Friday, January 27, 2012

Letter Writing Month

In February I will be participating in the Letter Writing Challenge issued by Mary Robinette Kowal. I find myself quite drawn to this idea, even more so than to NaNoWriMo. I did NaNo a few years ago, just that one time. It was a very important moment for me, finishing that NaNo Novel (which reads EXACTLY like it was written in a month). In fact it was exactly what I needed at the time, and would not have progressed as a writer without it. But I’ve never done it again.

I think of the Letter Writing a little bit differently. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve written letters to people, and the reaction is often one of surprise. One friend asked me if I was dying. (I was not). I like knowing I’m not the only one in on it this time.

I am also open to receiving letters as well. If you know me personally, just send it to my home address. But if you are a Letter Writing Stranger, I’d still like to hear from you. You can write me at:
Amy Eller Lewis
c/o The Providence Athenaeum
251 Benefit Street
Providence, RI 02903
Also, if you’d like to hear from me over the Letter Writing Month, leave me your address in the comments, or, if you’re not comfortable with that, email me at: and I’ll put you on the list.
When I did NaNo, I knew exactly what the end of it would bring. There were only a few choices as to how it could end. But the Letter Writing Challenge….I have no idea what this will bring. I’ve romanticized it in my mind, as I do everything, and it’s gotten all tangled up with cups of Earl Grey Tea and a rain streaked window. Come add your name to the list!
Well, I'm off to the Post Office for stamps.

Friday, January 6, 2012

On Fandom, Aging and Stephen Fry

Last year I met Stephen Fry in Boston when he came to receive the Humanist of the Year Award. Now that makes it sound like Mr. Fry and I had plans, to say, meet up at Burdick’s for hot chocolate then maybe walk to the bookstore before his reading. Sadly, this was not the case.  Even more sadly, I was strangely disappointed that this was not the case. And while a good time was, indeed, had by all, I was left that evening with a sense, not only of disappointment, but also…embarrassment.  I’ll try to explain. I think I’ll need to use what they used to call an Illustrative Example.

At the end of his talk, Mr. Fry generously offered to take questions. The first questions, of course, were from the students who were part of the organizing body – the Humanists or the Secularists or something. So they got up, one by one, with these carefully constructed, Ivy League style questions –which didn’t seem to be questions at all, but instead tiny monologues, making themselves look witty or smart or informed. (And much of it seemed to be about how Humanists were so much smarter than those morons who still believe in God. Peasants. But I digress.)

 After the Humanist/Secular students gave their questions, they offered to the rest of us to line up to ask a question.

I rose. As did a dozen other people. And they RAN. And elbowed and shoved their way to the front of the line. Because, Readers, I am far too dignified to RUN or SHOVE, certainly not in the presence of Stephen Fry, I did not get to ask him my short answer question, the one I would like to ask of every celebrity: What are you reading right now? A proper question. One that could be answered.

After this we lined up to have “One Item Only” signed, “We’ve got a lot of people here, so keep it moving”. There were two young women in front me, maybe 18 or 19 years old,  dazed and giddy at the prospect of meeting him, practicing what they were going to say, practicing their photo shot. And what I wanted to say to them (but did not say) is this: Girls, he’s Stephen Fry. There is nothing that you or I or anyone else here can say that will actually impress him. He’s been ‘on’ for hours, the line to get your book signed was all the way out the chapel. The best we can do is to make this fast and painless, so the poor man can get back to his hotel.

There is something intoxicating about the fandom of the young and something ugly about that same fandom as it ages. Young fandom is seductive: it means that you’re interested in a lot of different things; it means that you’re looking up to those who’ve come before you to try to give your life shape at this early stage. There’s something attractive about the energy and earnestness that comes along with it, which can make even the most exhausted celebrity, possibly look up and feel good and think, “Oh aren’t they sweet?”

This is different when you are almost 40.  There’s something about being at the wrong end of the spectrum that I am still trying to figure out.  Perhaps we’re supposed to give up fandom as we age. Perhaps fandom is supposed to turn into something else. Perhaps, at almost 40 years old, my disappointment – as ridiculous as this may sound – was that I was, in fact still a fan and not a colleague.  Now of course, I’m not going to be colleagues with Stephen Fry. He is very clever and very famous and besides he is in, as he likes to call it, “This business we call ‘Show’”. Which in many ways makes him a species (or at the very least a breed) apart.

It felt like…well, that maybe I was supposed to be the one with the fans this time around. This brought to the bear all sorts of questions I have about success and failure, and where I am in my life, questions that have nothing to do whatsoever with those sweet, lovely girls in line in front of me, or with Mr. Fry.

I am, still, a fan of things in general. I’m a fan of Dr. Who (ask anyone). But I’m not really all that interested in meeting David Tennant. I’m sure he’s a lovely man, and he’s a great performer, but who I really want to meet is The Doctor. I’m a fan of certain writers and musicians, like Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Caitlin Kiernan, Will Wheaton. And while I would love to meet them, my fantasy is not that I get an autograph or my picture taken. The fantasy is the Will Wheaton and I play D&D, Amanda Palmer and I play ukulele together, Neil Gaiman and I collaborate on a project. The fantasy is that we are colleagues, equals. And the reality is, that is Just Not So. Oh, in the Humanistic sense, yes, of course. I don’t think that Neil Gaiman is “better than I am” or any such nonsense, but we are not on the same playing field. Let’s be frank.

I will continue to be a Fan of Things, simply because I cannot manage to actually quell my enthusiasm. And it was a strange feeling, and not altogether pleasant.

And I still want to know what Stephen Fry is reading.

But then again, I want to know what everyone is reading.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot....

My Notable Reads for 2011

I’ve read some awful reviews lately. Mean spirited, vitriolic and sometimes just ignorant to the point of ugliness (“There should be a warning that there are girls kissing each other in this book! Gross!” “Too many F-bombs!”) I’m not saying that you have to like everything you read. I don’t, certainly. But I don’t understand why someone would take the time to write a review of something they hated. If you hated it, just shut the book and move on. I always thought that reviews existed to help readers make better, more informed decisions. These hateful reviews tell me more about YOU than they do about any book you could possibly talk about.

With that in mind, I’ve put my Para-Librarian/Reader’s Services skills to work, and present to you my Notable Reads from 2011
(Nota Bene: These are my favorite books I READ in 2011, not necessarily books PUBLISHED in 2011)

WHEN SHE WOKE by Hilary Jordan

Not today, I thought. I’m just not up for a dystopian re-telling of The Scarlet Letter in a dystopic Near-Future Religious-State America…Maybe later. Three hours later I had not moved from my chair.  Urgent, poetic, terrifying and strangely…optimistic.

TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan

A brutal opium-dream of a tale. The bones of this book lay in the story Snow White and Rose Red, but Lanagan has created a world beyond that story, and created a new language for talking about choices and survival, what it means to dream, and what it means to face the world.

Valente has done something impossible, preposterous. She has created a truly original fairy tale of her own – one that still retains the teeth and claws and wondrous brightness of Grimm tales, yet emerges as wholly unique, a world to itself. I recommend reading it one chapter at a time, at bedtime, so as to savor it more fully.


I thought about these books long after they were finished. These are the kind of books that make me want to avoid telling anyone its premise. Because the premise is so much SMALLER than the book, and gives very little clue as to the books’ various powers. It is true that I enjoyed THE MAGICIAN KING more than THE MAGICIANS, I think that’s only because I’m more interested in stories like Julia’s than in stories like Quentin’s.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern

My experience reading this book was so intense I had to take a couple of days off. This is the circus I wish I could attend. This is the way magic works in my imagination. This is the story I wish I would have told. Let the book build gradually around you, let yourself become grounded in its reality. Let it misbehave. And do not miss it.


This book jumped up and down on almost every single button I have. 19th Century Brothels! Puppets! Dirty Puppets! Intrigue! Thwarted Love! Koja has achieved something remarkable with this book, something dark and erotic with a strange quiet at its center, not unlike the quiet that precedes a bombing.

IRON THORN by Caitlin Kittredge

The city of Lovecraft whirrs on under the shadow of the Protectors and in the wake of the Necrovirus plague, leaving a trail of madness in its wake. Aoife (say: Ee-Fah) is assured that she, too will go mad when the virus activates in her at age 16. She turns 16 in a few weeks. The narrative moves forward with the urgency of a thriller, but also with a kind of tenderness. Kittredge makes space for the weird and wonderful. I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel.

THE WINTER SEA by Susanna Kearsley

I waited months…LITERALLY months for my turn to come up at the library for this one. And after so long a wait, it is very easy for me to be disappointed. I was not. And while Jacobite Scotland is not something I know anything about, Kearsley was able to bring me up to speed without overloading me with infodump. She moves deftly between the modern story of a historical romance novelist researching her book in Scotland, and story of romance and intrigue that took place in the very same spot in the 18th century. Swift and compelling, and reminded me that my heartstrings CAN be pulled in a romance novel. But only if, as here, the characters are real and believable, with real and believable feelings.

SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinette Kowal

In Kowal’s Regency Period England, ladies of a certain standing learn certain accomplishments: playing the piano forte, French, water colours … and Glamour. Glamour that can make those waves you just painted move, that can make your nose smaller, your hair brighter. It is about a family with two marriageable daughters: One who is very pretty. And one who is very good at Glamour. I like fantasy like this that can create stakes that, while high and dramatic, don’t have anything to do with a chosen one saving the world. And besides, this is Regency England. Who are you to say where her world ends?

I read a great many Themed Anthologies, and this one stood out against many of the excellent ones I read this year. Not only were the stories of a consistently high level, I liked that each writer had a slightly different interpretation of “Steampunk” and “Supernatural”, so the stories crossed a broad and intriguing range. Highlights included “Christopher Raven” by Theodora Goss, Peter Beagle’s “Music, When the Soft Voices Die”, “The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn’s Balloons” by John Langan, and “The Proving of Smollett Stanforth” by Margo Lanagan. This anthology, by the way, was how I found TENDER MORSELS (earlier in this list) and how I found Theodora Goss’s THE THORN AND BLOSSOM (one of my most anticipated books of 2012).