Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Happy Texas Independence Day

Okay, I have queries out to four agents and it appears that's the most I can bring myself to do at one time. I also need to do some heavy thinking about where to send the happy family serial killer story next, and how to present it, and whether it needs, or I'm ready to give it, yet another overhaul; ditto the squirrel fairy tale. But not this week. I promised myself after I queried the agents I could go back to researching the lesbian western, and I'm going to.

It's good that I like researching, because I have to do it for everything. I can't always tell going into a story what the research will be, and in the early days I used to go in blind, but not anymore. I wish now I'd done more research before I put the baby bird in Otto from Otherwhere, and I should have seen the need to stop and read up on goats before I started Hobkin. I didn't really hit my stride till Switching Well, which is why that's such a good book to talk to seventh-graders about. In most schools, that's the year they have to do their first research papers, so I'm talking about sources, the library angel, the process of synthesis, and the wonderful moment it all comes together in my head at the same time that they're wondering grumpily why they have to do all this stuff anyway. I hope watching me geek out over the walk that allowed me to see modern San Antonio the way Ada saw it conveys to them that this sort of work is fun.

If nothing else, I love the shock and horror that appears on all the male faces in the room when I ask what you'd look for in an old newspaper, and some boy says "the sports page," and I reveal that newspapers didn't sports page in 1891 because pro sports hadn't been invented yet. At most you can find two column inches on the newly-created baseball clubs of the northeast. No basketball, no football, not enough news to fill a page. Suddenly they realize the truth of the saying: The past is another country.

Even my fantasy gets researched. The manuscript I'm trying to hook an agent with is a fantasy, set in working-class San Antonio. I don't move as much in these circles anymore, but I've known Wiccans and one guy who claimed to be a ceremonial magician (but he told me a lot of verifiable lies and the evidence suggests this was among them) who lived here. More ceremonial magicians are active in the 21st century than most people think, and many of them aren't liars at all. It's an interesting worldview. And why shouldn't their children be able to read a book in which the word "witch" means the same thing it means in their lives? The book contains bigger magic than anybody I've ever known claimed to be able to pull off, but I went to a lot of trouble to make sure it at least sounded plausible and used concepts that are used by modern magical practitioners. The principle is the same as I used writing The Ghost Sitter. Just because I don't believe in ghosts or magic doesn't exempt me from understanding how the people who do believe they work.

I'm a hyperrealist. That's why I love fantasy. The tension between these two modes provides a lot of my motive force. The truth of history is more interesting than the neat narrative myths we concoct about history. The reality of real-world magical practitioners is more interesting than the mainstream stereotypes of witches, demons, and rule-smashing power. Science is a process, bungee-jumping through the universe, far more exciting than popular notions of fact. People who live their religions are more complex than their own or their detractors' propaganda will allow. And so on.

Stories grow strong in the soil of real life.

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