Thursday, June 28, 2012


Asking questions didn't help, and googling didn't help directly, but googling and following a link and then following another link and then following another link, did.

The problem: I do not now, nor have I ever had, a Word document for the books to which I hold the reverted rights. Every single piece of advice I've been able to get has assumed the Word document, as if there aren't any other word processing programs out there, and as if Word weren't the worst word processing program ever invented (this from someone whose first word processor was built into a typewriter). So I knew I had to scan the books, but the question was, What's the easiest format to scan them to for all the subsequent conversions they'll have to go through as I try to make them as painless for people to buy as possible?

The search led me down many fruitless by-ways until I landed on the blog of someone I never heard of, who talks about a lot of things irrelevant to me, but who also has dug down to the source code and told me where I need to start and how to get from there to the starting line.

And, not to keep you in suspense any longer, the answer is "Scan it as a .txt file" and then there's a tutorial on how to turn that into a .doc file. Just .doc, not .docx, which I believe is now the devil program's default format, so if you've been using that program and still couldn't get to the starting line, maybe that's the deal.

It's way too late to start on a project that tedious right now, so I'll do a quick whip round on the housework (and by quick I mean cursory, because it's triple digits again today, folks, and I still only have air in the study and the bedroom, which can't both be run at once) and tomorrow I'll get into that temp-job state of mind - put a dress on, have breakfast, and settle down to a tedious task that at least I won't have to do tomorrow, trouble-shooting further problems as I go. I'm good at that, though I haven't temped in over ten years now and my skills are rusty. But if I can get properly into the mindset, the study will be much tidier at the end of the day tomorrow than it is right now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Research, and then there's research

I told the gaming group the Chinese baby story, and one of the players said that newborn baby boys have a street value in China because of their being so strongly preferred to girls. Which ramps the whole affair up in the "thriller" scale, if true, but wasn't mentioned in the news stories I read.

This is why you should research before you start writing. You don't want to do a lot of work, then do some research to fill in the blanks, and learn something that changes the whole face of your premise. God, the devil, and the best stories are all hanging out together in the details you dig out by researching.

Unfortunately, business research is less fun than story research. I'm supposed to be figuring out how to take the backlist books to which I have recovered rights, and learning how to make e-books of them. If electronic copies of these exist at all, they're on floppies in outdated versions of WordPerfect. So I'll have to scan the books, but I don't even know what the best format to scan them into is. So I'm asking people who've done it before, and so far not quite getting answers to the questions I thought I was asking, which means I'll have to do interpretive reading to discover if the answer I need are nevertheless in there.

Which is standard research procedure, but I keep finding more urgent things to do. You know how it is.

I don't even have an e-reader. I like hard copies. But if I can generate income from e-books, I'll have to learn to like them, too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Miracles, Mistakes, and Lies

I'm tired of leafing through my old notes; fortunately, I got a Fortean Times this week. FT 289 (the people on the newsgroup are already discussing FT 290, but they're mostly British and can get it regular mail, while my issues have to hitch a ride on a tramp steamer or something) contains, on page 10, in a "Back from the Dead" round-up article, the story of an Argentinian woman who was told her premature baby was stillborn. Twelve hours later, they decided they wanted to say good-by properly, so the hospital staff pulled the frost-covered body out of the morgue drawer. Her mother touched her hand, and the baby opened her eyes.

Woah. As a preemie, she still had only a 10% chance of survival, but that's plenty enough to start off with.

But we also get, on the same page, a Chinese case of an eight-month preemie declared dead at birth, on the grounds of no breath, no heartbeat, and a purple color. However, the child's aunt insisted on seeing the baby, which was handed to her in a "yellow plastic bag." In addition to being alive, the baby was a boy, not a girl as originally declared. Tracking down further news stories on the web, we find that this baby wasn't even found in the morgue, but in a restroom where someone had absentmindedly left him! The family is suing and large numbers of people have been sacked, reprimanded, etc. Not surprisingly.

The hospital staff in the second case has a plausible excuse for the sex change, in that there's still a strong preference for sons over daughters in China, and the nurses thought it'd be less of a blow to lose a girl than boy. goodness... you put these two together...

The Baby in the Yellow Plastic Bag could be dystopian science fiction, with the baby being a natural gender-switcher in a society in which flexibility is the key to survival. Or a grim realistic novel about modern poverty. Or a mystery, with the stillborn baby swapped out for a live one - by whom? Why? Or a legal thriller, with the baby's misdiagnosis revealing layer after layer of malfeasance that it's in Someone's best interest to cover up. Or a religious novel - the Argentinian baby was named Luz Milagros, Light Miracle, for obvious reasons. Or horror - the baby's body is alive, yes, but that's not the baby's original spirit in there. Or paranormal, as the baby's early NDE and imperfect separation from the spirit realm grants her supernatural powers. Or...

Yeah, the problem with this one is to stop having ideas!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Character Building

Okay, I can see to edit now. Whether I'll be able to fix that link is another question.


Once in awhile people, in the context of writing or gaming, will remark on the facility with which I make viable, distinct characters. Other people are puzzling over what feats they should choose and which class suits their stats best, and I already have a hobbit* martial artist who rolls with the punches and loves to feed people. Which can be a disadvantage in the game when I have to use abilities I don't know how to do the math for; but can also be an advantage when a skill built up purely for character purposes becomes the means to victory. I can't count the number of former opponents who mellowed out and provided assistance after a few of Marjoram's mouthwatering improvised meals. (The one when we and the kidnappers both got shrunk to the size of ants and Marjoram made a delicious meal out of a scorpion springs to mind. The kidnappers, captured, fed, and interrogated, sang like canaries and by the time we got unshrunk were allies against their employer.) And sometimes, in writing, a character with a strong voice or a lovable personality will draw your attention away from the action, just because you want to hang out with Chet the downstairs neighbor some more.

Generally speaking, though, the ability to generate distinctive characters at the drop of a hat is a good thing, if capable of being overdone, and people who remark on it are always being complimentary. Which I'm afraid I don't do well. So I tend to shrug it off and say "It's a knack."

Which it is. My life has always been populated by imaginary people with individual tendencies, motivations, and desires; and whether they manifest through character stats as Marjoram, or through words on a page as Len, or simply as daydream figures who never quite make it out of the garage sale, I don't have to do a lot of elaborate exercises to invoke them.

But I've been doing a critique for a young writer lately, and seeing how, in some places, she screws up something that she has a powerful knack for, I'm reminded. Yes, it's a knack - but it's also a knack I've worked hard at. My earliest characters included a bunch of Mary Sues - those idealized stand-ins for the author who form the protagonists of so many apprentice stories, and occasional published ones. A lot of them owed more to what I'd been reading than to my own observations of human behavior, which is always problematic. Far too many of them had my own particular faults and virtues I only imagined I had.

And even today, the characters who turn up when I need them have a strong tendency to be analytical thinkers and, as I discussed in the post about why I game, unless something exterior wrenches me out of my comfort zone, there are certain normal human behaviors that my characters seldom to never exhibit, unless they're antagonists and don't get viewpoint scenes.

Having a knack for something doesn't mean you don't have to sweat that thing. It just means you have a bit of an advantage in using it compared to other people. But if you neglect that advantage, it will never turn into a strength; and if you ever stop working it, it'll never get strong enough to carry your weaknesses.

*Yes, the rules say halfling and the Third Edition halfling bears almost no resemblance to a hobbit, but Marjoram was a hobbit, ask anybody who played that game!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Red Owl

Here's an old, old, old-fashioned one from a page full of short story concepts I was playing with back when I was still selling them to magazines. I think I'd been reading Ambrose Bierce as well as Texas history and miscellaneous works on Plains Indians.

Will Margraf comes home, invalided out of the Confederate Army, to find his family about ready to abandon their homestead (between and west of San Antonio and Austin) for fear of Comanches. A young war leader named Red Owl has led three successful raids in the area since the war began. Will swears he didn't beat Yankees to run from red devils, and vows to take the offensive during the next raid. He manages to keep his word, impressing everyone with his reckless courage by killing and scalping Red Owl himself as he is in the process of running off the Margraf cattle. His mother feels that the scalping is overdoing it, but he displays the trophy proudly at all opportunities, and has great prestige with his neighbors.

A screech owl that in a hollow live oak near the site of the killing begins to behave oddly. Will laughs at the notion that the owl's oddities (spooking his horse, spitting pellets at him, occasionally appearing in the daytime) have any significance. However, when it starts killing poultry, he decides to get rid of it. No one is more surprised than Will when it attacks him, pecking out his eyes (?) and tearing off his scalp.

See, very old-fashioned, plus there's a theme missing. Red Owl and Will would be a lot alike - brash, young, aggressive, and accustomed to solving problems with violence. They'd share a sense of entitlement and a lack of patience with anyone else's viewpoint, and both come from societies which wouldn't view any of these traits as flaws in these particular people. No ending that didn't bring out this similarity would satisfy me these days.

Since my own feeling toward such people is that most of them are fronting most of the time, I'd probably have Will claiming to have been invalided, when really he's just wandered home like so many Texas Confederates, particularly with families on the frontier, did. He may never have seen combat at all. Which would explain a lot about his behavior.

Successful countering of a Comanche raid was extremely rare, for good reason. They were experts of the lightning strike from the dark and had a good idea of how many men they needed to carry out a successful raid. They were also hard as heck to follow, which was what most rangers, home guard units, and informal posses who tried to deal with them were reduced to doing. So I'd have to stage Will's triumph carefully. It might be down to blind luck as much as courage.

I'd also want the screech owl to act both like a screech owl and like the vengeful spirit of a Comanche war leader, which would involve some research into screech owl behavior.

The pellet spitting is just petty and ridiculous. Which doesn't mean I couldn't use it, just that it introduces a layer of the absurd into an old-fashioned ghost story. Which could be fruitful.

Anyway, I've mostly given up trying to write short stories these days. They have to be really beating down the doors of my brain for me to even try, the markets are so limited.

(And nope, still can't edit, or even get a list of published posts. Blogspot upgraded recently, so no doubt that's the problem.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Technical Difficulties

Yes, I know that picture doesn't show. I can't fix it, or add the tags, because Blogspot won't let me use my "Edit Posts" function. When my issue gets fixed, I'll fix the image. Meantime, in the unlikely event that anybody's panting to see my game piece, I've put several pictures of him, and the girls, in the picture forum on the Mod the Sims Discussion Board, and they can be easily found by clicking my name, going to my profile, and finding my recent posts.

Good thing it wasn't anything more important, or this would be much more frustrating. Not that I ever have important pictures to post. One of these days I'll have to carve out some room in the budget for a digital camera, so I can enliven my blog with visuals more often. But there always seems to be a book, or some fabric, or a repair, or a cause, that seems more urgent.

Since I don't know what the technical difficulties are, I can't promise they won't spread. If I go quiet for a few days, assume it's Blogspot's fault, not that I was in a car wreck.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why I Game

Yeah, there's a gaming story coming up, but it has a point, I promise.

I play my Sims2 neighborhood, Drama Acres, in one day rotations, meaning that I will play one household, containing one to eight little pixel dolls, for one in-game day, and then move on to the next, in a customary order. This is not a particularly long time to spend with one family, but it allows me to play a fine-grained game, with events in one household - say, a death, marriage, date, or quarrel - having repercussions in other households throughout the neighborhood. And I can get extra time with my favorite sims by sending them to community lots or on vacation, which freezes the timer at the home lot so that when the sims return no time has passed.

In my very favorite family, the Munnys, the two Munny boys are about midway through their teen lifestage. Sims have panels of wants and fears which are dependent on - well, on a lot of game mechanics I won't go into; it boils down to random chance, contingency, and their personalities. Frank, who BTW is an alien hybrid and green (this is rare but normal within the game), rolls wants having to do with making friends and doing outdoorsy things. But when the phone rings, and it's a teen girl on the other end, the call is for Frank. On my last rotation in this family he didn't have time to go hiking like he wanted to because every time he put the phone down it'd ring again and be another girl. Admittedly, there's a boy shortage at Drama Acres High right now, but none of my other playable boys get half the phone calls, or if he's on a community lot get half the female attention, that Frank does. If his brother Mark (who rolls wants related to music, grades, and girls) picks up, they ask for Frank. If Frank's on a community lot with other teen boys, and someone tries to talk to a girl he's not already in a dating relationship with, she ditches him as soon as possible to line up to talk to Frank. Frank is, obviously, the Coolest Boy in School.

A lot of my attention while playing this household is taken up trying to get poor Mark out of Frank's green shadow, but I am also alert to any indication of who, if anybody, Frank might (in what I believe is still the parlance of the age group) Like. After all, I'll be marrying him off someday, and soap opera relationship drama is one of the prime sources of amusement in the game. So I keep an eye on him when he appears, either as a visitor or in the background at community lots, to see if he gives me any hints. His thought bubbles at a party last rotation contained attraction hearts for a girl named Amanda Ruben, who was running around the party refusing to interact with anyone except her sister and her BFF - which rather tickled me. The guy everyone wants, who only wants the only girl who isn't interested, is a classic, after all.

So what I find myself doing, especially when playing a household containing a teen girl, is something I have never done at all in real life - watching a guy like a hawk and dissecting everything he does for hidden meaning. Of course, it's the nature of the game that the player who, like myself, is chiefly interested in the sims as characters has to interpret the constellation of autonomous behaviors, rolled wants and fears, and stock animations (which are surprisingly varied - some fiendishly talented animators worked on this game) into a fictional individual. But I'm subjecting poor Frank to something much more than that. That process is automatic, pleasant, and almost zenlike. This is tense and obsessive. Oh, shoot, he's giving Tina Traveller a backrub - I don't want him to like her, she's too much younger. Now he's playing the most flirtatious game of redhands I've ever seen with Amanda. Oh, now he's telling Tina a dirty joke, but Amanda's standing right next to her, so is he telling it to Tina and aiming it at Amanda, or what?

I'm always impatient of women who do that sort of thing; because it is such a waste of their time. Most of what they agonize over doesn't mean one dang thing. The guy's not sending messages - he's just hanging out and doing whatever seems like a good idea at the time. If you want something from him, you walk up and ask for it. It's simple.

But I know how they feel when they do that now, even while I laugh at myself about it. After all, it is even more true of Frank than of most guys that his actions aren't motivated by any strong internal drive. If I'm not controlling him, the game mechanics are.

Similarly, I've always had a lot of contempt for the sort of girls for whom boys are status symbols. They aren't competing for the attention of the star football player, or the cute new guy, or whoever because of any quality of his - they're competing because winning that competition gets them a high-status prize that "all" the other girls (girls like me don't count in this equation) want. Yet, when I was playing Amanda Ruben's household, and she picked up the phone, and it was Frank - the first time he's ever been the one calling into a household he isn't part of - I felt her surge of triumph. She barely got to friend status with Frank when they both went on an outing with her BFF - but he called her. She must be pretty hot stuff! (And her cousin was visiting at the time, so she doesn't even have to spread the story herself!)

And I'm willing to let her have that triumph, because heaven knows the poor girl needs something. Her mother has ghastly pregnancies, but keeps wanting more babies, and her father can barely keep ahead of the bills, so Amanda, the oldest girl and the oldest child left at home, never gets to go anywhere when I'm playing her household without a gaggle of kids trailing behind her, never has any money to buy anything much less go out with her friends or date, never has a moment to herself, and is constantly cleaning, or cooking, or changing diapers, or helping with homework, or doing homework, or fixing the sink, or some dang thing - so I think she's entitled to that moment of soaring personal affirmation when the Coolest Guy Called Her. And since she's a little pixel doll and can't actually feel anything, I'm okay to feel it for her.

This experience of emotions and mental states alien to our own is a big draw of fiction in all media, and also of RPGs, which count for these purposes as interactive fiction. It is not sufficient for us to imagine ourselves in the place of someone else; that has its use, but if that's all we ever do it makes everyone else into our reflections, which is not adequate to the purpose. To get all the way out of our own heads, and into somebody else's, is both a good and useful thing and a liberation.

Because I get really tired of being me sometimes. It's a relief to get out of my own head and into that of somebody like Frank - or like Len, the protagonist of the lesbian western - somebody who's alive in the moment and doesn't think everything to death. Or somebody with a completely different set of problems from me. Somebody from another subculture, another gender, another age, another set of base assumptions, another set of personal reactions. So I read, and I write.

But I don't seek out the experience of getting into the head of somebody like Amanda, or like Tina - who is fixated on Frank and onto whom, in the storytelling tool, I've dumped all my dissecting observations of him. I think books like that are boring and I get impatient reading them. The game sneaked their POV's up on me and plunged me into them without warning; and I was not bored or impatient. I was laughing at myself, and them, and having a really good time.

And that's why games. Because whether it's the computer code, or the dice, or the other people sitting at the table with me, I don't control the game beyond the choice to participate or to walk out. If I'm involved in the game, I have to play things as they lie, and I find myself negotiating unfamiliar territory, and enjoying it, before I realize it. I don't have time to self-censor certain areas completely out of my realm of possibility.

Not everybody plays, or reads, like this, of course. Every RPGer knows the type who always plays the same character with a few cosmetic tweaks. Some simmers create neighborhoods in which every sim is a reflection of their personal notion of How the World Should Be, whether that's a whitebread fantasy of a middle class neighborhood inhabited only by perfect white heterosexual nuclear families, or a unisex neighborhood with a same-sex pregnancy hack and all the wrong gender babies put up for adoption. The only wrong way to play is the way that bores you.

And some people only read for one kind of experience, essentially reading the same book over and over again; and that's their privilege; as long as they don't try to restrict their neighbors' reading to the same material. I may think they're deliberately crippling themselves, but if I don't want them telling me what to read I can't tell them what to read, either, and maybe there's sound healthy reasons for their choices. I don't know what their lives are like, after all.

But this is what it's all about for me, and I'm sorry I couldn't explain it more concisely.

This is Frank, BTW. I can sort of see what the girls are on about...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How It Works

So anyway yesterday I got to the actual sewing part of making a blouse I haven't made before (View F) and the second step was to pin the "front" to the "side front." So I laid out the front pieces, and laid the side front pieces on top of them. And then I reversed them. And then I turned one of them upside down. And then I looked at the drawing in the instructions. And then I laid them out again. And then I dug out the cut pieces of pattern again and checked that yes, these were the front and the side front and no, I wasn't missing any bits of them. Though I did discover that I'd overlooked the top back piece, and had to get it out of the pattern bag, cut out the top back pattern piece, clear everything off the cutting table, lay the fabric out again, and cut the top back. Which didn't help. But since I had the pattern pieces out I looked them over, made sure I knew which way they were supposed to be oriented in relation to each other, and I pinned the front to the side front as best I could. None of this was helped by the fact that it was too hot to go without the ceiling fans in the sewing room and not hot enough to justify turning on the massively inefficient air conditioner in the adjacent game room, so my pieces wouldn't lie still.

The problem, you see, is that there's a massive curve on the side front piece, while the front piece is almost completely straight. Also, there's no facing pieces for the armholes, which worried and distracted me.

But I got the piece pinned, walked off, ate some ice cream, read a bit, and thought about those two pieces. They have to fit together - the pattern says so. It's just like the two essential scenes that have to be adjacent to each other in the book but don't have obvious connections. How exactly does the character get to Point B from Point A in time for the second scene? And given the rules laid down by the teacher in the first scene, isn't the necessary behavior of the secondary character in the second scene too massively risky and stupid? So you think and you rearrange and you tear your hair out and you draw a map of the playground and name the class turtle and eventually, all you can do is sit down to write the first scene knowing that the second scene is coming up and if you just get it all down in rough you can fix it in revision.

So I said: "As ye sew, so shall ye rip," and I returned to those pieces, fiddled with and repinned them a bit, and I sewed them. It took a lot of coaxing to get the pieces to lie flat to each other, but they only have to do that while within a certain range of the needle and it was indeed possible. And while I was ironing the result I realized; "Oh, this is doing the same job as darts at the bust and waist!" Which, trust me, made sense of the whole thing; and also points me in the direction I need to go if I have to revise the fit, because I know what to do with a dart that doesn't fit me. (I usually have to shorten it; not sure how to do that here but I'll burn that bridge when I get to it.) Just like, when I'm writing a story, I don't realize that the job of the playground scene is to show the relationship between the protagonist and the clique which will reach its crisis in the conflict over the class turtle introduced in the classroom scene, even though when I first started writing I didn't even know the class had a turtle; and once I know that, I know I'll be able to make it all work.

Demonstrating yet again that it doesn't matter what you're making, the underlying processes of creating it are the same.

(And no, I don't actually have a story under way about playgrounds and class turtles. Those are by way of example and I don't know where they came from. Which might or might not mean they're going somewhere.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Where Angels Fear to Tread

Hey, almost forgot it was Sunday...

So anyway, I wondered while I was reading the book about the German language: Has anybody ever tried to make literary capital out of Martin Luther's life? Because the guy, and his life, are all way bigger than normal, and there's plenty of material. Not to mention his wife Katie, who wasn't any slouch in the larger-than-life department, herself. Consider how they met: Katie was one of several rebellious nuns who needed to get out of a convent, and Martin Luther was involved in helping smuggle them out in herring barrels. Life being the way it was in those days, all those ex-nuns needed husbands, but none of them was right for Katie. Marrying Luther was her idea. He'd assumed he was a confirmed bachelor. Yeah, that assumption always slows a woman down...

They turned out to be a good working couple. He wrote and argued; and had visions (or hallucinations, whatever) in the outhouse; she raised six of their children and four of other people's, fed everybody who came to the house, and kept things running, all while carrying on a pretty voluminous correspondence, herself, and actively engaging in the central theological ferment of the time. If you didn't want to approach it from the romance angle (and it'd require some historical dishonesty to make them into a Harlequin-style romance couple, at that), what about all those kids? They must've led quite the life, themselves.

This might have been done already in Germany, I suppose. Americans find it nearly impossible to write honestly about religious figures - they either have to be plaster saints or cartoon villains; and of course Luther was neither. By modern standards he was shockingly coarse even in his religious writing, shockingly wrongheaded about a number of things, and his marriage and parenting styles aren't in line with current fashions, either. Even if you did write an honest, accurate, perceptive, funny, exciting, and thought-provoking book about him, and got it published, somebody would ban you somewhere. You'd probably get banned two or three times for two or three directly-contradictory reasons, in fact, by people who hadn't read the book. But if you and the publisher know that going in, you ought to be able to get free publicity out of it.

A long time ago, I was in some advanced German courses with a young nun we all called Schwester Lilie. In the history course, she was dumbfounded and appalled when we got to some of the causes of the Reformation - sale of indulgences particularly shocked her - that the rest of us already knew about. Her particular Catholic school education had, um, glossed over that bit (much as my public school education glossed over Palmer Raids, Japanese internment camps, lynching, Indian removals, Jefferson's slave children, etc. etc.). So when it came time to do a paper, she chose Luther as her topic, to find out what else she should have known about, but didn't. She concluded that, although she continued to believe that almost all of the actions he chose to take were wrong to one degree or another, he was a great man.

I don't know where Schwester Lilie is now, or what she's doing; but I'm sure she's not a plaster saint or a cartoon villain, either.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Learning from the Giants

In German: Biography of a Language, by Ruth H. Sanders, I read this quote:
...Luther's main interest was not even language itself; rather his first priority was the content...From the beginning, his compulsion for universal comprehension was a basic characteristic of Luther's German language creation.
-- Edwin Arndt,Luthers deustches Sprachstaffen,1962

The subject at hand is the task Martin Luther faced of translating the Bible so that could be read and understood by as many people as possible, in a social milieu in which every district had its own distinct dialect with variations not only in vocabulary and pronunciation, but in grammar and syntax. To do this he sweated every word, not once, but many times - revising his translation of the Bible until the day of his death - and in the process transformed the German language and wrote a masterpiece of clear, strong, literary style. And, oh yeah, had some impact on the spiritual life of millions of people down to the present day, but that's outside my present scope of interest.

You can't get better stylistic advice than to imitate Luther, not in what came out of his process, but in what goes into it: the attempt to communicate the content of the work, as clearly as you can, so that the maximum number of people can understand it. Strive to do that, whatever you're saying, and all the things people strain after in writing class will be there in the end result. Your personal literary voice. Style, grace, elegance, eloquence. Even humor - I can't count the times I've made people laugh, just by telling the truth as precisely as I can. (Face it, truth is absurd even when it's not strictly speaking funny.)

You should, of course, be prepared to be zen about the audience's ability to take your clear, lucid prose and derive from it interpretations with which you violently disagree. Luther wasn't expecting that and it drove him up a tree to find that people could read his Bible translation and still disagree with him theologically. Six hundred years of history give you at least that much of a head start on him.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Unreconciled; unreconcilable

My doctor thinks I need to take it easy more.

I think I'm taking it easy all the damn time and need to accomplish more.

Odds are good we're both right. Reality is inconvenient like that; reason enough to prefer fiction.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Heroine is Not Me

So anyway, while my arm was bad we went to see the third MIB movie, which was better than you expect a second sequel to be (and in any case sitting in a movie theater is excellent bursitis therapy as long as you don't strain your arm by eating popcorn). And at one point - those of you who've seen it know which one - I thought: "It's a good thing the fate of the world is unlikely ever to hinge on my ability to jump off the Chrysler building, because I couldn't do it."

Generally speaking, we don't know what we'd do till we do it, but I'm pretty confident on this point.

Occasionally, I will criticize a character for doing, or not doing, something in a particular situation. Those old-style movie "heroines" who can't do anything but scream in a bad situation, for example. Once in awhile, somebody'll call me on it by saying: "Oh, like you'd do any better."

But that is just the point. I don't want to follow the adventures of someone who can't do any better than I could. I apparently can't sew a bunch of tank tops without injuring myself - I am crappy heroine material. What I want is someone flawed enough that I can identify with her, who nevertheless pulls it together and does what needs to be done in a way I'm pretty sure I couldn't.

There's room in our big diverse world for other kinds of protagonists; but this is the kind I want, myself.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Translating Captivity

Non-fiction remains a never-drying well of story. I've been reading Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America, by Christina Snyder, and thinking that we're overdue for a revival of the captivity narrative in YA literature. It used to be a staple, but nowadays - when the illumination an honest and evenhanded fiction could cast on a host of modern realities should be particularly relevant - they've vanished.

And it's true that a lot of the true captivity stories an author can research among are cut off in their prime, as a lot of high-profile cases died young. But consider this early example:

Thirteen-year-old Hernando de Escalente Fontaneda...was on his way to be educated in Spain when his ship sank off the coast of Florida around 1550. The Calusa chief, called "Carlos" by the Spaniards, dispatched forty-two of the ship's crew, killing some immediately and reserving the deaths of others for special ceremonial occasions. He spared Fontaneda, perhaps because of the captive's youth. Fontaneda learned the Calusa language as well as three other Native Floridian tongues. The young linguist became very useful to Chief Carlos, who had grown frustrated with Spanish captives who could not understand his commands. He retained Fontaneda as a translator, and the Spaniard remained among the Calusas until he was ransomed at the age of 30.

As dust jacket copy, that needs spicing up, but as a summary of a YA plot it covers the bases. Except the romantic one, but that's easily dealt with after a little research. Chief Carlos can easily become an ambiguous villain/mentor/father figure. Fontaneda is placed in a hellishly ambivalent position regarding his (older) fellow captives, and grows up in a liminal space - more privileged and powerful than his fellow slaves due to his ability to communicate between them and his masters, but powerless to do anyone but himself much good.

An author uncomfortable with dealing with the sore points of history underlying modern racial conflicts, or anxious to conform to current literary fashion, could easily translate this plot into science fiction (with Chief Carlos as leader of indigenous aliens on a planet earth is trying to colonize) or fantasy (with Carlos as elf-, dwarf-, or goblin-king); but honestly I think current literary fashions are too wussy on this topic. Nobody's not going to recognize the Indian/European metaphor, and using aliens or fantasy races as stand-ins for The Human Other is not only an over-used tactic, it's one that obscures the core problem more than it enables healing of it. All human cultures are both intrinsically valid and capable of routinely doing morally indefensible things and defending them with moral and practical arguments. It's time we dealt with that instead of pussyfooting around it all the time.

P.S. The arm is much better. I can still feel it, but I slept without pain pills last night and dressed myself this morning!