Portal fantasy I read somewhat less long ago

You may have noticed that a lot of the books I’m writing about were not published when I was a young adult (I’m not that old!) but I was reading things I found in the library, which was not bad but had more old books than new (except in romance and mystery), or in the attic of my house. Hence the rather eclectic list.

The Gate of Ivrel by CJ Cherryh. This is one of the few books I’m going to mention that I will still champion. (I’m not sharing that terrible 70s cover though, lots of naked muscles on everyone.) Cherryh is an amazing writer and her books stand up to the test of time. I had never read someone like Morgaine and Vanye, or a story told from the point of view of someone from a society that didn’t have as much technology as the other’s. You might be protesting that it’s science fiction, not fantasy, and it’s true, but there are portals… This book is also sad! So are the others in the series. So are many of CJ Cherryh’s books from that time.

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay. Lyrical, lovely, lachrymose (I couldn’t resist) and a King Author retelling at a time I was into King Author.

The Mirror of Her Dreams Stephan Donaldson. This is one of those books that’s like a scar on my soul. I wish I had never read it, it was sexist and the main character was abused throughout the book, but it’s probably inevitable I read it because it was about a woman who traveled to another world. I read all three. I would have to say it was formative in what not to do as a writer. So that’s something. I guess. Don’t even talk to me about this author’s other books.

A book with a blue cover, a woman wearing some kind of desert robes, on a horse, facing the reader, with maybe a city in the background. It was portal fantasy, vaguely Arabian nights kind of setting. If you know what I’m talking about, tell me the name and author, would you? I loved this book, even though I also thought it was boring. It’s funny how both those things can be true.


Portal fantasy I read a long long time ago

I was going to publish this on my YA site in honor of my very own portal fantasy being published this summer, but as I wrote the post I started to feel OLD. The most recent book on this list was published sometime in the 80s. The oldest was published in 1907. The fan fic is newer, but it’s still not exactly yesterday’s fiction, so I thought I’d share this here where you won’t judge my very new book by how old some of the books I liked as a kid are.

I loved books where people from our world went to a fantasy world and had adventures. A lot of those books had characters who had to figure out the world and who they were at the same time. I mean LOVED.

My parents had these beautiful copies of The Wizard of Oz books.

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Ozma of Oz

Did you know there was more than one? There are 14 written by L. Frank Baum and all of them have wonderful girls as the main characters, who aren’t afraid, who have a lot of common sense and who get things done, even if they’re a little confused about what they are doing. I don’t remember much of the stories, but I do remember some images, like the people growing out of plants, or the miniature china town, where people got broken by careless big visitors.

My favorite Diana Wynn Jones book was The Homeward Bounders, about a boy named Jamie who gets exiled from our world for spying on “Them,” mysterious evil powerful beings who play games with the universe and the people in it. Jamie survives by becoming friends with Helen, who was maybe the first “unlikeable” female character I remember reading. I loved her for her anger and discontent and refusal to be beaten down, and with Joris, a really annoying perfect privileged boy who turns out to be a decent sort anyway.

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones

The Homeward Bounders

I re-read this book recently, and it is SAD, but I loved sad books as a child.

(Of the Chrestomanci books, Witch Week was my favorite, possibly because almost everyone in that book is being bullied and I was already having that kind of problem myself. Though not as extreme! But alas not as magical either.)

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. Apparently this is the third in the series?! I never read the other two, my library didn’t have them. This is also a sad book, about a girl at boarding school who changes places every night with a girl named Claire who lives in 1918 at the same boarding school.

The Guardians of the Flame by Joel Rosenberg. This is actually a series, but again the library only had one of them and I don’t remember which one or anything about it except loving the humor in it. I am not responsible if you read it and don’t think it’s funny. I was probably about 10 and the book had to be one of the ones written in the 80s.

(The library is probably responsible for why I enjoy reading series out of order—I know! Heresy!—but it’s like an additional puzzle to figure out as I read.)

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the first books I remember reading. It also inspired the first story I remember writing, which was definitely fan fic way before I knew there was such a thing. The suck fairy has definitely visited this series, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. If you want a deconstruction of all the colonialism, racism and sexism in them, head on over to Ana Mardoll’s blog, but get ready for the rabbit hole of epic proportions (see what I did there?)

If you loved the series when you were younger but can’t stomach it now, the movies try to fix some of the problems and there is a fair amount of fan fic and fan fix out there, like Ursula Vernon’s “Elegant and Fine” about Susan (poor maligned Susan, who deserves a better narrator than Lewis, and many have done well by her), The Carpetbaggers and The Cave in Deerfield (also SO SAD) by cofax on AO3 and the cross-over stories by burntcopper, also on AO3.

Of all of the rest, the only one I have re-read recently was The Homeward Bounders, so I can’t say if they hold up well. I love Diana Wynne Jones, but I love her in spite of the fact that there is often fat shaming in her books.

Did you love portal fantasy as a kid? What were some of your favorites?

Sum up

So…it’s been a while since I posted regularly here isn’t? 2017 was not a great year. 2018 was kind of tough too. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good times, but I didn’t have too much extra energy for blogging. But 2019 will be the 10 year anniversary of this blog, so I thought I’d try to resuscitate it by trying something new.

Since I’m dipping my toes in this self publishing thing I thought I’d post about some of the things I’ve learned and mistakes I’ve made. They’ll probably be short. Hopefully they will be of interest to someone besides myself.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a much better year.

I just looked at my blog stats, and since people seem to still be reading my posts about gender, poetry and books, I’ll try to keep doing those things too. 😉

Little annoying things while reading

So…there are a lot of BIG terrible things going on in the world right now, but I’m not going to talk about those. No, I’m going to be totally petty and share some of those tiny, insignificant things that have thrown me right out of books, sometimes temporarily (like right now) or permanently.

Everyone gets chicken pox.

Dear author, I think you’re my age and while everyone got chicken pox when we were kids, have you talked to a parent lately? There’s this thing called a chicken pox vaccine now, and at least in the US, most kids don’t get chicken pox anymore. Lucky them.

The apple had a maggot it in.

Uhhh, no. Maggots are fly larva and they eat meat. Decomposing meat. In fact, they’ve been used to clean human wounds both in the past and right now. (There is a picture of a maggot in this article in The Atlantic, but if you google this instead you will get MUCH WORSE.) Ok, so when researching this, I found out that there in fact are apple maggots (so I’m wrong) but they are actually fruit fly larva (so I’m not wrong?). (I googled this too and EWW.) But the only things I’ve found in my apples were probably Codling moth larvae, which are slightly less gross looking. I have now learned something. Sorry, authors, for badmouthing you.

The MC used oars in a canoe.

On a recent visit to Central Park in NYC I saw people rowing row boats backwards (with the flat part going forward) so I guess boat knowledge is not that common? But no. Oars are used in a row boat; paddles are used in canoes.

Mama instead of mamá

This was in an English language book with occasional Spanish words. This was VERY distracting. Mama means breast in Spanish. Mamá means mother. Not the same thing. Probably not the author’s fault, but the publisher should have done better.

/petty rant.

What about you? What throws you out of a book?


What I’m reading: In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, The Fire This Time & Fiyah, issue 1


I went to In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, by Alice Walker, The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward, and Fiyah, Issue 1, to recapture the trick of living while oppressed. I seem to have lost it in my 20s or 30s when I could wrap the privilege of having a job with money, living in NYC among a chosen community, with the status of a married woman around me like a force field. I had left behind the teachers who belittled the idea of a woman or a black man inventing the cotton gin and the boyfriend who hit me and I channelled most of my rage into my non-profit job securing women’s reproductive rights and occasionally at the men on the street who told me to smile. I had money for taxis at night and didn’t worry as much about walking home after dark.

I forgot what it’s like to live not feeling safe.

I forgot what it’s like to live with white skin my only privilege (yes it’s a big one).

The world has not been free of injustice, but it seemed it was getting better. And now it’s getting so much worse with bewildering speed. So I’m drawing on the coping mechanisms, the organizing strategies, the ideas of how to live, how to resist, how to be an artist, of people who never had a chance to forget. Who didn’t have the privilege to forget. And I’m crying, but it’s not all tears of rage and despair, some of those tears are for recognition, beauty and strength.

I chose In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens because it was immediately available at my library, I remember reading her essays in college and because she is (relatively) old school now. I wanted to see what a black womanist activist was saying about the 60s and 70s (knowing that so much has changed and so much has not changed). I went to The Fire This Time, because it’s current and can tell me about now, this moment we’re living in. And it blew me away. There’s not one essay or poem in the collection that didn’t bring connections up to the surface for me or move me. “Message to My Daughters” by Edwidge Danticat made me cry in public, at a restaurant. “Know Your Rights!” by Emily Raboteau made me hopeful, because there is always resistance. “White Rage” by Carol Anderson told me about my people and I have her book on hold at the library now. Everyone should read this book. It will galvanize you. It will help you understand our world. It will give you models for resistance. And I went to Fiyah because life is about more than essays, it’s about art, which reveals reality, and hopes and fears, and speculative fiction is my go-to reading choice. I recommend it, even if, especially if, you’re not white and the stories don’t “resonate” with you. How are they going to ever resonate if you don’t immerse yourself or give them a chance? And even if they don’t resonate, ever, at least you learned something about others and yourself.



Things that Keep Me Living: A Poem About My Rights by June Jordan

This poem got me through some tough times before, and it’s still a little lantern of one black woman’s rage and survival:

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
go to Poetry Foundation for the rest of it or listen to June Jordan herself recite it.