This year I was proud and honored to join an astonishing chorus of voices at Crafting with Ursula, a podcast tribute to the magnificent Ursula K. Le Guin.
David Naimon created the series. When The Burning Hearth asked me to describe his skill as an interviewer, this is what I said:
“David Naimon is one of our best living readers. He elevates homework to high art, drawing connections between far-flung poems, essays, and half-forgotten short stories in order to create whole new constellations of meaning. Someday the distant echoes of his interviews will convince alien civilizations that Earth is worth a visit.”
As for my own stuff, I published three short stories and some nonfiction in 2022:
This was the year I introduced my kids to Broadway.
The grownups packed suitcases in secret on a Thursday night.
The next morning we pretended to drive to school, and then got on the highway instead. We cranked up the soundtrack to the Percy Jackson musical. Both kids sang along.
“Aren’t we going to school?” one of them finally asked.
“Where are we going?”
All of us loved The Lightning Thief. It reminded me what I adore about theater. A small cast played a whole host of characters with dizzying quick-changes, vocal ranges few mortals can aspire to, and ingenious shoestring effects like tidal waves created with toilet paper and leaf blowers.
This was also the year I joined forces with Marietta Zacker, magnificent literary agent and source of much that is good in the universe.
And this was the year I crashed the National Book Awards for no reason other than to see and celebrate bookish friends in their finery.
At the gala I met LeVar Burton. We hugged. He knew my name because he recently picked one of my short stories to read for his podcast. The man who played Geordi LaForge performed some words that I wrote to revisit science fictional disability and my inner eleven-year-old wonders where we can possibly go from here.
Next year I might blog more than once. Maybe. Probably not. I plan to avoid the interwebs while working on secret projects and continuing to serve as faculty chair for this amazing program. So let me tell you a story now, before I disappear for a bit.
A couple of months ago I was on a panel of authors and historians at a convention. We talked about science fictional futures worth envisioning and striving for. It was was fun. It was also hopeful–or at least it tried to be.
Right after the panel a teenager stepped up to the stage to talk to me. She cheerfully pointed out that the planet, by the estimation of many notable experts, will soon become unsalvageable. That is the future she envisions.
“Everyone seems to be counting on us,” she said. “On kids. No pressure. But at the same time no one listens to us, and nothing seems to change no matter what we do. So my friends mostly sit around and joke about their nihilistic despair. How do we keep from doing that?”
I tried to give her a good answer. We talked about how hard it is to shift the story of your own actions from despair to possibility when you can’t see any tangible results. This feels like watching your own hair grow in the mirror. It looks like nothing. It is not nothing.
I told her that writing novels also feels like this. Books are too big. You can’t ever see the whole project at once. But one word after another will still accumulate.
I told her how much I hate the phrase “just a drop in the bucket,” because we use it to describe meaningless and negligible contributions to something. This is wrong. A bucket placed under a leaky sink will be full by morning. Drops add up. So do words. So does everything else.
I told her something that many friends have said to me lately, in some form or another: the Old Lie has collapsed. It insisted that nothing was wrong. The New Lie has replaced it, and now insists that it’s too late to change, that all of us are powerless to do anything about any of it. “Don’t tell yourself the New Lie! Don’t tell each other the New Lie. Don’t put yourselves in that story. We owe each other better stories.”
Happy New Year, mi gente. Get in some good trouble. Tell each other better stories.
The first is online as of today. It’s about an eighth grade field trip to a castle reconstructed in a very inconvenient location. I wrote it while listening to NASA’s Golden Record, and the more I learn about that project the more I adore its optimism. NASA cut an album and then dropped it into the void.
The great Erika Ensign read the story for the podcast, after which I am interviewed by the equally great Haddayr Copley-Woods.
Unbroken will be in bookstores as of September 18th. It has earned many rave reviews.
My contribution, “Found Objects,” is about theatrical magic. It’s been a long time since I wrote about theatrical magic, and I’ve missed it.
This particular story is also my first piece of published YA fiction. I get to be a YA author now. Most people assumed that I was one already, because few know what “middle grade” means, but now the assumption is actually true.
Neither story is thinly veiled autobiography, by the way. I wasn’t yet disabled in eighth grade, or in high school. Both are #ownvoices, though, and therefore frightening to write.
I hope you like them, and I hope you also read the astonishing work that they get to share pages with.
“Alexander takes readers back to a contemporary world where ghostly haunts are part of daily life and librarians are specialists in appeasing the restless dead in this sequel to A Properly Unhaunted Place… While the first book in the series grappled with the consequences of grief avoidance, this addition turns outward, to the pain of remembering societal stories. Though not all history is pleasant, it all demands, quite forcefully, to be memorialized in some way in the town of Ingot. If mirrors are liminal spaces, perhaps this through-the-looking-glass world endeavors to shine its mirror on our contemporary struggles to honor and grieve the gray-hued past.”
“Readers looking to continue with the adventures of Rosa and Jasper will be delighted with new supernatural dilemmas and dark twists.”
– School Library Journal
“Jasper effortlessly understands the living, perfectly balancing the pragmatic and capable Rosa, who feels a kinship with the dead. And Alexander’s message—that acceptance and empathy, not building walls, is the answer—will resonate.”
– Publisher’s Weekly
“There are some wonderful touches in Alexander’s follow-up to A Properly Unhaunted Place… Will Rosa and Jasper be able to puzzle out what connects all the ghostly action? Fans of the National Book Award–winning Alexander’s intricately plotted adventures will definitely want to find out.”
Signed and personalized copies can be ordered from Bear Pond Books. Library requests are also wonderful, and shape many things in the book world. If you make such requests and orders then my gratitude will haunt you forever… but in a good way? Probably. Hopefully. Gratitude doesn’t usually throw things the way poltergeists do.
Here’s a picture of the chairs and ever-useful stage cubes right before the reading. I’m not posting any pix of the actors themselves, because they are kids and one should not post pictures of other people’s kids on the internet. You’ll just have to imagine child-actors transforming into goblins and stacking these very cubes in many artful ways.
Next year they will put on a full and complete production with lights and costumes and masks. SO MANY MASKS.