Sunday, October 27, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: A Display Piece

This one is not mine to give away. I'm just putting it up for show.

One of the many interesting people I talked to at the Paleoamerican Odyssey conference was (if I have all my information correct, and I think I do, but it's hard to keep track of names at a conference) Kelly R. Monteleone, who was presenting a poster showing a process of winnowing down the vastness of Beringia into a range of "most promising places to look for sites," including offshore sites. Since Beringia is mostly under the Arctic Ocean now, this is important work to do - underwater archeology is difficult and expensive enough when you do it in Florida or Texas; when you do it in Alaska, Siberia, and points between you want to be able to go straight to what you want when you finally commit to a dive, or even to sending out a boat with fancy technology to see through the water and ocean deposits to narrow down "most likely place" to "place where you'll definitely find something or other."

Since I got to her poster during a slow period in the poster room (these were rare; everyone wanted to see everything and it was hard to move a lot of the time) we had a little bit of conversation as well as her explaining the poster, and - as often happens when people find out what I do - she told me she had an idea for a children's book herself, but didn't mind if I stole it. She said she kept thinking, What if - you took an artifact, made in Siberia, and it got used and reused and handed down and lost and salvaged and repurposed and eventually wound up on the northwest coast of North America? You'd do it as series of connected short stories, illustrating the nature of the trip (which was almost certainly not conceived by the people involved as a trip at all, certainly not as a single one) and also how the nature, use, and meaning of an artifact, presumably made out of a rare resource that needed to be conserved, can change over time. By the time it reached North America, it would almost certainly have lost its practical value and gained some less tangible, but more vital, meaning, as objects that survive use by our ancestors do; until it is finally definitively lost, discarded, or destroyed. Perhaps eventually to be found by someone like her.

This, I believe, is a good and workable idea; and I also believe that she is the only one who can write it. She can't yet, because it's not ripe. She needs more information - which she is uniquely positioned to get if she pursues this line of inquiry - even to determine what the object is, much less who used it in what different ways and what kinds of stories it figures in over time. It could take her entire career to write it.

And that's fine. There's no point going off half-cocked with something like this, especially when writing isn't the center of your professional life. You have to let it get ripe.

If she keeps holding this in the back of her mind, she might sit down twenty, or thirty, or forty years from now, maybe on retirement, and find all the stories fully-formed in her head, ready to pour out of her in nearly final form. She might pick up an object in the lab one day and realize, This is it. This is the Thing that connects the stories.

This sort of thing happens.

So that idea you keep returning to - don't give up on it. Hang onto it. Take it out and turn it over in your hands sometimes, note how it's slowly transforming, swelling up and changing colors and acquiring an appetizing smell.

Be ready to pick it, the moment it comes ripe.

1 comment:

  1. My first thought was of one of Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories, in which a stranded Patrol agent sends out a call for help in the form of becoming the originator of the anomalous Valdivia Ware. Sooner or later, he reasoned, someone would come looking....
    My next was of a story in which a character who was an author of historical fiction, who spoke of including an authentic historical artifact which she had actually held (preferably owned). Writing about John Dee, she included an item (a vase?) reputed to have been part of his home furnishings, &c.
    My last was simply, "Boy, would I like to see that book"....