Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Oops! I goofed!

My apologies! I goofed. Although the last post was supposed to be about Neandertravelers, it actually linked to a new find of Neander-remains. But never fear, the the link to Neandertravelers is here. It's the same place, just a different post. And both links are excellent.
Anne G

Not only were Neandertals colorful, they traveled, too

It seems that Neandertals not only used pigments to add color to things, they apparently were quite capable of traveling long distances if they needed supplies they couldn't get locally. Or maybe they had trade networks. Their travels seem to have been quite extensive, at least according to a map you can link to on, by the way, is an online journal, and also a forum for discussion of "prehistoric" topics. And a very good site for this; I'm happy to put in a plug for them, for those interested.

But the significance of this finding is, that it was thought Neandertals never traveled very far. Most of the time, most of them probably didn't. But let's say there were a bunch of little groups of them, spread(or sprawled, if you prefer) over a fairly great distance. Group A might have had access to the best flint anywhere, the better to make stone tools with. While Group Z might have had, for example, access to high-grade ochre pigments. By a process of various groups trading among each other, such items might well have traveled from one end of the "Neandertal territory" to the other. Certainly, this worked for some groups of "modern" humans, well into "modern" times. I don't see any reason why it might not have worked for Neandertals, too.
Anne G

Oh, those colorful Neandertals!

Over at Julien Riel-Salvatore's blog, A Very Remote Period Indeed , the latest entry linkes to a nice little paper that purports to show that Neandertals were competent users of ochre(e.g. red, yellow, black, brown pigments made from iron oxides, the same substance that causes rust on metal). Now it is true that, last fall, there is evidence that "modern" humans used such pigments, in Africa, much earlier than the 40,000 year "human revolution" that was supposed to mark the time when people became "fully human", whatever that is supposed to mean. At least one researcher is still claiming that that "modern" humans, and only "modern" humans, underwent some sort of "brain mutation" slightly earlier, which allowed them to be "fully symbolic, but this African material seems to contradict that view.

Still, a lot of people could comfort themselves with the idea that other, "archaic" humans didn't have these abilities; after all, there did not appear to be any concrete evidence for any such thing. Through a linkable free PDF, Julien Riel-Salvatore proposes something quite different, namely that Neandertals were also perfectly competent in this department. Now as far as we know, there is as yet no evidence that they painted caves, but then, probably, nobody has been looking. Maybe they painted caves, maybe they didn't. But apparently they used ochre, 60,000 or so years ago, for various purposes, including, apparently, nonutilitarian ones. Nonutilitarian uses might well have included decorating themselves or their clothes with ochre. Of course, this kind of decoration might have had a practical purpose as well. But who says such covering has to be only "practical"? In other words, it is at least possible that they had enough of an "esthetic" sense to beautify themselves or whatever they wore, with designs of some kind. And besides, it might well have actually served a practical purpose, e.g. identification, much as traditional Irish sweaters served the families of traditional Irish fishermen as identification. But that's another story, I suppose.
Anne G

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why I will never write literary fiction

I just had a really nice conversation with a writing friend of mine. We meet every Wednesday and comment on each other's work-in-progress. Each of us finds the other's comments helpful. My friend's comments certainly have helped me in my writing. I rather doubt that I would have been able to progress as far as I have, without her help. And I think she feels much the same way about my comments. It helps that we're both writing roughly similar stuff, though hers is quite different in tone than my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece.

Which brings me, naturally, to the subject of writing again. We are friends as well as partners in writing, and I sort of blurted out thoughts which I've had at the back of my mind for quite some time. In short, I told her I would never, ever, try my hand at writing literary fiction. The reason? Well, I have a rather instinctive dislike of "ambiguous" or "downbeat" endings, which are all too common in certain types of so called "literary" or "mainstream" fiction. Her reply was to quote something her brother --- who is a teacher --- said to her about this kind of fiction --- that the stories make the people who read them, feel better about their own situations because the characters the writers are writing about, are in situations that are so much worse.

Well, maybe. There is a notion, often but not always perpetuated by people who teach literature courses, that these "downbeat ending" type of novels are more "mature" and "realistic" and therefore "better" literature. They forget that this kind of literary snobbery didn't exist before about the middle of the 19th century, which is why, say, the works of Dickens barely qualify as "good" literature(there are exceptions, e.g. Great Expectations). Anything else is basically "for children" or even worse, just plain "trashy". For an example of this kind of thinking, see my comments on a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In other words, "good" writing had better reflect what some people think of as reality.

But is it? And does it matter? Well, you could say that happy endings are for fairy tales, and you would be partially right. But you would be partially wrong, too. First of all, I, as a reader, don't find "downbeat" stories very satisfying. They are just too --- downbeat. This may be due in part to my own personal makeup. I've suffered from at least one serious and long-lasting depressive episode which I am now, thankfully over. But I don't think very many people who perhaps haven't suffered from depressive episodes find such tales very satisfying, either. I think readers want conclusions that are relatively "neat". Now maybe Happily Ever After doesn't reflect reality, but it may make people feel more hopeful about their own life and problems. And an escape from these daily problems helps a lot of people, too. This is why the romance genre is so wildly popular. Romance isn't exactly my taste, but the stories have neat, wrapped-up endings quite unlike many people's often untidy lives.

Whatever their motivation, I quite agree with the majority of people, who like tidy endings to stories that suggest there is hope in the world. The protagonist can go through some really awful situations, as the two main protagonists in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece do, but they will come out ahead. There will be a Happy Ever After, though they live in quite horrible and seemingly "savage" times, though they were probably no worse than the times and places of people living right now. If anyone doesn't believe this, they should contemplate what the people of Iraq are going through. They, of all people, probably desperately want their own versions of Happy Ever After.

And that pretty much sums up why I won't be writing any "literary/mainstream" fiction. I really don't care if it's not considered "mature" writing by some critic with other sorts of tastes. They are certainly welcome to their own leanings; I would never stop them from reading or watching what they want to read or watch. But I, myself, insist on some sort of conclusion. I insist on some sort of Happy Ever After, because I want people to enjoy what they're reading. And when they turn that final page, I want them to leave with a little more hope in their hearts, than they began with.
Anne G

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Again, a reminder

To anybody visiting here:

I have had to delete another piece of spam again. This was another "money-making" opportunity, so-called. I am not interested in fake "opportunities". And again, just a reminder, every time I see a piece of junk like this, I will delete it. Some people who really want to write, or hear about my novel-in-progress, or want to be referred to material relating to prehistoric people, come here and comment. I am quite happy that they do. But I am not happy about people who think they can come on here and try to sell something. If this sort of thing continues, I'll have to modify ths blog so comments have to be approved by me, and quite frankly, I don't want to do that. I much prefer the free flow of ideas. But I do not want to have to swallow spam with the ideas. This time, I hope enough has been said.
Anne G

creative thoughts and actions

Again, I've been thinking over the last few days, how much writing is like physical exercise. I've been getting back "into shape" at the local YMCA for about the past two months. And it's beginning to show, because now, I feel like I need to take things to some other level, as they say. In the case of my physical exercise, I've kind of come to the conclusion that I need to work certain parts of me, that I haven't really been working over the past two months. This was simply because I didn't know, when I first started out, exactly what I needed to do. So I kept my exercise regimen rather moderate. Now, I think I can get a little more demanding of myself. No, I do know my limits, and I won't try anything too drastic. That's the way you end up hurting yourself. There's a man in one of my classes, who is living proof of this. But I want to ratchet things up a bit more.

Writing --- or any creative endeavor, for that matter --- is like this. You learn the basics somewhere, apply those for a while, till you have a good grasp, then you try things out. Sometimes, if whatever you're trying doesn't work, you can fall back on the tried and true. This is what happened to me when I first started writing. I was trying to write something that was not unlike Terry Brooks's Sword of Shannara. Believe me, it didn't work. So I fell back, tried something a bit different. Both of them had Neandertals in the story, but what I tried later, takes place in the near future. And that worked much better. I still have the drafts of that, and , whenever I finish what I'm doing now, I fully intend to go back to them.

But, perhaps when I was ready, my present Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals kept nagging at me to get written.. I knew it was going to take more work, and I shied away for a long time. But finally I started reading and doing the background research. And found what I was doing was more difficult than what I'd anticipated. Becuse the medieval source material is rather thin. Still, I dug and dug, and I finally got enough material on some of the historical characters, to create a credible story(I've still had to invent things that the source material, such as it is, just doesn't tell you about).

In this way, too, writing is kind of like exercise. If you get into an exercise program, you may find you are doing the wrong exercise for you at that particular moment, and you should fall back and try to do something else. For various reasons, I stopped doing one exercise program, and ended up, some time later, doing another, initially more compatible one. I think something similar happened with my writing. What I was working on, just didn't work, so I quit, did something else, and then laid the "something else" aside, because it was time for me to write what I'm writing now. And I'm told this happens in other creative fields, too, even , for example, to people who sew a lot or design clothes.

The thing is, with exercise and creativity, you have to keep working at it, if you expect yourself to become more competent in either. If you don't, your muscles turn to "flab", and your creativity just stops flowing. Which is a shame and a waste, because anyone can become reasonably fit and limber, and everyone has some creativity, whether "exercised" or not.
Anne G

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Remainders and royalties

Robert Sawyer has a short, but interesting comment about what happens to "remaindered" books(especially paperbacks) at your friendly local bookstore. SF writers don't make much money to begin with; on "remaindered" stuff, they don't make a dime. Well, nobody ever said the average writer is going to get rich. . . .
Anne G

Sunday, January 6, 2008

John Hawks's Paleo Predictions

John Hawks has made some "paleoanthropological" predictions for 2008. Look at the last one. He says it's going to be a "big year" for Neandertals. And he doesn't mean some political candidates! Of course, IMO, no sane, sensible Neandertal would run for president of the US!.But that's another story, and that is precisely all I'm going to say about "politics" on this blog.
Anne G

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Neandertal extinction, sort of

Happy 2008! This is my first post of the New Year. And, whenever I can't think of anything else to blog about, I'll find something about Neandertals. Or medieval stuff, since my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece contains both. Like today, for instance. National Geographic has a piece on the latest study on Neandertals. The study itself was written up in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Seems Eugene Morin, the archaeologist who conducted the study, concluded that an increasingly cold climate and glacial advances around 40,000 years ago caused some Neandertal extinctions all right. But. . . .he claims that because some food supplies dwindled(the site he studied had mostly reindeer/caribou bones) some of them adapted in ways that are traditionally claimed to be "modern". For instance, he claims they expanded their social networks. He also claims that "modern" humans didn't really "invade" Europe until about 10,000 years ago, and by that time, there weren't any Neandertals. Or maybe there were, sort of. They had, according to Morin adapted, and interbred and evolved in various ways, into "modern" humans.

Whether or not there's "anything" to this study, it's interesting, because other archaeological studies seem to suggest, rather strongly, that Neandertal behaviors were mostly, if not wholly, indistinguishable from "modern" ones, except for what nowadays would fall into the sphere of "cultural differences". It is these sorts of studies that partly form the basis of my story. No medieval "moderns" can recognize any significan behavioral differences between themselves and the Neandertals, who have come from a planet in a nearby solar system, to save "moderns" from themselves, though they do have some rather peculiar abilities which they carefully try t6o keep hidden from the "moderns. And no, they don't entirely "save humans from themselves". It would be nice if they could, though.
Anne G