Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More on historically real v. historically fictional

The last few months I haven't been blogging as much. That's partly because I've been writing more. At the same time, I've also been more on the alert for more "medieval" themed material, as opposd to "Neandertal" themed material(I believe in balance, you know, and my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals naturally has bNoth). But in view o a previous post on writer's preferences re "historical characters only" v. "fictional characters in historical situations", Nan Hawthorne has a really good post about this. Well, it's not precisely about the "fictional" v. the "historical", but she does make a very good argument as to why she prefers mostly "fictional" situations. If, as she points out, you write a novel about Richard III, and it's sympathetic to him, then the "Tudor lover" crowd will denounce it with vim and vigor. For the record, I have no particular interest in rehabilitating or not rehabilitating the reputationof Richard III, but yes, I've encountered some members of the "Tudor lover" crowd. If, however, a "Tudor lover" writes a novel about Richard III, and makes him as awful as can be, then the "Richcard sympathizers" will be up in arms. That has happened, too. As Ms. Hawthorn points out, the would-be historical writer can avoid all these pitfalls by not making their main characters historical figures. This may make the writing harder in some ways(you have to invent more, even in times where there were a lot of well-known figures and events), but you have the freedom to imagine a character acting and living in those times. The counter-argument for some people is, though, that if you take a historical character in historical time, you can then "plot around" the history and what is known of that person. Which takes some types of burdens off the novelist, but imposes others, and while a goo writer can get around this, many writers, in my opinion, don't do all that well at fictional eiographies, which is what these kiinds of works often are.

However, I am not making any judgment here. I have my preferences, obviously, which are equally obviously similar to those of Nan Hawthorne. But then, I read all kinds of stuff, fiction, nonfiction, biographies of various kinds. So who knows? I look forward to finding a really engaging historical novel about some very real person. Heck, somebody out there might surprise me!
Anne G

Some new Neandertal reconstructions

Reconstructing prehistoric humans is an art. It's also something of a science, because the reconstructor has only fossils to work with. He or she must take those fossils, add muscles and skin, and decide exactly how they might have looked and moved. This is not easy, and sometimes the results are dictated by the popular attitudes --- usually about unrelated subjects --- of the time the reconstruction is done. This is why some early 20th century reconstructions of Neandertals are basically pretty awful.

There is still some of this, because when it comes to Neandertals, there are "difference mongers" and "similarity mongers". The "difference mongers" tend to feel that Neandertals were, indeed, very "different" from "us". Which, perhaps, in some ways, they were. But then, it's possible that early "modern" humans were also different from more recent "modern" humans. This is somewhat the position of the "similarity mongers".

As far as reconstructing what Neandertals may have actually looked like, the "similarity mongers" seem to be in the majority at this time. One example comes from a blog called Mundo Neandertal(which, unfortunately for me, is in Spanish, and my Spanish isn't that good! Still, it's an interesting picture. And it's quite recent! It's so recent that the somewhat older woman in the middle, talking to the younger woman as they cook somkething over a fire, looks a great deal like --- Hillary Clinton! And please don't ask me if that's some sort of comment on the future Secretary of State. I really don't have any idea. But this reconstruction does take into consideration that Neandertals were probably light haired, skinned, and eyed, like many Europeans today. Hence, the younger woman is definitely blond.

There's another pciture of Neandertals, that's --- in my opinion --- somewhat more "mixed". It's also from this Mundo Neandertal. I think this particular picture is supposed to conjure up images of a Neandertal Adam and Eve. The woman looks kind of like the central female character in a sort of "thriller with Neandertals" that I have on hold right now, but her eyebrows are thicker and darker than I would envision Eln's eyebrows(she has some rather unusual abilities, too). The man? Well, he's awfully hairy, and lots of people seem to think Neandertals had lots of hair(this despite evidence that they made some sort of clothing!) He's a little too "beetling", too. But they both are reccognizablyhuman. Which in my opinion, is a vast improvement over some earlier reconstructions. The makers of these reconstructions seemed to be under the impression that Neandertals were more like great apes than "late archaic" humans. I'm glad times have changed somewhat.
Anne G

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writers and their comfort zones


I've recently had some experiences as a writer and as a reader that have rather strongly suggested to me that it is sometimes difficult for some of us, both readers and writers, to get out of certain types of "comfort zones". I belong to an online critique group where the writers are all writing some sort of historical stuff. It's not all straight historical, and since my Invaders trilogy (sort of) crosses genres – in a way – I call it "romantic science fiction" because to me, that's what it is, some readers who do the critiques get confused. Some of them appear to get so confused they claim they "don't know the genre" and try to bow out. Never mind that I've tried to make what I'm writing as easy as possible to understand, these readers still don't feel comfortable.


The thing is, I'm not asking for an assessment from an agent here; if it was a potential editor or agent, I would expect a much higher, and more "critical" standard. Furthermore, a cursory look through the annual Writer's Guide will give the writer a pretty good indication of who takes what kind of genre literature, or if they take it at all. This actually helps the writer, since he or she then doesn't have to send hundreds of query letters, dozens of copies of manuscripts, etc., etc., to agents, publishers, or editors who aren't prepared to read them(even then, it's a "crapshoot"; there's at least one famous agent that's very "upfront" about his "gut feelings" about whatever is sent to him, and though this agent has sold a lot of work to publishers and is an agent for a number of best-sellers, I suspect he tends to prefer a certain kind of male-oriented "adventure" or "thriller" story. It's best for a writer to know these things in advance, so as not to get too disappointed, especially if one is a novice.


But critiquers? Hmmmm. . . .I kind of wonder. If they're in a critique group, even one that has writers who are doing more or less the same kind of writing(e.g. broadly, historical fiction), shouldn't they be prepared to get out of their comfort zone? It's fairly easy for me to tell, when I'm looking at something, whether it's Young Adult, science fiction/fantasy, romance, mystery, etc., and I can pretty much "work it" from there. If the story isinteresting, I've found I'm perfectly comfortable reading it and seeing how it fits together, and how the writing and structure of the thing could be improved --- and believe me, there's always room for improvement --- somewhere. This has certainly been my experience with "live" critique groups, though I found these unsatisfactory for reasons that had nothing to do with their ability to critique. About the only thing I would be uncomfortable with trying to critique, is certain kinds of more "experimentally" oriented literary fiction I don't generally read literary fiction because the authors who write it tend to prefer "downer" endings(see my blog post on literary fiction). I don't object to literary fiction per se, I just don't want t read "downer" stories. But if it's something else, I'm willing to read just about anything.


But it seems not everybody takes the advice of writers like Stephen King or Elizabeth George, who have both informed readers of their books on writing, that they should try to read all kinds of literary outputs. I can see why. I don't usually read mysteries or Young Adult material, but recently have read quite a few of these, and am finding I'm learning a lot about how various kinds of works are put together. I feel this has helped me in my own writing, even though I'm not writing mysteries or Young Adult(although there is one work "on the shelf", that might qualify and it's also in my fictional "Neanderuniverse". But clearly there are readers who mainly read romances or mysteries or "straight" historical novels, or whatever, and just don't venture much outside these "comfort zones". Again, per se, there's nothing wrong with this per se, but a potential writer should be able – in my opinion, at least – to see if the story "works", even if they're not familiar with it. This means, also in my opinion, that there needs to be a certain amount of "commitment" on the part of the potential reader. And for some, this will mean getting out of their "comfort zone"


Again, obviously, not everybody is going to agree on this. My general rule is, If I don't know much about whatever they're writing about – for example, a historical period I'm not familiar with or interested in – then I won't critique it. I don't think that's fair. But otherwise, I'll give it my best shot.


Finally, it's also interesting that readers have their "comfort zones". I've just been having an interesting e-mail conversation who didn't like Mistress of the Art of Death, by Ariana Franklin, who also writes historical novels as Diana Norman. In the book there was a rather nasty, to this reader, description of some child's eyes being pulled out, but as I recall, it was rather brief, and served to show just how nasty the person doing it actually was. It "creeped out" that particular reader, whose apparent sensitivity level was so high that they apparently forgot they weren't watching Nightmare on Elm Street. Again, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with anything here, just acknowledging that different people, as readers, have different sensibilities, so to speak. I would be just as bothered as the reader was, if some TV newscaster described such an act. But this was on the pages of a book, and therefore provided the necessary "distance". At least that was the way I looked at it.


I guess all of this is just part of the writer's learning process. Learning how people react, and what they're comfortable with is very much , I think, part of a writer's job. It's just as much a part of a writer's job, as putting together a coherent story. Not, mind you, that this will change the way I write my own stories; it just informs me of how varied the potential audience out there actually is, and what they may or may not be comfortable with.

Anne G


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A (maybe) medieval noir

Westerson, Jeri
Veil of Lies
St.Martin's Minotaur, New York, New York, 2008
280 pp.
ISBN 13:978-0-312-37977-3
ISBN 10:0-312-37977-3

Jeri Westerson is a new author. If her first novel, Veil of Lies is any indication, she promises to be a very good mystery writer. I have read or tried to read, a number of mysteries set in medieval times, and in my opinion, most of them just aren't that good. Jeri Westerson is an exception. Again, in my opinion, she compares quite favorably with Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death.

Like Ariana Franklin's "Adelia" character, the hero of Veil of Lies is an outsider, though in this case, a "self-made" one, in a senswe. He used to be a knight, but was divested of his knighthood thanks in part ot King Richard II, who apparenlty had some "spoiled brat" qualities(these weren't entirely his fault, but that's another story). So he's not a knight and he's not an "ordinary person", though he lives in a decidedly downscale part of medieval London. And he's known as The Tracker, who helps a rather blustery Sheriff of London on occasion.

Westerson calls this book a "medieval noir", and I suppose you could say it is. In some ways, though, it's more like Tami Hoag's latest Eleanor Estes mystery, Alibi Man. Eleanor Estes, though living in modern "horse country" Florida, is also a "self made" outsider, for reasons somewhat similar to those of Crispin Guest. Both Guest and Eleanor Estes are very "dark" characters. But it's also like the Ariana Franklin books, in that it's set in medieval times, and gives the reader a very good flavor of what it must have been like for most people living then(note: Ariana Franklin's books are set over 200 years earlier).

Westerson also knows how to write a good mystery --- with lots of twists and turns of plot, just like any good mystery should have. And though she calls this tale a "noir", the ending is very satisfactory, without leaving the bad taste in your mouth, that you sometimes get reading "noir" type mysteries. I also really appreciate the fact thast the characters(unlike in some books of all genres set in medieval times) don't "speak forsoothly". I, personally, hate this!

I am really very impressed with Ms. Westerson's first book. I believe she put a lot of effort into it, and she is an excellent writer besides. I look forward to her next book, which is supposed to come out sometime in 2009. For those interested, the title is Serpent in the Thorns. It will also feature Crispin Guest, and I myself look forward to reading it.
Anne G

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some Cool Writer’s Tools


Every writer needs a good word processing program. I have two: WordPerfect X4(the latest version of it), and Word 2007. I've used various versions of WordPerfect for a long time, and I use this particular program for my writing. It's very powerful, and I've gotten used to the way it works for my writing, so I continue to use it. It has something called Lightning to go with it, which maybe I could use, if I could figure out how to use it efficiently. Maybe I will, someday.


But when I got my newest "computer toy"(my laptop, actually), I also got Word 2007, which just happened to be on sale at the time. I needed Word 2007(or some version of Word), because so many people use it, and when I upload the draft of The Invaders that I'm working on, it's easier to use Word than try to "translate" what I've written in WordPerfect, into Rich Text Format. I don't have any particular objections to Microsoft programs the way some people do, I'm just finding that I'm using different programs for different things.


For example, Word 2007 comes with another, bundled program called OneNote. I've just started using it, partly to store ideas to fill out my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece(s) With Neandertals, but also for mundane things like recipe collections and "to do" lists. These are not related to writing, but they do help me keep track of what I'm supposed to do on any given day. And while I waste a certain amount of ink printing this stuff out, I can always pull up the recipes and print those, any time I need to(I lost one recipe for cranberry-pear chutney that I was going to make for Thanksgiving, and I had to Google it today. It is now in OneNote). The equivalent program on WordPerfect, Lightning, doesn't have these features organized this way. So I am actually using the two word processing programs somewhat differently.


Most people would probably have Word, and that's fine. I, personally, find it quite useful to have both programs. Word 2007 also allows you to send things you've written to a blog. And that's what I've done with the last two blogs at The Writer's Daily Grind. I find this convenient, though not perfect, since Word only sends the entry into the Drafts section, and you have to edit it on the blog itself. I also haven't figured out whether it's possible to upload pictures at the same time, but since Blogger allows you to upload your own, I just save mine in my picture files and upload them from there.


No program, or set of programs, will suit everyone's needs, so I'm not recommending or "dissing" any of them. Some of you may find other solutions may work better for you, and I have no objection. I have just found some things that work very well for me. If, gentle reader, you are also a writer, you may want to look into these things. Or you may wish to try something entirely different. Again, I have absolutely no objection. My only advice here is, find something you like, and that works well for you, and stick to it! It will only make the writing go more smoothly.

Anne G


An Addendum to my Writing Methods


I didn't quite get everything I wanted to say about my writing process down in print yesterday. Which is kind of too bad. I wanted to say that there are other things that go into a revised draft, technical things like correcting spelling or changing sentence order in paragraphs. Or clarifying who said what. But in my opinion, the "technical" side of multiple drafts and revisions become less important , except perhaps for the final draft – than the way the writer develops the story itself: showing a character or characters you can relate to, a plotline or story arc that makes sense, believable scenes and vivid action. This takes a lot of work, and while the imagination is the starting point, this is where discipline and growth occur.

Anne G

The Write Stuff


I post to a number of e-mail lists where various discussions related one way or another, to my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. In this case, I should mention that one of them, DebunkCreation


has some pretty lively discussions.


There is one person on this particular group, and he shall remain nameless, who appears quite confused on a number of issues, which I will not go into here. But in the course of my, and other people's discussions with him, he more or less asked me how I write. I answered him, describing how I come to refine the stories I'm telling.


That got me thinking. Writing is an interesting process, but it requires a certain amount of discipline, and how you go about creating your final product, depends a lot on what sort of product you're trying to create. For example, the moderator of DebunkCreation told me he does a lot of research, then works from an outline. He writes nonfiction, though. And I've tried writing chapters from outlines. Or outlining the overall "story arc". But that method just doesn't work for me. Why? Because elements of my story keep changing slightly as I develop new Mdrafts, revise, and learn more about my characters.


Let me give one example. In the first draft of the first book, two or the Neandertal characters were looking for a third character called Mat. In that draft, Mat Fartraveled didn't show up until about halfway through the book. Which might have made some sense had he stayed a minor character, as I originally intended him to. But he kind of grew and grew and grew, and now he's a major player, and he will eventually have a prequel of his own, that describes how he ended up in medieval England in love with lovely Hild(another character who was originally going to be quite minor and transitory). Hild, Wulfwynn and Godric all grew and grew and grew, as does the villainous Ralph(he was originally mostly "offstage".) So goodly portions of The Invaders had to be revised.


The other interesting thing about this process is, that when you revise, you often cut things(and characters), to make the story make more sense, or else make it flow better. I don't, for instance, need the pages I wrote about people traveling from one place to another, unless something is happening when they travel. And at present, I'm working on a timeline, to keep this "cast of thousands" in their proper places at the proper times, because my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece(s) With Neandertals take place in real, historical time, not some alternate history time I can make up. This, too, is going to require some revision of the plotlines of the first book(and possibly the second, as well). Also, one of the characters is a witness to some very traumatic — for her. I didn't describe this in the first draft.


I don't know if all writers write this way. Basically, I had four scenes(what I call "key scenes") all involving the lead female character(who bears some resemblance to the redhaired Neanderlady that's the "portrait" of this blog. I built my story arc for all three books around these "key scenes", one of which is supposedly "historical". And I filled in the rest from my imagination, and from what I knew of the period in question. This is perhaps not the "best" way to write a novel, and finding a good way — is part of the writer's learning process.


I must say, I'm still learning, and some of the things I'm learning surprise me. But being a writer, I have to keep on with it. For me, there is no other way.

Anne G

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Again, more good writing advice

Robert Sawyer has gone back to giving good writing advice. This one is about how many characters should be in a novel. I don't know how many there should be. It depends on what you're writing. But "as few as you can possibly get away with" is awfully good advice. I wish I could follow it in my own writing. . . .
Anne G

Monday, November 10, 2008

I was going to blog about writing, but. . . .

I was going to blog about my writing, because I haven't been blogging as much lately. I've been writing. But not as much --- especially last week --- as I should have. Why? Well, in my opinion, last week's presidential election was historic! I know. I said right at the beginning, more or less, that I would almost never put anything in my blog other than material related to my writing, that is to say, Neandertals, medieval England(especially the earlier medieval period), and of course, my own writing process. But Nan Hawthorne's blog Tales from Shield-Wall Books
/a> had a post on this historic election. I could not allow myself to be outdone by a fellow writer, though she expressed herself much better than I!

But I can't help myself. Nan is right. This election has truly been historic. I can remember a time when it was inconceivable to even imagine that a nonwhite man, or a woman, could even dare to dream of getting elected President of the United States. True, this election happened the way it did, because after eight miserable years of an incompetent president and an even more incompetent --- and avaricious --- presidential team surrounding him, people simply got tired of the "same old, same old", and were demanding change. And a lot of people voted with their pocketbooks. The mess on Wall Street and elsewhere didn't help things much.

But this doesn't alter the fact that in so many ways, President-elect Obama represents change. Not only does he represent change, he represents a significant breakthrough for many people, perhaps for all of us, in the future. I think a lot of people realize this and acted accordingly, whether they were aware of this or not. And it's about time. I am now living in hopes that this country will begin again to try to live up to the ideals on which it was founded, and go forward. There is going to be a lot of hard work ahead, and though I was euphoric last week, I am realistic this week, both for myself, and for my country. I do not know how an Obama presidency will play out in the long one. But for now, we have hope again. And for now, that is enough.

And that, gentle readers, is all I'm going to say about anything "political" or "current affairs" here on this blog, for a long, long time --- at least until something of equal importance ivertakes us. It's now back to writing my Great Medieval Science Fiction Epic Masterpiece With Neandertals,
Anne G