Monthly Archives: April 2012

Of Dates and Histories

I blame my high school history teacher for a lot of things.

I blame him for the fact that I’m a history major. I blame him for my compulsion to seek out primary sources. I also blame him for my use of the phrase “the blood of the innocent” on the AP History Exam (we had made it to WWII, but the test covered the Cold War. In an essay that asked me to compare Poland and Czechoslovakia during the 1950s, I wasn’t sure how many people had died, or who had died, but I was reasonably sure that there was some bloodshed, and that some of it belonged to people who were likely innocent… that’s when I abandoned historical accuracy and tried to score points with literary merit).

I do not, however, blame him for my fascination with dates. Mr. Butler rarely asked “When?” but he always asked “Why?” and “So what?” I still frequently ask myself these latter two questions, especially when writing essays, but I do like dates. Seeing how many years or even days separated events. Charting changes over time. Reading a primary source, seeing the author’s logic go out the window, and then realizing she died only days later – you can get tangled up in dates, but used well, they add so much more meaning.

Perhaps for this reason, I’ve been good at dating my own writings over the years. From 2006-2009, I had a timed writing file/journal. Every entry is dated, which means that when I see some truly awful prose, I can remind myself that I was 15… and remind myself that there’s a reason I keep most of my teenage writing in a locked trunk. My production log for Hapax has also turned into a journal of sorts. Again, it’s cool to watch events unfold: on January 9, 2012, I note, “No news from DMP yet, which I’m reading as… no news from DMP yet.” Then we hit January 11, and BAM.  

But the coolest thing I just rediscovered was the very, very early musings that would eventually turn into Hapax. I had almost forgotten how far some elements date back, which makes me feel slightly old and slow. Until I remember that I wrote three plays, an opera libretto, and had a personal crisis in between those first glimmerings and actually writing the first draft.

Some edited extracts:

19/10/07

I want to explore that balance between being emotional and being logical. Of succeeding at all costs and being human, of what it means to be human in the first place. I’ve done historical fiction, I’ve done mystery, and I’ve done fantasy. Why not Science Fiction? Or maybe… maybe there’s another way to do this.

I shall ponder.

One of the benefits of being a teenager, I suppose. At this stage of my career, I can pretty much write whatever I please. After all, none of it’s going to be publishable and I’ll learn no matter what.

21/10/07

Maybe she doesn’t have to be an android. Let’s think; the fundamental problem here is emotion vs. logic, yes? So what else is there, besides an android, which could embody that predicament?

I keep coming back to fantasy. The problem is: this is a story about becoming human. Therefore, the protagonist cannot be human, which I think restricts me to the realm of Sci-Fi.

Try this, then. A magic android. An android made not from circuitry, but from spells. Hey, if you can’t choose between fantasy and science fiction, go for both! Ok, let’s run with the magic android idea for a little.

If the MA had thoughts, would it have magic? No, no that’s just not fair. Can the two strands of SF even be successfully combined?

23/11/07 

Guess who’s still with me? That’s right. The Magic Android is still inside my head, and it doesn’t seem like she’s going to go away. She’s giving me a strong sense of herself; ironic, considering identity is partly what she’s searching for.

I’m not complaining, though! I love this; when a character comes to life and won’t leave me alone; when they demand I write something, anything; when they keep drawing my thoughts back to them… it’s absolutely amazing. But. I. Have. Stupid. Frozen. Fire. To. Finish.

Here’s my plan; I’m going to fix all the major stuff, but… I don’t have much left, from a creative point of view. At least I get further along with every novel, so hopefully I’ll be able to see this character’s story through to the very end.

 

And now, nearly five (dear Lord!) years later, it looks like I will.

PS. Joking aside, Mr. Butler was one of the best teachers I ever had. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Oamaru Recap

I’ve returned a wee bit early from Oamaru. Frankly, it reminded me of the Distillery District more than Black Creek – lots of galleries in a small, twisty section of town. Not quite what I expected, but very nice nonetheless. My early return doesn’t mean I wasn’t having a good time. It just means that I misjudged how long it would take me to do everything.

Yesterday, I had a very long, but very, very good day.

It started with what I intend to make a routine while travelling: a trip to the café for my daily caffeine fix and word count. The owner brought my Long Black just as my netbook flared to life.

“Doing a bit of catch-up, are we?” he asked, nodding at the screen.

“Um, no, actually. I’m writing.”

“Eh?”

“I’m a writer.”

“A writer!” He beamed. “We had a writer used to come round. Turned out three books sitting here.” He broke off suddenly, and gave me a stern look. “Well,” he said. “Get at it!”

So I did.

My next stop was the Steampunk HQ, located in a former grain storage building on the edge of the Victorian Precinct. Like most of Oamaru, it was smaller than I expected, and the steampunk a shade darker than I’m used to, but certainly worth the look.  Even better, I made friends with the curator, who told me that if I came to the North Otago Museum after lunch, she’d unearth some photos of nineteenth-century Oamaru, along with some more recent photos of its past steampunk exhibits.

I hit the public gardens next, but a sudden downpour hit me, so it was a rather bedraggled Canadian that darkened the doorstep of Annie’s Victorian Tearoom. A woman in period maid’s costume met me with a smile, and an eye on my soaked hair and jacket. “Would you be wanting a hot drink then, dear?”

“Yes, please.”

“Go on and sit anywhere you like…” She paused, and looked me over again. “But may I suggest by the fire?”

Yes, they had a real, wood fire. In a real fireplace. A Victorian tea set and gas-lamp graced the shelf behind my head, and a little old man played piano in the corner. My server had muttonchops. I sighed. I was home.

Now, I eat very quickly. It’s embarrassing, but I can’t help it. Turns out that fancy china is an excellent cure. And believe me, the food was delicious: flaky scones with dollops of cream perfect for cooling the mouth after a sip of hot coffee. As I paid, the server asked, “Was everything to your liking?”

“Oh, yes, you have no idea how much I needed this.”

He nodded. “You looked a bit rain-soaked, I’m glad you were able to warm up.”

“It’s not just that…”

We then got into a conversation about history and historical sites – apparently, he worked at a heritage site in Christchurch until the earthquake, and then moved down here to keep some of his period lifestyle. “I’m kind of a history geek,” he confided. (Males – there is no faster way to make me fall in love a little bit.)

Later, I went to the museum, where the steampunk curator works afternoons. As promised, she had a collection of photos to show me, and we talked for a while about Oamaru’s history, steampunk, and speculative fiction in general. The longer I stay here, the more I realize how rich New Zealand’s tradition of spec-fic is – and it’s not just Lord of the Rings. There’s something about the people, and the country, that works very well with this kind of literature.

And to finish the day, I went for a wander in the reserve just outside of town. Lots of huge, creaking trees, a few sheep, and a seacoast trail with breathtaking, ruggedly beautiful cliffs.

All in all, a thoroughly excellent experience… though I’m quite content to have left it at just the one day.

Hugo Nominees!

I’m totally jumping on the bandwagon a few hours late, but I just got back from Easter at the cathedral (quite a skilled choir there, and amazing acoustics). Anyway, as people have been tweeting and blogging, the nominees for the Hugo Awards are out: http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-history/2012-hugo-awards/

I just wanted to congratulate all the nominees; there’s some fantastic work being recognized, along with some hugely talented and creative people. Every year, I recognize more and more names/works on the list, but every year, I think, “There’s so much I haven’t read, and so much I want to read.” That’s the thing, I guess: there’s always more. Frankly, that thought makes me very happy.

And, since it’s Easter…

 

Misery Loves Company

I always knew this week would be hard. I’m typing this on Good Friday. Aside from all my family members’ birthdays, Easter is the main holiday I’m missing. This blog isn’t the place to get deeply into it, but suffice it to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the past few Easters with my church choir. The music is beautiful, as is the service, and I love the way Easter’s symbolism converges with the agricultural calendar.

On my mind this weekend...

All this to say that I’m a little wistful this weekend, an ocean away from the people and places that mean so much to me. I knew this would happen, and I was already prepared for a rough week.

Then I got sick. The shaking chills, plugged ears, swollen glands, tight-chested, coughing-until-you-feel-you-can’t-breathe kind of sick. I’m on the mend, but it was worst Tuesday night. At about 12:30 am, while I lay in bed, gasping and sweating, a movie and laughter blared in the room next to mine. I’d already asked them to turn it down once, and I certainly wasn’t leaving my bed again.   

That night, for the first time, I thought: You know what? Screw it. I want to go home. I miss my friends.  I want my apartment back. I’m sick, and alone, and living in a glorified dorm. Screw it.

I had enough sense to realize that my illness was likely behind this outpouring of emotion (at least in part). So, I told myself that if I felt as miserable in the morning, I would see the International Student Advisers.

Luckily, I didn’t have to. Then, after choir yesterday, I got to talking with one of the friends I’ve made here: a girl from California. The Californian admitted that she’d already been to the Advisers, and admonished me for not calling her in the depths of my misery.

It’s hard for me to ask for help. But sharing our homesickness was like taking a sigh of relief – just knowing there’s someone else who feels the same. It’s a nice reminder that opening up can be a good thing.  

And so… back on track, and looking forward to my trip to Oamaru – the Steampunk/Victoriana capital of the South Island (who knew, right?).  

No, I will NOT be asking them, "Are you hot?" or "Are you Amish?" or "Are those your real clothes?" Adventures in historical interpretation could be a whole other post, if not another blog entirely.