Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Library woes and library foes

From 10 am until 1 pm, I stood outside the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, and solicited signatures to send to the Seattle City Council.  I did this, because the entire library system for the city of Seattle has been shut down.  You can't even drop books to be returned, though no fines will be collected, either.  While the economy isn't getting any worse, it's not getting any better at the moment, and budgetary problems are a continuing concern.  The same, exact thing -- closure for a week -- may happen again next year, if the Seattle City Council decides that more budgetary constraints have to be put in place, which is a distinct possibility. 


This is a  truly appalling situation.  I don't blog often about libraries, though they are very important to me, as a writer.  However, I did blog blog earlier this year about what was happening with the Seattle Library System. And it doesn't look as if anything much has changed.  This is very bad, since the way libraries are used has changed greatly in the past few years, especially with the recently-completed building project which as expanded the library system, built some new libraries in places that didn't have them, and remodeled a number of older ones so they have more patron capacity and greater ability to keep books and other resources that people need.


In this economic situation, this is especially important, since a lot of people are looking for jobs, and the Seattle Public Library System has one of the best collections of job search resources in the region.  Furthermore, there are a lot of people -- I talked to one of them today -- who don't have their own computers, though they have e-mail addresses.  They rely on our system for access to computers, just to "keep in touch".  As the Seattle City Librarian mentioned today at a rally in front of the Central Library mentioned,  the library system serves everyone from Bill Gates to the homeless.  I should mention that some of these homeless people use the library, not only for shelter against the elements, but to find jobs themselves, so they won't be homeless any more.  And there's more, much more. The Gentle Reader can learn a great deal more about the difficulties people are having now that the library is closed for a week.


I realize "things are tough everywhere" and that everyone will  probably have to "take a cut".  However, it seems to me to be a very consistent pattern, that when economic times are hard, the first thing local and national governments always seem to want to do, is cut funds for education and for essential services like hospitals, health care, children's welfare, and so on, so that agencies and systems concerned with these things have to fight over very small pieces of a budgetary pie.  This is exactly what has happened in Seattle.  I was at the City Council meeting where the Council decided to cut the library budget by about 60%, which is the reason that the library system is now closed for a week. I am also aware that this is not only a problem in Seattle.  If it was, I probably wouldn't be blogging about it.  It is a problem on a national, and perhaps even an international scale -- I  also talked to a very chatty librarian from Sweden, who was absolutely appalled that the library was closed for a week.  I have a feeling they don't do things like that in Sweden, whatever else they might do.  My purpose here is to raise awareness. not only locally, but perhaps worldwide; libraries, as I said earlier, are important to the health of any community, however defined, and they should not be made to scramble for a tiny piece of the budgetary pie, even or especially in hard times like these, when so many people need the kind of services they increasingly provide.   Libraries are an important part of a generalized "education system" available to anyone in a community, and should remain fully funded at all times.


End of rant,

Anne G

Friday, August 28, 2009

Literary snobbery strikes again!

In a piece on her blog, The Disorganised Author, Anita Davison writes about an article she read in a British newspaper about historical fiction.  Perhaps, before I get into comments about anything here, I should state that although my Invaders trilogy is set in historical time, it's not strictly "historical  fiction".  I say this, despite the fact that I've always wanted to write a novel set in medieval England, so that's what I ended up doing.  And I've tried to make the history as accurate as possible, given there's not much "on the ground" in the period I'm writing about.  Still, I feel some obligation to at least try to get the basics right. 


I should also remind readers that I've written several blog posts criticizing what I thin as excessive attention to "historical accuracy", and claims about generalized "mindsets" for given historical periods.  I just don't think  there is any such thing as an overarching "mindset" for any given historical period, nor do I think, as some authors appear to, that you can accurately reproduce actual conversations of actual historical personages, unless these were written down somewhere, and I doubt very many of them were.  I  also have my opinions about the techniques some writers use to gain this supposed accuracy, but that's a story I won't go into here. 


However, my complaint is really about the article in the Guardian newspaper.  You see, it didn't take me very long to realize that Anthony Beevor, the author of the article, is basically another one of the, in my opinion, excessively large tribe of literary snobs who feel that people "really" shouldn't be reading anything but "fine" literature of the type they profess to prefer.  Beevor apparently thinks writers of historical fiction are doing historical periods and characters some sort of disservice by writing fictionally about them, simply because they are writing fiction.  Wow!  It also didn't take the article very long to clue me in on this; the moment he suggested that if writers of historical fiction wanted to write about a real person, instead of writing about the actual person, they should write a "roman a clef"!  Another wow!  This is just literary-speak for "write a tell-all set in historical time, but don't use anybody's real name.  And the arrogance of suggesting such a thing pretty much floors me.


I have suggested elsewhere in my blog, some reasons why I, myself, won't be writing any biographical fiction.  I find a lot of rather "episodic" and basically not too interesting. But that's just me, I suppose, and I've read some exceptions.  And I certainly wouldn't try to stop anybody from writing biographical fiction about some historical character, provided they do reasonable research into the period, and the life of the person they write about.  Most readers probably will read such a novel primarily for entertainment, as Beevor pointed out(and so did several comments on Ms. Davison's blog).  They won't be "fact checking".  Even if some readers get very interested in whatever period or person the writer is writing about, these readers themselves are perfectly capable of making the distinction between fiction and "historical fact".  But Beevor seems to think people are so stupid that they just can't do this.  Maybe some people can't, and there are some authors who apparently don't care what they put into their historical novels, regardless of whether it's accurate or not.  And here, I'm talking about really basic stuff, not just minor details.  This is something that really irritates me about Beevor's diatribe.  He brings up Shakespeare's plays, for example.  Many, though not all, people know that Shakespeare's "history" plays aren't historical, certainly not in the modern sense.  Shakespeare was primarily out to entertain the public, and he did a darn good job of it.  Besides which, the standards brought to bear on historical writing, as it was understood in his day, were not quite the same as ours, for a variety of reasons.  So what is this guy griping about?  If Shakespeare's plays aren't history, and half the audience knows they aren't history, how is this different from someone who picks up a book about, say Elizabeth I or Richard III(both fairly popular subjects for historical novels), which is marketed as fiction, any different?  Surely the reader knows, on some level, that what he or she is reading, is fiction.  Doesn't Beevor understand this?  And if so, why not?


I also have a feeling that, in terms of what he thinks people "ought" to read, he is not very far removed from that snobbish tribe of reviewers who trashed the Harry Potter series.  J.K.Rowling didn't pretend to be writing a "great" set of novels, nor, obviously, was she writing anything "historical".  But her literary crime was to appeal to a vast number of people of all ages, who became very engaged with Harry Potter's story, but whose writing wasn't "beautiful" enough to satisfy some critics, and whose plotline was too "ordinary" or not "realistic" enough to satisfy such people.  I think Beevor is basically in the same class, though he aims largely at writers of historical fiction.  Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Beevor, but if you don't "like" historical fiction, for whatever reason, if you think most readers are just too dumb to know the difference(or discover the difference for themselves) between fiction and fact,  you have another very  long think coming.   Given the opportunity, most people can, and sometimes do.  I'm one of them.  I'm sort of a "fact checker" myself, and I've read nonfiction biographies of a number of historical figures, and I've read nonfiction on any historical period that happens to catch my fancy.  I may not be a "common sort" this way, but I've done it.  And, apparently, so have a number of writers of historical fiction.  How dare you try to discourage some potential reader of a work of historical fiction, from doing the same thing?  People have minds, you know, and some of us actually use them!  Personally, I feel that, although I'm not, strictly speaking, writing "historical fiction", if I hadn't done this, I probably wouldn't be writing what I'm writing. 


I think Beevor's advice will probably end up being generally ignored.  People will read what they want.  Some authors will continue to be "compulsively accurate" and some readers will demand this of writers.  Others won't care, but read whatever historical fiction they read, primarily for its entertainment value.  Some readers(and writers) may decide they like the kind of "serious" fiction that Beevor himself apparently prefers.  Others will not.  The important point here is, readers and writers come to any book they read, or write, from any number of different places, and they're all good, in my opinion.  The Beevors of the world will pronounce and pronounce on proper "standards", but most people will probably continue to do what they always have when reading fiction:  get enjoyment out of whatever they are reading.

Anne G

I'm giving the wolves a rest for a while

Okay.  Enough already.  I'm not going to blog about wolves again for a while.  At least not until at least Monday. That's when a federal judge will or won't issue an injunction against this wolf hunt.  Maybe I won't comment even then, depending on how I feel.  However, if any "lupine news" comes my way, you'll  all be sure to be informed!

Anne G

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Disgusting slaughter, Part 2

Since I posted my last blog regarding the upcoming wolf hunt in Idaho and Montana, I've been getting a number of comments.  In fact, I've gotten one of the highest numbers of comments on this, that I've gotten on anything since I started this blog two years ago.  At that time, I wasn't even thinking about blogging on the subject of wolves, their ecology, and reintroduction efforts.  And my blog is still, mainly a "writing" blog, with what might be called subfields related to my books.  So mostly it will be about writing, medieval times, Neandertals, and related subjects.  But since wolves have trotted themselves back into Washington State(and in some future Great Science Fiction Masterpieces, wolves are going to play their part, whatever that is, I feel it incumbent upon me to blog about them. 


As I said, most of the comment I've been getting in regard to my previous blog has accused me of "not researching", getting my facts wrong, etc., etc.  I am not denying that I didn't put a lot of "facts on the ground" into my blogging efforts; however, since I often get information from other sources that prompts a blog, I linked back to the relevant blog(which anyone can see if they look at the previous post), which summarizes facts and figures here.  Unfortunately, some people who read my blog comments didn't like the way I blogged, and wrote rather vituperative comments, both in the comment section, and on Ralph Maughan's Wildlife Report(scroll through the comments section, and you will see what I mean).  I find this rather distressing, but on the other hand, I will not be intimidated by them.  Furthermore, it has always been my policy to respond to anyone who comments, at least on this blog, whether or not I agree with them.  I feel this is only fair and courteous.  The only exceptions are obvious spam, which is the only reason I've instituted comment moderation. 


I can understand the feelings of those who feel wolves are a threat to their livelihood.  Farmers and ranchers face a lot of economic problems, and in the Intermountain West, where this wolf hunt is supposed to take place(Idaho and Montana, there is at present, and always has been, a lot of anti-predator sentiment.  This, of course, includes wolves.  A lot of people in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, opposed the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, though the vast majority of all people who voiced any sentiments at all on this subject, were in favor of this idea.  I know this, because I visited Yellowstone at the time, and signed an informal poll.  It turned out later, that 90% of the people who signed on to that poll, favored wolf reintroduction.  But on the other hand, there were heated "town meeting" type debates, both in Montana and Idaho, and in some cases, the "antis" tried to pack the halls.  I know this also, because when such a meeting was held in Seattle, the city thought it prudent to send a couple of police officers to the scene.  Fortunately,  the police officers had nothing much to do; the vast majority of people there(and the place was packed), again, favored wolf reintroduction


Still, there is a noisy group of people, such as the Governor of Idaho(no, I didn't think to link to the YouTube video at the time I saw it, unfortunately(, who are ready and eager to start shooting wolves.  I am pretty sure that most of these noisy would be wolf hunters, have farming or ranching interests of some kind, and the fact that wolves have been taken off the Endangered Species List(though they are still listed as Threatened), has only egged these people on.  One of the people on that video actually advocated pretty much shooting every last wolf, not just the 220 wolves that are "officially" being allowed to be shot.  And he also advocated aerial hunting, as is unfortunately done in Alaska, thanks to the former governor of that state.  I have been told this won't be happening in Idaho, but still. . . .


Which brings me back to the negative commenters.  It seems to me that these people have their "own" agendas.  That is fine.  They are welcome to disagree with me.  But some of them don't seem to be any longer on facts than they accused me of being.  So if one is going to argue a counter position on this, or anything else, I would like to see their "facts on the ground"  Someone else "slammed" me anonymously.  I am no longer going to accept "anonymous" comments; they will be treated as spam.  I don't care whether or not your "handle" is your real name or not.  But you have to have one. 


Finally, as I said earlier, I have no intention of being intimidated by this, nor do I have any intention of being chased of Ralph Maughan's, or anybody else's site.  I will strive to be polite and courteous at all times, to anyone who passes through here.  And, needless to say, I will continue to blog about the state of wolves in North America and elsewhere, when that seems needful.  A blog, after all, is not an article in a scientific or academic journal(and yes, in the course of my research, I've read any number of those).  It is at bottom a place to express opinions.  They should be based on "the facts", whatever they may be, but they should not necessarily be bound by them.  So expect more "lupine opinion pieces" in the future.


I will leave this for now,

Anne G

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A disgusting slaughter is about to begin

On September !, the State of Idaho will officially sanction the killing of 255 wolves in that state, and on September 15, Montana will do the same thing(though I don't know the number of wolves they're going to try to shoot there).    As some of you who read my blog may know, I'm "into" wolves.  As some of you may also know, wolves were reintroduced to the Rocky Mountain West via Yellowstone Park, in 1995.  They had been absent from that park since the 1930's.  In the meantime, their smaller cousins, the coyotes(Canis latrans), took over some of the functions wolves had previously performed, such as dining on elk.


Unfortunately, elk are rather large, and coyotes are smaller than wolves, so the "coyote contribution" wasn't adequate to keep elk herds under control, and the ecology of Yellowstone and some surrounding areas changed, not always for the better.  In 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, and they thrived.  They were also introduced to parts of Idaho.  They thrived there, too.  And the ecology of Yellowstone, at least, was partly restored.


The wolves thrived so well that they spread in Idaho, and moved out of Yellowstone into other parts of Wyoming.  At this time, they were still on the Endangered Species List, and therefore protected from hunting.  And they continued to thrive.   They thrived so well, that, despite protests from various conservation groups, arguing, correctly, I think, that in  most parts of the US outside Minnesota and Alaska, there were not enough wolves in the places where they have been reintroduced, to justify delisting, and therefore "unprotecting" them.  The full details can be found at Ralph Maughan's Wildlife Report, where a far more detailed proposal of this "plan" can be found.


Many people in Montana and Idaho oppose this wolf hunting.  For one thing, it would, if successful, wipe out nearly one-third of all the wolves that now live in these two states.  That, it seems to me, is not what is required here.  It is true a lot of farmers and ranchers approve of these proposed hunts, and they seem to be enthusiastic about wanting to join in.  This is understandable in places where people invest their money in livestock, and predators are traditionally considered worrisome.  However, wolves have to learn to dine on sheep and cows; their natural food is deer and elk, but, like all members of the dog family, will eat just about anything biodegradable if they have to.  They can be "discouraged" from eating cows and sheep in various ways; this has been tried in Minnesota with a fair degree of success.


Even worse, these proposed wolf hunts will probably be conducted aerially, not unlike the ones the former governor of Alaska has so enthusiastically promoted in the past.  These wolf "hunts" are unfair and disgusting, and they work by running the target wolf down, exhausting it, then shooting it dead, dead, dead.  There's no particular reason to kill them, even if ranchers and farmers worry about livestock, because "wolf damage" just isn't that great.  Ironically the deer that wolves traditionally eat, may cause a lot more damage to crops, at least; I once saw a herd of them attack some growing wheat just outside of Bozeman, Montana.  Wolf predation would go some way to solving problems like this. 


So what is my bottom line here?  These hunts, if you want to call them that, are unnecessary.  They will not accomplish much of anything, except, in the long run, I think, to drive wolves back onto the Endangered Species List, where they will again begin to thrive.  Furthermore, in Montana and Idaho, although there are plenty of people who welcome the idea of possibly exterminating all wolves in their states, there are plenty of people who oppose these hunts.  Even in Alaska, which is full of wolves, most people there oppose wolf hunting.  Besides which, farmers and ranchers are no longer exactly the "majority" of the population in those states.  There are a great many people from "outside", who would like to see wolves and wildlife thrive.  So I, for one, would like to see this hunt halted, hopefully by some sort of court injunction, if at all possible, and immediately.  I urge everyone to think about this, and, if possible, go to Facebook, where Defenders of Wildlife has a presence, sign their petition, and give them as much support as possible so that this effort to stop what is essentially a disgusting and unnecessary hunt, will stop.

Anne G

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I don't know a good title for this blog. . . . .

I  really don't.  I didn't even know I was going to blog it.  But Liam Guilar, a  poet with his own blog, Lady Godiva and Me(I've read the poems), wants to know if any good films have been made of any medieval epics.  I sure can't think of any.  He mentions two films made from Beowulf, which he reviews here, unfavorably.  He didn't, except in passing, mention The Thirteenth Warrior, which I saw a few years back, and it was good fun, I guess, and rather vaguely based on Beowulf, but more so on Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead.  This was written before Crichton went bat---- about environmentalists, and when I read it last, it was mainly for the "Neandertal" connection.  I read Beowulf a lot longer ago than that, in  a college course devoted to the study of epic literature, from Gilgamesh onward.  I should mention here that Guilar didn't like these two Beowulf films.  I never saw them, but those who did, would agree with him, from what I've heard.  Well, that's Hollywood for you. 


He then asks if the Irish Tain  cycle, or the Song o9 Roland(another epic I read in that epics course), have ever been made into films. I don't think so.  Fortunately.  If what the film industry has done to Beowulf is any indication, they should stay away, stay away, stay away from medieval epics!  Because the film makers butcher them!  I'm not eve sure either of these epics would  work very well for modern tastes, except for that core of (mostly male) moviegoers who like lots of action, blood, and gore.  And as far as the Song of Roland goes, there would be additional problems that I don't think any film maker would be prepared to handle.  The first lines of that epic have the "infidels"(actually Muslims who inhabited Spain at the time), worshiping statues of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as statues of the Greek god Apollo, neither of which any good Muslim would be caught dead doing.  And modern Muslims would, I think, be awfully quick to point this out, while "opposite numbers" would then start screaming "PC!  PC! PC!"


Other "medieval-themed" films are what might be called "good fun", but they're not epics.  The various versions of the Arthurian cycle come to mind, as do the innumerable versions of the Robin Hood legends, but I don't think this is what Guilar had in mind here.  The Robin Hood films tend to reflect modern social problems of one sort and another, though they all draw on the same basic legends.  But a real medieval epic?  As I said, I don't know.  Any more than I know what to title this bloog.

Anne G

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I am sooooo thrilled!

A soon to be published author has invited bloggers to let her drop into their blogs.  Her name is Michelle Cameron, and her book, The Fruit of her Hands, is a bout a rabbi's wife dealing with antisemitism in 13th century Europe.  It sounds really interesting, and I have a million questions I'd like to ask her.  I would like to do an interview with her, online, by blog or something, but I don't quite know how to do it.  I've never done such a thing before.  It will happen on September 21, and I'm more than happy to help her publicize her effort, which will see publication on September 8.  I will, naturally, add her to my Honorable Blogroll, so I really hope people will drop by and take a look!  I try to encourage all authors, whether published or not, on their writing journeys.


Good luck to you, Ms. Cameron,

Anne G

Monday, August 17, 2009

Olde Englyshe Music

I'm in "medieval mode" again, especially in view of the fact that I can't seem to find the story about how the State of Idaho is planning to shoot 220 wolves in the forests there.  Maybe that's why some wolves have trotted themselves into Washington State recently, but that's another story.


Nan Hawthorne, one of my favorite go-to sources for all things Old English(e.g. in Anglo-Saxon times), had a piece on a story and an audio program that described a book of eleventh-century English church music.  This book lay for centuries -- literally -- in Winchester Cathedral.  When it was finally rediscovered, it was sent to Cambridge University, where some learned scholars studied it.  Which was rather difficult, because( (a) the notations were in what they described as "squiggles", and (b), at that period of time, there were no such things as staves, and musical notation as we understand it today.  Most music was simply passed down orally.  The thing that is so important about this small book was, it was apparently one of the first to actually copy down melodies for people to learn. 


The music, as reconstructed, sounds a lot like Gregorian chants, which is not surprising.  It was church music.  But it is hauntingly beautiful, and apparently inspired by a monk called Wulfstan, who instructed others in the art of singing church music.    There are also apparently notations about when certain pieces were supposed to be sung.  And most important of all, it's a bit of a window into a time that seems unimaginably hazy to most people living nowadays.  According to the presenters of the audio program, it's one of the earliest examples of polyphony, ever. 


I should note here that, contrary to "popular" belief, England at this time was a very prosperous, well-ordered place, and one of the richest countries in the Europe of the time, perhaps the richest, outside of Byzantium or at the very least, the "German empire", as it was then called.  They even had the germ of what today would be called a bureaucracy.  So it is not surprising that the rich supported churchmen, the way certain philanthropic foundations today support the fine arts. 


In any case, this is a wonderful, not to mention rare, find, and IMO worth a writer of a Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece set in more or less the period, to blog about.  Now if they can just find a manuscript of "popular" songs some monk had the foresight to write down. . . . I had to make up a lot of stuff here!

Anne G

Saturday, August 15, 2009

This post may irritate some readers

Yes, it may.  And I hadn't even intended to blog about anything today!  Why will it irritate some people?  Well, let me explain.  I just stumbled across a blog with a post  entitled Why I love unhappy endings  The author was talking about how she was drawn to such "downer" endings.  Which would be fine, if it was just confined to her.  Every writer is different, and I can see why some writers might want to write about situations that are unresolvable and leave it at that.  What interested me was the comments.  No one  who commented, said they didn't like unhappy endings, either in historical fiction or other genres.  And a few of them seemed to prefer such endings because they are more "true to life", whatever that may mean, than what they describe as more "conventional" endings. 


I have mentioned elsewhere that this preference for "downer" endings is frequently a characteristic of literary fiction, though not always so.  And many writers of literary fiction, feel they have to write "downer" or ambiguous endings because they want to write fiction that is fiction, but is somehow "true to life".  That, too is fine, as far as the individual writer goes.  And some readers say they like "a good cry".  As I said, this is often a matter of individual taste or preference.  This certainly seems to be the case with Sandra Gulland, the author of Mistress of the Sun, and the blogger who wrote the above blog. 


However, I get the feeling, based, not only on the comments generated  by this particular blog entry, but by comments and writing I've seen in other places, that a lot of readers who call themselves "serious", have had it drilled into them(no doubt by high school and college English instructors), that truly "good" literature  must somehow be "true to life".  And since there is a lot of unhappiness in life, which is often not resolved, the truly good writer will "prefer" to write this kind of literature, and the truly "intellectually rounded" person will learn  to "privilege" what purport to be "realistic" endings and "realistic" stories over the the kind where a situation gets resolved, maybe not "happily ever after", but in a way that is satisfactory and perhaps leaves a ray of hope for the protagonists(many mysteries end this way).  But this is a  literary development that is quite recent -- it has occurred within the last 150 years or so.  And it has affected the way many readers, and some writers, approach their work.  In other words, "literary discourse" is heavily weighted toward these "serious" or "ambiguous" type "realistic" stories.  If you don't believe this, try to find long , penetrating reviews of mystery, science fiction. or romance in the New York Times Book Review, for example.  Or take the trashing of the Harry Potter series by at least one reviewer after the final book was written.  Stephanie Meyers' Twilight and the rest of that series has come in for similar literary trashing, but I haven't read the books, so I can't say whether or not this "trashing" has any merit.  To the millions of fans of Harry Potter and the Twilight books, it doesn't. 


I've also suggested that I won't write anything with a "downer" ending, partly for personal reasons.  I want to feel that there's the possibility of hope in the world, and at least some goodness there.  So, I think, do many readers.  Whatever one thinks of romances, don't any of these people who like "downers" ever wonder why they are so popular?  Yes, they are "unrealistic", but it is practically a requirement that the romantic hero and heroine live "happily ever after".  Life is messy and often ambiguous.  Writing about reality(which can be happy and fulfilling as well as sad and ambiguous anyway), may well satisfy some people, and I certainly won't discourage anybody from writing about "ambiguous" or "unhappy" reality, if that's what they want to do.  Nor would I ever discourage people from reading such literature, if that's what they want to do.  But many of us, both readers and writers, want a little escape from the often nasty, messy, and ambiguous reality that we have to deal with every day.  Life is hard enough as it is for most of us:  relationships, jobs, families, mortgages or rent to pay, food to put on the table, perhaps kids or relatives with serious illnesses, that temporary escape into a less ambiguous "writer's reality" may be what a lot of us actually need, in order to get on with our own quite realistically messy and ambiguous lives.


I don't know.  I like a good cry too, sometimes; unlike my writing partner, I don't want to read "downer" novels, ever, or watch "downer" films(she does both in the summertime, for "balance" as she puts it).  And I realize this is "just me".  But all I can say is, a widespread "preference" for certain kinds of "downer" literature, whether in historical novels, or in some other genre, may be a sort of learned response or an acquired taste, not a natural inclination.

Anne G

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Write what you love?

Not long ago, I wrote about the "deadliness" of taking the maxim "write what you know" too literally. Since then, I've had an interesting conversation with my (live) writing partner, about whether one should "write for the market" or  "write what one loves".  Neither of us are published, yet, and I haven't even had the courage to try to peddle my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals to an agent.  Since the current draft of the first book in my trilogy is a lot stronger and better organized than my first draft was -- partly because I know my characters a lot better, I've been more careful with the timeline, and am making fewer(I hope) "historical mistakes", and some characters have developed that weren't there before, I think I'm getting closer to the point where I can start sending out query letters to agents. 


But here's the problem.  Science fiction doesn't seem much interested in Neandertals right now.  Even worse, the time period I've set my book in  There's lots of "Tudor themed" stuff, fiction about the Crusades, and tons of American Civil War historical fiction out there.  Trouble is, I'm not really interested in writing anything in those periods.  I don't think I can write "hard" science fiction; my writing is more like Ursula le Guin's or an early woman s-f writer by the name of Zenna Henderson.  Its only saving grace, in a way(as a selling point, at least), is that it also could be sort of described as Harry Potter for adults, in a "real" medieval setting.  But late Anglo-Saxon/early Anglo-Norman?????  For what will presumably be an American audience who has probably never heard of some of the (real) characters?  I don't know.   I've been told(mostly by writers of primarily historical fiction), that certain periods just don't "sell".  Some authors, particularly in the romance field, will "update" their settings(though not their genre), to reflect what "sells" at the moment.  This is one reason, I think, why there is such a plethora of material about shapeshifting werewolves, vampires, and the like.  Especially after the success of the Twilight series.  But that's another story.  I think it's easier for romance novelists to do this, since the conventions of romance writing are still fairly strict(unlike mysteries, where there seem to be a lot of variations, though there's always a "mystery" of some kind).


On the other hand, writers who tell you how to write your own novel -- and, interestingly, a  number of very good writers(Stephen King and Terry Brooks come to mind, but there are others), pretty much tell you to "write what you love" and never mind the "market".  Of course, both Terry Brooks and Stephen King are extremely successful at what they do, and they love what they write.  This is extremely obvious from the way they write.  They aren't just "churning it out", although Stephen King admitted he almost did, for a while, when he had other problems.  Even Nora Roberts, who generated an article in a recent New Yorker magazine, seems to write what she loves, which is basically romance and "women's fiction", and, as J.D. Robb, suspense.  And she's successful at it.  She doesn't have to worry about a "day job", because she has a loyal fan base and her stories are, well, comforting, I guess.  I've never read anything by her, but she soulnds like an interesting and fun person to be around, and doesn't take herself too seriously.


Unfortunately, most writers aren't going to be this lucky.  I"m writing something that at least seems kind of "oddball" on the face of it, partly because it's a sort of "hybrid" of science fiction and historical novel, and partly because the period in question isn't "popular" or well-known, at least to the average American(besides which, Americans in particular seem to have some extremely odd ideas about medieval life.  Which, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, turns some potential readers off.  On the other hand, this is more true of romance novels, than it is regarding other genres. 


My writing partner probably isn't going to be so lucky, either, if she decides to try to peddle her current efforts, which have kind of come out like Little House on the Prairie meets, well, I don't know exactly, except that there are wizards involved.  Of course, a lot of people have loved the Little House books over the years.  I did, as a child.  My writing partner loved them even more.  But then, I grew up and have always lived in, cities, whereas she grew up in a small town that was, in some ways, more like the environment of the Little House books than Seattle was when I grew up(even though it was at that time, just an overgrown small town).  But will books written like this sell to a modern audience?  Even to a modern Young Adult audience?  I don't know?  Should she and I care?  Again, I don't know.  I know that some writers on another e-mail list are willing to shape their work to the "market".  I don't know how willing I would be to do this.  I can't write what I don't particularly love, and neither can my writing partner.  Though we have different interests(in some ways), and different writing styles), we agree on this:  we can't write what we aren't really passionate about.   Neither could Stephen King and Terry Brooks, and several others I can't think of at the moment.  They got lucky.  I'd like  to get lucky.  So would my writing partner.  But it won't be easy, if it happens.  And  if either or both of us do get lucky, I have a feeling it won't be because we shaped our writing efforts to whatever the market "wants".  Besides which, as Stephen King and others point out, what the market "wants" keeps changing all the time, and there's no guarantee that if you write about vampires or werewolves, that your writing will be anything other than "derivative", and heaven knows, I"ve seen far too much of that sort of writing, to be impressed with the willingness of some writers to "write to the market".


But perhaps there's hope.  I have something "on the shelf" that might work as a Young Adult novel.  I didn't conceive of it this way, but who knows?  It might work.  And yes, there are Neandertals in it.  And wolves put in an appearance, too.  No knights or castles, though.  Because it takes place in the near future, in a former Western Washington timber town(a creation of my imagination, but here, I really am "writing what I know", since I know Western Washington fairly well).

Anne G

Neandertals were "tasters"(well, most of them, anyway)! Who knew?

I don't know if any of my Gentle Readers have ever been in a biology class, where the instructor first handed out bite-sized candy bars, and then asked you, either to put a strip of paper laced with a chemical substance called PTC(I have forgotten its "official" name). Or, perhaps, the instructor gives you a bite sized candy bar, and sets several  glasses filled with a mixture of water and PTC, in various concentrations.  Three quarters of all people who take the test, can taste it.  My experience was, that  when I put the concentrated chemical strip on my tongue, it tasted awful!  I immediately gulped the candy bar.  In the case of the "water test, I was midway through the concentrated amounts before I could taste it.  The other 25% of the people, couldn't taste the stuff at all.  When I was in high school, I tried this on my mother, father, and brother(my sister wasn't available at the time, but she told me later, she was a non-taster).  My father more or less jumped up and down and made weird faces, so I knew he  was a taster.  My brother was a taster, too.  I gave a strip to my mother, and she couldn't taste anything, just like my sister.


This ability to taste or not taste the chemical PTC has a genetic basis, and apparently it's been around a long time.  Because, according to the latest Neandernews, straight from the mouth of the BBC, Neandertals had both genetic variants.  So, presumably, most of this small, scattered population, had the genetic ability to taste bitter substances, just like us "moderns", but also just like us "moderns", some did not.  That must have been interesting.  The article speculates there must be genetic advantages to "non-tasting" as well as "tasting", for this gene to survive.  You have to wonder what they would have been.  They probably would have been much more important to Neandertals(and early "moderns"), who presumably had to avoid things that might have killed them or made them sick, and a bitter taste might well have been a good indicator, that you Should Stay Away From This Substance!  It is hard to imagine what this "advantage" might have been, though I am sure there will be no end of speculation about this, whether in regards to Neandertals, or "moderns".


In any case all of this seems to suggest that, despite the fact that, in recent years, there has been a lot of noise and playing up of the differences between Neandertals and ourselves, it would seem that we, and they, were a lot more alike than some people would like to imagine.  And, as is usual, in these instances where somebody says they have found genetic similarities between Neandertals and ourselves, someone in the not too distant future, will restudy this finding and show that this "tasting" ability was not "really" the same as the "modern" one.  But that's another story, and I leave it for another time.

Anne G

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I guess the blogosphere is noticing me, for whatever that's worth

I guess I'm getting famous.  Or something.  I guest blog from time to time on one of Nan Hawthorne's blogs, Early Medieval Britain .  Nan Hawthorne is a writer, and before I go any further, I would like to put in a shameless plug for her book  An Involuntary King, which I reviewed several months ago.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and want to simply say that I'd like to share my enjoyment with others "out there".  If you go to her blog, and are interested in reading it yourselves, Gentle Readers, there will be information on how to order it.    I've been meaning to do this for a long time.


In any case, Nan Hawthorne writes on a variety of medieval-themed subjects, and she is particularly interested, as the title of this particular blog suggests, in early medieval England.  Basically, that is the time of the Anglo-Saxons, and since my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece is set in roughly the same period, I consult her blog rather regularly. 


Not too long ago, I found an interesting little piece on one of the science news feeds I also regularly consult(mostly for human-evolution related things, but you never know what you'll find on a science-related news feed).  It wasn't very long, but it described how some scientists in California had discovered some 45 million year old yeast, which apparently was still good, and some Northern California brewery brewed some ale with it.  I uploaded a short piece several weeks back about this  experiment on her blog, suspecting that it might  be of interest to the readers of her blog.  I didn't expect any response, though the methods used might have been fairly close to those used in Anglo-Saxon times.  But lo and behold, Nan posted a very nice piece  on how ale was actually brewed then. By the way, and just a quick note, the difference between beer and ale is, ale isn't brewed with hops, and beer is.  In medieval times, before the widespread adoption of hops as flavoring, brewers, many of whom were women -- a perfectly respectable trade for the female half of the population at that time -- generally flavored their brew with a variety of flavorings.  Bog myrtle as been mentioned.  Also honey, or just about any flower or plant that wasn't poisonous.  The quality tended to vary, of course, but the flavors so produced must have been quite interesting. 


In any case, on top of having one of my "lupine" posts being mentioned by a Real Anthropologist, I'm thrilled!  I'm getting famous, more or less.  And I'm very happy about it!

Anne G

Friday, August 7, 2009

Somebody likes my wolf stories(yay!)

I must be getting famous. Greg Laden's blog mentioned my post about the second wolf pack in Washington State in his Blogospherics column.  I've been "acquainted" with Dr. Laden for some time now.  He's an anthropologist whose main work has been in Africa, which is not exactly known for its canids.  That is, unless you count the endangered African wild dogs, or jackals.  Well, they are canids, although the former are not very closely related to wolves.  Jackals are in the genus Canis.  Well, anyway, it was nice of Dr. Laden to do this. . . .we have our disagreements on some things, but I really appreciate this.


Thanks, Dr. Laden!\

Anne G

Monday, August 3, 2009

Wolves, wolves, wolves(in Washington State, that is)!



Apparently the second confirmed wolf pack in Washington State has been radio collared.  At least the alpha male has been.  There's a nice large photo of him at the website, and he's a handsome lupine fella, so to speak.  I think he's the brindled one in the picture you'll see if you click on the link.  But OTOH, the picture in the first link doesn't show a brindled wolf.  In any case, they seem to have four pups, a "usual" number for a pair, but  aside from the alphas(there is presumably a female somewhere), and the fact that the four pups are what they describe as "coyote size" already, they have no idea how large the pack is.  Just for everyone's education and edification, a "normal" pack size is 7-10 wolves.  If a pack gets beyond about 12-15, it starts breaking up.  But then, there are always "abiders" and "dispersers", so some wolves may wander off to find territory on their own -- which is risky.  Maybe what this pack(or more likely pair, for now) did.  We'll see.

Anne G

I hate to sound like a broken record, but. . . .

The conversation on one of my e-mail lists, regarding historical accuracy in historical novels, sputters on from time to time.  It seems to be dying down for the moment, but something will cause it to flare up again.  I'm not out to change anyone's mind about how you balance "accuracy" with "story".  And quite frankly, I'm really glad I'm not a "straight" historical novelist.  I'm just not that obsessively detailed, I'm afraid, though when I have a historical setting, I feel it's necessary to keep that setting as reasonably accurate as possible. 


What prompted this blog was a discussion of use, not just of "olde tymey" language(much of which is kind of "fake" anyway), but attempts by some writers to add "authenticity" or "flavor" by using words and expressions common in whatever time period they're writing about.  You might be able to get away with this if you're writing, in English, about, say, medieval Russia.  A Russian writer might confuse his or her audience, though, because the meaning of words has a weasely way of changing over time.  This is true in all languages, not just Russian or English. And that brings me to the problem in using "period" language. 


On another e-mail list, one writer explained that they used the word "computer" in a seventeenth-century English setting.  It seems there was certainly a word "computer" then.  But "computer" in 17th century England didn't mean what it means today, although the meanings are related, in a way(this is almost always true of changes in the meanings of words).  Back then, a "computer" was a person that we would now refer to as an "accountant" or a "bookkeeper".  In other words, an actual, living person, not a machine.  The person's agent said that the writer should substitute some other word for "computer" in this context, because the "old" meaning would confuse a modern reader.  And the agent was right. 


I can understand the desire for writers of historical fiction to "get it right", often down to these last, rather minor-appearing details.  Sometimes, use of "period" language works, but as I've said elsewhere, that's relatively rare, and such language should be used with caution, for precisely the reasons I've shown in the "computer" example.  This is hardly the only kind of change the English language has seen: the word "booze" goes back at least to Elizabethan times, and it meant liquor(usually beer or ale) then, and it has a similar meaning now.  But has anybody ever heard of a "boozing ken"?  Probably not, unless they've invented a time machine and gone back to sixteenth-century London or some such.  We would now use the term "bar" or "tavern" for such a place.  Yet "boozing ken" is what people called places where they served drink and not much else, back then.  There were words like "punk", too.  But "punk" doesn't have the same meaning now as it did then.  If you don't clarify, or aren't willing to be fairly sparing of such usage, you do risk confusing readers. 


Some historical writers know, that a good percentage of their readers won't even care, and are just interested in a really good story(this is, by the way, one reason why I think "story" needs to come first).  This does not mean the writer should be careless; he or she can do the job of "instructing" as well as "entertaining" in their novel.  But there is another  subset of readers(and sometimes writers), who claim to know a particular period well, and tend to look through some  book more or less just to spot inaccuracies.  It is probably these folk the writers who use(or perhaps overuse) "period" language may be aiming to please.  Which, I think, is a hopeless task.  Because, as I said, the use of "period" language rarely works as intended, and more seriously, the writer, writing in the present, from the point of view of the present, isn't taking into consideration the ways in which language changes over time.  And if they don't, they risk losing readership, or at the very least, having a very narrow audience.  Maybe that's all some of them want.  I don't know.  But I think most of us, as writers, would like to have a broad, appreciative audience, and that sometimes means making compromises for comprehensibility.


'Nuff said,

Anne G

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Writer, blocked

I've been having an interesting experience lately. No, it's a kind of uncomfortable experience.  As Gentle Readers of this blog may be aware, I'm in the throes of trying to finish the last book in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals.  The trouble is, I can't.  It's not that I don't know what the ending is going to be.  I know perfectly well.  Suffice it to say that it's Happy Ever After for Illg and Hardwin, the male protagonist.  And they've gone through "hell and high water" getting there, so they deserve their HEA.  The trouble is, I'm having trouble getting there. 


So I went and told my troubles to one of the e-mail lists I'm on(a writer's list, naturally), and I got all sorts of good advice, the best of which was, basically "don't obsess about it. You'll get there, and if you fiddle around enough, you'll come up with something that works.  I'm not exactly "obsessing" about this; I just keep adding material.  Of course, this is a first draft of the third book, so I'm probably going to end up doing a bunch of cutting and rearranging as elements occur to me.  Another problem, if you want to put it that way, is that I'm also revising the first draft of my first book, which is, in some ways easier, since I finally found a quickie source of a timeline I can work with.  I was kind of "obsessing" about a timeline, because although this is science fiction, it's set in historical time, and I wanted to get the main events right.  In my first draft, I discovered that I made some major goofs, because I didn't  have a timeline!  So I've corrected that.  As a result, much of this first book has been drastically rewritten -- some events have been telescoped, but others have been changed in certain ways, partly because I changed the relationships of some of the characters, cut several characters in the first book that didn't "go anywhere", added at least three people that became much more important parts of the plotline(this, in addition to the actual, historical characters).  A  lot of this happened as a result of becoming better acquainted with my characters, yes, including several historical ones about whom only a little is really known(hint: some "historical accuracy purists" won't like this part, because I quite frankly made up things that at least seemed plausible, the way I worked out some of the characters).  In any case, I've ended up concentrating more of my efforts on this first book, and as a result, I think it's much, much stronger than it was when I first wrote it. 


Another good piece of advice I got was to step away from it for at least a while.  I have one idea, for a prequel, which I'm going to start writing in November, for NaNoWriMo, just to see where it may go.  There's another project that has just been sitting for a while, that's set in the near future, but is a Great Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, and shares at least some of the same backstory(my present epic is part of a history that only they know about).  So even that is kind of related.  That particular project is more of a Young Adult type thing, since it has a teenager protagonist. 


However, none of these pieces of advice, which I fully intend to follow, really address the issue of The Ending and How to Get There.  It has to end somewhere.  I  have a picture of how I want it to end, , with the "bad guys" getting their due and one person making a noble sacrifice< though this was previously against his character(I kind of provided a way for that to work, though), and of course, Happy Ever After for the protagonists.  Still, they're not bad suggestions, and I've learned several things from my helpful writer correspondents.  One of the things I've learned is, though I guess I always knew it, I'm a "big picture" kind of writer.  I have a "large" idea -- an entire story line.  Originally, the Invades  trilogy was going to be one book, more a romance than an epic.  It just didn't work out that way.  The historical events around which I wove the story, had so many interesting characters, and so many dramatic events, it practically shouted to be told.  So I'm telling it.  But this is much harder work than I had anticipated, and now I'm sort of struggling.  I don't want to give it up, yet I have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and they all have to cohere somehow. 


I guess I'll just follow various pieces of advice I've been given, and see what works best for me.  I've tried outlines and synopses, like some writers say you're "supposed" to, but they just don't work for me.  The last time I tried that rout, the "synopsis" was 20 pages long, and this was just for one book!(not what I'm writing now).It was chapter by chapter, and I found as I wrote it, I couldn't stick to what I'd written.  "Stuff" just kept popping up.  At least now that I"m writing the Invaders trilogy, I'm more in control of this process, which is one reason I allowed some characters to "die" and other characters to become much more a part of the story.  One of them became so important that he will be the main focus of a prequel, which is also full of very interesting and dramatic events and characters. 


So, I'm still a writer, blocked.  But quite frankly, I feel much better about it now.

\Anne G