Sunday, July 27, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: City of Dolls

If you're one of those people for whom dolls are automatically creepy, uncanny valley, and objects of horror - stop now. Go away. You won't like today's garage sale.

The reason I was incapacitated this past week was that I spent Saturday gorging myself on dolls. The United Federation of Doll Clubs was in town, and my mother-in-law paid my way in to the exhibit hall. Doll collecting is a relatively expensive habit (though I managed to find a particular specialty which is low-end for the hobby) and I've managed to keep a leash on myself for several years; the result being that I found I was starving, and had to see everything, overdid massively, and was knocked off my feet for several days. I spent less than I might have, treating the whole thing as a museum and taking a good look at dolls of types I normally only see in reference books.

It is easy for a non-doll person to laugh when the UFDC opens its webpage with the portentious statement: The study of dolls is truly the study of humankind. And it's true that a lot of the (largely middle-aged or old, white, upper-middle-class, female) people on the floor with me were exclaiming over how cute certain dolls were, or nostalgically discussing the doll of their own past. But the statement's true, all the same. And may I point out that one reason the statement sounds absurdly overwrought is that dolls are associated, first, with little girls, who are trivialized in our culture, and second with domestic life, which is also trivialized, even though most of us spend most our time in domestic pursuits, of necessity.

Looked at objectively, the line between doll and human effigy is a thin one. The history of dolls illuminates the economic and social histories of their countries of origin; and throughout those histories, dolls provide focal points for social and personal conflicts concerning race, gender roles, and educational theory. We all know about controversies over whether Barbie should say that math is hard, whether boys should be allowed to play with dolls (unless they are renamed "action figures" to take the girl-cooties off them), and whether little girls base their body images on the proportions of doll bodies; but did you know that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries baby dolls were controversial and many little girls were forbidden to play with them, because they were "improper?"

These controversies can, of course, be thematic starting points for stories, and I would, myself, be pleased to pick up one that explored the forbidden-baby-doll theme, simply because it is so counterintuitive to the modern mindset; but that's not where my mind went while I was wearing my feet to nubs walking up and down those aisles, knowing my gravity was not functioning and I would pay dearly soon.

Because what I was seeing was a vast, temporary doll city; something like an annual gathering of the tribes. The floor and the tables were densely packed with doll dealers and their wares, and the customers they serve. These doll dealers have their own storefronts and internet shops; they have, presumably, circuits of shows and conventions that they follow; they have, certainly, their own networks and subculture, factions and feuds. It wouldn't surprise me a lick to find that someone has written Death at the Doll Show (Not yet, not by that particular title, if a quick trip to the search engine doesn't mislead me), as this is the kind of specialist subculture the mystery genre thrives on, and there's a good overlap in the demographics of doll collectors and of readers of cozy mysteries.

I even heard a little bit of gossip that intrigues me. A dealer was speaking to a customer concerning the sudden drop in value of a particular type of doll, and informed her that a pair of brothers had discovered a cache of them, split it, quarreled, and were now each spreading rumors about the other's share of the hoard, trying to cut each other's throats in the market; and the nature of these rumors was such that the entire market in these dolls was being undermined, as people lost faith in their desirability. You could do quite a bit with that, I think, in the adult market - a murder mystery or a character study or a farce or even an economic thriller.

Of course, I don't write for (or read in) the adult market.

No, I want to write the story exploring the doll society that grows up around these shows. Obviously, when the lights are out and the crowds and dealers go away, the dolls come out about their own business! So what happens then?

Do the modern art dolls and the elite nineteenth-century dolls - the Jumeaus and Brus, the delicate wax ladies, the child dolls too big for children to actually play with - talk to each other, or do they form rival cliques? Does anyone let the small shopliftable dolls out of their glass cases so they can run around playing with each other? Do old friends reunite at these events? Do dolls of similar backgrounds sit around and reminisce? Do the ribbons given at doll shows have any cachet with the dolls themselves? Do they want to be bought, or do they dread it? Do dolls cast in the same mold regard themselves as family? Is there a doll religion to comfort them when one breaks irreparably? What damage is, in fact, fatal to a doll? Do dolls repaired with the spare parts of other dolls of the same type have identity crises or issues of guilt? What virtues do dolls value; what vices do they condemn? Do modern fashion dolls hold different values than antique ones? Are baby dolls stuck in a baby level of maturity, or do wisdom and eloquence come with chronological age? Do character dolls identify with their creators - to what degree are Shirley Temple dolls individuals, and to what degree are they Shirley Temple?

And what about the stuffed animals that inevitably appear in these stores, at these shows?

And what story, compressed into the week of a big convention, could I tell that would showcase this rich, complex little world?

Of course I really want to write this as an excuse to do the research and make doll purchases tax-deductible...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wanders in, Muttering...

Okay, that wasn't the plan at all. I don't often miss a Garage Sale. Suffice to say I overdid things badly on Saturday and took a long time recovering. Between that and the cat knocking the water glass over on the keyboard, it has not been a productive week.

On the other hand, I think I know how to make Novel-Penny alien after all! It involves the aliens being as screwed up as humans, which strikes me as realistic (given certain premises). Which is good, because the more I write Penny's dialog, the more "right" it sounds and the more strongly I realize that she's not anywhere on the autistic spectrum or any other human neuroatypical place. She's an alien.

Novel-Skye, however, may well be autistic, so I haven't let myself off the research hook by any means. Fortunately I do have a couple of Aspie net acquaintances who can probably point me in the right direction once I'm ready to knuckle down to it. Which may be awhile, because I still don't know what Pelin's doing between breakfast and moonrise on the day his disenchantment's due. Except he still has to take that list of locations to the scryers, and Loris is going to see Pommy herself...(wanders off muttering).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Center Does Not Hold

It's two in the afternoon. I haven't eaten lunch yet.

This is bewildering. For most of my adult life, the current boss cat got me up at six and I ate (generally the same breakfast, which I could cook and consume regardless of how awake or how well or how cheerful I was - one soft boiled egg, hot or cold cereal, fruit, hot tea). I was working - whether at a soul-sucking day job or at my own stuff - by eight. Eating lunch at eleven was essential, as along about 10:30 I started getting hungry and by 11:00 I was going critical. My blood sugar would be doing things that blood sugar should never do and if I didn't eat anything could happen, from fainting to laughing jags to bursting into tears to hurling random things at people. (You think I'm exaggerating. Because you were never trapped in a soul-sucking day job with me. Nobody ever forced me to take a late lunch twice. I was fired, or my lunch hour was sacred. There was no in-between.) Afternoons I worked till three. If in a soul-sucking day job I'd stick it out till five, but nothing intellectually taxing I did after that could be trusted - I was bottoming out physically and proceeding on stubbornness and strength of will, of which I once had a considerable amount. If in control of my own time, I knocked off at three and that was time to read or play games or something. Sometimes I'd get a second wind in the evening - during soul-sucking day jobs I needed to, so I could put what I'd written on my lunch hour and coffee breaks into my word processor, and this was generally when I wrote absurdly long newsgroup posts and so on. Plus, reading. But I read all the time; the reading goes without saying.

And I want to do this now. Repeatedly I plan days based on the assumption that, as I always could before, I would spend the morning from 8 to 11 writing, the afternoon doing housework, sewing, researching, and the evening cooking and relaxing.

But it doesn't work. I may not start writing till ten - even if I sit down to do it. I may not be able to eat breakfast till nine, and it may only be the egg, or the fruit. Lunch is all over the map. Supper, which has always been a problem because Damon doesn't get hungry till 7:30 and I'd be hungry at 5:00 (so I'd get a snack), is a problem no more, except that I tend not to make such nice ones. Because when I do get hungry, I still have to eat right now; but, not knowing when it's going to hit, it's harder to make myself start eggplant parmesan, or spinach rice casserole, or anything that requires a lot of chopping and stirring.

Nobody prepares us, mentally, for the way changes in the diurnal cycle affect our intellectual output. I've always relied on my habits to carry me through. The old advice, write a page a day and you have a novel - it's good advice, but it assumes that you can declare a consistent time and place to sit down and write the page, and put your butt in the chair, and do it.

At the moment it is not true.

At some point, I'll adjust. Either I'll settle down into a new rhythm and build new habits; or I'll recognize the waves of capacity as they come at me and be prepared to seize them, to write now and get housework done now and now is the time to start cooking but now is the time when I can face writing queries and get this stuff back into the mail where it belongs. I will become flexible.

But I am not there yet.

Which is one reason the current project is the way it is. This is a book that can only be written flexibly, weirdly, from odd angles and at strange times.

Anyway, since no one talks about this, I thought I'd better bring it up. I'm certain I'm not the only one who has ever had to adjust like this.

I'm consistently peculiar, and in a thin part of the bell curve, but in a world so thickly populated, I never am the only one.

But I may be the first to speak. So this is me, speaking.

For what it's worth.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Do-It-Yourself Day

Happy Birthday/Anniversary weekend to me.

I'm taking the day off. You'll just have to find your own ideas. If you've been paying attention, you know how.

Look through your news sources till you see a headline that makes you think about the people involved instead of the general, generic misery of the problem of Crime, Poverty, War, or whatever. Start with that person.

Or, go cruise Medieval People of Color for an afternoon and watch your head explode with the untold stories hinted at in image after image.

Or go read your own old diaries and journals, until a missed opportunity leaps out at you.

Feel free to let me know what you come up with.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Peaches

Peaches that have gone bad make a particular sound when you cut into them. Sometimes only half of the peach is off, so I cut the whole thing, listening for a good bit.

A teacher will consciously notice this sound when instructing someone in the art of peach pie, and will stop to point it out. There, that sound, yes, if it sounds like that it's overripe. See, the texture's spongy. A good peach is smooth and silent and bright gold. It might still cook down all right, if the color's good; but if it's discolored just pitch it.

A writer will consciously notice this sound when writing a scene in which someone is making a peach pie, when summoning up the huge mound of details about the process from which she will select one, or maybe two, that will enable the reader to extrapolate the experience of peach pie making without spending a lot of space on it, that will create the maximum effect from the character's innocent, sunny, summery activity while the villain sneaks up behind her with a garotte.

A poet will consciously notice this when writing a poem about summer as embodied as a peach.

A great poet will make someone who has never sliced a peach hear the sound.

This is all probably analogous of something profound. But for some reason I'm hungry...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Nonfiction Requests

I am so tired from gaming (hey, it takes a long time to come down from the adrenaline and sugar when the boss fight turns into a double boss fight and you play two to three hours longer than usual with no supper, but you finish off your ice cream and get halfway through the week's supply of candy bars) I couldn't even finish my blueberry pancakes this morning, so today I will just toss out a few general concepts of non-fiction books that need to exist. They particularly need to exist for the high school and middle school library markets, if only so that teachers get some variety when they assign research papers.

We need both the definitive, and the youth-accessible, biographies of Brenda Howard and Sylvia Rivera.

How about a collective biography called: Ten Scientists You Never Heard of (Because They were Women) ? It could be part of a series, with other professions and overlooked demographics in the noun slots. Make it for the middle school market, and middle school librarians (assuming any have survived budget cuts) will spam you with thanks.

How to Conduct Formal Business on the Internet - Nobody does inside addresses and all that in e-mail, but - should it start "Dear Madam?" How about formatting? Is there a standard type style? How do you distinguish yourself from spam? How do you know you're not spamming? What do you do if you're tired and reach for the "save" button so you can proofread in the morning, but hit "send" instead? It's time to codify the rules!

I had others, but now I'm blanking and they'll keep. I am so tired; and there's still the annual screening of the laser disc version (accept no substitutes! It's past time this got a DVD) of 1776.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Because It's All the Same Thing

I am not a visual person, but I find that I have a pretty good idea of who originated what posts as soon as they land on my tumblr dash; more significantly, even months later, I can spot who I reblogged something from when I'm scanning the thumbnails on my archive. Even though the thumbnails are tiny, and a lot of them are posting screenshots from the same game using the same sets of characters, or fanart based on the same fandom (did you know there's an active Moby Dick fandom?), or otherwise grouping themselves by similarity. It's not about the little avatars in the corner, either. If I happen to see a reblog before I see the original (which happens a lot when I'm scrolling backwards), if I see both regularly I'll recognize it as a reblog at once. I even recognize people I don't follow, who people I do follow reblog regularly. When someone who's been gone for awhile pops up, I think: "Oh, hey, that's Thus-and-So, she's back!"

Yet none of these people is trying for a distinctive look. I don't follow that sort of blog. Many of them are working hard to make their games, or their blogs, or their art look pretty; but they're not trying to trademark themselves. They're pleasing themselves and following their own taste and for the most part not trying to be original. They're just doing what they want and communicating about it in whatever way pleases them best.

Because that's how you become distinctive.

A lot of writing advice is out there about finding your voice. I've had roughly the same literary voice since I was eight, so I'm possibly a bad person to give advice; but I think that most people who aren't finding their voice aren't trusting themselves to talk.

You already have a voice, honey. Sit down and write and don't agonize about it so much. Say exactly what you mean. Mean exactly what you say. Make jokes you don't expect people to get. Tell the truth. Solve your plot problems. Listen to your characters. Binge-write self-indulgent journal rants in which you consciously use all the complex, specialist, absurd, pretentious words and phrases and sentence constructions you've ever wanted to. Imitate your favorite writer's virtues. Imitate your favorite writer's faults.

Your voice will emerge. It will sound like you. Anybody who has ever listened to you will be able to pick your prose out of a lineup.

But first you have to write the prose.

Write. Write. Write.