sports and attendant injuries to how to give a compliment to a lady without skeeving her out. A great con unwind evening. But in the end of it I found myself in the mood for solitary pursuits and not partying and so I retired to my room. (And wrote this report...)

It's now close to midnight, I'd better meander off to bed, I have a panel tomorrow morning which I am supposed to be moderating and I have to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for that. Saturday Orycon report will follow anon.

In the meantime, good night all - and it's off to sleep, perchance to dream.

Tomorrow is almost here.
Seriously. Hard to believe that an entire month has somehow vanished like a blown away leaf and I haven't posted ANYTHING here. In my defense I was hard at work finishing a novel...

Still, a couple of nice things to report - two early reviews of "Random", the first book in my new serise, have now landed. the first is here, at The Author Visits - which also has a bunch of other great stuff, such as an excerpt from Random as well as a sneak peek at the NEXT book - but "Random" is labelled a "must read" in this four-star review. Here's a quote to whet your appetite:

Random is also a story about roots, history and the philosophy, shedding light about the Were-kind, their existence and the hierarchy of a world that is perhaps more complex than that of the humans. The book examines the metaphysical nature of the Were-kind which in and of itself is unique and consuming.

Alma Alexander is a methodical story teller, peeling back the layers one by one, focusing on the big picture then slowly unveiling the details like a good mystery. Random is a complex emotional journey of a young girl looking to make sense of a sense-less event that impacts her life and that of her family’s.

The quality of the writing is stellar. Well composed and thoughtful, Alexander chooses to give Jazz a mature voice that I appreciated as an adult reader.

Go read the rest.

The second review surfaced this morning, at Angela's Library. And it's WONDERFUL (another 4-star one!) Look at this blurb-worthy snippet:

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Random isn’t just a story about shapeshifters, it’s a story about humanity. It’s about what it means to be a member of a family, a culture, a race. This is an ambitious undertaking, but Alexander handles it with grace and skill.

(Oh, and tomorrow, on the Angela's Library site, she's going to post her interview with me - and it's a DOOZY. You should definitely go read this thing tomorrow. You can also register for a giveaway copy when you do!)

The Author Is Happy.

"Random" is due out end of the month. Currently still available for preorder here - so get the jump on it - or, alternatively, if you want to consider this as a Christmas present for a reader in your life, here's an option. I'm screening the replies to this post; if you are interested in a signed copy of "Random", leave me a comment with a contact email address and a mailing address to which you would want a book sent, toether with the name of the person to whom you might want to have the book personalised to. I will then obtain books from the source on your behalf, they will come here to me and I will sign them, and I'll put them back in an envelope and they'll be on their way to you. $22 would cover book and postage. We can discuss method of payment in email.

But this is a good book, apparently [big wacky grin]. People LIKE it. And I promise you this - #2 in the series is with the publisher as we speak, and I've just finished writing #3 - it just gets BETTER. I'm inordinately proud of this series. Some of the best work I've ever done.

Come help me celebrate!
Before you can write about life, at least adequately, you have to have lived it. In some way, shape or form. And I don't mean vicariously on Facebook, or even online at all. There's more than five things, of course. But these are pretty broad. You can feel free to add in subcategories, or nuances.

1) DO SOMETHING DANGEROUS. Know what an adrenaline surge REALLY feels like. You cannot possibly write about one without that visceral knowledge. And "dangerous" is huge - you can fit in a lot of things under that umbrella - do soemthing that your mother might have warned you about, or something that society considers "unsafe", or something simply exilarating. Here's a few of my candidates:

- three of my (young, female) friends and I once climbed down from Table Mountain in Cape Town, on foot, in the dark, sliding down scree slopes and falling into the switchback roads, until we finally ended up hitch-hiking a ride the rest of the way down in a solitary car coming down from the topside parking lot, with a single male occupant inside. He was nice. We were taken down the mountainside and deposited at its foot without any incident at all. I was in my twenties; this was half my life ago. The adrenaline rush remains to this day.

- I jumped off a mountain. WIth an instructor, to be sure, in tandem, but still - I parasailed off a mountainside. I have pictures to prove it. When my father saw them - unexpectedly, before I did, long story - his response was, "If you survived that, when you get home, I'm going to kill you." Yeah. Adrenaline.

- I swam off the edge of a coral reef. The adrenaline of THAT makes my teeth ache right now while I am thinking about it. The experience can still make my heart race.

- I gave my heart completely. And had it broken. And it HURT. And I'm the better off for having dared to do it.

2) TRAVEL. You will gain only a very limited understaanding of humanity if you seek it only with people who live in the small town where you were born, and you're too afraid to venture beyond the edges into the great wide world beyond. Learn at least the basics of another language in which you can communicate with people who are NOT LIKE YOU. The world will open up like an unexpected dream. It's fun if your destination is far flung and exotic, but it doesn't have to be. Take a road trip. A train ride. If you have to start small, begin by going an hour, two, four, six, outside your comfort zone. THen,if you feel ready, tackle the world. Some of the places I've been:

- Fiji and Tahiti (learned a few phrases of the Micronesian/Polynesian vernacular, learned to snorkel, swam with doplhins, saw an octopus and a coconut crab in the wild, made friends with local people and learned their dreams.And I WIll never forget the colours of the coral lagoons, nor the black depths of ocean that lie beyond them. The colours of the world.)

- Vienna (walked the polished wooden floors of Imperial palaces and the cobbles of its streets, listened to waltzes, drank young wine in the wine shops of Grinzig, tasted Sacher Torte in the Sacher Hotel where it was born.)

- Kruger National Park, South Africa, and Etosha National Park, Namibia (saw lions and leopards in the wild, saw an elephant pace slowly and majesticlaly away into the purple African twilight, breathed in the dust and the heat while watching herds of Impala and zebra and wildebeest. Learned that rhinos are the firemen of the African savannah, and run TO a fire instead of away from it, and stomp it out with those hard-soled stumpy little feet of theirs if they can - which means that they can be damned dangerous to campsites when they blunder into the midst of fragile human campers.

- Japan (the first and only place on this earth where I was ever totally functionally illiterate - but I managed. Learned about the Shinto and the Buddhist faiths, and what each means to the Japanese people. Saw many beautiful temples. Saw many beautiful gardens. Been aware that I walked the ground where an ancient and vivid civilisation had thrived for CENTURIES, and felt breathless with that knowledge, particularly when gazing, in a museum, at a samurai sword from something like 1452 - still bright and shining steel and still probably capable of cutting a hair in half as it floated down upon its edge.)

But you get the idea. The world is a wide and wonderful place, and it is FULL of gifts.

3) FEEL REAL GRIEF.You cannot know what it's like to lose a living thing that you love until you do that - until you lose the cat you've had by your side for the last fifteen or twenty years of your life from a simple and inevitable advent of old age or watch a beloved pet waste away before its time from something you cannot do anything about and make the decision on their behalf that they have suffered enough, or sit by the bedside of a grandparent who is slipping away and holding the soft wrinkled hands in your own knowing that they may not feel your doing so but that somehow, somehow, they know that you are there. Real grief is raw and bitter, and tastes of tears. Before you write of it, you have to have had it tear your own heart apart. Because everything else will feel inadequate to those readers of your future work who HAVE known such grief, and will know if you speak the truth.

4) FEEL REAL ANGER. *Something* should make you feel your way down to your core, until you find that cold hard ember that is at the heart of you, not the swift mundane attacks of being cross about someone cutting you off in traffic or being rude to you on a subway. Something should reach all the way down to that primeval thing, the cold fury, the anger that does not leave you blinded with temporary passion but leaves you clear headed and clear eyed and knowing that ALL OF YOU hates this thing that you are seeing, hates with every fiber, and even though you may not be able to do anything at all about it (or maybe not RIGHT NOW, anyway) leaves you considering and discarding options of what to actually DO about that thing that has taken you to this place.. True fury needs few words, that's for sure, but if you want to write about it you have to know what it FEELS LIKE. What it feels like to be REALLY that angry. So look for something. Cruelty to animals. Cruelty to children. Pointless war. Something precious being willfully wasted. Ignorance and bigotry. Hypocrisy. SOmething, anything, something that you consider to be IMPORTANT ENOUGH to tap that cold fury in support of. Know it, understand it. Only then can you own it.

5) FAIL. Because you will. it is inevitable. Do what you need to do anyway, knowing that it may meet this fate. Because fear of failure is otherwise going to put the brakes on too many things that you need to do or want or know in your life before you can understand any other human being alive deeply enough to write their story. You HAVE to know what it means to fail. The lives of the very rich and the very happy seldom make for good story fodder - because these people are insulated from failure. Everything is handed to them, and if failure becomes a looming option then a scaepgoat is found to take the weight of it leaving the one who truly failed unscathed by it all. The most interesting stories come from people who have failed HARD, and then learned from that failure, and risen up like proverbial phoenixes to touch fire again. DOn't be afraid to fail. Just be afraid of not trying.

Any questions...?

A year.

bayside cemetery gravestone father

I lost my father a year ago.

A year.

It doesn't seem possible that such a long time has passed. it seems like everything happened yesterday.

We did not put him in the ground; this is not not his grave, or anything like it; his ashes lie scattered in the blue waters of Puget Sound. But I went looking for this image in my files, a picture I took at Bellingham's Bayview Cemetery six years ago. I remember taking it; I remember a frisson of superstitious horror as i took it, thinking, "One day..." There was nothing there other than that single forlorn stone. No name. No date. Just "Father". And somehow... somehow... this inability to name a person, a date of death... this urge to memorialise but the recoil from saying a name which no longer belongs in the register of the living... I can understand this perfectly. Today, I remember him, like I remember him almost every day. But today, I remember him because today is the day he left me. And there is a stone raised on this day in my spirit and in my heart, a stone that simply says, "Father".

He is gone. A year has passed. His eyes look upon me only from photographs, the memory of his hand survives in dedications he wrote on the flyleaves of books he bought for me. And inside of me, because he is part of me, he lives.

For the rest... there is a stone. WIth moss growing on it. That simply says... "Father".

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