Saturday, September 18, 2010
I got out of the hospital after a long stay(way too long, IMO, but it was necessary. unfortunately), and am now, more or less comfortably back home. Basically, because I'd been, among other things, spending too much time at my beloved computer, writing, and doing other things, I ended up with a nasty sneaky lymphoma which fortunately only affected my right leg and right side, although there was fluid buildup in the lungs on the left side for a little while. Fortunately nothing went to the brain or heart! I consider myself lucky, and will keep it that way.
This has affected my writing schedule somewhat, in that I have to write in short bursts rather than long hauls, but that's to the good. It sort of forces me to get up and move around, which is what I should have been doing anyway to begin with, I also have pills and chemotherapy to deal with. The chemo is every 3 weeks, so I have time to recover and get stronger, and that's what I'm trying to do.
But the writing will keep coming, no matter what. It/s one of the most important things that keeps me going, and I'm going to finish and publish this masterpiece if it's the last thing I do(sometimes I feel like it is!)
In any case, the blogs may come slower; there doesn't seem to be much in Neandertals, I didn't see anything much in Medieval, either, nor on My Beloved Wolves. But I won't stop. Maybe I'll just blog the first chapter of my first book, for you folks to read, if you want, and you can see what you think.
I have a feeling these will be exciting and challenging days,
Sunday, September 12, 2010
This isn't exactly what I had in mind in the way of "Neandernews", but going through the John Hawks Blog, for what I did want, I came across this picture
It's a commemoration of the site in the Neander Valley where the first recorded or published Neandertal remains were found in 1856. There were earlier ones, in particular, a skull at Gibraltar which the finders couldn't figure out, but ths was the site. It's interesting to note that at least until other Neandertal specimens were found, the finders weren't quite able to figure the remains out, either. They kept coming up with the idea that it was some "degenerate" "modern" human, such as an Irish person(the Irish were held in disrepute at the time), or a "Mongolian cossack" who had crawled into the cave to die. A fellow named Schaffhausen began to grasp that these remains were really old, and, eventually, people began to figure out that these specimens weren't exactly "like us". From which a great many controversies have flowed, and are still flowing.
Oh well. Neandertals quickly became, in the minds of many, what I would now call a "despised group". At least modern "despised groups" are around to speak for themselves. Since Neandertals aren't, I hope I'm doing well by them.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
I'm finally back to blogging again. Trouble was, I've been in the hospital for almost a month but now I'm recovering at home. Finally. It kind of put q dent in my writing, too. Ugh. I mean, I just barely finished the chapter I was on, and had trouble figuring out how to finish it. But there's going to be lots to blog about now that I'm back. There's some lovely Neandernews, some decent medieval stuff and notices from some of my writer friends about books they're workng on, even some good news about wolves, both the ones on Ellesmere Island, and the Washington wolves, who seem to be surviving.
There's so much to blog about! I will be catching up over the next few days,
Friday, August 6, 2010
I know, I know. I got this item off MSNBC, which may or may not be the most reliable of sources, but -- well, it's another piece of information, useful in part because it sows they liked to make themselves as comfortable and cozy as anybody else. In this, they seem to be more like "modern" humans than some people might suppose.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Thanks to the John Hawks Weblog I cam across a post on one of the Discover Magazine blogs, that argues yes, we should clone Neandertals
Now I'm not going to argue with this person's reasoning, but I remain queasy about this idea, nevertheless. For one thing, I'm not sure that there is any body that is qualified to do ethical oversight on such a project. And while I share the blogger's enthusiasm for such a project, in that I would like to see how a real Neandertal might behave in the "modern" world. OTOH, this selfsame blogger seems to assume that Neandertals were vastly different from ourselves(not), would be easily recognized(maybe or maybe not), and being vastly different in some fundamental manner, basically inferior(not). The problem is, that there really isn't much evidence for such differences, beyond the "anatomical'. Would we really recognize a Neandertal "on sight"? Again, maybe, maybe not.
There is also the little question of the cloned Neadertal's human status? Would they be accorded "human" status? Judging by the latest discoveries, both prehistoric-archaelogical and various genetic and paleoanthropological studies, they shuuld be., But would they be? This is where some sort of ethical oversight would have to come in. Furthermore, since we primates are social animals, it would be imperative to clone a number of them, so that they wouldn't be alone in the world.
I think that sooner or later, somebody, somewhere, is gong to try to clone a Neandertal in the not too distant future. If that is the case, whether I, personally, am emotionally queasy about this or not, we should start the process of forming this ethical oversight panel. Now.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
I haven't written much about medieval-themed stuff lately. There hasn't been much I wanted to write about, especially since much of it was about subjects that didn't directly involve anything in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. OTOH, today, I think I have. There is a site that claims medieval monks knew what they wee talking about, at least regarding remedies for some ailments or conditions. Maybe they were at least partially right. The site gives some fairly specific examples, and the authors claim they work. All I know, is this kind of knowledge was gathered at least as early as Anglo-Saxon leechdoms, writings of people who treated various ailments. Whether there leechdoms weree anything accurate, I can't say. But these medieval cures are later.
Make of this what you will,
Friday, July 16, 2010
Now that I'm in sort of wolfish mode for the moment(back to books, writing, Neandertals and medieval anon), I have to pass this on. It seems the late Brutus the Wolf left progeny, if this post from Wolves of the High Arctic is correct is accurate. Might solve the mystery of the "new female wolf" and her nursing, especially if Brutus bred with both wolves(sometimes this happens).I am awaiting further developments.
Now that the team is back up there, studying Ellesmere Island's wolves, the pack they're studying seems to have two nursing females. Which is rare in wolf packs, but has been known to happen, especially if the pack is large(and maybe about to split), but not unheard of. There is a "new" female who nurses at least some of the pups(they diddn't say how many there were). Then there's a "resident" female who apparently is the "alpha". Did she have some pups too, so they always have a milk bar when Mrs. Alphawolf is away? The team didn't say anything more, so all is mysterious at the moment. I look forward to hearing more. You can find it at this site. It also has some pretty neat pictures, one of which is of a wolf followng an ATV or the like. The wolf seems to be checkiing them out.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Before I get back to my take on various kinds of thrillers(it will be titled "intelligent and Unintelligent Thrillers, Part II or something similar, I would like to say a few words about the book I'm currently reading. It's by Kamran Pasha, and it's called Shadow of the Sword
It's the story of the Third Crusqade, seen from various "religious" points of view. Kamran Pashi, the author, is a Muslim, which, at least in writing fiction about the Crusades, is, to me, almost unheard of.Since this book features Saladin -- a hero to many Muslims, and Richard I("Lionheart"), a hero to many in the West, it may feel controversial to some readers, at least as far as I can tell. Richard I doesn't seem to come off very well, and Saladin comes off a lot better. Whether or not Mt. Pasha has done his research, it's harder for me to tell. I know something about the Crusades ear, and the effect it has had on all of us through the ages. He even compares the actions of the Crusaders at various points, to 9/11 and the various al-Qaidas and Talibans floating around the Muslim world today, and the damage they have done. In short, he doesn't think these sorts of actions are very good Christianity or Islam, or much of anything else. He also thinks the thre "Abrahamic" religions(Judaism, Christiahity, and Islam), have more in common, re their basic values of making the world a better4, not a worse place, and those who use vioulence in the name of "religious" faith, are violating their own faith, whatever it may be.
I'd like to say more, and I will, eventually, when I finished the book. At the moment, I don't feel I can do that. But I can say this: to me, so far, it looks very promising.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I've been a bit slow this month, for a variety of reasons. But today, I'm introducing a series in several parts, which will include reviews of what I call "intelligent", v. "unintelligent" thrillers. But first, I have to define what I mean by both types.
First of all, the "thriller" genre is almost always, though I believe there are a few exceptions, written by and for men. Which doesn't mean women don't read them, often with great pleasure, as happened to be the case with the last two thrillers I read. One was "intelligent", and the other was "unintelligent". I'll get more into this below.
Generally, these thrillers involve a lot of mayhem and chases, over vast portions of the globe, to uncover some apparently accidentally discovered secrets. They often string together several apparently unrelated pieces of information strung together so that at the end, it is more or less "satisfyingly" resolved in some way. The "thriller" genre covers a wide range: everything from the works of Dan Brown, to the works of John LeCarre, and everything in between. The LeCarre books are definitely "intelligent", but Dan Brown is considered, for a lot of reasons, equally definitely "unintelligent"
To get further into the definitions of "unintelligent" v."intelligent" thrillers, we need to look a little farther into it. "Unintelligent" thrillers, while often a lot of fun to read, try to stretch suspension of disbelief to incredibly thin lengths, though the writers of these things are often very good at what they do. Which tends to make them fun to read, but essentially, not very plausible. If you read some thrillers that have supposedly "historical" roots(usually centering around some ancient "prophetic" scroll or something like that, and often involving the Vatican(or some other religious body that believes the ancient texts will overturn everything they understand about their religious faith, and there's always someone from \whatever religious body it is, trying to prevent the hero(they are always men) from getting to the "secret". If you know anything about the real circumstances, then the premises often become , well, pretty implsudinlr, yo dsy yhr lrsdy. Duvh yhtillrtd trly hrsbily on loyd og yhr z'lsyrdyz'. often military type technology, to lend some plausibility to the way they go about their thrilling adventures. Then, too, these heroes often have a military background of some sort.
"Intelligent" thrillers, by contrast, don't rely so heavily on gadgetry, especially "military-type" gadgetry to make their stories seem plausible. They rely less on "gimmicks", too, so the disparate elements eventually to be much more plausible. Also, the heroes are often not military types; they tend to have families, or end up with one, which makes for much sweeter endings, and that overused word "closure". This closure, as in a ll genre fiction, has to be reasonably plausible, but it can't seem forced, which it may in "unintelligent" thrillers. They also tend to be somewhat better written than the "unintelligent" ones, and often, but again not always, the writers of the "unintelligent" ones are British.Some readers of thrillers, however, shy away from these action-oriented, but plausible thrillers, for the "whiz-bangy" "unintelligent" ones. The readers may know they are completely preposterous(and I've talked to some who apparently do), but what they're really after is the action, often just want that. But then, these "unintelligent" thrillers are pretty much archetypal 'guy books" anyway. Be this as it may, we now have a working definition of an "intelligent" v. an "unintelligent" thriller, and I will be expanding on this in the next parts.
There is more to come,
Friday, June 25, 2010
One school of thought, and, contra the author of this particular blog, may be a minority, but it's certainly not slient. The followers of this school of though tend to be very vocal in insisting on usuing lots of "period" language, up to, and including, "old" place names, and deliberately "olde-tymey" langauage. Such usage isn't always appropriate; I recently tried to read a book set in Anglo-Saxon times which used this "olde-tymey" language, and it came out sounding like really bad imitation Shakespeare(and it wasn't meant to be funny, as the use of such language often is), but this author was dead serious.
In the case of the above author on the above blog, the person actually makes a case for this kind of writing. They admit, however, that one has to be careful about such language; there are words like "jet" and "go-cart", used for travel, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but 300-400 years later, they have quite a different meaning, and that is to be expected. Yet some readers reading the work where this kind of language is is used, claimed the usage was "too modern", even though the usage was authentic! Which is just one hazard in using "olde-tymey" words that are familiar to a modern reader.
But it's worse than that The author of this blog sets up a distinction betwee "writerly" and "readerly" books.. The former are somehow to be savoredfor their word usage and word play. The latter are "popular" -- the kind you would find in a drugstore or at an airport, which automatically implies, to the author, at least are forgettable things you usually just throw away. Many such books, whether historical novels, mysteries, thrillers, or something else, are basically "forgettable" in the way he describe. But not all. Because of this distinction, which is basically derived from earlier critics' dismissal of "genre" fiction, as opposed to a certan type of "literary fiction". The latter,is, in the minds of these sorts of critics, automatically "superior", the "only" kind of fiction anyone with a brain should read. In some circles, if you even admit that you like science fiction, or romances, or enjoy reading thrillers, no matter how silly the premise of any given thrilly, as opposed to, say, Jane Austen(no, I don't generally read literary fiction or Jane Austen; I just don't like either genre all that much, though some people are shocked, shocked when I tell them this) This author thinks "erudite" readers will "prefer" this kind of language-play and weird, or "olde-tymey" usages, place manes, etc. The blog entry also implies that readers and writers who "prefer" this kind of literature are somehow superior to those who want a good story. Whhich, IMO, is an incredibly snobbish way of looking at reading habits. My feeling is this: If you want "serious" stuff, get out a book on the history of any given period, read up as much as you can, while dipping into books written in your favorite time period or place. I also realize that what some historical fiction authors, in their heart of harts, really want to write a lightly fictionalized history text. And some readers like this, too, including, apparently, the author of the blog entry. There is nothing, per se, wrong with this, if you really do like this approach to historical fiction or any other genre. But it's not a matter of superior reading or writing habits v. inferior ones.It's a matter of individual taste. And it's not a matter of "good" or "bad", either/ there are, in general, no "good" or "bad" tastes in reading, or writing, just individual ones.
Which brings me to the blogger, and his "relationship" to Anya Seton's Katherine. For the blogger, Katherine basically falls into the "popular but forgettable" category. And the author goes after Katherine for what I think is one of the flimsiest of offenses, namely, what he considers to be "howlers", e.g., "mollycoddle", "chunky", and "scrawny", among other things. I don't know for sure about "chunky" and "scrawny" being used as words in the 15th century, but there are some who say they can make a claim for "mollycoddle". But, as the author of the bolg points out, most readers probably won't "notice" this. He does, because he says he cares; for him, the use of words like "mollycoddle" in the 14th century are just plain dealbraeakers. Fine, if that's what ye wants. But to argue against an author, and a book, which has been highly influential, often to readers and writers of historical fiction, in the nearly fifty years since it was first published, shows the blogger doesn't really really know, or care much about what many readers and writers like to read and write. Or if he does, he simply dismisses it. This is unfortunate. But perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Anya Seton was a woman, writing historical fiction at a time when most historical fiction writers were men, and those men may well have been jealous of her popularity upon writing Katherine.
I should also add that Katherine had a tremendous influence on me, personally. I first read it in my fifteenth summer, and I thought it was wonderful! I have reread it several times since then, and loved it, until the very last time, when it seemed a bit, um, "19050's-ish" to me. But in many ways, it was not only and enjoyable read, but in some ways, a highly influential one. Without having read Katherine the idea that I wanted to write a novel set in medieval England would probably never have occurred to me at all. Since I was also quit3e the science fiction reader at the time(and still am, to some extent), I never would have dreamed up the category "romantic science fiction" to characterize the "science" part of this historical fiction. Furthermore, I think I began learning a lot. I'd never heard of Katherine Swynford before, and ti made me want to learn a lot more about that, and the subsequent period that led to the Wars of the Roseses. I realize few readers would go this far, let alone end up doing some fairly serious historical research for the novel I"m writing now, but I"m hardly the only one so influenced. Katherine is hardly a "forgettable" book; it has sold steadily and appreciated by many since the day it was published. And I truly do not think one needs to be a snob about admitting this, whether reader or writer.
The bottom line here is, I really, really detest snobbish attitudes about anything at all. And when it comes to writers and writing, I practically hit the ceiling when I see evidence of this in writers or readers. Sorry, but I do. Such people may have cultivated "good taste", but they don't seem to realize that it is their tastes they are promoting. Which, in and of itself, is also not bad. If one, for instance likes books and movies with "weepy" endings, that's fine. I've seen at least one person who has explained why they do. And that is also fine. But they didn't attempt to impose their tastes on anybody else, nor did they consider themselves in any way "superior", though I still prefer "happy ever after", and that's the way I write mine.It is the assignation of certain kinds of literature that the truly "erudite" "should" enjoy, if they are truly "erudite", with its built-in attitudes, still sometimes filtered through departments of English in various colleges and universities, that does. I should add that though people who have gone through English majors, are exposed to a lot of "good stuff" , and this is sometimes visible in their writing efforts, most of these "English major survivors" are not snobs about their experiences, though their tastes in reading may be different from mine. In any case, it saddens me to see yet another opinion piece or blog space, still, in this day and age, expressing such opinions. But even then, I respect them, though I disagree.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
I came acorss this post Via a review in Salon, of Brian Fagan's book Cro-Magnon. I must say that Dr. Fagan is a well-respected archaeologist and a good writer who has written many books very good books on various aspects of archaeology. I should also mention that I meant to blog this post several days ago, but have not, for various reasons(partly to do with the now-seasonable weather after a very crappy month of May. In any case, the reviewer seems to think the book is already out of date. And I tend to agree with him.
First, the term "Cro-Magnon". It is popularly used as a standin for early "modern" humans living in Eurasia, who are scientifically named Homo(sapiens)sapiens. But scientists prefer "early moern human" or "Early modern European" to "Cro-Magnon", simply because the latter term is much more inclusive. Furthermore there are no apparent "modern" human fossils found coterminous with the later Neandertals(Homo(sapiens)neanderthalensis. Though the Chauvet Cave painings are generally considered to be the work of "modern" humans, there have been no fossils found, that would prove this, one way or another, at least not in most parts of the world where Neandertals and "moderns" apparently coexisted. There are still big arguments about this, with some workers even thinking Chauvet Cave was decorated by Neandertas, but this can't be proven either. Be that as it may, it appears that Dr. Fagan feels that Neandertals were, somehow, just not smart enough to compete(whatever that might mean in the context) with "modern" humans. Why? Because, in his view, "modern" humans had cave art and Neandertals didn't.Wow! He also thinks they were totally separate"species" that died out, perhaps because "modern" humans "preyed" on them. The only trouble with that idea(aside from the fact that Fagan has had this notion for a rather long time, though in other works, he did't dwell on it), is that at the Max Planck Institute, in Leipzig, Gerrmany, Svante Pääbo and his team have been extracting Neandertal genomes for years.
They started first with mitochondrial DNA, which in Neandertals, appeared to be quite different from "modern" humen mtDNA. This led Pääbp amd his team to conclued, in 1997, that, yeah, Neandertals were definitely quite different from outselves. But wait! The moment Pääbo and his team announced this, studies came out from other geneticists suggesting that it wasn't quite that simple. Among other things, modern chimpanzee subspecies, have greater differences in their mtDNA than did Neandertals.
Then there were the archaeological studies over the years between 1997 and 2010, that suggested very strongly that Neandertal behavior seems to have been very similar to ours in a number of areas, given that they mostly occupied different areas, and had different materials and potential food available to them. In a place calld Salzgitter-Lebenstedt, some 60,000 years ago, they were catching reindeer/caribou in a similar fashion(but without guns and snowmobiles or other transportation devices), in very much the same basic way that certain Alaska natives do in Central Alaska: they essentially herded them, or "met" them as they were crossing a stream(just as modern caribou do in Alaska) in order to get to forests to live through the winter(and breed). Fall is mating season among Rangifer tarandus, and it is also the time they migrate from open tundra to forests with deep, protected snow to keep wolves and other predators away. They are also at their best at that season, and provide a lot of food. Neandertals must surely have noticed their migratory habits and took advantage of this to plan their hunts, just like tradtional "modern" humans do.
Then there's a cave in Jordan called Tor Faraj, where Neandertals lived, patterned their living space in that humble cave, built fires near their sleeping areas to keep them warm at night, and so onIthey seem to have done that in various caves in Spain, too). Also, some 60,000 years ago or so, they were using birch pitch to make glue so they could better haft their tools(including "thrusting" spears which they mostly apparently used. Other workers discovered that, later on, Neandertals were associated with the so-called "Chatelperronian" style of tool making(and symbolic objects like necklaces or pendants. Some of these imply that Neandertals understood symbolism just as well as "modern" humans did. This strikes me as being very sophisticated indeed. And the archaeologist Francisco d'Errico claims that they came up with this "Chatelperronian" style independent of any "modern" humams. Others pooh-poohed him, claiming that the Neandertals "only imitated" what they saw on "moderns". This is one of the stupider conclusions I've seen, because aside from imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it takes anunderstanding of symbols and like characteristics, to be able to imitate anything. But then, people used to think that the native people of Australia were stupid, too, yet they knew to used some materials from the invading Europeans, for their own use on weapons, which strikes me, at least, as extremely smart.
Finally, in 2010, João Zilhão, found a stash of shells of some deep sea mussel in a cave in Spain. It was a Neandertal cave, and the shells had been decorated with a mixture of red hematite, ochre, and some slightly sparkly substance. The shells, in other words, were painted a kind of peachy orange, and strung through natural holes, for some probable symbolic purpose. Remnants of some shells seem to have been used as mixing cups for this purpose. Some West African people used to do things like this. Maybe they still do.
But that wasn't all. By 2010, Svante Pääbo and his team started in on sequencing the nuclear Neandertal genome. It is not yet compliete, but the results were a complete surprise: People who ended up in regions other than sub-Saharan Africa have some 1-4% "Neandertal" genes! Sub-Saharan Africans don't, but that hasn't stopped them from contributing to the gene pools of the rest of the world, one way or another, including, of course, the fact that they seem to have given us the modern "morph", which is the glue that holds all the world's populations together, IMO. We can no longer deny our kinship with Neandertals, a misunderstood prehistoric group, if there every was one. In fact, they are what I like to call a "despised group"; nobody in their right mind, supposedly, would claim kinship with them. One paleoanthropologist(whose psssible identity I won't reveal here, in order to protect the guilty), thinks Neandertals were so ugly and stupid he actually said he was glad he was different from them! But even "despised groups" are now asking for their human rights, and if Neandertals were still around, I am sure they would be, too. Unfortunately, they are a prehistoric despised group, which is not around any more, at least not as a distinct type, so they can't. That is one of the reasons, aside from the fact that they are strong presences in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, I write about them a lot. My aim is to make them respectable.
Having said all of this, it is quite apparent that Brian Fagan has no interest whatever and checking to see if his theories are correct. He doesn't appear to care if Neandertals are respectable or not. But many people do.The views presented in Cro-Magnon now seem wildly out of date, according to the reviewer, and I tend to agree with him. Whether or not Neandertals are Homo sapiens neanderthalensis or just Homo neanderthalensis, it is increasingly obvious that they seem to have thought like us, made the same kinds of decisions(given the respective contexts) as us, and generally behaved in ways quite similar to ourselves, mich as wolves and coyotes have similar habits(coyotes even form packs, where undisturbed) --and they have been known to mate! Three-qaurters of all "wolves" around the Great Lakes area have "coyote" gene sequences, and there are "coyotes" in New England and southeastern Canada, that have "wolf" genes. What does that make them? I don't know, but I have come to the conclusion that the genus Homo, starting at least with Homo erectus, were all capable of interbreeding, as this very same reviewer seems to be suggesting.
So Brian Fagan might want to consider two possible courses of action(or maybe both of them at the same time). First, he might want to try to open his mind a bit and get over his(and a lot of other people's) fixation on the (mostly anatomical IMO differences between Neandertals and ourselves, and he might also want to consider not involving himself in a subfield about which he very obviously knows almost nothing, except "recieved wisdom" that will, most likely, turn out to be quite mistaken.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
But I'm not here to "denounce" cozies. They are obviously a popular subgenre, and there are a lot of them around. What interested me was, that one of the people who chimed in on this discussion, hated, absolutely hated, mysteries solved by "telepathic cats" or other companion animals. I understand this person's feelings. Besides wolves, cats are my other most favorite animal, so I've tried to read a few of these, and, quite frankly, they are very, very boring!
But this gave me a (sort of) idea. What if there was some way to write a mystery where wolves solved it in some way. Of course there would have to be humans involved too, and it would have to be in some place where there enough wolves to make this a possibility. Maybe Yellowstone? Isle Royale has been done by at least one person. Then how would you get the wolves to go about solving the ,mystery? I have a kind of half-baked idea right now(talk about writer's creativity) Maybe I could get my Dauarga(Neandertals) involved? It's an interesting idea, and to many people it would sound absolutely crazy. Or maybe, to make it slightly easier, I could substitute coyotes for wolves(they pretty much the same habits and reproductive cycle as wolves, and they are very, very common around here, even residing in city parks. I don't know. What do you, gentle readers, think of this? It wouldn't be a cozy, because I don't think I could write thoseII;ve read a few cozies that I've actually liked), so anyone who reads this and likes "cozies" please don't be offended; it's just that my tastes just differ somewhat from yours. In any case, I'm going to tu4rn this around in my brain for a while and see what comes of it. The project might be interesting!
Oh, and any suggestions or opinions, pro or con, will be cheerfully accepted.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
But the other problem was, my computer went out of commissio, earlier in the month -- agian. It turned out that the hard drive the computer people put in last February, was a bummer. So I didn't have to pay for anything but the costs of the labor this time. Fortunately. So that
kept me out of commission for another little while. Ugh.
Besides, there wasn't too much going on that I wanted to blog about. Well, yes there was, but once I got this crud, I just didn't feel like blogging about it, at least not in May.Which is why I haven't blogged much in the past month. Never fear, though. I think there are going to be a fair number of things I'll be blogging about this month, and in coming months. I don't yet know what they'll be, other than they will be somehow connected with my writing. I'll keep y'all posted.
And you should all bear in mind, that computers are a bit like cats -- they do exactly what they want to do, regardless of the owners wishes. And unlike cats, computers are not warm and furry.
Friday, May 21, 2010
What I'm talking about here has more to do with the way some writers think about conceiving stories and characters. I've mostly talked to writers of historical fiction, but the kind of preferences I'm talking about here exist in other genres, as well. I should mention that I think there is something of a natural bias toward writing about people of ones own biological sex. When I first started writing, I generally conceived my principal characters as female. I thought I "understood" them better. Somnetimes this bias works, if it happens to fit the story. For example, I have a book that I'll be working on whenever it is that I finish with my Invaders trilogy. It's not medieval, but it does describe the life of a fifteen year old girl in her own words. Hint: in a continuing effort to make Neandertals respectable, and kind of connect it with what I'm now writng, she's a Neandertal too, but only a few peopel know this, and to most of the world, they're just basically middle-class folk. It's kind of an adventure story set in the near future in a former Wester Washingto timber town(fictional, of course). In any case, I go into detail describing this, because having a female lead here fits the kind of story I tell.
In The Invaders, the situation is a bit different. Illg is the lead female character(she's the one that looks sort of like the Neanderlady that sits near the title of my blog). But two of the main characters, both rivals for her affections in various ways, and the story is partly driven by Illg's inability for a long time, at least, to make a choice between the two. This inability has consequences that ensue. So I had to flesh out the male characters in some ways. I needed to have them think at least somewhat like men, and think about their world and women more or less in the context of their time. I don't know if I have succeeded or not, but in order to draw characters, I had to open my mind to the way men often think. This wasn't as easy as it may sound, but I did it, and found it an interesting perspective top say the least. I also have a prequel in the worls, which centers around one of the secondary characters -- Mat Fartraveled. Needless to say, he's a Neandertal character too. Again, I have gone into some detail about this, because I've learned something, at least about myself. As a writer, it's a good idea, in my opinion -- whatever one's natural instincts -- to keep one's mind open and flexible.
However, not all writers agree. I find this particularly troubling when (some) women writers seem to continually write male characters, and, at least ion historical novels, find them more "interesting". Now I understand how some historical novelists might feel this way, because until quite recently, there were a lot of things women supposedly weren't "allowed" to do. Except that they often did them. In the Middle Ages, a lot of women ran businesses, particularly after their husbands died, and nobody thought this odd at all. They were sometimes very good at this, are records all over the place, particularly in England, about some of these women. Of course, women had to work their way around a lot of restrictions, but that, to me, could be one way a writer of historical fiction could make their female characters as "interesting" as those men.
But I am equally disturbed, in a way, with women writers who will "only" write female characters, whether real, historical people or not. In this case, it feels to me equally restrictive to "only" write about one sex/gender, on the basis that they "understand" their own sex/gender "better". I am disturbed by this personally, because it suggests a sort of rigidity which, to me, at least, is unbecoming to a writer. Writers work with imaginative twists and ideas, and that in itself should suggest more openness about "what it might be like" to be a man(or a woman(if you're a male writer) Even if you end up "getting it wrong", you have, at least, tried. And yes, I've "met" both kinds of writers.
It's true some male writers(and again, I'm not talking about the writers of the average "guy book"), can't seem to "write" women at all. The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein comes to mind, but there are plenty of others. This, oddly enough, is less of a problem in science fiction today. Although a lot of sci-fi is still writtne by and for males, there are an increasing number of female science fiction writers, some of them quite good, and there are plenty of strong female characters om tjat genre.
Oddly enough, there is an overabundance of female characters in historical novels. This is partly driven by what publishers think their audience(apparently mainly female) will actually read. This is both good and bad. It's good, because the reader gets to know some pretty strong female characters, such as Elizabeth I. The bad news, that these writers all tend to write about the same female characters(like Elizabeth I). The other "bad news" is that some writers concentrate on male characters because they "prefer" them, thinking them more iinteresting in historical terms, but perhaps this is also a reaction to the overabundance of female historical characters.
This is my plea yere: I would like to see both interesting and strong male and female characters, in historical novels, and in any other genre as well. For historical novelists, perhaps part of the answer is to write less biographical fiction, and write about people, male and female(either one can be a lead character, depending on the situation), living in a historical time and being affected or somehow participating in the events of that time. This is what I see as lacking, and if some writers opened their minds a little more, perhaps they could become flexible enough to do this. I should also finally say that one of the reasons I like Ariana Franklin's and Jeri Westerson's books is, they have strong male and female leads, who also share in the events of their disparate times, and furthermore, the novels themselves seem to be reasonably accurate reflections of those times. I would like to see more of this kind of writing.
Again, thank you,
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
A Murderous Procession
G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 2010, 337 pp.
When Ariana Franklin's first book in this series, Mistress of the Art of Death, first came out, many people criticized her heroine for somehow "not being of the period", which was the latter half of the 12th century. This, BTW, was roughly just before the Third Crusade started, but that's another story.Ms. Franklin, whose real name is Diana Norman, and who has written books -- all historical, under her own name, seems to me to be quite well-versed in the century and the people she's writing about. And her feisty heroine, who solves cases through "the art of death", namely what we would now call forensic science, remains delightfully feisty.
Many, though fortunately not all, authors who write in and of various periods we call "medieval" tend to shy away from having central characters who are women, unless they are writing romances. Usually, though, romances set in historical periods tend not to be long on accuracy, and sometimes this is glaringly obvious. Ariana Franklin is a welcome exception to this(though there are a couple of others I can think of. She is also, in my opinion, a happy exception to the trend for writing medieval mysteries with monk or nun detectives. To me, monastic life in the Middle Ages is at best, only mildly interesting. Perhaps this is my background, which didn't include much in the way of r"religious" training, but I don't know. In any case, I'm glad Adelia has an interesting, but believable background(n the context of her time)., and, almost as delightful to me, are her struggles to somehow carry out a place for herself that allows her reasonable independence, yet give her some security in life. In her other books, it is obvious she has made sacrifices, including marriage to a man she really cares about, but who ends up headed for a bishopric.It's obvious he cares for her, too, though he doesn't make a huge number of appearances.
Like all good detective heroes and heroines, Adelia is kind of an outsider. An orphan raised by a couple , one of whom is Jewish and the other Christian, and given an education unusual even in the rather liberal Sicily of her time, she gets caught up in the politics of a completely -- to her -- foreign country, thanks to the wishes and needs of the formidable King Henry II, and she keeps ending up working on mysteries for him. A Murderous Procession is no exception, as this story deals with Adelia's travails when ordered to accompany Henry's ten year old daughter Joanna, to marry the ruler of Sicily. From practically the moment she joins the "procession", murder and mayhem ensue in various forms, and she becomes increasingly aware that a murderous figure from her recent past may be involved in some way. Of course, like all good mysteries, there are plenty of hints along the way, and everything is more or less revealed at the end. I also like the way Ms. Franklin has (sort of) used both Arthurian themes(her last mystery was set in and around Glastonbury Abbey, where the monks there claimed to have dug up the bones of Arthur and Guinevere, and, along with the stories then circulating and very popular with everyone, , got the legends really rolling. She also hints a bit at Robin Hood as well; this comes out more in A Murderous Procession, but she never lets the legendary overwhelm her story. It is a mystery, first and foremost, and an engaging one at that.
Some readers and writers may disagree with my assessment. I myself was afraid that this third book in the series might be a letdown. Endless series often are. They just get stale after a while. Fortunately, I can say, after having read the book, that this has not happened with A Murderous Procession. For this reason, I continue to recommend her Adelia books, and look forward to the next one, whenever it comes out.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I've been meaning to blog about tthe latest findings re Neandertals. You see, according to Svante Pääbo and his team at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, they have sequenced 60% of "the Neandertal genome". This genome was extracted from three pieces of bone from Neandertals found at Vindija Cave, Slovenia. And it seems that many of us living today have a little bit of "Neandertal" in them. People from sub-Saharan Africa don't seem to, but since people from sub-Saharan Africa seem to have been the population that gave birth and rise to "modern" humans, I can kind of see why this would be so, although, despite the barrier of the Sahara Desert, there was probably at least some interchange, at least later on in human evolutionary times.
ThePääbo people estimated that people outside of Africa carry about 1-4 per cent "Neandertal" genes, probably arising from fairly early gene exchanges between wandering "moderns" and wandering Neandertals, though this study is probably far from complete, and some people who have heard about it, think the "Neandertal" contribution may well have been higher. The John Hawks Weblog gives the Gentle Reader an excellent overview of the study, though it is rather long and scientifically detialed. There are also plenty of news stories about this, as the story had been all over the media over the last few days.
This is an exciting discovery in many ways, and kind of confirms some of the suspicions I had, when I first began gathering information for the book I was then writing, which was quite different from what I'm writing now, although I ended up with a bunch of spinoffs, some of which take place in "modern" times, from just this one point of entry, so to speak.
But this story takes place in medieval England, and there are three Neandertals in it: Illg, the heroine -- who looks not unlike the Neanderlady in my picture, though her hair is less messy, but it is very obviously red, just as, a few years ago, it turned out that Neandertals apparently had a version of the skin pigment gene MC1R, which can confer light hair and skin, and sometimes red hair and freckles. It isn't quite the same version of MC1R as exists in "modern" humans today, in certain parts of the world, but from a hair and skin color point of view, an average viewer wouldn't be likely to be able to tell the difference.
Curiously, or not so curiously, perhaps, neither Illg, nor her companions Ren of the Three Trees(her older cousin who is supposed to be her guardina), and Mat Fartraveled, a friend of Ren's(and there seem to have been a lot of Viking-era people called Fartraveled, which doesn't raise too many eyebrows among those people who encounter Mat, either. seem particularly "noticeable" to the medieval people they encounter, except for their "big" noses(though Illg, being female, has a somewhat "daintier" one), and in my sotry, all Neandertals have a certain sexual charisma which, if they choose to exercise it, can prove irresistable to some people, especially those with the requisite "Neandertal genes".
It just so happens that the hero, Hardwin, and the antihero, Ivo(who springs from a medieval family "from hell"), both have the requisite genes, which makes them unusually sensitive to conditions in their surroundings in various ways, though both of them are what I call "fighting men" and what later became known as "knights". But they both become attracted to Illg, and Illg is attracted to both of them, though from the beginning, she's more attracted to Hardwin. From this, spins a ver complicated tale, with a "cast of thousands", many of whom are real people.
The point here is, much of what I deduced from my early reading about Neandertals -- their behavior, probable genome, abilities, brain power, even their ability to speak -- have turned out to not be too far off what I learned and put together. It would make sense, for example, that Neandertals were probably light haired, light skinned, and light eyed, because they lived in cool, cloudy, Paleolithic Eurasia, for the most part, though some lived in the Middle East and Israel. So, like modern Western Europeans, they would not have needed a lot of protection from the sun in order to survive.
They also seem to have had all of the prerequisites for ability to speak a language, incliding physical ones like a modern-looking hyoid bone(the bone that attaches the tongue to the muscles of the throat, certain "speech genes" which are identical to "ours" and so on. And in my books, they speak perfectly intelligibly.
It's also true that Neandertals differed (somewhat) anatomically speaking, but unless they had arthritis, and a fair number of them did, they could walk upright like we don, and used their environment in similar ways to "modern" humans, given what they had available to them. Their heads were somewhat differently shaped, having lower foreheads and a kind of "bun" or "bump" at the back of the head, which has led some people to believe that their brains must have developed differently, though there appears to be no evidence of this. But the people in medieval England don't "notice" this, either, as they are careful to blend in as much as they can.
Most importantly, since the people they meet, don't "know", other than to guess(sometimes), that they have some rather um, unusual abilities(which is part of what makes this science fiction rather than a kind of "alternative history"(they even know space travel, since they are on a kind of mission from a planet where their ancestors were taken before they apparently became completely extinct, in a solar system in a nearby part of the galaxy. they are accepted as perfectly human, thank you very much. This allows Illg and her hero, Hardwin, to fall in love, but for most of the story they are kept apart, partly by circumstance, and partly by Illg's dithering, because she's pretty young when she starts out, and also is somewhat impulsive when she sees wrongs that need, in her opinion, to be righted, and these get her into various kinds of difficulties.
Of course, there's a lot more to this story than what I've suggested here, but it is, in various ways, firmly based in the scientific findings I've outlined above. There are some pretty firm archaeological and human evolutionary references as well, for those who like the scientific, even in an obviously historical setting.
And for those who like the "historical", everything in this book is as factual as I can get it, where the facts exist(and in this particular period of time, there aren't all that many "facts" to go on). To fill in gaps of various kinds, I've had to make up certain things, but I've tried to be as careful as possible. And it's been very hared work, though I have enjoyed, and am still ejoying, every minute of it. Scientific research like I've been doing is exhilarating and often exhausting. So is the writing process.
Now that I've mentioned the names and relationships of the most important characters in my book, I'll probably be writing more about them(and others, as well), at least from time to time. I'll certainly be blogging a lot more about the latest Neandernews and what it all means,
Sunday, May 2, 2010
On the other hand, I sometimes come across something that the author really wants people to read, but when I read it, I find that the person who did the writing simply hasn't done enough work. And after reading the last one of this kind, I can see why Robert Sawyer is so "down" on self-published material. What I read isn't science fiction, and just so as not to offend anybody who has self- published, I've read some self-published material that is actually quite decently written and edited.
But too often, I think self publishing is just a way for an author to just get "something" into print. This is the case with a book I've been reading off and on. I won't name the author, or the historical period it's in, other than to say it takes place in medieval England, with historical characters being the principals.
This author chose an interesting subject, but apparently started out to, uh, write a romance. Except that, for the characters involved, the situation was probably anything but "romantic". Still, s/he got kind of carried away, especially with what the author Elizabeth Chadwick calls "twisy-twasery" writing(I call it "fake poetic")/ Others have called it "forsoothly" writing. The people use a lot of 'tis, 'twas, "fake Biblical" or "fake Shakespeare" language, some of which isn't really appropriate, and in any case, does absolutely nothing to make the feel of the time and place any more "authentic". Author should have stuck to plain modern English.
There is also a little matter of some of the historical characters acting in a way that they probably never would have done in real life --I can't give any details, since I'm not naming the author or the period --but no matter how one interprets the actions of a particular historical character, it is possible to see that some actions an author makes up, would simply have been "out of character" for that person, place, or circumstance. There are a few possible errors of fact, also.
These could probably be forgiven, since any given reader will probably not know very much about the period they're reading about. Even the "twisy-twasery" could be forgiven -- some readers of historical fiction actually like this. But what can't be forgiven is the apparent lack of thorough editing. There are numerous examples. Conversations are not indented, as they should be. The author didn't bother to indent conversations, either, which is, well, usual in most writing. There are also a good many apparent spelling or typographical errors, and inconsistent spellings of some place names. Which doesn't even even cover some fairly basic grammatical errors, like being able to understand where you should use "I" and where you should use "me".
The author had an interesting premise, and a possible very good story there. I really don't know whether s/he just thought it was finished, was in a hurry, and didn't realize s/he should have done another draft, just to smooth this kind of stuff out, or whether s/he just wanted to get it in front of the public so badly that they rushed it into print.
And I also hasten to say that I'm not totally against self-publishing, unlike RobertSawyer(but then, I've never seen ay self-published science fiction, good, bad, or indifferent). But I do think that if you're going to write a novel, of any kind, please, dear writer, give it your best shot. Write and rewrite the thing polish and polish some more, till you get all the grammatical errors, historical errors(if it's a historical novel), "typesetting" issues, etc., out of the way, before you send it anywhere. "Traditional" agents will immediately reject the book I have been reading, on just these grounds, and the poor author will get nowhere, despite whatever interesting idea they have. If you've done your absolute best, had other "eyes" look it over, sent it around to publishers and agents who have rejected it for whatever reason, and then you do decide to self-publish, that's one thing. Sometimes that may be all you, the author, can do. You owe your readers at least that much. If you do decide to go the self-published route, you owe your readers that much. If you don't do this, however, you will just make the reputation of self-published work even worse than it is at present(which is still not very good). Readers don't need this. It's hard enough to find good reading material of any kind, as it is.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Just a quick note to let everybody know(if you can't see it already), that I've changed the blog background. The reason? Someone suggested it was difficult to read and caused eyestrain. I don't want that, and believe it or not, I am responsive to these things. If you have any likes or dislikes about this latest change, Gentle Readers, I will listen carefully
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
On the other hand, Brutus was apparently about 10 years old. That's pretty old for a wolf in the wild, and it looks like he did live a nice wolf life in a tough environment. He sured a lot of pups, some of whom are still apparently with the pack, so his genes, if nothing else, are probably living on. And you could say, while alive, he did the job nature intended him to do, which is good enough. Still, it's sad, especially for the researchers, to lose one of the wolves whose movements they were tracking.
Rest in peace, Brutus the Wolf,
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Apparently the link to the letter the little boy wrote to the mayor, in my previous post about the Seattle Public Library System, did not go through. Don't ask why. Computers can be mysterious things.
Anyway, here it is:
Read it if you wish. It's quite powerful, in its way.
That time has come around again. Budget time for the City of Seattle. Unfortunately, there is a shortfall, and the budget looks as tight as ever. Which means somebody is going to try to cut library system's hours and services. This affects a lot of people
The kid who wrote this e-mail to Hizzoner Mayor McGinn had a point. There are still people, whose only access to computers is through the local library system. And it's not just little kids, either. I've mentioned before that many of the people who don't have access are immigrants trying to become citizens, people looking for a job, some homeless people who try to keep in contact.
There is also the "human" aspect: How about parents of small children who want to find some parenting advice that fits their child? They may have computers, and that helps, but they may need just some time away, especially if their child has special needs. The library system might, for them, be a place to relax for a short while, to catch their breath. Libraries are also community "hubs" of various kinds. Community meetings and other functions are often held in them, and the wonderful thing about libraries(certainly that's the case here in Seattle), is that they're free for all. We citizens pay a certain amount of taxes to keep them funded. I realize also that some people here in the US are pretty "antitax", but they, too, use the library, regardless of whether they think tax money that goes to fund libraries is a good idea or not.
I also realize that what is happening in Seattle, as far as budget difficulties go, is happening all over the country. In this sluggish economy, these problens are unlikely to be resolved soon, and in my opinion, this is all the more reason to get our City Council and Mayor McGinn to hold the line on funding for the library. We have been cut enough.
Also, while this may seem "political", and in a way it is, I want to assure all Gentle Readers that this is not, and never will be, a "political" blog. It is primarily a blog about writing, medieval history and society(especially in a certain period in medieval England), prehistoric humans(especially Neandertals), and I won't leave out My Beloved Wolves. Most of these subjects relate to the book I'm writing, so I feel justified.
But libraries are important to writers, too. Oh, there are lots of interesting resources, of varying quality, on the Internet, and that's the trouble. They are of varying quality. Some are quite good, others, well, dubious to say the least. So my fallback is libraries, for research. Yes, we writers often do research about whatever we're writing about! So this is why I occasionally blog about the state of the library system here in Seattle, and what I think should be done about it. Libraries are a reflection of the health of the local community, and thus are important for their own sake.
And lest anyone think I'm just sitting on my behind complaining about this, I"m not. Yesterday, I e-mailed the mayor, and everysingle member of the Seattle City Council, laying out reasons why they should hold the line with the Seattle Library System budget, and not cut any more. I hope they will take heed. I also plan to attend a community meeting about this, in about 2 weeks. I will not stay silent. I will do what I can to add my voice, and try to keep the library going as it is till better times. And when better times come, I plan to add my voice to a push for expansion and restoration of previously cut hours and services. I will not be silent about that, either.
Friday, April 23, 2010
I have been hoping to recount the genesis of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals long before this, but there have been many things, including life, that have interfered. I will be posting about this, soon.
But unfortunately, I have to pass this alarming news on, to those who love all living beings, including wolves. It seems that something bad has happened to the wolves on Ellesmere Island that scientists at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota have been following.
In the first place, something seems to have happened to the radio collar on Brutus, the wolf through which the scientists have been following this pack, has stopped transmitting. Sometimes, a collar malfunctions or falls off. Unfortunately, it also stops functioning when the creature wearing it dies or disappears. This is what is alarming.
There is a weather station nearby, but apparently the weather station people can't snowmobile to the last place from which information was transmitted. Weather at this time of year is even more "uncertain" than April weather around where I live. And more dangerous to snowmobile in when it is.
So we don't really know what has happened to Brutus. Except that he hasn't been seen with the pack, and that's bad news, too. If something has happened to him, the scientists will doubtless r4adiocollar another pack member, and they can follow its movements into the summer. I do hope this doesn't portend more disaster for them, though.
p.s. I will post more info about Washington wolves, whenever I can get my hands on it.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
It looks as if the town of Bury St. Edmunds is going to recycle a 13th century guildhall for um, modern purposes. You can see the site here:
The exterior certainly looks "medieval" enough. And atmospheric, too!
Sunday, April 18, 2010
I'm linking Judy Arnopp's Medieval Scribe to my bloglist. I think it's a worthy addition, especially since her(strictly historical) novel, Peaceweaver is set in a slightly earlier period than mine is(I'll be writing more about that, later), but featuring some of the same characters. I haven't read it yet, but it looks good!
Monday, April 12, 2010
I've already noticed that most readers, and even more so writers, like "accuracy" in historical fiction. Which is fine. A historical novelist should maintain accuracy in whatever historical fiction they're writing about. But that inevitably leads to the question about what is "accurate" or "accuracy". Some writers, for example, feel that they must use "period" place names, or a lot of expressions like "ere", "nay" "tis" "twas", and so on. Or write the names of people in "period" style(or what they think is "period" style(how many of these writers actually know Old English or Old French, for example?) These kinds of things can be quite confusing for a modern reader. es[ecoa;;u of the modern reader is being asked to figure out how to pronounce some Old English name as it was originally written down(since monks were about the only people who could write, and there were no "rules" about how to transcribe place or personal names, these things could vary wildly, but recognizably, which only adds to a modern' reader's confusion. And that doesn't even take into consideration that English-speaking writers are basically communicating in modern English.
Another interesting thing is, the majority of historical fiction readers tend to be female, and both female readers and writers, tend to gravitate toward biographical fiction about Famous People. Which is one reason so much Tudor-themed material is being written for the growing historical fiction market. Which has resulted in an absolute glut of Tudor-themed books. . . . This may be partly publisher-driven' the people who publish books have apparently gotten it into their heads that "everybody" likes Tudor stuff. A fair number of historical fiction readers have gotten into that period, and love, love, love it, but I was never all that interested in Tudor anyway, and I'm beginning to feel that there's just an absolute glut on Tudor-themed historical novels. Aren't there any other periods that are interesting? The same thing could be said, especially in the US, about the abundance of American Civil War themed books. And the American Civil War is, for reasons I won't go into here, I avoid, avoid, avoid.
This, by the way, is not a rant, exactly. Just an observation. Men write historical novels, too, but men's historical novel-writing tends to be closer to the "thriller" subgenre, in that it tends toward blood, guts, war, battle, etc. and often doesn't have very well-rounded female characters. When there is a female character that's reasonably well defined, I've noticed a tendency among some male writers, to just have the female character sit at home and cry or there is a "bedroom reunion" or something like that. Men still don't tend to view women as having any real "agency", and it shows. This all too often doesn't accord with actual history; even constrained by the mores of their times, women could, and did, and not infrequently, act on their own for sme reason or another(but all within the framework of their times)
As I said, this post is not "scientific" at all. I don't pretend that it is. It's just my observations, and I'm sure there are many, many exceptions which the Gentle Blog Reader can surely point out, if they wish to do so. I will have more to say about a lot of this in a not-too-distant future post.
My purpose here, though, is to introduce the new blog Clio's Children,which is a group blog, devoted to historical fiction, which I was invited to join. I haven't posted anything -- yet. But I intend to as soon as the blog is better established. Those of you who are interested in historical fiction, may want to follow my musings there.
Friday, March 26, 2010
I’ve changed the blog. No, not the title or the content, just the background. I’m trying to make it more like I wanted it in the first place. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, but I changed the background somewhat, and I then had to change the link colors so they would be more or less “reader friendly”. I will probably continue to do more tinkering, but not so much that it’s completely unrecognizable. I just want to have it both imaginative and “writerish”.
Let me know how you like it,Anne G
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Bloomsbury Press, 2009
I came across Troubadour quite unexpectedly. I was in the local library, as is my habit at certain times, to see what might be there that would make good, entertaining reading, I had never really paid much attention to Mary Hoffman, the author, though I have seen some of her work – Young Adult-type books set in a sort of “alternate” Renaissance Italy, based on some visits to Florence that she’d made earlier. Troubadour looked interesting, but I didn’t pay much attention to it in the bookstore, either.
However, when I came across the book in the library, I did pay attention. It’s not often you see a book aimed at “young adults” that the library staff feels adults might enjoy. And they were right; I enjoyed it very much. I knew next to nothing about the Cathars, or the “crusade” against them, mainly motivated, apparently, by the desire of the king of France to gain more control over southern France, and the desire of a number of his vassals(many of whom were semi-independent), to grab more land. The “crusade” itself was long and bloody, but the Cathars were finally crushed.
Judging by the way the book is put together, and considering the audience the book is aimed at, Ms. Hoffman does a very good job of pulling a complex time, place, and set of characters together, while not appearing to be preaching a “history lesson”. Her principal focus is on a young girl of marriageable age, named Elinor. Her parents, or at least her mother, are very worried about her seemingly wild ways, and her mother decides this can be cured by getting her married off to a much older man with children of his own. Part of this reason has to do with the dark clouds on the political horizon, which eventually led to the so'-called “Albigensian” crusade, which resulted in terrible bloodshed against the “heretics” known as Cathars(though they themselves apparently never used this term calling themselves “Good People”). As the story develops, it becomes apparent that she and her family are in danger, because her father is a secret Cathar, and it also turns out that this is one of the reasons her parents are so anxious to get her married off.
However, Elinor has no intention of marrying the man chosen for her, although women in Southern France at this time had considerable freedoms of their own. They could inherit property, and prospective husbands had to pay a bride price for them, rather than having property in the form of a dowry passed to them. Furthermore, there were apparently some quite strong and competent women in this region at the time. Be this as it may, Elinor manages to run away, disguised as a boy, and joins a troupe of what Hoffman calls joglars, basically entertainers of both sexes. She has a nice voice, and is allowed to sing some troubadour compositions(Troubabours composed the verses, and they were usually of higher rank than the entertaiiners; they didn’t have to sing). She is particularly interested in one troubadour called Bertran, who also turns out to be a secret Cathar, and because he has taken certain vows, can’t marry anyone, let alone the impressionable young Elinor.
Basically a “coming of age” story set in a very turbulent time and place, the story focuses on what Elinor learns about herself and others, and her realization of who she is really meant to be. This book is full of adventure, and there are some terrible and sad parts, but they are never overdone. Without entering a spoiler here, suffice it to say that the story does end happily for Elinor, though in the time period she is “on the road” and away from home, she matures into a very wise young woman. While this story may be a little “lightweight” for some adults who prefer more “serious” stuff, fans of historical fiction, of any age, should enjoy it. I certainly did, and I’d like to see more in this vein out of Ms. Hoffman.Anne G
Saturday, March 6, 2010
On a writer’s site where I have a version of the first book in my trilogy uploaded(with great difficulty, I might add), I also do reviews and critiques of some people’s work. I do a fair amount of reviewing sci-fi/fantasy, and some historical novels, since The Invaders is a hybrid – of sorts – or both genres.
Which brings me to my dilemma, the one I want opinions about. I’ve noticed a tendency on the part of some writers of historical novels, to use “old” place names instead of their “modern” equivalents. I can understand the reasoning behind this: in Anglo-Saxon times, for example, the city of York was called something like Eorferwic or Jorvik(by Viking-era Scandinavians who traded there). The problem for me is, such usage may turn out to be very confusing for the average modern reader. And yet some readers of historical novels actually prefer this. Again, the reasoning behind this preference seems to be that it is more “authentic” to give the “old” place name, because that was what was used at the time, rather than the modern one, regardless of whatever confusion a reader may feel. I think, too, these writers(and a fair number of readers who may know more than “average” about whatever historical period the novel is set in), want what they feel is consistency here. They don’t want what they feel are “modern” attitudes seeping into their novels, and if this means using “old” place names, so be it.
And I can understand that, too. I used to read a lot of romance novels, and got rather disgusted with the historical ones, when the writers would use out-of-period, or obviously made-up names that no one in that period of time would ever have used, or had things like castles in the wrong places or times(I actually started critiquing a historical novel that was set in a time when there weren’t essentially, any castles. This woman appears to have had serious problems, because she got all upset when I mentioned this to her, and I never did find anything out about her novel. I suppose you can credit my anthropology background for some of this sensitivity; names tend to “belong with” periods and “ethnic” groups. Names make the people of such ethnic groups and/or time periods instantly recognizable as who or what they are.
I also understand that many writers think that their readers want easy-to-swallow history lessons, because they fear history is not taught in their schools or in their country, particularly well. In this, they are right, but I’m not sure that this kind of attention to detail is going to “teach” the reader anything he or she really wants to know. If they really want to learn about “what really happened”, there are libraries, and the interested reader will probably be interested enough to get such details about the period, on their own. I did much of my own research this way: I knew a little bit about Neandertals before I started writing(they existed in the past), and nothing at all about earlier medieval England, except a vague blur of events. I had enough sense to want to get it “right”. At the same time, though, I did not want to burden any potential readers with a lot of facts; rather, I wanted to give a flavor of the times, as accurately as possible, while at the same time telling an interesting, and hopefully compelling, story. I hope some potential readers will be interested enough to do their own research, and if they’re really dedicated, write their own novels. That, I think, is the best any writer, even of a “hybrid” genre like mine, can do.
Which brings me to my dilemma. Well, I guess it isn’t really a dilemma, at least not for me. I don’t use “old” place names; I think the extra possible authenticity(and I have come to the conclusion that authenticity is as much in the mind of the writer as it is “factual”) is negated by the possible confusion to the reader – even if that confusion is, to some extent mitigated by a glossary or end notes of some kind. So I use modern place names. I also avoid expressions like “ere”, “nay” “mayhap”, etc. like the plague. For me, these particular words may well have been used in “olden” times, but the problem is, the people living in “olden” times, sounded just as modern, to themselves, as we do now. I am fairly sure that at least some of those who could read, might have found “olden” language used in their time, stilted and unnatural.
By the same token, then, I use what I call “modern standard” English for dialogue(indicating when people are speaking some other language when necessary). No, I don’t use slang, though I do try to add “flavor” by using expressions that were probably used in that time period. I realize a number of writers, and readers, would disagree with me here. I also know that some very fine writers, who have immersed themselves in a particular period, are happy to use a “flavor” of “olde-timey” language, just the way some writers use, or think they can use, “dialect”(the number of people who try to imitate Scots is really unbelievable, and they never get anywhere close to the real thing). Yes, this may be less “authentic” in some ways, but I think it’s more important to suggest authenticity in other ways. A writer can, for example, flavor their character’s thoughts about things by, for example, contrasting the common way of thinking about, say, Native Americans, in the 18th century, with their own, if their own attitudes happen to be different for any reason(maybe they were brought up in Quaker households, for example). They can describe clothing and buildings in some detail. They can, without overpowering the reader, describe what kinds of medical treatments were available. And so on. The astute reader will ”get the picture” if they’re alert enough. And as I said earlier, if they’re really interested, they might read more about the period and the people of that period, especially if information is abundant.
In other words, my primary concern is, telling an interesting story, while keeping any historical side as accurate as possible. I’m not here to give a history lessen, especially in view of the fact that what I’m writing is kind of a hybrid(I call it “romantic science fiction set in medieval England” for lack of any other way of describing it). As there is also “prehistoric” detail involved(which is a whole other area of research), I’ve “flavored” the book with that as well. But again, my purpose isn’t, per se, to give a lecture no the course of human evolution. If people are sufficiently interested, they will also do research on this, for themselves. Therefore, I’ am not so “historically obsessed” as some, but I’m not going to lie about anything that “happened”; I’m going to get as much “right” as
possible, but that simply weaves in and out of the story I’m telling.
Which, when push comes to shove, I am inviting comment here. What do you think? How accurate do you need to be in a situation like mine. Remember, that although I’m writing what I call “romantic science fiction set in medieval England”, I am most definitely not writing a romance, although there are some perfectly delightful romance writers out there, who write in “historical time”. I’m must writing “my” story. And I try to pay attention to the historical side, without letting it overwhelm me. So I will part by once again asking, what do you guys out there think?Anne G
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Well, actually, it’s a whole series of human evolutionary reconstructions, all of them quite good. I have a lot of respect for John Gurche, the reconstructor. In this particular instance, he’s done a spectacularly good job of reconstruction. And I stumbled across this piece via Julien Riel-Salvatore's "A Very Remote Period Indeed" So thanks, Julien Riel-Salvatore, for sharing this with us.
For those interested in the Neandertal, you can see the picture here:
Is there some archaeological evidence, somewhere, that Neanderguys wore ponytails? Just wondering. I should have thought they didn’t have messy hair.
I’ve had a lot of problems, of one sort and another with this computer since December. First, I got a bunch of junk in it, and had to send it to the computer store. Then my hard drive died in February. Don’t even ask why it died. It wasn’t that old. Then, when that was fixed, I couldn’t access the Internet when I got home. Why? Well, I couldn’t exactly figure that out for a while, though I finally turned to a gadget that allowed me to access the Internet, and I was fine with that. Only trouble was, it was a problem with the router, which was old and cranky, and it apparently died, which was bad for the other members of my household who use laptops and wireless. Ugh, ugh, ugh, until the Family Computer Guru came along with a brand-new router which works fine, and we now all can get on the Internet when necessary. It’s too bad you have to both love and hate computers and their peripherals; everything is fine when they work, but when they don’t. . . .well, I’ll leave that to your imagination. It didn’t affect my writing, though, as I continued to do that. It didn’t require Internet access. But now I have a “funny” other thingie. . .
Monday, March 1, 2010
This is the first of March,and I would like to make an announcement. Which is to say, I’m adding another fine blog to my blog list. It’s Sharon Kay Penman's blog. She is a fine novelist who has written such works as The Devil’s Brood, her most recent work. The other reason I’m adding it is, she writes fiction about medieval England. Her works are mainly biographical fiction, which is not usually a genre or subgenre I read, but Ms. Penman is a definite exception, and I’ve enjoyed most of the things I’ve read from her. I have certain disagreements with her about her style and approaches to certain things, but that’s not because I don’t consider her a good writer. I do. And besides, I haven’t blogged about any medieval stuff for a long time. That needs to be rectified. So thanks, Ms. Penman, for your blog. I’ll be following it with great interest!Anne G