Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

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Writing Wednesday 83 Book Talk: The Liveship Traders

In fantasy, as in many other genres, there are a lot more people who think they can write a novel than people who actually can. I love reading fantasy but I don’t think I’m one of those who can write it — at least, not at this stage in my career. Maybe someday. In this video I talk about the work of Robin Hobb, one of my two favourite fantasy authors, and I tell you the one thing that I believe you need in order to write a great fantasy novel.

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August 11


My mom, Joan “Sue” (Ellis) Morgan, would have been 80 years old today. It never occurred to me that she would not live to be 80, and it seems trite to say I miss her every day, because I miss her several times every day.

I wish she had seen her 80th birthday but, as I see others of her generation growing older and hear about what friends experience with their aging parents, I’m well aware I would only wish that for her if she could have reached eighty years in good health and full independence.

In the “small mercies” category I will always be grateful that my mom remained fully herself and engaged with her life almost to the very moment of her death. In the “large blessings” category I am grateful for the 78 years of life she lived, the people she touched, and the unconditional love she always showed me.




A Facebook friend shared this on her wall the other day, and I find in looking around the web that it’s a favourite quote by that crusty old atheist Bertrand Russell (although it’s possible that the more accurate form of the quote is: “The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Same concept, anyway).

I’ve thought a lot about faith and doubt, certainty and uncertainty, lately. Mostly because of the crisis in Gaza, and the way my Facebook feed is flooded with posts by people who seem to know exactly who is to blame and exactly what they’re doing wrong. Judging by social media, about half my friends are convinced that the state of Israel is the evil empire harrassing innocent Palestinian civilians, while the other half is convinced that Hamas are murdering terrorists who will wipe Israel off the map given a chance.

And I just think, it’s awful. It’s so awful. I’m moved by the images of suffering in Gaza, and I hate even thinking about the whole Israel/Palestine situation — as I tell my students when we take a day or two to briefly glance at the topic in our overview of 20th century history, this is going to be the most depressing day of the whole course, because it’s an intractable problem that produces lots of violence and has no easy solutions.

But what I can’t get over is how sure people are, and how hard it is for me to grasp that kind of certainty. Is Israel doing terrible things in the occupied territories and violating the human rights of the Palenstinian people? Without doubt, it is. Would Hamas terrorists try to destroy Israel if the harsh Israeli rule was lifted? Almost certainly, yes. Are there legitimate claims and grievances on both sides? Yes. Has great evil been done by people on both sides? Absolutely.

And then I think (because I can’t think about Gaza too long and keep going on with my everyday life), I’m just this way about everything. I find it so hard to be sure of anything, and I can’t understand why people around me seem to find it so easy to take sides. Even something like abortion — my pro-life and my pro-choice friends are both so effortlessly certain that they’re right and I can’t even imagine having that kind of certainty about an issue where it seems so clear to me that both sides are absolutely right, and completely incompatible.

I’ve written in the past about doubt and the role that it plays in my spiritual life, how I’ve tried to become comfortable with not having all the answers and not knowing everything. Yet as I get older I feel less and less certain about everything — not just my faith but all these hot-topic issues that other people find it so easy to take sides on. I’d like to take solace in that Bertrand Russell quote and believe that I’m unsure of things because I’m so wise, but the fact is, many of the people I know who are absolutely certain about something are not fools. They’re pretty smart people, often much smarter and better-informed than I am. The problem is, equally smart people come down on the opposite side of the same question, leaving me no better off than before.

So I don’t think I’m wise exactly … I just think maybe there are certain types of brains that are more shaped for seeing all sides of an issue, and I have one of those, and it makes it hard to choose a definite side. And there are positive aspects to this, like empathy and, hopefully, being willing to listen and learn, as well as negative sides, like being wishy-washy and unsure sometimes.

I feel like this uncertainty is deepening with age — that as I approach age 50 I may be losing the ability to see in black and white at all, and viewing the world as an ever-shifting palette in infinite shades of grey.

Approaching 50 … shades of grey …

Fifty Shades of Grey is a terrible, terrible book and it will be a terrible movie. I utterly loathe this horrific waste of paper and pixels, and denounce it as a Christian, as a feminist, and, most importantly as a writer and a lover of literature.

What a relief! Apparently there are still a few things I can be certain about!!


Also, I don’t think video actually killed the radio star

eleanorparkfanartThe image that accompanies this blog post is from a special edition of the young-adult novel Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, which I picked up in the bookstore the other day. What makes this painting, “The Kiss,” special? It’s fan art — one of thousands of images created and shared online by a fan who loved the book, in this case an illustrator named Simini Blocker. A handful of these have been selected to appear in the endpapers of the new special edition of this wildly popular young adult novel.

I’m on record as having enjoyed both Eleanor and Park and the other Rainbow Rowell novel I’ve read, Fangirl. But as much as I’ve enjoyed the novels, I’ve enjoyed Rainbow Rowell’s Tumblr just as much — not only for her Benedict Cumberbatch obsession, but for the generous and delighted way she shares the creative work than fans have come up with to celebrate her art. Including fan art in the new edition of the novel furthers the sense that the life of a novel continues outside and beyond the words the author put onto the page, into the creative work that readers spin out of it.

This is not a new phenomenon, of course — people have always responded creatively to works of art they love. But the internet age has made it possible for ordinary readers, not just professional artists, to share their fanfic, their fan art, their celebration of creativity, both with other fans and with the original creators. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. While not every book may inspire the kind of fan-art that a young-adult novel like Eleanor and Park does, while not every reader responds with visual art, while not every writer shares Rainbow Rowell’s eager willingness to enjoy and re-share the work that her readers have made … well, enough do to make me certain that we’re living in a very exciting time for books and readers.

We hear the opposite often enough. We hear that we’re living in the era of the death of books, the death of bookstores, the death of publishing, the death of reading. That the internet and e-books and self-publishing and the 140-character Twitterverse are sounding the death knell for the world that we readers and writers know and love.

Is that world changing? Changing too fast, sometimes, for us traditionalists to keep up? You bet your sweet bippy it is. Traditional publishers are struggling to keep their financial heads above water and taking fewer risks on new writers as a result. Bricks-and-mortar bookstores are closing, and people like me lament their loss while buying 90% of the books I read in digital format. People are reading different things, in different ways, than they have traditionally read, and writers and publishers and booksellers are scrambling to adjust. There have been, and will be, losses. Transitions are hard, and painful.

But. BUT.

People love stories. People will never ever stop loving stories. We are a storytelling, story-consuming species — in fact, that might be the very thing that makes us human. 

Bookstore chains may go bankrupt. Publishers may merge and/or die. New writers may struggle to find readers. And yes, these are bad things, hard things, things that have to be navigated before new paths can be found.

But through it all, people will keep writing and telling and seeking out and reading and sharing stories. We will never stop doing this. We can’t stop.

And the very same technologies that threaten our old methods and patterns of telling and sharing stories, also make new methods available. And that is exciting. The losses are real but so are the gains.

In the pre-internet age, a beautiful, thoughtful, romantic story like Eleanor and Park would still have been published, still have found young-adult readers to fall in love with it. Some of those readers might still have drawn and painted pictures of the characters, made posters of their favourite quotes from the book. But they wouldn’t have shared them on Tumblr. They wouldn’t have shown them to the book’s writer (well, a few might have sent them to her by mail, but on the whole, not that many), and a generous and engaged writer wouldn’t have re-shared them with her other fans. The fact that a book is a collaboration between the writer and the reader, while always true, has never been as apparent, as open and celebrated, as it is in the internet age.

A project like the fan-art-decorated special edition of Eleanor and Park would not have happened in the pre-Internet era. And without downplaying any of the challenges this new age poses for books and the people who love them … I have to say this is a wonderful thing. A wonderful time to be a reader, and a writer.

And if anyone ever wants to make fan art based on one of my books, I’d be delighted. 


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