Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Traveling Neandertals

This isn't about writing. I do that quite frequently. But it is about Neandertals, because when I started this blog, I mentioned(I believe), that I would load any interesting news about them, that I could find. Or something like that. So. . . . .here's this And also this. The last link isn't really about Neandertals at all. It's about the "hobbits", the little fossils found on Flores Island, Indonesia. But at the very end, the author does suggest that Neandertals and "modern" humans had very similar, if not identical, behavioral characteristics. In this last case, Dr. Riel-Salvatore thinks Neandertal and "modern" tool types were a lot more "advanced"(whatever that means) than those of the "hobbits", and goes to a great deal of trouble to explain why. But both feeds are worth checking out.
Anne G

Saturday, September 22, 2007

POV, again

I've been reading some interesting stuff lately. Interesting in that one of them, Indu Sundaresan's The Splendor of Silence, is written both in present and past tense. No, she doesn't do it all in the same place. The book takes place between 1942 and 1963. It's interesting because the "1963" material is set in and around Seattle. That is where Ms. Sundaresan lives, apparently. Which is nice, because I live in the same area. But the main part of the story takes place in World War 2, in India and Burma(now Myannmar). It revolves around a "grand passion" between an upper-class Indian woman and an American soldier whose brother disappeared in the Indian town he's been sent to. What is interesting is the way present tense is used: in the sections where the daughter who is the result of this affair is cleaning out a cabin in the Cascade foothills(an area I know fairly well), it's in the present tense. Her father has just died, and there's a letter from India that explains the woman's "background". This is all in the present tense. So are the soldier's actions in Burma, just before he goes to India. In these two incidences, the use of present tense makes a certain amount of sense. In the first instance, the "immediacy" present tense implies is dictated by the woman's chaotic feelings when confronted with her father's death. In the second instance, the immediacy is dictated by the soldier's situation: he has to get two friends out of the jungle, and the Japanese are in the area.

The parts about the four days in the town, however, are written in past tense, because presumably the woman in 1963 is reading the letter explaining "where she comes from". That, too makes sense: it's a remembering or recounting of past events. And Ms. Sundaresan is a skilled enough writer to pull this off without leaving the reader asking him or herself why present tense is necessary.

Unfortunately, as I've said earlier, not all writers are skilled enough to do this. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, the use of present tense as a narrative device comes off, at best, as merely annoying. At worst, it feels kind of "precious" and "faddy". I say this, because there seems to be an increasing tendency, across a lot of genres, to write this way. Yes, I know the standard answer that might be given to the question of why. Present tense conveys a kind of "you are there" immediacy to the reader. Or it is supposed to. It also avoids some awkward constructions.

But all too often, I think, people write this way because they don't want to take the time to write more carefully or think out why they need to write in the present tense. For many types of narrative, I don't really think it works all that well. I'm not sure it would work very well in a novel set in, say ancient Egypt. I have to admit I've read very few novels set in ancient Egypt, and none of them were written in the present tense, so it's hard for me to imagine a writer writing about, say, the lives of people building the Pyramids, in the present tense.

And while some science fiction writers use it, I'm not sure it works there, either, even if whatever the author is writing about is set in deep space in the 33rd century. There are some things that are just too jarring for the average reader to handle very well.

Then too, perhaps the author ought to ask him or herself, what s/he is trying to accomplish when writing in any tense. First person past works well for a lot of narratives, though it does restrict the author to that character's point of view. But if you're writing a book from the point of view of some teenager, it might work very well. After all, the teenage years are often "all about me" angst. And present tense can work well when describing a teenager or group of teens; the adolescent years are full of immediacy, at least as far as teenagers are concerned.

But the rest? What on earth is so bad about using plain "old-fashioned" narrative style and letting the story tell itself without embellishment? Perhaps this is too retrgrade for some writers, but when one actually sits down to write, one of the most important considerations for use of any style should be: how well does it serve the story you are telling?
Anne G

The Letters to the Editor

For fothse of you who are interested, here are the Letters to the Editor I was referring to in the last post. They are almost uniformly negative about Ms. Chaudhry's "review". I agree with one of the letter-writers; if one wants to write political commentary, that's fine. Do it. But don't confuse a popular series like Harry Potter with political commentary, although some of the themes in such books may reflect a particular sociopolitical situation. Anyway, I'm glad the series was "vindicated".
Anne G

Harry Potter vindicated

I am pleased to announce to anyone who would like to read it, that the Harry Potter series has been vinidicated! It has been vindicated in, of all places, the letters to the editor section of the current Nation Magazine. I am referring, of course, to the blistering review on Lakshmi Chaudhry gave to the final Harry Potter book. One might have expected Nation readers, being the kind of people who probably like to read "serious" fiction of the literary kind, to side with her. But none of them did. What was important is, that most of the letters insisted she'd missed the point --- the series was originally conceived and written for children and "young adults". The readers, at least understood this, even if Ms. Chaudhry didn't. But as I said in the earlier post, perhaps Ms. Chaudhry was never really a child.
Anne G

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Again, Robert Sawyer

Robert Sawyer again has a lovely entry in his blog. It's his definition of science fiction. It's short, but it sums up the genre pretty well. I should note that he doesn't write like I do; I doubt that he would write a novel with a medieval historical backdrop that basically contains "Harry Potter-like" elements. But science fiction contains a pretty wide variety of "critters", so to speak, so I think that the "alternate reality" he speaks of would certainly fit anything I'm writing. Or what my writing-partner friend is writing. Or any number of writers are writing. Be that as it may, for anyone interested in science fiction, or writing in general, the Robert Sawyer blog and website is a good place to go from time to time.
Anne G

Monday, September 10, 2007

It's been a while since I posted. But from time to time, writers give other writers good pieces of advice. Robert Sawyer, a science fiction writer with considerable experience in the "nuts and bolts" of writing, has some pretty good advice. In this case, Sawyer didn't even bother to answer the inquirer's query. It should be pretty easy to see why when you read what Sawyer reprinted. The inquirer didn't even bother to do his/her "homework", so to speak. It's nice that s/he was given an award by "Wiinning Writers", whatever that is, but at the very least, they should have used their spell checker. We writers are kind of fussy about that kind of thing. And heaven knows, I'm guilty of these things, in first drafts and such, where I have to do a lot of correction anyway. But not in a query letter. Please. It's just the same as if you're applying for a "regular" job. If potential employers are fussy about the appearance of such letters, believe me, writers, editors, agents, et al, are even fussier.
Anne G

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A potpourri, inspired by the comments

First, let me say I'm pleased and gratified that I'm getting comments to some of my posts. I'm also pleased and gratified that I'm getting requests for links! Keep it up folks! I'm always interested in your responses, even if I don't necessarily agree with every one of them. Blogs, IMO, should be "interactive". And I intend mine to be. Of course, they are also very much expressions of the blogger's pesonal opinion and taste. And that's the way it should be, too.

One of the comments, from a published author, dealt with the frustrations of dealing with agents who want you to write a "certain" way, or publishers who want you to write certain kinds of books, because those will sell better. I haven't gotten that far, as I'm currently still furiously working on Book 2 of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. I can certainly understand a publisher or agent wanting to shepherd the next "Harry Potter" into existence. Book publishing has become, for better or worse, very much of a "bottom line" industry. But not everybody can write another Harry Potter. In part, this is because there is only one of J.K. Rowling, and in part, because each writer,naturally, writes differently, and processes their writing experiences differently. If someone tries to write another Harry Potter, they may write a very good story, but it will not be the same. And there is no guarantee that it will sell gazillions of books. Publishers know this, but there is too much of a tendency to treat a very real process as purely "entertainment", and forget that, while everyone with half a brain is creative, not everybody is creative with words. And even among those who are creative with words, not everybody has the same creative process, or is willing to do certain kinds of creating.

I know of some authors, who have more or less found themselves "unpublishable" for a while, simply because what they find most interesting to write about, doesn't sell well enough. Some of these authors have tried to move into other types of writing, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But I think that, while there's a hard reality out there, it diminishes us all to be treated as "saleable" or "unsaleable" depending on what the current fashion is. After all, ten years from now, how many people will still be reading The Da Vinci Code? Not that it matters, when Dan Brown himself is probably laughing all the way to the bank. And even he wasn't writing The Da Vinci Code to begin with; he wrote, if my memory serves me, a couple of "men's adventures". They sold respectably, but not like The Da Vinci Code. Which is often what happens, even with "best selling" authors. But that's another story. For another blog.
Anne G