Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Tag Archives: C. J. Cherryh

Ever Read a 4-Novel-Series 5 Times?

The year was 1976…

The young woman in the image was 34 and had her first novel published—Gate of Ivrel

She followed that, in 1978, with the second in the series, Well of Shiuan

The third book, Fires of Azeroth, was published in 1979

And that was the “complete” story of Morgaine and Vanye

—until 1988 when Exile’s Gate was published.

The author is C. J. Cherryh—born Carolyn Janice Cherry—multiple Hugo Award winner—produced over 60 books—even has an asteroid named after her (77185 Cherryh).

I just finished reading those books for the 5th time yesterday

I wouldn’t recommend them to everyone

First, because they don’t easily fall into the genre-rut (though plenty of people have tried to ram them into various categories…).

Yes, there are lords and swords, horses and bandits, undying love and treachery, alien technology and whisperings of witchcraft

Still, these books are, to me, not “Science Fiction” nor “Fantasy” nor “Science Fantasy” nor “Sword-and-sorcery meets hard sci-fi”.

The acclaimed author, Andre Norton, wrote an introduction for the first edition of the first book and said:

“Never since reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’ have I been so caught up in any tale as I have been in ‘Gate of Ivrel’.”

I also can’t cram Lord of the Rings into a genre.

I’m not sure when I first read them

Yet, each reading revealed more—each reading gave vast impetus to my own writing—each reading spurred me toward deep self-examination.

That last could be my second reason for not recommending them to everyone—so many folk are desperate to avoid self-examination

The third reason I don’t say everyone should read them is that the main characters reverse nearly every standard of “normal” relationships:

Morgaine, woman, leader of men, world-saver, often autocratic, feared by most, skilled in war.

Vanye, man, outcast warrior, claimed in servitude to Morgaine, in doubt about his courage, often alarmingly emotional, superstitious.

Cherryh in an interview:

“It was a set of characters I’d invented when I was, oh, about thirteen. So it was an old favorite of my untold stories…”

I do wish everyone who likes to read would read these books.

Perhaps more of us could work through the perilous patterns of relationship

Perhaps more of us could face our inner demons

Perhaps more of us could see hope where the world only shows decay and riot

Perhaps more of us could face each other with utter loyalty and trust

If I meet people who want to read something full of spirit but I know they abhor religion, I recommend these books

There is an amazing element of these stories that most articles shove in your face.

I’m going to let you discover it for yourself :-)

It’s being rumored there will be The Gates of Morgaine movies

Here are a few more quotes from the Andre Norton introduction:

“…there are indeed no supermen or superwomen—rather there are very human beings, torn by many doubts and fears, who are driven by a sense of duty to march ahead into a dark they are sure holds death. Ancient evils hang like noisome cobwebs, the stubbornness of unbelievers wrecks again and again their quest. Wounded, nearly at the edge of their strength, shamefully forsworn in the eyes of all they could once call kin, they continue to push on to the last test of all.”

“Few books have produced such characters as to draw a reader with them, completely out of this mundane world…one accepts it all without any longer remembering that this is a creation of an imagination. It might be actual history—from another plane.”

And, a final quote from Norton that I can actually feel like I wrote:

“Books flow in and out of our lives in an unending stream. Some we remember briefly, others bring us sitting upright, tense with suspense, our attention enthralled until the last word on the last page is digested. Then we step regretfully from the world that author has created, and we know that volume will be chosen to stand on already too tightly packed shelves to be read again and again.”

There is now a one-volume edition called, The Complete Morgaine (that last link is for the paperback and e-book on Amazon—go here for free world-wide delivery of the paperback)
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Why Is Some #Poetry So Hard to Understand?

Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

I have two Most Favorite (“secular”) authors.

One writes fiction, the other wrote poetry.

Some might say the poet wrote fiction

C. J. Cherryh is my Most Favorite fiction author—and, she can be very hard for some folks to understand

Emily Dickinson is my Most Favorite poet—and, she can be very hard for some folks to understand

I find her much harder to understand than Cherryh—yet, I read her, over and over

If you should try to read her poetry, do, if at all possible, get The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson as it’s the most comprehensive and authoritative one out there.

I should add that many fans of Cherryh and Dickinson love them in spite of all the effort it can take to understand them

But, this post is more about Ms. Dickinson so I’ll give you my short-form reasons for why poetry (and, hers in particular) can be hard to understand.

First, here’s an example poem:

You cannot put a Fire out —
A Thing that can ignite
Can go, itself, without a Fan —
Upon the slowest Night —

You cannot fold a Flood —
And put it in a Drawer —
Because the Winds would find it out —
And tell your Cedar Floor —

It may appear simplistic to you…

It may seem nonsensical…

If you read it more than once, it may strike you as deeper than you first thought…

One hint at deeper meaning is that certain things are given qualities they don’t have in a mundane world.

Wind talking to the floor, for instance

When things like this happen in poetry, you can tell that the poet isn’t just talking mundanely—they’re using words in unique ways—they’re making words do two or three things at once

So, finally, my short-form reasons for why poetry can be hard to understand:

Poetry (the “best” poetry) is meant to be more than it seems.

Words are used in ways that defy strict rationality.

We’re challenged to think beyond the obvious and learn deep Truths about Life…

These reasons are more than likely why poetry never sells as well as genre-fiction—folks don’t seem to want to work hard to find deep Truths

I was prompted to write this post because of a new book about Emily, A Loaded Gun ~ Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century.

And, I found out about the book by reading a post at Longreads,
A Loaded Gun: The Real Emily Dickinson ~ She was less like a recluse, more like a bomb going off.

Just a few excerpts (the Longreads post is actually an excerpt from the new book…):

“…Emily Dickinson was not just ‘one more madwoman in the attic’, but rather a messianic modernist, a performance artist, a seductress, and ‘a woman maddened with rage—against a culture that had no place for a woman with her own fiercely independent mind and will’.”

“’She was the articulate inarticulate’, that lone voice out of the Puritan wilderness….her letters are every bit as bewildering as the poems, perhaps even more so…We soon come to realize that’s she’s wearing an assortment of masks—sometimes she’s Cleopatra and an insignificant mouse in the same letter.”

“The brutality of this belle of Amherst would stop a truck.”

“It’s as if she had a storm inside her head, an illumination, like a wizard or a mathematical genius.”

There is still much conjecture about Emily (and this book certainly raises many speculations).

We may never know the truth about her, except for the Utter Truths she wove into her poetry

A few more excerpts:

“I believe she suffered horrendously as a woman; dream brides drift in and out of her poems like a continual nightmare—yet she did not want to be ‘Bridalled’.”

“I believe that her rebellion against the culture of nineteenth-century Amherst was of another kind. She was promiscuous in her own fashion, deceiving everyone around her with the sly masks she wore. She was faithful to no one but her dog. Her white dress was one more bit of camouflage, to safeguard the witchery of her craft.”

“She wasn’t one more madwoman in the attic. She was the mistress of her own interior time and space…”

And, even though I have my own proof that she was extremely spiritual and even extraordinarily religious (so many folks really don’t know the meanings of spiritual and religious…), I’ll share one more quote that, for me, nails it for who this woman was:

“She met her first real antagonist, Mary Lyon, within the school’s walls. Lyon was a formidable foe. The founder and headmistress of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Lyon came from a much humbler background than the poet and believed in educating rich and poor alike as female soldiers in Christ. But no matter how wily she was, the headmistress in the severe white bonnet couldn’t get Dickinson to profess her faith, couldn’t rescue her soul. Emily Dickinson was one of the few ‘unsaved’ seminarians. The battle was less about God and the Devil than about two women with strong wills, one of them a sixteen-year-old girl whose father was almost as tyrannical as Mary Lyon. None of Lyon’s little Christian soldiers could persuade the poet. She learned whatever she wanted to learn, and discarded all the rest.”

If I’ve encouraged just one other person to dive into the Worlds created by Emily Dickinson, my life has more worth………
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Writing Advice Can Often Be Toxic to Writers . . .

I remember when “personal” computers were beginning to appear—when every kid on the block started to become an “expert”—when you could easily trash your shiny, new computer by listening to the wrong people… 

I also remember when publishing books became easier for an individual—when every creative-type started to become a book-guru—when you could easily ruin your tender, longing hopes by listening to the wrong people

Computers have become a bit more robust.

Writing gurus are breeding like rabbits.

I’ve written 57 previous posts that all have something to do with writing advice (if you take that link, you’ll also find this post since I used the same tags…).

Many of those posts caution against certain types of writing advice—some offer what I consider good advice.

I’ll give a few examples of the kind of advice you might want to avoid; then, share a couple links that could, in my opinion, help

There are many ways writing advice can be sincerely given yet still be potentially harmful.

The most common type to avoid (though, I’ve read many and still haven’t been corrupted) are the ones that have a number in the title (apparently, folks who don’t like to work hard to learn something are quite attracted to numbered lists and way too many bloggers share lists in hopes of generating more traffic… [I’ve committed this “sin” myself a few times]).

Here are three examples:

Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers

22 Rules of Successful Storytelling (infographic)

Improving Your Fiction: 246 Rules from 28 Modern Writers

If you actually read those articles, you may find many tips ( or, “rules” ) that indeed help you in your writing; however

Learning to write by learning lists of “rules” can easily lead to stilted, contrived, or unnatural writing.

You can make a list of things to buy at the grocery store and make the effort to go there and get all the ingredients; but, they need to be combined properly—you must have a “grand plan” for your cooking to produce a great meal

It’s laughingly ironic to me that my all-time favorite writer of novels, C. J. Cherryh, actually produced a list called Writerisms and other Sins.

Yet, the final tip in that list was NO RULE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED OFF A CLIFF.

Perhaps the best advice I could give to writers is, if you feel you must read lists of tips, please do yourself a huge favor and devour a story from an accomplished writer for every single tip you ingest

And, if you just have to read a whole book of writing advice (and, you intend to write a novel), check out this article—Ever Wondered How An Author Actually Writes A Novel?

One last bit of writing advice:

Go read this articleHow To Read Like A Writer.
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When Two Books Depend On Each Other . . .

If you been following this blog, you know I’m working on another novel; and, that the new book happens in the same worlds and time-frame as the one I published back in 2011 (get a free copy here…)

When Two Books Depend On Each Other

Image Courtesy of Marcel Hol ~

I’ve just finished a read-through of Notes from An Alien (the first book), while taking notes to help me mesh the new plot with the older one; and, I must admit, reading a book I wrote four years ago was an enlightening experience…

I found only two typos (though eight were found shortly after publishing…) and there are only two other small corrections I’m going to make.

I also have thousands of words in other notes that I need to read for the third time; then, on to the planning and organization of the plot for Finally, The Story Can Be Told

Once I have a clean-draft, I’ll be wanting a few Beta-readers

Once I’ve published the new book, I’ll be getting back to more regular blogging—probably, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday…

To sweeten this post, let me offer some book recommendations from my favorite fiction author, C. J. Cherryh.
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Writing Advice — Beware!

Had to take another short break from my Sabbatical—my self-imposed absence from this blog to work on my next book… 

Aspiring Writers

Image Courtesy of Rae Grimm ~

As regular readers can tell, It’s hard for me to stay away for long :-)

But, I will finish the book and return to more regular blogging.

During the days I’m not here you can explore my 1,000+ posts—use the search box at the upper right or the Top Tags widget down a bit on the left

However, part of the short break I’m taking was checking out a book by my second-favorite fiction author (C. J. Cherryh is #1), John C. GardnerOn Writers and Writinga posthumous collection of ideas from his various essays and reviews.

I used the word “beware” in the title of this post because writing is such a fluid profession and has so many (nearly completely different) master writers—though, there are certain fundamental perspectives necessary to engage in  commendable writing—yet, each commendable writer has their own unique way of rendering those writerly perspectives

Here are a few from Mr. Gardner:

“The artist rolls the stone away—that is the narrator’s creative act—and man escapes from the Tombs.”

“…however useful relativism may be as a way of running daily life—keeping fascists out of power, keeping tea parties civilized—it has nothing to do with art. Relativism denies those finalities toward which man’s spirit has always groped.To admit that there are no finalities is to put the spirit out of business; to say that finalities are a matter of personal assertion is to make the spirit’s business insignificant.”

“…writers work out in words their intuitions— their private certainties—of how things are. Good writers have right and significant intuitions, and they present their intuitions intact by means of masterful technique. To deny the possibility of absolute intuition is either to scrap the art of fiction or to look patronizingly on the fool who works at it. Ultimately, the critic or publisher’s abnegation of the absolute turns weak but serious writers into hacks and promotes the publication of books by natural-born bus drivers.”

“Great writers deal with problems which confront a healthy, intelligent man, however grotesque the fictional representative; small writers deal with social or physiological traps.”

“Good writers do deal with trivial problems and trivial people. When they do, however, they recognize the triviality of their material and force the reader— perhaps for the first time—to recognize it…

“…entertainment requires cleverness, art richness.”

“…comic effect arises out the tendency of surface and symbolic levels to infect one another…”

“…high-falutin’ sentences designed to intensify everyday situations….By high-falutin’ I mean: ‘But it didn’t turn out that way. The vision that burned under the carbide lamps of the Carolina farmers as John Murdoch stood in their kitchens and talked of his church, his Mission, burned in the lamp of Destiny with a different blaze struck by another match.’”

The great artist, the ‘genius’, to use an old-fashioned word, is the man who sees more connections between things than an ordinary man can see and has, moreover, a peculiar and absolutely unerring feeling for his medium. ‘Style’ is as inadequate to describe this feeling for the writer’s medium as ‘church’ would be to describe a cathedral.”

The money a publisher makes on fashionable bad writers makes possible the publication of serious writers who eventually prove great. What is trouble-some is not so much the trash as the imitation serious fiction which obscures the real thing, the sickly stuff editors bloat to life-size in their helpful letters to reviewers, who frequently echo (perhaps in good faith) the grandiose phrases of the hint-sheets. I assume it’s not really a capitalist plot. Even to a city man I wouldn’t sell a dead hog and pretend it was only asleep for a minute, but perhaps editors don’t read the novels they print.”

What true fiction does is celebrate, not preach. Which is why it tells the truth. For example, it takes two sensible ideas—the idea that a man should be responsible and the idea that a man should be himself, free, not, as we say, uptight—and it embodies these awkwardly conflicting ideas in, say, two people whom it fully respects (or else finds equally absurd, like us) and it puts these two people in a place and watches them act. Not for the purpose of proving one of the people a fool or a devil out of hell but because it is the nature and moreover the joy of the novelist simply to watch important, familiar things from inside. Art clears the head of small opinions, not because everything is relative, in view of art, but because some things are beautiful and need to be affirmed.”

“What the greatest writers have understood, and not just fitfully, is that people are understandably what they are, better or worse, imperfect when measured against the ideal and therefore comic or tragic or both. They leave the righteous moralizing to critics. To put this another way, what the best fiction does is make powerful affirmations of familiar truths”.

The trivial fiction which time filters out is that which either makes wrong affirmations or else makes affirmations in a squeaky little voice. Powerful affirmation comes from strong intellect and strong emotion supported by adequate technique. Affirmation and righteousness are as far apart as love and hate or art and criticism.”

“Of the three great university doctrines at work in modern fiction, the least offensive is that a book is good or bad insofar as it is ‘well made’; the next in order is that fiction ought properly to teach right behavior, chastising sin; and the most offensive is that human beings are all mere clowns and tramps.”

“What makes most modern fiction a howling bore is the vast heart-warming goodness discovered in vipers and toads, and the mechanical whine of self-pity.”

“Sensation, especially genitourinary sensation, has replaced God, and with God dead the universe becomes absurd, so that holy lovers end up murdered in their already bloody bed.”

Really good fiction has a staying power that comes from its ability to jar, turn on, move the whole intellectual and emotional history of the reader. If the reader is a house, the really good book is a jubilant party that spreads through every room of it, or else a fire, not just a routine visit from the mailman. This is not simply a matter of controlled complexity, and it is certainly not solely a product of perfected craft.”

“…a book must be as wise as the reader is in his best moments, stripped of pettiness, prejudice, and obsession; it must urgently support the highest affirmations the reader is capable of making, penetrating—at least by implication—every nook and cranny of his moral experience; and finally it must have the weight of a reality which the reader, at least while he is reading, does not notice to be any less substantial than the world of fire engines, tables, and yellow house cats where he lives.”

The most powerful fiction is that which finds a way of expressing openly and without distortion or limpness of mind the highest human affirmations.”

The reason art exists at all is that some things cannot be demonstrated, can only be felt and celebrated.”

No amount of factual information, or technical ability, or skill at introducing people and places, or ear for rhetoric, or eye for the absurd, or head for wide philosophy can substitute for a truly good man’s sane and profound affirmation. But the affirmation gains immeasurably when all the rest is present.”

“The recent cult of style has the splendid effect of making novels more enjoyable, less sludgy; but the assertion that style is life’s only value—that style redeems life—is false both to life and to the novel.”

Whether you write about dragons or businessmen, it’s in the careful scrutiny of cleanly apprehended characters, their conflicts and ultimate escape from immaturity, that the novel makes up its solid truths, finds courage to defend the good and attack the simpleminded.”

The good reader never knows in advance what he wants from literature.”

Everything we write is an experiment. Only if the experiment fails do we call the work experimental.”

Fiction grounded on verisimilitude argues the reader into believing what he’s told by loading him down with facts he can’t get out of.”

“…good fiction, traditional or experimental, is fiction the experienced, intellectually and emotionally mature reader recognizes, immediately or eventually, as intelligent and tasteful. It does not bully the reader…”

“Good fiction, traditional or experimental, is emotionally honest.”

“A work of moral fiction is always vital, ‘open’, in that it probes and examines rather than conforms and proves. The distinction is, precisely, between stylized, even lovely, propaganda and aesthetic integrity, and the difference lies in method.”

“The ‘creative’ aspect, then, is not merely the province of the writer during the act of fictionalization, ‘closed’ when the text is completed to the author’s satisfaction, but, in a broader and real way, a participatory right of the reader in the act of discovery.”

“Any writer who’s worked in various forms can tell you from experience that it all feels like writing. Some people may feel that they’re ‘really’ writing when they work on their novels and just fooling around when they write bedtime stories for their children; but that can mean only one of two things, I think: either that the writer has a talent for writing novels and not much talent for writing children’s stories, or else that the writer is a self-important donzel who writes both miserable novels and miserable children’s stories.”

The true writer’s mind is not a jungle but a noble democracy, in which all parties have their say, even the crazy ones, even the most violently passionate, because otherwise justice, balance, sanity are impossible.”

If one looks at the first drafts of even the greatest writers, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, one sees that literary art does not come flying like Athena, fully formed, from Zeus’s head. Indeed, the first-draft stupidity of great writers is a shocking and comforting thing to see. What one learns from studying successive drafts is that the writer did not know what he meant to say until he said it. A typo of ‘murder’ for ‘mirror’ can change the whole plot of a novel.”

“As everyone knows, the origins of words don’t prove much; but it seems true that we still use fiction in the original sense, not to describe some noble old lie which can be told, with no great loss, in a variety of ways, but to describe a specific kind of made-up story, a story we think valuable precisely because of the way it’s shaped.”

“What writers do, if they haven’t been misled by false canons of taste or some character defect, is try to make up an interesting story and tell it in an authentically interesting way—that is, some way that, however often we may read it, does not turn out to be boring.”

The odds against a writer’s achieving a real work of art are astronomical.”

“Every good writer is many things—a symbolist, a careful student of character, a person of strong opinions, a lover of pure tale or adventure.”

“A true work of fiction is a wonderfully simple thing—so simple that most so-called serious writers avoid trying it, feeling they ought to do something more important and ingenious, never guessing how incredibly difficult it is. A true work of fiction does all of the following things, and does them elegantly, efficiently: it creates a vivid and continuous dream in the reader’s mind; it is implicitly philosophical; it fulfills or at least deals with all of the expectations it sets up; and it strikes us, in the end, not simply as a thing done but as a shining performance.”
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