I know and love both of these women, which is why this post is today’s. The last few days have been quiet and frantic and what has got me through them is what often does: female friends and community. It’s a common factor that (until recently) was not seen as a critical part of historical cultures. Yet the shape of the friendships of women and the networks of women can determine the future of a society when it’s stressed. Irene Radford’s choice of subject illuminates this through the life of one woman, as well as reminding us that so many of humanity’s most interesting and important complexities are in the lives of people who are historically not always seen. I’ve written about this and spoken about this and, when I read this piece it struck me as gently ironic that my friends’ lives can illustrate it.
We’re changing the way we document people’s lives and the way we interpret them, but we need to remember that invisibility never implies unimportance and that communities matter whether they’re recorded or not. What Alma does with her fiction is remind us of this. She’s fought not only for her own visibility, but to change the way we read the stories of women. her fiction gives us that gift. Thank you, Irene, for letting us know and reminding us that just because a writer isn’t in the current spotlight doesn’t mean we should ignore her work.
For Women’s History Month, I have chosen to write about a modern woman who I feel is making history in the stories she writes by granting us the privilege of looking at our world sideways.
How do I describe a woman whose command of the English language is better than mine and it’s her second language? A woman whose stories are beautifully crafted and speak to me as if she whispered them directly into my dreams?
Color me green with envy. At the same time I love her like an older sister, but she’s ten years younger than me. She can be fierce and determined. Her heritage from Central European royalty gives her the demeanor of an offended duchess. We have a phrase in the Science Fiction Convention world of the Pacific North West, “The Duchess is not amused.” We all know that something has gone terribly wrong. These episodes often follow bouts of extreme vulnerability.
But through it all she observes the world keen eyes and empathy while calculating how she can turn it all into a story that will teach us about the impact of our own actions.
Her biography explains a lot of it.
Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist, and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website, her Facebook page, on Twitter or at her Patreon page.
I first encountered Alma’s work at a World Fantasy Convention. I had just lost my mother and her husband was in early recovery from a stroke. Hard times for both of us. We bonded on the shuttle from the airport to the convention hotel. I bought The Secrets of Jin-shei in the dealer’s room and read it on the plane home, quite a feat for a slow reader with ADD. If you’ve read this landmark book (billed as YA fantasy but so much more) you’ll understand why Alma is my Jin-shei sister.
Since then we’ve gone on to beta read and edit each other’s books. I find a depth in her work as she examines life through her characters from a far different perspective from my own. Part of it is her Central European family culture. Her history classes dwelt on Justinian and Theodosia where mine concentrated on King John and the Magna Carta. Both stories are important. But we tend to look sideways at the ones we came to later in life than grade school.
And then there is Letters From The Fire. a heart breaking love story. This book started when the UN bombed Alma’s homeland to punish their leader for “War Crimes,” never taking into account the innocent lives brutally taken while their leader hid in a bomb shelter. Alma was living in New Zealand at the time and went weeks without hearing from beloved family members. She poured out her rage and anxiety in a chat room in the early days of the internet to the man she eventually married. This book evolved out of their correspondence. It continues to haunt me and gives me a new perspective in looking at her other work. There are at least two sides to every story, more often three or four. And they are all valid.
Because her natal country of Yugoslavia no longer exists on maps, but lives in the hearts and culture of its former citizens, she can empathize with refugees in many ways that most Americans can’t. Until hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, mainstream citizens of the USA had never been involved or witnessed their own people traumatized by catastrophe that led to homelessness and seeking shelter elsewhere. I was very proud to have a story included in her anthology Children of a Different Sky. A percentage of the profits go to refugee organizations. The stories are luminescent and opened for me a whole new way of looking at our world.
From pseudo Chinese royalty mixing with peasants and breaking many other rules, to shape changers, to epic historical fantasy, and heart wrenching contemporary fantasy, I find myself rethinking reality with each new book. And isn’t that what literature is all about?