Friday, February 16, 2018

A Hero's Journey - Ursula Le Guin

 “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.” - Ursula K. Le Guin. Image by David Lupton. 
On January 22, Ursula K Le Guin passed away. It felt to me like the library at Alexandria burned to the ground. The only thing that helps is knowing I can read and reread her books for the rest of my life.  She has taken so many of us on a hero's journey, and lived her life as nothing less.

Photo by Eileen Gunn

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel... is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin inspired millions of readers and writers, not only with her magical storytelling but her 'revolutionary' ideas. She blasted through genre and gender biases at a time when few women wrote speculative fiction (save under a nom de plume) and speculative fiction was not considered remotely worthy of literary recognition. Le Guin, with a handful of other writers, changed all that.

"There are very real differences between science fiction and realistic fiction, between horror and fantasy, between romance and mystery. Differences in writing them, in reading them, in criticizing them. Vive les différences! They’re what gives each genre its singular flavor and savor, its particular interest for the reader — and the writer.

But when the characteristics of a genre are controlled, systematized, and insisted upon by publishers, or editors, or critics, they become limitations rather than possibilities. Salability, repeatability, expectability replace quality. A literary form degenerates into a formula. Hack writers get into the baloney factory production line, Hollywood devours and regurgitates the baloney, and the genre soon is judged by its lowest common denominator…. And we have the situation as it was from the 1940’s to the turn of the century: “genre” used not as a useful descriptor, but as a negative judgment, a dismissal." - Ursala Le Guin in conversation with Michael Cunningham

"I felt obliged for so many years to protest, to rant about those distinctions — genuine and useful ones — being misused as value-judgments. Now the judgmentalism is dropping out of them, and that’s great. I don’t have to worry, I don’t have to rant. Whew!"

When I first read the Earthsea books as a child, my eyes opened to new possibilities, a future where I could aspire to write. Living that future now is a privilege I wouldn't be experiencing without Ursula Le Guin and other authors who helped along the way.

She set so many examples. One was for dealing with rejections - how not to give up. Her words and advice kept me from crumpling at those first checks. You can read a rejection letter she received from an unnamed publisher for her submission of The Left Hand of Darkness. Enlightening!

“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness 

Who remembers the wonderful film, The Jane Austen book club? The character Grigg, played by Hugh Dancy, is open to reading Austen. He doesn't care if it's a 'girly' genre or old. He's interested. Curious. But when he tries to share his love for SF and Fantasy with Jocelyn, Maria Bello's character, she scoffs at him, even though she'd never read any herself. He asks if she's heard of Ursula Le Guin. "What a wonderful writer she is," he says. Eventually, Jocelyn tries out this genre author and falls in love... with both Grigg and Le Guin!

Maria Bello and Hugh Dancy in The Jane Austen Book Club
The year the film came out, 2007, Powers was published, a young adult novel that follows the adventures of a runaway slave with amazing powers of memory. The book won Le Guin her sixth Nebula award for best novel. She was shortlisted with Terry Pratchett for Making Money, Cory Doctorow for Little Brother and Ian McDonald for Brasyl. You can read more about her achievements here.

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk's flight
On the empty sky.
—The Creation of Éa” ― Ursula K. Le Guin

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness 

Read more on Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929 – 2018 at Helen Lowe's Blog, and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Journey well, Ursula Ursula Kroeber Le Guin.

Kim Falconer's latest release comes out in 2018 The Bone Throwers, book one in the Amassia series, writing as A K Wilder. Find her new page on Facebook - AKWilder Author and on Twitter as AKWilder.

Her latest novel is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel.

Learn more about Kim on Facebook and chat with her on Twitter. Check out her pen name, @a.k.wilder on Instagram, or visitAKWilder on FB and website.

Kim also runs where she teaches the law of attraction and astrology. 

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month, hosts Save the Day Writer's Community on FB and posts a daily astrology weather report on Facebook. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Back in the Saddle Oxfords again

2018- Year of the New

So January was an interesting mix of aspirations and whirlwinds. I am very glad that all I committed to on this hashtag driven year was to read a book. #2018YOTN

Elizabeth Gilbert's BIG MAGIC was a great way to start off the year. A major take away for me was that I was the only person who could give myself a hall pass to be creative. I didn't need to wait, waving my hand frantically in the back row for some supposedly older-wiser-cardigan-wearing person to give me permission to do what I need to do. I can just do it.

If you are a creative person and want to see your greatest fears written down into a book so that you can burn them in effigy later, I do recommend page 13-15. Gilbert NAILED every single fearful thought I have ever had in my writing career. Every person has them. The successful acknowledge them, take them by the hand even, and move on. Its called Bravery.

Though there are some ideas in the book that didn't really jive with my current schema of thinking (the importance of art, how ideas find us), the one that really did was her notion of originality vs authenticity. As a person who writes in a genre where everything that can happen has happened, I struggled with the notion of "This has already been done." But Gilbert stresses that you must "say what you want to say, and say it will all your heart" and that is the authenticity that people will respond to.

The best line is the last- "The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes."

I mentioned in my last post that I felt like I needed to shake the dust off, go outside and clear the erasers of my brain to get 2018 all started again. Well, Gilbert's book helped me define a few more things that I'm going to try this year (one month at a time to see what sticks):
1. Dressing My Truth (getting all dressed up to seduce your muse)
2. Making dedicated time for writing (#5amwriteclub here I come to have an affair with my muse)
3. Keep learning (to have something to talk to you muse about?)

For February, I signed up for on on-line class entitled Write Better, Faster, part of the Lawson Writer's Academy. I had the pleasure of seeing Margie Lawson speak at a conference and I still carry around everything she said in that one hour lecture, so I went back to her for something new to carry with me. I will report back next month and let you know if I was an A student, or if I was in the back of the class snickering with my friends.

Carry on, dear readers!

Amanda Arista

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Those Good Ole Romantic Movies...

I'm sure it was last year when I said that romance was part of what made the world go around and there's nothing quite like a romantic movie to make it spin a little faster.

Asked for a list of some of my "all time" favorites, here's what I came up with:

Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet may not be the original "star-crossed" lovers, but they're certainly among the most famous. And Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film (with a very young Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting) captures their magic – although Baz Luhrman's 1996 version with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio also has its charms. If you like your love star-crossed, either of these movies is for you. 

Strictly Ballroom

Speaking of Baz Luhrman, his 1992 film about ballroom dancing definitely strikes a romantic chord with a basic Cinderella theme. It's a lot of laughs but with just enough pathos that you'll whisk away a tear or three...And there's dancing!

Out Of Africa

Taking a quickstep back to 1985 for the movie, and the early part of the 20th century for the true story, the love affair of the movie is equally between Karen Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton, and Karen and Africa. Wonderful cinematography and music, as well as performances by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

The English Patient

Still set in Africa, but this time during WWII, the film encompasses two love stories: that of Count Laslo De Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) and Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), who meet in Egypt prior to the war; and a Canadian nurse, Hana (Juliet Binoche) and Indian bomb disposal expert, Kip (Naveen Andrews), during the course of the war. It's a tremendously romantic story juxtaposed with marvelous shots of the Egyptian desert and the doom of impending war.

Sliding Doors

This is a little sweetheart of a "parallel lives" romance – and with Gwyneth Paltrow and Scottish actor, John Hannah, in the lead roles you won't be disappointed. The Monty Python quip that "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition" also stars. A little bit of sad, a little bit of sunshine, and a lot to like. 


The French romantic comedy, Amelie, is quirky, offbeat, and frequently hilarious, yet at the same time manages to make your heart beat faster for the out-of-step Amelie and her equally reclusive love. With Paris as a backdrop, you'll enjoy the scenery as well as the romance.

A Knight's Tale

So hard to come to terms with the fact that it's a decade since Heath Ledger left us – and although others may laud The Patriot or The Dark Knight Returns, this lively and ridiculous medieval romp (with a smoldering Rufus Sewell as the evile contender for the heroine's hand) will always be my light-hearted favorite.

Pretty Woman 

Definitely a Cinderella story (with King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid looking in), but what a Cinderella story with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in the principal roles. And then there's that famous scene where he gives her his credit card – it's gotta be love, right?!

Ever After

This movie is not just a "Cinderella-type" story, it's an official Cinderella retelling with Drew Barrymore as a Renaissance-woman version of the heroine, who manages to both save the prince and herself, while still hitting all the classic notes of the story. It's also a lot of fun  – and you can't ask more than that from a romantic movie .

A Little Chaos 

Competitive landscape gardening in the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King, may not sound like the stuff of romance but Kate Winslet (Sabine De Barra) and Matthias Schoenaerts (André Le Nôtre) manage to pull it off, with a story based around the establishment of the gardens at Versailles with all its attendant professional jealousies and the caprice of the King. A gentle story but a worthwhile watch.

Of course, even with ten movies featured here I had to leave a lot of great films out! But how about you, what's your all-time favorite romantic movie? Let me know via the comments. :-)


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is her most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The End is Near

Happy New Year! In my first post of 2018 I'm writing about endings. Crazy, I know, but what can I do? Endings are important to a writer, and not just to nail the book. It's also thrilling to come to that last scene, in the last chapter and say, Done.

Do we Judge Books by their Endings?

After 400 pages of story, you'd think readers would consider the whole experience, but no. They walk away from the book, TV series, play or movie, thinking of how it ended. They might be left pondering, cheering, crying or disappointed, but The End is what sticks.

For an author, a good ending means readers feel satisfied, even if profoundly sad or disturbed. They talk about the book, passing on its greatness by word of mouth. A bad ending is one where readers feel cheated, let down or worse, unmoved. They don't talk about the book or lend it to a friend. They throw it at the wall, eventually picking it up and putting it in the trash.

What Makes a Good Ending?

Feelings. Emotions. Whether comedic, tragic or fantastic, the ending needs to make readers feel deeply. It can come out of left field at the time, but there has to be, on reflection, a sense of logic, of possibility. Good authors will seed the ending in ways readers won't see it coming but later they find the rationale.

There are many types of endings and some of them are tethered to a genre. Romance novels, paranormal or otherwise, have an HEA (happy ever after). Trillers require an unsettling twist (Gone Girl). Fantasy may end with everyone receives a medal (Star Wars) or with the goal reached, but with varying degrees of fallout (LOTR).

YA Lit is changing but in the past 'happy and optimistic' endings were considered the norm. Yet, the most important ingredient in a good ending is its honesty. It may come as a shock, but it needs to ring true to the story. I remember being disturbed by the ending in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I didn't like it, but it felt right. See below for changing perspectives in children's literature.

The fact that texts for children express hope, and therefore typically have happy endings, raises a question about their accuracy and honesty. - Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer‘s The Pleasures of Children’s Literature,

An Eclectic Group of Endings that Work for me

Some endings summerize; others shock. Some come full circle. Some hang us off a cliff until the next in the series; others leave us guessing. Here's a mix of some of my favorites.

"Then she bade the white horse take her through the door, leaving the snow to close in behind them and winter to obliterate any trace of her passing. - The Heir of Night, Helen Lowe

"Later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake." - Dracula, Bram Stoker

"The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well." - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

"He was soon borne away 
by the waves and lost in darkness and distance." - Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

"Are there any questions?" - The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

"She looked down and for an instant it seemed she held a ragged teddy, torn and chewed with one button eye missing, but when she blinked she saw it was only Teg’s fingers laced in her own." - Journey by NightKim Falconer

"She opened the door wide and let him into her life again." - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson

She closes her eyes again and I begin to sing softly:
'''V'la l'bon vent, v'la l'joli vent
V'la l'bon vent, ma mie m'appelle.'''
Hoping that this time it will remain a lullaby. That this time the wind will not hear. That this time - please just this once - it will leave without us." - Chocolat, Joanne Harris

"And then we continued blissfully into this small but perfect piece of our forever." - Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

"When they finally did dare it, at first with stolen glances then candid ones, they had to smile. They were uncommonly proud. For the first time they had done something out of Love." - Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Patrick Süskind

"Hector turns and sees me and the world around us disappears. - The November Girl, Lydia Kang

How about you? I'd love to hear your most liked, or disliked, endings.


Kim Falconer's latest release comes out in 2018 The Bone Throwers, book one in the Amassia series, writing as A K Wilder. Find her new page on Facebook - AKWilder Author and on Twitter as AKWilder.

Her latest novel is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel.

Learn more about Kim on Facebook and chat with her on Twitter. Check out her pen name, @a.k.wilder on Instagram, or visitAKWilder on FB and website.

Kim also runs where she teaches the law of attraction and astrology. 

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month, hosts Save the Day Writer's Community on FB and posts a daily astrology weather report on Facebook. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018: Year of the New

2018: Year of the New

I feel dusty. I feel like a dried up and crackled leaf on the wind that had been tossed this way and that for far too long. Like a doll that has been left on a shelf to watch everything happen through glass eyes. I feel like I've been holed up in my writer cave for too long and my back aches and fingers are curled and I need to shake the cobwebs off.

In thinking of Helen Lowe's last post of magic and possibilities, 2018 for me will be the year of the NEW. I feel like I haven't been writing enough or creating enough or saying enough with my work and that is just going to stop now.

Last year, I focused on the works of art, movies, the stories that I carry with me into the future. The works that have shaped the way that I write and process the world.

This year, I'd like to focus on possibly adding to that repertoire, changing my canon to help with this shake up. I just want to try something new: new books, new movies, new 5 am writing practices, journaling upside down while hanging by your toes. Like the Fool, I'm ready for an adventure!

So you, my dear readers will be along with me on my quest to become a new Writer, Creator, Human. And maybe through my foibles and follies, you can laugh along with me and add to your own treasure box of things that help you.

So for January 2018, I'm starting small. I'm going to read a book that has been recommended to me by several creative people that I admire.
BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert. Perhaps this supernatural girl is really just drawn to the title, but for the next month, I'm going to be reading about "balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism," according to Amazon. I'm not usually a self-help sort of person, so this is really new for me. 

If you'd like to hear my thoughts throughout the month, I'll probably be tweeting over at @Pantherista with my progress, thoughts on the book, and maybe even the verdict on how the change is coming along.  Look for #2018YOTN.

Oh, and if you have a practice or book or movie or anything that you think I should add to my journey, please let me know!!!

Thank you so much for being a part of this journey!

Amanda Arista
Author, Diaries of an Urban Panther series