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Blast From the Past: The Good Kind of Othering

It’s late Wednesday night, I’m tired, and eagerly awaiting the vacation I start in just over a week’s time. I’m also as scatterbrained as hell and have been for most of the year. So, have a blast from the past.

The Good Kind of Othering

In an attempt to stay well away from the toxic soup of political matters, I’ve spent a lot of time this past week doing Other Stuff. This, I promise you, is a Good Thing, because my snark-o-matic was maxed out and the uber-cynical button stuck in the ‘on’ position.

While I’m quite sure there are those who enjoyed the results, it’s tiring and kind of draining when it lasts long enough: I’m the kind of extreme introvert who needs plenty of down time to recover from bouts of mega-snark.

Which means that I really, really shouldn’t go near the rather sad rant of a certain award-winning author who managed to let slip that she knows she’s a token winner but still thinks that’s okay because those who disagree are ___ist.

Sweetie, I’m humanist (as opposed to humanitarian which, like vegetarianism, is a dietary choice I’m not ready for). I don’t give a flying what sub-sub-group of humanity you belong to. My criteria for books I’ll read is “a good book”. My criteria for people I’ll make friends with is “a good person” (for values of ‘good’ which are somewhat quirky, but that’s Odds for you).

Books – fiction of all flavors – tend to work better if authors treat their characters the same way. Let them be people first and vehicles for the plot or theme or cause or whatever very much second. It’s not even that difficult to, provided you actually have some notion of how people work.

The first thing to remember with character-building is that no, not all people think the same way. We tend to assume that everyone thinks just like us (this is, in my view, one of the rare advantages of Oddity – you tend to find out relatively early that you don’t think the same way other people do. Then you often need to work out that other people are still people, but that’s a different issue). It’s one of those human failings and why so many folk don’t understand how anyone could possibly believe [insert religion or ideology here].

It works kind of like this: when we’re babies and toddlers, we learn really quickly and tend not to forget what we learn – but the knowledge we pick up shunts off into the automatic systems where it gets used without any conscious input on our part. How often do you think about how to walk? But there was a time when you had to work really hard to coordinate your legs and arms and the precise tilt of your body, and if you got it wrong you fell over.

As well as the obvious stuff like how to walk and talk and so on, we also picked up our basic view of life – call it the personal Theory of Everything – during that time frame. This is mostly when we humans learn what not-family people are “our kind” (generally, anyone who looks or acts differently than what we were around when we were growing up is not “our kind”), and what the rules are for interacting with other people.

Authors are supposed to make it possible for us to live inside the head of someone whose basic ruleset isn’t the same as ours. To do that, authors have to be able to imagine and understand someone whose life follows very different rules. This is a dangerous undertaking: it brings the risk of losing oneself to the Other (hence the heated debates that follow when someone tries to understand the motives and motivations of those who commit horrific crimes – there’s an almost atavistic fear that understanding something well enough will lead to it consuming the one seeking understanding… Where did you think the Cthulhu mythos came from? Whatever else he did and was, Lovecraft understood human fears like few others), as well as the fear that one will find it harder to mete out justice to someone whose motives are fully understood (this one does hold a certain amount of accuracy).

A good part of the whole notion that authors can’t write something they haven’t experienced or a person from a culture different from their own stems from this reflexive belief – as does the idea that a reader can’t identify with a character that isn’t enough like them.

To which I say bollocks. Humans aren’t telepathic. We don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head – but despite that we manage to be incredibly good at figuring out what other people think and what they feel. Of course we authors are going to use that in our characters, and of course readers are going to be able to identify with it if it’s done reasonably well. It’s one of the skills that we as a species are very good at.

Pity those who refuse to try for fear they will lose themselves to the Other. Pity them, but don’t let them make your choices for you.

A Post. Really. It Even Has Links

For the last couple months, I’ve been pretty good about having something ready to post every other Wednesday afternoon. This week, not so much. I thought I’d have a book ready to go and could do a promo post, but things happen and it’ll probably be ready by the end of the week. Read more

Words and the Lonely Writer, part 5 – Made Up Languages.

I don’t think there’s ever been a budding linguist — even those who aren’t writers — who hasn’t tried to make up their own language. I found attempts at this dating back to when I was eleven.  And maybe it’s not just linguists but weird kids.  My husband is a mathematician and he made up a language. Older son not only tried this, but then tried to teach it to us, and yelled about grammar errors.
The attempt is probably inevitable Budding Monster Hunters burn down buildings, budding Linguists (and weird kids) make up a language.  Well… languages don’t explode anything, but self-communication while important rarely justifies a whole new language.

But depending on how you go about it, as a writer, it can make your book more difficult to read. Read more

Christmas Magic is Live!

This was one of those stories that demanded to be written. Set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe, Christmas Magic takes place between Witchfire Burning and Light Magic. It was fun to write because I really love Quinn and the other characters in the story. It is now available for download from Amazon.

Here’s a short snippet: Read more

Assumptions Were Made

We retrieved Mrs. Dave from the place with the huge silver birds, yesterday. And while I’d like to claim I haven’t had an opportunity to sit down and write (and I haven’t. Not really. And only half a cup of coffee, which is the real tragedy) that’s mostly due to communication, or rather, the lack of it. Assumptions were made, is what I’m saying, and the part I’m not saying is going to remain unsaid. Read more

Reality bites, at least where traditional publishing is concerned

From time to time, I’m asked whether I think a writer should publish their book as an indie or try to go the traditional route. Depending on who it is, I might temper my response a little. By that, I mean I will tell them the decision is theirs to make. Then I ask them why they consider going the traditional route. Almost every time, the answer is the same: they want to get into bookstores. You know me. So you know my follow-up question is to ask them where the closest bookstore is, when the last time was they were in the store and how many books a year do they buy from there. Almost always, you can see the lightbulb go off over their head as they consider the question.  Read more

The weakest link

It’s been one those days, which, shall I say, has not gone well. We spent 7 hours sitting in our airport waiting for my younger son’s flight to leave (and him with connecting flights and business meetings to get to). The plane never ever arrived, and the Sharp – the airline company – don’t seem to have figured that telling their local front desk what is going on (let alone those saps, the passengers, who are paying more than a flight to New Zealand for this trip) is a really, really, really good idea. It’s not just good business sense, it is near essential for the little local tourism industry – which provides their customers and is our second biggest income earner and employer. Being unreliable is a problem for tourists and visitors. Sometimes that is unavoidable. Telling them they have 6 hours to spend at the beach, beats the trousers off leaving them sitting in the airport, guessing, getting angry, frustrated and upset.

Let’s be clear, the local staff do a great job and are very popular with the islanders. The pilots are exceptionally competent – flying a small ‘plane (16 seater) into a small, windy roaring-forties airstrip. If you have been on this run, you’re a skilled pilot, used to dealing with exceptionally bad conditions, in an old-ish aircraft, without the modern tools to make easier. One fondly assumes the ground-crews and mechanics do a good job as none of the planes have crashed. But their communication – presumably one person — suck, letting all of the rest down. Read more