Caught up in the Rapture…

…no, not THAT one.

It’s the kind of rapture that has at one time or another swept away every one of us here on this board, or we would not be here at all. And there are many more who are out there who are in its power, and will immediately understand what I mean when I utter a single syllable: WORDS.

I was afflicted early. I was barely four when I taught myself to read, because a favourite book that had been read to me by my mother had been finished, and she could not be persuaded to start again from the beginning – so I just picked up the book and started reading it for myself. I was a fluent reader by the time I was five, and it was round about that time, also, that my poet grandfather started to include me in his work. He wrote sonnets, and he would read them out loud to me – and I listened with childish gravitas, sitting quiet, letting the words come and settle on me like butterflies, and then one day (I was still about five years old) I told him, “Grandpa, that one doesn’t scan.”

He blustered a bit – “Of COURSE it scans!” – and then he checked, and I was right. He was astonished, and exhilarated; he had had a suspicion that he had found a kindred spirit, an heir for his love of language and of poetry, but this was the first time he had had confirmation on that. As for myself, it was a turning point of a sort – because language, poetry, were so much in my blood by this time that I would never ever live another day without them. To this day, once I get the first line of a sonnet, I can probably manage the rest of it within minutes, it’s THAT ingrained in me, it’s THAT natural. And from there… it was onward and upward.

I read my mother’s collected works of Pearl Buck and Howard Spring before I was ten years old. In translation, of course – it was when I was ten that we moved from my native land and into an English-speaking environment. A new language for me, and one which I fell into and drowned in. To be sure, I started out reading the very early Enid Blyton, the subject matter might have been far too “young” for me but the language level was entry-level perfect. However, I have hard evidence – in the shape of a large hardcover of the collected unabridged works of Nobel Prize winner John Galsworthy – that I was reading THAT by the time I was thirteen. From Noddy to the Forsyte Saga in less than three years – it was quite a leap, that.

But in between I had started to read other things, too.

When I was twelve or so, I read the Narnia books. A littlel later, “The Hobbit”, and not too much after that, “Lord of the Rings”. I read Asimov. Bova. Zelazny. Clarke. Bradbury. I detoured into Moorcock and McCaffrey. T H White and Mary Stewart’s Merlin books. The stars and the dragons were calling me, and I surrendered willingly to the spell.

I wrote my first “novel” when I was a pre-teen – it was horrible, derivative, and thankfully it does not survive. But the NEXT one does, the one I started writing – in longhand, in hardcover books, in *pencil*, nearly six hundred PAGES of cramped tiny handwriting – at thirteen or so. It took a while – I know I finished it a LONG time after it was begun – but it was an original novel-length work which I’ve had the chance to glance at again recently when it resurfaced after a move, and you know what, it stands up. Oh, the writing is quite silly sometimes, for the love of God I was thirteen! – but the story stands up. I’m actually considering going back in there, tossing most of the thirteen-year-old writing, and resurrecting the STORY. Huh. Go figure. By the age of twelve I was writing in two different languages, and had won a national writing award writing in my mother tongue, back in the land where I was born. By age 15 I was on a poetry kick, and there’s a book of poetry out there published when I was 19, with some of the poems in there written when I was 14 or 15 (and BOY does it sometimes show) but once again – for a teenager, they were respectable, and my grandfather wept in gratitude and thanked God that he had lived to see his joy in words and language pass like a lighted torch to another generation.

I was well and truly caught up in the Rapture by this time. Swirled around in a tornado of words, making landfall now and then in strange and unexpected places, writing, always writing. I wrote the massive doorstop novel that would eventually become the “Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days” duology – all quarter-million words of it – while I was pursuing a graduate degree in Microbiology, writing a high fantasy novel in the lab while experiments bubbled away on the bench behind me. I wrote more than a thousand book reviews, from the 1980′s to the present day, published in newspapers and journals and magazines in five countries and four continents as well as online. I wrote stories. I wrote more poetry. I continued reading.

And then, in Auckland New Zealand, I discovered science fiction conventions – more to the point, I discovered that there was going to be one in Auckland, that there was to be a writers workshop at it, and that one of the guests of honour was one of my personal literary gods, Roger Zelazny, who would preside over this workshop.

I sent in my story immediately, to be considered for the workshop, and then spent the next six months biting my fingernails, asking myself in pitiful tones why I had thought this would be a good idea, I had sent a sample of my scribbling to be read by ROGER ZELAZNY, why was I not satisfied with allowing people to THINK that I was a fool who thought she could write instead of flinging a sample of said writing at them and removing all doubt. But I was accepted into the workshop, and when the day dawned I presented myself with four other lucky winners to the small conference room where it was to be held. The idea was for us to crit each other’s stories, and when all of us were done with a particular tale the two pros in the room – Roger Zelazny and Vonda McIntyre, of whom I have to admit I hadn’t heard prior to this con – would weigh in with their comments. When it came to my story, VOnda handed her copy to me annotated to an inch of its life, commentary in every margin and in between lines, some of it pointing out infelicities to be sure but there was at least one “Great!” in there too. And then I turned to Roger Zelazny, sitting on my left, and my soul was in my eyes. And the man sat there, smiling, making no effort to look at piece of paper or hand me back anything at all, just this quiet smile that lit up his grey eyes with a luninous inner light, and said to me,

“I just have two questions. How long have you been writing?”

I admitted to doing so since I was able to hold a pencil in my chubby little hand.

He nodded knowingly. “And do you read and/or write a lot of poetry?” he continued.

I admitted to this as well.

He nodded again, and his smile widened. And he pronounced the blessing that has stayed with me for many years, unfaded by time.

“It shows,” Roger Zelazny said to me. “You have a voice all of your own. Nobody else will ever write quite like this.”‘

That was barely two months before he died. But those words stay with me always, keeping the light alive, never letting me forget that I was part of this world, part of the Word and its Community, part of the Rapture of Reading – I walk into bookshops and breathe deep of the scent of books, I walk into strangers’ houses and the first thing I look at are bookshelves and what’s on them, I have wept and laughed out loud at things caught on the pages of books, and I have continued to weave words and worlds of my own, cast in that language of dream and poetry that once caused Roger Zelazny to call it my “voice”.

It’s addictive.

If you’re already in the same place, you’ll understand this addiction with a visceral instinct, you’ll recognise it, you’ll have your own stories which either *are* books or are about books.

If you’re just getting here… welcome and come on in. The books are waiting. The Rapture is already reaching out for you.

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Author Information

Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.

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