I woke up this morning dreaming of Tin-Tin. In full technicolor, for some reason. No, not live-action, just as he was drawn, only moving. As I sat up, I realized something. Well, two things. No… you ever have one of those mornings where your brain comes online and you have a flood of thoughts like they were just waiting impatiently for you to be awake again so you could think them? I’d like to think it’s not just me.
The first coherent thought was that I keep saying I never read comic books as a kid, and I was wrong. Tin-tin, Asterix and Obelix, those were comic books, they just weren’t superheroes and presented like American comics were, and they weren’t always in English. Secondly, the book I recently bought which made my First Reader lift a brow and wonder why I wanted it was likely me being very nostalgic. Thirdly, I needed to sit and write this post. Fourthly, I wonder if you can buy Tin-tin books and will they hold up to my memories of them?
Reading, and I suspect particularly early reading, shapes your writing. As I’ve talked more with other writers, I realize how much also early TV and movie viewing shapes us. On a panel with Edward McKeown and Larry Correia, I was talking about reading Hammett, Spillane, and Chandler, and they were referring to great noir movies – which had me flipping over my name card and jotting furious notes about what they’d liked, since I suspect I’ll like them too. A little later, chatting with fellow author James Young and other friends, I mentioned I wanted to write a mecha story, and what would they recommend to ground me in the genre? Again, a flurry of recommendations – only most of them, I think, are anime and cartoons from childhood. Which brings me back to Tin-tin.
I (mostly) didn’t read comic books as they were short, and didn’t contain a satisfying-to-me story. I never liked the vignette style of telling a story, and I still don’t. At the end of the book, I want an ending. Even if you know that Tin-tin and Snow are going to have other rollicking adventures, for the nonce they are safely at home (or at least safe) and the mystery has been resolved. I’m quite ordinary in that respect. Resolution, conclusion, some kind of happy ending. That’s what I as a reader like in my comic book, and in my other reading too, for the most part.
However, there’s another aspect of my early reading I imprinted on, and seem to still have to this day. It’s likely why, once I’d found the Baen Free Library, I read voraciously through it, and started to buy their books as I could afford them. And it’s certainly why I write. I like Adventure Stories. Tarzan of the Jungle, John Carter of Mars, my Dad’s Clive Cussler books, and a little later, his Tom Clancy’s. John Ringo’s Hymn Before Battle, Drake’s Belisaurius tales, Freer’s Dragon Ring, more than I can think of in my pre-caffeinated state. So it’s no surprise that as we were standing there in front of the dimly-lit shelves at the flea market, surrounded by incredible junk (it’s why I love walking through there so much. You never know what you’ll find) one cover caught my eye and made me pull it off the shelf, then refuse to put it back on. It was the title, see. It promised me adventure tales, and I’m a sucker for those – especially those written a century or more ago, when we writers weren’t so jaded, and not all of the world had been mapped and peered down on by the restless eyes of satellites. I wanted to explore the unknown and the unknowable with the characters of my stories, to brave the frontiers and our lives breaking trails no man had trod before.
“What did I want?
I wanted a Roc’s egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword,. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get u feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a like wench for my droit du seigneur–I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.
I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin.
I wanted Prestor John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be–instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.”
― Robert A. Heinlein,
So this is what I wanted to write. To capture that feeling I had as a girl, curled up somewhere in the sun, reading about the distant adventures that never were. I did, as a girl, strike out for gold and find it. I have ridden in a sled behind dogs. There’s a reason Robert Service’s work makes me cry, and Kipling resonates with me to my bones. I never had the other adventures, and I’m old and (hopefully) wise enough to know that adventuring is a miserable, boring, drudgesome thing which might end in your bones bleaching on a distant planet… But to have been there! To have gone for it! To have risked it all in the hopes of accomplishing something greater than oneself! This! This is why I write.
And this is why I pick up books that make the First Reader ask “Why are you buying that?”
“For research,” I answered, hugging it close. And then later, sitting with him and both of us reading, when I start chuckling and reading out loud the absurd bits, I think he appreciated why this book. Because it’s a window into another time, another place. Not necessarily one I’d like to go to, but certainly one that formed some of the stories I loved. And something I really can use for research – a contemporaneous, if subjective – account of wars and alarums around the world during a time when communications were slow and reinforcements were even slower. Because any book that was seriously title Startling Experiences, even one published 120 years ago, cannot be taken too seriously, and harks back to the days of pulp fiction and adventure tales and accounts from dark jungles full of mysterious peoples.