Sunday, June 29, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Summertime

It's summer - ice tea and okra and catfish and peaches and cherries; air like a blanket until the storm pushes through; yards that turn into jungles overnight; zucchini too small to harvest one morning and as big as your leg the next; empty streets, or gridlock on the way to the lake, the beach, the shade; chlorine and cocoa butter and stacks of books and music that you barely notice but which will, when heard next winter, suddenly flash sunlight behind your eyes -

Let's have a summer book.

Not one about a real summer, mind. One about the ideal of summer. About freedom: exploring and creating and testing your limits, about learning what you want to learn the way you want to learn it, without teachers or parents riding you. About friends who don't have to be perfect but who are at least on the same page as you, with roughly the same goals and either a general agreement about how to accomplish them, or an alternative method that can compete in a friendly fashion. Lupe thinks her method of training the dog is best; Leti thinks hers is - well, both girls have dogs and let's find out. The twins both wanted a canoe and they got one, so they take it out every day and take turns being captain and deciding the agenda and doing all the planning for their trips of discovery and recreation.

Or, the starship's going to take three months to reach the outpost Mom's been stationed to, and this is a well-honed routine; the kids can be safely turned loose to explore, happens every trip, the ship's crew is used to it and the ship was designed so parents wouldn't have to worry about their kids (but oh, something is different this trip; this is the trip when the Big Thing happens and only the kids have the information necessary to figure out what's going on...)

Or, the grownups are off doing their thing, working, and the kids persuade them that they don't have to go to that stupid daycare place this year, they can stay home alone during the day and they'll even keep the house nice. And the strategy for keeping the house nice is, to never be in it - to go all the places they've wanted to go but never can because the grownups are too busy to take them, or in some cases don't even think it's a good place to go, and get home every day to be clean and smiling and uninjured with supper started when the folks get home, none the wiser. They have to cut it close a few times, and then there's this Complication that arises, the person they meet or the information they uncover which they know the grownups would make them leave alone, but they can't. It wouldn't be right.

Genre as generally conceived by book publishers is irrelevant. This is about atmosphere and a particular intellectual/emotional opennes. The term "beach read" has come to mean a particular kind of potboiler; the books I'm thinking of aren't potboilers, but they are good to read on the beach; and they make you want to get up and do things once you finish the chapter.

Swallows and Amazons, Treasure Island, and all the Stratemeyer syndicate books ever written are summer books. Lots of Diana Wynne Jones's books are, too, even many of the completely unrelaxed ones dealing with big stakes, like Eight Days of Luke. The reader is relaxing; the characters need not be. The characters can be as busy as corporate lawyers, even struggling for survival like Brian in the Hatchet books. But they must be competent or become so, they must have perfect liberty within the framework of the setting, and they must be fun to read about with a big bag of potato chips and a cold drink.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Blueberry Trick

So, Damon had a bad day at work yesterday, and expects to have a bad one today; so I made him pound cake.

The thing is, Damon's mother is the Queen of Pound Cake. She's famous for it, and not just in her family. In her church, it is assumed that she will bring pound cake to whatever it is and it will all be eaten. She makes them as big as angel-food cakes and cuts them in half to give to people, to save time. She has probably made more pound cakes than I have ever made meals, and she has perfected the process. I will never make a pound cake half as good as the ones Damon grew up eating.

But his mother is not here, and I am, so I made it. And I added blueberries. Lots and lots and lots of blueberries. Because his mother never does that, and blueberries are his favorite fruit, and they are so cheap this week that buying two pints is cheaper than buying a half-pint other times of the year, so why not?

It is easy to read the Mistresses of Literature and think "I will never do this as well as she did." (Men never make me feel this way. Just saying.) No, you won't do what Diana Wynne Jones, or Jane Austen, or Charlotte Bronte, or Ursula K. LeGuin, or Agatha Christie, or Dorothy L. Sayers, did/does as well as them. That's a given.

But you can do something slightly different as well as you can do it, and it will still be worth reading. Because you have something you do that they don't. You have some kind of metaphorical blueberries. And people will like what you do better, if you aren't stingy with them.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: For the Entrepreneurs

Not all ideas are for stories. I often have a vague wish to be able to put a painting, a business, a program, or something else that I haven't anything like the dedication to make reality out there into the world.

For instance, last Sunday Damon and I were watching what we thought at the time was the finale of Crisis, which we started watching because it had Gillian Anderson in it and kept watching because it is, in fact, a pretty good script. (I have one or two specific beefs but that's not here nor there.) Last Sunday was also the decisive game in some sort of championship thing for the NBA, which the San Antonio Spurs won.

I love San Antonio. I think that, as professional sports teams go, the Spurs are largely inoffensive. They are at least not a bunch of crooks, whiners, abusers, and entitled self-important bullies like some teams I could name (and the entire player base of some sports I could name). But if we'd cared about the damn championship we'd have been taping Crisis and at the arena with the rest of the locals, now, wouldn't we? So we were fit to be tied when, fifteen minutes from the end of the show, when the kidnapper giving Gillian Anderson instructions through her earbud told her to shut up and sit still, and the drugged superweapon soldier she'd gotten into the courtroom stood up behind the guilty CIA director's wife, and started revealing things the CIA director was willing to commit murder to keep everyone (especially Congress and the President) from knowing, and the station overrode the signal with the news that the Spurs had just won and started switching us between commentators saying nothing, nothing, and more nothing, and promising us interviews with people who had even more nothing to say, we were ready to blow a gasket.

So here's an idea for you tech wizards out there. No a story, just an app. One which, if it were available, would be worth the price of any device it was loaded on. (I currently own no devices.) I want an app which allows you to override pre-emptions, so that when stuff like this happens, the moment I realize that the "breaking news" has nothing whatsoever to do with the world I live in, I can go back to what I was watching. Also, so that when something I want to watch overlaps with some stupid game or other, whose length is unpredictable, I will be able to start my show on time! Somebody out there, please, make this happen!

Thanks to the marvels of internet technology, I did get to watch the final 15 online the next day; but it would have been so much better to have been able to watch it straight through. (Also, it turned out that wasn't the finale, though it felt like one; two more episodes aired back-to-back last night and brought it to a mostly satisfactory conclusion. Though I don't buy that the icily competent, unflappable Alicia Dutton was in it for Tahiti or that red-headed jerk. I feel cheated that she died before her character was properly revealed.)

Another enterprise I'd like to see is the Omnivore Cafe, a restaurant with two mix-and-match menus: Carnivore, and Herbivore. (If that sounds familiar, I assure you that a) I thought of this years before Cyn Smith wrote Tantalize and invented Sanguini's "Predator or Prey?" menus; and b) I'm thinking in terms of a place serving office workers in the middle of the day; a very different atmosphere.) Nutritional information would be supplied on each dish, which would be prepared as nearly saltlessly as practical, with choices of salt types (iodized or sea salt) and other seasonings at the table, dressings and other trimmings on the side rather than dumped onto the main course (and no nasty lemon wedges on my tea glass, waste of lemons, grumble). There'd be a Dairy counter (so you could get dairy products a la carte, for the convenience of the kosher as well as the non-Vegan) and a Bakery counter; and the bakery counter would have nutless versions of everything that came with nuts. Some items, like hamburgers, would be available in Low-Fat and Extra Greasy incarnations. And every day there'd be two iterations of Anything Soup available, made up of the previous day's leftovers, one meaty and one meat-free.

In short, I want a restaurant absolutely everybody can eat at, without these endless negotiations that make some of us such a pain the neck to eat out with.

These two things seem to me to be obvious, urgent needs. But I wouldn't know how to go about making either happen.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Procrastination for Whippersnappers

Since I am officially middle-aged, it is incumbent on me to find some way in which "kids today" are deficient. I've been struggling with this for some time, since for the most part kids today look fine to me; at least as in tune with their surroundings as I am, and no more incompetent than I was at their age. But yesterday, as I dug cat hair out of my keyboard, it hit me: Kids today don't know how to really knuckle down and procrastinate!

Oh, yes, they can waste time on the internet, but that doesn't take any skill! Just get a few social networking sites - Facebook is all the rage, but Tumbler, I find, is even better because it's more content-based than personal; people are fighting for causes and telling stories and sharing fanfic there in an in-depth and engaging way that doesn't require you to know or care about the people you follow as friends or professional associates. Either way, you join into a vast perpetual motion machine of distraction which is far too easy for a true procrastinator. A kind of Cliff's Notes version, if you will. But what happens to these social-media-addicted kids when they turn the internet off and get their games taken away? They will find themselves with their backs to the wall, helplessly completing projects and doing assigned chores, that's what!

Don't let this happen to your kids! Teach them the nitty-gritty rules of procrastination:

1) Have pets. Whether it's needing to go outside right now, clogging machinery with shed hair, or simply trying to participate in anything you're doing, pets are the No. 1 Procrastination Aid. After all, they are alive, they depend on you, they're adorable, and the cat hair really does need to be cleaned out of the keyboard if you want to be able to keep typing. What kind of monster puts homework ahead of the well-being of a living creature who loves you more than anything? "I don't want to disturb the cat" is an excuse any family member worth living with will sheepishly have to acknowledge as valid; because everyone in a pet-owning household will be using this procrastination technique and therefore has to allow it in everybody else.

(In fact, in my house "catlap syndrome" is a recognized disorder and a legitimate reason to ask other people to do things for you. Shortly after our housemate moved across the street, my husband, a friend, and I were all lined up on the couch, each catlapped, and realized that none of us could reach the remote control. Our friend suggested that we call across the street to tell M we were catlapped and needed him to come change the channel. We couldn't, because none of us could reach a phone; but we all agreed, he would have complied - and he confirmed this when asked.)

(We do not spoil our cats. Spoiled things are nasty and our cats are sweet.)

2) Always be on the lookout for ways to increase your efficiency! Trimming your nails while your computer is booting just makes sense! The fact that you then realize that you got egg under them while you were scraping the scorched breakfast out of the frying pan and then start cleaning them meticulously, which takes you into the bathroom, where you remember you haven't flossed recently and that it's past time to get the fluoride residue off your toothbrushes, is not your fault! And while your programs are loading, you can take the crusty soap dish down to the kitchen to put into the dishwasher while you grab a drink and make a fresh pitcher of tea and oh yeah you haven't taken out the compost this morning. Moreover, an organized and simple filing system is essential and can take all day to set up while the things on your to-do list wait their turn. For sheer time-sucking attention focus, social media has nothing on alphabetization, cross-referencing, labeling, and buying specialized containers for all your paperwork, art, tools, supplies, and whatnot; and it has the major advantage of looking exactly like work, so that you can fool yourself into thinking you're being productive in a way you can't possibly pull off when watching cat videos.

3) Be meticulous! The reality of the world is that dirt will always be present, so if you always clean up dirt as soon as you see it, you are bound to look around and see dirt the moment you begin to not want to do something you really need to do. (See Rule 1; pets are a big help with this.)

4) Be available! Other people's work is much more doable than your own, so make yourself available to anyone who needs help. Leave the door open. Set no boundaries. Always say yes.

5) Require perfection! Nothing postpones completion of old projects or the undertaking of new ones like insisting on a flawless result every time. You've always missed something - a typo, a grammatical error, a poor color choice, a sentence that is two words longer than the ideal.

I despair for the citizens of tomorrow if these simple principles are lost to time. Please, teach the basics, or the future will be dark indeed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Scouting the Competition

So I was drafting a query, and the submissions guidelines I'm following ask that the author do a little work upfront and give examples of books that the work in question would be competing with head-to-head in the market place. A labor-intensive request, but a reasonable one; and after all, I have an internet.

And no matter what combination of search terms I use (fiction lesbian historical YA 2014 is typical), I turn up more hits than I would have expected.

Not all of which are actually relevant, for one reason or another. And there's some overlap. But - and this is the point - every search turns up something unfamiliar, that I didn't know was out there.

It behooves us to remember that, no matter how unusual the property, no matter how rare the premise, no matter how underserved the audience, and no matter how on top of things you think you are - you are not the only one interested in it, somebody is publishing it, and you are not familiar with everything published about it.

So maybe yours is the work that will hit it big and make whatever it is you're doing go mainstream in a big way. Or maybe somebody else is about to do that and you'll catch the first wave of the trend, quite by accident. Or maybe you'll languish in the midlist like all these other books that weren't adequately hyped. Or maybe you're not as well educated as you think you are and it's time to knuckle down to reading and truly educate yourself.

And isn't that kind of exciting? C'mon, you know it is!

These books aren't your competition. They're your team. And it's bigger than you thought it was.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Moar Fun with Titles

Sorry, y'all; been unreasonably tired all day. So have some titles looking around for stories to belong to.

Serenading Mrs. Crumplebottom.

Sticky Threads: A Memoir

All the Cool Kids go to Frank's

I Never Promised You a Beer Garden

Shotgun Divorce.

How I Screwed Up This Week, and Why It's Not My Fault.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Brainstorming in Mid-Stream

I wonder...if I genderswapped some or all of the characters, would the WIP get any easier or more comfortable to write? Because I keep running up against plot stuff that clearly comes straight from my embedded place in the Patriarchy, but the setting has a different structure and conception of gender. For example, my villain was thinking the other day: "That's the trouble with letting men have power. You can't deal with them as rational beings. They're all about emotions and sex and status, and they love being manipulated so much!" Which is how most men look to me most of the time, but which is not how gender is constructed in modern America.

(Did you know that the brain chemistry of women and men is most similar when women are menstruating, by the way? 'S'true. And it explains a lot. From a standpoint of brain chemistry the most stable human beings are post-menopausal women. But all that's neither here nor there at the moment.)

Holey cheese - what if Pelin is intersex? In this setting? That would that won't work because...oh, but then this - wait, how would that affect the triune? How would it be constructed in this society? Does it knock Pelin out of the running as heir completely?

(Wanders off, muttering.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Feasibility, Shmeasability

Yesterday I worked on the WIP, where again I'm having to write stuff from a point of view not the protagonist's, in order to figure out exactly what is really going on and how the villain will behave next. And I realize that I'm not going to be able to do it as originally envisioned - an awful lot of what makes me uncomfortable in this story is only worked out properly, and the assumptions behind the world are only illuminated properly, if these alternative points of view are included.

Which discourages me, because alternative points of view make everything more complex and, therefore, tougher to sell.

So, while I was being discouraged anyway, after I finished I decided to tackle the problem of whether it is even possible to translate the creative tangle of the Widespot material from a gaming context to a novelistic context. Leaving aside for the moment the knotty problem (which, if solved, will make everything else fall into place, I think) of the two alien characters, I asked myself what, if this were a modern realistic novel, would be the key peculiarity of the neighborhood, and what leaped out at me was the biracial couples. Almost everything about the setting and the characterization screams "mid-20th century south," one of the biracial couples is young and overtly political, and the other is specifically said in the family biography to have moved to Widespot because of its isolation, "to get away from parental disapproval," and in Homer's personal bio "because his folks objected to his doing right by Beulah."

So, run with that - what's the earliest either of them could have gotten legally married, assuming Widespot to be in Texas? I look up anti-miscegenation laws and find that they weren't declared unconstitutional until 1967, which is later than I expected, but then I'm an optimist. (And alas, yes, Texas was one of the laggards that didn't strike the laws down till forced to.) Homer and Beulah, however, could have run off and lived together earlier than 1967, when Beulah got pregnant with Mary; so let's say the Beeches, who I can easily see marrying partly as a political statement, married in 1967. When the neighborhood starts they have a teen-age daughter, so the earliest year it can be set is - 1981. And working out the relative ages, Mary and Penny would have been born in 1960. A year before me.

Which shouldn't, actually, surprise me...

What it means, though, is that this would not be a YA story. It was always problematic, anyway, because in the neighborhood Mary and Penny - who are the characters I want to explore in book form - are both full adults. However, they are remarkably innocent, inexperienced adults, both by nature and by upbringing, and anyway a lot of what interests me is their shared childhood, so it has always seemed probable, and natural, that the book would skew young. But there is no way I am taking characters roughly the same age as me, and working out big chunks of their life experience, coincident in time with my own life experiences, and maintaining the immediacy of the YA viewpoint. Whatever I do, I doubt I'll be able to avoid the "remembered in tranquility" attitude, accessing the specific places in my brain I would need to access.

And I hate adult realism, for the most part. When I read books marketed to adults, they're almost always genre, and genre is almost always "really YA" in my private classification system. Which doesn't mean I can't write adult realism, or New Adult, or however the industry would categorize this; but does mean I'll be handicapped when it comes to marketing it. As if I weren't bad enough at that for YA and MG.

Besides, it has to be multi-POV. That's a given. I can't possibly pare the Widespot material, whatever it turns out to be, down to "Mary's Story" or "Penny's Story." It has to be the community's story, with Penny and Mary as flagship characters at most. And here I am back where I started, exhausted from fighting my tendency to write stuff that is just too damn hard for me to sell.

And it was time to quit anyway, so I went and caught up on my tumbler dashboard, where the agents-and-editors wishlist pops up with this gem of hope: I'm on the lookout for YA, NA, or Adult that alternates POVs like a boss. Character development, perspective, & voice.

Hurray! I'll send her - um - I'll send her - um.

Dadgum it.

I've been fighting this tendency so long, I don't actually have anything like that ready to go right now...No, wait, maybe Astral Palace will do. I need to look at her accepted genres.

And that, brothers and sisters, is why exhausting your strength fighting your native tendencies is a bad idea. When the opportunity arises, you want to be ready to jump on it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Away

A family at their wits end - a mother and two daughters, say - driving from an untenable situation to an unknown, uncertain, undesirable future - get onto the wrong farm-to-market road at night, and the car breaks down. Their cell phone has no service. So they sleep in the car till it's light enough, and when they wake up see, what they couldn't see at night, that they are right outside a small town called Away.

It's a peculiar town, but not in a frightening way. The fact that they don't have any money to pay the guy at the garage doesn't keep him from hauling it in: "S'okay, no guarantee I can fix it anyhow. May as well take a look." The lady who runs the diner has a sign in her window for a waitress that's so old it's sun-faded; may as well give the mother the job. The pay's lousy, but is in cash (worn silver and gold and paper with odd designs and old, old dates on it, but the local storekeepers accept it and in fact it all circulates all over town over and over and over again, the same coins recognized as they go from hand to hand) includes use of a little walk-up apartment out back, so they have a roof over their heads.

Not every house has electricity; those that do, use generators ingeniously designed to be fueled by a number of different fuel types. The garage is also a blacksmith's and has facilities for fixing horse-drawn vehicles and flivvers, and the mechanic himself drives a '57 Chevy. Nobody delivers gasoline to his ancient pump, and yet if anyone needs gas it always has some. The old lady at the diner cooks on a wood stove. The whole place is a cobbled-together hodgepodge, people with odd accents, individuals from many different backgrounds but no identifiable ethnic subpopulations, technology and styles and attitudes from different eras, and yet it all meshes together, somehow, peacefully.

The car never gets fixed, the phones are all landline and all connected through a central switchboard that isn't on the national network, nobody's heard of WiFi, nobody takes a newspaper; the little circulating library has a limited number of books from incunabula to paperbacks; but the mother ceases to care. Her kids are fed. She has a roof. Maybe she starts dating the mechanic. She's able to relax and takes up something that used to interest her.

But the girls are the only kids in town; or, if there is another kid, he was born here. What to their beleagured mother looks like a refuge, to them feels like, and is, a trap.

Away is where people go when they're at the end of their ropes and need a place to stop stressing and just be.

Away is the opposite of where kids need to be.

Kids always leave Away. Or else they stop growing.

But once you leave, you can't get back. Until and unless you're at the end of your rope...

I kind of needed Away myself, when I thought of this, and couldn't put a plot together because I personally needed a rest, not a plot. I had a certain amount of fun planning the households, though.

It's basically a Twilight Zone episode; but a TZ episode would be ending right at the point that the kids need to start the crux of the plot.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Not Missing Ingredients

A couple of weeks ago I made a sweet potato pie, but when I opened the can of evaporated milk it was all yellow and separated. Somehow this particular can, the last one in the pantry, had survived ten years of baking and Kitchen Sanitation Months - its sell-by date was in 2004!

So, onto the compost heap with that mess and here I was, with the oven on, the shell ready, the eggs and spices mashed into the sweet potatoes, Damon had the car so I would have had to bus to the grocery store, and I thought - oh, what the heck? We eat mashed sweet potatoes, right? And I scooped the mixture into the shell, and baked it for 35 minutes.

It was the best sweet potato pie I'd ever made. It didn't take forever to set. It was light and fluffy and tasty. It did not seem to be trying to pass itself off as a pumpkin pie. It was great!

So yesterday, I made another one, again without the evaporated milk. (In fact I keep forgetting to put evaporated milk onto the grocery list.) And it's still good.

Did I ever tell you about the bananafanafofaser bread? We had friends over for board games and I was making chocolate chip banana bread, but I accidentally dumped in half a bag of butterscotch chips instead of chocolate chips. So I polled the audience - should I scrap the batch, keep it and start a second one, or throw in half a bag of chocolate chips as well and see what happened? The vote was unanimously for dumping in the chocolate chips. The result was gooey but good, and one of the guests insisted on getting the recipe because the banana bread recipe she uses never came out this well. We dubbed it bananafanafofaser bread because we were playing Star Munchkin and it seemed obvious. The situation on one level is the opposite of the pie; on another level, it is identical.

This is pretty much how I bake. And write. And live. Just because the recipe, or the literary formula, or the TV tropes list, or one of the cultures in which you are imbedded, includes an ingredient, doesn't mean it's necessary, to you, in this case. I substitute all the time; I leave stuff out; I throw stuff in because it sounds tasty; I screw up and I deal with it.

Sometimes you get an unuseable mess. Sometimes you get a supreme success you can never repeat. Sometimes you change your standard mode of operation. Sometimes you inspire somebody else to greatness - or to a new dish in their repertoire.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Difference Between Fiction and Real Life

If it happened in a story, dropping a three-pound handweight on my foot would have had an aesthetic purpose.

It'd be symbolically or thematically appropriate; it would coincide and resonate with some other element of my life; it would be some sort of message or warning or trigger or - it would have meant something.

But because I live in real life and not in a story, it just means I had to spend two days with a baggie full of ice on my foot. Do you know how difficult it is to accomplish anything with a baggie of ice on your foot? Even intellectual work - "Yeah, since I'm sitting here anyway just open the damn file and focus, that's all I have to - oh, for crying out loud it fell out of the towel again better not leak all over the cables - Ow ow ow - oh, look, the color's really starting to come in now..."

We like narrative because it's structured and tidy, and isn't as full of irrelevant bits and distractions as real life. This is satisfying on a primal level; so satisfying, that people make up meanings for their real lives, in the teeth of the evidence, and try to structure Life so that it makes some kind of sense. Which leads to cruel absurdities like the theory that natural disasters are divine punishments for trivial manufactured "sins," or that bad things happen to us because we "deserve" them.

That's the big problem with "realism" as a genre. A truly realistic story would not be satisfying because it would have to be structureless, full of arbitrary boring meaningless crap that would anger the audience. If they wanted real life they wouldn't be reading the story, now, would they? Do not, ever, get so carried away with creating a slice of life that you forget to provide the primary pleasure of narrative.

All the writing advice you get about killing your darlings, not putting in anything that doesn't contribute to the effect, Chekov's gun on the mantelpiece - that's what it boils down to. Even stuff that's interesting or humorous or beautiful in itself, if it doesn't advance the story, interferes with the narrative tidiness and has to go. You can get away with more in a loosely-structured domestic novel than in a tightly-plotted thriller or a short story, but if you push the limits too far you lose the audience. It'll get bored or it'll get mad. One or the other.

You probably think you know an author who gets away with it, but it's an illusion. Even the great stream-of-consciousness works, the ones that swim in and out of your eyes as you read and make you feel like you're living in somebody else's head - take a step back and look at them. Mrs. Dalloway is as rigidly-structured as any Agatha Christie plot. It's just that the structure is cleverly designed to look structureless.

Personally I'm not very clever and have to do this largely by writing the story and then taking things out. And sometimes it's real hard to tell where to draw the line. Yeah, I can (and did) take out most of Len's food appreciation remarks in the lesbian western. I can convey the fact that Len's appetite is enormous without describing every meal she ate. That's pretty straightforward. But that bit where she gets lost on first coming into San Antonio - is the level of humorous detail I go in for there the right one for illustrating thematically how she has to feel her way through her life as a man, with the directions she gets from other people mostly confusing her? Or do I keep it because, as a San Antonian, I find it all so hilariously familiar?

I think it's the former, because every time I contemplate taking it out I feel like the manuscript has a big hole in it that can't be bridged by a sentence about nobody in San Antonio being able to give decent directions and what is up with the dang river? But will an audience feel that way?

(Will an audience ever get a chance to find out? She wonders, sighing and returning to the agent search.)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Talking Animals of the Apocalypse

No way I'll ever use this one, but I bet somebody could do it right.

This was a story-dream. The post-apocalyptic dystopia was going on, and one of the features was, that anthropomorphic animals societies were A Thing. The totalitarian rulers were all what the dream was calling cis-humans (I know I'm appropriating the term cis here, way out of original context of contrasting the cisgender from the transgender, but it works pretty well to express the idea of "what society treats as the norm"!) while the oppressed classes were both the cis-human poor and modified animals much like the Talking Animals in Narnia - larger than their non-talking counterparts, with humanlike intelligence that didn't interfere with the specializations of their animals from which they derived. I specifically remember wild foxes and domestic goats. The "wild" talking animals lived separate from humans and the "domestic" talking animals were integrated as equals into the poor human communities, who regarded them as human equivalents; but the ruling classes regarded both kinds of talking animals as animals. So that at one point, for instance, one of them shot and skinned an intelligent fox because she wanted to wear the fur. At another point, the protagonists were saved from patrolling oppressors because the goats fooled them into overlooking the humans they were looking for - the goats were not considered seriously as intelligent agents.

So the oppressed are all working together, right? Not quite. It turned out that the Resistance had a number of different factions, all made up of cis-humans and intelligent animals (hmm, does tranimals work as a term here?) working independently and with little knowledge of each other. Something was preventing them from communicating and coordinating. Not from cooperating - the main thrust of the dream involved following the attempts of two parties who crossed paths in the field and jeopardized each other's missions to clean up the resultant mess, carry out both missions, and keep everyone safe from the oppressors who were suddenly swarming everywhere.

And there was some sort of boarding school that was becoming the locus of resistance because it was one of the few places that people from different communities could meet face to face? But the boarding school taught only cis-humans and was run by the oppressing class. (Think, Indian boarding schools of 20th century America, where Indian children were taken to be brainwashed out of their culture.)

I will never use this, because I don't even like dystopian fiction as a rule. Real life is as dystopian as I care to get and a little more, thank you! But if you came up with a premise that made the tranimals work, the whole story would work, and would fall into place.

BTW, the cis-humans? Should all be brown. Because in the future, we will all be brown.