Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Friday, May 30, 2008

Neanderfiction in Nature

There's a fictional piece about Neandertals in the journal Nature. You can access a little bit of it by going to the John Hawks blog for a sample. Otherwise, you have to pay $32 for it. Ouch! It apparently kind of suggests that there have been genetic exchanges between Neandertals and "moderns" from time to time, whoever and whatever Neandertals may have been(human, I should think).

In any case, I'm glad I'm pretty much suggesting the same thing, in an easy-to-swallow, fantasy/science fiction/romantic setting in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. Just think, by the time it's written, you should get a whole book for that price! Not just a measly story in a scientific journal!
Anne G

Introducing Michael Balter

I don't normally blog about "political stuff" here. And Michael Balter's blog is usually(and mostly) "political stuff". With which you, the Gentle Reader who might link to this blog, may disagree. Or not.

However, there are two reasons why I have made an exception(as for a few other things I've stowed in my "other" section. First, Michael Balter is also a science writer for the journal Science. He writes articles there frequently. And he teaches science journalism at a college in Boston(Boston College, I think). When he's not teaching, or writing articles for Science, he's in Paris, so he has a much more "global" outlook than many. And his science journalism, in contrast to many other so-called "science journalists", is very good indeed. His latest article(in Science, naturally), is on the so-called "paleo-Eskimos"(except that they were apparently no relation to present-day Eskimo/Inuit people).

So why, one might ask, is this writer featuring the blog of a science writer who writes mostly "political stuff", when this blog is mostly about writers, writing, medieval times, Neandertals, and my own Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, in progress? The answer, for me, at least, is easy. You see, I was(and still am) keenly interested in wolves. And in learning about wolves, I've learned a lot about arctic regions, where these people lived. This led me to learning something about glacial advances and retreats, and yup, Neandertals, although I didn't make use of this particular knowledge for a long time. Which led me right back to my anthropology "roots". Which --- eventually --- led me to start writing this Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. And no, it doesn't have wolves in it, because I can't figure out a way to logically put them in. Nor does it yave any "paleo-Eskimios". I never even thought about putting them in!

Still, I have to thank Mr. Balter for reminding me of some of my literary "roots" And my thanks is to link his blog to mine. And no, I will not usually be commenting on "political stuff", unless it is very, very important. There are plenty of "opinion" blogs out there. Perhaps I will add a few of the better ones, from time to time, if I feel it is necessary. For now, Michael Balter's blog is plenty.
Anne G

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Historical accuracy in fiction

I belong to several writer's e-mail lists. One of them is a historical fiction list, although what I'm writing isn't exactly "historical fiction". Recently, a whole long series of posts have come up regarding what constitutes historical accuracy in fiction. It started because yours truly criticized the historical accuracy of some romance novels, or, more precisely, the careless or nonexistent research of some writers of historical romances. Some of the writers there write historical romances, and got a bit hot under the collar about some of the criticisms made. But then it broadened to discussions about how much historical accuracy is actually necessary in any type of historical fiction.

This is an interesting question. I, personally, have concluded that "it depends". I have read a number of books that were, on some level, "historically accurate", but simply not believable in one way or another. One example of this is Judith Tarr's Rite of Conquest, which is clearly a kind of "history/fantasy", but it just didn't "work", even as "counterfactual" or "alternate" history. While you don't expect "total accuracy" in a fantasy, this just, for me, stretched way beyond belief. And yet it got all the major historical events right.

On the other hand, there is the work of the author Judson Roberts, author of an ongoing series for young adults(and other interested readers), called The Strongbow Saga. In the very first book, Viking Warrior, there is a scene that strikes me as stemming from a very "modern" sensibility. The scene is where Halfdan, the young hero, is fleeing the enemies who killed his family, and encounters a wolf pack in the woods he's fleeing through. He thinks of fighting and killing them, but eventually "persuades" them to leave him, and the pack trots back into the forest. Afterwards, he takes this as a sign from the god Odin, and he prays to that deity and goes on his way.

What struck me as somewhat "odd" in this scene was, that it was possibly more likely that someone living in the so-called "Viking era", would have been more likely to try to kill the wolves. Certainly twenty, or thirty, or forty years ago, writers writing a scene like this, would have had the hero killing a few. But that was before more or less worldwide environmental consciousness set in, and many people nowadays all but worship wolves. Even if they don't, wolves are considered to be very much part of the environments they exist in, and most people think they should be left alone for the most part. And this is where I think Roberts' "modern sensibility" kicks in. I don't think the man is particularly the type that tries to be "politically correct", but he might have thought twice about having a heroic battle with a wolf pack, when they have generally been persecuted most places, and still ar, in some places, and are decidedly endangered, in some other places. Still, that scene didn't jar, because the hero decided it was a sign from Odin, which some Viking era person might well have thought. In other words, it doesn't really stretch the credibility of the story too much.

Of course, if you're writing biographical fiction about real people, as Elizabeth Chadwick, whose blog Living the History, does, a great deal of attention to detail about the events of the times, and about daily lives, etc., is much more necessary. I doubt if I could write biographical fiction, even with a "good story", because I think I would get bored dealing only with "the known", so it's probably a matter of temperament, too. I, personally, like some invention and "twists" on things, which, for me, necessitates creating fictional characters, as I am doing with my Invaders trilogy(although one major character was a real person about whom not much is really known). But everyone is different, and every writer approaches what they do, somewhat differently.

Which brings me to anaother point. Some people object to anything other than what they conceive to be "total accuracy". This means, for them, not allowing their characters to do certain things that are common in romance novels(such as having female characters going off alone, or running away to be female pirates, or something like that). But still another writer pointed out that there were women(and men) who did things they were not "supposed" to be doing, for their time, or thought in ways they were not "supposed" to think, for their time. This author pointed out several historical examples of this. So again, this suggests to me that "accuracy" in a historical setting can be quite a tricky path to follow.

As I said, I think how close to "accurate" you must be if you are writing fiction in a historical setting, depends on what you are writing about, what research material is available to you, and even the genre you are writing in. "Straight historical fiction" is probably going to be a genre demanding more attention to historical detail, than a romance novel, which can use some historical events or other, as a background to the growth of a particular relationship. Athough even here, I think the author of a historical romance should strive to get at least basic details right.

What I'm doing is a blend of fact and fiction, and part of it derives from what I know(in some ways, I don't think I know all that much, and am still learning)of ancient, "archaic" humans and their capabilities and lifestyles. I have "blended" this knowledge into a medieval setting, which has a number of historical characters, and it is here that I want to get the details and historical events as "right" as possible. Even here, I have to "fudge" a bit, I think, because there's not all that much information availabe about some of the "real" characters, and only the bare outlines are know about some of the events I'm writing about. So I feel that in some areas, I have to "fly blind". But I don't pretend that I can say "Oh, who cares? It's just fiction", either. I think I owe it to my readers to get at least a "flavor" of the times I'm writing about. If I can do that, and perhaps inspire someone to find out more for themselves --- which is something I've often done when I've read a piece of historical fiction --- then I will consider that I have accomplished something worthwhile. And that, perhaps, is the best thing a writer of any type of fiction, even nonhistorical fiction, can accomplish.
Anne G

Elizabeth Chadwick is working on something interesting

From time to time, Elizabeth Chadwick, the author of some very fine books set mostly in medieval England, appears to be starting a new book. It's about the daughter of Willilam Marshal. Heck, I didn't know he even had a daughter(didn't know that much about him at all, really). Anyway her blog Living the History is giving us a hint. She has written the first three chapters! And I'm looking forward!
Anne G

Monday, May 26, 2008

Maybe Mercury Retrograde is over?

Maybe Mercury is finally out of retrograde. One of the sites I couldn't get into is working(at least some of the time). And I'm getting Compose Mode more quickly when I log in and start to blog. Yay!
Anne G

Sunday, May 25, 2008

There has to be a reason why. . . . .

There has to be a reason why I've been having trouble accessing certain sites I consider important(one of them is related to my book(s)). Various sites have been, to put it mildy, "buggy". I can't access the one that's related to my book(s) at all. And then I got this message from an astrology site, of all places! Apparently the planet Mercury is retrograde at the moment. According to this astrology site, when Mercury is retrograde, it affects electronic communications. . . . At least my Compose Mode panel is back, though slowly.

If that is the case, let us hope that the planet Mercury will soon stop being retrograde! Oh, and make of this what you will!
Anne G

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why is the compose mode not working????

Why is the Compose Mode tool bar not there? And why can't I edit it back on? Jeez. I don't know. And I haven't gotten an answer yet.
Anne G

Why I will never write romance novels

Now that I've explained why I'll never write "literary fiction", I've found it's now time to explain why I'll never write romances, either(well, perhaps I should never say "never"). Like yesterdays's "guy books/gal books/battles" post, it grew out of some rather heated discussion on Yahoo's Historical Novels e-mail list. One person on that list, grew extremely huffy when described my experience with romance novels(especially historical ones), and why I tend not to read them.

My reasons for not reading historical romances are several, and I won't discuss all of them here. The main reasons I won't write a romance novel --- at least not the "historical" kind, is, that the romances aren't historical. They really aren't. I'm no history expert, but I can often spot the inaccuracies the proverbial mile away.

For the record, there was a time when I used to read a fair number of romance novels. But I began to get turned off of them when I started noticing that the names of the heroes and heroines tended to be really "out of period". They were the kind of names that some "upscale" suiburban, and possibly "progressive" parents might give their kids if they were living in some modern suburb, but they tended not to be the kind of names you would find in, say, some medieval English pipe roll. And then I began to notice other discrepancies, especially in periods I knew something about. In one case, the writer put an important personage(and one who plays a very important part in my Invaders trilogy), in the wrong part of England! She also used last name --- really, in those days, what is called a "toponym", because they didn't have last names then --- of another famous personage who plays a small role in my book. This author is still writing, and has "transferred" this name(which, by the way, I recognized as that of a real person of the time I was writing about) to some fictional character operating in Ireland. It was at this point that I realized that many romance authors just didn't know what they were doing. I suspect that it was things like this that "got" me enough to decide, half unconsciously, that I should start writing something myself.

In the meanwhile, I had also been told, by two different groups of romance writers, and very firmly, I might add, that I wasn't writing a romance, though I thought at the time I might be able to market it that way. They told me in no uncertain terms that a romance must be About One Man And One Woman And Their Relationship. Trouble is, if you're writing something in a historical setting, as I have ended up doing, you have to consider the context. And unfortunately, One Man And One Woman And Their Relationship is just too narrow a context for me. Besides which, I have discovered since then, from some other sources, that publishers, editors, and some readers, just don't want a lot of "context" when they read a romance.

Partly, this is due to editorial and publishing considerations. Romance is a huge market, and the bottom line is, the publishers and editors want to publish what they think will sell. Since a lot of readers of romances only want a story about a relationship, perhaps dressed up in pretty costumes or exotic locales, but without much of the context that I, at least, think should be there, that's what they tend to get. And there are plenty of romance writers out there who write this stuff "to order". As I said, I met a few of them. And I wasn't all that impressed.

To be fair, there seem to be a few romance writers out there, who do better than this. For example, I like what I've read of Mary Jo Putney and Mary Balogh; they appear to know what they're doing, and they provide more of a context that existed in whatever time they are writing about. Mary Jo Putney also has a way of inserting "issues" which still affect us today, in a very entertaining way, and I like this. But, unfortunately, most romance writers avoid this like the plague.

Again, to be fair, on the forum I mentioned above, the "huffy" writer of romance said that some editors actually tell their writers to go easy on the history because most readers aren't interested. I suspect this is probably true. And the "huffy" writer had cause to complain, I suppose; she seemed to think I was criticizing her for not doing any research. Which I wasn't. I was criticizing the genre, and many writers in it, in general.

But these are some of the reasons I won't be writing romances, historical or otherwise. They are too narrowly defined --- even the "modern" ones; such romances tend to be the female equivalent of the more extreme "guy books" I've mentioned earlier. There just isn't enough depth to them for me to be interested in. Some of these authors think there ought to be a "bedroom scene" every 20 pages or so, and while I don't mind "bedroom scenes" per se, I do mind the excessive reliance on such things to hold a story together. Perhaps, that may partly be an editorial insertion, not the author's. In any case, I tend to write "big", and while I have to curb this tendency, my stories just won't fit into the romance formula, although I insist that they all have a strong romantic element, and that they end on a happy, or at least hopeful, note. And these are some of the reasons writing romances will never work for me.
Anne G

Friday, May 23, 2008

Guy readers and girl readers

I had an interesting conversation, earlier today, with some people on the forum Anglo-Saxon England. We were all discussing a book called Housecarl, whose author, Lawrence Brown, apparently needs an editor --- at least in my opinion. He wrote a sequel called Cold Heart, Cruel Hand, which I tried to read, but gave up on, because it had some glaring historical errors, and some pretty one-dimensional characters(including a rather clownish version of a historical character I'm using in my Invaders trilogy). He enjoyed lots of battle scenes. It seems, like a lot of "guys", he's really "into" historical battles, and will talk endlessly about them. Since Housecarl has a long description of one very famous battle, I guess he enjoyed it. But he also admitted that he doesn't read much fiction. However, one good thing about him is, he's very knowledgeable about some historical things, and he has access to material I just don't. So in that sense, he has an advantage.

However, my feeling is that you don't have to be a "guy" to "get" a well-written battle scene. Any competent writer can probably do this, and it's more importan --- at least for me --- to get into larger issues in historical writing, e.g. how the character or characters react to whatever situation they find themselves in, at least in the context of their times.

But it seems like some "guy" readers aren't all that interested in anything much but action, action, action. And "battle scenes", for these kinds of readers, are a big part of this. Some evolutionary psychology types may claim this is "in the male genes", and maybe, in a way, it is. But while there are a lot of writers of the male persuasion, who write books with "nonstop action", there are others who try to develop their characters a little more deeply. Bernard Cornwell does this, to a certain extent, at least in his Uhtred series, which has a lot of battles, and which, by the way, I quite enjoy. On the other hand, Lawrence Brown doesn't even seem to have bothered; still a lot of readers seemed to enjoy his books --- and it appears to me they were mostly "guys". And maybe they were or are mostly "guys" like my correspondent, who don't normally read a lot of fiction.

Don't misunderstand. I enjoy a good "battle scene", if the plot requires it. And it may seem contradictory for me to say, when I've explained several times why I won't be writing any "literary fiction", that I want at least some "character development". Because genre fiction just isn't very successful if it runs on plot alone, without any character development. Just as literary fiction is(at least to me) excruciatingly boring) if there isn't at least some sort of plot development.

But the trouble with a lot of "guy books" like Lawrence Brown's is, there's too much plot and not enough character. It's as if the writers are in such a hurry to write action, action, action, that they forget that people have personalities; they are not stereotypes. I discussed this problem in some depth in my post "Guy books and gal books", and I won't go into any further detail.

And, to be absolutely fair, I had another discussion, on a historical fiction forum, where I remarked that a lot of (American) romance writers(and romances are the ultimate "girl books"), simply don't pay any attention to, ar do any serious research into their historical settings. And I said that's one reason I don't read romances much any more. One lady on that forum really bristled, I suppose because so many brickbats have been thrown at romances, as well. I don't blame her, really. While it's true that there are some good romance writers out there, most of them (a) don't write historical romance and (b)they still tend to focus almost exclusively on The Relationship. This is just my opinion, but I think romances are only just beginning to "open up" the way, say the mystery genre has(science fiction is still dominated by fantasy, most of it bad, but some of it quite good), with a variety of settings, people, and characters. And that's one of the problems with the romance genre, again IMO. But there are lots of people who love romance novels, and a number of them I "know" who are trying to write them.

I think, still, the problem with "guy" and "girl" books, and "guy" and "girl" readers has to do with perception. Men(at least in the English-speaking world) are "supposed" to like lots of action and adventure, and women are "supposed" to like a lot of love and romance. I think the two sexes actually like both, but probably in somewhat different proportions and with somewhat different emphases -- e.g. most women will probably want more depth about relationships, and most men will still, to some extent, tend to prefer settings with a lot of action, but there's plenty of "crossover" here. Unfortunately, editors and publishers don't seem to have caught up with this, so the publishing houses still churn out "guy books" and "girl books", because they think it will make them money.

And yes, there are (sometime) readers, like the "guy" I was talking to, who just don't read much fiction, and fit this stereotype, just as there are "girs" who read nothing but romances(and have "autobuy" authors). For the record, my only "autobuys" at the present are (a) Ariana Franklin(her medieval mysteries) and (b) Terry Brooks(all his Shannara stuff). None of the other authors really interest me. No, I take it back. I will go out of my way to buy Judson Roberts' Strongbow Saga series, too. He is writing a (sort of) "guy book" for young adults, set in the "Viking era". And it appears he has done his research, and furthermore, his main character has some depth. Some of his other characters probably will, too, if they keep reappearing. The authors at the other extremes? Well, when they write something interesting, I may end up "autobuying".
Anne G

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A "positive" website

I am happy to report to anyone checking this blog out, that I got a "notice" from a website called Positively Good Reads, whose purpose is to list "books with substance", which have "positive"endings. This was in response to a post, earlier this year, where I described why I will never write "literary fiction" I suspect the originator of this website wants to raise my sights to writing with "substance".

I don't have anything against "literary fiction" per se. I just have no interest in writing this way. The author of the website reproduces an article she read in a Chicago newspaper, which seemed to imply that other genres simply do not have "substance". The author of the article does make a valid point that what is called "literary fiction" does not have to be "downbeat"; she mentions Jane Austen. But Austen wasn't really writing "literary fiction"; the genre hadn'been invented yet. In Austen's time, t here wasn't any distinction between what was "popular" and what was "literary", for a variety of reasons: by that time, many people could read and write relatively well, and even people who were not as well-off as the sort of people Austen wrote about, read all kinds of books, if they could. And they read for information and entertainment. The distinction between "literary/serious" fiction and other types, came about long after Austen had passed on.

The reason I don't bother writh (most) literary fiction, is that to me, it's basically rather boring. Getting into someone's "character changes", without much happening, doesn't incline me to read whatever is written, whether it is "positive" or "negative". And at the present time, there is a large amount of "literary fiction" that is simply a "downer". Furthermore, a lot of it just isn't that good. There are just too many writers who think they're writing the Great American Novel, but they aren't. They aren't writing about subjects that really interest anyone but themselves, I think.

To be fair, one of the reasons "genre fiction" is looked down on by literary snobs is, that there's far too much junky "genre fiction", too. Romance novels are particularly scorned for this very reasons, yet I have read some romance novels that really are quite good, and actually have something fairly important to say, or at least the author cares about the subject she writes about. The same can be said about novels in just about any genre niche. And believe me, I've seen far too much obviously Tolkien-derived "fantasy" written by various authors, who basically take a "cookie cutter" approach to writing science fiction/fantasy, despite what the blurbs on the back of the book may claim. I've pretty much given up on those. But there are also authors like Ursula le Guin, who write far more intelligently, yet their writing is definitely "genre". There are others: the late Octavia Butler was one, and also Robert Sawyer and even Terry Brooks, to some extent. There are many more I could mention, and this is just in the science fiction/fantasy genre.

Still, I think it is good to know that there is some decent "literary fiction" out there that is not "downbeat". As I say, there is nothing inherently wrong with this type of fiction; it just isn't what I'm writing. And there's nothing inherently wrong with rreading either "positive" or "negative" literary fiction, if that's what one enjoys. I'm all for people rreading!

So, in that spirit, I have added Positively Good Reads to this site, although my primary focus on this site will continue to be my writing, prehistory/Neandertals, and medieval England in no particular order. But I will always take time to help other authors or anyone interested in books and reading
Anne G

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Cost of Freedom

I don't usually "advertise" like this, but I just found out that the writer Carol Spradling is having a book published both digitally at the end of May, and in print in November. Her book is The Cost of Freedom, set during the time of the American Revolution. For those of you who might be interested in what appear to be historical romances, it looks exciting.

I am announcing this book because I believe writers should help one another whenever possible, so I'm linking to the site Random Thoughts, which is a blog by another writer. Her name is Jennifer Hedren, and she is also apparently in the last year of law school. Since my daughter graduated from law school last June, I have a special place in my heart for those who study law, whatever the world may say about them. So when Jennifer publishes, I will "advertise" her, too.
Anne G

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The future of medieval history?

I haven't been doing much blogging lately. I have had ideas, but I haven't really had time. But today, I came across a couple of things that made me start thinking. The first had more to do with writing than anything else. A listserv I'm on, that supports writers(and would-be writers), had a woman who complained that she'd been "trashed" in a critique group, about her historical novel. It wasn't "accurate" enough, according to the person who "trashed" it. Apparently, anybody who is writing about historical England, who is not from there, tends to get a working over. It is true that the lady in question apologized for her bad behavior later, but still. . . .writers have tender feelings. It's hard to take rejection; we get enough of it. Now the writer wasn't writing anything medieval; she was writing about Scotland in a later period. But that set me to thinking.

The next thing that set me to thinking was the complaints of someone who often posts on a listserv called Mediev-l. This is a listserv for (mostly) academic medievalists. And what they all complain about is budget cuts at their colleges, that tend to shrink history departments, and shrink the professional medievalist pool even more. The "powers that be" just don't consider medieval history in any form, very exciting. Which is, of course, hard on the professional medievalists. And I don't blame them.

But what got me thinking was this: I am also a member of several forums(not listservs, though there are some I'm on, that are interested in historical periods in general. And a fair number of the people on these forums are really, really, knowledgeable in their chosen subjects. On two of them, concerned with Anglo-Saxon England, there are people who are making an effort to learn Old English. I would call that a labor of love! It is not something I would do myself, but then, most people wouldn't end up writing a Great Medieval Science Fiction Epic Trilogy With Neandertals, either.

And that brings me to the heart of things here: I think the future of medieval studies is not going to be in "academia", at least not for the immediate future. Too many people(I"ve heard of cases from knowledgeable people on Mediev-l) have simply not been able to find jobs. But they are passionate about whatever they're interested in, just like the people on these other forums who are trying to learn Old English(among other things). The only difference between the two is, the complaining medievalists have college degrees in their chosen fields. And the others may have college degrees, but not necessarily in some medieval-related subject, yet they have taken the time to learn something that is important to them. Very few people, in my experience, actually take the time to do this, in any field.

I don't have a medieval-related degree. If I did, I'd probably be in much the same position as the complaining medievalists. I have a degree in anthropology, which isn't much better --- except that it proved fairly handy when I started, essentially from Ground Zero, trying to learn as much as I could about Neandertals for my background research. I still try to read academic papers as they come out; the learning never stops as far as I'm concerned, and besides, I might pick up something that I could add to my books. Not necessarily the medieval ones, but somewhere. And when I started my "medieval England" research, I started out from Ground Zero there, too. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I wanted to do this, though, being unfamiliar with the territory, so to speak, it took me a while to find the kind of material I wanted. But people are interested in a subject, and read a lot, will probably learn something, even if it isn't what the "academics" think may be important. These folk have a somewhat different perspective from the ordinary person.

Not, I think, that professional medievalists, as a group, will die out completely. But I think much of the ground they're covering may end up being covered by those who are very much motivated to study things on their own. The latter might even take courses from time to time. And you have to remember that there was a time when people did a lot of study on their own --- if they had the leisure and talent and economic means. Of course, back then(perhaps 150 years ago), before these specialties became fully professionalized, such leasure and economic comfort was available to only a few. Professionalization actually helped "democratize" academia in certain respects; anybody with the proper degree could research, write, and teach.

The Internet has changed a lot of this, because while one eventually might have to tap into some pretty "esoteric" sources, it's quite possible for anybody with a computer and Internet connections, to start doing research on their favorite fields. It's also true that the quality of what's on the Internet varies wildly; some of the material(both medieval-related and paleoanthropology-related) is quite respectable. Other material just seems to push agendas, or isn't very well thought out. I've seen some of that, too. And unfortunately, a lot of "ordinary people" haven't learned how to distinguish between the two types, and may think, for example, that some truly wacky theory is "onto something". I've seen the results of that, as well. But for those who have learned at least some critical thinking skills, the reward my be very great.

Of course, I should add that all of this goes for writers, too. Follow your passion! But I'll leave that for another blog.
Anne G

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Writer's schizophrenia

I don't know whether I've mentioned this in another post, but today I was forcibly reminded that writing(and rewriting) can be a "schizophrenic" experience. I'm rewriting Chapter 2 of The Invaders, the first book in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. The second chapter flows from the first, as it should. But there is so much of it! I simply cannot believe how much I wrote, that didn't need to be there. So, in revising --- for critiquem and, I hope, eventual publication --- I cut out about 1/3 of the beginning of the original first chapter. I also added a character that comes in later in the book, but wasn't there before, and dropped another one, that was there, but never really "jelled". This character, though minor, makes more sense, in the context. As usual, this is an interesting experience, to say the least. And I am taking quite seriously, the advice I'm hearing from other writers. If you're by yourself, and no one else is looking at your work, editing and re-editing, and smoothing out, is a daunting chore. I don't know how some writers do it. My worst faults are a tendency toward "passive voice" and a pace that's a little slow. I'm working on that, though.
Anne G

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Oh, what shall I do?

Recently, I joined an e-mail critique group called Medieval Fiction Writers. This group doesn't just stick to historical fiction set in medieval times; it reaches a lot farther, both ways, I think. But many of them have at least some medieval link. I should say, for the record, that I like my writing partner; we've become friends, although she writes somewhat different books than I'm writing. Hers are more straight fantasy or Ray Bradburyesque science fiction. Mine, rather deliberately, crosses genres somewhat. It's set in medieval England, but it has a strong romantic element. And it has fantasy elements, of a sort. To be fair, it will end up being part of a larger set of works of a "what-if" kind. In this case, it's "what if Neandertals never really died out, they just ended up on a nearby planet for a while?" One further note: this work is not "alternative history", either. I hate most "alternate history"!

Anyway, I have been critiquing others, and having my own first chapter of my first book, critiqued. The critique of the first chapter went well enough, though I haven't been able to fully revise it yet, based on the comments. But I noticed some people were confused on reading this first chapter. This was in spite of the fact that, working from my first draft, I cut a lot of stuff and tried to get rid of "passive voice" problems. There were a number of readers who apparently weren't familiar with science fiction conventions of any kind, and they wanted me to have the Neandertals talking about DNA, at a time when nobody knew DNA exists. The Neandertals do, but they don't call it DNA. They call it something else. Which would be perfectly natural, if they discovered it independently, which in my story, they more or less did.

I then got the bright idea of creating a prologue, which my writing partner liked --- she thought it was a good lead-in to the story. She also thought that, somewhat expanded, I might be able to use the prologue as a selling point to some agent. Assuming, that is, I get that far. I deliberately made it rather "poetic" , as if some Neandertal mage(I refer to "mages" throughout the triliogy; they are on the home planet). My trilogy is supposed to be a very famous --- to them --- historical incident, which is embedded in a well-known set of events in medieval history. This is the true history of these events. So what I did was create a "poetic" account of later human evolution, based on what is known about Neandertals and "modern" humans. Apparently the reviewer just didn't have the right frame of reference; the person apparently just doesn't know anything about this subject. I don't hold this against the reviewer; most people I've talked to about it, including my writing partner, don't know anything about human evolution either. And the reviewer isn't aware that I've read a lot of journal papers, both in the medieval field and in prehistoric archaeology and paleoanthropolgy, to come up with the story line that I did. Much of it is, of course, fantastic, but Neandertals were real enough, though of course they didn't exist, that we know of, in medieval England. But creating worlds is the business of the writer, I'm told.

So, what can I do? I don't want to be too obvious, yet I do want the prologue and first chapter be intriguing enough to the reader so he or she will turn the next page. On the other hand, "thirty thousand years ago, two peoples occupied a glacier-choked land" ought to be enough of a clue. At this point, I'm tearing my hair. Help!
Anne G