Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Medieval linguistics -- or something!

An article from the BBC has been making the rounds of several websites and blogs in the last few days. This article claims to have identified the oldest words in English.  Now I'm no expert on these things, but I do know that from the point in time the good linguistic scientists started from, there has been a lot of change in English.  Furthermore, some of this actually started entering the language before that point -- e.g. over 1000 years ago.  Which, I might add, gets us into the period of time I'm writing about.  Which is why I'm blogging about it!


In any case, these people have been criticized in various venues, including this one.  Their objections are quite reasonable, and suggest that the people who did this study, didn't think things through before they started talking to the BBC.  While it's true that there are certain "core words" in English, and many other languages as well, that a time traveler might pick up on, e.g. "mother", "father", "sister", "brother", words for numbers, and some others.  it's also true that many of these core words or their recognizable equivalents exist(and probably always have) in other "Indo-European" languages(English is an Indo-European language, as are French, Italian, Russian, Persian, and a number of others).  These words can probably be traced back a lot farther than Old English.  Second, a lot of sounds have changed in the last 1000 years; so have things like sentence structure(modern English doesn't really have case endings any more; Old English did), and the sounds were probably more like modern German than present-day English.  In other words, our time travelers would have had a hard time making out much of anything anybody said, let alone carrying on a conversation(unless they read Beowulf in Old English, or the equivalent).  There are people who study such things,  but these people aren't inclined to make "predictions" like this.  No, the people who did this study consider themselves hard scientists, but they seem quite ignorant and clueless as to why and how English has changed in the last 1000 years, and when they add French into the mix(they do), it's doubtful to me that any modern French speaker would be any better off trying to converse in Old French with somebody 1000 years ago.  The vocabulary and sentence structure in French hasn't changed as much, but the way a lot of words are pronounced , and vowel-shifting, sure has! 


Bottom line:  It's no wonder a lot of people don't understand science, and come out against it, when they should be for it.  These guys are a good example of why.  And they should go back to their labs, study a bit more, and not try to make statements about things they obviously don't know anything about.

Anne G

Friday, February 27, 2009


Yesterday, when trying to transfer my writing files, I had an aaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!! moment.  That was because I thought I'd wiped out some important files.  I was starting to have even worse of an aaaarrrrrrgggggghhhh!!!!e moment, when I thought I'd somehow wiped the writing files from  about 10 chapters of the third book in my trilogy.  Fortunately, I'd had the wit to save them on an external hard drive.  So the day was saved!  Of course, I now have to straighten some things out, but yes indeed, I have all my writing files now, and I can proceed with my plan.  Of course,the first ten chapters of my first book need to be copied, but there's an upside to this:  I can tweak and revise!  Ain't writing grand?

Anne G

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhh!!!!! moment

Gentle blog-readers:


Have you ever had a aaaaarrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!!!!! moment?  I just did.  This morning, in fact.  I had the old files to the first book of my Invaders trilogy on my old computer.  Because the CD drives broke down and stopped working, I thought I couldn't transfer my writing files.  I was waiting around for the Family Computer Guru to help me, when it occurred to me that I could just get a flash drive and transfer them that way.  My old computer had Windows XP, so this was really no problem.  So I bought this nice pink flash drive.  So far, so good.  This old computer is rather slow to boot up, because it is full of computer junk, but I booted it up, inserted the flash drive, and after the computer made it work on a USB port, everything was decent.  So far, anyway.  I transferred the material into the flash drive, then I inserted the flash drive into my laptop and transferred everything there.  That worked fine. Then I checked to see what I had.  And somehow, instead of copying the revised version of the first five chapters(after that, I think I had everything on the new computer anyway, I managed to lose those revisions!  So all I had was the originals, which, for various reasons, have changed from the originals.


Fortunately, I have hard copies of the revision. . . . .



Anne G

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A quick note concerning a change

I am pleased to announce that Nan Hawthorne's blog Early Medieval England has been changed to Early Medieval Britain.  Yours Truly has uploaded a short post there, and Yours Truly, who has the old title on her medieval blogroll, will make changes accordingly.  There are only four posts at the moment, but I have a feeling the blog will prove quite interesting!

Anne G

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Music and mystery


Dunlap, Susanne

The Musician's Daughter

Bloomsbury, 2009, 322 pp

ISBN 1-59990-332-6


Franz Josef Haydn(1732-1809) is one of my favorite composers of all time.  I listen to a classical music station where his music is not infrequently played, and when it is, I often grow dreamy.  Therefore it was with great pleasure that some weeks ago, I discovered   this book in a local bookstore.  I dipped into it, fully intending to read it at a later time.  Then, as it turned out the author sometimes posts to an e-mail list I belong to, and I mentioned that her book had just come out, and as soon as I could, I was going to read it.  I then put in a request for it at the local library, and very soon, I had the book in my hands and began reading.


The book was worth the rather short wait.  Ms. Dunlap really seems to have a feel for eighteenth-century Vienna and its musical and social scene.  And I think a lot of the young audience it's aimed at, would readily identify with some of the themes she weaves throughout her book as well as learning a good deal -- there were some things I didn't even know -- about life for many people in that place and time, about what she calls standing up for what's right, being brave, and pursuing whatever dreams you have. 


These themes are wrapped around the mystery of Theresa Maria, named after the  Austrian empress Maria Theresa, and who was intended to live a life as much like the life of that lady as a musician's daughter in that day and age, could -- pious, respectful, a good housekeeper, having lots of children.  But that isn't what Theresa Maria really wants, and when her father turns up dead on Christmas Eve, when her mother is just about to have a baby, she wants to find out why her father turns up dead.  This gradually leads Theresa Maria into a complicated whirlpool of events, involving Prince Nicholas Esterhazy, Haydn's noble employer, "Papa" Haydn himself, some people belonging to what I call "despised groups"(in this case the Romany people or Gypsies), and discovering that an uncle she thought would be helpful, is anything but.  And she discovers that a nice young musician in Haydn's orchestra is much more than he seems, too, and that her father was the kind of person who stood up for what's right in the face of possible dire consequences.  So, for that matter, at least in this story, does Franz Josef Haydn. 


The writing is clear and simple, yet the story moves along swiftly enough so that neither adults who might read it, nor younger readers, will be left unsatisfied.  Ms. Dunlap has a talent for weaving facts about life in 18th century Austria(and more particularly Vienna), with her fictional story.  Historical "rivet counters" of  the kind I blogged about earlier, may not like this book; Ms. Dunlap frankly admits that the situations she described, though dealing with real personages such as Haydn, are invented, though, from what I've read about Haydn's life, could plausibly have happened.  Her portrayal of the future Emperor Joseph II, for example, was accurate in that he was a reformer of sorts, in his time.  And other details of the period seem realistic enough to me, though I am hardly an expert, since my "historical" focus is early medieval England, not 18th century Vienna.  And, as an added enticement -- for music lovers, anyway -- she has kindly added some recordings of Haydn's work, some of which I'm not very familiar with.  And last but not least, the very end of the book wraps everything up nicely, yet hints at a sequel.  If Ms. Dunlap does decide to write the sequel, I will gladly read it, as I look forward to more about Theresa Maria, determined, somehow, to pursue her muscianly dreams.

Anne G

Monday, February 16, 2009

Those pesky little rivet counters

Nan Hawthorn's blog Booking the Middle Ages has an interesting post today. She is commenting about readers of historical fiction, who seem to live to tear apart a particular piece of literature, looking for inaccuracies in historical detail.  Sometimes this kind of pickiness can get downright silly.  She mentions that some people have jumped on her for using the word "tavern" to describe an establishment in Anglo-Saxon England, where liquor was served.  For the record, I, myself, wouldn't use "tavern" here.  In my own work, which takes place at a slightly later period, though still in early medieval England, I use "alehouse" or "inn".  I think this works better. But I am not going to criticize Ms. Hawthorne, or anybody else, for using "tavern" in this time and context.  I fully agree with her, when she describes these people as "rivet counters".  Her post is worth reading, because it does point to a problem I've had in online discussions with readers of historical fiction -- some of them are absolutely "accuracy obsessed" to a degree that really bothers me, and in ways that suggest that they may be people who want to learn about "history"; they seem to want a good story, but only if it conforms to their idea -- assuming they know something about the time period they're reading about -- of what that time period was "really" like.  This leads some of them into some of what I consider fairly serious misunderstandings of whatever period they're "into", and to me, this is far more serious than "rivet counting", which is just plain silly. 


I'm not talking about writers -- and I've read a fair number of these -- who write hastily, don't research their period very well, and insert gross inaccuracies that even I can spot.  Some of these writers, in certain venues, have been extremely popular.  I'm thinking particularly of certain romance writers who basically just use a historical period as "wallpaper", and don't care, and/or perhaps don't think their readers care, about whether or not what their characters are doing re that period, or they put historical characters in the wrong geographical place, or write completely inaccurate descriptions of the events they purport to describe.  I'm talking about readers who read historical novels and then get upset because the description of swordplay isn't quite right -- or something like that.  The reader who came up with that one is also a member of a well-known recreator's society.  This is all well and good, but the recreators themselves tend to be, as far as I can tell, a bit overly obsessive about certain sorts of "accuracy" themselves -- an "accuracy", which, BTW, may or may not be all that accurate.  And then there are those who absolutely insist that people of a given period "wouldn't" have acted the way some historical fiction writer describes them as acting.  These are the ones who prattle on about "mindsets".  Now it's true that most white people, 100 years ago, thought that black people were just somehow "naturally" inferior, and "couldn't" be "civilized", whatever that was supposed to mean.  But there were enough people(Mark Twain, oddly enough, was among them, as well as some other writers and musicians, who actually tried to soften their plights when they interacted with black people), to suggest that the common "mindset" of any given time wasn't necessarily universal. 


The same is most likely true of every single historical period anybody wants to write about.  Not everybody, IOW, was a conformist.  Attitudes in the earlier Middle Ages, for example, even among the nobility and aristocracy, varied, though perhaps within a narrower range than we would expect today.  So when I hear people talking about "the medieval mindset", for example, I tend to cringe.  It's also true that in the past, most people had a much narrower range of life choices  than they  do at the present time. they until recently, even in the "developed" world, this was true.   If you don't believe this, just ask any woman who is old enough to remember how feminism developed, or, it they're younger than about 50, ask them what their mother's lives were like, and you begin to get the picture.  I myself can remember a time when it was thought that any woman in science, for example, was somehow an exceptional anomaly.  I had a ninth grade science teacher who couldn't fathom Marie Curie!  I was puzzled, because my parents certainly could.  But back then, a lot of people couldn't fathom a woman scientist at all.  There was a "mindset" in the middle of the 20th century that assumed that women were "meant" to be housewives and mothers,. and not much else, but not everyone bought into this.  As I say, the same is true of just about any era.  And this is where true creative writing comes in.  If you don't assume a universal "mindset" for any era, but recognize that yes, you will encounter  differences from "today", there is plenty of room for creativity.  Of course, some historical novelists don't write like this.  And some historical readers prefer a narrower approach, which is why I am sure some of them may not care to read my work, when it's finally fit to publish.  That is fine. People who write, must write in the way that suits them best, and I am all for the encouragement of reading in any form.  But, puh-leaze. . . . just don't get "picky" about minor things, or things that, if you think about it, may not be accurate, only what you might imagine is accurate!

Anne G

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Introducing a new medieval blog

The author Nan Hawthorne has a new blog, Early Medieval England.  Nothing is in the blog yet, though I left a comment that Yours Truly will be contributing as an author.  I'm not sure what I'll contribute, but I'll be sure to link to both places.  Sounds interesting, especially since I was invited to be a contributing author!

Anne G

Friday, February 13, 2009

Neandertals, Neandertals, Neandertals!

There has been so much news about Neandertals lately, I really don't know where to begin.  Most of it has been about the draft of a publication of the genome of Neandertals from Vindija, Croatia.  This particular piece is one of the more sensible assessments, and there is also a related piece by the same author that suggests the possibility Neandertals had an artistic bent.  As the author points out , there isn't any evidence that they painted on cave walls, like "modern" humans did at Chauvet Cave or later, at Lascaux or Altamira.  On the other hand, some workers have suggested that Neandertals did, in fact, paint Chauvet Cave.  Few people agree with this, but there's always the possibility. 


And oh, the discussions that have been going on!  Over at Anna's Bones, there's been an ongoing "did they or didn't they" discussion, generated in part by this latest announcement about Neandertal DNA.  The claims about "interbreeding or not" rely very heavily on the apparent lack of identifiable "Neandertal genes" in some "modern" human populations.  On the other hand, one has to bear in mind that human populations anywhere, 30,000 years ago, were probably relatively small and scattered.  This applies to "us" as well as Neandertals.  But one also has to bear in mind that Neandertal populations were even smaller and perhaps more scattered, than "modern" ones.  Therefore, there wasn't a whole lot of opportunity, most of the time, for them to meet and mix it up.  There is some evidence, however, that some populations, notably in the Iberian Peninsula, did, in fact, exchange genes from time to time, if the Lagar Velho child is any indication. The Lagar Velho fossil is dated to a period after Neandertals had apparently ceased to exist, but also apparently, the child seems to have some physical characteristics associated with that population, though it is considered to be a "modern" human.  This suggests that, in the Iberian Peninsula, the people there were pretty "mixed".  Finally, you have to bear in mind that even after there were no more Neandertals, Paleolithic populations were still pretty small, as "forager" societies often tend to be.  Once farming began to spread, populations that farmed had some leeway to get larger, and it's possible that the remaining "forager" humans were simply swamped or absorbed into the larger farming populations, just as Neandertals in certain areas, may have been similarly "swamped" genetically speaking, thousands of years earlier.  This, the possibility of finding genuine "Neandertal genes is probably vanishingly small. 


Finally, I give. for your consideration this Ode to Neanderthal 1, courtesy of the very interesting blog Caveman's Corner.  I think it is a fitting tribute to these fascinating prehistoric people, about whom we still know very little, and who, I think are often still essentially misunderstood.

Anne G

I've found still another fantastic anthropology/paleoanthropology blog!

Today, I'd like to introduce Ethan Fulwood's  The Caveman's Corner . Like me, he is self-taught in the intricacies of human evolution and anthropology, and I suppose, like me, he started from scratch.  He is also majoring in anthropology, which is what I did when in my misspent youth. Be that as it may, if this blog is any indication of his talent, when he learns more, he's really going to shine!  Welcome, Ethan Fulwood!

Anne G

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A writer's beginning, middle, and maybe, just maybe, an end

There is an online writer's list I belong to.  On it, I do a lot of critiquing.  This is interesting for several reasons.  First, I get to see the stages of some other writer's work.  Second, I can also see, through the prism of the individual's style and subject, how any writer is learning, or practicing his or her craft, because, just like any other discipline or job, creative or otherwise, we all have to lean, and then we all have to practice and refine.  When I first started this blog, I compared my efforts to doing physical exercise.  In order to get stronger, one has to exercise.  This may make your muscles sore for a while, but they get stronger after a while.  This was brought home to me a few days ago, when I restarted a yoga class I'd dropped(along with a lot of other stuff), due to various things I won't go into here.  I wasn't "out of the loop" a terribly long time, but it was long enough for me to find out two things:  first, my legs and hips have become more flexible, and I generally have more physical energy than I did before I even started.  But, having been out of practice for a while, I was also kind of sore. I've also found out that with exercise, I have to work out what's right for me, no matter what anyone else is doing.  The local YMCA definitely encourages this. And it also encourages people not to rush into it too hard, because if you do, you are more likely to get injured, and not get the benefit you might otherwise get. 


The same is true of writing.  When I first started, I got lots of advice from various writers.  One of them said that you should outline your story from beginning to end.  Another claimed it was a good thing to start wherever you like:  beginning, middle or end, it doesn't matter.  Well, all I can say is, I tried both outlining and starting in the middle -- though not for the Invaders trilogy I'm doing now.  Neither technique really worked for me.  Despite outlining, I found that as I wrote, things and characters would get added, and I couldn't write to an outline at all. I also tried writing something I thought would come somewhere in the middle of a novel that's presently "on hold"(yes, I will probably get back to it in some form).  But what I eventually ended up with, didn't even have this particular"middle". The concept I thought was so great at the time, just didn't work.  At least, it didn't work for me, and what I was writing turned out quite differently as I wrote, and learned more about the characters and their backgrounds.  Basically, I work "logically".  I cannot conceive of starting in the middle of some story and working around it, but that doesn't mean my story won't change in certain details, or take an unexpected direction. That is pretty much what my Invaders trilogy has done, with the addition of certain important characters, some of whom are so important that they will have stories of their own, eventually.  Or details change the more I discover about the historical period I'm writing about. 


But I've also discovered, through critiquing other people's writing, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and what I've learned.  I'm at a different stage now, than when I first started.  I used to write much more "flabbily" than I do now, using lots of unnecessary adverbs and sentences that ran on too long.  I learned to shorten my sentences, and leave out a lot of unnecessary words. But I'm still learning, and probably always will be, till, as they say, they put me six feet under.  I'm not ashamed to learn, whether it be from Stephen King's On Writing or from some aspiring writer's efforts.  And this is what is interesting -- when I critique, I can see the writer's struggles for things like clarity, setting the scene so it makes sense, making characters come alive in various ways.  I struggle with these things too, and probably always will.  We all do, and this is aside from the problems and possibilities presented by changes in the publishing world, the quirks of agents, and anything else that goes on in a writer's life.  If we don't constantly struggle with this, one way or another, I'm convinced that creativity dries up. 


Yes, I know, there are published writers out there, some of them quite well-known, that have latched onto a formula from which they never depart.  Some of them can write well, but others don't.  Are they creative?  I don't know.  I think some of them are, and a lot of them aren't, particularly.  But none of this should, or does, matter to me, or any of the individual writers I know through helping them with their creative efforts.  I, and they, are writing our passions, so to speak.  We can only hope to constantly hone and upgrade our skills, so that we can write the best story or novel we can.  No one can do any more than that.

Anne G

Monday, February 9, 2009

A nice rejection

A fellow author, Anita Davison, has received a very nice rejection letter (her words).  The agent she sent her work to, didn't think her proposed historical novel was "quirky" or "edgy" enough, though she liked Ms. Davison's writing.  Now I don't exactly know what this might mean, and Ms. Davison doesn't, either, but she should take heart.  Few authors ever get such "personalized" rejection letters.  I imagine she's doing something right.  And I wish her more success in the future!

Anne G

I'd like to introduce a new blog

And the name of this blog is Anna's Bones.  It's quite new, and I came across it in another blog, Greg Laden's Blog, which is also good.  The topic of Anna's Bones like evolution, both human and nonhuman.  And apparently, a lot of other things, as well.  I don't blog much about "evolution in general"; this is primarily a writing blog.  On the other hand, I blog a lot about Neandertals, because one of them is the heroine of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, and the other two in my story are what I call "strong secondaries".  One of them is so strong that he gets a prequel of his own.  So I've had to learn a lot about them to make my story credible.  For the record, I've had to learn a lot about the Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Norman period in England, too, to make my story credible.  And, for the record, "medieval-themed" material makes its way here, for obvious reasons. 


But back to Anna's Bones:  she's new in the blogosphere, and her first forays are wonderful.  One of them is an essay about Neandertals, their intelligence, capability, language, possible hybridization with early "modern" humans, and what that may mean to us, living in the 21st century.  It's what I call a "wow" essay, and well worth reading, though I am sure some who read it will disagree with it.


Welcome to the blogosphere, Anna!

Anne G

Sunday, February 8, 2009

More writers' woes

Yesterday, I posted a blog about the awful situation in the publishing business, re copy editors.  If anyone read that blog, they will know that  in effect, there aren't any.  To recap, for those who haven't or don't want to read this, the situation is basically this:  if you're a writer, and you expect to get noticed by an agent, you'd better be prepared to do your own copy editing, have a friend help you like I am(and I'm helping her, but she's much better at catching this sort of thing than I because she's had practice), or hire a professional editor.  There are, in fact, people who do this sort of thing.  But it gets worse.  A lot worse.


In an article about book publishing in Canada the author doesn't say anything about having to do your own copy editing. He talks about having to do your own publicity!  And I rather doubt that this is any different in the United States -- or anywhere else, for that matter.  Now in the "good old days" , if you were lucky enough to get published, the publishing house would arrange book tours for you, and newspaper and TV ads.  That's kind of gone the way of the typewriter.  This is something else you, the writer, have to do for yourself.  And writers, as a general rule, aren't that good at promoting themselves.  We are often a modest bunch.  Hence, the proliferation of writer's blogs and writer's websites, yours truly's included. Yeah, I know.  I'm nowhere near a book deal. Yet.  But still. . . .  In any case, this is just another time and money burden for the writer. It's more of a burden for some of us than for others, but I suppose, if we must, we must.


All may not be lost, however.  I mentioned in an earlier post about what is now called "independent publishing" that one can do things like "publish on demand" electronically, and simply let a lot of people known the book is out.  I don't know how this works, but there are now "independent publishing collectives" that find places at book fairs and the like, so that the writer can get the word out to a larger audience.  Since the publishing world is changing, and the writer apparently has to change with it, this may in time be a good way to go.  But it's too early to tell, yet. 


Perhaps some combination of blogging, as Robert Sawyer does -- he also has a website -- plus a website as many other authors have, plus a presence of some sort on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace will help the emerging writer create an audience for his/her work.  Word of mouth was pretty much what gave the Harry Potter series "buzz", at least at first.  Then the publishers knew a good thing when they saw it, and everything went from there.  The publishing business is changing, and writers have to adjust to some of these changes.  But all is not gloom and doom.  You see, most writers aren't in it specifically for the money, although that's always nice, if it happens.  If they were, they'd probably be dreaming up computer games or inventing "killer" apps for your computer.  In any case, I think that, if a writer believes in what he or she is writing, and is willing to go the extra mile, they'll find an audience in time.  It might be niche audience, but that's better than none.  So the best thing, in my opinion, is to hang in there, write the best book or story you can, and persist.  If you do, I'm an optimist.  You will eventually be rewarded for your efforts.

Anne G

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Writing and publishing woes

In my previous post about The Virgin Queen's Daughter , I mentioned that the author had some trouble with certain words, and certain types of factual information.  Ella March Chase and I have something in common -- we both have writing partners that are helping us see our way to publication. The difference seems to be that both I and my writing partner seem to have a better grasp of words and grammar than she and her writing partner do.  This is not entirely meant as a criticism of her, although I do hope she finds some way to get better editing so the glaring errors I saw  in the book won't be subsequently repeated. If they are, it will be unfortunate, because there are a large number of people(and the number appears to be growing), of readers of historical novels.  And many of these readers are quite knowledgeable about some historical period. Not only are they knowledgeable, they are often knowledgeable to the point of obsession.  This could be a problem, because if they spot factual errors in spelling or grammar, or errors like "Hans Holbien", they may just throw the book at the wall.  I've done the same with writers who made far fewer spelling mistakes than Ms. Chase did, but had factual errors so glaring they practically hit me.  The last time that happened, I all but threw the unfortunate author's book at the nearest wall!  Since I'm writing what is essentially science fiction set in medieval England, I can't really say I'm a "historical novelist".  So I suppose I'm a bit more tolerant about some of these things, than some "history obsessives" might be.


However, whether or not readers of historical novels are "obsessive" about their fact checking isn't exactly the problem.  As my writing partner/friend said not long ago, the real problem seems to be the nature of the publishing business.  And the publishing business has changed a lot -- to the extent that there are no longer really any such things as copy editors who would catch such things as misused homonyms or words that are verbs, which are frequently thought to be nouns.  I'm thinking here of the confusion many writers have when using "prophesy"(verb) as a noun.  "Prophecy" is a noun.  "Prophesy" is a verb.  But I can't tell you how many writers fail to see the distinction, and don't think to look in a dictionary -- a tool I think every writer should have.  On the other hand, a lot of people just rely on their spell checkers, which is fine as far as it goes, but the trouble with spell checkers, as my writing partner pointed out, is that they recognize anything that actually is a word.  Thus, they will recognize "prophesy" used like a noun, just because it is a word.  The same is true with "flare" and "flair".  They are both words. I have sometimes used the thesaurus provided with each of my word processing programs, though I don't use it very often.  But use of a thesaurus might help some writers get the "right" word in the right place. 


The thing is, that if a writer gets anywhere close to being published, without a copy editor, these kinds of mistakes will keep cropping up.  This is not the end of the world, exactly, but a lot of readers, especially the kind that read historical novels like The Virgin Queen's Daughter, are what linguists call "prescriptivists"; grammar and spelling rules are very important to them.  I have my "prescriptivist" hackles, which is why I notice such things.  Unlike the "obsessives" out there, I don't necessarily end up ranting and raving about it, since I'm not a "prescriptivist".  Much of what these folk wail about is simply due to the inevitable changes that all languages go through over time.  As far as English is concerned, if it hadn't changed, we would probably still be speaking and writing the language Beowulf was recited and written it.  Which is complex and beautiful in its own way, but hardly understandable to most people today.  Still, this lack of decent attention to detail in the writing world is sad, but not incapable of correction.  The trouble is, it's the writers who are going to have to do the correcting, by themselves,  or with help from critique groups, partners, writing workshops, instructors, etc.  For many of us, this is an extra burden, but may pay off in the end, since a manuscript that is well-written, and "gets it right" when sent to an agent, is more likely to get published. 


Finally, I'm hardly perfect in this regard, and neither is my writing partner.  We've both made mistakes, and corrected each other's errors to the best of our abilities. Just last week, while merrily writing a chapter in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, I was describing a funeral.  I was writing so merrily, that I had the body "interned" in the freshly-dug grave.  "Intern" is a word.  But as my writing partner pointed out, I should have used "interred".

Anne G

The Virgin Queen's Daughter -- A review

Chase, Ella March

The Virgin Queen's Daughter

Crown Publishers, New York, 2008, 352 pp.

When I read historical novels, I don't usually ok for "Tudor/Elizbethan"-themed material.  For one thing, the entire period seems to me to be overdone.  I mean, how many more angles on Elizabeth I or Henry VIII can you have?  Yet this is a popular period, partly because of the sheer abundance of material about the famous people and events therein.  Some writers consider this "easy", and proceed to write what is essentially biographical fiction.  For the record, I'm not all that fond of biographical fiction about people of any period, mainly because the storyline tends to be, well, predictable -- that is, unless the person is extremely obscure. 


It was therefore with some trepidation that I picked this book out of the library and started reading it.  On the one hand, the life of Elizabeth I along with the way her personality and the events of the period -- for England, at least -- meshed, are so well-known to anybody who is interested in the period at all, that they hardly bear comment.  On the other hand, the "Virgin Queen" was psychologically very complex, and at the same time very vulnerable.  She lost her mother, the tragic Anne Boleyn, at the age of three, and then was declared illegitimate by Henry VIII(another outsized, but fictionally overdone character), and considered more or less not very important, especially when her half brother Edward VI, was born.  After all, he was the son Henry had been trying for.  Unfortunately, he didn't live long enough to achieve much, except under the guidance of his advisers, established the "reformed religion", which eventually became what Americans know as the Episcopal Church, in England.  He was succeeded by his half-sister Mary Tudor, who was unabashedly Catholic and her reign ushered in the persecution of everyone who wasn't Catholic, with the enthusiastic help of Spain.  None of this helped Elizabeth, who was essentially raised in what people then called the "reformed religion"; in fact, she was considered a definite threat to her sister Mary. 


All of this forms the background to Ella March Chase's The Virgin Queen's Daughter, which actually turned out to be a very interesting read.  From my reading, Ms. Chase has striven to get the "flavor" of both the times, and of the complexity of Elizabeth herself, right, and in this, judging by what little I know about the period and the person, I think she managed quite well, in some ways.  The central character is not Elizabeth herself -- or I would not be reviewing this book -- but rather a young woman called Elinor de Lacey, who has been brought up as an only child by a "bookish" father and an apparently distant mother.  She gets affection and psychological sustenance from a nurse called Hephzibah Jones, and from her father, who encourages her to think.  But she longs to become part of the court of Elizabeth I, and eventually, she does get her wish.  Unfortunately, she has never heard that you should be careful what you wish for, because you might get it, and so she ends up being thrust into the intrigues of Elizabeth's court, where men vie for the queen's attention, and women vie for the men who vie for the attentions of their queen.  It very soon becomes apparent that there is some mystery about Elinor, and this mystery arouses all sorts of suspicions, including those of Queen Elizabeth herself, due to a very unfortunate incident when she was a young girl.  Once the mystery is put in place, the tale becomes  more and more of a "cat and mouse" game as Elinor and Gabriel Wyatt, a man who first antagonizes her, but whom she eventually comes to love, match wits with those who mean both of them ill. 


It is, therefore, in my opinion, a very good story, and worth the read.  But there are some glaring mistakes of either usage or spelling, which make me wonder about some issues I won't go into in this post, but will save for another one.  One of the most glaring mistakes is, she misspells the name of Hans Holbein the Younger.  This man painted the famous portrait of Henry VIII that "everybody" seems to know, and get their images of that particular person from.  I thought at first, it might be  a typographical error; even in these days of computer-generated printing, such things still happen.  But she mentioned Holbein two or three times, and each time, the name was spelled wrong.  She also seems to have trouble recognizing the difference between homonyms(words that sound the same but have different meanings), in particular "flare"(e.g. a fire that flares up or an argument that flares up) and "flair", meaning an aptitude for something.  She also mentions something about "green Lincoln cloth", which is probably more forgivable, since the phrase "Lincoln green" is assumed to mean some sort of green color.  I would not have caught this unless another historical writer, in a book I read several years back, mentioned that "Lincoln green" was actually a type of weave created in medieval times, in the city of Lincoln, which was at one time famous for its cloth.  "Lincoln green" was often dyed red!  Most readers, however, will probably not even notice this.


Overall, though, I find The Virgin Queen's Daughter an enjoyable read.  I think that Ms. Chase may well have more material up her sleeve, and if she learns to consult a dictionary and watch out for details like "Lincoln green", she has a nice future as a good historical novelist ahead of her.  I will be very interested to see what she comes up with in the future.

Anne G

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Beautiful black wolves and how they got that way

Most wolves are various shades of gray.  Some, who live in northern Alaska, or on Arctic islands, are shaggy and white.  But then there are black wolves.  Most black wolves live in North America.  For instance, in Yellowstone Park, about half the wolves roaming that area are black or very dark.  The picture below is a very wolves_600

good illustration.  But in Eurasia, they're either gray or "arctic white".  How did that happen, you ask.  You can get one explanation for this from the John Hawks weblog, which has a link to an article in the New York Times(which also has this picture) of a report showing that North American wolves seem to have gotten this gene for melanism -- because what it is -- from dogs!  Yes, dogs.  The report doesn't say exactly when "dog" genes made their way into wild "wolf" DNA, and the authors, as well as Dr. Hawks, seemed to think that this genetic characteristic got into North American wolves pretty early on -- like when the first people came over -- with their (most likely) wolflike dogs, from "Beringia" to the Americas.  That was at least 12,000 years ago, ad probably a lot longer ago than that.  I don't know whether I agree or disagree with this, but it raises some pretty interesting questions.  There are melanistic coyotes, too, and they apparently got the gene from domestic dogs, too.


First of all, nowadays, many who study canids(dogs, wolves, coyotes, jackals), can't tell you, genetically where wolves end and dogs begin. In other words, dogs are basically domesticated wolves.  This may be hard to believe if you are staring at a chihuahua, but genetically, it's true.  And to make things even more complicated, all members of the genus Canis are apparently able to interbreed and produce perfectly fertile offspring, thank you very much.  Where else do people get the notorious wolf hybrids some people love and a lot of other people can't stand?  How else would it come to be, that in some parts of the North American continent, approximately 75% of all "wolves" have "coyote" gene sequences?  So it's hardly surprising that under some circumstances, wolves and dogs might mate.  That's probably how some of the "Husky" breeds got started.  So it isn't too surprising that wolves and dogs exchanged genes, in this case, for coat color.  They're all so closely related anyway, that wolves and coyotes, at least have nearly identical behaviors:  their mating seasons and gestation periods are the same, they both form packs and raise young "collectively", they have "dispersers" and "abiders" among their members, both of them howl for various reasons.  The principal difference between them appears to be size, and even this isn't absolute.  There are some fairly large coyotes and some fairly "dainty" wolves.  The same is even more true of domestic dogs and wolves. 


So how does this relate to people, one might ask?  Well, my own theory, arrived at in a totally unscientific way, is that all members of the genus Homo(we "modern" humans are Homo (sapiens) sapiens) were about as closely related to each other as wolves, dogs, coyotes, etc. and therefore were at least potentially able to interbreed.  I don't know about Homo erectus(and hardly anybody else does, either), but since Neandertals have been the most closely studied, of all "non-modern" human groups, it seems that they and "modern" humans were at least as closely related to each other as wolves, coyotes, and dogs are.  That doesn't necessarily mean they were, as the scientific parlance goes, "interfertile", but it's a reasonably good indicator that this was possible.  And while the evidence in this regard is contradictory, and therefore, results in arguments between factions, I suspect that some of this went on, and I don't mean just a "one time happening".  I suspect, as does Dr. Hawks, that there were times and places when these little groups of humans met.  Each group might have considered the other to be rather "funny looking", and no doubt they sometimes tried to fight each other, rather than acted peaceably.  It's the "human way", so to speak, to be both peaceable, at times, and aggressive at others, and I don't doubt Neandertals and "modern" humans did both. 


However, when both groups in the same location were in "peaceable" mode, they might well have exchanged mates, in a variety of ways, and for a variety of reasons.  Not all of these mate exchanges might have resulted in offspring who lived to have their own offspring, but it may well be that some did. If Erik Trinkaus is right(and he's a Neandertal expert), then the Lagar Velho child is such a child, and it came from such a "mixed" population.  Such mixings might well have come from elsewhere, and might go a long way to explain why both Neandertals and "modern" humans have the FOXP2 gene, which is involved in speech.  It also might go a way to explain why some Neandertals in some places, get more "gracile" toward the end of their existence.  The Vindija fossil, from which Svante Pääbo and his molecular genetics team got the Neandertal genome they intend to publish next week, was apparently one of these.  So it will be interesting, to say the least, to see what Pääbo and his team have to say about this, next week.  In the meanwhile, we have these beautiful black wolves to ponder.

Anne G

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Subjects medieval and Neandertalish

There's lots of bloggable stuff I've come across today, both on the "medieval" front and on the Neandertal front, so to speak. 


First, to the medieval:  Elizabeth Chadwick's blog Living the History has a rather long, but extremely interesting post about medieval horse types.  I knew  some of this before I read the post.  I knew the horse types -- destrier, palfrey, rouncy, were used for different purposes.  Destriers were specially-trained warhorses, and generally ridden only in battle(often not for long; most medieval battles (a) were or ended up being fought on foot and (b) a rider could get unhorsed.  If he got unhorsed, he was vulnerable).  These specially trained horses were quite valuable.  People of means also had palfreys, which were used for "ordinary" riding purposes.  Again, these were quite valuable.  Finally, there were rouncys or rounceys.  These horses were, "garden variety" so to speak -- a horse that would basically get you from Point A to Point B without being too "fancy".  Then there were also "sumpter" horses, that is pack animals.  According to Ms. Chadwick, you'd have to be pretty desperate in medieval terms, to end up riding one of these.  There was lots more detail and some nice illustrations, which I absorbed with great interest.  The reason for all of this is, that horses play a not inconsiderable role in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertal(because in my "universe" the tarpans -- the original wild horses of Eurasia, which were sometimes painted on cave walls -- were important to the Dauarga/Neandertal people on the planet they, and most of these tarpans had been taken to for a while.  In any case, it is interesting to note(and I have put this in the first book of this trilogy -- that the destriers of the period I'm writing about weren't these great big "draft" type horses you sometimes see in pictures.  They tended to be rather small, muscular, and fast, somewhat like the wild mustangs of the American west, Camargue horses, certain modern Spanish "breeds", and Appaloosas, either in size, or in general shape.  But a lot of the horses of this time were even smaller(that's where the tarpans com in) -- they were pony sized, that is, 13 hands or less.  Just FYI a "hand" is four inches.  Which makes one wonder about the size and weight of either the people or the horses.  In any case, I will give you another hint about my story:  there is a recognizably spotted "Appaloosa" type horse in it.  I chose Appaloosas as a model because in size and shape they seem to resemble the medieval types above.  Not that I know that much about horses.  Though I do  know a great deal about cats, and there is a cat that weaves in and out of my story, and she's a rather special cat.  That's all I'm going to say about cats at the moment, though.   Thanks, Elizabeth Chadwick!


On the Neandertal front, it seems that Greg Laden's Blog and the John Hawks Weblog are trumpeting the announcement from Svante Pääbo's genetics lab, that they have sequenced a complete Neandertal genome from someone who lived 38,000 years ago, in a cave near Vindija, Croatia.  Pääbo and his team have been pioneers in sequencing Neandertal genes, and they have made some quite interesting announcements about certain things, which have caused controversy.  And, for the record, people have interpreted all these announcements in various ways, according to their understanding of Neandertals and their lives.  Some of them have even attempted to spin elaborate tales from all of this -- and some of these tales are more believable than others.  As far as taking a "stand" on any of these issues, I have my opinions, but I don't see any point in reiterating them here.  They will become fairly obvious to anyone who reads my books -- I don't plan for all of them to be medieval-themed, though my present work is, of course.  But for now, I'm kept quite busy gathering information on both "fronts" as well as revising the first draft of my book, hopefully into a fashion that is publishable, and interesting.  In any case, the sequencing of the genome is quite exciting, though I will probably disagree with some of the conclusions.  Quite frankly, though there are some workers in paleoanthropology and prehistoric archaeology whose views re Neandertals come closer to mine than others, I don't entirely agree with any of them, which I think in the long run is a good idea.  After all, my story is unique in some ways(I don't claim it's completely unique, though).  One more interesting thing about this announcement:  The Pääbo people are planning to announce the "complete" Neandertal genome on the birthday of the most famous discoverer of the theory of evolution -- Charles Darwin. His birthday falls on February 12, which, for any American readers, is also the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, though that gets into a whole different story.

Anne G

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Vexation, vexation, vexation

Late last week, I had a problem.  But it wasn't just my problem -- it was the problem of everybody on the list I happen to be on.  This is what is known as a "listserve", basically an early version of an e-mail list such as the numerous Yahoogroups lists.  It's called MEDIEV-L and is populated largely by a number of people in academic medieval history positions at various colleges and universities. So far, so good.  The trouble started when the program, run by, I think, the University of Kansas, began unsubscribing people.  It unsubscribed a lot of people, both academic and nonacademic.  The weird thing about this was, you could receive messages from MEDIEV-L, but if you tried to send them after the program took action, it rejected you, even if your address was exactly as it was before you got unsubbed.  The results were, to put it mildly, chaos for a day or two, until some people tried unsubbing themselves, and then resubscribing.  I tried this, and it worked, but before it worked, I sent out a bunch of test messages, just to see if they were getting through.  Which they finally did.  Three or four of them did, because I wasn't sure if any of them had gotten through.  Normally, if something like this happened, I would only send one such message.


But there was fallout.  After I managed to get through, and explained that I'd sent a lot of test messages, simply because I wasn't sure if the list was even working(I was assured that it was, but it was temporarily quiet), one of the people on the list sent me a really, really, snarky reply.  I mean, this guy was complaining because I'd sent several of "the same" messages, after explaining the reason!  He whined that he was getting something like 1000 of these messages.  I was really annoyed by that, and told him so, in no uncertain terms.  I'm prone to doing that in these situations.  And I do that because I've learned that some of these academics seem to think that they shouldn't have to deal with the Great Unwashed out there.  I pretty much told this guy to just use his delete button if he didn't want to read the messages.  Heck, I do this all the time.


For the record, I actually respect the work these people are doing.  None of these academic types are "in it for the money", or they wouldn't be in medieval studies, nor would they be teaching history classes in their respective colleges.  And I have learned a great deal from many of them.  Furthermore, several of them have been very, very, welcoming and helpful.  But there are a bunch of really "stuffy" types on this list, I'm sorry to say.  These "stuffies" apparently feel that they shouldn't ever have to deal with situations like this, and they sometimes come on as very, very unfriendly and unwelcoming.  Several years ago, I had one of these types complain to me privately that I was "taking up too much space" with my replies to various people.  Again, I pretty much told this particular lady off(politely, however; I was brought up to be polite).  She was pretty huffy.  I didn't miss her when she dropped out. 


This whole situation is interesting, because, as a result of basically gathering information from two different fields for my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, I've also ended up on another listserve called ANTHRO-L. But what is even more interesting is, I was welcomed warmly when I first came on, and although I've been kind of "corrected" about some things I've said from time to time, I don't sense any stuffiness about these people at all.  They all just seem to be very, very welcoming.  Of course, if the discussions end up being about contemporary political and social arrangements, the discussions can get pretty heated(these kinds of discussions are not allowed on MEDIEV-L, and for good reason).  But still. . . .I've never, ever had the problem with snarky posts addressed to me, that I have on MEDIEV-L.  What I don't respect is an attitude of "superiority".  It's deadly.  And not just in medieval studies  But that's another story, for another blog, perhaps in another place.



Maybe it's simply because, (a) I let the anthropologists know I majored in anthropology, many moons ago, and(b),by the time I got to ANTHRO-L, I guess I'd absorbed enough information about Neandertals and human evolution generally, to discuss these subjects with what I hoped was some degree of intelligence.  On the other hand, I have no background in anything medieval, except books I'd read over the years, here and there.  And people in medieval studies have questioned some of the conclusions of some of these writers.   As I said, not everybody on that list has treated me as if I shouldn't be there asking questions; many of them have been extremely nice, and I correspond with a few of them on Facebook and similar venues.   Maybe it just happens that on the ANTHRO-L list, there are a couple of people who use science fiction in their coursework, or have tried or are in the process of writing, novels.  But there are two or three people on the MEDIEV-L list, who are writing novels, too, though they're not science fiction, let alone Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpieces With Neandertals.  I really don't mind; I've said elsewhere that all writers and aspiring writers should stick together and help each other.  Being a writer is hard enough without  getting sand kicked in your face, metaphorically speaking. 


Or maybe it just has more to do with the type of people who are drawn to anthropology, v. the kind of people who seem to be drawn to medieval history.  For instance, the ANTHRO-L people make no pretense of being anything other than pretty politically liberal; I think a lot of this, for them, has to do with being exposed to cultures and ways of being not their own.  On the medieval list, I get the feeling that there are a fair number of political conservatives there, though the expression of this is pretty muted because the listowner doesn't like people fighting over contemporary problems that seem to mirror medieval ones(or vice versa). I'm in full agreement with the listowner about this, although he is not one of these apparent "conservatives" as far as I can tell.  For the record, I don't really mind that some people have ideas that differ from mine in this regard; academic or not, it would be a pretty dull world if everybody thought the same. 


But at bottom, I really don't much care for people who think, because they have studied some specialized body of knowledge, they can look down on those of us who haven't inhabited such rarified realms.  Not that I don't respect their work -- I do.  But the attitude that some of these people seem to exhibit -- that us ordinary folks have no business on their precious list, and have no right to even speak, appalls me.  This is one of the reasons why so many people end up on e-mail lists, only to lurk endlessly.  They are absolutely scared to ask any questions, for fear of their heads getting bitten off.  I should also add, for the record, that I encourage anybody who joins my own e-mail list, Paleoanthropology, Science, and Society, to speak up if they have questions, and join the conversation.  This is one of the best ways people learn anything. 


Apparently these "stuffies" on MEDIEV-L that haven't learned this.  And they don't even make allowances for computer "glitches".  I realize these academics don't have a lot of time to waste; I also respect that, and really make an effort not to pester the ones I've corresponded with.  It's not fair to them.  We all have lives utd we all need to respect each other. 

Anne G