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Viewing Blog: Peni Griffin - Idea Garage Sale, Most Recent at Top
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The cliche question all authors hate - "Where do you get your ideas?" The idea is the easy part. The idea is so easy to get, you can't give them away. I'm here to give them away, to share them, and invite you to recognize yours. We're all creative. Not all of us pay attention.
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1. The Morning After the Election

Social injustice is like depression.

It's always there, lurking. You clear it in your immediate vicinity for awhile, but you know it's still out there affecting someone, and you know it will come back to you, and you know that it's frequently fatal. It feels like no progress is ever made.

But progress is made, so gradually that we don't notice until we compare a sufficiently distant past with the present. More people understand more about the causes and processes that create the condition than ever before, and are constantly working to improve our tools to combat it. It is more curable than it ever was, though less curable than it will be. It is more preventable than it ever was, though not as preventable as it should be. Failure happens again and again and again, but success can't happen without the risk of failure.

You can't control anyone else. You can't always control yourself. But you can do more than despair. Keep the manuscript in the mail. Take your meds (as long as you can get them). Donate if you can, march if you can, stand firm if you can. Vote in the little elections as well as the big. Speak when It wants you to shut up and die.

If you can do nothing else, choose kindness at every opportunity life gives you for cruelty. It's the only way to reduce suffering, your own and others.

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2. Back in the saddle again?

Sorry, no ideas for sale today.

But I just thought I'd check in and say I'm working on the lesbian western again, despite weirdness with the sleep schedule and other factors.

Mind you, this is the easy kind of work - revision. Can I face the hard stuff, the querying and the hunting down of people to query? That remains to be seen.

But it's good to be with Len again. And I can't query till revision is done, so this is a start.

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3. Idea Garage Sale: Looking Back

Yes, I'm still alive. And I have mysteriously received this brief list of historical novels published in 2116, concerning the anniversary of so very much. Of varied quality, what they have in common is 20/20 hindsight - either the protagonist, or the narrator, keeps throwing a backward-glowing light on events, finding significance and drawing conclusions that those of us living through them couldn't because we lack the context of what's coming. From that direction, it all looks inevitable. From this direction, nothing looks inevitable, or even probable, as we bungee-jump into the future.

Pokemon Bro - A middle school transboy must confront his own latent misogyny when girls face off against boys in the neighborhoodwide race to "catch 'em all"
Coup de Theater - The members of a theater troupe in Ankara get through the night of the coup in various ways, their stories and personalities intertwining with the play they're rehearsing to throw ironic light on near-future Turkish history.
Battle of the Thames - A black comedy centered on (and improving on) the watergoing shenanigans of campaigners for and against Britain's remaining in the European Union, soon to be a major holomotion picture with an ensemble cast of big names, all of them prettier than the people they'll be portraying.
Traffic Stop An unforgiving but ultimately hopeful story of police brutality, racial injustice, and indomitable courage. The protagonist is an idealistic African-American policeman.
Su Vota es Su Voce - Originally written in Spanglish, a romantic comedy about a political blogger and the campaign manager she hounds for information, set against the background of the American primaries. Contains several significant anachronisms.

This has been such a weird year; and we're only half done with it.

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4. Idea Garage Sale: Mice in the Alien Museum?

You have, of course, had story dreams, brilliant plots and situations that melted away and/or turned to nonsense as you woke. If you cultivate a certain habit of mind, you will start working on turning them into usable stories before you even wake up, and may even stave off the disappointment of realizing that it wasn't, in fact, brilliant for several minutes after waking. The one I had the other day sprawled out in so many directions that the viewpoint-I in the dream pulled out paper and started putting down notes, as fast as I could, and quickly came to realize that it sprawled way too much. I'd have to cut out 3/4s of the potential to make it a book; and all of the characters to make it an RPG campaign. But, as I woke and started putting my brain in order for the day, I realized that what I had here was a perfectly viable computer game scenario. Something I don't have the skills to develop, and insufficient force of will to learn at this juncture.

Or perhaps I should say that my creative engagement with the idea does not reach the threshold necessary to give me the force of will to learn. The subconscious doesn't care in the slightest whether you have the practical skills necessary to make the vision it hands you into something approximating reality. If it did, far fewer people would produce a sufficient number of works to gain the necessary skills to produce them (because the only way to learn this stuff is to do it, and you need an idea urging you on).

Anyway, the dream involved a small group of people who had been in some sort of aircraft (something orange and vaguely resembling a space shuttle) when it crashed in some isolated rocky frozen location. Deprived of all their communication technology and lacking almost all survival gear necessary to survive there, when they spy a set of Cyclopean metal doors set into a snowy cliff-face they have no hesitation about getting through them, though they assume it to be a secret installation of some government's. (Bypassing the security of these doors would presumably be the first challenge to solve in the game, but the dream hand-waved it, as all the Good Stuff was on the other side of the doors.)

Inside, they find themselves in a vasty shadowy warehouse/museum style place, full of computer banks and displays and stored modern human artifacts, all oddly mundane, but neatly labeled in a weird alphabet. Everything a modern human needs to survive is in this place, though arranged according to some inexplicable system, so that washers and dryers are on opposite ends of the place and there are no chairs anywhere near the tables, etc. Moreover, the place is frequented by Cyclopean metallic bipedal figures, who may be cyborgs or exosuits or straight-up robots, who are apparently maintaining the facility, but whose movements make no intuitive sense. Moreover, they don't seem to be using familiar senses - they can't detect a human running between their feet, but may inexplicably home in on one holding still behind a refrigerator. They are alien, truly alien - the survivors of the crash can't find a point of commonality that makes their behavior intuitive in any way.

The characters were all civilians who had deep distracting backstories and personal motivations that provided a lot of the sprawl my Viewpoint-I notetaker was trying to cut out. The game would ideally offer a selection of character avatars who could be played solo or in groups, possibly with AIs that could (simlike) run uncontrolled to allow a player to head-hop if she chose, all with individualized backstories and abilities that would affect gameplay. Pregame prep would involve choosing your team of survivors (I don't think the setting would lend itself to single-avatar play - you'd need to be in two places at once too often, given the hugeness and the lack of human-logical spatial connection among the exhibits), or perhaps being assigned one randomly and having to figure out how to make the best of it. You could have a lot of mini-adventures and puzzles, but the main three plot problems to solve would be:

1) Rescue/escape - using the materials at hand either to communicate with the outside world, or to repair the orange shuttle and leave.
2) Survival - as effective mice in this environment so full of useful stuff, yet so poorly designed from the point of view of human survival, dodging aliens whose behavior is bizarrely inexplicable.
3) Figuring out what in tarnation the aliens are doing here. Are they hostile, benevolent, or neutral? Are the scientists, soldiers, automata, reality TV stars? And what is the appropriate human response to whatever it is they are doing?

The biggest storytelling challenge here would be to establish the alien abilities, logic, and purpose in such a way that all the counterintuitive stuff in the warehouse's arrangement and the bipeds' behavior becomes logical when the character finally figures out the correct angle of view, without destroying the alien vibe. The chief coding problem would be to transfer that kind of logic to the AI, so that it behaves in a consistent manner that appears inconsistent.

I don't even play this kind of game. How in the world did I come to dream about it?

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5. Warp Drive!

No, seriously, it's working!

It's too late at night to discuss this in depth. I'm just going to leave this hear for people to get their space opera geek on.

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6. Good for Her!

Beverley Cleary is a hundred today, and she is still here.

Wow.

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7. Idea Garage Sale: Intrepid Girl Reporter!

So my husband sent me a link this week to a story of a 9-year-old intrepid girl reporter who scooped adult reporters in breaking a murder story, and took some heat in the comments section for it.

And of course my first thought was: "Whoa, book!"

Possibly series, because Intrepid Girl Reporter is a premise that can keep right on giving.

The author of this theoretical book/series would do well to sit down and work some stuff out ahead of time. The very first question is: What kind of tone to go for? Because there's no question that a comedy/adventure 9-Year-Old Girl Reporter would get better marketing and fewer challenges than a realistic contemporary or suspense 9-Year-Old Girl Reporter. But there's no room for the murder in the comedy/adventure book, and the realistic contemporary or suspense book would get much the same reaction from the gatekeepers as this little girl is getting in the comments section. Do it well enough, you might get awards; do it not quite well enough, or (even worse) do it well enough and be let down by your publisher and marketing department, and all you'll get is grief, banning, and vitriol.

Because we live in a world that is hysterically determined to pretend that 9-year-old girls would be safe if we could shield them from the knowledge of bad things. Which is BS, especially considering what happens to so many real 9-year-old girls who are living in poverty, or in affluent cages, or hospitals, or refugee camps, or INS holding pens, or -

Well, you get the idea. I'll spare you the rant.

But you won't be able to spare yourself your own rants as you look into the kind of news that a 9-year-old could report, and observe the kind of abuses that they're subjected to in the name of preserving their innocence - I'm sure most of the people who came down on her in her comments section felt self-righteously certain that they were only trying to protect her. You will get angry in the process of working up the material for this book, even if you go the comedy/adventure route.

A lot of questions need answering before starting Chapter 1. Is the focus on solving a mystery, or on doing her self-appointed job? A reporter's life is a series of stories moving by at breakneck speed, many of them unresolved; but a book, even one that is structured as a string of anecdotes, needs some cohesive structure. Will this be a plot structure, or a character structure? What resolution will signal the end of the book? Will such a resolution provide a solid platform for construction of another book, should you want to go the series route?

Either way, What motivates her? In real life, 9-year-old girls are perfectly capable are deciding out of the blue that they were born to report the news, and then making it happen. In a book, this is artistically unsatisfying and will be read as poor characterization. She needs, if not some specific precipitating event, a backstory and character arc that "explain" the reporter vocation. If she's an Asperger's kid who has found that the structure of formal interview situation makes talking to people more interesting than uncomfortable, or if she has some deep mystery in her own life which she plans to solve once she's got enough experience in tracking down The Truth, or whatever, the audience will Get It - but you'd better talk to actual Asperger's kids, or have a pretty good idea of The Truth of her deep mystery, or you're getting called out.

What about her parents? Not just any set of parents will support and encourage any vocation, let alone one that involves knocking on doors to interview strange adults, in a child this age. Parents exist in the background of children's stories, and cannot be allowed to supply motivating forces or solutions; but they should not be shadowy nonentities either.

Finally, you'd need a clear picture of her community and her place in it. "Realistic contemporary" versions of the story with identical premise and plot would have very different effects, if one is set in a middle-class suburb in Ohio, one in working class Houston, and one in affluent gated community in Connecticut. In any of these settings, the heroine would have very different relationships to the community she was trying to serve, if she went to private school, public school, charter school, or was home-schooled. Her resources and challenges will vary with her setting and social position, as will her supporters and her detractors.

Or, you could do some investigative reporting, find out the real story of the real little girl (which will be messy and full of loose ends because life's like that), and write a non-fiction book.

But I really think that's her book to write, eventually, don't you?

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8. Idea Garage Sale: Miscellany

I'm still here, in a weird place creatively and not at all to be trusted with the responsibility of a query. But have a few scattershot ideas scrounged from the universe.

Natural scientists who routinely tag themselves like the animals they study. No, seriously, there's scientists who do this. (I read it on Tumblr so it must be so! Or at least it can be rendered plausible, which is all the story really requires.) Obviously, this is a murder mystery.

Vampires doing scientific work in hostile environments. How do the pressures of the Marianas Trench affect them? How do they fare in the darkness of space?

Someday, society transcends capitalism (which, face it, does not work for the majority of us; if we lead lives of quiet desperation, the economic system we try to live in bears a huge part of the blame) and realizes that there's enough wealth in the system for everyone, not just those who are good at manipulating money, to survive and pursue lives free of the fear of poverty. What does that society look like, really? Resist the morphic field that pushes you to turn it into a dystopia, or a utopia for that matter. Who does the system work for? Who does it fail?

All systems, after all, fail somebody.

Consider your favorite fairy tales and myths from the perspective that all the different forms of gender expression and sexuality have always existed as a normal part of human experience. Which myths, tropes, and archetypes, which stories, bloom with unexpected possibility if we go looking for those experiences in them? Was Daphne asexual? Are the fairies intersex? How did Hercules feel during the time he spent disguised as a woman? Was it really a disguise?

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9. Idea Garage Sale: The Troll and the Other

So has anybody written a thriller about net trolls yet?

Trolling is not a new phenomenon, as any teacher or performer can tell you. There's an irreducible number of people who feel that enthusiasm is ridiculous and get some sort of satisfaction out of baiting people. I'm not talking about giving people enough rope to hang themselves, which can be a useful service - I'm talking about poking people until they holler for one's own amusement.

Once upon a time, this could only be done face-to-face, which inevitably made it personal and potentially risky. Then the advent of news media made it possible to use op-ed pages and hoaxing to poke people at one remove. But the internet brings trolling into the realm of the casual hobby - it is now possible to annoy more people than ever before, with less effort. Social media, e-mail, websites, comment sections - stir the pot and laugh at how angry people get, feel the power of your idle nastiness, without any danger of being hit on the nose or becoming persona non grata in every venue in town (because town is infinitely large and you can always move on). It's wholesale, impersonal bullying, and it's practically consequence free. Even if it advances to cyberstalking and illegal activity, if you choose your victims well, no one's likely to be able to bring you to book for it.

But what if you poke the wrong bear one too many times?

The same qualities of the internet that protect you from the wrath of your victims, make you vulnerable to the skilled user who decides to turn the tables on you.

Thrillers do not necessarily require a sympathetic protagonist; personally I prefer them because if I'm going to be spending time with them I want to be able to root for them. Nor do I personally enjoy stories that are raining vengeance down on the head of the evil protagonist; they leave me with a nasty taste in my mouth. But the obvious angle here is the troll as protagonist. Maybe it's someone who targets people for what she believes are moral reasons - I don't suppose many of us would feel too bad about a troll whipping up the social media of the KKK into foaming frenzies. Yet it should be clear from the outset that this is an excuse, and that her moral superiority to her targets is problematic at best. She has proper activist outlets available to her, of which she does not avail herself, and she's apt to go for the motes in the eyes of others while ignoring the beam in her own. In her real life she feels powerless, and rather than taking real-world action to correct this, she takes out her feelings being an anonymous internet bully.

For best results, her situation should be a hard one; her weakness and cowardice should be of a sort and in a style that will rouse the audience to say "yes I see but," not "oh get off your butt and do something about it." She is redeemable, but has a steep character arc and some hard lessons to learn before the audience will be ready to embrace her.

So we have someone who smothers fragility in smugness and seeks self-esteem in emotional sadism because she doesn't know any other way to get it. Probably there's something/someone she truly cares about besides herself - a sibling, perhaps, or a pet or a friend. She is young because trolling is a young person's game. She has a lot of time on her hands, much of which she might prefer to spend doing something else but for some reason (disability? Restrictive life circumstances?) is trapped at her computer instead, and trolling relieves her frustration. And she eventually takes that frustration out in the wrong venue, on the wrong person.

Most people, when they realize they're being trolled, are content to shut the troll down - block the username from private space; petition to get it banned in a public, moderated one; turn off anon posting; simply stop replying. But our protagonist hits someone on a very sore spot indeed; and this particular person is the troll's evil double, only more so. Someone with a similar base personality, possibly even a similar base situation to the protagonist, but someone who has concluded that the best defense for the squishy miserable self is a strong offense. Threats are not walked away from - they are turned on, and annihilated.

At first it's fun, going head-to-head with someone playing the same game; but it's not a game to the Other anymore, it's deadly serious. Other is very, very good at finding people's buttons, much better than Troll, and Troll soon finds that having your buttons pressed with unerring accuracy, repeatedly, is no fun at all. (The reader is allowed to think "Serves you right" at this point.) When she finds herself weeping after a hit that strikes at the core of her situation she tries to detach.

But that's not good enough for Other. Hacking her social media, identity theft, online spying - things Troll would never have thought of doing because they'd destroy her sense of moral high ground are fair game for Other. Real life consequences start to accumulate, and her initial situation becomes steadily worse.

The threat that forces her to stop retreating and taking pot-shots from the shadows is not likely to be to her directly. If we are too cowardly to stand up for ourselves, we pretty much have to bottom out to do it; if cowardice is paired with low self-esteem, we are likely to assume that bottoming out is no more than we deserve. No, what forces her to turn is that thing/person/pet she truly cares about. Because of course the Other finds out what that thing/person/pet is, and goes for it.

We will be brave and effective for those we love, even when we wouldn't raise a hand to save ourselves.

She will need to learn new skills for this. She will need to confront herself and the depth of the resemblance between herself and her persecutor. She will probably need an ally, and for maximum impact this should be someone she has no right to expect help from, someone she's bullied, who knows who she is and what she does and whose first response is to say: "Serve you right." Someone who will show her what generosity looks like.

It is not necessary for the ending to, strictly speaking, be happy. If Troll finds a core of true worth and breaks out of her old behavior pattern, she does not need to destroy Other. She can even be destroyed (in one sense or another) herself. Work out what she loves and the nature of Other's threat to it, and the emotionally satisfying climax, in which perhaps she loses and wins at once, or wins by changing the definition of losing (she and Other having shared a twisted set of rules between them) will emerge naturally.

The thought of writing all this makes me tired, though.

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10. Idea Garage Sale: A Little Bit of Fun with First Lines

The days the gravity failed, nothing ever got done.

Hindsight being 20/20, I should've seen what was coming the moment the sky turned royal purple; but I wasn't paying attention.

Her philosophy of life was simple: When offered two choices, select the third one hiding behind them.

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11. Events!

I'm driving up to San Marcos in a little bit to hear Dr. James Adavasio speak and to prove to myself that, little by little, I am coming back. Sunday I'll be going to Austin, to BookPeople and Greg Leitich-Smith's book launch.

On Veteran's Day, I took Moby out for a bit, to replace two dodgy tires and get the oil and coolant checked. I feel a lot of kinship with Moby at the moment, as bits of him stop working properly and are replaced - the driver's side seat belt, the interior door handle - or not - one of the door locks, that strip of chrome that the gas station ate when I parked a bit too close to the pump. Yet he keeps moving, and so do I.

And whereas, someday, inevitably, Moby will limp off to the junkyard to be stripped down for parts, or get donated to one of those charities that takes even cars that won't move anymore to generate money in some mysterious way (which presumably amounts to the same thing), I will someday cycle all the way up again, and transform all the mental coolant and oil I've been sucking down into - something. I don't know what. But I know I will. It's in there. Somewhere.

Gestating.

Whether I can transform whatever it is into income to justify my existence to the consumer society, I don't know. So I stick that consideration onto the shelf in my head marked "Stuff I can't do anything about right now" and keep gestating, and even occasionally driving to hear speakers and cheer other authors on.

Meanwhile, I'd better get some lunch. Because lunch is inevitable.

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12. Always an Author

Sometimes I wonder, as the months without school visits turn into years, as I write without attempting to publish, as I stare at Publishers Market listings and don't start a query, if I'm still an author.

Monday, I proofed galleys for a short story I recently sold (for remarkably little money; but it's a remarkably little story) and got a fan letter from a child who, in the course of reading The Ghost Sitter, "went from hating reading to loving it!!" (Who wants to write for grownups? Grownups don't write letters like that. You're lucky if you can get one exclamation mark out of a grownup.)

So, yeah, just because I live in professional limbo right now doesn't mean I'm not the woman who wrote The Ghost Sitter and Switching Well - and other things less likely to generate fanmail. Maybe my time is over and I'll never sell again; or maybe I'm about to get that query mojo working again and have a renaissance that catapults me into the literary stratosphere. (Hey, stranger things have happened.) Regardless, what I've already done will remain valid.

Today is Marty McFly Day - the day he spent in "the future" in Back to the Future II (IMHO the best of the series). From today forward, the Back to the Future movies will be entirely set in the past. Now there's a time paradox for you! Time does that, keeps rolling on over and past us and our creations, changes how they look and inevitably, eventually, destroys both us and them. But it takes a long time; and even dead work may be resurrected in unexpected ways. Why, not long ago a new passage to the Epic of Gilgamesh was discovered! (As one tumblr user observed, this means that the Gilgamesh fandom is the one that's had the longest wait for an update, by a considerable margin.)

The work is resilient, it is tough, and it can go on when we can't. Or won't. Or don't.

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13. Domestic Analogies. I Can Always Make Them.

Still alive here, and a miracle occurred - I learned how to install fly-front zippers! Part of my problem, it turned out, was that the markings on the pattern were confusing me. Now that everything's clicked, I can ignore them. I also successfully did a new, and more difficult, alteration to the pattern than anything I've done before; something I would have been incapable of doing six months ago, just because I couldn't have focused long enough to do it. So I have four pairs of pants that fit perfectly in the back and almost perfectly in the front - I still have some bugs to work out in fitting the waistband. But even allowing for that and my inability to get all the basting stitches pulled, they're still better than anything I could have gotten at a store. I probably cried less than I would have if I'd gone shopping, too.

None of which, alas, enables me to do what I need to do to start sending queries out again.

The trouble with queries is, that they are the exact opposite of how I need to do things. I can force myself to write them, but I inevitably do them badly. Sometimes, so badly that I wake up in the middle of the night with that excruciating twist in the stomach that says: "Holey cheese that was the worst possible way to do that and it's too late to take it back now."

And other people's advice on how to write them? Is a lot like the markings on the pattern intended to help me install a zipper. Obviously they work for some people - probably most people - and I needed them in order to learn, but they didn't - couldn't - take my alterations into account; and the markings and instructions and diagram laid things out so antithetically to the way I learn things my illegible notes on the instruction sheet say things like "And by left they mean right" and "Line up with the top not the bottom." (That my notes are illegible doesn't matter; making them renders it unnecessary for me ever to refer to them.) I get this in recipes, too. Food doesn't behave the way the recipe says it will, no matter how closely I follow the instructions. So after I've made a dish a few times and start succeeding with it, I ignore the recipe. Level measurement gets me a different result every time, but I make pancakes with scant measures of milk and heaping measurements of baking powder and they're good, low-sodium pancakes, which is what I'm after.

All of which gives me hope that I'm going to get the query thing down eventually, too. The truth is I've never sold anything on a pitch or a query - I've only ever sold on the work, and on personal contact with the editor. And I have no freaking clue how agents work as human beings let alone as professionals. They might as well be aliens, for all I can think my way into their space. It's really, really tempting to send the first X pages with a list of credits and a cover letter that says: "Look, I'm good at writing stories but I suck at selling things. Read the enclosed and if you want to see the rest, let me know. YA, lesbian western, complete, about 70,600 words. Thank you for your time."

For one thing, the agent who doesn't just delete that is probably an agent I could work with.

But that's not how the industry works. So I will just have to keep sending out queries full of excruciatingly wrong things to say like I kept putting in and ripping out zippers, like I kept throwing out pancakes with runny middles, till something clicks and I figure out the point at which the advice givers tell me to go left and I need to turn right.

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14. Idea Garage Sale: Cults of Cahokia?

So it's a good year for the archeology of the Moundbuilders, looks like. This week my sources (i.e. random internet news sources I follow; thanks, tumblr!) tell me that recent analysis of mass graves at Cahokia reveal them to be full of people who were from Cahokia, not Aztec-style war captives as had previously been speculated.

Specifically, the researchers looked at two different, but chronologically related, mass graves. In one, over 200 young women who died in ways that didn't leave obvious marks on their bodies were laid out and stacked up in neat rows.

In another one nearby, however, a mixed lot of men and women, not quite 40 in all, between the ages of 15 and 45, were tumbled together after being killed in gruesome, spectacular, and obvious ways - stone points still embedded in their bones, decapitation, all the awful violence of warfare or massacre.

When these graves were first excavated, slotting them into a narrative similar to the historic MesoAmerican custom (not unknown to historical Europeans, either) of appeasing the gods with captives taken from conquered and subject peoples rather than your own. But modern methods of analysis are allowing archeologists to find out quite a lot of personal information about bones these days, and the indications are strong that all the bodies belong to natives or long-term residents of the Cahokia region.

Furthermore - and this is where my story nose starts twitching - the tidy grave, though more uniform in appearance, is more diverse biologically than the messy, violent grave, which contains people biologically more distinct from other people unearthed at the site, and more similar to each other, than one would expect from a random sampling.

So the massacred people all belonged to the same extended family; and the presumed sacrifices were drawn from the general population.

I don't know about you, but this snaps into a definite picture in my head: a tyrannical ruling elite imposing an increasingly unbearable young-woman tax on their subjects to feed an implacable god to stave off some real or imagined disaster. Until the ruled, or a rival, couldn't take it anymore and revolted in a vengeful night of horror...

This sort of thing, after all, does happen. Read the history of any country, any group of people, any power structure. It's likely to involve politics, economics, and personal pathology with a veneer of religion making it easy to go too far - for it can't possibly be evil if God requires it, right? You're just doing your job...

But that is only a general outline. For a solid theory, one would have to examine more data and run more tests and compare dates (or rather, date ranges; all date measuring tech necessarily gives results in a range within a safe margin of error). If it can be established that the tidy sacrifices precede the messy massacre, that's one story; but if the messy massacre precedes, or occurs halfway through, those are very different stories.

And as far as I could tell reading the article, there's still much that isn't known about how the inhabitants of the tidy graves died. Human sacrifice is one way to account for their uniformity in age, burial method, etc.; but it's not the only conceivable one. Might there have been an epidemic in an institution which concentrated young women into a single physical space, some analog to a convent or a girl's finishing school?

And though the story that forms in my head associates the massacred remains with guilty parties, it is by no means unheard of for a disadvantaged group to take the punishment belonging to an advantaged group; or for a group to be powerful in a way that doesn't protect them from scapegoating and mob violence (cf the history of anti-semitism, for example); or for the innocent to be punished along with their guilty relatives; or for institutions to overwhelm the conscience of individuals to a point that personal guilt and innocence aren't even useful concepts. The sacrifices may have been criminals in ways we wouldn't view as crime; the massacred may have been virtuous in ways from which we recoil.

All of which is overwhelming to one who wishes to write a story about it suitable for publication. Archeologists don't have to come out with any one "truth" - they can always say "we need more data!" and dive back in. Fiction writers, however, have to do a certain level of research (varying with their personal comfort level and the intended market) and then commit to a narrative, centered on one character. Most modern American narratives prefer a sympathetic protagonist who triumphs in the end, which limits your narrative choices. You can try to buck this trend and opt for an unsympathetic protagonist and/or a tragic ending, if you're prepared for the flak you'll take from readers, reviewers, and armchair moralists on the hunt for the motes in the eyes of others, who will all assume that to write from a character's viewpoint is the same thing as endorsing that character's viewpoint.

If you can find your way to a narrative and a protagonist based on this setting and this situation, however - what a book that would be! Universal human themes and experiences, in a unique setting that doesn't have the thumbprints of dozens of pulp novelists all over it!

The more I think about it, the more certain I am that there's a Great Native American Historical Novelist out there, somewhere, being discouraged from writing a whole string of powerful works about the great pre-Columbian civilizations, which, when finally published, will be runaway bestsellers and create a new subgenre of historical fiction, centered on Native American history and viewpoints.

And I hope I live long enough to read them.

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15. Not Sure How Much This Helps

Despite frontloading a lot of the second-guessing of myself, and going in with a sense of not having a damn thing of use to offer; despite both of us being unreasonably tired and Damon missing half of Saturday due to health crap; despite a surprisingly small dealer's room (no t-shirts? How can there be no t-shirts?), Armadillocon was good for me this year.

I can never remember what I say on panels, though I always think afterwards of things I absolutely should have said, but after each one someone in the audience sought me out to remark favorably on what I said, and moreover on how I said it. I always have the vague sense that I've talked too much (and too loud, and too diffusely) and not said any of the right things, but the audience - or these specific portions of the audience anyway - perceives this as me being passionate about things.

That is certainly true as far as it goes. And apparently the other panelists don't find it too obnoxious, either, because when the ghost story panel was short of participants, at the tag-end of the day Saturday, someone I'd been on with earlier in the day invited me to get out of the audience and onto the panel. So I did. Because, ghost stories. And we were all weird by then anyhow, it wasn't just me.

I once again sat through a panel on promotion and was once again admonished that all sales involve "selling myself" and once again concluded that if that's true, I'm screwed, because I can't sell myself. This is not reluctance; this is not naivete; this is not cowardice; this is demonstrated fact. You might as well tell me to flap my arms and fly to the moon, or do a pull-up (honestly, how? I've never managed even one; I can't even bend my elbows), or fall asleep because it's bedtime. I've had 54 years to try this advice and it's not going to work because I can't do it, and my ability to network at all is small.

But I have sold books, and I have given workshops and been on panels that apparently were good for some of the participants, and I do get traffic on this blog, and somehow I've accumulated 337 simblr followers as of this morning, the vast majority of whom are not spammers, without any promotion at all. This is all small, but real. I'm okay with small success, and all my small successes have been the result of me telling stories and talking about the things I care about and basically engaging passionately with something, and conveying that engagement to people outside of it.

I do not know how to translate Being All About the Story into, say, a living wage.

But it's clear enough that Being All About the Story has to be where I start, or nothing else is going to happen at all.

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16. Road Trip Time

Off to Armadillocon in the morning. We're leaving early so we can make a couple of stops on the way. My first panel is at 5:00 tomorrow.

If you're there too, find a panel I'm on and come say hi.

Maybe you can help me figure out this e-reader I bought.

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17. Armadillocon 2015, Very Soon

The Armadillocon schedule is up.

I feel kind of detached from it all, as if I'm not really going. But I'll be there, and I expect I'll be present enough at the time. It's just that I'm so weird right now.

If you're there too feel free to say hi.

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18. Publishing Today

Nothing sums up modern publishing like the fact that Lois McMaster Bujold's fourth theological thriller set in the World of Five Gods did not get picked up by the publisher, so she's e-pubbing it herself.

And now I have to cave in and get an e-reader. Because there's not going to be a print run, and Bujold is a read-while-walking, read-while-eating, take-book-to-bed-to-finish-chapter-oh-look-I-finished-and-it's-three-AM author.

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19. Idea Garage Sale: Silence

The headlines this week are full of story ideas, and I live in the constant awareness of the historical novels that will be written about 2015 in the future - but today I am so tired.

I am always so tired these days.

I am still working, but I have to work differently, in an apparently scattershot fashion - opportunistically recognizing what I do and do not have the energy for at any given time. The Idea Garage Sale was useful to me when I had energy all the time, more than I needed. When I had so many ideas crowding my brain I needed an outlet for the ones distracting me from doing the work necessary to take one idea from the shining perfection of the initial image in my head to the less perfect, but usable, reality. And then it was good discipline to form the week around and give it shape.

But right now it's draining me.

This isn't a good-by post. I think it's important to have something active that turns up when someone googles your name. I will certainly post when I have something to say.

But I have two modes, silent and can't-shut-up.

I think I need to be silent for a little while.

What does it say about me, I wonder, that I look at those last two lines and think: "Okay, that's the beginning of a short story? Science fiction, I think."

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20.

Enabling the creativity of others may or may not be inherently creative; may or may not advance your career; may or may not be rewarded in any way.

But it is not nothing, and is worth doing.

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21. This can be "fun with first lines" if you want it to.

My house smells like wet possum and I went to bed at 6:30 this morning. These facts are not unrelated.

(No wonder I'm always tired.)

Happy Memorial Day.

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22. Starting over and over and over and over...

Starting with the gunshots trims the first chapter too much. You don't know Len and if you don't know Len it's not worth it to keep reading. I'll never sell it like this and I don't know where to start now.

This is what I get for following advice about how to make your query and first pages attractive...I should know by now that what works for other people doesn't work for me, and no one can tell me what will work, because nobody knows. It's trial and error time again and I have no way to measure success short of acceptance, which means I could get several rejections even with the winning format and never know I'd hit it.

Life in the skinny part of the bell curve is tough, film at eleven.

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23. A Modest Proposal

Many, many things are wrong in my life right now.

But today is a good day.

We should have a Marriage Day holiday, with parades and picnics and love story movie marathons (focusing on forbidden love stories of all sorts, with happy endings), commemorating June 12, 1967, the day of the Loving vs. Virginia decision that struck down anti-miscegenation laws, and June 26, 2015, the day "same-sex marriage" became just "marriage."

Hmm, a series of historical romances about the human cost of nonsensical laws, there's an idea...

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24. Armadillocon 2015

I just booked Damon's membership and our room for Armadillocon 2015.

I'm not sure why they want me. I'm not sure I'm a draw. I'm not sure I'm up to it. But I'm going and it'll sort itself out.

Because nothing good happens if you don't give them a chance; and the bad things that can happen aren't that bad.

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25. Idea Garage Sale: The Buried Bobcat (News)

Yeah, it's not Sunday but you know what posting when I want means? It means schedules don't apply, and this is a doozy! What was previously assumed to be a puppy burial in an Illinois Hopewell mound turns out to have been a 4-7 month old bobcat! Wearing a collar! And being treated unlike any other animal burial found in the Hopewell culture ever!

I trust this will lead to a re-evaluation of old animal burials to make sure of the species (a bobcat skull is not particularly canine-looking - someone was careless there!), but it will still be unique in the record because neither domestic nor wild animals are typically buried in Hopewell mounds at all, and this bobcat's remains show no signs of it having been part of a sacrifice or anything like that. Even as a puppy burial it should have attracted more interest than it did, she says with 50/50 hindsight, because the person who wasn't there always knows best. The Hopewell just did not bury animals in the same way they buried humans - except for this one time, raising the huge question - why?

And that, of course, is where the storyteller comes into play because there's a limit to what the evidence can tell us at any scientific level. Was it somebody's pet bobcat? That's a story in itself, as (Disney versions aside) dogs were the only animal routinely domesticated in the Americas till European imports came along. Was it an animal of some ceremonial significance? Forensic analysis find no indication of a sacrifice, but not all forms of death lead a clear record in the bones - maybe it was suffocated very skilfully. Or maybe it had some ceremonial significance that had nothing to do with sacrificing it, and it died of natural causes (which may have been a bad omen for somebody!). Maybe it was understood to actually "be" someone else - a messenger from the land of the dead, or the vessel of some power.

My mind rides off in all directions, and I hesitate to pick one, because - somewhere out there is someone who is much, much better qualified to tell this story than me. This story needs someone who has a stronger connection to the Hopewell tradition than I have, some much firmer grounds for thinking that (for instance) the bobcat might have temporarily held the spirit of a culture hero, ancestor, or shaman, and been buried when that spirit's work on earth was done. Anything I wrote on it would be a straight-up fantasy with the fingerprints of European-American cultural assumptions all over it. Someone out there is better able to wash those fingerprints away and give us a straight-up fantasy that showcases the cultural assumptions of the Hopewell - a culture long gone, except for its archeological traces and the biological descendants, holders of a series of different cultures, of Hopewell citizens.

I hope this person recognizes herself, and finds the story, and commits to the story, and gets it past all the barriers trying to lock anything but European-American cultural assumptions from media, and publishes it where I can read it.

I promise to cry when the bobcat dies.

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