Friday, May 27, 2011

no cat here

Because she is expertly camouflaged.

And now I must go offline and write 500 words of fenland riots before I can go to bed. But in good news, Oliver Cromwell has made a personal appearance and a brief speech, at a time and place where there is some documentary evidence he actually was, though I had to make up the speech and am now guilt-wracked in case I got his style wrong.

photo credit: Mark Shier

Sunday, May 22, 2011

still here

The twenty-fourth of May
Is the Queen's birthday.
If you don't give us a holiday
We'll all run away.

As you may have noticed, the world didn't end, and the Rapture didn't occur this weekend. Which I'm quite pleased about, as here in Canada we have a long weekend, and I'd hate for it to be interrupted by the Tribulations. (The caterpillars are a problem, but not--thankfully--a plague).

It may be that prophecies are in the air, but I was moved to rant over on Evil Editor when the umpty-umpteenth query involving a prophecy and a chosen one who was the only one who could deliver the land from the evil. The chosen one, by the way, was an adolescent girl.
Which is not to assume that the book (or any of the other books fitting those criteria) is necessarily a bad book. Just a book with a plot that made me bang my head on the nearest available flat surface.

In the invaluable Tough Guide to Fantasyland by the wonderful and much-missed Diana Wynne Jones, the entry on Prophecy begins :
is used by the Management to make sure that no Tourist is unduly surprised by events, and by GODDESSES AND GODS to make sure that people do as the deity wants. All Prophecies come true. This is a Rule.
Less succinctly, if you are a writer (the Management), you include a prophecy in your book (the Tour) so that your reader (the Tourist) will know ahead of time how the story will end.
You include a prophecy so that your characters (the Tour Companions) will have no freedom of choice and thus no character development, because no matter what they do, how they squirm, they will fulfill that prophecy line by line, no skipping ahead.
Why would anyone do that?

It can't be just lazy plotting (though that's probably a factor), because usually the reluctant heroes are coerced into action not only by the Prophecy but by some personal incentives as well (known in movie trailers as This time it's personal) such as loved ones being taken prisoner or killed, whole villages being slaughtered, the world is going to end and that means him and his little dog too, .... So if your plot is already poking your character with pointy sticks in the direction you want, what's the prophecy for?
I suppose there's some fun in reading on to find out what twisty language and hidden meanings the prophecy will turn out to be using, but that's kind of a thin, distant pleasure, isn't it? Like doing a really old crossword puzzle.

Where does this expectation of prophecy come from? Tolkien didn't make a big deal of prophecies in Lord of the Rings, as best I recall. There was the business of the sword that is broken, but that was more of a sad song than a directive. David Eddings used a prophecy extensively, but in a rather more unusual way, by making the prophecy a character of sorts.
Maybe if I had read lots of Big Fat Fantasy aka Extruded Fantasy Product I'd have a better idea of the origins and requirements of prophecy in fantasy. Maybe I'd even see the point of it.
But the next time I see a query that uses the word 'prophecy', I'd be thrilled beyond words if it turned out that the prophecy was false or mistaken, or referred to something else entirely. Or was a trap set up by the Evil Overlord.
Or, heck, was just misinterpreted several times, so that everyone thought it had already been fulfilled. How many different historic events have Nostradamus's prophecies been refitted to?
After all, if Mr. Camping can get his doomsday prophecy wrong, why should Seers, Dreams, Runes and Omens always get it right?

Monday, May 16, 2011

writerly fussing

Thing I learned recently.
Battles are like forests, in the struggle to establish and describe the same bloody things all the time (trees and explosions) without either continually repeating oneself or, alternatively, looking as if one has shaken the thesaurus out over the scenery.
The historical Battle of Newburn was fought and lost between dawn and afternoon. It took me three bloody days to finish writing one character's experiences in it. Gaaah. Anyway, done! Then the retreat after it, which dropped said character into a nest of Northumbrian witches, to improve his education. (Wherein the writer is beset by doubts that this expansion is unbalancing the novel...)

I swear, action scenes are the hardest for me, like wading through molasses. Dialogue? Dead easy. Description, I'm not crazy about, but it can be knocked off in under three sentences usually. Openings of stories, no big deal. Action? A constant struggle.

In other news, I've hit the stage in this work where I become convinced that I've lost the voice, and that everything I'm adding is written in an utterly flat and modern style that will jar the hypothetical reader entirely out of the story.
Fortunately, because I know I'll think this (it happens with every 3-day novel), I can pretty much disregard my misgivings and struggle on.

In still other news, my left shoulder decided to act up for a couple of days, twinging and whingeing in just the same way it did before I was diagnosed with arthritis. So I gave in and took a couple of Naproxen, the NSAIDs my doctor told me to stop taking, and hey, they worked.
The flare-up may have been because I'd been taking the lower dose of methotrexate for some months (8 pills instead of 10 on Happy Methotrexate Day). Hopefully it doesn't mean I need to change or adjust the meds, because I've been pretty happy with the lack of side-effects so far.

You receive this post because it has been so long since I posted, and now you see that it is because I have nothing to offer but angst.

Right. Back to the saltmines.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Skychair west

is up! So it must be spring in Victoria. The rocket is sprouting, the fruit trees are flowering, and it only rains a couple of times each day.
Below is our bluebell woods in miniature.

The downside is that chilly weather has meant we are only now seeing the bees bumbling about, and the wind and rain have stripped the plum blossoms, so pollination may not have happened.
And the caterpillars are back. I've clipped three nests off the Spartan tree, and have been up on a ladder searching the plum tree for the little buggers. I have come to understand why 'caterpillar' was an insult in Shakespeare's time--they chew the blossoms off their stems and leave them hanging, and they take leaves down to the base so the twig dies, and they're nearly invisible until the damage is done and sometimes after.

Well. Anyways.
Beans and peas planted in front and back gardens. Strings holding back the raspberries.
We have rhubarb. So far I'm keeping it in check with a bowlful in the morning, but since I hacked off 4 crowns and replanted them around the yard, next year may be overabundant. Note to self: look for rhubarb recipes.

And I am about to stuff William Lilly, Astrologer, into The Cost of Silver. I may not be able to get Nicholas Culpeper in (what a stand-up guy he was!) without bending space and time, but I'll give it a try. Then I just need to make sure I haven't sprained continuity beyond mending.