Finding Danielle

Image result for finding dory

We watched Finding Dory night before last on Netflix. It was harder for me to watch than I thought it would be. Dory’s “re-mem-bory” problems have been a reality for my sister, Danielle, since her tragic car accident at the age of 17 thanks to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that changed her life forever.

Finding Dory is about the Pacific regal blue tang in Finding Nemo trying to find her family. As I watched, I kept flashing back to times when Danielle had said something for the 500th time, or had misremembered something, even made up entire histories to compensate for missing memories. While I found Dory’s sweet disposition and guilt about her shortcomings endearing, it also stung knowing that in real life people with TBI’s or dementia do not necessarily take being corrected about things very well. In fact, some people with TBI’s can get agitated and even violent if you tell them they have a memory problem.

But I did love how the story teaches children to have compassion for people with disabilities, to incorporate them into their community, and ultimately to see the value that disabled people bring to every situation because of their unique perspective. It even showed how “abled” people can have a restricted view of the world that limits their coping strategies. That’s because people with disabilities live outside the box. Therefore, they think outside the box on a regular basis.

This was beautifully illustrated when Nemo asks his father, Marlin, “What would Dory do?” and his father lists his own narrow-minded problem-solving strategies. Nemo gets frustrated with him. “That’s what you would do. What would Dory do?” he replies, recognizing that Dory’s approach to the world, however unorthodox, is often innovative.

Image result for finding dory disabilityThis sharp Verge review describes many of the film’s best points, especially around Dory learning to cope with her disability and the depression that accompanies it. But even if Finding Dory isn’t a vital addition to the Pixar canon, it’s an incredibly important addition to children’s films. While the story might lack the emotional gravitas of Finding Nemo for most folk, it packed a much harder emotional punch for those of us who have loved ones with profound disabilities. We need more movies like this that tackle disability in such a compassionate and healthy way, showing families and communities loving disabled people as much as the abled.

This subject matter is critical not just for children but for our continued growth as adults. The fact that the U.S. has elected a man to the presidency who mocks disabled people is proof enough that many grownups in America are in dire need of a soul. Since they won’t listen to fellow adults, a children’s film might be the only way of convincing them to grow one.

So, thanks, Pixar. You don’t know it, but this might be your most important film yet.

SNOWED Makes the Bram Stoker Award® Preliminary Ballot

I’m pleased to announce that my YA novel Snowed has advanced to the Preliminary Ballot in the Young-Adult Novel category for the Bram Stoker Awards®. This isn’t an official nomination. Those will be announced February 23, 2017. Wish me luck! 

This is my eighth appearance on the Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballots since 2001: six times for short and long fiction, and twice now for novels. In fact, in 2001 I had two short stories on the same ballot.

Awards Eligibility for Bram Stoker, Anthony & Hugo

Just a short post listing what I’ve published this year that’s eligible for awards:

snowed_webSnowed — My YA novel released November 2, 2016 by Raw Dog Screaming Press is eligible for:

  • Bram Stoker Award in the “Young Adult Novel” category
  • Anthony Awards in the “Young Adult Novel” category
  • Agatha Awards in the “Children’s/Young Adult” category
  • Hugos in the “Best Novel” category
  • Thriller Awards in the “Young Adult Novel” category (2018)

Read some of the rave reviews it’s gotten to see why it’s worthy. If you’re a Bouchercon or Worldcon attendee, let me know and I’ll see if I can get review copies for your consideration. The publisher has already submitted it to the jury for the Andre Norton Award, which is a YA award given by the SFWA.

The Witches of Winter — Posted December 15, 2016 on Tor.com. This essay is eligible in the “Best Related Work” category for the Hugos.

“Hey, Little Sister” — a short story that appeared in Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, June 2016 from Crystal Lake Publishing, edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward. I love this story, but I haven’t been promoting it because I want voters to focus on Snowed. However, reviewers have mentioned it frequently when reviewing the anthology. It’s a nice reminder that I haven’t lost touch with my love for writing short fiction.

That’s all I can recall offhand. Thanks for your kind consideration!

The Music of Snowed: A Playlist

Happy New Year, everyone!

cage-the-elephant-press-2015-billboard-650I’m currently working on Inversion, the sequel to Snowed, and people are asking about the music I listen to. I’m a voracious music addict and a recovering Goth. So, I listen to pretty much anything electronic, dark, and dramatic. But I also listen to plenty of popular music, like Cage the Elephant and Fall Out Boy. My varied tastes also lead me to really cool, lesser-known musicians like Chase Holfelder and Rico.

“Remember Me, For Centuries”

raidI grew up a classical musician. While I no longer play a symphonic instrument, music is still a big part of my life, and it’s a cornerstone of my writing, too, whether I’m listening to movie soundtracks or a song inspires a moment in the story. As I was writing Snowed, I listened to numerous pop songs, plus a couple of movie soundtracks like The Raid: Redemption. Each song in the playlist represents a section of the book. In some cases they’re songs that Charity hears. Don’t worry you won’t be able to guess the twists and turns of the plot from the list (or even the line I picked above).

The Playlist

No Maker Made Me IAMX
Wrong Depeche Mode
Crazier Gary Numan and Rico
Came Back Haunted Nine Inch Nails
Tell No One Fixer
2 Heads Coleman Hell
Love Hurt Bleed Gary Numan
No Rest for the Wicked Cage the Elephant
Monster Lady Gaga
Feeling Good Michael Bublé
Hello Kitty Avril Lavigne
Centuries Fall Out Boy
Vodevil Marilyn Manson
Razors.Out Chino Moreno
All I Want for Christmas Is You (MINOR KEY VERSION) Chase Holfelder

I’ve included links to the official music videos where possible. I do have a Spotify list for Snowed, but it couldn’t include all of these songs. If there’s one song on this list, though, that sums up Snowed, it’s Chase Holfelder’s cover of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” That’s exactly what would be running over the end credits.

I hope you enjoy the tunes and have a beautiful new year!

“The Witches of Winter” over at Tor.com

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Because things get lost quickly in the social media scroll, I thought I’d tell you here about my cool Yule blog post over at Tor.com, “The Witches of Winter.” Here’s the intro:

“These last few years, Krampus has broken into the American zeitgeist in movies such as Rare Exports, Krampus and, heaven help us, last year’s William Shatner vehicle, A Christmas Horror Story. Those films and viral videos of the misidentified “Krampus parades” in Austria have conspired with our desire for a new, nastier way of celebrating Christmas, putting the red right hand of Santa in a leading role with the jolly old elf as kings of the season here in the U.S. and abroad.

Truly, though, it’s women—or rather female deities—who have long ruled Yule. Hailing from the older, colder countries of Austria and Iceland with their own fascinating companions, characters such as Perchta and Gryla both punished and rewarded adults and children during Christmas time for centuries before Santa Claus came to town. Read on about these winter witches and decide for yourself if these ladies should be our leads across the annual finish line.”

Check it out! If you like any part of my brain — or just winter folklore like Krampus — I think you’re really going to dig it.

More Snowed Raves

Meanwhile, Snowed is racking up the 5-star reviews over at Goodreads and LibraryThing. “Alexander’s holiday cheer is smashing…” “I could not put this book down.” “…Snowed is one heck of a page-turner with some great YA characters you will definitely want to root for…” “I can’t wait for the sequel!”

OMGSOAWESOME

Thank you, everyone, for making my Yule so wonderful!

Goodbye to My Beloved Ageha

And so it is.

ageha

Ageha is the bokuto on top. Although retired, she gets the position of honor.

I’d developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands by late 2012, and had become totally disabled. I had my first hand surgery in late 2013 on the left hand, which was the worst of the two. My surgeon had subsequently requested the right hand surgery, but it was immediately denied, which meant we weren’t allowed to ask again for another year.

Meanwhile, the surgery had dramatically improved my left hand. By early 2014, I was jonsing to return to Shinkendo. My surgeon, who was a black belt in Hapkido, understood my frustration, but he wouldn’t approve it.

My sensei came up with a plan. He made me an extra light bokuto that I named “Ageha,” which means “butterfly” in Japanese. It was strong enough that I could use it in tachi uchi (partner drill) practice, yet it was light enough not to tax my hands.

I told my surgeon about Ageha, explaining my sensei would testify that, while he’s taught students who have had past hand injuries, never in his many years of practice has he ever seen anyone hurt their hands practicing Shinkendo. In fact, the proper way to hold a either a bokuto or katana is very ergonomic.

As I described the special bokuto my sensei had made for me, the expression of my badass, black-belt, Beverly Hills hand surgeon melted. “Well,” he said, adjusting his glasses, “it’s certainly not going to make your hand any worse. You can go back, but with restrictions, okay?”

And so Ageha helped me return to the martial art I love.

The insurance company finally approved my second hand surgery in early 2015, which I scheduled as soon as I could. I kept using Ageha long after I’d been approved to return to work and train normally. Sensei even coated her with epoxy when her surface got rough so that she’d last longer.

But finally last night the epoxy itself splintered and cut my hand. It was a small wound and only bled a little, but I knew it was time. She’d served her purpose and I now had to let her go.

Domo arigatou gozaimashita to both my beloved bokuto and my sensei. You’ve been the best friends a girl could ever have.

Anyone Can Nominate Snowed for the Michael L. Printz Award

Before the Deadline of December 1, I wanted to let everyone know that Snowed is eligible for the Michael L. Printz Award and YOU the reader can nominate it!

This award is from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a very important organization I love for librarians serving teens in junior high and high schools. Snowed is unique and delivers strongly on the biggest things they’re looking for: particularly voice, story, theme and a controversial edge. Ironically, the literary merit of these qualities are what made it ideal for small press publishing rather than one of The Big 5. This means I need your help giving it the visibility it deserves.

Here’s the criteria. In addition to a brief description, they’ll ask you to write a sentence or two about which of these you felt had the most merit in Snowed:

Story
Voice
Style
Setting
Accuracy
Characters
Theme
If you felt it was controversial or unique in any way.

Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press
ISBN 13: 978-1935738893

As always, I’m grateful for your support. Merci mille fois!

Tori Stori

Twenty years ago, Tori Amos released Boys for Pele, a powerful album named after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. I’d only become aware of Tori earlier in the year, around the same time I’d started corresponding with Neil Gaiman. It was 1996, back when you’d go to the record store to buy music. All they had in stock at the store I went to was this new album. Since I’d never heard her music before, Pele was my first exposure to her work.

As I listened to Pele in my tiny in-law apartment in San Francisco, I was blown away by both the music and her passionate, dreamlike lyrics. Not only had I never heard anything like it before, I was in the middle of a divorce and some huge life changes (to put it mildly) that had cost me many friends. So, Pele spoke to me like nothing else.

On July 12, 1996, I went to see her perform at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. “Tori Stori” is what I wrote to Neil that night after I saw her. It mimics the style of the piece he’d written for Tori in the show’s program.

In honor of the 20th anniversary release of Boys for Pele, here’s the piece I sent him.

*****

“Tori Stori”

There was a girl.

She was dressed in black and leather, for that was all she knew how to wear well, and she came to see the red-headed woman play. And sing.

The girl arrived quietly. Alone. For she didn’t know anyone who liked the red-headed woman, except a man who lived half-way across the country.

She entered the old art deco theater – the “moderne” architecture – and sat, nicely setting aside the memories of yesterday that the building pulled from her. Not yesterday as the day before, but yesterday a hundred years ago. She thought, “I’m going to enjoy today, for it’s what I’ve got now.” And she did.

Others arrived. Younger ones. They sat behind her and talked.

“Aren’t Neil and Tori dating?” asked a young girl.

“Who’s Neil?” asked a boy.

“You know, Neil Gaiman?” another young girl responded authoritatively, yet she sounded as if every statement were a question. “He’s, like, this writer? He, like, writes comic books? BUT,” she hastily added, “he’s very, very talented.”

The girl in black laughed. Quietly.

Then after other, less intelligible discussions, one of the young girls began reading out loud from the programme. After only a few words, the girl in black knew the man who lived half-way across the country wrote that. (“I can name that author in three words, Bob.”)

She got up and bought a programme. And read it.

The lights went down. People cheered, screamed, clapped. “Billy Ray was a preacher’s son. When his daddy would visit, he’d come along…”

Out came the red-headed woman onto the stage. She was small. She sat at the piano and started to play. And play. And sing. My, could she sing. And she moved. Up. Down. Stomping her foot. She reminded the girl in black of a billy goat, bucking and stomping, moving her head up and down. But playfully. Passionately. A Leo. Definitely a Leo.

The red-headed woman keened. Not just about horses, and leather, and Charlie Brown, but about lost loves, a mirror-cracked childhood, and God…

The girl in black cried. And she did not stop crying.

The incredibly lovely, melancholy swells from the Bosendorfer washed away the numbness of pain and stress in the girl’s heart and opened a river in her flesh. For the first time, she didn’t care if anyone saw her cry, like she did sometimes watching movies with boys. She rested her head back. And wept.

Much, much too soon, it ended. The red-headed woman finally left the stage (it was the fourth time she’d left the stage). The lights went up. Everyone was standing, clapping. Including the girl. Especially the girl.

Then the girl left. As quietly as she came. She went home.

And she wrote this to the man who lived half-way across the country.

7/13/96

Snowed: The Raves are Snowballing!

Book bloggers, librarians, moms, and teens. They all love Snowed. Check it out!

Snowed is…well on its way to becoming a cult favorite.” BOLO Books

“…one of the best books I have read in 2016.” Bookworm Society

“There are few words for how bone-chillingly cool I found this story. Charity is awesome! Bonus points for Doc Martin and Cage the Elephant nods.” 5 stars, LibraryThing review

“Maria Alexander has written a top-notch YA novel.” 5 stars, Goodreads

“Oh wow.  I read it this weekend and didn’t see that coming. Great twist…” Margaret Marquis, School Librarian, Virginia

My first book from this author but will definitely not be the last. A good read, Christmas or not.” 5 Stars, Amazon, Terror Tree

“This book is amazing…” 5 stars, Elsie’s Audio Digest.

“Imaginative and delightfully unexpected.” 5 stars, Amazon, Goodreads and J.L. Gribble’s Blog

“Seriously, you need to read this book.” Anna Karras, Author & Librarian, Florida.

“Fun read for both youth and adult. Looking forward to the sequel.” 5 stars, Amazon, Mom of 3 Great Kids

Fantastic YA novel from award-winning author: unputdownable!” 5 stars, Amazon

Romance and speculative fiction combine in a fun, twisty, and seriously page-turning read. I’m slapping a hand across my mouth (symbolically) to prevent giving away this engagingly alternative interpretation of a classic story. All I can say is: ‘Tis the season to read SNOWED.” 5 stars, Amazon review from Golden Kite Award-winning author, Pamela Turner

“This is a great YA novel, which I, being well past my YA years, thoroughly enjoyed.” LibraryThing review

Charity Jones is a fantastically brilliant character and her wit and charm proved both intoxicating and inspiring.” 5 stars, Goodreads, from Bram Stoker Award-nominated poet and adjunct professor, Stephanie Wytovich

“OMFGds! Just finished it. AWESOME! When can we get the next book??? Love, love, loved it” Facebook post from reader

(Read advanced praise from teens and top writers.)

What are you waiting for? Christmas? It might be too late!

snowed_web

Get your copy today. It’s also available on NetGalley.

13 Days ’til Snowed Drops

I just got my contributor copies from Raw Dog Screaming Press. Aren’t they gorgeous?!?! And the initial reviews on Goodreads are awesome.

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This book has been one of my proudest achievements. I’ve never felt as much joy writing anything as I have this book and its sequel, Inversion. I suspect writing the last book in the trilogy — Ashes of Angels — will kill me because I won’t want to leave these characters, but that’s what we do, right? Stories start and end. But Snowed is the beginning, and has been the beginning of so much more in my life.

Nothing about this book went the way I thought it would. The first draft took a hard left turn at the end of Chapter 5, and I had to rewrite the entire outline. Most of the book was written with voice recognition technology while I was disabled. Strangely enough, I found my voice both figuratively and literally in writing for teens. I had no idea how amazing it would be. And now it’s the genre in which I thrive.

cranberry-clipart-SnowFlakes39_1_2Scarlet_RedThe whole submission process was terrifying, devastating, encouraging, and enlightening all at once. I also had no idea I’d come back to Raw Dog Screaming Press. I bet it was equally surprising for them. This is not only their first YA publication, but they put out the book the same year that the contract was signed. For those new to the publishing industry, that never happens. Jennifer and John are incredible people for making it a reality.

One thing I’m sure of is that these characters are going to crash into people’s hearts the way they did mine. Especially Charity. She taught me so much about writing the other, being a teen today, and believing in myself. Maybe that’s why I love this book so much. Don’t get me wrong. Writing Mr. Wicker was exhilarating, a poetic exorcism of my darkest days. I’m no longer haunted by Alicia’s feelings of invisibility, the overwhelming desire to retreat into the darkness, despair at the thought of finding solace in the world. As Mr. Wicker says, In time the ink shall sing. And so it did, freeing me from the past and bringing me so many blessings.

img_5891I’m so grateful that Snowed found me after Mr. Wicker. I’ve made new friends, found my fantastic agent Alex Slater, and my existing friendships have deepened in beautiful ways. I can’t wait to connect with my readers, both teens and adults. I feel like something incredibly special is about to happen — for me, that is, but I hope for you all, as well.

I’m about to ruin Christmas. And I can’t wait.