Sunday, August 31, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Soap Opera Ever After...

If tragedy ends in death, and comedy ends in a wedding, what do we call the drama that falls in between?

"The morning after the wedding -"

- Cinderella began her long battle to reform inheritance laws and improve conditions for servants.
- The dwarfs called in a favor from Snow White.
- The reformed rake's past came back to haunt him in the form of a dozen paternity suits - which the good woman whose love saved him insisted he take responsibility for.
- The surviving soldiers of the Armies of Dark and Light, the war over, were turned loose to find their own ways home.
- The princess started teaching the woodcutter's son, now King, how to read.
- The bickering lovers started matchmaking all their friends.
- All the magical creatures in the kingdom rushed to fill the power void left by the fall of the Wicked Witch.
- The abusive family found someone new to abuse.
- The bride refused to change the habits she formed while living in disguise as a boy in for forest, and set a new fashion.
- The Frog Prince discovered he could still understand the language of amphibians, and craved flies.
- The older sons, passed over for the throne, began their campaign to have the old king declared incompetent, based on the tests he devised to determine who would inherit; and the brides they brought home teamed up to advance their own agendas.

(Yeah, it's been done before. That's not a reason not to do it again.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

TL;DR: Read Everything. Believe Nothing. Write Authentic Stories Anyway.

So yesterday I was asked how to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate history books, and the shortest answer is: "You can't." The less short, more accurate, answer is: "There aren't any." All history is inaccurate, all sources are biased; that's just the way it goes. Two loving parents can disagree about the best interest of a child; two competent doctors can disagree about a diagnosis. History is the same way.

That doesn't mean research is pointless, far from it; but it means you can't accept authorities at face value, no matter how tempting this may be. You have to approach history resources as you would real people, reading and talking to as many primary works as you can, assessing the kinds of innocent inaccuracies that are likely to creep in (Do any two people in your family agree on which year it was that the cat decided to have her kittens in mom's underwear drawer? Mom's diary can tell you for sure - but it may also say that they were all she-cats, because you didn't get the kittens correctly sexed till they were almost ready to adopt out, and she never noted that down, but the reason you're trying to remember the year at all is that you started wondering exactly how old Aunt Maybelle's tomcat Knickers is, so -); what biases the source has ("As a completely objective historian whose grandfather was in that battle, I can tell you for a fact -"); what the agenda of the recording agency is ("Yeah, people say my youngest son looks kind of like the handyman but I can't see it myself and that is totally my husband's nose, I mean look at it!"); and how the source knows, or thinks it knows, what happened and why. You already have a lot of the skills necessary to make these assessments, because you have to make them every time you're called on to referee your kids or your co-workers, or choose between the recommendations of two different contractors, doctors, theologians, or relatives. (And don't think I've never wished I had the option of knocking two historians' heads together and sending them both to their rooms! An awful lot of disputes, in any profession, are six of one, half dozen of the other.)

This is all very well when you have conflicting information; but far more insidious is the conflicting information we don't realize we don't have. This is especially true when you're trying to learn about people who aren't speaking for themselves, whose voices have been erased from the record, or never entered into the record, or are filtered through the voices of others - generally, people with more power, more privilege; people in control of what is and is not worth preserving. We don't hear the voices of medieval women very often; the voices of medieval children, almost never. The voices of slaves seldom come to us except through their masters, or people who resemble their masters enough for the slaves to be wary. Monolinguals can only hear most of the voices in the world through translators; anthropologists monitor the interface between "primitive" and "advanced" cultures (and how many people even understand those terms as jargon rather than as value statements?); folklorists translate spoken words into written ones and don't always ask themselves why their source is being a source or how that might affect the story. The person keeping the records has purposes for keeping and curating them, the person asking the questions has reasons to ask certain questions and not others, and these may not match up well with the reasons the person answering the questions is answering them.

A lot of these lacunae are invisible to us until we make conscious efforts to notice them; and they are not always surmountable. One thing all medieval women have in common is, that they're dead. But, if you are a woman, you can read between the lines of male narratives and use your own experience to try to fill the gaps. It won't be perfect, but it'll be better than taking the word of literate medieval men. If you are a white person writing an American slave protagonist, you can find black historians who will discuss with you the pitfalls of reading WPA slave narratives and help you negotiate with them - and they will have their own reasons for helping you, and their own biases, which will at least be different from the biases of even the best-intentioned white historians, and that will be better than nothing.

You can't change that. But you can remember it, and screw up less often than you would if you forgot it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: The Buried House

Apparently, a man who inherited a single-story house in Turkey started cleaning it out, and discovered it had five stories, four of them buried, at least some of which date back a couple thousand years.

I've had that dream! Usually it's a house I've lived in, but sometimes it's one I just moved to, or one not resembling the house I live in currently but which I've been living in for awhile in the dream. And then you're cleaning, and you find an unfamiliar door, which leads to a room with more doors; stairs and halls; all kinds of space you could be using and haven't been, full of resources you didn't know about.

And bathrooms. For some reason, lots and lots and lots of extra bathrooms...that's probably not true of the house in Anatolia, though.

The thematic uses of a house which gets bigger the more you clean and explore in it are obvious (I've always assumed that houses are metaphorical of minds in the dreams), but - what can you do with it, as a plot?

Can you go back and forth in time using the hidden layers of house?

Is there Something down there which was deliberately buried? And is it a Dread Secret that should stay buried, a Fabulous Treasure that should be brought to light, or a Can of Worms that one might sensibly hesitate to open?

What if the world above the Buried House is hostile, and the Buried House can provide a refuge, an Underground Railroad safe house or a semi-permanent hiding place, a Secret Annexe?

What if the homeowner allows the archeologists to move in, but insists on continuing to live in the top house layers, family and all, with academics coming and going, relationships forming, and screening stations all over the backyard? There's a live-action farce there, I think.

What if someone is already using that space? For nefarious purposes? Or simply to live?

What if the buried space is the interface between two versions of the same world?

What if the people already living down there are you and your family - only different?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Should Write a Tribute.

I can't.

Elaine died.

Death sucks.

I am useless at this and shaky and I'm about to cry some more, so I direct you to the post I made when she had her stroke.

I'm afraid that's all I can do right now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sorry not to be more helpful today

The September/October issue of Archaeology Magazine is discussing the peopling of the Americas, talking to people I have met about places I have been, or have read about. I am still sure I will write another Pleistocene book; I still do not know when, or what the plot will be like.

The men working on the house next door are playing oddly beautiful classic rock (why does overheard music have different qualities than music you're actively listening to?), singing along, and talking about copyright. I can't hear the whole conversation and am not eavesdropping, but I definitely heard one say "copyright" and "my bad."

Those charged with maintaining the peace are still making war in Missouri. Which is not that surprising a development, in the context of the history of Missouri, specifically with regard to racism.

I have received more than one gratuitous, unsolicited, and (I can't help feeling) not-quite-warranted compliments online this week, and am not sure how to accept them graciously.

The WIP flops along its merry way, continually turning up fresh viewpoints that help me see the whole better, and I am increasingly convinced that what I'll get in the end is a moderately brilliant structural fantasia in a superficially familiar but unique setting, that will never get read because I have no clue how to write a synopsis for it, or how to market it, and anyway if people do read it they will insist on reading into it what they expect to see instead of seeing what I show them, and because of that they will read nonsense. Unless the solution I find to the structural problem is brilliant enough to trick them into reading what I actually wrote...I have no confidence in my ability to do that. But it's too late to walk away now. I can see the turning point approach, the moment from which it will be all downhill and I will be done with the draft. I am in prose stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

I live in Texas. It is August. My house is a hundred years old, and has three window A/C units, two of which cannot be run at the same time without tripping the circuitbreaker. By midafternoon, the hardwood floors will be as hot under my bare feet as if they were full of laboring electronics.

The same phonespammers call me at the same times every day. Most of them are machines.

And here I sit, with all these disparate facts, so few of which are in any way under my control, trying to make a meaning. Because I am human and that is what humans do. We invented meaning, because we need it.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Yet More Fun with Titles

The Turn of the Shrew.

Because I can't read Taming of the Shrew as anything but a celebration of spousal abuse and psychological torture. It's the only Shakespeare play I actively dislike. (To be fair, I've never seen a production of Merchant of Venice. How you feel about that one depends a lot on how Shylock is played.)

Anyway, the idea of Kate adapting her methods and gaslighting Petrucchio to get control of her own life - and money - back appeals to me. It is often forgotten that Petrucchio is explicitly interested in marrying her for her dowry because he's broke, which makes Kate's climactic speech about wives "owing" obedience to their hardworking breadwinning men so wincingly and obviously inappropriate I wonder how anybody can play it straight. I'm not sure exactly how the plot would roll, though. In order to make the title work best it would have to both borrow some of the tension and subtlety of James's psychological horror story and retain much of the bawdy, physical humor of an Elizabethan comedy.

It is a damn shame that getting a genius-level idea is so much easier than pulling off, or even knowing how to start, genius-level work.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bad Week All Around

So today my tumblr dash, normally full of book discussion and history/archeology and the funny/moving/absurd adventures of pixel people, today is blowing up like a certain town in Missouri, to which the people of Gaza are sending helpful advice about how to cope when tear gassed.

And there's some personal stuff which isn't happening to me, but which is distinctly me-adjacent, about which I am extremely limited in what I can usefully do.

So I will now go and write about the imaginary problems of imaginary people, because we should all do what we're best at, even if it amounts to treading water. And it's nice to solve a problem, even if it's only a paper one.