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.


  1. I think the internet ate my first attempt to comment, Peni. Hopefully I can reconstruct it well enough.

    1960--would it work for Skye to bring the kids back from Vietnam? Penny would be coming to the USA as a child in that case. If you had him bring them back in '67 or so she'd be well old enough for the effects of culture shock. I don't remember the exact age difference you've got between Woody and Penny, but I think it's got to be six or eight years. It's such an interesting era you're working with. My husband being a naturalized American my first association for 'alien' is no longer the science fiction sort.

    As far as the frustrating multiple viewpoints you mentioned at first, isn't that a fantasy? Fantasy readers are pretty well trained to expect multiple viewpoints--though we do get irritated if you copy George RR Martin and kill everyone we like!

  2. It's crucial to the dynamic I want to work with that Penny and Mary grew up together, but Nam is an element I hadn't considered. Homer, Hamilton, Valentine, Skye, and Rich would all have been eligible draftees at crucial parts of the timeline, and how and why they did or didn't serve would matter. (And Valentine's a dual citizen; ugh; well, not everybody's number came up...still, this is one of those topics the effort of researching which is disproportionate to the effect on the final story. Except for those times when it crystallizes the whole story and makes everything fall into place.)

    According to the timeline I worked out, the teens were all born between 1968 and 1970. Relative age, however, is probably the element with which I have the most leeway in the concept. Theoretically I could even cut Woody right out of the story (remember a book version would only be riffing off the core story/character elements raised by the hood that I can't let go of; I use the Widespot character names largely as placeholders for the moment). The question of where Penny and Woody came from remains crucial, because one thing that does not change is Penny - and Penny is peculiar. I've considered finding some neuroatypical condition she could plausibly have, which is another huge research subject. Good thing I like research. But if her characteristics don't match any diagnosis, I'll wind up back where I started. Because I can't control Penny any better than anybody else; she is who she is, whether she winds up alien or fay or human but well off the bell curve.

    The WIP is a fantasy, but the original concept involved the reader being stuck in the head of someone with an enchanted memory - so, an unreliable narrator who understands himself to be an unreliable narrator - and having to figure out what's really going on right along with him. But that dog is simply not going to hunt, not in a society as different as the one I've got him in. I'm needing to write from the other viewpoints in order to understand crucial elements about the culture, and I invented it! The reader can't be expected to do better than the writer. So now the question becomes, How to present the other viewpoints, chronologically and structurally?

    I trust the reader to follow whatever I produce - that's not the problem. The problem is writing synopses and query letters that attract editors and agents to the story! And, that I'm not writing for adults. YA literature is not as linear as it used to be, but alternating two viewpoints between chapters is the most I've ever been able to sell. This would be three viewpoints at least - possibly four, as the plot still has one prime mover I haven't worked with yet.

    On the other hand, I'm not selling single-viewpoint stories at the moment, either, so what am I worried about?

  3. I knew Mary and Penny had to grow up together, but thought perhaps that could start at, say, seven and work. However, if Woody is more optional, than the obvious (and somewhat cliched) thing would be to have Penny abandoned as a very young infant on Skye's doorstep. I know there were already tensions in Texas over immigration from south of the boarder (Dad went to UT during those years--one of his roommates came from a boarder ranching family). If Penny were of dubious national origin, then surely Skye wouldn't take her to the authorities, and you could retain the surely my relatives are/will be looking for me characteristic she has in the game. I think the abandoned baby aspect would work in spite of all the ways it's been over and miss-used in this case because immigration has been such a hot topic of late and many would empathize with Penny's unknown mother who chose to leave her child in a place where she might have a better chance at life. Of course, Penny has always struck me as being somewhat like a young autistic man I know who is very much an extrovert and quite intellectually gifted. Penny would probably be a twice exceptional (2E) kid, like this young man, who are frequently not diagnosed as anything beyond frustrating to adults and parents because their gifts hide their deficiencies and they appear to be academically average on the standard tests, while those who really know them know there's something not average going on. Even today parents really have to fight to get this group of kids the right diagnoses and help, from what I understand there was very little even the most involved parents could do in that era.

    And now I'm going to ask what's probably a stupid question. I know a lot of writers are having decent success with indie publishing (like making the mortgage payment success, not living off of success). Are you pursuing/planning to pursue this with any of your back list or difficult to place books? I'll say right up front that I am the hardest possible target audience for this because I don't trust ebooks to stay where I put them and prefer hard copies, but even I buy the occasional ebook if I can't get something I want any other way and read it on my desktop because I don't have a dedicated ereading device. I know my son's friends who have more technologically liberal parents read on their smartphones--these are young men between eleven and thirteen.

  4. I'd have to look into the specific laws Skye'd have to negotiate if Penny is a foundling. I have actually done a little playing with the idea that Skye even knows the mother - not, obviously, in the Biblical sense; it's important to me that BookSkye be asexual - but perhaps a sister (so I could keep the family nose), perhaps someone he was once institutionalized with - because Skye's not in a comfortable part of the bell curve, either.

    I think this is something I have to do a big infodump into my head for, from which The Truth will emerge naturally (or not). I'm putting off the research primarily because I remember how researching the child "welfare" system for Switching Well affected me - I could only read a little at a time, because I'd get sick to my stomach and tense all over with rage at the sheer consistent stupidity with which this country has always treated the those who can't advocate for themselves.

    The mother being somebody Skye knows, and would protect if he could, but can't, beyond seeing to it that her children are cared for, has a number of implications for Penny's (and Woody's, if he makes the cut) story, some of which get easier and some of which get harder. I'm pleased to know you know somebody with a condition that would be consistent with Penny's character, as it gives me a place to start. Does she remind you of your autistic friend on the basis solely on her behavior in game, or have you read the "No Excuses" and "Crushing Scenes" and seen it there, too? The neuroatypical people I know personally tend to have actual disorders (depressives, paranoids, learning disorders) rather than nonstandard modes of functioning, so I haven't even been sure the autistic spectrum was the place to start.

    My working assumption has always been that Skye fell completely in love with Penny the first time he held her, and - having himself been raised in the kind of judgmental, harsh environment that makes hiding in the woods and watching the stars seem like the best possible life choice - he always assumed that anything that was wrong in her life or development was his fault, not hers. Penny herself was just Penny and whatever Penny was, was wonderful. While Skye's job is to keep her safe from all the cruelties of life that beset him. If he knows Penny to have been abandoned by someone he personally couldn't save from being sexually exploited, that amps up his reaction to Rhett quite a bit, and positions him to see consent issues where there aren't any. If he doesn't know the mother he will assume her to have been abandoned like a kitten or puppy, callously, which will entail an entirely different reaction to Rhett, closer to jealousy.

    Anyway, I am right at the beginning of this road. Even if it goes anywhere, it can take an astonishingly long time.

    There are no stupid questions. The trouble with indie publishing is that its success or failure hinges on the entrepreneurial abilities of the author - and I have none. (Frustratingly, if I did, I'd almost certainly have an agent by now; the cost-benefit analysis of taking me on would look very different.) And as often as I tell myself that I can learn, I find myself unable to do so. It's like doing a pull-up. I've been forced to try to do a pull-up as often as any other kid who went through school when I did, and I have never done one. Not once. Sometimes I think I don't have the upper body strength and other times I think it's because no one has ever tried seriously to teach me how the hell it's supposed to work - but in the event, the result is the same. It's not a matter of not quite getting to the bar; it's a matter of being incapable of bending my arms while hanging there. And the whole business of promoting a book to the point that people go actively looking to give me money for it feels exactly the same as that.

  5. I've read your Widespot shorts, and I'm not sure how much of what I think of Penny is based on that and how much is in game.
    The young man I know/knew was fifteen-seventeen at the time (home school group in former town). I don't think he'd quite figured out that romance was a thing yet, though he was obviously intellectually aware that people married, had kids, dated, etc. so in that area he was different than Penny, but I'm not sure that's autism, that could just be normal child development.
    He was very, very smart. He was not very far on the autism spectrum: he could function in the normal world without doing much more than making people think he was weird, unlike his older brother who couldn't function without an intermediary. He had rules for social interaction, like look people in the eyes when you're talking to them, which he followed very carefully. Unfortunately, they were over-generalized, which tends to come across as weird or creepy. (Try having a five minute conversation with the only break in eye contact being to blink. It's not what neurotypicals mean by eye contact.) This young man couldn't tell when he was way over the rest of our heads--he was taking calculus and was fascinated by it and couldn't see that we weren't following what he was saying, but were simply being polite listeners. From what I understand, this is very typical for high functioning autistic folks: they do okay following a set of rules for social interaction, in that they can get along well enough to live independently, hold down a job, etc, but they struggle with interpersonal relationships because they don't interpret, don't see, or something the social cues the rest of us follow.

    Having Penny be profoundly gifted (IQ 180+) might also work. Those kids tend to process the world in very different ways as well.

    I would think in the situation of a foundling Skye would lie. "Yes, this is my child. Her mother abandoned her." Homer might've coached him on what to say. If she's of a darker ethnicity than he is, it takes a few days for a baby's melanin to come in: my kids are all as pale as me for the first week or so. Sure, they have brown hair and eyes from the start, but their skin tone is very pale. (In fact, when my husband took off his wedding ring to get it resized his skin was absolutely white underneath. Paper white.) Maybe you know all this, but you've said that you don't have kids, and it is during the time frame when moms generally don't want visitors or to take baby out and about. You know you can tell me to shut up and I won't be offended.

    Anyway, there are a lot of families dealing with autism and other issues that affect education among home school families, so I'd suggest asking around for resources among the local home schoolers. Especially since you're likely going to be picking their brains anyway about the situation in the sixties if you stick with having Skye educate the kids. Texas has this reputation nowadays for having good laws and bad officials who try to make up rules, home schooling always being a state regulated thing. (Just as well, considering what Californians and Pennsylvanians have to put up with--wouldn't want their legislators messing up our laws.) No idea what it was like back then, except probably worse. Most states were.