Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Friday, June 26, 2009

Some ways you might not have thought of, to tap into your creativity

A couple of months or so ago, I discovered a book called Tarot for Writers.  This is a neat little book, and for those rationalists among us, it is not "about" divination, unless you think tapping into the creativity everyone has within, a kind of divination.  Be that as it may, although I haven't used it as much as I might -- how to squeeze the time in, to do this, in one's ordinary, non-writing life, is always a problem -- I've already found it useful in developing or bringing out things about my characters that I wasn't consciously aware of. 


So I recommended the book to several fellow struggling writers.  I don't know if most of them used it, but Nan Hawthorne noted that Yours Truly mentioned this to her in her latest blog(those interested will have to scroll down to see Yours Truly being noted).  She also noted that there is a Tarot for Writers website, which even offers readings that help the writer develop their plotlines.  I also noticed you can get a reading for your characters.  In my case, that would be kind of difficult.  Since I'm writing about people who were born (a) on another planet in a nearby solar system during the Earthly medieval period and (b) I'm writing about people who were born during a time in Europe when records of births and deaths were spotty and approximate at best, this probably won't work very well.  One of the places a (fictional) character came from actually exists, but not in the place I put it in(some historical purists might not like this, but I had a reason for doing what I did; the other place I might have used, was the place of origin of a fairly well-known family).  In another case, I'm not exactly sure where the character in question was born.  Be that as it may, this might be a tool for some writers.  All I'm saying here is, if you're a writer or other creative person, Tarot for Writers might be a useful tool.


In any case, just to give you an idea of how I've been creatively using Tarot for Writers.  I will use my lead female character, Illg, as an example.  Almost immediately, after doing a little reading in the book, I was able to assign the High Priestess card to her.  Although she is only fifteen in "our" years when her story starts, she  has what can only be described as "secret knowledge", some of which she only partially knows.  First, she is Dauarga(which the Neandertals who come from this nearby planet call themselves),and nobody on Earth has any idea  -- at least nobody in medieval England does(or anywhere else on Earth, for that matter).  Second, she has some rather unusual abilities, which drive part of the action in the story,and also give the "modern" humans around her some vague idea that there is "something" about her.  And she has to learn how to explain these unusual abilities to people, without getting her into trouble. It is a gradual process; some listeners -- including the lead male character, Hardwin(and no, I haven't quite figured everything out about him yet, so he doesn't quite have a card assigned) -- are willing to hear, and others completely misinterpret or misunderstand.  This is very much in line, in some ways, with the usual interpretations of the High Priestess, who is a symbol of mystery and intuition.  Though young and vital in many ways, because of her origins, there is "mystery" about Illg.  She also has knowledges about things that modern humans in modern times take for granted(she knows what DNA is, but she doesn't call it that, for example). People sense this and that also makes her somewhat "magical" and "mysterious" in certain ways.


I could say I "knew" this about Illg before I started; in a way, she is my best-developed character. I could also say there are "journey" aspects to her story, represented by the very first card in the Tarot deck, The Fool.  But all of the main characters "journey"; while this is not the kind of "literary" fiction that emphasizes "character change" all the major characters have moments of self-discovery, and this is part of what the Tarot is about. 


This method of "getting to know your characters" may not be for every creative person or every writer, but it has helped me, and there will be other characters, and other times, when the use of this book may be beneficial.

Anne G

Neandertals dried mammoth meat and made snug clothes(duh!)

Alas, this particular news got *buried" by another piece of news about the "earliest" flute(where a "Venus" of similar age was found).  This was so exciting, because it is apparently "proof" of how sophisticated "modern" humans are supposed to have been.  I'm sure this was an interesting discovery, all right. And it's good that people are discussing it on various venues.  But. However.  This story suggests something at once exciting and depressing.  Exciting, because if it bears out, it shows that (a) Neandertals could plan for long trips, (b) they knew how to smoke and dry food for preservation and (c) they could make perfectly good, warm, snug clothing -- necessary in the sort of climate they lived in.  They have been denied all of these capacities by various workers, who don't want to acknowledge that, however related they might have been to "us", Neandertals had brains.  And they used them.


Here is the picture that accompanies the articlemammoth-540x380_hmedium

It's not entirely accurate, but it shows the possible clothing Neandertals could have worn, perhaps even while hunting mammoths!

Anne G

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More "accuracy" debates

Over the past few days, more debates on the "accuracy" problem have come up on various venues that deal with certain kinds of fiction, mainly historical fiction. One aspect of this debate has been blogged on here and has inspired a number of comments, including one from Yours Truly.  Another, on Susan Higginbotham's blog, deals with word usage in historical novels.  There seems to be a rather sharp division of opinion about how much "accuracy" should be in novels with a historical theme.  On the one hand, the husband of one of the bloggers, takes the position that "it's a novel", and therefore, the "accuracy" issue isn't as important to him as "a good story".  On the other end, there are extremists who insist that the writer must get every detail "absolutely right. I'm somewhere in the middle, I guess.  For me, "story comes first", especially in situations where, as in the time period I'm writing about, there is little information on some of the historical characters that appear in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece, and in some cases,no one really knows what happened to them.  On the other hand, I try to be as accurate about what is known about them as I can, getting them in the right places at the right times, as far as is known.  And especially since I am not, and probably never will be, writing biographical fiction, I do feel I can "invent" certain things, either when little is known about a real person, or when I have my fictional characters react to a real situation.  Since some of them have "crash landed" but are on a mission from a nearby planet in the galaxy(and they look an act perfectly human, though they aren't exactly "modern" humans), they can and do have attitudes that are not of that time and place, though they try to adjust their actions to the realities of that time and place.  What I don't do, insofar as I can avoid it, is have the people who were born and raised in that era, act like "modern" people of the 21st century.  Their motivations and thoughts are quite different, in some ways, from ours.  This, I think, is a reasonable approach to historical fiction(or, in my case, a "hybrid" that hopefully will appeal to those who like science fiction and those who like historical fiction as well).  I don't think it's a reasonable approach to insist on "absolute accuracy" in situations where many of the characters, particularly the main ones, are inventions.  It's also one of the reasons why I'm not writing biographical fiction; I've seen the efforts of some writers who are trying to write this kind of fiction, and the results are, well,episodic. But again, for me, "story comes first".  But also, this is not an excuse for a writer not to do his or her research -- and BTW, this applies not just to historical fiction, but all fiction that has a "background" or "theme" of some kind.


Let me give an example of what I mean here.  I'm currently reading the mystery novelist Nevada Barr's Winter Study.  It takes place on Isle Royale National Park in winter, naturally.  Ms. Barr makes the conditions under which this ongoing study takes place abundantly clear.  The team studies the conditions under which the famous wolves that live in that park, and their prey, the abundant moose,exist in winter.  No visitors are allowed in the park after October(it's frightfully cold there in the wintertime (but wolves and moose have fur coats, at least).  It's just the researchers, the wolves, the moose, and whatever other critters live there in the wintertime.  She also mentions that this study has been going on for 50 years, and lots of people follow the ups and downs of the wolf and moose population.  She also mentions the canid specialist Rolf Peterson, and the "granddaddy" of this ongoing study, David Mech.  These are all real people, the study is real -- they even have a website(try Googling for Isle Royale National Park some time, and  you will probably come across it.  And Rolf Peterson wrote an Introduction to the book, which I will be reviewing when I finish reading it. 


Ms. Barr has quite clearly "done her homework", and it shows.  She also knows a good deal about how the National Park System works, and what she knows, figures into her mysteries, which make them very, very interesting, especially for me, because as I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm "into" wolves, and, by extension, "natural history" and environmental studies.  Though her situations are fictional, the background is quite real, and fairly easily verified. 


The same is true when writing historical fiction(or,for that matter, science fiction based on speculations derived from the study of molecular genetics, as the sci-fi writer Greg Bear has done).  It is imperative to get the basics right; if you don't, somebody  will notice, and complain!  Writers who don't get the basics right, often end up with glaring anachronisms or mistakes; I once read a very shoddily-researched romance(among other things, the names were all wrong for the period) that put a real historical person in the wrong part of England!  Ugh.  But that kind of egregious error is probably partly what prompted me to start writing this Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece in the first place(plus making Neandertals respectable). 


On the other hand, some people can and do go way off the deep end, in the other direction.  I think I've mentioned elsewhere, that Sharon Kay Penman, good writer that she is, has a tendency to "write forsoothly", which often makes me grind my teeth, because,at least for me, "forsoothly" language is just too distracting. Which brings me to the subject of Susan Higginbotham's blog -- language use.  She, herself, prefers modern language, because she notes, quite correctly in my opinion, that use of some words and phrases commonly used in the time she's writing about, would be quite confusing to a modern reader.  One example she gives, is a historical character referring to his "mother-in-law".  "Mother-in-law" is clear enough to a modern reader; the trouble is, this term was used for stepmothers(and presumably stepfathers) in the 15th century.   So she has this historical character refer to his "stepmother" rather than his "mother-in-law".  She also mentions that she feels silly using words like "certes", which is something Ms. Penman does all the time.  In this case, it would make absolutely no difference for Ms. Penman to have her characters(even if they're talking in Old French or Middle English, to just say "certainly", or "for certain", as the situation demands.  There are plenty of other ways to suggest the time period(e.g. referring to certain kinds of armor as "hauberks"), or describing something about the living conditions.  She actually does a lot of this, and quite well, and I think that's enough.  But she, along with some other writers of historical fiction, tends to be what Nan Hawthorne refers to as an "accuracy nerd", and to me, at least, this is silly.


For me, the bottom line is:  strive for overall accuracy in at least the basics(timeline, organization of national parks, molecular genetic studies, etc), and, if you're writing historical fiction, be sure your characters are in the right place at the right time, and are in the proper relationship to one another(yes, I've seen a lot of egregious mistakes here, too).  Get the details right as best you can, and do your research! Beyond that, again, at least for me, "story comes first"; write the best way you know how. Don't strive for a "style" , but write clearly and interestingly.  If you can do this, there is no guarantee that you'll get published, but at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you gave the best shot to your effort.

Anne G

Monday, June 15, 2009

Flash! Neandertals in the news!

The North Sea has yielded up some Neandersecrets, thanks to some intrepid Dutch scientists. There is an article here,  and here's a picture of what they found, which, though not much, should give us all an idea.



Of course, there seem to have been other finds in the area, though no fossils until now.  But there is evidence that Neandertals existed in what is now the UK, some 60,000 years ago; some fairly typical "Neandertools"  were found near the remains of some hapless woolly mammoth, in Norfolk, a few years back. And there wasn't any North Sea between Britain and the Netherlands 60,000 years ago, either.  They could just follow the reindeer/caribou, or the woolly mammoths, or whatever they were inclined to eat at the time. . . .

Which is all very nice for my heroine Illg, who, with her companions, recognizes places where her "Ancestors" have been.

Anne G

Monday, June 8, 2009

The wolves are happy, and I guess the farmers and ranchers are, too!

I'm happy to report that the Washington State Department of Wildlife has come up with a plan that will presumably benefit both wolves and ranchers. These wolves are the first denning pack in 70 years; fortunately or unfortunately, they are denning near an area where cattle usually graze.  However people are not allowed near the den site, and the calves have to be kept away from the wolves till they're too big to be of much interest to the wolves(they prefer the local deer, anyway), and/or the usual "wolf food" becomes abundant.  Of course, since wolves are now part of this blog(especially as they relate to anything I'm writing), I will be keeping everybody informed on what the new wolves of Washington State are actually doing. . . .

Anne G

Saturday, June 6, 2009

They're baaaaaack!

Wolves are, that is,in Washington State.  After an absence of some 70 years,though some of their number have trotted in an out of Our Fair State from time to time. But now, apparently, a pack has made itself comfortable in the mountains of central Washington. The Seattle Times had a story just this morning, and a picture to go witwashingtonwolfh it. There was evidence, even before this

picture,though.  A rancher tried to send a bloody wolf hide via FedEx to somebody or other,and that got into the paper. And a cow was found dead in the Twisp area, which got some people there all upset. But the state wildlife people investigated, and Defenders of Wildlife offered to compensate the owner of the deceased cow. Turned out the cow probably wasn't killed by wolves, because there are plenty of deer around there that they can chow down on, plus not a few elk(Cervus elaphus  -- for any "overseas" readers, these are the "red deer" of Eurasia).  So they don't need to eat the local cows, and the farmers and ranchers around there can do things to minimize the possibility.  Besides which, if those wolves are smart -- and wolves are pretty smart as "lower" animals go -- they'll keep to themselves.  I suppose a lot of people will visit Twisp and the surrounding area to see wolves. If they get lucky, they'll probably see tracks and/or hear them howl.  I wonder how this will all play out.  My "non-medieval" science fiction stories have wolves in them, inhabiting an area not too far from a fictional Washington former timber town,but that fictional former timber town isn't anywhere near Twisp. In any case, all I can say is, a big, loud, Yay!  It's about time!

Anne G

Friday, June 5, 2009



Thank you, Helen Hollick, for becoming a Writer's Daily Grind follower!  I always appreciate an audience. But then, who doesn't?

Anne G

A hearty welcome to a fellow blogger

A wonderful author not many have heard of, Helen Hollick, has entered the blogosphere. Her blog, Helen Hollick -- Historical Fiction and Adventure History has recently started, and not only am I introducing her here, but I am adding her to my Honorable Blogroll.  She is currently writing a series set in the Golden Age of Piracy, about pirates, naturally, but she has also written an Arthurian trilogy and is working on the third book of a trilogy set near "my" period(late Anglo-Saxon/early Anglo-Norman). Welcome!  I hope Ms. Hollick doesn't mind too much being sandwiched in between my thoughts on the writing process, Neandertals, and wolves, though!

Anne G

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Flash! Lawsuits on behalf of wolves are being heard in Montana and Wyoming

Despite, or perhaps because of,the fact that some farmers and ranchers are just itching to get their hands on the nearest gun and shoot wolves in those states, a federal judge is going to rule on whether or not the farmers and ranchers can actually shoot them.  Darn good thing, I say, if the judge in question decides to block these ecologically questionable hunts.  There are ways of keeping wolves away from livestock; wolves are pretty smart and learn quite well.  This has been tried with at least some success in Minnesota and, I think, Wisconsin, which states have always had a viable wolf population.  Besides which, I know there are a lot of people in the more "populated" part of Montana, that don't want farmers and ranchers just banging away at wolves.  Who, after all, eat a lot of deer,which -- and I've seen this -- have a way of munching on wheat and other crops. Wyoming is another matter, but the farmers and ranchers there should realize that Wolves Are Good For You! 


You can read all about it at this site


BTW, I did say I'd be writing about wolves from time to time.  I guess my first post of June is a good time to do this.  Besides, in the proposed Young Adult book I have currently on the shelf,  wolves will have their place. . . .

Anne G