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Alma Alexander is the author of the WorldWeavers trilogy, The Secrets of Jin-Shei, The Hidden Queen/ Changer of Days duology, and Midnight at Spanish Gardens. Currently she lives in the U.S. but was born in Yugoslavia and educated
in South Africa and the UK.


It is an old adage that like gravitates to like, and among writers, even complete strangers find it relatively easy to strike up a conversation. The advent of the internet produced a strange phenomenon called ‘blogs’ where people suddenly opened up to the world. Yes, I am guilty of that sin as anyone and in that process I ‘friended’ Alma for no other reason that she was a writer. Er, not entirely true. She was a writer I could identify with, whose words I wanted to follow. Writers often like to discuss their process or their latest work, or simply brainstorm and very often you find a kindred spirit.
 
Blogs are another face of the changing industry. If you don’t have one of those, like a twitter account and a dozen other social media platforms, you simply don’t exist.
Because readers, if they like your work, start clicking.

Alma, thank you so much for participating. Do you feel what I have said is true? That if you don’t have an Internet presence, whether you are an established author or a ‘newbie’, that you don’t exist?

It sure feels that way sometimes. As purely a social connection phenomenon
and nothing more, Internet footprint seems to be the equivalent of fingerprints
these days. And perhaps that was inevitable in the modern and very connected
culture where  the cyberworld feels as real as stepping out of your front
door into your driveway and driving down to buy a quart of milk at the grocery
store down the hill. But the downside of that is the equally inevitable
distancing effect, and you find yourself with good friends who live halfway
across a country or a continent or the world away from you and with whom you
might never actually sit down for a “real” cup of coffee or a shared meal.

Many, if not most, publishers these days insist on a cyber-footprint for
their authors. This is probably because the publicity and promotion machine, at
the publishers’ end, needs to run a lot less hot if the author is already
shouldering part of the outreach load. In the days of yore it used to be that
you wrote the book and THEN gained an audience – these days the way it seems to
work is that you need an audience first, before you write the book. And yes, if
you don’t have a toe in the cyberwaters  (and more likely a whole foot,
with all the platforms where you now “absolutely need” to be seen and present)
you are already operating at a disadvantage as compared to other writers who DO
– whose books are going to be known about in advance, awaited, perhaps
pre-ordered (when the authors give the relevant links in their blogs or on
Facebook), talked about – and we all know how important that is – cue (I think)
Oscar Wilde: “The only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked
about”.

But the flip side of that question is, just how much do you want or need to
know about a writer and his or her own personal life and views before it all
becomes too much? How much of all of that is going to be enough to tip you into
thinking about the writer as not just the writer of a book you might like but
someone who holds views with which, perhaps, you find yourself uneasy with (at
best) or at worst completely  impossible to live with and now that you have
found out about them here in cyberspace you find yourself unable to stomach
reading any further words of fiction written by someone whose worldview was
informed by the attitudes you didn’t care for? I know that a number of people
abandoned Orson Scott Card when some of his – shall we call them , a little
extreme – political views came swimming to the top on his blog. Is it better, in
that sense, “not to exist” in your readers’ minds, as opposed to existing rather
more vividly than they can bear (and continue to read you)…?

In the end I think it boils down to a very personal choice, and to how much
you are comfortable sharing about yourself, and how you might perceive reactions
you could get to the things that you share. The days of a complete writing
recluse, however, are well and truly numbered, I think. Even if YOU aren’t
writing about yourself someone else out there will end up writing about you, and
you can’t escape the electrons. Far better, I think, to control your own
presence inasmuch as you are able to do this. Blog as often as you want to and
dig as deep or as shallow a furrow as you need to, on subjects that YOU are
passionate about or interested in – the idea is to engage a reader with your
words long before they commit to reading to your actual fiction. Myself, I am a
certified introvert who doesn’t do too well in “real” crowds and “real” parties
– but I have found a niche within a community or three here in cyberspace, and I
am happy with that – perhaps one of the most oft-quoted maxims of our age, “I
think, therefore I am”, should now be adapted to modern times and restated along
lines similar to, “I share my thoughts, therefore I am”…

I don’t think it’s possible to live in a vacuum. But I do believe that you
can choose your friends and those who surround you, no matter how and where you
engage in doing so. And there are ways that interacting with readers is
absolutely essential for any writer, no matter how introverted they might
be.

So yeah, do come and read my blog [grin] I write it because I want to,
because there are things that I want to say and share, and (not the most
important but not insignificant either) because it keeps me connected to readers
even when they are not actually reading one of my books. Because a blog entry
that intrigues them might LEAD them to a book. If not today, if not tomorrow,
then instinctively some time in the future when they gravitate towards a title
and don’t even remember what the source of their interest in it once was….

As  well as your novels, you’ve put together some superb anthologies. Do you think this is an essential part of an author’s resume – to write short stories? Is
this why you are putting together the Alexander Triads?


No, of course not. Some fine novelists have never written anything “short” in
their lives – others have but the short works were awful (because they insisted
on being embryonic novels) and some brilliant short story writers have never,
and WILL never, write anything longer than maybe 10,000 words. And that’s
perfectly okay. Being able to write both short AND long is not a requirement in
this game – and in fact you are blessed if you can. People like, for instance,
Neil Gaiman are equally at ease in both formats. I actually don’t write THAT
much “short” fiction – my natural length is somewhere in the region of (on
average) 90,000 words. The rules for writing long and writing short are very
different indeed and it takes experience and practice to be able to follow them
properly in either format. Think of novels as a full necklace of gleaming
diamonds, something that works together to produce a nice, well balanced piece
of jewellery. A short story is by contrast a single perfect gem. And where the
occasional flaw in the occasional gem in that necklace can be masked by the
quality of the stones next to it the short story has no such luxury – it has to
work and stand on its own, there is nothing that exists around it to hide those
imperfections. This can be a daunting task, for some. You wouldn’t think so if
you just compared the sheer amount of words but a short story is a much heavier
load than a novel is – and if the novel is all you can comfortably carry the
weight of a short story can crush you. And no, it is in no way essential as a
part of a writer’s resume. You write short stories because they insist on being
told that way, because you WANT to, and never, not EVER, because you think you
are obliged to.

As for the Triads, they kind of grew out of an original collection of short
stories which was literally my first published book – originally “The Dolphin’s
Daughter and Other stories”, it now has a new lease of life as the Alexander
Triads book #1, “Once upon a fairy tale” – and once I reissued those three
thematically connected  stories it was a natural progression to come up
with other “triads” of connected stories, some published and others never before
seen, and produce little collections under the umbrella of a common theme. It’s
been rather fun, actually. And there are a couple more Triads planned, and in
the works.

Since you have an amazing biography and have traveled several
countries, how important do you think experiencing life is to an author? I am
asking this one because everything is a click away these days, but nothing
substitutes for RL. You can find anything via Google or wiki, but is it real?
Stories are fiction but they are made up of elements of truth. In writing
fantasy an author could write ‘anything’ because, well, it is fantasy.
Worldweavers is aimed at the YA market; do you feel that fantasy is often a
reflection of true life?


Not often, ALWAYS. Even the most whimsical of fantasy is in some way rooted
in the real – and fantasy is at its absolute best when it is telling some hard,
hard truths which it would be difficult or impossible to swallow if it weren’t
filtered through this fragile veil of silver lace. When you read stories like
“Those Who Walk Away from Omelas” you are aware that on a visceral level you are
reading a scathing indictment of something that, in a different form, exists in
your own world too. “Mary Poppins” might be all fun and games – but it is the
quintessential “spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down” because in
the end its message isn’t confined to frolicking around with cartoon penguins
but tears, eventually, through everything (even while leaving the illusion of
things being nicely tucked out of sight) and leaves us with some real truths
about our world, and our relationships in that world.  “Tigana” by Guy
Gavriel Kay is one of the most beautiful – and most harrowing – books that
exists; I don’t know how he knows what it feels like to have your soul ripped
away from you but he does, and he makes YOU understand. That is the power of
fantasy.

And yes, there is a certain amount of living necessary in order to reach an
understanding of the things that lie beneath. It matters that you are taught to
see things differently, because you (the wirter) are the privileged prism
through which these truths will become obvious and known. Unless you understand
something of where they come from and how rooted they are in your own cultural,
geographical, metaphysical, and otherwise-boundaried position in life it is
impossible for you to even realize that there are other people out there who do
not share you own particular and unique worldview and who must be reached out to
in order for them to understand what your stories are truly about. This is
partly the root of the whole controversy of “cultural appropriation” because too
often a writer without the required breadth of worldview is incapable of
understanding  that the shiny and interesting things which seem to be
crying out to be included in any given story cannot be used so without some
understanding about, and respect for, the position and importance of said shiny
things in their own particular environment. Being a part of a wider world, as I
was, and am, gives me a broadened vision of the things that were, and are now,
and are in the process of becoming. It is that much easier to write of a world
that exists outside your own walled courtyard when you are aware that the
outside world actually exists – and independently of that sheltered little
courtyard which may have been shielded from all kinds of harsh realities by the
walls it threw up against that world. Knowledge leads to understanding – and in
some ways direct experience is the ultimate form of knowledge.

Not so long ago, the only reviews mainstream authors received were through professional critics. Now, the whole world feels entitled to tell you how they feel via Amazon, Good Reads and other book sites. Do you think this changes how novels are perceived? 

How they are perceived by whom?

I actually do draw a line between a piece of literary criticism – which can
be VERY high-faluting and ivory-towered and thus rendered almost completely
irrelevant to the reader-at-large – and a book review by an interested and
involved reader. To be perfectly honest, I would rather have a raw and
passionate response to something I’ve written from someone who was somehow
touched by my words on some raw place which necessitated a reaction than I would
aspire to a clinical, dissected autopsy of a book of mine spread-eagled on a lab
slab while sniffy professionals argue about cause of death. I don’t know that I
would prefer to get high technical marks for a perfection of prose, for
instance, over an outpouring of enthusiasm for an emotional truth which my words
have laid bare for a reader.

I don’t believe in vicious put downs for no reason at all – a reviewer who
comes up with a negative response to a book simply has to provide the reasons
why the book was disliked so, and I will be the judge, thank you very much, of
whether or not I agree with those reasons or whether they in fact matter to me
at all. I don’t believe, in other words, in reviews where the reviewer is
talking about THEMSELVES, and their own opinions or beliefs, rather than
discussing the book which they were entrusted with. A book, any book, deserves
to be judged on its own merits. The reviewer (whether writing for the New York
Times or Joe’s Book Blog) has the responsibility to provide a light which
illuminates the reading material at hand. Admittedly we all do this with a lamp
which is coloured by our own attitudes and beliefs and that is fine – but they
should not get in the way of the book being discussed, never mind take
precedence over it.

Perception of a piece of writing by the reading public, in fact, seems to be
very much dependent on how many people are actually talking about it, and how
loudly. To be perfectly honest, the frothy denouncements of the Harry Potter
books and how they are teaching our children witchcraft probably served the
books better than many a gushing review ever did. (Apparently you need to get
the right people good and mad over something you’ve written, and success is
almost guaranteed…)

So go right ahead. Leave me a review of any of my books – on Amazon, on
Smashwords, on your own blogs, on review sites, in magazines.  I’m always
more than happy to know how my books have been perceived.

Do you think the ease with which people can self-publish has hurt the industry or do you see that as a vital injection to wake up an ailing and often old-fashioned way of thinking?

Yes, and no, and maybe. Oh dear. That is not helpful.

Look, it has been said that in most cases of people saying that they “have a
book in them”, that is precisely where said book belongs, and should stay. There
IS something to be said for a level of quality control, where someone other than
the author/their mother/their clutch of BFFs actually thinks a book has merit,
where the contents of such a book is properly and professionally edited (I’ve
seen a self-published  volume where the author apparently honestly believes
that the second day of the week is spelled “Teusday”, despite having only to
look at the nearest calendar to be disabused of that notion), and has a decent
cover that doesn’t look like it was painted in crayon by the writer’s
six-year-old (or produced in bad Photoshop by their college-age kid who’s living
rent free in the basement).

Yes, I think it is a bad thing that there are only a handful of “big”
publishers left out there, and that they are increasingly geared for the
literary superstars of the world. No, I don’t believe that is the end of the
world because there are any number of smaller presses, some of them quite
successful, which are popping up to take up the empty places in the 
publishing ecosystem. Yes, I believe there are books that are actively swimming
against the stream when it comes to the mainstream publishers and which would
never see the light of day if the author waited for that light to turn green
while they grew old and grey waiting for the postman to deliver their yes
answer. No, I don’t believe that every self-published book is in that category.
I think that a  new publishing paradigm is still in the process of evolving
and it is likely that many of the authors working in that world today are going
to get ground into mincemeal trying to negotiate the grinding stones they are
dodging at every step of the way. It may be optimistic but at some point (when
the really bad wannabes who don’t see immediate rewards are going to abandon
this as a bad way to get the spotlight that they crave and will go off looking
for a new instant gratification) we will probably reach an equilibrium. When
that will be and how much we will have to endure before we get there… ah,
there’s the rub. Ask me again in ten years.

Thank you so much for participating – can you tell readers about your latest projects?

There are two or three new Triads in the works. My three YA books, the
Worldweavers series, are being reissued this year – initially as ebooks but
later as paperbacks – and a brand new two-volume conclusion to the entire series
will follow them – and that conclusion is going to be fabulous. I’m working on a
new YA concept and shopping that around for a home currently, and also some
other projects which are on the back burner right now  (one of which is
going to be just pure FUN). Of course, more short stories when and if they come
calling. Maybe another anthology where I will wear the editorial hat. Lots going
on.

Alma Alexander can be found at:

    www.AlmaAlexander.org

    www.AlmaAlexander.com
   
http://anghara.livejournal.com
   
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alma-Alexander/67938071280
   
http://storytellersunplugged.com/almaalexander/
   
http://www.sfnovelists.com/
   
https://twitter.com/AlmaAlexander

Alma’s novels can be found at:

Ebooks  on  Kindle:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=Alma+Alexander&x=12&y=21

Ebooks for other formats:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=Alma+Alexander

You can also purchase actual Real Books ™ from Amazon, or Book Depository, or ask your local bookstore. Or, if you want a signed copy of the books I have in stock here, you can always contact me directly and we can talk.


 


Comments

01/25/2013 11:27am

Thank you, Sue, for introducing Alma! And thank you, Alma, for such thoughtful answers. As one of those authors who struggled for years to get noticed by "big" publishing, then found success in ebooks after switching gears, I share quite a few of your conclusions about the business. :)

Reply
Susan
01/25/2013 7:43pm

With such aticulate answers, i couldn't fail to enjoy the response.\;0

Reply
01/25/2013 1:58pm

Wonderful questions, Susan, and thank you to Alma for such thoughtful answers. I really enjoyed the read.

Reply
Susan
01/25/2013 7:45pm

Very enjoyable.looking foward to yours, too!

Reply
07/24/2013 5:27am

The Secrets of Jin-Shei was a good book by Alma.I had a great time reading it. I am thankful for bringing Alma to this Blog and posting her responses to various issues like the internet as well as on anthology. Overall, it was an interesting read.

Reply



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