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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. I Aten't Dead

Sorry to miss a Sunday. Nothing's wrong. We had to leave for the game a bit earlier than usual, and in the evening I had other stuff going on. Monday I was light-headed, and anyway all the stuff I came up with I'd think: "Naw, I may need that one." And the prime motivation to garage sale ideas is to get the excess ones out of my head to demonstrate how easy they are to generate, not to give away stuff I might use.

Since stalling out on the WIP, I'm considering doing short stories again for awhile. Six books, in various genres and age groups, in the bank unsold is kind of a lot, and they tend to get in the way of my hands as I'm working at novel-length, their unsold state a reproach to me. Starting another full-length work feels a bit like getting pregnant again when I can't feed the kids I've got. But if I'm not writing new stuff -

-- Okay, so, that doesn't happen unless I'm deep in the old depressive hole and not doing anything constructive at all. Every time I try to focus on selling, revising, tweaking, whatever, old stuff, I find myself directing more of that creative energy into some game or other. (Hence the current healthy state of my simblr.) Telling stories is what I do, whether anyone listens or not, and my media for that are text and games.

Short story markets are frustrating in a completely different way than novel markets, of course. But what isn't frustrating most of the time, when you come down to it? If you avoid all frustration, you avoid all accomplishment.



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2. Still Slogging Away

By my standards, having to decide between two equally compatible-looking agents at the same agency to target a query at is a pretty good problem to have.

Unfortunately the process of finding out more about them looks a lot like wasting time on social media. Fortunately, no one is looking at me.

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3. Idea Garage Sale: A Walk on the Edges

I was always looking for that portal to another world.

Had I found it, a physical reality in a physical world, I probably would have been too chicken to go through. But I looked, anyway. I used to take long evening walks, beginning and ending in the all-too-familiar area around my house (though when I used alleys I got some intriguingly mysterious overgrown spaces even within that wasteland of ranch-style houses) and creating magical liminal spaces around the fringes, especially near the Concho River.

San Angelo, Texas, is not a promising-looking place for the imagination to roam, but one thing I learned in my career as an Air Force brat was that all places are boring and ugly, and all places are interesting and beautiful, depending on the personal investment and the distance. Everything is ugly when you're separated from it by a car. When you are close enough to be intimate, but for one social or physical barrier holding the spot just out of reach, many mundane things become beautiful and full of possibility. Vacant buildings, untended drainage easements brimming with wildflowers, culverts that were either flooded (during the October or May rains, if we got them that year) or dry as bones, gates to nowhere, haunted gardens - I found them and I made them into what I needed them to be. I almost touched a bird once. I trespassed more or less accidentally, and undetected, more often than I care to think about. I discovered the only newsstand in town where you could buy new fantasy and science fiction paperbacks. I learned that there's a large species of hummingbirds that sings - tweeter tweeter.

Does anybody let their middle- and high- school kids take these untended walks anymore? Do solitary children ride bikes out to explore? They have their phones, after all. They've had the warnings. With a little exercise of common sense, they should be fine, just like I was. For my own part, I don't remember many personal encounters, and those I remember have nothing of the threat about them even in hindsight. I stabbed myself on the palm by grabbing onto the wrong branch during one of my river explorations, and the lady I'd accidentally trespassed on cleaned the wound and was very nice to me.

But every parent I meet now is paranoid. We fear the people who want to hurt us and our children out of all proportion to their numbers, because the consequences of misplacing trust are so dire. But as a species we need to explore. We thrive on leaving our safe spaces to explore the spaces we cannot control, where danger is a possibility but far from a certainty, and returning, still safe, more or less, give or take a thorn in the palm. And if we never pick up the thorns, no one ever has a chance to be nice to us, do they? Kindness at home does not count; it is the job of home to be safe and kind to us. I never met kindness at school, of which the less said the better; school was soul-crushingly and inevitably dangerous because the predators of whom I was the natural prey gathered there in force, and I have no reason to think that this has changed. My walks were soul-expanding, marginally risky at most, and sprinkled with small, spontaneous kindness.

I was making my own portal and going through it every time I left the house.

How would a modern child accomplish this, in the paranoid cities of a world assumed to be unkind?

Is that a grown-up misperception on my part?

It is 2015. You are twelve. You need to find, or make, a portal to another world. You need to explore. You need liminal spaces, intimate mystery, a chance to encounter the kindness as well as the rudeness of strangers.

Where do you go? How do you get there? Who tries to stop you?

Answer me that. Write me the book. I want to know.

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4. Dadgummit to Heck

I have now put the same damn zipper in wrong seven times.

Only four ways to put it in at all exist. Three of them are wrong. So I'm repeating myself. Multiple times.

But if I don't make my own pants I don't get pants that cover my butt. It actually costs me more woman-hours, and more tears of frustration, to buy a pair of pants that doesn't quite fit than to make one that fits perfectly.

And seven times is nothing - I'm well into double-digits for queries on every work I have ready to sell. So when I stop being lightheaded, and have gotten myself round some chocolate, I'm going for lucky #8.

Because even if you're bad at something, if it's the only way to get what you need, you're stuck.

Edit to Add: I was wrong. I just invented two brand-new wrong ways to put in a zipper. Clearly, I have talent for this. Too bad it's not one I can be paid for.

Tomorrow is another day. Today I'm thinking: Sims and more chocolate.

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5. Characters: Gaming, Fiction, Life

So there's this guy who used to game with us. He made himself persona non grata in our house and Damon and I don't play with him anymore, but he's still in a group with someone else we know. (And if you're reading this, A - your feelings are about to get hurt, but I'd advise you to pay attention, because sometimes the way to self-improvement is through hurt feelings. If you had ever shown any sign of actively listening to me I would've said all this to your face long ago.)

He gamed with us for a long time, and for most of that time we didn't understand why he was showing up. And though he has not done any of the specific things there that have made him unwelcome in my home, we are still regaled occasionally with tales of what A did, in the other gaming group, to demonstrate that he hasn't changed. He brings an electronic device and does things on it rather than paying attention to the game. He comes late. He deliberately builds suboptimal characters that don't accomplish things in the game.

I have often thought, and several times remarked, that if you gave A a high-level, fully-optimized character and ran him alongside, or in direct conflict with, a low-level, poorly-optimized character played by Damon, Damon's character would still be the effective one. Because Damon would (grumbling all the way at the unfairness of it all) milk every advantage he could out of the character he had, that character's surroundings, the game mechanics, and the dice. A wouldn't even use the advantages that were spelled out for him on his character sheet.

I wish to be clear about something: I build suboptimal gaming characters all the time. I get my stats (in systems derived from D&D, four-d6-drop-the-lowest-and-arrange-as-desired is the one true character generation method; all others are cheats and imitations), I get the specifics of the campaign setting, a backstory sparks, I create a character, and then I do all the fiddly skill-building, power-assigning, equipment-buying stuff - in character. When we play Pathfinder, a D&D derivative whose creators believe heavily in "the build" as the be-all and end-all of character creation and combat as the main focus of the game, I sometimes feel crushed under the weight of the decisions that have to be made, and if I don't get Damon (who is great at manipulating systems) to help me I generally have a character who would die if not surrounded by combat monsters and healers. Even in a rules-light game like the current Deadlands campaign I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I often find myself looking around for something Miss Cranthorp can do while the other characters are fighting. Put Miss Cranthorp into melee and she's at a loss.

But - and this is why people respond to Miss Cranthorp as an awesome character and to A's characters as bad jokes - if Miss Cranthorp can't fight she will volunteer to drive the train to free up the current driver for combat (and accidentally shake a bunch of mooks off the top of the passenger car before they can enter melee, suddenly putting the odds in our favor). A's characters, in a similar situation, will hide, or spend several rounds building up personal defenses while other party members are getting clobbered within arm's reach, or run away, or do nothing at all because A is watching cat videos or something on his laptop and the GM gets tired of trying to get his attention.

My characters are individuals who engage with other individuals in the game, with the setting, with the particular problem in hand. I inhabit them fully while I play them, and even if they die (which they tend not to, even in Pathfinder), people remember them fondly, and not as suboptimal at all. Being remembered well is a more important part of "winning" in RPGs - and in fiction - than is triumphing. Many a great gaming story ends in a Total Party Kill. Nor are Romeo and Juliet memorable for their ability to solve the conflicts presented to them by the plot!

A doesn't appear to inhabit his own character fully, much less the fictional ones under his control. He doesn't engage with the people around him enough to understand or even respect their points of view (which is how he got kicked out of my house). He doesn't understand the rules - of the game, of the story, of the society he lives in - well enough to use them, abuse them, or even effectually break them. He won't even engage his own problems, preferring to continue behaving in the same way endlessly amid people who don't know why he showed up and inevitably grow contemptuous of him.

Which is why I'm bringing him up. A no doubt has reasons for the behaviors he slouches along in. One reason we dealt with him as long as we did was that we assumed he had a lot of crap he was dealing with and that, as fellow borderline social-rejects, we were doing him some sort of good even though we couldn't see it, by providing a safe place to work through - whatever he was working through. But it's been more than 15 years and, if our friend in his current gaming group is to be believed (I have no reason to doubt him), he's still passively, stubbornly, even a little self-righteously, not doing the same old things he always never did. No meds, no therapy, no experimentation. No engagement.

An awful lot of life is just a matter of showing up and paying attention.

Maybe you don't understand the rules. You don't have to understand them to engage with them. To challenge them. To find your way through them. To bend them to your will.

But you require a will, first.

You have to have a character before you can create a character.

Are your characters flat and lifeless on the page? Are they boring? Are they whiny? Are they collections of quirks and flaws and virtues moving through the plot rather than people moving the plot around? Do they all sound like each other?

What about you? Are you showing up for your own life?

If you're not - it doesn't matter why you're not. Maybe your reason's good, maybe it's crappy; either way, it's preventing you from doing something you say you want to do, i.e. write well.

So what are you going to do about it?

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6. Idea Garage Sale: The Girl in the Underwater Cave

I think we all know that today's garage sale idea is yesterday's news.

How did that girl, did "Naia," wind up in that cave with all those other bones?

Accident? Sacrifice? Suicide? Execution for a crime? (What crime?) Murder?

Each answer implies a different societal and personal background. And "sacrifice" is a muddling category. If you volunteer for human sacrifice in a bargain with the gods to save your tribe from famine, to ensure that the sun continues to return, or whatever, how shall we distinguish that from modern concepts of suicide? If you kill someone else in the same bargain, is that distinguishable from murder? What about execution? How did, how could, the idea that something as obviously and openly wrong as killing a teen-age girl could ever be a good thing take hold in any cultural context? How does it happen that we do not recognize at once that a goal that can only be accomplished that way is not worth achieving?

Was human sacrifice invented by the suicidal? There's a certain resonance between the reasoning behind both, for a deeply depressed person is capable of believing that removing herself from the world would be a net benefit to her loved ones. But what situation is so dire that the loved ones would accept this reasoning? What coincidence between the act and the relief of the dire condition could be strong enough to make the conclusion that the gods accept or require such bargains a part of a culture?

Those are all side questions if this girl's death is not connected to later traditions of sacrifice. Just because it's what leaps to my mind does not make it the only story.

The important question is: Who was that girl? What was her life like? Who mourned for her after her untimely death?

How you answer that question governs the themes of the story you build around her.

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7. News: The Face of Paleoyucatan

Cool! The nearly complete skeleton of a teen-age girl who drowned in an underwater cave full of bones in Yucatan during the late Pleistocene has undergone facial reconstruction, and good old NatGeo brings us the pics. She has a distinctive face.

The article itself is a reasonable overview of the complex state of the art, but I have to object to the use of a Greek name for the girl, and also - ick - those references to her "bad luck" in the lead paragraph. Historical Central Americans deliberately sacrificed people in bodies of water - it is by no means a lock that all those bones wound up in that cave by accident! In light of the unspecified (because this is a general summary rather than an examination of the data) signs of interpersonal violence and domestic abuse described as being found on the Paleoindian skeletons we have, speculations about darker reasons for her to be there should not be overlooked.

Chatters's theory about why these Paleoamericans don't look like the later Americans to whom they are genetically linked is interesting; but I would ask that you remember what this field is like. Archeologists are doing the same thing fiction writers do when they look at these remains - taking what they see and building a story to fit. When an archeologist does it, it's called a theory rather than a story - but it's still an imaginative interpretation of the data. It is unlikely that this is the only theory derivable from the data and, as long as you examine the evidence to the best of your ability, you are not obliged to consider a professional's opinion as automatically closer to the truth than your own.

Popular articles like these are the starting point. If you want to work up a story, whether for scientific or artistic purposes, it behooves you to go to the source material. You may not be able to see the bones yourself (or interpret what you see if you do), but academic papers can be read by laymen, academic conferences are open to the general public, and archeologists are, as a group, approachable, if you do so with respect and having done your research. I have never met a scientist who wasn't a huge geek, eager to talk about his area of expertise. You don't need qualifications beyond curiosity and open-mindedness to get in on this act.

Look at that young woman's face, and tell me you don't want to know her story!

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8. News: Ancient American Dogs

Although even the most conservative archeologists now concede that humans populated the Americas 13,000 or more years ago (with the smart money on "more" and even "way more"), genetic evidence seems to indicate that they did so without dogs, until about 10,000 years ago.

This is based on mitochondrial DNA. Expect refinements and a pushback when someone does a nuclear DNA study. Because that's how it works.

They also found a greater-than-expected amount of genetic diversity in ancient American dogs; the historical "Indian dog" being a recognizable and fairly uniform breed that led researchers to expect a fairly uniform origin. It's a poor scientific study that holds no surprises! (At least in a field like this one, in which the knowledge gaps are so huge.)

As is so often true, this study is limited to North America and ignores Central and South America. Given the distinctive breeds ancient Mexicans produced, and the degree to which focusing on North American human populations distorted our picture of the process of populating the "New World" for so long, I think a study that includes the entire Western Hemisphere cannot be undertaken too soon.

From the point of view of the person wanting to write fiction set in the Pleistocene, the presence or absence of dogs matters a lot. I left dogs out of 11,000 Years Lost, despite a private opinion that Clovis people probably had them, specifically so that I wouldn't have to show them being eaten. Had I included them, the shape of the society would have been significantly altered. Dogs are beasts of burden, food sources, hunting partners, and a major economic factor, which modern Americans have the luxury of considering primarily in the light of their qualities as companions. We can afford to be sentimental about them. Clovis and pre-Clovis people would not have.

Which does not mean they wouldn't have been affected by the cuteness of puppies. But if you want a model of Pleistocene dog/people interaction, you might do well to consider the attitudes of farming families to their livestock, rather than your own feelings about Snoopy and Moon-Moon.

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9. First Query of the Year

It's in the mail. The e-mail. Whatever. And - we'll see.

I believe in Len's story so hard and so much, a part of me is convinced each time I send it out that the person on the other end will see what I see and realize what potential is there, to change the whole game.

And I also find myself believing that, if it once again doesn't happen, that something I did or didn't say or do is at fault. The story is great, so I must be screwing up, right?

Well, maybe. Or maybe the agent just signed somebody else with a transgender western. (We can only hope.) Or maybe she has so many clients she decided to stop taking queries five minutes before mine showed up. Or -

There are a thousand reasons to turn down a query, only one, maybe two, to accept it.

It's hard to remember that when you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, suddenly certain that what you said in the third paragraph gave entirely the wrong impression and guaranteed rejection. But it's true, whether we remember it or not.

And regardless of whether I screw up or not - I'm the only one who can sell this story, because I was the only one who could write it. So it is my duty to the story to keep it in the mail.

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10. Idea Garage Sale: The Cat Lady of Florence

A rather complicated one from the good old reliable Fortean Times. In the October 2015 issue, in a recurring feature called "Blasts from the Past," Theo Paijman went old newspaper diving in the annals of Florence, South Carolina, and turned up a "cat lady" flap.

The most tantalizing and disturbing thing about this article is that the flap was apparently chiefly affecting the black part of town, and the newspapers at his disposal were all from the white press. Newspapers reporting flaps generally start out with a serious story or two and then start poking fun at people for believing in, fearing, or going out looking for aliens, or monkey men, or tigers, or whatever the flap is about. In the case of a Depression-era southern town white newspaper, it's very hard indeed to tell whether the opening stories are serious or jeering - I think even a native of the town, not alive during that era, would have difficulty reading the newspaper reports in the way that the original audience would have.

Given the trust gap between the black experiencers and the white reporters, moreover, it is impossible to tell what really happened. There's always a rumormill in these cases that makes extracting the real, core experience out of the gossip and the grafting-on of folk motifs difficult. In a case in which the witnesses don't trust the reporters, and the reporters are untrustworthy because they don't respect the witnesses - who knows if anyone ever told the truth to anyone who wrote it down?

Did anyone ever, in fact, claim to have seen a "cat-faced woman...having a small head only a little larger than a grapefruit but comes exactly like that of a cat, with fur, ears and eyes of a feline appearance...dressed in a long black coat" and with "paws and claws just as a cat has?"

Did anyone in Florence, in fact, believe that anyone had?

Did the black population of the town really leave work early to go home and bar themselves in at night?

And if they did, was it really for fear of a cat lady? None of the accounts of her attacking or pursuing people, after all, are half so chilling as the following quoted snippet from the Florence Morning News, February 3, 1939: "The police in reality were inclined to favour continuance of the catwoman's presence in Florence..."I don't believe we'll have any trouble with these darkies at night - and that's when they do most of their devilment. I went down Cox Street last night a little after dark and didn't see but one negro It ought to be a good thing while it lasts."

Uh-huh. The police are cited several times, and while some of the quotations are contradictory concerning whether or not the incidents are ever reported at all, they are consistent in saying that the truth behind the flap was never investigated, and the overwhelming impression is that the(presumably all-white) police force were openly contemptuous of the black population's sense of insecurity. So the urgent question becomes, not "was there a real cat lady?" but "was the cat lady flap, as reported, a cover for a coordinated terrorist action on the black population by certain elements of the white one?"

Up front, I cannot write this story, because I am not black. I do my best to get around my own privilege, but understanding what happened in Florence, for either a novelistic or an investigative purpose, requires someone who starts much closer to the original experience than I do. All I can do is stand at the edge of it feeling slightly sick to my stomach and knowing that I belong to a demographic that can at least call the police without fear of being murdered.

I would, however, be really interested to see a black paper's contemporary take on the story. Perhaps the black population had its own reasons for circulating the story, and the whole thing was some kind of con on the white population.

Is it tragedy? Is it farce? Is it Just One of Those Human Things?

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11. Idea Garage Sale: Quick Fun with First Lines

Twenty minutes to company, and the dining room's still not in shape to play games in!

I was never prouder of my father than on the day he went to jail.

Yes, we all broke; but not for the reason you think.

She turned a corner and there it was, just as she had feared.

The kitten glared at me and said, in Leti's voice: "It's not funny!"

The noise stopped, and then at last I was afraid.

I blame the mailman, who wasn't a man at all.

None of this existed five minutes ago, and the question now is - what to make of them?

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12. Ten Years After

My memory and my diary are both unreliable for this period, but at some point during the week between Christmas and New Year's, 2004, I left the soul-sucking day job; stopped across the street to help our friends, who had (with their baby) been evicted, pack; worked for an hour or so and went home to check on my husband, who had left work early, and make supper; and found Damon unresponsive and going into anaphylactic shock from an allergic reaction to the antibiotic he'd been given to combat the mysterious and unrelenting series of symptoms he'd been exhibiting for awhile.

I couldn't drive then. The friend who followed the ambulance to the hospital, brought me home, and stayed the night that night was, herself, hospitalized within days of this.

And thus began the Year from Hell, ten years ago this week.

And now - we are still here.

Not unscathed, not by any means. Some of us broke and had to rebuild ourselves from scratch. We are not the people that we were. But we are still here. And if we can do it, you can do it.

I don't celebrate Christmas. But I celebrate this.

Happy Survival Week.

Go us!

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13. Idea Garage Sale: On the Ridge

Guest idea today.

Last week, after the main event of the Deadlands RPG, we had some time left, so we broke out an oldish cardgame called "Bushwhackin' Varmints Out of Sergio's Butte," in which the players are rival filmmakers shooting three different B movies, all with the same title, and trying to put together the best film they can while sabotaging the other players. At one point, our friend B had been deprived of all the characters in his movie, leaving him with only a location - "On the Ridge."

He defended the concept as an "artsy" one, and even explained a vision for it, which had come to him one day when he was out hunting in West Texas. A great deal of hunting consists of finding a good vantage point and sitting waiting for a target to wander by, and on this occasion he was "on the ridge" overlooking a deep waterway, and noticed some unusually round pebbles on the ground. They were round shot from a nineteenth-century gun, which he recognized as the descendent and heir of gunsmiths, and caused him to think about the people who had used this vantage before him.

This sense of connection through artifacts is what archeology is all about, of course; but most activities don't leave much in the way of interpretable traces, and these are the things that a movie of this sort would be focused on. A lot of the action would consist of following the practices, problems, and small dramas of hunters through the ages, including animal as well as human hunters (coyotes need vantage points, too!) interspersed with time-lapse sequences showing geological processes making sometimes subtle changes in the location. Variety could be provided by the occasional high-tension sequence of interpersonal conflict, from Pleistocene war raiding parties to immigrants dodging INS; focus down into the grass for ant-level drama, or draw back to present a snippet from some grand Western epic. It'd take someone with a sure grasp of narrative and the way film, specifically, works in order to get the timing and pacing just right, so that the film is neither majestically dull nor choppily disorienting; and I for one wouldn't want anyone doing it who didn't grasp the reality of history as opposed to the mythic oversimplification that is generally the province of theater. But if all the stars lined up and everything went perfectly, such a movie could become classic. Or go down in history as a magnificent failure, which is still an interesting thing to be.

Coincidentally, this same week I learned about a graphic novel, called Here, by Richard McGuire, which is several millenia worth of drawings of a single location which is variously a living room, a forest, a glacier, underwater, etc. (The man's website is crap in terms of showcasing his artwork, unfortunately, and Random House's page for the book isn't any better; I did the best I could with those links, but if you want to see the art for yourself I guess you'll have to ask your local bookstore). The existence of this book doesn't mean the idea is "done," though. The difference in medium between the graphic novel and the movie, the choice of a different location, and a different mediating sensibility in terms of the dominant creator leave plenty of space for more than one work on this core concept to exist.

And this gives me a chance to explicitly point out the concept I myself wish to get across, posting these week after week: Anybody can have a good idea. You don't need to be a professional artist, or have a degree, or earn any sort of credentials to have a good idea. B is a computer programmer who, when he's looking for ideas, is generally looking for an adventure to run as a game; yet he independently, while out waiting for a deer to wander by, got an artistic idea that parallels a concept which an artist is executing, to critical acclaim. (Words like "game-changing" get used in the work's reviews.) If B had decided to put in the 15 years or so of hard work to execute his idea in some medium congenial to him, he would eventually produce something distinctly his own. Whether it would succeed in the marketplace - who knows? Nobody ever does know, when they start down a creative road.

We are all, each and every day, having ideas. We are human. Creativity is our natural state.

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14. Synaptic Miracle; or, Thank You, Melissa Etheridge

So my brain has not been behaving in the way I'm accustomed to think of as "normal," lately, and I'm more worried about stuff than I normally am about Health Crap because if the brain doesn't work, nothing works. But -

All my life I have been unable to listen to instrumental music. Without associated lyrics, a bar of music slides right off my ears unless I have, thanks to recording technology, heard that identical bar of music several hundred times. I'm always about half a beat off the music when dancing if I'm trying to follow the music instead of matching my partner (which makes me an annoying partner), and one reason I have never gone out of my way to go to many concerts is, that they always lose me when they play those long instrumental riffs that musicians love so much and which are designed to work the audience up into an orgasmic state.

One artist I always go see, though, is Melissa Etheridge. Not only does she do an amazing live show, of which her albums - good as they are - are the merest shadows; but listening to the albums was a major emotional support for me during the Year From Hell, especially during the months when I had no choice but to process a lot of Stuff on my own, because the entire support network was hit simultaneously and no one had any energy to spare for more than mere survival. I was sitting at the soul-sucking day job day after day, typing up real estate appraisal reports and using lunch hours to run (literally; it's about 10 minutes on foot from the office to the hospital Damon was in) to visit my nearly-dead husband, and then at the end of the day visiting him again and going home alone. I couldn't have done it without Melissa on heavy rotation on my computer playlists. (Fortunately I was mostly in a room by myself and I don't think I made anyone else in the office hate her.) Going to every public appearance of hers within driving distance is the least I can do in return, and I always enjoy the show and emerge feeling stronger. But even Melissa loses me on the long instrumental riffs - even in "I'm the Only One;" even in "Like the Way I Do." I just - I can technically hear them, but I can't listen to them. They can't do to me what they're doing to the band and to everybody else in the audience. I'm not technically tone deaf, but my brain doesn't do music, as music. It can only do music as language.

Until her recent concert in Austin, when suddenly, starting with a "I'm the Only One" coming surprisingly early in the program, and continuing through a relentlessly hard-rocking set with almost no downtime, none of the softer numbers except "Come to My Window" (which isn't that soft), I got it. I don't know how, and I can't reproduce it in memory, and I would be surprised if I could get it again at a concert by a band I'm less emotionally connected to, but my brain definitely did do something at that concert that I had every reason to think it didn't possess the correct synaptical connections to do. And it wasn't just familiarity, because Melissa mixed things up from what I'd grown accustomed to - new band, backup singers (which she's never had before), a completely different concert structure, and instead of saving one of her familiar hard rockers for the encore she went with "Monster," which is from the new album and I'd only heard it a half dozen times, not having had the new album very long before the concert. And of course the point of those long riffs is that they're improvisations (or apparent improvisations) and expansions, novelty inserted into the predictable course of the piece.

At my age, new synaptic connections are rare. Brain activity after about 25 is less about learning new things than about refining old connections and extrapolating from experience - I have never seen this particular problem before, but it has elements in common with this, that, and the other situation that I have encountered, and those, these, and the other skills that I've already mastered will enable me to deal with it.

But I must have formed some new connections in order to experience the concert in the unprecedented way I did.

So there I have proof that my brain has undergone some changes recently - and that this doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Maybe I could even manage some math? Naw, let's be realistic here. I cannibalized those synapses to expand my sense of narrative structure decades ago. Besides, I have a husband who can do math for me; nobody but me can mediate music for me.

And once again, I owe Melissa Etheridge some hearty thanks.

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15. Idea Garage Sale: Patient Zero in the Riot of the Nerves

Health Crap and Really Bad Public Events caused that hiatus there, and this isn't the time or place to go on and on about either, so let's talk about that idea I didn't get written up a few weeks ago because of the time it was going to take; which was - mass hysteria.

Outbreaks of "mass hysteria," whatever that means exactly, are more common than you probably think. The most easily recognizable modern cases happen in schools, in which a malady, the source of which doctors can't isolate, spreads like wildfire through the students, occasionally infecting teachers. The symptoms are real and physical - chills, fevers, fainting, rashes, pain - and the search for real, physical causes may be directed to the ventilation system, the cafeteria, recent vaccination programs, anything that the affected students may have in common. When none of these physical causes pans out, doctors start saying: "Mass hysteria," the newspaper repeat it shortly before dropping the story, and the parents get angry. Because "mass hysteria" has no standard, measurable diagnosis, and sounds like (and may be) a cop out. A doctor says "mass hysteria" and a parent hears: "I'm not a good enough doctor to figure this out, so I'm going with saying that your kid is a whiny attention-seeking brat with nothing wrong with him." In cultures in which concepts of spiritual malaise have a lot of traction, the afflicted may be seen as "possessed" or "bewitched," which takes us right back to the only case one ever sees treated fictionally, the Salem Witch Trials.

On the one hand, the afflicted girls of Salem Village are a classic case of mass hysteria. On the other hand, they aren't treated realistically as a mass hysteria case by fiction. This is undoubtedly because of the 200 people accused, jailed, and tried, with 19 of them hanged (none burned, get that out of your head), four died in prison, and one tortured to death by having rocks piled on his chest (Giles Corey's last words were: "More weight.") The appalling injustice of the trials cries out for villains; and though history and the people involved place the evil where it belongs, in a judicial system that was insufficiently rigorous and authorities willing to assume guilt if the crime were heinous and amorphous enough, novelists are fascinated by The Girls. How could they do such things? They had to know what they were doing by the end there, didn't they? After all, the accusations weren't true, so that must mean they were lying?

Well, no. It doesn't. They got afflicted, the adults they trusted said they were bewitched and put pressure on them to name names, and things snowballed. That's not the same thing as lying, at all; any more than fainting and breaking out into a rash in the absence of a discernible cause is whiny attention-seeking. I am here to tell you, just because nobody can detect a physical cause for feeling bad, doesn't mean you don't, physically, feel bad! The problem could be one not known and understood by medical science yet (or just not yet known and understood by the doctors available), or it could be a nontangible problem acting in tangible ways. An anxiety attack is physical enough for anybody who's been through one; and why should they not be contagious, in settings in which everyone is more or less anxious?

Mass hysteria thrives best in small, well-integrated communities - schools, convents, factories, small towns, etc.; and among the less powerful members of a society - women, girls, children, low-income workers. These are people who are stressed, who are discouraged from or unable to better their situations, who have to rely on each other and who cannot get any attention from Authority unless they kick up a fuss, but are not allowed to kick up a fuss. Hysteria is the riot of the nervous system, the frustrated outbreak of those with no recourse. Nothing generally changes in the wake of an outbreak, of hysteria or of rioting. They are not attention-seeking tactics; they are breakdowns of a system forced to function without proper maintenance and support.

So it's time we had a modern fictional treatment of mass hysteria, free of the dire consequences of the events in Salem Village. It isn't hard to find a protagonist, who would be a Patient Zero, a schoolgirl who has no desire to cause trouble, but does it anyway. She would experience the symptoms, and see them spread, and be called to account for them; aware all the time of her innocence, but beginning to doubt it. Could she really cause so much trouble, and not at some level be a troublemaker? But it has to be a gas in the vents, a poison in the water, something - her worst enemy caught it, too, and no way would her worst enemy imitate her! On the one hand, she'll be pressured to admit she was rioting over nothing; on the other hand, she'll be pressured to be sick again in order to prove that the riot wasn't over nothing. Can she be real, and others be faking? Where are the lines between what she wants to do, what she intends to do, what her body does in spite of her, what she needs, and what she doesn't know how to ask for?

The trouble here, as with most story concepts based on real life events, is to maintain realism and while achieving narrative satisfaction. Mass hysteria cases seldom wrap up satisfactorily; news outlets just stop discussing them and cases trail off. If people are still getting sick, they aren't doing so in such numbers as to disrupt daily life. The cause remains mysterious - "mass hysteria" (or "mass sociogenic illness" if you want to be very up-to-date and correct) is a handy label, not a diagnosis. Kind of like "heart failure" as a cause of death - yeah, duh, we all die of heart failure, ultimately. What triggered it? Could it happen again? Patient Zero won't end the story understanding how that worked, because nobody understands how that works.

So Patient Zero must have her own, satisfactory, internal arc. She must learn something about herself and the society she lives in that makes her better able to handle the stresses she's under. Perhaps she sees her interrelatedness with the others around her, who are all so much like her that they shared her illness - yes, even her worst enemy. Perhaps interacting with the various authorities in her life - parents, teachers, doctors, whoever represents the news outlet that publicizes the incident(s)- improves her understanding of how authority works and gives her the coping skills for when (inevitably) Authority lets her down again.

Perhaps she builds order out of chaos, without falling back on Authority's dodge of pretending that chaos doesn't exist.

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16. Happy Harvest Festival

The historical myth behind Thanksgiving is problematic in a number of ways, and it's been a rough week so it's hard to be thankful; but the basic idea of a harvest festival in combination with a day to count your blessings is sound, so - Merry Thanksgiving, y'all.

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17. Grrrr...

Because this is not a political blog but I'm so totally not in the mood to write about my projects or writing principles or any of that stuff, here's a link to donate monetary support for the protestors in Ferguson. They're going to need it.

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18. Idea Garage Sale: Trickster vs. Dark Lord

So, you've got an Evil Overlord, and the problem is, how to bring down the guy with all the power. You can destroy his power base and throw the ring into the volcano, you can fight a guerrilla revolution that carries within it the seeds of its own corruption (Yeah, saw Mockingjay Part 1 yesterday; the last book is easily the most disturbing and if you're in it for the happy ending, I can tell you, you need to bail now), you can go toe-to-toe in the field, your armies vs. his armies and way too many innocent people get hurt.

Or you can trick him into destroying himself.

The trick was lost to me when I woke up; and, being a dream-trick, probably wouldn't work in the real world or any plausible fictional one I could cook up. But I remember the Trickster. She had no political acumen or abstract sense of right or wrong. She had no physical power and no network of friends. She didn't even have a long-term plan. She was a street kid adept at talking her way out of trouble and accustomed to living from moment to moment. But the habit of jumping to the next stepping stone without looking to see whether there's another beyond it lands her in more and more complicated situations.

She has learned that, when she's at someone's mercy, the most effective strategy is to figure out what that someone wants, and convince them that the way to get it is to show mercy. She brokers information, and when she doesn't have any she makes it up. No one's going to take the unsupported word of a street kid, so she's also learned to seize on something, anything, concrete within reach and turn it into evidence of her truth. With any luck, she'll be able to escape before everything unravels.

But once in the Dark Lord's sanctum, she can't escape. All her ways are blocked. And she's not the only desperate liar in the citadel. Everyone from the lowly guard who first catches her all the way up to the Dark Lord himself wants a small handful of things: Security, Promotion, Power; which all boil down to the same thing in the toxic atmosphere of a reign of terror. They all, in their eagerness for more control, give her a convenient handle to control them; but if they ever suspect that she's anything but a scared tool of their ambitions, that's the end for her. Her basic claim is to know where Something is. They're the ones who project their own knowledge of the Something that can make or break the Dark Lord's power onto the vague flim-flam she starts with; and the faster she tapdances to reflect their desires, the closer to the top she gets. Until she has to deliver to the Dark Lord himself.

She doesn't want to be his downfall. She just wants to get away. And when she does become his downfall, and is shoved into his place at the top of the festering heap - she manages, at last, to slip away, leaving the Good Guys to sweep in to a squabbling, disoriented citadel and mop up.

This was a dream, and the few details of this broad outline are hopelessly impractical. A key feature of the con, for instance, was the cherry-red 50s Cadillac convertible she drove through the volcano. (Wrecked the shocks.)

As blockbuster fantasy series go, the premise has real possibilities. It'd have to be fast-paced, clever, disorienting, and very, very plotty. I.E., well outside my talent range, alas.

The premise would also work for a realistic stand-alone novel, if it were scaled down; if the Evil Overlord was the boss who runs a single town or corporation, for example. Still not really the kind of thing I can see myself writing.

I'd read it, though. It sounds like a lot of fun.

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19. Ah, November

All hail Kitchen Sanitation Month. When working with your hands leave your brain free to think broadly and deeply; but leaves you too tired to write anything down.

Which explains a lot about history and literature, actually; who gets to do them, and how, and why. Because for the vast and silent majority of humanity, from before the dawn of man, every day must contain the level of sheer physical labor that Kitchen Sanitation Month entails, in order to survive comfortably. (Or, in a war zone or a famine, at all.)

Got to go get lunch and then get back on it.

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20. Idea Garage Sale: Getting the Cat-Sitter

A couple of a close friends of mine work Renfaire every year, so I stop by to feed their cats and clean the litterboxes on weekends and during the week when Faire opens midweek for schools. They live in an apartment, and I park in the visitor lots on the side of the complex, using one of two walkways passing directly underneath second-floor apartments in the first building to get to my friends' unit on the far side of the small complex.

On Thursday, as I walked through, I heard a man say: "There you are! You're not getting away from me this time!"

Reflexively I looked up and saw a man I didn't know from Adam's off ox, and wouldn't know again if I saw him, standing on the balcony above the walkway. Apart from one glance up I didn't vary my pace or change my posture or do anything to send off "victim" signals - I may be too old to deal with catcallers on a regular basis anymore, but I was an obligate pedestrian through dark streets for far too long to have lost that discipline now.

I wasn't sure he was addressing me, either. He could have been talking on a mobile phone I didn't see, the dang things are so tiny, and he could have been joking. This is far more likely than that he was some sort of predator keeping tabs on dumpy middle-aged visitors, intent on terrorizing them. But I'm not stupid; I used the other walkway on my way back, and checked Moby's back seat before I got in and drove away. And nothing untoward has happened in my subsequent visits. He probably was on the phone with someone; and he probably was joking.

But what if he wasn't?

If I were a writer of a series of detective novels, this non-incident would need to be poked, prodded, stretched, flipped, turned inside out, and wrung for every drop of potential that could be extracted from it. In a mystery novel, this would have been a threat and it would have had consequences. But a number of questions would have to be asked, and a number of decisions made.

Why would the threat be made overt? Why not lie in wait for the cat-sitter and take her by surprise? The answer to this would be tied directly to the motivation for whatever crime was contemplated on her person.

Why the cat-sitter? Who is the cat-sitter? Dumpy middle-aged white ladies count as tempting targets for certain kinds of crimes, but the same qualities that make us vulnerable to some attacks protect us from others, and in any given apartment complex in Texas, there will be an irreducible minimum number of men on hand who are hard-coded to leap to our defense. Probably more than would automatically rush in to rescue a gorgeous 20-year-old, though less than would rush to rescue a small child. A mystery writer must choose victims carefully, not necessarily for the victim's own sake, but as part of the characterization of the murderer, the setting of clues, and the manipulation of the reader's sympathies. I did not recognize the man who spoke, but I'm not good with faces. Perhaps, if I am the story's victim, I did know him at one time, and did not remember him. Perhaps this is the past returning to bite me in the butt. Perhaps I am merely his "type" and he's a serial offender looking for someone to offend against. Perhaps I did not know him, but he thought I did, and my ignoring him incensed him past bearing. Perhaps I merely reminded him of someone - someone (oooh, hey) he thought he had killed, but was gone when he returned with the equipment to dispose of the body, so that he's spent the last umpty-ump years in a stew, waiting for her to reappear and exact her revenge! Yes, that last one is by far the best idea.

What would the practical difficulties be in "getting" someone in this situation, with this apartment complex's layout? This calls for a good old-fashioned Map of the Relevant Area to go in the front of the book, with routes, Moby, the positions of witnesses, and the locations of clues clearly marked. (I don't know about you, but no mystery novel that doesn't entail map use is 100% satisfactory.)

These decisions, and others like them, will need to be determined in reference to the requirements of the series. If it's a series of police procedurals, then the apartment complex may need to be gussied up or grunged down in order to fit within the jurisdiction of the series protagonists. If the detective is an amateur, something must draw her attention to this crime and place her on the scene naturally - and how best to do this will depend on that detective's established habits, interests, and milieu. In a cozy mystery, the cat-sitter may be the detective herself, and the remark addressed to someone else she is prevented from seeing by some feature of the immediate terrain. In a hard-boiled one, the detective may be on hand because it's his own apartment complex, or because he's on another job in the complex that intersects with this one, or may be a suspect. This is a problem the writer of amateur sleuth series encounters over and over, and if you're not equipped to handle it, you have no business creating an amateur sleuth!

I've got a couple of mysteries under my belt, but I'm not plot-driven enough to make them a habit, so I'll let this one go by. But it doesn't hurt to think about it. (And make sure that Moby's locked.)

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21. News: Ice Age Infant Burials in Alaska!

Two of them! Plus the cremation of a three-year-old; all buried underneath a living floor, which is a behavior common in Ice Age burials from all over. Even in warmish places, so it probably wasn't just that the ground elsewhere was too hard.

The most remarkable thing, to me, is that such a high percentage of the low number of Ice Age American burials we have are the burials of small children. When you think how delicate the unformed bones are - particularly of the one who apparently wasn't even born, but was a miscarriage (how, I wonder, are they sure it wasn't a preemie?) - and how rare any organic human remains are from this period, it's striking. And then there's the fact that the infants were buried and the three-year-old was cremated, in the same place, at about the same time? Were there age-dependent variables on burial customs? Was there a lot of individual variation and parental choice? Was the culture sufficiently stratified that the three-year-old and the two infants came from different status families and were treated differently on that basis? Did it make a difference how someone died?

It is impossible to answer these questions with such a small sample. It is equally impossible not to speculate.

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22. The Optimist at the Gaming Table of Life

So the gaming group tried something different last Sunday: Deadlands, with the Savage Worlds system, with a GM who doesn't play with us very often, who is less mechanic-focused than about half our regular group. It was October 1879 in an American West overrun with magic and monsters, and the party we assembled to go looking for a missing railroad crew in Donner Pass consisted of war-weary Confederate veteran Captain William Palmer, bounty hunter Mina Winchester, frontiersman "Texas Jake" Johnson, Father Patrick O'Flannery (who one of us - not me, surprisingly - said should be named Connor), and - schoolmarm Miss Agnes Cranthorp.

I kept thinking, as I put Miss Cranthorp together, that she was going to die horribly, or at least be a drag on the party. All her attribute points went into Smarts, Spirit, and Vigor; her skills were things like Intimidate, Guts, Knowledge, and Persuasion; she was near-sighted, loyal, strong-willed, and charismatic - and she couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with any of the weapons the others were carrying. Even Father O'Flannery had a sidearm and a hunting rifle. Miss Cranthorp had a carpetbag full of books, a good black silk dress, and school supplies, and we were all joking about how her favored weapon was a ruler. But from the moment I heard "Weird West" I knew my character was a schoolmarm. I'm used to playing the character who's the Least Valuable Player in terms of damage dealt, whose main function is to keep other characters alive or to distract the GM while the strategists and game mechanics experts devise plans. I play to be somebody besides myself for a few hours, not to indulge power fantasies. So I put together Miss Cranthorp (you're not engaged or related, you don't get to even think of her as Agnes!) with the mental reservation that she'd probably be dead at the end of the day.

Instead, the DM was making jokes about everybody else hiding behind the schoolmarm and Texas Jake was promising to buy her a yardstick when we got back to civilization. For one thing, I was rolling pretty hot - our opponents, a wendigo and the victims of its curse of insatiable hunger (yes, I know wendigo is an Algonquian monster, not something you'd normally find in the Rockies, but I guess for purposes of the module they'd spread across the continent or something) - could not touch Miss Cranthrop, and she was nailing almost everything she tried. She shook off the curse, she dodged wolves and bullets and claws, she was unshaken by cannibalized corpses or being surrounded by hunger-crazed railroad workers or even the wendigo himself and the zombies he raised to oppose us.

Her shining moment, however, came when we were surrounded by the hunger-crazed railroad workers. Two had shotguns, four had clubs, and they were all clearly intent on eating us. Miss Cranthorp had borrowed a shotgun, but she had never used one before and had probably never struck a blow in anger in her life. Also, both Texas Jake and Captain Palmer were also affected by the curse, though they had so far fought off the urge to kill and eat the rest of us. Our working theory was that consuming human flesh would change a cursed person in a fundamental way, and we had ample reason to believe that our opponents had crossed that line. So when she happened to be the first to be able to act in the round, I as player knew that she probably needed to just pull the trigger, that we would be forced to kill them all. But I as Miss Cranthorp knew that she had to try to talk them down, that if she survived she would not be able to live with herself if she didn't. So I took an Intimidate, describing her as pointing the shotgun in her best imitation of Miss Winchester, drawing herself up as straight as she could, and using the Teacher Voice to address one of the men with shotguns, telling him that we would find the source of the curse and break it, freeing them all from this awful hunger, but right now he needed to put the gun down. And once again, she nailed it - not enough to make him actually put the gun down, not then, but enough that the GM decided he lowered it, looked confused, and held back from acting.

This successful Intimidation changed the whole tenor of the encounter. If the cursed could respond to the Teacher Voice they were still human and probably not responsible for their actions; so everyone in the party immediately switched modes. Captain Palmer, who had been about to aim for the head of the other shotgun-weilder, went for a disarm instead; Father O'Flannery helped Miss Cranthorp take the gun away from the one she'd intimidated; Texas Jake and Miss Winchester used their weapons as clubs; and we soon had them all tied up and stowed, in varying states of consciousness, in a ruined cabin with furs tucked around them so they wouldn't freeze while we tracked down the source of the curse. Instead of killing them, we freed them; and since we had explicitly come to Donner Pass to find out what had become of them and help them if we could, this was by far the most satisfactory outcome and a big win for humanity.

This sort of thing happens all the time in games. It happens in stories, too, but in that case the dice are all loaded - the author has a desired outcome and that outcome will happen. The reader may shove that knowledge down deep into her head where it can't interfere with her enjoyment, but she does know that. In games, though, you've got honest die rolls, implacable mechanics, and a player who is or is not determined to play the character to the hilt and not give in till the last roll of the dice.

And here's the thing - I am the only optimist in my gaming group. I have a biological tendency toward depression, and being an optimist has sometimes been the only way I could get out of bed in the morning. Everyone else at the table is saying "TPK time" and "OK, I may as well start rolling up my next character," or acting on the worst-case scenario assumption, and my not-exactly-optimized character is saying: "Okay, I do this then. No? I try this then. No? Oh, hush, we can still pull this out. I try this then. Yes! Okay, that's a start, now I'm gonna do this."

I am not a better player than the others, not by a long shot. We have players who can make a system dance; who can finesse a build or pull a huge advantage out of an innocuous mechanic or solve an intricate puzzle in ways I can't even follow, much less do myself. My strength is in playing my character flat out, to the hilt, and to the bitter end. That's why, when five out of six party members were captured by cannibals, my rogue got away and returned alone to free them from the larder. That's why this Deadlands party is not made up of murderers. That's also why I also occasionally get into situations in which my characters get into head-to-head confrontations with other characters, over how to treat prisoners or who's in charge (not something I normally fret about, but that was explicitly Sofia's mission, dammit, and not only did he flout her authority he damn near got everybody killed doing it) or how to handle some delicate situation; but that's the breaks. It makes for an interesting game, anyhow.

And it's because this works in games that, when push comes to shove, I never can quite give up on something there is any chance of doing, or that nobody else can do for me. And why I get so frustrated with people who quit before they begin; who assume failure as the default state, or that because they failed once that's the end of it.

It's not over till it's over. Stay on the ride. At least find out where it's going.

Do you want The Thing, or not?

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23. Idea Garage Sale: The Longest Vacation

So there's this kingdom, with magic, and the wizards made this little haven refuge, a pocket dimension, where the royal families could go on vacation. They'd be perfectly safe, and happy - the weather would do what they wanted, there would always be food, gardens, etc. It's hard to keep track of time passing inside, but that's okay, as long as there's somebody trustworthy on the outside to say the magic words and call the family home.

So the royal family goes there on the eve of the princess's wedding, to rest up and make last-minute preparations for the big party. And it starts to seem to them that they've been here for awhile...

Turns out the trustworthy person wasn't so trustworthy, took over, and never told anybody the magic words. So the country was ripe when the Age of Revolution rolled around. Three hundred years and umpty-ump wars later, the country is a constitutional democracy, the palace is a museum, and though nothing's perfect, one thing the entire country agrees on is, that nobody needs a monarchy back.

The entrance to the pocket dimension is in the museum. It's something trivial, not magic-looking at all. Maybe it's the door to a dressing room or something.

The trustworthy usurper never told anyone the magic words, but they're perfectly ordinary words, strung together in a peculiar order. Which is why the teen daughter of the curator used them for a secret code, maybe a password to an electronic device. And the royal family comes home to a world that doesn't need them.

They become celebrities, of course. Other than that, what happens to each of them depends on who they are, what they want most, and how adaptable they are.

Is the King an easy mark for political manipulation? Does the Queen assume that all this democracy nonsense will go away when the royal family apologizes for the inadvertent absence and expresses its willingness to return to its duty? Is the Princess relieved that she doesn't have to marry the Prince anymore and anxious to sign up for art classes at the local community college? Does the Prince come out of the closet and become a spokesman for gay rights? Do the younger princes and princesses have to enroll in school?

What uses are devised for the pocket dimension magic?

Does the girl who accidentally released them feel ultimately responsible for them, and spend the rest of the book scrambling to bring them up to speed and keep them out of trouble? Yes, I suspect she does... Read the rest of this post

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24. I'm a Bit Dilatory Today

Hey, speaking of Pleistocene child graves, Project Archeology has a curriculum packet and guide for teaching about the Anzick Burial!

Also, on the importance of re-reading the guidelines right before you make the submission, I was just narrowly prevented from sending a story in Courier to a magazine whose editors believe Courier to be evil. I kind of feel like Times New Roman is evil, myself; but I'm not the one in control of that market, so back to the word processor we go.

I just - I like Courier. It looks like typing. It's large and readable. But hey, I type two spaces after a period, too.

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25. Nothing's Wasted

So there's this weird novella thing that I really like, but it's premise puts up a number of challenges that I've been having a hard time dealing with and who the heck publishes novellas anyway? It's been hovering around 10,000 words for over a year.

I was looking at markets earlier this week and thinking, maybe it would do for that one, but the 6,000-word limit is firm. Could I really cut 4,000 words?

Nope.

But the 8,923-word version reads a lot better than the 10,000 word version. So the time spent trying was time well-spent.

Now to deal with those continuity errors. It beats dealing with the novel WIP, which at this point is scaring me.

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