Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to define a classic?

but, I I like to get responses to my blogs, and I'm happy to toot my own horn in these last few hours of 2009 by saying that I've gotten a fair number of responses, some critical, some supportive, and some that made me think.  One of these came from my Instant Classics post.  This post generated a fair amount of response, because, I suspect, some people came across it, and thought I was somehow dismissing or demeaning Maud Hard Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series.  I wasn't.  I loved reading her when I first stumbled on, I think, it was Betsy, Tacy and Tib Go Over The Hill, when I was in the third grade.  I thought it was a wonderful story, and, just as I often do now when I come across a writer I like, I looked for more books.  I ended up reading the entire series, and am glad I did!  What some Betsy-Tacy Society members took for "grumpiness" being excessively "critical" was more a degree of puzzlement about why the series turned up in the "literature" section of my local Barnes & Noble outlet.  I just hadn't thought of it as a series "for adults", nor had I ever thought it would get reprinted, but there it was.  And I must confess, I'd never heard of the Betsy-Tacy series until that very moment about two weeks ago. 


One of the respondents to this post, asked me what I though constituted a "classic".  This is a very fair question, and I must confess that, even after giving it thought for several days, I still haven't come up with an answer.  Even if I had, my answers would no doubt irritate at least some people.  Some of my posts obviously did, but that's another story.  I suppose this is just part of what goes with the territory when you blog.  In any case, this writer asked me if I thought Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books were classics, or Little Women.  I suppose it's easy to answer "yes" for Little Women, since it has kept getting reprinted practically since the time it was first published.  But then, so has the Little House  series.  I read many of the Little House series to my daughter at a certain age.  I don't know what she "got" out of them.  But then, I read the Narnia books to her, too.  I loved the Narnia books as a younger person, and love them still, though there are parts of them that make me cringe now(e.g., just for one example, all wolves are bad and evil, but foxes are "all right").  There are many people who consider the Narnia books and the Little House books to be classic literature, though both are, in some other areas, "problematic" in certain ways, though I would never, ever say one "shouldn't" read them.  So I think, yes, they can certainly be called "classic children's literature", and to qualify, these stories must also be satisfying to the adults who read them.  Good "children's" literature, generally does satisfy any adult who reads it, and that is one way I judge these things.  It's not the only way, but that's again another story. 


I think, and I must emphasize here that this is what I think, and anyone reading this should feel free to disagree, the Betsy-Tacy series occupies a kind of gray area.  The series was very good, and Maud Hart Lovelace was an excellent writer, whose work, showing Betsy and Tacy as they grew toward adulthood, was very insightful(in certain ways, and for her time), as well as entertaining.  I have to reserve judgment about the "classic" nature of her work, but at the same time, I recognize that the roots of the kind of material she(and, to some extent Laura Ingalls Wilder, as well), actually stretch back to Jane Austen and her work, which was aimed at adults and were "novels of manners".  They centered around description of relatively "small" incidents, and character development, rather than lots of action and changes of scene.  Now, personally, I don't much care for Austen, but she has millions of fans.  Perhaps many in the Betsy-Tacy Society also like Austen, but I certainly can't speak for  them.  I will say this, however.  Austen, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, seem to have had a considerable influence on at least one person I know, who is a good friend of Again I emphasize that I have no problem with this, other than, I prefer much larger, more complex canvases, and that's the way I write.  It's one reason why I ended up writing a "romantic science fiction" trilogy set in medieval England, around some very real events and people.  Which can be frustratingly difficult at times. 


I also mentioned in the Instant Classics? post, that there were a number of reissues of books(mostly historical novels, but also some science fiction), by authors such as Norah Lofts, and Anya Seton.  I loved these books too, and it was from these authors, I think, that I conceived the desire to write something set in medieval England.  Here, too, I'm glad that they're being reissued, but again, in my opinion, these books occupy the same "gray area" that the Betsy-Tacy series does;  they are very, very good, but weren't considered anything but "entertaining literature" at the time I remember reading them(but then, historical novels weren't taken terribly seriously, and sometimes still aren't, unless they were, or are, written by men).  Are they "classics"?  Again, I don't know.  And as I said, I'm glad these books are being reissued.  There is definitely a readership thirsty for them, and I'm glad of that, too. 


But, dear blog readers, I've probably said enough about this.  I will leave to everyone's individual judgment, what they consider a "classic" to be, whether it's written for children or adults.  In the meantime, I wish you all a prosperous and Happy New Year, and please, feel free to drop in any time during the coming year.  There will be many exciting literary and other things going on(I'm sure there will be a bunch more interesting stories about wolves, tee hee!)  I extend this invitation especially to members of the Betsy-Tacy Society, and anyone else who thinks I have been overly critical of certain aspects of writing and the writing process.


Looking forward to 2010,

Anne G

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More wolf news from all over!

I've just stumbled across a very interesting blog that tracks the movements of wolves on remote Ellesmere Island.  These are wolves of the high Arctic, and they are usually a bit smaller and shaggier than their mainland conspecifics, and arctic wolves, in general, are usually white or almost all white. The Ellesmere Island wolves are no exception.  They were tracking a wolf called Brutus(he was radio-collared) and it turned out he and the rest of the pack travel far and wide, even to neighboring Axel Heiberg Island, in search of muskoxen and Arctic hares, their staple diet.  It's impossible to track them at this time of year, because the sun doesn't rise there from about the middle of October till the second week or so of February.  Besides which the temperatures and other conditions would make this pretty impossible.  How the wolves manage under such circumstances, I don't know, but they have to eat, like everything else. 


The article is accompanied by some pictures.  The first is of the paths followed by Brutus and his pack.  These wolves apparently trotted themselves over the ice pack to Axel Heiberg Island, but they didn't stay by the shore.  They went inland in search of their meals.  The round trip took about a week and covered nearly 100 miles.  And the map also shows all the other places they traveled.  Wolves do a lot of this kind of "traveling", especially in the Arctic, where their territories need to be quite large, for obvious reasons, if you think about it.  Anyway, there's a really nice picture of one pack member(or at least I think it is a pack member; it sure isn't Brutus, because it's a mother with a pup) 07__north_pole_wolf-660x443














Enjoy, she's obviously an Arctic wolf in the Arctic,

Anne G

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Have you heard the one about the historian who no longer reads historical novels?

No, I didn't "hear" that one, I saw it, here!  In some ways, I can't blame her.  If you're a historian, I guess you're going to be able to pick out what you think are "anachronisms", "modern" thinking in historical times," etc., etc.  But when it comes to things like words for "mother", "father", "mama", papa", etc., what's going on here?  It's interesting that many languages have "pet" names for mothers and fathers and other close relatives, and a lot of them sound like "mama" and "papa",especially when coming out of young mouths.  But Magistra et Mater isn't a linguist, so presumably she wouldn't be aware of this. 


It seems to me that what she really wants, and what I've complained about elsewhere is "total" accuracy for whatever period she's reading about.  Even in periods where there's an abundant amount of material that can be mined as research, this simply cannot be done.  As for as "modern" attitudes go, well, I kind of wonder.  If, for example, my heroes had completely "early medieval" attitudes, they would probably be totally unsympathetic.  That doesn't mean I don't recognize that such attitudes existed, it just means that at least some of the people are exceptional in some ways(besides, it's "romantic science fiction set in medieval England", not a history treatise, nor a "pure" historical novel.  And it has "anthropological" material in it, or I wouldn't otherwise be writing about Dauarga/Neandertals as some of my central characters. 


The real problem here is, a kind of academic snobbery, not unlike some "literary critics" who moan about "popular" works like Twilight and  the Harry Potter series.  These people want "beautiful writing" about "character development", whereas many readers just want A Good Story.  This doesn't mean you should write sloppily or have inconsistencies in your story.  It just means that there are some things that are more important to a lot of people than they are to these literary snobs(there's no other word for them, in my opinion).  Historical novelists, however, do offer an opportunity for the reader to learn "more" about whatever period they are writing about, and it is not uncommon for people who read historical novels to later get into history majors, and become professionals, in some way or another.  Similar things have happened to some science fiction readers, who get into science that way. 


I think Magistra et Mater has fallen into the common trap of thinking that, since they have become "experts", they must find fault with anything written by a nonexpert.  Some fiction, like some historical films(such as Kingdom of Heaven and Braveheart in the movie realm, and things like The Da Vinci Code in the "literary" realm), richly deserves the opprobrium it is given.  These pieces are laughably inaccurate, as in Braveheart, and/or they have, as in the case of The Da Vinci Code, very obviously "mined" certain dubious source "works", which are themselves full of historical "junk".  However, the author apparently does not recognize that a historical novelist is not a historian, is not expected to be a historian, and shouldn't be held to the same standards as a historian, no matter how "representative" of a time or place any piece of historical fiction is supposed to be.  I've seen whines about this in anthropology journals(mainly about the Jean Auel's Children of Earth series.  There, the problem is, that the academics in question wish they were as famous, or had made as much money as Mrs. Auel, but they're academics, and aren't as famous as Jean Auel or her series.  It is quite possible to make legitimate criticisms of her series -- she has obviously done extensive research, but Ayla, her heroine, is too much of a prehistoric "everywoman" to be completely credible.  Yet, if she hadn't written Ayla this way, would anybody have eve read her books?  I don't have an answer to this, but novelists must make authorial decisions all the time about things like this, whether it's "accurate" or not.  On the other hand, I do think the novelist in question should research as thoroughly as they can, and work the "accurate" bits into the background.  It won't be "history", exactly, but it might inspire someone, some day, to research a period on their own or even(gasp!) to become a historian themselves.

Anne G

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Medieval peasants weren't the downtrodden souls they're sometimes made out to be

Or, at least they weren't in England, according to this article!  It seems like the peasants liked to dress as nicely as anyone else when they could, and apparently they were often able to put together the money to buy nice accessories, too.  These accessories may not have been as "fancy" as the dress and accessories of lords and ladies, but they weren't the plain, dull stuff some people picture them in.  Naturally, the "higher orders" thought the peasants should "stay in their place", and churchmen especially, decried "fancy" clothing for the peasant class.  And, equally naturally, the peasants didn't agree, and went on buying "fancy" stuff anyway, whenever they could, and wore such things when the occasion demanded.  Which might have also been more often than you might suppose, since there were lots of feast days, harvests, etc., where people tried to dress in their best.

Anne G

A little bit for the Neanderphiles

For the Neanderphiles among my Gentle Blog Readers,this article makes some nice, though relatively "light" end-of-the-year reading.  As the John Hawks blog say, there's nothing really new in it, unfortunately.


But why did the article have to  be accompanied by such an ugly picture?

Anne G

Friday, December 18, 2009

A wonderfully "noirish" medieval noir

Westerson, Jeri
Serpent in the Thorns
Minotaur Books, New York, 2009
276 pp.
ISBN 978-0-312-53498-1

Jeri Westerson has done it again! When I read kVeil of Lies, I was impressed. Ms. Westerson writes very well. But some people didn't think Veil of Lies was"noirish" enough, or at least, being set in the Middle Ages, couldn't possibly be a "noir" type novel.

This, of course, is a matter of opinion. To me, "noir" can be set in any time period as long as the person has been "cast outside" in some way. The hero, Crispin Guest, certainly has, though he also most certainly has people on his side, including his (sort of) servant, a boy named Jack, and John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster. The only trouble is, the king isn't on his side, because Guest supposedly did a Very Bad Thing(you'll have to read the books to find out what the Very Bad Thing was; I'm not giving this away).

Unfortunately, Crispin Guest is also in a Very Bad Position, though he has friends on various sides, and needs them. And, if anything, he needs friends more than ever in Serpent in the Thorns; in this book, it at least looks like everyone is betraying him, even though he knows, or thinks he knows, who kille a French envoy(he turns out to be wrong on this, but that was due to the fact that the person who came to him in the first place. . . . well, never mind. Again, you'll just have to read the book to find out more.

Westerson does several things I wish I could do, but don't quite seem to be able to manage. First, she writes with "economy". Her novels aren't all that long, but they're very satisfying, and because she is writing a series, she can explore Crispin Guest and his times in more depth than I think a lot of "short" books do. The second thing, which I may get better at over time, she conjures up a "flavor" of fourteenth-century London in a way that is rare, even for people absolutely steeped in the history and culture of some past time.

This, I think, is truly a gift, and Ms. Westerson writes so well, it's a pleasure to read her offerings, and for this reason, I am looking forward to her next Crispin Guest novel with anticipation. She hints that it might be "a little different". I don't know. I'll just have to wait and see.

If there is any flaw in this book, I think it is a minor one -- at the beginnning, it was a little hard to get into, for some reason I can't really articulate. I have no idea why. Perhaps I just had too much on my mind at th e time. However, I got past this rather quickly, and after that, Jeri Westerson's wonderful story simply took over.

Anne G

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another book review, actually two of them at once

Kyle, Barbara
The Queen's Lady
Kensington Publishers, New York, 2008, 530 pp.

The King's Daughter
Kensington Publishers, new York, 2009, 489 pp.

I don't usually read "Tudor-themed" historical novels, much preferring earlier periods, or reading nonfiction about this period, which I sometimes do for information. However, I more or less stumbled across The King's Daughter, by accident, at my local library. And I'm glad I did, because it was a good, satisfying complex read, and an interesting tale with a heroine who won't let anything get in her way: not her parents, not Queen Mary Tudor, nor anyone else.

The book was so good, that I decided to look at The Queen's Lady, which was the first book in this set. They are both related, as the mother is the heroine in the earlier book, and the daughter in the later one. In both cases, they face religious misunderstanding and persecution for their (eventually) rahter freewheeling beliefs.

As both stories take place at a time when religious passions(and religious persecution) were a huge feature of the European landsacape, there is, as one might expect, an underlying theme that what we now call "tolerance" should be strived for. I think, given the dates of the original publication, and the reissue of both books(they were first written about 15 years ago), that people need to think on this message of toleration once again, given that various religious sects and traditions, and people of no faith or religious tradition, are again all shouting at each other that "only they" are right, and one should "only" follow "them" to true enlightenement and salvation.

This is not an eeasy message for a lot of people to swallow, but I think the books both go a long way to making it easier, at least for those people who happen to read them.

Both heroines, and the men they encounter, at least the heroes they eventually end up with, are engaging, and the stories have lots of overlapping subplots, which tend to involve famous people of the time(e.g., Mary Tudor, about to marry Philip of Spaion, Henry VIII, in the earlier book, Katherine of Aragon, etc.). Kyle picks one or two famous characters to focus on, then exposes them to what she thinks are both their flaws and their virtues. In the case of The Queen's Lady , it's Sir/Saint Thomas More, who stubbornly clung to his version of Christian faith, but in Ms. Kyle's hands, seems to come on like an intolerant fanatic with, uh, problems. Queen Mary Tudor is also flawed; she insists on marrying Philip of Spain, even though she knows this marriage is unpopular with the English in general. It is against these backgrounds(which involve the pursuit of "heretics", among other things), that the heroines of both books must move, and both of them are determined to wade right in.

They wade right in, which gets them both into various kinds of trouble, from which they get dramatically rescued, and the machinations of the villains in both books are dramatically thwarted.

It is these last "twists" in both tales that seems most "artificial", because they almost seem like a kind of "deus ex machina" device in both books, but it more or less works. The heroine has done everything she can do, though perhaps from certain perspectives, the fact that the hero has to step in and save her at the end might seem a bit "forced"

However, oddly enough, I found that both books have a good deal of strength. For one thing, they are longer than most books by relatively unknoown authors, today. They each run about 500 pages, which is very unusual nowadays. My own feeling is, that character and plot, at the hands of a novelist who knows what they're doing(and I think Ms. Kyle does), are better handled at this length, than they are with shorter books. It's really too bad that considerations other than "writing" ones are dominating the market at the moment. You have to practically be someone like Stephen King or Dan Brown, to get away wirh writing a long(er)novel. Which is too bad, because I think there is a place for such work, even among "unknowns". And, quite frankly, a longer book somehow just feels more satisfying.

In any case, I really liked these books, and anyone who likes historical novels should at least take a look. I cannot say how "accurate" they are, although I'm sure Ms. Kyle did her best, by the look of things. But perhaps it doesn't matter. As I've said elsewhere, even in a historical novel, story needs to come first. But that's another "story".
Anne G

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Instant classics?

A few days ago, I was hunting around for a book I was reading(from the library), that apparently had been republished. I will be reviewing it, and its sequel, a bit later, once I've finished the book. While hunting around for this particular book, my eye happened to fall on a book(or was it boos?) in the Betsy-Tacy series, by Maude Hart Lovelace. I remember reading many of the Betsy-Tacy series as a child and young teen, and they were itneresting, and memorable in a way. But I wondered as I wandered: why were these being reprinted as adult books? Or, to put it more precisely, books for adult readers? I suppose you could say they were "historical", since they all take place in the early 1900's, up to about World War I.

In this case, it turned out that there is a Betsy-Tacy society, dedicated to preserving Ms. Lovelace's books for posterity. These are people(I imagine mostly middle-class, white women of a certain age), who in some way see "themselves" in a much more "innocent" time and are fond, as many people nowadays claim to be, of "innocent" books. I don't have any quarrel with this per se, but on the other hand, I don't exactly consider the Betsy-Tacy series, nor Maude Hart Lovelace, to be "classic" books, nor is she a "classic" writer, again in my opinion.

But this is just my opinion. There seem to be a lot of reissues, particularly of certain historica/romance type books, for which there is, apparently, a genuine readership. For example, many of Anya Seton's books(including my, and a lot of other people's favorite --Katherine), which is fine, because many of these books wer eout of print for a long time. Same thing with another of my favorite historical writers -- I got the name of one of the characters in my Great Medieval Science fiction Masterpiece with Neandertals from her -- Madselin. The book of that title hasn't been reprinted as far as I know, but another one calledThe Lute Player has. It's an odd book in some ways, as many Norah Lofts books are; there's a streak of, well, weird sour realism in some of them, and I remember this in The Lute Player.

The weird thing about all of this is, none of these books were considered anything but "popular" literature when I was reading them. Maude Hart Lovelace was a children's writer, and I found her books in the children's section of the library. Now they're apparently "for adults". Norah Lofts and Anya Seton were "popular" writers in the 1950's and earlier 1960's, and were certainly not treated as "literary" in any sense of the word.

Not that I'm unhappy with any of this republishing, but what makes a "classic", anyway? I'm old enough to remember reading these books when my hair wasn't gray. And I didn't think much, one way or the other, about them, except that I liked much of Norah Lofts and Anya Seton's writing, and I loved most of their subject matter. I certainly never thought they'd every be considered "classics". but I suppose tastes and times change, and things go in and out of fashion. As I said, maybe it has something to do with some people longing for more "innocent" times, whatever that may mean. As I say, I'm not pointing fingers at anybody in particular.

But it's also interesting that these books were a lot longer than is generally "allowed" nowadays, and some writing conventions that were "allowed" then have fallen out of fashion. Personally, I find longer books a lot more enjoyable, and I'm writing each of my books in this Great Medieval Science fiction Wioth Neandertals triology somewhat longer than is generally "allowed". . . .even ten or fifteen years ago, when the book I am now reading, was first published, a relatively unknown writer could get away with a 400-500-page book.

I also notice that the vast majority of these republishings are historical novels and "romantic-historicals" written by women. there aren't any similar books written by men(I mean certain "guy books" with lots of adventures, etc, not romance or "historical/romantic"). The only other genre I'm familiar with where "classic" authros have been republished is certain s-f collecions of authors like Isaac Asimov(though he has never really gone out of style), or -- all I can think of at the moment is Theodore Sturgeon, and a few others. In this case, the men outnumber the women by a huge margin, because when I frist began reading science fiction, most of the writers were men(with the exception of Zenna Henderson, some of whose work has also been reprinted).

All I can say to this is, the world of book publishing seems increasingly bizarre to me. Agents say that, from unknown authors, they want "short"(e.g. around 300 pages max) books of any kind, yet people complain that they are not getting "enough" new talent. I know economics plays a role in this; it's easier to print a shorter book than a longer one, and more profitable, at least until the author becomes better known. But why can't these guys take a chance? It's not just the publishers; it's the agents as well. And it's so difficult to get published that I see a lot of authors twisting themselves into knots to get themselves published. Again, I don't blame them.

And yes, I see a place for these old "classics" being republished(if you can, truly, call them "classics"). But why the republishing of old authors and titles, when there are a lot of good people who do good writing(and yes, I've seen that, too: I've been critiquing a lot of stuff, lately, so I know. I'm just puzzled, that's all. And I guess it's a puzzle that won't immediately be solved. At least not by me.
Anne G

Monday, December 7, 2009

Elizabeth Chadwick's Medieval Mondays

Today, Monday, December 7, 2009,  the author Elizabeth Chadwick has started a weekly feature on her blog, called Medieval Monday  Yes, it will be a weekly feature, if what she says is true.  The first one was absolutely fascinating; about a period when men in England grew their hair long, and the Church didn't like it, and what was done about it.  Or rather, what the men(at least some of them) did about it.  She also has another feature that looks very interesting -- the first and last sentence of whatever material she's been working on.  That might be an interesting read, too.  I certainly enjoyed it. And I"m looking forward to even more fascinating weekly tidbits.

Anne G

Friday, December 4, 2009

I'm adding to my blogroll again

Today, I have the privilege of adding another blog to my blogroll.  This is a medieval blog, specifically earlier medieval England.  It's name is Anglo-Saxon England.  It is written by a person who also runs message board called Englistory, which is also very valuable, full of lively discussions, and there are interesting people on it, but it covers a much wider range of historical times and places than just early medieval England.  There is a great deal of material on the Anglo-Saxon England blog that is relevant to my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece, either because it covers historical events mentioned in my book(s) or else it gives me background material I can incorporate into it. The blogger also lists the sources used for some of the blogs, and it covers some material that is reasonably accessible  to a non-scholar one way, or another.  So with a flourish, and a bow, and a ta-da, I will leave things at that, and all the Gentle Reader of my blog has to do is click on the link, if they are interested, and they will see what I mean.

Anne G

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The lessons of NaNoWriMo

As I noted in an earlier post, I am an "official" NaNoWriMo winner, having written over 50,000 words of about half a novel, which is a prequel to my Invaders trilogy.  This novel, tentatively called The Tale of Mat Fartraveled, needs a lot of work, so I'm kind of setting it aside for the time being, as it will have to be rather extensively revised, and I will probably change a number of things within.  But I haven't decided exactly how, at this point, although I know I"m going to make the beginning a lot shorter, so I can get a lot more into the action.  There's way too much "backstory" where there shouldn't be, among other things. 


But all of this is another story.  As for the things I've learned, it's like this:


At first, I wasn't even sure that I could write 50,000 words in a month, but I did.  And I found that I only had to work at this about 2 hours a day, to turn out a decent sized chapter, which I didn't know previously.  This is going to change how I work on my other material.  Seriously.  I should also note that since most writers have other jobs they must perform in order to support themselves and their writing, or they have "family" obligations of one sort and another, it is important to know that you can put aside a relatively short part of your day to devote to your writing, and get a lot done! 


Second, I learned writing discipline!  I sat down and wrote something, even if it wasn't very sensible, each and every day.  Again, this is something for any writer to keep in mind.


Third, I started out basically, with just a single character, who is prominent in the trilogy, but deserved "his own" story.  To begin with, I had only the vaguest idea of what this was, though I know how it's going to end -- basically in a way that leads into the trilogy, but can stand on its own reasonably well. 


Finally, although I discovered that many people who participate in NaNoWriMo may be competitive overachievers who write great chunks or whole first drafts, those of us who are not competitive overachievers can still accomplish great things.  It's not "competition", but persistence that counts!  And if you expect to get yourself published and read some day, you must be persistent in pursuing your goal, and you must believe in it as well. 


NaNoWriMo is over for this year, but not forgotten, and never will be.  I am going to participate again next year, though what I plan on doing probably will be "all" science fiction/adventure, not "historical".  In the meanwhile, I hope to get my trilogy in much  better shape, though the first draft is in a lot better shape than it was when I first wrote it.  For now, I just feel happy that I've accomplished what I set out to do!

Anne G

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I did it!!!!

As of the final week of NaNoWriMo, I've passed the 50,000 word count.  My official word count is now 50,603.  And I have a nice little ol' Winner's Certificate to nano_09_winner_120x240prove it,  a, well, a picture.  Which I'm pasting. Or posting. 


More on my thoughts about NaNoWrimo, and what it taught me, as of December 1.  For now, I can only say, it was very good discipline!

Anne G

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Week Three

I have successfully managed to make it through Week Three of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month!  I am now at 42,118 words.  I only have 7,882 more words to go, to make 50,000.  And I will probably make that goal a bit before the end of the month, for whatever that's worth.  Some people have written much, much more than I have.  And even with 50,000 plus words, this piece is nowhere near a "complete" novel, not counting the probably drastic revisions it will have to go through.  On the other hand, I have learned a great deal, which, to me is the most important thing.  Writers should always be learning things.  One thing I've learned is, you can produce quite a bit in a relatively short time, if you put your mind to it.  And the discipline of doing this has been very good for me.  I produced pages, even when  I had my little "computer problem" that kept me, temporarily, off the Internet(I"m still waiting for my ISP to deliver my nice new, improved modem, but that's another story).  In any case, I will report back in fuller detail, somewhere around December 1.  There are others who will have produced far more than I have, but I don't care.  The experience of just sitting down and writing this stuff has been quite an eye opener for me.  And I will be reporting on it in some detail on December 1, or thereabouts.  Stay tuned.

Anne G

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Grrrrr!!!!! More computer woes!

Something died in my junkpile laptop last night. I'm not, at the moment, sure what it was, except that I can't connect to the Internet(it's a good thing library funding was restored around here, because I'd be in real trouble if I couldn't access a computer somewhere!) You see, it could be the connection card. Or it could<> be my ISP, which said it's upgrading everybody's modens. I upgraded the modem, which they will kindly send me, about Thanksgiving time(wonderful timing, that!) If not. . . .and it's the wireless card. . . .About all I can say is, I'm going to scream. And you're all going to hear it. Computers, unfortunately, are something you can't live with and you can't live without. I find my laptop very, very useful. Until something like this happens1 Ugh, ugh, ugh!
Anne g

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Seattle City Council gave a press conference today

Yes, that's what they did.  I didn't know about it, and I would have continued on in complete ignorance, had it not been for the fact that I had to return some books to the library.  I returned them, and then went to the floor where most of the kinds of books I want to read, are kept(and I found some good stuff, too, later).  But when I got there, it was immediately obvious that Something Was Going On.  The "something" turned out to be a Seattle City Council press conference, which they'd decided to hold in the biggest room in the library.  The part where the council members were speaking, was roped off, mainly, it turned out, to keep people from getting in the way of the innumerable news cameras, not to keep out the "hoi polloi".  There was a very large pink ceramic piggy bank sitting beside the esteemed council members, and as each council member finished speaking, they dropped some symbolic change into the large pink piggy bank, which, they said, was to be added to the Rainy Day Fund.  The reason for this, it turned out, was that our budgetary woes had been sufficient that they had to dip into it to fund some of the many things the City of Seattle must fund, to keep itself running.  And one of those things is the Seattle Public Library system.  One of the council members(I think it was Richard McIver,but I'm not sure), patted himself on the back for saving most of the hours for the library system as a whole, and keeping most of the library staff jobs.  Some libraries are still going to have to cut hours, at least in the next year, but some of them will continue to be open as they are now, the computer system will be there for job seekers, and best of all, there won't be another week-long "furlough" , when the entire system shut down last August. 


All of the Seattle City Council member patted themselves on the back for saving the budget in general, and for their particular areas in particular.  I"m grateful that they found a way; I'm especially grateful, and thankful that I did my part to encourage this to happen, because unemployment is still high around here, and people are going to need those library computers in order to find jobs -- not  everybody has one at home, and I know  that many job seekers don't(or may not have access to the Internet, even if they do), much though they might want such things.  I am grateful that the Seattle City Council was responsive, and ignored the mayor's original request(he ran for reelection, but was voted out of office in the primaries, because he'd become increasingly unpopular because of decisions like this).  I am grateful that we have a library system that, at present, isn't hurting too much, unlike library systems in some other parts of the country.  But there's still plenty of work to be done, and what I'm hoping is, that in the coming year, the Seattle City Council and other library-friendly groups, will seek ways to find some alternate system of funding, so that there can be a cushion against harder economic times, in the future.  the King County Library system has such an "independent" source of funding, so it never faces these kinds of problems.  I hope the Seattle system will work to find something similar.

Anne G

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Week 2

This is the end of Week Two of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.  I am modestly -- at least compared with several other writers on that list -- above goal, and will make 50,000 words at the end of the month if I keep on doing what I'm doing now.  I'm confident of that.  But there are days when I have more trouble writing, than others.  Today was one of them.  But I know such stuff happens, so it hasn't wrecked my confidence.  Now, on to Week Three!

Anne G

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flash! Funding partially restored to the Seattle Public Library!

In all this dull recessionary news lately, there is a bit of good news here, because the Seattle City Council has voted to restore some funding to the Seattle Public Library System.  Which means some of the staff that was going to be cut, will stay on.  And all of the hours at the Central branch, and some of the "important" neighborhood branches, will remain more or less the same.  Unfortunately, the branch I mainly use is one of the ones that is going to have its hours cut so that it isn't open on Fridays or Sundays.  At least not in 2010.  I'm heaving a great big sigh here, and we'll just have to keep working on restoring all the funding to all the libraries.  It will be an uphill struggle, by the looks of things(but I suppose that at the very least, job seekers will be better able to use the computer and employment search resources they have.

Anne G

Spam, spam, spam!

I seem to have been having some trouble with spam, sent to this blog, lately.  I don't know if any other bloggers I'm connected with have been having this trouble.  You, Gentle Reader, won't see it. Because I've been rejecting it every time I see it.  Some of it is just laughable. One idiot sent me some spam --in Russian, probably via some basement in Moscow.  Or St. Petersburg.  Or God-knows-where, Siberia.  In any case, the stupid idiot apparently didn't count on the fact I can read Russian(though not so well as I once could), so I understood perfectly, this stupid character's "advertisement" for "sexy girls".  Ugh.  Nor are you going to see those wretched Viagra ads they used to send to your e-mail.  I reject them all, dear, blog reader.  And believe me, it's going to stay that way.  But, to Blogger -- do something to filter out the crap before it gets here.  It's getting tiresome.

Anne G

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anybody wanna buy a very old castle?

According to, you can buy a 11th century castle in the old region of Gascony.  It looks nice on the outside, and has walls 3 feet thick, so it would probably be quite comfortable in the summer.  Unfortunately, it needs a lot of work, and doesn't seem to be too close to any major towns, though the countryside looks attractive, and the local town seems to get a lot of visitors during the summer, thanks to a local festival.  But still. . . .if you're interested in the Middle Ages at all, maybe buying this old castle would be worth your money -- if, in these economically stagnant times, you happen to have any.

Anne G

I don't usually do this, but. . . . .

I'm adding a blog to my blog list.  It's not the kind of thing I would normally add to this blog list, but the man does seem quite legitimate, and he e-mailed me nicely, so I feel obliged.  Besides, there are some nice pictures of outer space and stars and things there, and I'm sure some Gentle Readers may well be interested. 


You can find the blog here.


Mr. Chakravarthy, if you are reading this, I've added you!

Anne G

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wolves are good for the environment

Farmers and ranchers may not like wolves much, and they're still trying to shoot them in Idaho and Montana(and some idiot or idiots did in a whole pack that used to roam Yellowstone National Park.  But they sure are good for the environments they exist in, whether the farmers, ranchers, and wolf haters know it or not. A recent study on Isle Royale, whose wolves are world-famous, seems to show that when wolves chow down on the local moose, they leave bits and pieces behind(not to mention wolf droppings, and such.  And these "leavings" are apparently good for the local forests; the trees and other things there are healthier when there are wolves around, chowing down on their moose dinners.


Furthermore, this isn't the only time I've read about things like this.  There are wolves on or near the British Columbia coast, that eat a lot of salmon, in the seasons when salmon mate and the runs are abundant.  They just wade in and catch themselves as many salmon as they can eat, which is a lot easier than chasing down the "blacktail" deer(they're a subspecies of mule deer), and eating them.  Of course, they have to compete with grizzly and "black" bears for the salmon, too, but there, the salmon runs are more abundant than here in the Puget Sound area(and a lot less full of pollution, too).  The result of all these leftover salmon carcasses?  Again, the forests where wolves leave their bits of salmon(helped by the various bears and perhaps other wild things as well) are a lot healthier than forests where there aren't any wolves.  Which suggests that, indeed, contrary to the yowls of farmers and ranchers, wolves are, indeed a Good Thing. 


Just an addendum here:  I believe the wolves of this part of British Columbia, are classed in the same subspecies as the two packs that wandered into Central and Eastern Washington, and settled in to raise families.  There probably aren't many migrating salmon any more, in the nearby streams, but there are plenty of mule deer.  So the wolves doubtless eat them.  And are probably, even now, starting to make the forests healthier.  Which is a good thing, because there are people in those areas whose incomes partly derive from those forests.  Even if the local farmers and ranchers don't like this, the presence of the wolves, in the long run, may be healthier for all.

Anne G

Saturday, November 7, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Week One

I've gotten through a whole week of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month!  I still don't know what I'm doing, but I've written "above quota" for the month.  It's been an interesting experience so far.  The good thing about it is, I've learned a lot from just doing this one week.  First of all, I've kept at it.  I've also learned that, even with just a single character to start with, I can take a whack at writing a novel.  Better yet, it has forced me to concentrate on actually writing, in a disciplined way.  I usually get out about seven pages per session, and what I have always seems to be more than is required(I keep track of the word count.  I'm reasonably confident that I'll succeed in this endeavor, even if, on some days, they words just don't come very easily.  They didn't today.  And I'm confident that I'll succeed, even if the result isn't very much  -- yet.  It's basically a very rough draft, and I know I'm going to be changing a lot of stuff for whatever revisions I make.  But beyond that, I don't know how the story is going to develop.  I know how it's going to end -- very dramatically.  But it's a "prequel", so it is also going to tie into what I'm writing now.  So far, BTW, I've written 14,433 words, by actual count.  That isn't as many as some, but it's above what you're "supposed" to do, so I'm patting myself on the back.  We'll see how Week Two goes.  I'll report back, naturally.

Anne G

Monday, November 2, 2009

Another ray of hope for the Seattle Public Library System

Yes, it's true.  There is still another ray of hope for our poor, beleaguered  Seattle Public Library System.  It appears that The Gates Foundation has chipped in $50,000 to help the library's job resource center.  It may not do anything to keep libraries open, or prevent a systemwide "furlough" next year, but it may help job-seekers around here.  And those folks desperately need some help in these tough economic times(even though they're supposed to be getting better).  I certainly hope so.  And I hope the Seattle City Council sits up and listens.  We need all the help we can get.

Anne G

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Today is the first of November.  And it's also the first day of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.  I'd heard about it, maybe two years ago, but wasn't ready to try anything.  So I didn't submit any part of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, the Invaders trilogy(that's my working title).  However, as I worked on the Invaders trilogy, certain characters grew and grew and grew.  These characters were not originally going to be much of a part of my original work, but Mat Kruvennachild, known on Earth as Mat Fartraveled, ended up being a much bigger character.  He needed a book to himself.  So now I'm starting to write a prequel, whose central character is Mat.  He most definitely has his own story, and it's an interesting one, too, traveling from the Refuge Planet where he was born(though his parents died in a freak blizzard, collecting woolly mammoth underfur), to medieval Earth, whose "modern" humans are always seeming to need help of one kind or another.  I plan many adventures for him, and an ending that leads into the Invaders trilogy, though I don't exactly know how that's going to happen.  But happen it will.  All I have to do, during the month of November, is write a total of 50,000 words. I've written 1836 so far, this first day! I hope I'll end up with more than that, though. And on the first of December, I'll set it aside for a while, go back to working, hopefully finishing the second draft of the first book, then getting into the second draft of the second book, and finishing the first draft of the third.  After that, I'll probably just pick it up again.  I'm excited.  But it will mean that most likely, I won't have too much time for blogging this month, though I will check in to let everybody know how I'm doing, from time to time.  And if anything important about Neandertals, or wolves, or libraries, or anything else that tickles my writing fancy comes up, you will be informed.

Anne G

Thursday, October 29, 2009

For the Seattle Public Library, perhaps a small ray of hope

On Monday evening, I attended a Seattle City Council meeting regarding the proposed city budget for the coming year.  Due to the economic situation, not just here, but all over the country, in the past year, Seattle city revenue is down, down, down.  I pleaded the Seattle Public Library System's case here at that time.  I also left a copy of my little speech to them.  I couldn't say it all, despite the fact that I pared it down to a bare minimum, as you can only speak in front to he Seattle City Council for two minutes. 


Perhaps in response, or perhaps because I sent an e-mail urging them not to cut anything more from the Library System's budget, I got an e-mail from one member of the Seattle City Council, Nick Licata.  In conjunction with the Seattle Public Library Board, and the City Librarian, he has proposed several alternatives to these drastic cuts.  This would involve spending some money, but it would also have the benefit of keeping the library branches more or less open as they are now, though some staff would still have to be cut.  If adopted, it would probably also relieve the library system of being shut down for a week -- again. 


Finally, the most important of these proposals is, to create a dedicated fund, similar to what another regional library system has done, which would help to soften the blows rough economic times deliver, and perhaps help people locally in their efforts to find jobs and further their educations.  I hope the Seattle City Council is sensible, and passes one of these proposals, and finds a way to create a dedicated fund for the library. 


For those interested, here is the proposal Mr. Licata has put forward:




Thanks for writing.

I urge you to write other City Councilmembers and ask them to support my proposals to restore library hours at neighborhood branches in 2010.

As Chair of the Council committee overseeing the library’s City budget, I am sponsoring four proposals to restore library hours and related staff positions. The Library Board and the City’s Librarian submitted these options and support each one for consideration by the Council.

Option 1 calls for $1.2 million to restore all 330 branch hours and 27 related staff positions proposed to be cut by the library in response to the Mayor’s 2010 budget proposal.

Option 2 seeks approximately $1 million to restore 191 hours and some of the 27 staff positions.

Option 3 would cost $860,000 to restore 140 hours and some of the 27 staff positions.

Option 4 requests $433,000 to restore 65 hours as well as some of the 27 staff positions.

Additionally, the Council is asking the Library to explore the creation of a dedicated funding source that could provide more stable and predictable financing in the future.

You may know that the City is required to balance its budget. That means every time the Council proposes to add funding to the Mayor’s budget we must find a corresponding cut.  As you might imagine, this poses a significant challenge for me and my colleagues, particularly this year.

As our economy continues to slip, City resources are stretched thinner than ever. The Mayor has again asked all departments to reduce their budgets for 2010, including The Library’s, because 2010 revenues are expected to drop even lower than previously predicted. Our financial forecasts indicate a $72 million revenue shortfall in the city's 2009-2010 biennial budget.

The Mayor asked the Library to identify approximately 5 percent in cuts adding up to roughly $2.8 million. $1.2 million would be saved by cutting library hours - 23% fewer hours than this year. The remaining $1.6 million in savings would come from a one-week closure of the Central Library, management and administrative reductions, putting off replacing staff computers, and absorbing citywide inflation, health care and rate adjustments that don't affect services or staff.

I believe reducing access to books, computers and library services when times are tough is not in the public’s best interest. During economic downturns, demand for library materials and services actually increases because people find themselves more in need of the free high-quality services and materials provided by libraries.

You may wish to consider listening live by phone to any Council budget meetings in progress by dialing 206.684.8566. You can also watch via streaming video by visiting and clicking on ‘LIVE! Council Meetings’. To watch previous budget-related meetings, visit and enter “budget” in the search field toward the top of the page. Then, in the results, click on “Budget Committee and Events”.

To learn more about the City’s 2010 budget and its schedule, please visit:

And finally, you are welcome to contact my staff member Frank Video with any Library-related budget questions you may have. Frank can be reached Tuesdays through Thursdays at 206.684.8849 or

Thanks again for writing.


Nick Licata

Chair, Seattle City Council Culture, Civil Rights, Health and Personnel Committee

P.S. If you'd like to keep up with Council goings-on, subscribe to my Urban Politics, Seattle’s longest running City Council e-newsletter.


I wrote to the rest of the Seattle City Council in support of these proposals.

Anne G

Did we love Neandertals? Did they love us?


Sometime late last week, a story started circulating  around various science news feeds, that went something like this:  "Neandertals had sex with humans".  The source of these headlines(and news stories with lots of speculation) was Svante Pääbo, a paleogenetics specialist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany  He has done a lot of work on woolly mammoth genomes(he was one of the first to extract and sequence the woolly mammoth genome), and, more germane to this discussion, Neandertals.  It seems that Pääbo is kind of hinting around that he's going to publish some bombshell about Neandertal(and "modern" human) mating habits in the paleolithic era. 


In the meanwhile, however, several news outlets have glommed onto this story, with various, shall we say, viewpoints.  One of the (slightly) more "sober" of these -- at least it does quote Pääbo and some others at some length -- come from the Times Online, and is, I think, fairly sensible, in view of the fact that the actual scientific paper hasn't come out yet.  No doubt Svante Pääbo will speak to the press at length, when he is finished sequencing the Neandertal genome.  To be fair, his team has sequenced Neandertal mitochondrial DNA, and has come up with a bunch of differences in sequence, though the vast majority of "our" and "their" genome is identical!  And, to Pääbo's credit, what he says, in the above mentioned video, and in print, is, perhaps deliberately, inconclusive. 


However, this hasn't stopped some people from "getting wild".  Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist who has long studied Neandertals, seems to think that "if" they "had sex", they must have been like horses and donkeys, that classic example from Biology 101 showing that species are defined as separate(more or less), when they cannot mate and produce fertile offspring.  Or at least that's what the above-mentioned Times Online article seems to imply. It should be noted here that I have a lot of respect for Dr. Stringer.  He has worked on Neandertals for a long time, and has garnered a good deal of respect in many quarters for this work, which is careful, but which, in my opinion, may be influenced by whatever biases he has acquired over a lifetime of work.  And when it comes to Neandertals, there are plenty of biases at work, and always have been, practically from the minute of the first "official" discovery back in 1856.  Just to remind everybody, this was three years before Charles Darwin announced his theory of evolution.  People then had no idea what human evolution might have been like, and Neandertals were fortunate or unfortunate, to be the first "nonmodern" human type ever discovered.  About all I can say to Dr. Stringer is, I would love to show him around various bodies of water in the Seattle area, give him a bird identification field guide, and then ask him what kind of gull he sees walking around the shores of Green Lake or Lake Washington, or the Ballard Locks, or. . . .  What he might not realize is, the gull population around here is a "hybrid" one:  they are a mixture of "Western" gulls(Larus occidentalis) and "Glaucous winged" gulls(Larus glaucescens).  The Puget Sound area is the southern end of the "glaucous winged" gull range, and "Western" gulls have been flying, and settling, north for some time.  They meet here.  And mate.  And produce apparently fertile offspring.  The gulls obviously don't care about such minor details as what species they are supposed to belong to.  Their only criterion for being a suitable mate is (a) is the potential mate of the opposite sex and (b) do they have pink feet?   Both "glaucous winged" and "Western" gulls have pink feet.  To complicate things even further, in western Alaska, "glaucous winged" gulls mate with "herring" gulls(Larus argentatus), and yes, they, too, produce fertile offspring.  And they both have pink feet.  I can imagine the gull gene pool .  It kind of boggles the mind.  The reason this is possible is, that these gull populations were separated in various places during the last glacial advance, and because of the separations, these gull populations all diverged, genetically speaking -- somewhat.  But not enough, apparently, to create anything like a reproductive barrier.  Among "generalistic" species, and gulls are pretty darn generalistic, if you've ever seen one in action(they'll eat just about anything), this is not as  uncommon an occurrence as one might think.  And so, the gulls around here are called "Puget Sound hybrids", because they may look like "glaucous winged" or "Western" gulls, but they have cheerfully been exchanging genes for an apparently not inconsiderable time.  After all, there are no glaciers to impede their attempts to mate, at least not at the moment.  Besides, evolution is a decidedly messy and complicated business.  That includes the human variety.


But if Dr. Stringer still wasn't convinced that such things are possible, I would love to see the expression on his face when, on my theoretical journey, we stopped off at Isle Royale, Michigan.  As many people are aware, Isle Royale National Park is world-famous, and its wolves have been studied intensively and extensively for some 50 years now.  Except there's one thing about them:  These wolves aren't entirely wolf.  They have mitochondrial DNA sequences characteristic of coyote populations.  And there certainly are coyote populations nearby, though not on Isle Royale itself.  But then, the "wolves" of Isle Royale trotted themselves across Lake Superior and onto Isle Royale during an especially cold winter, when that part of Lake Superior froze over,it is thought, in about 1948.  And they've been there ever since.  They came from nearby Ontario, Canada, where there are also numerous coyotes. . . .and at the time, people thought nothing of trying to shoot every wolf they could shoot.  The wolves were probably safer on Isle Royale at the time; there certainly weren't very many of them, and coyotes seem to be somewhat more adept at not getting themselves shot.  But that's another story.  I should add that, to someone just looking at them, the wolves of Isle Royale look like wolves; they're big, furry, mostly gray, and they regularly hunt moose, when the hunting is good.  They don't exactly look like coyotes, other than the general resemblance all members of the genus Canis(dogs, wolves, coyotes, jackals, "red wolves") have to one another.  But they still have these "coyote genes".


And if Dr. Strnger still wasn't convinced, I'd take him somewhere in New England, to pay a visit to the "coyotes" there.  The New England coyotes now appear to have some "wolf" genes -- they are somewhat larger, darker, and furrier than their western counterparts.  This is partly due to the fact that it generally gets colder in the winter in, say Massachusetts, than it does in the Puget Sound region; coyotes around here don't need to grow a lot of fur in the wintertime, though they do grow some. 


The thing here is, at least from what I've gleaned in my readings(and I* keep on reading this stuff as it comes out), the members of the genus Homo, which include both Neandertals and "moderns", had, long before there were any Neandertals, evolved to be "generalistic".  That is, they were, and are, capable of, and not too fussy about, eating just about anything, and adjusting t6o whatever environment they found, and find themselves in.  True, the origin of both "ancient" and "modern" humans is somewhere in Africa, but people wander, and adapt.  And, 300, 200, 04 50,000 years ago, there were small populations scattered all over the Old World.  Their numbers generally weren't very big, and in many cases, their populations tended to be local and somewhat scattered.  But they were there, and they would follow game, in cold climates and in warm ones.  They would sometimes meet each other(as Neandertals and "moderns" may have in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East, but this has always been true for that region).  And, I suspect, some of these little groups may have exchanged genes. 


It's another question entirely, whether these small populations of whatever kind, were able to pass their "paleolithic" genes to later populations that began to take up farming, and because they had more "reliable" sources of food, were probably more numerous.  As it was, Neandertal populations appear to have been quite small and scattered; more so than "modern" ones, who kept coming from Africa anyway.  And later Paleolithic "modern" humans(whether or not they had any "Neandertal" genes), were smaller than later "Neolithic"(farming) ones; their genes may well have simply gotten swamped out of existence, just as (in my opinion)Neandertal genes likely were.


Which brings me back to Svante Pääbo and his possible "bombshell".   He is probably right that Neandertals and "modern" humans "mixed it up" on occasion when their populations met, in any number of ways and for any number of reasons.  And I'm guessing, since both Neandertals and "moderns" had evolved to be "generalistic", that, like the gulls, and coyotes x wolves, were perfectly capable of producing fertile offspring.  Whether they had much opportunity to do this is no doubt another story. And, absent a time machine, there is no way of telling if this was the case.  But I think the capability was there, if for no other reason than both groups seem to have had broadly similar strategies for accomplishing tasks like hunting or making tools or setting up dwelling places. 


This is difficult, nowadays, for a lot of people to believe, because most of them have been told, over and over and over again(if they pay any attention to these things) that Neandertals were fundamentally "different" in some basic way.  Well, as far as I, and a  number of other people can tell, they just weren't -- at least not in a behavioral sense. Just like wolves and coyotes, or the "hybrid gulls" of Puget Sound. And that belief, based on what evidence I've read in learned papers, gentle reader, is partly why I ended up writing a Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals.

Anne G

My eyes just fell out of my head when I saw this!

Things are getting really interesting around here! I don't know exactly how this happened, or who picked it up, but the Redheaded Neanderlady is now on this YouTube video about Neandertals. Given that my Great Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals takes place in medieval England, the music is appropriate, too, I guess. Anne G

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My plea to the Seattle City Council, to keep libraries open

This is a copy of my plea to the Seattle City Council, to keep the Central Library, and 21 branch libraries, open for the same number of hours they are now open, and to prevent, if possible, another weeklong "furlough" where the library system shuts down completely, some time in 2010. Too many people are getting hurt here. But this is just my personal plea.

TO: Members of the Seattle City Council
FROM: Anne Gilbert
RE: The Seattle City Semiannual Budget and the Seattle Public Library System
DATE: October 26, 2009

I am here, once again, on behalf of the Seattle Public Library System.
It has come to my attention that once again, even more drastic cuts in the budget of our library system are being contemplated for the coming year. These cuts will result in an approximate 25% reduction in hours for all libraries. It will:

Also result in another weeklong “furlough” for the entire library system
Closure of 21 of the 25 neighborhood branch libraries for two days, Fridays
and Sundays,
And a resultant loss of access and services for the many people who need them

This is utterly unsupportable. As I’ve noted earlier, I’m a writer who frequently uses the library system for research and other purposes. I have a friend, also a writer, who, like many people at the moment, is looking for a job, and has not yet found one. She is one of the fortunate ¬¬– she has a computer at home. But I met one job-seeker downtown, who was not so fortunate. He was looking for a job, and the only other place he could go was WorkFirst. I know from experience, as he did, that there are far fewer computers in the WorkFirst branches, than there are in any branch library, or the central library, but there was nothing any of us could do about this. The WorkFirst offices often have less adequate or comprehensive job-search facilities than the Seattle Library system. In this economy, with so many out of work, and therefore unable to contribute to the budget through their taxes, it is a terrible thing to shorten hours and services, even on restricted budgets. For the sake of those job seekers, for the long-term sake of our budget, and the cultural future of this city, please do not cut the library’s budget any more than it already has been.

Thank you.
Anne G

Friday, October 16, 2009

I met a writer in person today, and it was an awe-inspiring experience!

I met Nan Hawthorne in person for the first time today, and I was absolutely amazed at the experience.  It took me a while to get to the place where she had some artwork exhibited, and one of them was a lovely creation she'd crocheted out of various purple and "blue-family" yarns.  She is really a talented woman, and has lots of interesting ideas.  I wish I could get her with my other writing friends.  I think they would all hit it off very well.  Besides, she, and one of the other writing friends, likes cats.  Nan has four of them.  It's funny how writers, anthropologists(and a lot of people who "do" prehistoric humans), seem to mostly like cats.  Don't ask me why.  I like cats, too.  Of course, I also like My Beloved Wolves, but I wouldn't keep a wolf in a house.  The wolf would be unhappy.  But that is another story entirely.  Anyway, I have a feeling my other writing friends would like Nan.  I sure do.  We're on the same page about a lot of things.  We will, of course, have to find a way to meet more often.  Don't ask me how, don't ask me when, but it's going to happen!  Oh, and the meeting also gave me a frame for my upcoming Seattle City Council speech on behalf of funding for the Seattle Public Library.  You see, Nan Hawthorne has "low vision", and this exhibit and meeting was in the Seattle Public LIbrary's Talking Books outlet, a nice place once you find it.  But that, too, is another story.  I'll probably end up blogging about that, too!  Stay tuned.!

Anne G

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Independent publishing has promise, but also pitfalls

I recently read a book by a first time author, that was independently published, or "self-published" if you prefer.  I won't go into its plot or characters, except that it was a book I generally liked.  I then  let someone else borrow it.  I don't know whether this was a mistake or not, because the person who borrowed it, and then returned, who is a writer, gave their professional opinion.  It was not as good as mine.  Now I understand that different people have different tastes in fiction, and the reader didn't have any "trouble" with the substance of the story.  However, this reader was much more critical of things that I noticed, mostly about the struggles of this character in an alien environment, than I was.  The reader of the book felt that the author had just, as they put it, "taken a novel writing course and written a bunch of character notes, to fill in the character, but didn't really fill them in, in depth.  What I noticed was that the lead character seemed to have an awfully easy time adjusting to the alien environment in which they found themselves, which did seem somewhat "off" too me, and probably should have been shown more.  But the book was reasonably well-written, and enjoyable in its way, so I can say I rather liked it, even if my borrowing friend didn't, and I wish that author well in the future. 


There were, however, things about the book that were kind of annoying.  They weren't very obvious, if you weren't looking for them, but they were there, and I think this can be a real problem in "independently published" books.  In this case, there were paragraphs in the book that looked as if the line heights were somewhat different.  Only a little, but they kind of stood out, as if whoever was responsible for printing the book  had violated some computer code, or the code got oddly "translated" from one word processing program to another.  This sometimes happens to me, when, on occasion, I am sending copies of the second draft of the first book of my Invaders trilogy, to people I trust to tell me how well the story flows.  I should note that I need to know this so I know where to tighten, loosen, consolidate,etc, in the next draft, which, I hope, will be good enough to peddle to agents.  Naturally, I want the writing as smooth and polished as possible, so the agents will want to read it, and sell it.  It's hard enough as it is for a first time, unknown author, to do this. 


At this point, I should say that I think that "independent" publishing is probably going to end up being a pretty big chunk of the book business in the not-too-distant future.  It may not be for everyone, but because of the nature of the publishing business today, there are authors who may be able to make some money from the "niche" markets they write for, or their work just doesn't fit neatly into some category.  My fiction, for example, is set in historical time, but it's not strictly "historical novel".  And it's not set in ever-popular Tudor times(I think this time period is way overdone, myself, but that's probably just me).  I have a strong, and I hope, interesting female lead character, but Illg is not, shall we say, strictly "human"(at least not "modern" human, though she acts in recognizable and understandable ways).  So my book(s) might not "fly" with a lot of agents and publishers.  And I've heard similar things from other authors, and not just here in the US, either.  So, for many people, "independent" publishing might well be an option.  Whether it may be for me, I don't know. We'll see.  But in any case, I want whatever I finally get published, to look professional, as if a "real" publishing house did it. 


Which brings me to another problem.  I read another "self published" book not long ago.  The writing and characterization was much more to the taste of the aforementioned, nameless critic, I think, but for various reasons I won't go into here, the author felt that  their work was too "niche-y" to be "traditionally" published.  So the author published the book on their own.  Which was fine -- but. . . .


While the dialogue and paragraphs were recognizable as dialogue and paragraphs, they weren't formatted properly.  There were no indents at the beginning of each line, either in the dialogue or in  paragraphs describing actions or scenes.  It basically looked as though it had been originally published to some web page. 


Again, I'll recount my own experiences here.  When I first started writing, I "fully justified" my pages, more or less like a legal document.  I didn't know, at the time, that when writing fiction or most nonfiction, you are supposed to left-justify your writing, but in the first critique group I joined, someone who had once been a copy editor or the like, rather quickly pointed this out to me.  So I changed to left justification.  The other thing I did, which this copy editor didn't notice, was that I put "widow and orphan" spaces  in the pages.  Nobody pointed this out to me, but it began  "arranging" paragraphs in a really weird-looking way.  It was so weird-looking that I soon abandoned this, and my pages looked much, much more like a "professional" job, even though my writing at the time was hardly "professional".  Heck, I'm still learning.  But at that time, I was pretty much at the "apprentice" stage.  Or worse.  And if I'd been stupid enough to try to self-publish that material at the time, and then try to use that as a way to interest an agent, they probably would have thrown me out the door.  Professional agents notice these kinds of goofs.  And they don't like them.  Which is one reason why, still, many people who have self-published, don't get anywhere.


Maybe this is "too picky" on the part of agents, but I know for a fact that agents have to wade through a lot of literary "slop" before they find something they think they can sell.  Not only that, but they tend to complain about such things, though usually not from authors who are at that point, trying to self publish. 


But there is also something else going on here.  And it's my guess that a lot of would-be writers may just not know the "rules" here.  I also critique, and have my own work critiqued, on some web sites.  The critiquers are good at what they do, most of them not being "professionals" or published, but it kind of seems like  they don't understand certain formatting conventions.  And in some cases, they may not even care.  For example, I've read manuscripts where , when the author starts a new scene, they don't indent the first paragraph.  Why?  These people aren't writing "arty" stuff that deliberately defies literary convention; they're writing what are supposed to be readable, "popular" stories.  Some of these same writers do things like indicate scene changes by a space and asterisks -- in the middle of the page!  Again, I've been in other critique groups where the writer tries to justify this by saying they "like" it, but in the case where the author tried to justify this,they were writing something that was supposed to be literary fiction, with an overlay of "mystery".  The author deliberately wanted this "artiness".  But normally, when you shift a scene, you just leave several blank spaces, if it's in the middle of a page.  Only at the end of a page, or the beginning of the next, do you put asterisks if there is a "scene break".  That's because, when you turn the page, that's the only way you know there is a scene break!  Otherwise, this may confuse the reader.  They might start asking themselves, whether this is another scene!  And if you send this kind of thing to an agent?  It could possibly be a deal-breaker. 


I'm not against new ways of doing things, as long as they "do something" for the writing, and the person doing the writing knows what he or she is doing.  But these writers don't appear to have a clue about these simple conventions of formatting.  For a novel, you don't make your work look like a web page.  You don't  have lines that are different heights or sentences in formats different from one another(e.g. one paragraph in Times New Roman 12 and another paragraph in Arial italics, unless you're doing something like having the person write a letter or the writer visualizes, say, a poster or a sign at a demonstration or the like.  If  writing is self-published this way, it's very unlikely that any agent will fulfill their dream of picking it up and being impressed, and successfully peddling it to a publishing house.  However, if they pay attention to the normal conventions, and make sure that whatever they published doesn't look like an "amateurish" job, they may well have a chance, especially as markets change, open up, and readers become more aggressive about making their buying choices.

Anne G

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another BIG woo-hoo!

I just found out today that The Writer's Daily Grind has been pegged at Spot 91 by something called Wikio!  They have a category, Literature, and that's where I'm 91! As far as I can tell, the site is legitimate, and there seem to be a fair number of interesting blogs on all kinds of subjects.  I'm at 91, because I just got put there, and there is some kind of gadget I can put on my blog that recognizes this.  The only trouble is, so far, I've only been "indexed" but not "ranked", at least not officially, so I can't download the gadget or widget or whatever it is.  But still. . . . along with the 11 followers I've accumulated(thank you very much, followers, please feel free to spread the word), I feel that at last, after a little over two years of hard work, I'm finally getting recognized.  Woo-hoo!

Anne G

Sunday, October 11, 2009

(Gendered) POV preference? Why?

I subscribe to a lot of e-mail lists, all related, in various ways, to my writing.  For example, I'm on a very lively anthropology e-list, full of anthropologists, naturally, who end up discussing everything under the sun, including science fiction on occasion, and prehistoric humans, including Neandertals, on more than one occasion.  Then there is a more "generalized" list, that started out as a "defend the theory of evolution" list, and "fight creationists".  That also is a lively discussion group.  Sometimes I get information, or links to information, from these sites, that I can use on The Writer's Daily Grind.  I never know, from day to day, what will pop up!  But I also subscribe to several writing-related e-mail lists, and here, the discussions, mostly writing-related, can get really interesting.  For example, on one such list there has been a recent, ongoing discussion of POV characters in fiction.  This isn't, as is often the case, a discussion about the advantages of a first-person v. a third-person POV(just to let everyone know, "first person" is a narrative from the POV of the main character; the kind that has him/her describing what happened  or happens to him/her; third person is the more common narrative style).  In this case, the discussion revolved around preferences for a male or female as the main character, particularly in historical novels(but this might apply more broadly, as well).


It's an interesting discussion, for several reasons.  First, in relation to historical novels, it seems that of those written nowadays, the majority are written about female characters.  Supposedly the reason for this is, and there's probably some truth to it, that the majority of those who read historical fiction are women, and presumably women relate better to the lives of other women.  Second, and this is where it got interesting, there is  a perceived bias against male main characters!   But here is where it gets really interesting -- some readers will read only fiction with a female protagonist, some others will only read or write fiction with a male protagonist. 


Personally, I'm really puzzled by this.  Which is odd, since I grew up in an era when the majority of "serious" writers, even of historical fiction, were men.  there were writers like Samuel Shellabarger, Lawrence Schoonover, Irving Stone, Thomas Costain, all to varying degrees, popular authors when I was young, and when I was a little older, I read many of their works and liked them.  But they didn't write about women to any extent.  There were some women historical novelists.  Norah Lofts comes to mind -- and then there was Anya Seton, of Katherine fame(though she wrote a number of other works as well).  And they wrote almost exclusively about women in historical contexts. They came later, and by the time they came along, I believe the genre had begun to change.  However, at the time, these women were not considered truly "serious" writers, though their work, especially that of Anya Seton, seems to have influenced some romance writers, in a roundabout way.  But by and large, this writing world was very "gendered": it was before anybody had heard of feminism, for better or worse. 


That was a good many more decades in the past, than I care to think very much about at this point, and since then, things have changed.  For one thing, the publishing world is pretty "bottom line" oriented, and anybody that writes today, if they're writing historical novels, has to cater to that market.  In other genres(except for romance, generally speaking), the writing world is far less "gendered" in this way; readers of mysteries, science fiction, thrillers, etc., seem not to care about the biological sex of the protagonist as much as how good the story is, although male writers still tend to write male characters for the most part, and women tend, though not so sharply, to write about women protagonists, though this is a lot more evenly split, as far as I can tell.


So what's up with people -- particularly some women, who can "only" write or read male characters, or who can "only" write or read female ones?  This is what puzzles me.  As I said, I grew up in a really gendered era in "popular" fiction, but I read both male and female POV's and enjoyed both, if the writer was good enough. This attitude informs my own writing; my works up to now have involved female protagonists, but for the next month, I'm going to start writing about a character from my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, who just grew and grew and grew on me, and I had to write (gulp!) his story.  One of my earliest stories, which, with much revision, I'll probably get back to eventually, have two equally "protagonistic" characters, one male, the other female.  I just can't write any other way. 


So again, what's with people who can "only" read or write one sex?  I have some ideas here.  First, those people who feel they can "only" write about males(especially if they are women), may, unconsciously or half-consciously, think that "only" men did "interesting" things in the past(I'm addressing readers or writers of historical fiction here).  Some of these people seem to be entirely unable to imagine a woman doing anything  -- other than standing around and waiting for her "man" to come home.  I read a novel like this, some years ago, that was like this, except, oddly enough, it was written by a man.  Which brings me to another point that seems to be the case for some (male) writers:  a fair number of them seem quite unable to conceive of, or write about, a well-rounded female character.  The late Robert Heinlein was notorious in this regard, but then, in his heyday, sci-fi was largely a "boys club".  But at the present, Bernard Cornwell has much the same problem; he has women characters, but they're mostly, well "flat", and relatively interchangeable.  I hasten to add that not all male writers have this problem; some of them are much more sensitive to nuance, both in their own sex and among women.  These male writers are concerned about what makes a person interesting, not what sex they happen to be, so they probably don't think that just because somebody happens to be female, that "nothing"  interesting happened to them.  These writers also know that there are plenty of boring men around. 


But when female writers or readers can "only" conceive of male protagonists, I begin to wonder.  I know that, when I was growing up, it was quite normal for girls to wish they were boys, at least as children.  Oddly enough, though I grew up in "sexist" times, I never wished I was a boy.  I think what is or was going on here, though, was a desire by a lot of girls, to be able to do the things boys did or do.  There's less problem with this nowadays, at least in many of the more "developed" parts of the world, but this is a pretty recent development, and there's still plenty of pressure on women to "succeed" in only one way.  There are two ways women who feel so pressured(unconsciously, perhaps), can react.  One way is to "identify" with the "male"; if they're readers or writers, whatever a man, fictional or real, does, is perceived as "interesting", women, well, a lot less so.  On the other hand, I discovered on this same list, that there are women who will "only" read or write a female protagonist.  I think these women are actually(again, whether consciously or unconsciously) reacting to a perceived "male bias" here, and possibly feel they can "identify" more readily with a female character, whether they're writing or reading one.  Either way, I think such readers and writers may be limiting themselves.  If they're writers, limiting oneself in this way or any other way, is, in my opinion, absolutely deadly. 


I think, in my own case, I have been blessed with a very good imagination.  As I was maturing, but long before I started writing, I started half-consciously training my mind to be "open" to the possibility that other people, in circumstances different from my own, may see the world in ways different from the way I do.  This is, I might add, partly a function of my "anthropological" background; different cultures have different ways of conceptualizing the worlds they live in, sometimes quite startlingly different, but often, surprisingly the same.  And so, in my travels through the world I knew, I gave myself "thought exercises".


Let me give you an example of one of them.  Some years ago, when my daughter was small, I planted a small garden every summer.  In late April or early May, I would go to a particular gardening store to buy tomato plants.  This gardening store was located in a part of Seattle which had, by then, become populated by various "minorities", and to get there, I had to take a bus.  Now what was very interesting was, when I got on the bus, just about everybody on it was "white".  But when I got off the bus, in the neighborhood of the gardening store, I was just about the only "white" person!  Nobody was rude or unkind; not a deplorable word was ever spoken.  People just wanted to get wherever they were going.  But this experience got me to thinking.  What would it be like for one of those "nonwhite" people to do the reverse, e.g., be the only "nonwhite" person in a "white" area.  And I tried to let my imagination flow here, tried to imagine my life in someone else's skin -- literally.  It was an interesting, and sometimes uncomfortable experience.  But I persisted.  I also began trying to imagine what I'd be like if I'd been a man rather than a woman.  Would I have turned out more like my brother, a gentle, quiet person, or more like my father, who liked to be the center of things, or something else entirely?  That, too was an interesting, and sometimes uncomfortable experience.


But as a writer, the cumulative effects of these thought exercises have served me well, I think.  For one thing, it is impossible for me to conceive that a woman(or a man) would necessarily be "uninteresting" simply because of their biological sex.  It's true I've started out with female characters, who are, at least to me, very interesting, but I hope I've made my male characters interesting, too.  They are all individuals, and while, in my Invaders trilogy, the men and the women usually have different "trajectories", and they tend to be people of their time and place, with the general expectations of their time and place, that doesn't mean they don't do interesting things getting to where they want, or ought, to be.  That is how I think writing should be done, and while I don't claim to be a "superior" writer, whatever that may mean, I strive to follow this.  Again, in my opinion, if a writer doesn't try to do this, to stretch their imaginations in some way, then their limitations may be their shortcoming as a writer.

Anne G

In praise of Living the History

Elizabeth Chadwick's Living the History blog is one of the best, and most accessible blogs, for anyone interested in fiction, and/or medieval history, that I know of.  She also has a website(which you can access once you get to the blog), which is full of research material she's gathered, for anyone to use.  Today, I just want to post a short note on her latest blog entry, a biography of John Marshal.  John Marshal was the father of the more famous William Marshal.  For those interested in medieval history, and the famous figures of the period, I can't think of a better place to begin your research.  Thank you very much for your blog and your website, Elizabeth Chadwick!

Anne G