Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A word to the wise

I like to get feedback from those who take a peek at this blog. I really do. And so, normally, I reply to every comment, and, when appropriate, I encourage people in various venues to visit. I do not want to have to moderate comments, if I can help it, and, so far, most people have been good. However, my last post, about medieval English diets --- a serious and perfectly reasonable subject, given the nature of my Great Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals --- generated an advertisement for some diet plan. And I didn't like this at all. This is an "ad-free" zone. It is also open to anyone who wants to comment about something I've said, the links I've posted, any resource material I may use, reviews of my books, etc., etc. It is not open to people who want to try to sneak ads for whatever product they're selling.

I am not, for the moment, going to put any restrictions on who can comment. I think that would discourage people, and I don't want that. Besides, I will usually answer any comment that comes through. I like to see that this blog is of interest to somebody. And I have deleted the comment which linked to the diet plan. But if I get many more "false" comments like this, I may have to take sterner action. So, all potential spammers --- be warned! Do not try this trick again!
Anne G

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another nice book site

Gateway: A World of Books has an interview with Elizabeth Chadwick, the author of several books on medieval historical people. It seems that her writing process is a lot like mine, though her "favorite books" is not. But everyone's taste is different, so I don't mind.
Anne G

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Anthropologists make good writers!

I have a degree in anthropology. It's from long ago, and not very "useful", in the "real world", but. . . if I hadn't had that degree, I wouldn't have had the slightest idea of where to begin to start researching the "Neandertal" part of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals! And I wouldn't have had the slightest idea of where to continue. The "medieval" part was harder, at least until I decided I was looking at a time and place where the culture was different from ours, but could be looked at in the ways anthropologists look at other cultures(and our own, current one, too). Once I did that, the writing wasn't easy, but I had a framework.

All of this is just a lead-in to the latest John Hawks blog. He interviewed Anne Weaver, the author of a delightful-sounding children's book, The Voyage of the Beetle. It's interesting sounding and relevant, because it's a children's book from the point of view of a beetle that sailed with Charles Darwin on the famous Beagle. I haven't read it, but I hear that kids enjoy it. And the author started out as an anthropologist!

I thinkk there's hope for all of us,
Anne G

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The "healthy" Middle Ages

It seems that medieval English peasants were generally much healthier than most people today. Or at least their diets were generally better: lots of vegetables and some fruit, plus a fair amount of fish and meat when they could get it. Which, apparently was oftener than one might suppose. Of course they had to work pretty hard, and sometimes they went "short"(generally in July, just before harvest time), and nobody seemed to live terribly long. But they didn't get things like coronary disease --- probably in part because people in medieval times got lots of exercise of one kind and another.

I note all of this, because, as I have mentioned, my Great Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals is set in medieval England. Furthermore, it's set in a particularly "healthy" period for most people, namely the so-called "medieval climatic optimum" which lasted from about 800 to 1300 CE. Oh, maybe that's a little generous for the length of time, but, interestingly, this time period more or less coincides with the so-called "Viking era", which, as the Gentle Reader might guess, was the time when people in various parts of Europe became familiar, one way or another, with the Scandinavian people. Which is also, in a way, an important background to my Great Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. But if the Vikings invaded England, and formed the so-called Danelaw, at least the people already there were a healthy lot.
Anne G

More "holiday" stuff!

Over at Greg Laden's blog, there's a funny little quiz about what movie your Christmas is most like. Mine came out like the Brady Bunch, though I often feel more like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, which is my favorite Christmas movie/book/play/whatever of all time, bar none. Try the quiz. You might be surprised.
Anne G

Medieval holiday cheer

Just to keep things in the holiday spirit, so to speak, and to remind you that my Great Science Fiction Masterpiece is set in medieval England, I would like to direct you to Living the History, Elizabeth Chadwick's blog. She has a "Twelve Days of medieval Christmas" piece there. It has a nice little cartoon and even a "William Marshal Christmas", if you're interested. It's kind of fun!
Anne G

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wars on Christmas and other nonsense

This isn't about writing, but over on Greg Laden's blog there is an entry that, in my view, is extremely appropriate for this time of year. It's about the supposed "war on Christmas". Every year, it seems as if certain segments of the population(in the US, at least), declare some "war on Christmas". This year, according to Laden, there are bloggers who have declared that Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist evolutionary biologist who wrote The God Delusion earlier this year, actually sings Christmas carols! Jeez! Horrors! How terrible! An atheist singing Christmas carols! What desecration, according to these bloggers.

Now on this blog, I almost never interject "political" material. This is primarily a writer's blog, after all, and I'm more interested in publishing my own struggles with my writing, plus the science that inspired it, where appropriate. I have not yet, but probably will, comment on some of the historical material which inspired what I'm currently writing. I am extremely firm about keeping "politics" out of it.

But the idiocy(again in my view) of these bloggers claiming to have some "handle" on the one, true, and right way to celebrate Christmas(or any other important religious or secular holiday for that matter), just totally boggles my mind. Because Dr. Laden's family basically sounds a lot like mine. For that matter, Dr. Laden's family sounds like an increasing number of American families in this day and age. In other words, as generations pass and children grow up and form families of their own, there is an increasingly wider pool of traditions, religious and secular, to draw from. In my own family, there are people who were born in Mexico. There are people of several different "races". A cousin of mine adopted children from China, when this was still possible. And so on and so on. This kind of thing is getting more and more common, as immigrants come to this country, often from places we barely knew existed when we were growing up, and traditions, religious and otherwise, are quite different from anything my generation knew. And Christmas has never been quite the "sacred" time that these bloggers seem to imagine it once was. Any social historian can easily tell you this

But this doesn't stop these bloggers from pronouncing on who can "celebrate Christmas" and who can't. I suspect that, by their own standards, they could not have "celebrated Christmas" 200 years ago, right here in the infant US. But again, logic and historical/social records are of no concern to these people. They're far more interested in chipping away at tolerance and inclusiveness(for their own reasons, none of them, again in my view, particularly good ones), to pay attention to that. What's even worse is, at the time Jesus lived, I have a horrible feeliing that they would not have been able to find room at any inn for Mary and Joseph, and later, when Jesus was a grown man, they would have been exactly the kind of people who sided with the Romans. Ugh.

Have a better Christmas than that and a New Year full of happiness and peace,
Anne G


I haven't been blogging much lately. At first it was because there was a lot I was planning and doing. Lately, it's been because a lot has been going on besides my personal planning, and much of it is not good. So I don't think the Gentle Reader should expect too much for a while. Not forever, just for a while. Sorry. But I'll be back in time when the Creative Spirit moves me.
Anne G

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Music that inspires

It's been kind of slow lately. I haven't had many topics to talk about, at least not topics that relate directly to my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. So, mulling things over in my mind, I remember several discussions about the kind of music authors listen to when writing their masterpieces! One author said she liked, I think it was, bands like Meatloaf. Is Meatloaf still around? Anyway, such discussions always get me thinking. Because I have been, and still am, "inspired" by certain music. In my case, it's all classical, and it's only certain composers. Perhaps it's my background(I studied Russian for years), but I have a definite liking for Russian romantics --- and a lot of Shostakovich. And I was "inspired" originally by several works.

So here's the list. It's not in any particular order, just the ones I think of first.

Tchaikovsky, especially an early work called The Snow Maiden. Why? There are a couple of what I can only describe as kind of medieval-sounding pieces within.

Rimsky-Korsakov, especially The Golden Cockerel. It, too, has a medieval "sound" to it(though he was trying for Nationalistic Russian at the time), and a certain "dark" undertone to it that seems appropriate to my work. And, like all the music I really like, it's very "visual". Other pieces that were important: Sadko and the Tale of Tsar Saltan.

Finally Shostakovich. Strangely, it's some of his lighter movie and dance pieces that are "inspiring" here, although several of his symphonies "fit" my theme, because they are so broad and grand. And my trilog is broad and grand. But I like the way his music swings from rather light to very sweeping(in the symphonies, esp. 5, 7, 8, 11, and 12.)

I may end up being "inspired" by other composers in other works, but for now, these are my "inspirations". I even derived or pictured what I call a key scene(around which I've built part of my narrative), from listening to one piece.
Anne G

Saturday, December 1, 2007

"Guy books" and "gal books"

I started reading a new book yesterday. Well, actually, I tried to read another one yesterday, having checked both of these books out of the library. The one I tried to read was so ridiculous I put it down after about a page. It's going back to the library as soon as I can get there, weather permitting(it half snowed and half rained today, and it's supposed to rain, rain, raing tomorrow through Wednesday). It was something about Templars and troubadours and Cathars and Tarot cards or something like that.

But the book I'm reading is different. It's by Christopher Forrest who is a lawyer by profession. The name of it is The Genesis Code. And from the first page, it's very obvious that it's what I call a "guy book". There are "gal books" too, but I'll get to that shortly.

Anyway, "guy books", as one might guess, are pretty much written by and for men. No, I'm not tal;king about porn, or "erotic", which can be written by anyone of either sex. I've never read that stuff anyway and don't intend to now. "Guy books" are quite different. They are relatively short, written in a "punchy" style of the sort that was first introduced or popularized by Ernest Hemingway, and "read" quickly. They're full of action, and often, but not always, any female characters are basically a peripheral part of the story. The female characters are frequently not very well characterized. Since I just started this book, I can't say very much about it, but the premise looks interesting as long as you don't take it seriously as science. In other words, a kind of "fun read" on a long airplane trip, unless you're using your laptop for some purpose. Or reading one of the Harry Potter books, as I did on a trip to Los Angeles.

I am well aware that my statements above are generalizations, based on the "guy books" I"ve read(yes, women read these things too, from time to time). There are male writers of fiction who characterize very well, who have plots that while decidedly "fictional", have a believable premise, and don't just jump from "action" to "action". Stephen King and Terry Brooks come to mind. I mention these two writers because I rather like what they do, but many people don't like fantasy and horror. But these writers don't really write "guy books".

On the other hand, another writer who does write "guy books" is Bernard Cornwell. Almost all of his output is relatively short, punchy, "adventurous", with lots of attention paid to the battles the hero participates in. And his characters(the male ones I've come across, at least), tend to be all the same character, in different interesting situations. His female characters tend to be, well, forgettable. One thing in his favor, he does do a lot of research in writing his "historical action" books. And he does write very well. For this reason, I"ve kept up with his two medieval series, both the "Uhtred" one and the earlier one about the 100 Years' War(can't remember the series title at the moment). But nevertheless, I would have to characterize these books as "guy books". I haven't read any of his other output in this vein; stories about naval battles just don't interest me very much. And his output is fairly typical of "guy book" writing.

But we can't leave the female half out of this. Because there are "gal books" too. These are (mostly) romances, but also include a lot of what is commonly characterized as "women's fiction" and some historical fiction written by women as well. The latter category varies tremendously in quality: some is very easily accessible and well-written, some verges on the "literary" and there are a few which I would categorize as rather "soulless" or even "pretentious", but I won't go into that at this point. Some of these writers, including a few romance writers, are actually quite good; Mary Jo Putney comes to mind. So does the late Anya Seton, who, in writing Katherine, inspired me(eventually) to write a book set in medieval England, which I'm now doing. I'm doing something quite different, since my effort is unabashedly science fiction as well as history, but it doesn't matter. And I hope I"m not writing a "gal book" only.

Because a lot of "gal books" aren't all that interesting, either. Most romances are about as bad, in their way, as the more stereotypical "guy books" I mentioned earlier. It's just that their badness, so to speak, is of a different kind. Things like interchangeable cities, emphasis on dress and appearance, "fluffy" names for both male and female characters, plotlines that probably came out of a "how to" on romance writing or "women's fiction". For these reasons, I don't often read such "gal books", though I'm beginning to find exceptions in some romances. On the other hand, some of these women writers make a nice living writing "gal books". The romance market continues quite strong, and a lot of romances get churned out every month, most of them highly forgettable. And, on still another hand, there are readers who actually like to read this kind of material, and at least one woman I know of, who doesn't read anything but romances.

Which brings me to another point here: A lot of women evidently have more tolerance for "fairy tale" fantasy than men evidently do. If men --- especially the writers of "guy books" --- "do" fantasy, they tend to make it seem more "realistic". Is this good or bad? I don't know.

But push comes to shove, I wonder why, in this day and age, there still have to be "guy books" and "gal books"? Does this mean that women writers are still taken less seriously than men writers? I wonder, because I can't imagine most men bothering to read a romance, and a lot of women won't, either. Some women go the opposite route and try to read little but "literary" stuff. How many women besides me read some of the "guy books" I've mentioned? There seems to be a broad audience of both sexes for the Cornwell fiction. Shouldn't that tell publishers something? How many women write "adventure" novels? Not very many, as far as I know. I heard of one author who recently wrote a "thriller", which heretofore had seemed to be exclusively a "men's club". But then, the kind of "guy books" that John Le Carre writes are much better characterized than, say Cornwell's output. But again, they're different writers, doing different things. How would a woman approach a thriller? How would a man write a romance, if he could bring himself to do this? I don't have any answers to these questions, because the "how" lies in the pen and imagination of each individual writer. Still, I wonder if some of the demand for "guy" and "gal" literature comes in part from a perception by publishers that "only" certain kinds of writers can write these things(e.g. "only" a man can "really" write adventure stories, and "only" a woman can "really" write fiction that revolves more around relationships and feelings). And I wonder if there really isn't an audience out there, who would be willing to look much more broadly at fiction written by "nonstereotypical" writers.
Anne G