TT: Magic, Miracles, and Mayhem

August 21, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Just page back one for an excursion into the mysterious realm of Ideas.  Then join me and Alan as we discuss a historical occurrence that, if it weren’t true, no one would ever believe.   And remember, tomorrow, the Friday Fragments continue the fun.

ALAN: Last time you promised to tell me about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

A Church Destroyed

A Church Destroyed

JANE: Right!  Here goes… The story begins in 1675, when fourteen Spaniards, several of whom were friars, died in the village of Powhogeh, which was called San Ildefonso by the Spanish.  The deaths were blamed on witchcraft and forty-seven men were arrested, tried, and punished.

Maybe the Spanish really believed that witchcraft had been used.  I’ve read translations of some of the trial records and it’s impossible to tell.  Remember, this was a time when witch hunts were rampant in Spain.  Whatever he believed, Governor Juan de Treviño unwittingly set in motion events that would lead to the revolt five years later.

You see, the forty-seven men arrested were not all from Powhogeh.  They were not even all from Tewa-speaking villages.  (Tewa is one of the five main languages spoken in the region.)  Among those arrested were Tiwa and Keresan speakers, from groups that were, at best, uneasy allies with the people of Powhogeh.  Four of these men – quite possibly strangers to each other and so unlikely collaborators – were sentenced to be hanged as examples.  (One robbed the hangman by committing suicide.)  The remainder were sentenced to be whipped and otherwise humiliated.

What the men did have in common were that all were important members of their communities.  One theory is that Francisco Guitar, who had served as guide and interpreter for the Spanish sent to investigate the deaths, decided to get even with his fellow Tewa, who now shunned him as a collaborator with their oppressors.  For good measure, Guitar had pointed out a few other important men.  And so the stage was set.

ALAN: If I may go off on a little bit of a tangent here, I’d never heard of Tewa until you started telling me about this history. But just this morning I read A Story, With Beans by Steven Gould, and Tewa was an important element in the plot. Life is full of funny coincidences…

Sorry! I interrupted. Just ignore me.

JANE: That’s cool.  I’ve seen a lot of Steve Gould lately…  We did a signing together, then Bubonicon.  But I stray…

There seems little doubt that Governor Treviño would have carried out his intended punishment, but a very large delegation from the local tribes, led by a man named Saca from Teotho (called Taos by the Spanish) intervened.  The record says that Saca and his delegation brought gifts, but also that they made clear they would have fought if those gifts had not been accepted and the captives freed.

Among those arrested and publically whipped was Po’pay, a priest and leader among the people of Ohkay (called by the Spanish, San Juan Pueblo).  Because of the Spanish’s proclivity for recordkeeping, we know a lot about the events of 1675.  What exactly happened next is more open to speculation because – obviously – the Spanish didn’t know the details of the revolt being planned against them.

However, Po’pay – working with Saca and others – managed to coordinate a revolt that would remove the Spanish from New Mexico for the next twelve years.  The feat boggles the mind.  Do me a favor and pull out map of New Mexico so you have some idea of how large the area we’re talking about is.  Got it?

ALAN: (Geographically challenged Alan hunts vainly for an atlas). I know I’ve got one somewhere…

Got it! OK – Now all I have to do is find New Mexico…

Phew! (Geographically challenged Alan relaxes).

Did I ever tell you about the time I really did get lost walking from the bedroom to the bathroom? It’s a true, and very embarrassing, story. Perhaps that’s a tangent best not explored. Tell me about New Mexico instead.

JANE: Hmm…  I may ask for that story off-stage.  (I did.  Oh, my!)  But back to New Mexico.

Now, remember, New Mexico isn’t a green and pleasant land.  It’s dry and rocky, with temperatures that go well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and well below freezing in the winter.  There’s no hopping a boat for easy travel between points.  At the time Po’pay and his allies were planning their rebellion, the horses were largely owned by the enemy and those who collaborated with them – so travel would have been on foot.

Despite this, Po’pay coordinated a revolt that – if one put it in a novel – the critics would be screaming about the unrealistic nature of the details.  Just a few include forging a successful alliance between peoples who spoke five different languages and had different cultures (and that includes religious beliefs), the use of a knotted cord to synchronize attacks so that the uprisings happened simultaneously across the region, and the defeat of armored men armed with higher tech weapons (muskets, swords), by unarmored warriors with clubs and short bows.

ALAN: I could make a facetious comment, but that is so awe-inspiring that I wouldn’t dare cheapen it by doing so. It really beggars belief and I am truly astonished and amazed. Real life trumps fiction every time. But sometimes real life is hard to believe.

JANE:  It gets better!  There are some other details right out of a science fiction novel.  Po’pay was said to have mysterious advisors, whose names do not fit into any of the language groups spoken in the area.  Even better, he was said to have been able to shoot lightning from his fingertips and feet.

I used these details and others in my short story, “Like the Rain” (published in Golden Reflections edited by Joan Saberhagen and Robert Vardeman).  However, this was one of those cases where the inclusion of futuristic high tech intervention actually made more sense than leaving it out.

ALAN: Now that I’ve willingly suspended my disbelief, tell me what happened afterwards.

JANE: The Spanish were kept out of New Mexico for twelve years.  Later, they claimed a “bloodless” re-conquest, aided by the intervention of the Virgin Mary who performed miracles, including aiding the Spanish in getting their heavy wagons up La Bajada hill.  This would indeed have been a tremendous help to an invading force.  Even today, with a modern highway, large vehicles pull to a special slow lane to labor up La Bajada.  The Spanish with their ox carts would have been very vulnerable.

The wooden image of the Virgin, now called “La Conquistadora,” remains enshrined in Santa Fe and is paraded through the streets during the annual Fiesta.

However, although the re-conquest was far from the bloodless victory the Spanish claimed, it was not as devastating as it might have been, either for the Spanish or for the native peoples.  Most historians agree that the native peoples could not agree how to live once the Spanish were gone.  Some purists – Po’pay among them – wanted to eliminate anything the Spanish had brought with them.  Others had grown to like melons, sheep, and other introduced items.  Christian saints and customs had been absorbed into the local religions.  With all the disagreement among themselves, the Pueblos may have been resigned to the return of the Spanish.

ALAN: Much like the Maori who enthusiastically adopted Christianity, and alcohol and firearms and potatoes and warm clothes and who have no desire at all to go back to the old days – though Maori pride in their history and heritage is a very real phenomenon and they certainly do try hard to keep the old traditions alive. Nevertheless, they are also very much twenty-first century citizens.

JANE: Based on the Comments these last several weeks, there’s lots of interest in the impact on colonialism on the cultures of the indigenous people of both New Zealand and New Mexico.  Maybe we can take a look at that next time!

Whence Came an Idea

August 20, 2014

First…  For those of you who missed it, I’ve started a new feature on this site: the Friday Fragments.  I intend this to be a weekly list of what I read or am reading, perhaps with some commentary.  Hope you’ll take a look at it.

Now for the main feature…

Inspiration comes in odd packages.  Every writer knows this, but this week I had a really vivid example this week that I want to share.

Darynda Reveals the Truth

Darynda Reveals the Truth

If there’s a question that writers hear more than any other, it’s “Where do you get your ideas?”  I’ve heard answers both flippant and serious – including a simply wonderful one in the short essay Darynda Jones included in her talk for the Jack Williamson Lectureship, which I encountered reprinted in the Bubonicon program book.

The piece was set up as a mock question and answer session.

The question (from Crystal) was “You have several explicit scenes in your books.  Do you draw from personal experience to write them?”

The answer followed: “Yes, Crystal.  Yes, I do.  Why else would I keep my husband around?  All authors do everything in their books in the name of research.  I’m actually shelved under mystery and most if not all mystery authors have committed murder.  It’s not like we can just go ask someone.  It’s not like we can go to some magical place where they have lots of books and find answers.  It’s not like we can look it up on some shiny box with a keyboard.  We have to experience this stuff first hand to be able to write about it.”  (Darynda Jones is the author of the Charley Davidson books, several of which I have read and enjoyed.  You can learn more at

In case you aren’t familiar with her work and don’t realize that she’s very funny, Darynda meant this humorously.  However, it is amazing how many readers do think a writer has done everything that happens in their books – or if not done it, at least daydreamed about it.  I guess it’s the influence of that old “write what you know” thing, combined with English teachers who insist on teaching fiction as if it’s nothing more than thinly veiled autobiography.

But I’ve promised you my own latest “Where I got my idea…” anecdote.  It’s not as funny, but it’s for real.  This past weekend, Jim went out of town to visit his parents.  For various reasons, I had to stay home.  And, no, none of these reasons include not liking my in-laws.  I do.  A lot.

So as the week went on, I felt sadder and sadder, contemplating that Friday morning would see me driving Jim to the airport, then watching him walk off through Security without me.  I comforted myself with the idea that he’d be home quickly.  In fact, Sunday mid-afternoon would see me at the same place, waiting eagerly to catch a glimpse of him coming up through the walkway.

Wednesday night, after I had crawled into bed and was listening to Jim finishing off his end of the evening routine (okay, and was thinking how quiet the house would be Friday night, I admit it), an idea popped into my head.  I found myself wondering about places that are continuously charged with emotion.  I mean, everyone talks about how murder scenes have bad vibes.  But what about places that are continually bombarded with emotions?  Airports, funeral parlors, churches, sports arenas, hospitals…

When I had finished my manuscript for the forthcoming non-fiction Wanderings on Writing, I’d switched over to seeing if I could come up with an idea to fulfill one of the projects to which I’d promised a short story.  I’d done a lot of scattered reading and brainstorming, but nothing had jelled.  Now this had come, answer to a prayer.

I was too beat to get up, but I grabbed a piece of paper from the notepad next to the phone and scribbled a few lines.  These weren’t because I was worried I’d forget – the idea was now solidly rooted in my imagination – but to give my mind permission to let go so I could get some sleep.

The next day, despite noisy construction right outside the office window – we’ve finally had the sunporch roof repaired! – I started writing.  The first day I managed about five pages.  The next day, I took these basics and loosened them up, adding more dialogue and getting rid of the summary.  I only added another page or so, but now I could see the story’s shape.

Aside: Recently, I was re-reading a few of my older never-sold stories.  Partly, I was looking to see if there was anything I could use, partly I was looking to see if – given all the attention I’d just put into Wanderings on Writing – I might have an insight into why these stories hadn’t “worked.”  As I read through these efforts, many of them more than twenty years old, I realized that in many cases these pieces never went beyond the “Idea” and became a full-blown Story.  It was as if I had sprouted seeds but never put them into the right sort of containers or given them the right care to enable them to flourish.  Often they had a good central character or interesting setting, but not enough plot.

Anyhow, by Friday afternoon, I came to a natural stopping point.  I had a few questions for myself.  I decided to mull over the weekend, with the intention of resuming on Tuesday.  (I planned to take Monday off to play with Jim, since I’d have him back again.)  The mulling worked.  Next week I’ll try to remember to tell you if the story got finished…

But whether or not the story works, I had that golden moment where an Idea came and took root.  Would it have done so if I hadn’t already been receptive?  Possibly.  Like most writers, I have a list of ideas that I hope will someday fit into a story.  However, in this case, I think there was synergy between my mental state and the parameters for the short story I needed to write.

How about you?  Where do you get your ideas?  I know that in addition to writers, we have visual artists and songwriters who occasionally weigh in.  Is the process different with different arts?  Or is it similar and merely takes a different shape in the end?

First Fragment

August 15, 2014

Welcome to the Friday Fragments, a new and possibly continuing feature on this site.

The Friday Fragments owes its existence to a question I was asked at Bubonicon 46 in 2014.  I was chatting with some folks at the Afternoon Tea when one lady asked: “Do you read?”

Ready to Read

Ready to Read

I expect I looked blank.   For a moment, I thought she might be asking me if I could read, but that didn’t make any sense.  Then I thought she might be asking if I was willing to continue or repeat the reading from Artemis Invaded I’d given on the previous Friday afternoon.

Then it sunk in that she’d really asked if I read.  Fumbling a little, I replied: “I do.  Voraciously.  Enthusiastically.  All the time.”

She nodded.  “I wondered.  Sometimes I have the impression that professional writers don’t have time to read or that they avoid reading, except for research, or that they avoid certain sorts of books when they’re writing.”

This took us off into a lively discussion. It also made me decide that it might be fun to share every week what I was reading.  This list is not to be taken as recommendations.  If you want recommendations, you can find a not-at-all-inclusive list on my website.

I plan to limit myself to listing the title and author of what I read the previous week, maybe with a few comments.  I’m going to include audiobooks, because there are times when the majority of my reading takes place in audio form.  (I listen to audiobooks when doing chores, crafts, and the like, so the more I’m doing these, the more I’m listening.)

 If I’m in the middle of a book, I’ll list that, since sometimes, especially with a very long novel, the reading may spread out over several weeks.  Unless I spend a lot of time on them, I’m going to skip magazines and short articles.

For the first few weeks, I’m going to include a few titles from previous weeks, just because.

Here goes!

Recently Completed:

Abadon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey.  This is the third of their (the author’s name is a pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franke) “Expanse” novels.   Keeps the close focus on characters that won me over to the series.  This one got dark enough that I couldn’t read it before bed, so it took me a while to finish.

Black Butler by Yana Toboso, issues 12 and 13.  I’ve been reading this manga for some weeks now.   I like it enough to keep reading.

Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Mystery by one of the classic greats.  This novel is one of the rare ones set in New Zealand.  (Another is Died in the Wool, which I listened to a few weeks ago.)

Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

Aria of Omens by  Patrice Greenwood.  The third of her “Wisteria Tearoom” mysteries.  These are light, but not shallow.  The mysteries serve as a window into the complicated culture of contemporary Santa Fe, so “whydunnit” is as crucial than “who.”

Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich.   Audiobook.  Snappy dialogue, excellently presented by reader Lorelei King made me decide to re-listen to some of these.  I listened to numbers nine, ten, and eleven a few weeks ago.

Within the Last Couple Months:

Mr. Lazarus and Other Stories by Paul Dellinger. This collection spans stories dating from January 1962 to February 2013. The stories are fun, often drawing on the author’s fondness for old westerns and movie serials.  His introduction, within which he comments from a very personal perspective on the evolution of short-form SF/F publishing over the past fifty years, is a gem.

Don’t forget to check out the Wednesday Wanderings and Thursday Tangents!

TT: Let’s Cut Down a Flagstaff!

August 14, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  This week I’m talking about the whys and wherefores of convention interactions.  Then join me and Alan as we look at an event from New Zealand’s colonial past that would be funny if it wasn’t so intense.

Oh!  And tune in tomorrow for a new and possibly continuing feature — The Friday Fragments!

Reflecting on the Past

Reflecting on the Past

JANE: So, last time Great Britain had founded another colony.  I was a bit puzzled when you mentioned that the capital was at Russell.  That doesn’t ring a bell.  But then I remembered that the capital of the U.S. didn’t finalize for a while.  Did the same happen there?

ALAN: Yes, that’s exactly what happened. It soon became clear that Russell was a bit too isolated to be an administrative centre. It’s in the far north of the country and in those days it was accessible only by sea. Even today it’s a bit hard to get to, and the most direct route still involves a ferry trip. So the capital was transferred to Auckland which was a much larger settlement with much less restrictive geography.

JANE: Wait!  My atlas says that Wellington is the capital.  It’s a relatively new atlas…  Don’t tell me I need to pencil in corrections already!

ALAN: No, your atlas is perfectly correct in what it says, so put your pencil down. In the 1860s, there were rumours that the South Island was considering declaring independence. Gold had been discovered there and the government was anxious not to lose the resource. The capital was transferred to Wellington, at the bottom of the North Island. Wellington is pretty much in the centre of the country and so it was a good place from which to supervise the administration of both islands.

JANE: That makes sense, especially in the days before e-mail made location less important for such things.

 Did the tensions between the Maori and the colonists die down after the treaty was signed?

ALAN: Not at all. Once the country officially became a colony, settlers began to arrive and spread out all over the land. The Maori were not happy about this. They often referred to themselves as Tangata Whenua (the People of the Land) and they rather resented having the land taken away from them.  It wasn’t long before lots of local conflicts were triggered over disputed land purchases. These quickly escalated, and eventually thousands of British troops found themselves engaged in major campaigns. The lessons the Maori had learned in the earlier Musket Wars stood them in very good stead. The British found the Maori to be formidable opponents and they suffered many humiliations in the campaigns…

JANE: Right!  Last time you mentioned how the Maori had learned from past wars.  How about a nice, juicy example?

ALAN: OK – here’s something that almost has elements of farce about it. But it’s all perfectly true and is rather famous in New Zealand history.

The Maori chief Hone Heke, one of the original signatories of the Treaty of Waitangi, gifted a flagstaff to the British. It was erected on Flagstaff Hill in Kororāreka. By 1844, Hone Heke was becoming disillusioned with the British and, in order to teach them a lesson, he set out to cut the flagstaff down. Following discussions with his friend, Archdeacon William Williams, he changed his mind. But another Maori chief called Te Haratua cut it down anyway.

JANE: Better than cutting off a foot…  So did this end it all?

ALAN: Not at all. The British re-erected the flagstaff and, following further disagreements, Hone Heke himself cut the flagstaff down again on 10th January 1845.

The British erected it again, sheathed it in iron to protect it from Maori axes, and built a guardpost around it. But on the 19th January, Hone Heke circumvented the defences and chopped it down for the third time.

JANE: Either Maori axes were tougher than the British realized or they had some other trick up their sleeve.  So did the British give up?

ALAN: No, they didn’t. Feeling rather humiliated by the ease with which Hone Heke was running rings around them, the British hastily purchased a mizzenmast from a ship that was docked in the harbour and erected it as the fourth flagstaff. They guarded it with a rag-tag force made up of soldiers, Royal Marines, local colonists and sailors; about 400 people all together.

In March 1845, Hone Heke attacked with about 600 well-armed tribesmen. The defenders were all killed and the flagstaff was cut down yet again.

JANE: Good lord!  What happened next?

ALAN: Fighting continued on and off for many years. There’s a stunningly brilliant New Zealand film called Utu! which is set in these times. I recommend it highly.

Anyway, by the 1860s, as part of the ongoing struggles between the settlers and the Maori, the government had implemented a policy of forcibly confiscating large tracts of land from the Maori as a “punishment” for earlier rebellions. But the Treaty of Waitangi gave Maori a powerful argument in the courts, and in recent years much land has been returned, untold millions of dollars of reparation has been paid, and the government has made multiple apologies to Maori for its historical crimes against them.

I suspect that the Maori have been much more successful in resisting the oppressions of the colonial powers than any other indigenous people have been. They ran very successful military campaigns against the invaders, and later on they took to the courts to mount equally successful legal campaigns.  They have always retained their cultural independence and sense of identity while at the same time assimilating themselves into the everyday life of the community. They have had, and they continue to have, a very important role to play in the governing of New Zealand.

I really admire them for that.

JANE: Me, too.  The situation in what would become the United States was much more complex.  The area was much larger and the indigenous peoples widely varied.

Even if we focus down to New Mexico, there are many tribes, each with their own story. However, there’s one event that many of these groups hold in common and that is memorable in the extreme: the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

Want to hear about it?

ALAN: Actually, yes, I do. I’m finding this part of United States history extremely interesting because it’s all completely new to me.

Badges, Panels, Questions

August 13, 2014

As I mentioned last week, Bubonicon (New Mexico’s SF convention) was held over the first weekend in August.  I was a bit tired right after – not only was the convention a busy time, but we’d had to take one of our cats to the vet the night before the con started.  (He’s okay.)  This meant I started the weekend short of sleep.



Despite that, it was a good convention.  I had a great turnout for my reading, during which I debuted Artemis Invaded.  No matter what anyone tells you, I did not intentionally end on a cliffhanger.  <grin>

The panels I was on were fun and lively.  Catching up with old friends is always fun and making new acquaintances who might turn into friends down the line is also fun.

It was one of these latter encounters that got me thinking about the interaction between authors and fans.  One of this year’s Bubonicon first-timers was a newly-published author named Livia Blackburne.  Since she’d volunteered to help out with the Afternoon Tea on Sunday, I’d seen her name, but I didn’t know much more than that she had a YA novel published very recently.

After my reading, I darted off so as not to miss the Opening Ceremonies.  Imagine my surprise when a young woman I’d spoken with briefly out near Registration turned out to be Livia Blackburne.  How could I have missed the connection?  Why hadn’t I seen her name on her badge?  Maybe she hadn’t registered then?

At the end of Opening Ceremonies, I glanced over at Ms. Blackburne.  No badge.  That seemed strange.  Then I realized she had it pinned to the hem of her top, so that it rested somewhere above her knee.  Impulsively – I can be impulsive – I darted over to her.  Already a little embarrassed by my forwardness, I quickly explained that she should wear her badge where people could easily read it.

“Honestly, people really do want to know who you are!”

That had been a tough lesson for me to learn.  Although it may be hard for people who’ve seen me at conventions or book signings to realize, I’m naturally shy. The first couple of times I went to a convention, wearing a badge seemed almost cheeky.  Why would anyone care?  Wasn’t it enough that people be able to see it on me somewhere as proof I’d registered?

Fact is, badges are incredibly useful – and not just for authors, but for fans as well.  At conventions, you often encounter people you meet only once or twice a year.  Badges provide a reminder of who is who.  This really came home in 2013 when Bubonicon experimented with exchanging badges for wrist bands.  The wrist bands provided proof of registration, but they didn’t provide names – and names are one of the best memory joggers.  I’ve been at conventions where people not only write their names on the badges, but also the tag by which they’re commonly known on-line.  Again, it’s a link.

There’s a lovely lady who attends Bubonicon’s Afternoon Tea every year.  I know her only as “Turtle Bear.”  But that doesn’t matter.  It’s a name she answers to…  When I see the name Turtle Bear and all the associations flow back: our chat about her grandbaby, the hat she wore last year, and all the rest.  Without the badge and the name, it might take me a little longer to pull up the right mental files.

Don’t want to pin something to your shirt?  That’s understandable.  More and more conventions provide badge clips and/or lanyards.  However, there’s a fun alternative.  Bring your own!  A few years ago, Jim and I picked up sparkly lanyards.  Mine is varied shades of blue; his is black.  A good quality lanyard can become an accent to your attire and also help eliminate the problem of your badge flipping over to show the wrong side.  I noticed that by the second day of the convention, Ms. Blackburne had gotten a good quality lanyard and wore her badge without damaging her pretty tops.

Another place that authors and fans interact is through panel discussions.  Since I’m in giving advice mode, I’m going to offer a little regarding this as well.  If you’re on a panel, for goodness sake, prepare in advance!  Most conventions give you at least a week or two of warning.  Some conventions (Bubonicon among them) supply sample questions.

Think about the questions.   Even better, think about interesting replies – something beyond the self-promotional “In my book I…”   Reach for the roots of why you did this.  It’s likely at least some of the audience knows what you did.  However, until you tell them, they won’t know why.

If you’ve been tapped to moderate a panel, your role is slightly different.  I’ve been on panels where the moderator apparently thinks that this means he or she is the star of the panel and should keep the microphone as tightly held in his or her hand as possible.  In fact, the moderator should try to speak last, if at all.  The moderator’s job is to facilitate discussion, not to hog it.

A moderator should prepare extra questions or consider a more interesting arrangement of those suggested.  The moderator should try to keep the panel on topic.  Many years ago, a long-time pro said wearily, “Every panel turns into the same panel.”  I assure you, this is not the case when I moderate!

Moderators should familiarize themselves with their panelists before climbing up on stage.  At the very least, read the bio in the program book.  If you have time in advance of the convention, go on-line and take a quick look at the other panelists’ websites.  This will enable you to ask questions that are more tailored to the various panelist’s works and interests.  Instead of asking over and over again, “Have you ever…” you can ask, “In your book, Navel Gate you address the question of…”

Yes, it’s work, but that’s what you’re there for!

Another thing a moderator should do is keep track of who is doing all the talking.  Some panelists are naturally garrulous.  Others are shy or diffident.  The audience will notice if you let some panelists ride roughshod over others – and it won’t reflect well on you at all.  You don’t need to push the shy ones to talk, but a polite, “Mr. Seagull, let’s give you first shot on this question,” will give quieter panelists a chance when the material is fresh.

I spoke of panels as “interaction” between authors and fans.  This comes in the question-and-answer phase.  A moderator should always leave five to ten minutes for questions on any panel.  Often you’ll see hands going up early in the panel.  Acknowledge these with a nod or a quick “Hold onto that.  We’re going to take questions in a bit.”

As for those of you in audience, burning up with what you’d like to say, remember – you’re not on the panel.  If you have a question, write it down and save it for the end.  If you have a statement you want to make, keep it short.  If you have more than one question, ask only one, then give someone else a turn.

Finally, when the panel is over, don’t rush the platform hoping to continue the discussion.  The panelists need to move out to let the next event start.  Wait until the panelists have moved into the hallway before buttonholing someone.  Be sure to check if this person has time to talk.  He or she may have another commitment not listed in the program book.

Whew…  I’ve gotten a bit carried away, so I’ll stop there…  Thoughts?  Questions?

TT: Taking Advantage of the Natives

August 7, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one for more about how conflict can drive – or fail to drive – a story.  Then join me and Alan as we look at a very complex form of conflict – the interactions of cultures known as colonization.

ALAN: Last week, we were talking about the arrival of the Spanish in New Mexico and how they took advantage of what they found there. So don’t leave me hanging in suspense. What happened next?

Acoma Pueblo Today

Acoma Pueblo Today

JANE: Well, by this stage of Spanish exploration, most of the would-be colonizers were not interested in founding colonies. They were interested in finding heaps of treasure, stealing it from its owners, shipping it back to Europe (to contribute to the crash of the European economies that was already on-going because of too much New World gold), and settling down to a life of dissipation.

One example is the area where the associated villages the Spanish would called San Gabriel and San Juan were located.  The Spanish, under command of Juan de Oñate, came up and took over San Gabriel.  The locals, with great good sense, moved to San Juan.  According to their mandate from the Spanish crown, the colonists were supposed to build a church, start farming, and otherwise behave in a responsible fashion.

What they actually did was subside into near banditry, because it was more fun to scatter all over the landscape searching for gold and robbing the locals when food was short.  Later, some of the locals were legally enslaved by Oñate and his men – the Spanish often used “rebellion” or suchlike as an excuse to “arrest” and enslave locals – and transported to Mexico to mine silver.

ALAN: That seems a highly dubious practice to me. It sounds as if Oñate was taking the law into his own hands and thoroughly abusing it. Did the Spanish crown do anything about it?

JANE: To the credit of the Spanish government, yes, they did.  A major investigation was undertaken.  Oñate was tried and convicted.  Part of his sentence was having his governorship stripped from him and his being forbidden to ever return to New Mexico.  This was a huge slam to his ego.

To this day, Oñate is not popular with many New Mexicans.  His undoubted place in history as the leader of what is termed the second “entrada” is tarnished by the actions of himself and his men.

Would you like to hear one of the uglier tales associated with Oñate?

ALAN: Yes, please – this stuff is fascinating.

JANE: There are various versions as to how the conflict began, but suffice to say that some Spaniards came to the pueblo of Acoma (see my WW for 10-27-10, for a bit more about Acoma), behaved in a manner that caused the locals to take affront, and a fight broke out.  Several of the Spanish were killed.

Oñate decided that this constituted rebellion, brought in a force, and attacked.  Acoma is a natural fortress, but the Spanish were very determined.  They also had guns.  In the end, the Spanish won and took these “rebels” as slaves.

Please remember, the residents of Acoma had never agreed to Spanish governance nor had they been conquered.  One historical account reports that when the Spanish first came to Acoma, they brought with them a local “translator” who did not speak the language spoken in Acoma.  (There were at least five distinct languages spoken in the region.)  Through this “translator,” the Spanish asserted their authority according to Spanish law and so they felt the village belonged to them.

The locals felt otherwise.

ALAN: It’s interesting that the region had so many different languages. The Maori language was (largely) the same throughout New Zealand which made contact between the newcomers and the indigenes reasonably straightforward. In Australia, by contrast, every tribe spoke a different language and even closely neighbouring tribes were unable to understand each other. That fragmentation proved to be their undoing when the conquerors arrived.

JANE: Different languages didn’t make things easier, certainly.  Neither did the fact that many of the pueblos (as the groups came to be called) didn’t get along with each other, much less with the nomadic raiders.  But moving back to Oñate…

 Not content with enslaving these “rebels,” Oñate ordered that each man have one foot cut off.  The men were then shipped to Mexico to mine silver.

There are those who protest that this could not have happened – otherwise the historical record would have been full of accounts of Indians with one foot.  Others protest that Oñate would not have reduced the value of his new slaves by mutilation.  The truth hardly matters any longer, because the tale has entered local legend lore.  A few years ago, it had an interesting sequel.

Remember, whatever you may think of Oñate, he was an important historical figure.  A statue of him was commissioned and put up – I forget in what town.  In the dead of night, some people, indignant that a man who his own government had censured for his cruelty should be honored in this fashion, snuck in and…

You guessed it.  They chopped off the statue’s foot.  I’m not certain if it was ever repaired.

ALAN: What a lovely end to a nasty story!

JANE: I’ve always liked it…

But, before I went off on a tangent, we began by talking about the colonization of New Zealand. As I recall, we had just left the dissipated, hell-hole whaling village of Kororāreka. It sounds as if the Maori and the whalers were getting along quite well. What happened next? Did the good relationship continue?

ALAN: Well, it did and it didn’t. The Maori had always been a warlike people and inter-tribal fights were common. They also had a lot of squabbles with the intruding settlers who were taking away their land.

Once they began trading, and got their hands on modern weapons, these conflicts escalated.  Many thousands of Maori were killed in the so-called Musket Wars of the early years of the nineteenth century. One important side-effect of this was that the Maori quickly developed offensive and defensive strategies that stood them in very good stead when they fought against the well-trained and well-armed British army in later years.

JANE: So, how did matters get resolved?

ALAN: Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Australia got in on the act when the Governor of New South Wales claimed New Zealand. He appointed a British Resident in 1832 to try and mediate between the Maori and the increasingly unruly settlers. The Resident attempted to build a formal confederation with the Northern Maori tribes. However the French (always Britain’s traditional enemy) also began making treaty noises. To forestall any French claim, the tribes were persuaded to send a declaration of independence to the then British King, William IV. This was only dubiously legal at best and ongoing unrest prompted the Colonial Office to send Sir James Hobson to claim full sovereignty for the British crown – which by then had passed from William to Queen Victoria, or Wikitoria, as the Maori referred to her.

When wikis in general (and wikipedia in particular) appeared on the internet I started claiming that the Maori had invented the whole thing 150 years ago…

JANE: Ouch!  Alan, you really should be careful.  One day someone is going to take you seriously and you’ll get into a lot of trouble!

ALAN: But to be serious for a moment, the Maori did adopt many English names for themselves and sometimes they adapted the pronunciation to slide more easily over their tongues. We’ve already seen Wikitoria, but another favourite is Wiremu, which is the Maori pronunciation of the English name “William.” It’s a very common Maori name these days – Robin has a Maori nephew called Wiremu.

JANE:  I like it.  Names do become adapted to different languages.  If I were Spanish, I would be Juana (“Wah-na”).  It’s nice that the Maori contributed to the variations on William – which, in Spanish, is “Guillermo.”  The double “l” is pronounced more like a “y” so a rough pronunciation is “Gee-er-mo.”  “Wiremu” is at least as recognizable.

But back to history.

ALAN: Anyway, Sir James Hobson negotiated a binding and comprehensive treaty with the various Maori tribes. It is known as the Treaty of Waitangi after the place where the tribes gathered to sign it, just outside Kororāreka, on 6th February 1840. With this, New Zealand became the latest and the last British Colony. The old hell-hole of Kororāreka (now renamed Russell) became the capital of the new nation, and Great Britain had one more country with whom to play cricket.

JANE: I remember you telling me about the Treaty of Waitangi back when we were discussing holidays.  The signing was a really important event, wasn’t it?

ALAN: Very important. We regard the Treaty of Waitangi in the same way that you regard the Declaration of Independence, and for much the same reason. It marks the formal beginning of the country of New Zealand.

JANE: So we’ve traveled across time from an isolated land discovered by a Dutchman who thought he’d found South America to the foundation of the last British Colony.  However, if the Maori were anything like the American Indians (or Native Americans) the story is far from over.  I’d like to pick up with it next time.

False Conflict

August 6, 2014

Last weekend was Bubonicon…  It was a really busy couple of days.  Jim and I had a great time catching up with old friends and making a few new ones.  I’m still recovering!

In the previous Wednesday Wandering, I talked about how conflict is what makes a story work.  I also talked about the three basic forms conflict can take, and I promised an example of a story that does it all.  Will someone pass me the white envelope?  Thank you.

King and Valor in Chains

King and Valor in Chains

With a flourish, I pull out the card and read “The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth,” by Roger Zelazny.

In Zelazny’s tale, Carl is a baitman, a sort of fishing guide, on a Venus where the prize of big game hunters is Ichthyform Leviosaurus Levianthus – a huge aquatic creature usually called “Ikky” for short.  When the story starts, Carl’s a not-quite out-of-control drunk for reasons initially left vague, though it’s hinted that whatever is wrong with him has something to do with a past encounter with Ikky.  So, within a few pages, Zelazny presents “man against nature” and “man against self.”  “Man against man” enters with Jean Luharich, who not only turns out to be Carl’s next client, but his ex-wife.

Something for everyone…  and Zelazny ties all three together at the end, which is the most satisfying of all.  There’s a good reason this story won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 1966.

Finally, I promised a few words about the hidden flaw that undermines many a story.  This is what I call the False Conflict.

Let me give an example…  Your story features Valor, a knight – good and loyal and true.  Valor’s a little past his prime, although he’s still a good fighter.  He has risen to be a commander of armies. Throughout his long career, Valor has remained true to his code.  Unfortunately, for him, the monarch he serves has changed over time. King has become paranoid, worried about threats to his power, and generally unpleasant.

When our story begins, King is at war with the neighboring Foe.  Foe is known for treating his soldiers well.  He is powerful, but not abusive of his power.   In the course of battle, Valor is wounded and taken prisoner by Foe’s forces.  He comes around to find his wounds treated and that he is housed in a nice room.  Eventually, Foe summons Valor.  He offers Valor a place in his chain of command – not at the top, because that would be unfair to his own faithful retainers.  Will Valor accept?

In the story as defined, there is no real conflict – neither “man against man” nor “man against self.”  Why not?  Because Valor is presented as the good knight and true.  He has no other life.  In the course of the story, he doesn’t snap back at the rude and ungrateful King.  He never thinks about leaving or retiring.  He forges on.  In our guts, we know he will turn down Foe, so what should be a dramatic ending is hollow.

(And, yes, people do write stories like this.  A lot.)

However, introduce some “man against self” conflict into the story and everything changes.  The reader turns pages with a wildly thumping heart, eager to learn which way Valor will go.  The alternatives build.  Maybe Valor will agree to join Foe – but secretly plan to be a double agent.  Maybe Valor actually believes that Foe would be a better ruler, and realizes his loyalty is not to King, but to the kingdom.  Maybe Valor will refuse to join Foe and spend the rest of the war in prison, constantly doubting that he has made the right choice.

A great example of a novel that uses “man against self” conflict to add dimension to what otherwise could have become a standard adventure story is Walter Jon Williams’ Hardwired.  When Hardwired begins, Sarah’s one goal is to earn enough money to get herself and her brother, Daud, off-planet, into one of the orbital habitats.  She has good reason.  Daud has a drug addiction that will kill him if she can’t get him away.  Sarah feels she must save Daud – no matter how tough or ugly the jobs she has to do to earn the money.  In the course of doing these jobs, Sarah learns of a group that’s trying to overthrow the system that has created this stratified (literally, as well as economically) society.  She’s pulled toward them and their cause, but joining them would mean giving up her efforts to save Daud.  The first time I read Hardwired, I wasn’t sure which way Sarah would go.

So, what about those mystery stories where you know, even before you start reading, that the detective will solve the murder?  Didn’t I say that a detective chasing a murderer is an example of “man against man” conflict?  So, shouldn’t I really have said that these were examples of False Conflict?

Not at all.  First of all, Mystery novels aren’t just about “whodunit.”  They’re often about “whydunit” and “can we prove it?”  The television show Columbo demonstrated very effectively that you can have a mystery story where the reader (in this case, viewer) knows the solution before the characters do.  The pleasure is in how the mystery is solved – and, oddly enough, the sense of tension is even higher.

As I mentioned when discussing point of view (WW 6-12-14, “How Many Points of View?), a great way to add tension to a story is to provide the reader with information the characters don’t have.  Rather than diminishing conflict, it drives up the sense of drama, as well as adding complexity to the plot.  David Weber does this very well in his sprawling space operas, with the added benefit of creating a sense of identification with both sides of the conflict.  This is particularly important to increasing reader involvement when – as Weber frequently does – you have a novel with a large cast of characters, too many of whom can become faceless, cardboard pawn.

“Man against nature” is one of the easiest ways to fall into False Conflict.   Journeys often occur in SF and Fantasy stories.  However, whether through the dark reaches of outer space or through forests and over mountains, they should serve a purpose.  Otherwise, they are simply filler – implying a “man against nature” challenge but not really delivering – especially since the reader knows deep down inside that what happens at the journey’s end, not the journey itself, is what’s important.

Especially if you write SF or Fantasy, here’s a helpful trick.  Take your journey and mentally translate it into another genre.  Mystery is a good one to use, because journeys for the sake of the journey rarely have a part.  (Even the Murder on the Orient Express is more characterized for the journey being unexpectedly halted, rather than the journey itself.)  If your journey doesn’t serve beyond getting your characters from point A to point B, then do as a Mystery writer would and truncate it down to a few lines.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are journeys that serve many purposes – introducing the setting, providing opportunities for characterization, inserting future complications – but if you’re just slogging the characters along, maybe with a little fight or two to liven up the trip, then it’s filler.  Cut it and get to the real conflict.  You’ll have more fun and your readers will thank you.

TT: First Contact — Colonial Style

July 31, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back for a discussion on how conflict is key to a story.  Then join me and Alan as we take a look at a situation fraught with potential for conflict: First Contact With Aliens.  (Or at least with Europeans.)

JANE: I’d asked you about the European settlement of New Zealand.  So, what led the Europeans to become interested in what a friend of mine referred to as “a place too big to be called an island, but too small to be called a continent”?

How Sweet Is the Penguin?

How Sweet Is the Penguin?

ALAN: Well, once James Cook’s discoveries became public knowledge, the whaling fleets of the world decided that New Zealand would make a great stopover where they could process the whales they had caught, and render out the oil from them. A lot of permanent and semi-permanent settlements quickly sprang up to serve the whalers. The most famous of these was Kororāreka; a Maori name which translates as “How Sweet Is the Penguin.”

JANE: Are penguins sweet?  The ones I’ve encountered seem rather fishy.

ALAN: The name supposedly derives from a Maori chief who was wounded in battle. Feeling gloomy and sore, he asked for penguin soup to cheer himself up and alleviate the pain (as one commonly does, of course). When the broth was served, he supped it delicately and said, “How sweet is the penguin.”

JANE: I get it!  Like a nice bowl of Mother’s chicken soup when you have a cold.

 How did the Maori feel about these new arrivals?

ALAN: The local Maori were quick to recognise the advantages of trading with these new people. The Maori supplied them with timber and rope and similar things and in return they received firearms and alcohol. Everybody found this very satisfactory.

Kororāreka had no laws worthy of the name – New Zealand had no real governing body at this time because it wasn’t a colony. It was just a set of isolated settlements with no unifying authority. Nobody really cared what happened in Kororāreka, that isolated tiny town at the bottom of the world. But it wasn’t long before the settlement’s name and reputation spread far and wide among the sailors of the world. They knew the place as “the hell hole of the Pacific.”  Prostitution, drink, drugs, robbery and murder were the norm. Just what sailors like best…

JANE:  Sounds like a film version of the Wild West with sailors in the place of cowboys and Maori standing in for Indians.

Does Kororāreka still exist?  And is it still a wild place?

ALAN: Yes, it still exists. These days it is a sleepy little village called Russell. It is a popular tourist destination because the setting is so beautiful. There is no remaining trace of its violent and dissipated past except perhaps for some colourful hints carved on the gravestones in the cemetery, and some relics and documents on display in the museum.

Did anything like that happen in America? I know that the English colonies on the east coast were quite rigidly governed, but what about the Spanish settlements in the west? I know absolutely nothing about what the early days of Spanish colonialism were like.

JANE: That’s a good question and fairly complicated.  Stop me if I go crazy.

In theory, the colonies were very well-regulated.  The Spanish crown loved law and legal codes. A good example of this is the Camino Real.  This translates as “Royal Road.”  However, it was more than just a road, it was a legal code.  As soon as a “road” (and it might be nothing more than a dirt track) was officially declared part of the Camino Real, the entire legal code pertaining to royal roads – including tolls, penalties for crimes and the like – went into play.  Moreover, use of alternate routes was officially forbidden, something which confused the indigenous populations no end.

ALAN: You take the high road, I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Albuquerque before you… Nope! Doesn’t quite scan. No wonder they were confused.

JANE:  The Spanish government’s affection for paperwork – something we tend to think of as a modern disease – has been hugely helpful to Jim and other historians/archeologists who are trying to find out what happened here in New Mexico in the early days of colonization.  The records may have been lost in the New World, but the copies are often still extant in the Old World.

ALAN: When you use a computer, you are always told it’s a good idea to make a backup copy of your information and store it somewhere safe – preferably a long way away from the computer itself. Many people fail to understand the importance of regular backups and don’t bother with them. Sooner or later, of course, a catastrophe happens and they lose everything. I don’t know why people don’t get the point of taking backups. It’s not a new idea, it’s just common sense. Clearly the Spaniards perfectly understood the idea 500 years ago…

JANE:  Yep!  They would have loved the option to make computer back-ups.  They would have loved carbon paper…  But I get off topic.

Where regulation is concerned, theory and practice are not the same thing.  To understand what happened in Spanish North America, we need to slide over to Spanish South America.  Through tremendous good luck, in both South and Central America, the Spanish stumbled on areas that had two things: lots of gold and unstable local governments.  I won’t go into details here, but for an excellent fictional treatment of the material, I recommend Fred Saberhagen’s novel Mask of the Sun.

May I indulge in a small commercial break?

ALAN: Yes, please do.

JANE: Once upon a time, Mask of the Sun would have been difficult to find, but it has been re-released as part of the anthology Golden Reflections, edited by Fred’s widow, Joan, and their good friend (and prolific author), Bob Vardeman.  I have a story in the collection.  For more about the collection, see my Wednesday Wandering for 11-12-11.

ALAN: That’s good to know. I generally like Fred Saberhagen’s books, but after he died they seemed to fall out of print, and they are quite hard to find these days.

JANE: Joan has been working hard to make sure Fred’s work is available, as least as e-books.  If you can’t get them via usual channels, let me know and I’ll link you up with her.  She has been a wonderful custodian for his legacy.

Now, back to the Spanish in the North America.

When the Spanish moved into North America, they came up via Mexico.  Cortez had done very well there, up to and including finding lots and lots of treasure.  So in 1540, when Coronado and his men came into what would later be called New Mexico, they were hoping to find more of the same.

ALAN: Ah! The power of human greed. The motivating factor behind so much history. Did they find what they were looking for?

JANE: No.  They didn’t.  There is some gold in this area, more silver, but nothing like what was found in South and Central America.  The inhabitants – in part because the terrain is a lot harsher – did not build large cities as did the Incas, Aztecs, Mayans, and such.  They built smaller communities, primarily from stone and adobe.  Or, to be less picturesque, rock and mud.

Do you think the Spanish were impressed?

ALAN: I very much doubt it. After admiring the impressive architecture of the empires they found in the south, they must have found muddy New Mexico very disappointing.

JANE: They did, although that didn’t mean they didn’t take full advantage of what they found.

ALAN: Perhaps you could tell me how they did that next time…

The Beating Heart of a Story

July 30, 2014

As I’ve mentioned, over the last few weeks, Scot Noel and I have been discussing the pieces submitted to the art contest he sponsored and to which I contributed.  Now that the judging is over and I’ve chosen which of the winning pieces of art I’m going to write my story around, I’ve been thinking about the big difference between creating a visual image and telling a story…  As I see it, the heart of that difference is conflict.

Man Against....

Man Against Man, Nature, Self….

Leaving out conflict is a mistake many beginning writers make.  They have an image in their minds and think that verbally presenting that image or writing an anecdote about the characters is a story.   This limited presentation may work for a visual image – but it isn’t enough for a story.  At the very best, you may end up with a vignette – but a vignette is not a story.

(Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines a written vignette as: “a short literary sketch chiefly descriptive and characterized usu. by delicacy, wit, and subtlety.”)

By conflict I don’t mean sword fights, shoot-outs, or car chases.  Those are just the physical outgrowths of conflict.  Two quotations illustrate this beautifully.  Carl von Clausewitz said: “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”  Zhou Enlai memorably riffed off of this with: “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.”  In other words, you can have lots of conflict without a single sword being drawn or shot fired.

(In fact, you can have shots fired and swords drawn and no conflict at all – for example, in a training or practice session.)

There are three basic forms conflict can take in a story.  I’d like to talk a little about them before moving on to the hidden flaw that undermines many a story.

A novel will often have all three forms of conflict.  In sexist days of yore, these were termed “man against man,” man against self,” and “man against nature.”  That’s still a pretty good shorthand, if you understand “man” to mean “intelligent, sentient entity,” which is a real mouthful.  “Person against person” doesn’t have the same ring, and the alteration sounds even worse with “person against self.”  “Human against human” is a dangerous limitation for those of us who write SF/F.  So, for the nonce, let’s stick with “man.”

(Seriously, I worked over these with a word-loving friend for quite a while.  The best alternative we could come up with was “individual” and that just lacks the snap.  I’m open to suggestions!)

“Man against man” superficially seems pretty obvious.  Your protagonist is competing against a person or persons, right?  Most people immediately envision stories involving physical contests, battles, or the like.  However, “man against man” conflict isn’t limited to arena fights or races.  A detective tracking down a murderer or thief is involved in a “man against man” conflict.  Two people competing for the same promotion or love interest would be “man against man” stories.  War stories – no matter how high tech – are still man against man stories.

An interesting twist on the “man against man” conflict is when a character has a secret and someone else wants to learn it.  Secret identities create immediate conflict because the one with the secret has something to lose if the secret is revealed.  However, more subtle secrets work, too.   In her Stephanie Plum novels, Janet Evanovich creates a lot of tension – and occasional humor – around Stephanie’s continuing search to learn more about Ranger.

Evanovich is very skillful at raising the ante.  Every time Stephanie learns something about Ranger, she realizes there is more to learn.   Remember this if you want to use a secret of any sort to create conflict or tension in a story.  Once it’s known, it no longer serves.

“Man against nature” conflict goes far beyond the struggle to be the first to climb a mountain or reach the South Pole or kill the ferocious dragon or man-killing tiger.  (In fact, if the dragon is intelligent, then the story is actually a variation on a “man against man” conflict.)  Any time characters need to struggle to overcome a physical challenge, you have a man against nature conflict.

Frodo and Sam laboring to cross Mordor, then to climb that interminable stair…  Jack Aubrey struggling to sail the Surprise through a keel-cracking storm…  Gully Foyle putting on a patched space suit to venture into vacuum to gather bottled air and supplies…  These are just a few examples of memorable “man against nature” conflicts.

One way to differentiate “man against nature” conflicts from “man against man” conflicts is that the opponent is either non-thinking or restricted to a limited “animal” cunning.  A storm doesn’t care if it sinks the ship – no matter how much the sailors personify it or blame bad luck or whatever.  A man-eating tiger just wants a chance at an easy dinner.  It’s only humans who decide the tiger is on a vendetta to get even for a burned paw.

“Man against self” is the sort of conflict that changes a cardboard character into a three-dimensional human being.  SF in particular is prone to one-dimensional characters – in part because SF is the home of the “idea story.”  In too many idea stories, the characters become nothing but props for the exploration of that idea.

Fantasy and Mystery share with SF the great danger of characters being reduced to “types” – and not just mythic archetypes, but characters right out of central casting: the burly barbarian warrior; the sly, silent thief; the wise wizard stroking his long beard as he expounds some bit of lore; the tough detective whose weary eyes have seen too much; the gangster, street-smart, but curiously naïve; the prostitute with a heart of gold…

Giving these characters some internal conflict makes them more real – and provides some interesting potential plot twists.  What if your burly barbarian warrior is terrified of fire because he saw his family burned alive?  What happens when he confronts a flame-belching dragon?   Will he crumple or will his strong sense of duty to his companions keep him going?   What about a thief who, rather than being sly, is perfectly direct about why he turned to crime – and who hopes to earn enough money to run for parliament and set the social order right?

Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey is a great example of not only a character, but an entire series, being defined by a “man against self” conflict.  Peter suffers badly from shell-shock.  (They hadn’t invented the term PTSD then.  Anyhow, his problem really is related to shelling and trench warfare.)  When he returns to civilian life, he copes by focusing on various hobbies – the most absorbing of which is solving crimes.  As the series progresses, Peter recovers somewhat, but he never gets over a certain guilt that he is sending men to the gallows to distract himself from his own personal horrors.

Take care not to overweight your character with too many problems.  Not only do you risk alienating your reader, you risk turning your character into someone incapable of acting – or worse, a parody.  This last is fine if parody is your intention but, if you had hoped to create a tragic, Byronic figure who has turned to drink and is incapable of commitment, and instead end up with someone the readers see as a self-obsessed drunk who runs through girlfriends as fast as he does bottles of cheap gin…

Overweighting the character with internal conflicts isn’t as much a problem in SF and Fantasy, where rich world-building and complex challenges provide a balance, but I’m seeing it more and more in mystery fiction.

I’ve been talking for a while, so I’ll save a great example of a story that – despite being only novelette length – features all three forms of conflict.  Then I’ll finally discuss the hidden flaw that undermines what might seem like a story full of conflict…

TT: The Mystery of Zea

July 24, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wanderings?  Page back one for a song and some insight into the character of Adara from Artemis Awakening.   Then come back and adventure with me and Alan into the deep, dark verges of Staten Landt.

JANE: Y’know, Alan, we’ve been doing these Tangents for a long while now…

Where the Continents Are

Where the Continents Are

ALAN: Yes – we haven’t missed a week for three years! Let’s pat each other on the back.

JANE:  Actually, we’ll have to pat our own backs, since half-way around the globe is a bit of a stretch.  There, I’ve done it…

Anyhow, I realized that although I’ve been to New Zealand and feel a very strong connection to it because of our continued correspondence, I actually know very little about the history of its settlement by Europeans.  What’s a “Zea”?  How is yours “new”?

ALAN: I’ll do my best – but remember I’m a newcomer here myself. This stuff wasn’t drummed in to me at school. I may need to check things with my godson, Jamie. He’s eleven, and he knows stuff.

JANE: That’s fine with me.  Eleven is a good age for history.

ALAN: And I’m sure I’ll have some questions for you as well. Since I’m from England originally, my view of the settlement of America is accordingly somewhat skewed. (Damned upstart colonials! Humph!).

Now, to answer your original question…

The first European to lay eyes on this country was the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642. He named it Staten Landt because he assumed it was a peninsula connected to the tip of South America (at the time, the Dutch name for South America was Staten Landt).

JANE: At first, to this typically geography-challenged American, that sounded insane, but I took a moment to consult the gloriously decadent atlas I bought myself (because being geographically challenged is a handicap for a writer), and then the little globe Jim has had since he was a schoolboy.  I could see why Abel Tasman might have thought this.

He was just a bit off regarding distance, though, wasn’t he?

ALAN: Indeed he was.  In fact, when he got back home to Holland, the Dutch cartographers who produced the official maps for his expedition didn’t agree with his deductions at all, for that very reason, and so they named these lands Nova Zeelandia, which is Latin for New Zeeland – Zeeland (pronounced Zay-lont) is a province of Holland.

JANE: Darn!  I was hoping that Zee would turn out to be the name of the cartographer.    Tasman did get a landmass named after him though, right?

ALAN: He did very well in the naming stakes. The stretch of water that separates New Zealand and Australia is the Tasman Sea, and the large island just off the south-east coast of Australia is called Tasmania. That’s the home of the famous Tasmanian Devils that you might be familiar with from Warner Brothers’ cartoons…

JANE: Our zoo here in Albuquerque just received a couple of Tasmanian devils.  They’re not exactly cute like kiwi birds are cute, but we’re very happy to have them.

ALAN: I disagree. I think they look really cute and quite cuddly. Until you notice just how long and scary their claws are…

The Wellington Zoo has an Australian enclosure and they recently received a couple of Tasmanian devils to complete their collection. Most of the animals in the enclosure are free to wander around as they please and the Zoo visitors can wander round with them and get very close. However the Tasmanian Devils are in a separate caged area and people can’t interact with them directly. I’d never seen one until the Zoo acquired this pair, but now that I’ve seen just how lethal their claws look, I’m not surprised that the zoo keeps them caged.

JANE: Yet another thing we have in common!  Astonishing.

Now, we’ve gotten all the way to Nova Zeelandia.  How did you lose the “ia” at the end and acquire an “a” in place of the double “e”?

ALAN: The next European explorer to visit this area of the world was the Englishman James Cook in 1769. He mapped the entire coastline and proved that the country consisted of a set of islands, just as the Dutch cartographers had suspected. He anglicised the name they had assigned, and the country became New Zealand.

The native Maori were not impressed. They called the country Aoteoroa which translates as “The Land of the Long White Cloud.” Aoteoroa is still actively used today, by both Maori and non-Maori alike. And I think it is rather beautiful.

How did America get its name? It’s a weird sounding word…

JANE: First, I agree that Aoteoroa is a lovely word.  In the one story I wrote set in New Zealand, that was the name I chose to use.  However, “The Land of the Long White Cloud” would be a bit cumbersome for return address labels, wouldn’t it?

 As for America, well, it’s a little convoluted.  The name comes from an Italian (Florentine, actually) explorer who demonstrated that – like Tasman – Christopher Columbus was distance-challenged.  Columbus thought that he’d found the western edge of the Asia, thus the name “West Indies” that clings to the Caribbean to this day.  (And confused me like crazy when I was a kid.)

ALAN: I’ve always been vaguely surprised at the misinformation that people have about Columbus. I was taught at school that Columbus proved the world was round and that he discovered America. I was well into adulthood before I discovered that both those “facts” are utterly wrong. Scholars had known that the world was round since the days of the ancient Greeks, and as you rightly pointed out, Columbus didn’t discover America at all, he discovered the West Indies.

JANE: The half-truths about Columbus are fascinating, but you’re not going to divert me!  Back to America.

The explorer who disproved Columbus was named Amerigo Vespucci.  His first name, Latinized, was “Americus.”  This, in turn, became “America” and was attached to the two “New World” continents.  I’ve always thought it interesting that the Italians, who never established any colonies in North America, gave the name that has become almost synonymous with “citizen of the United States,” probably because it’s easier to say “I’m an American” rather than “I am a resident of the United States.”

Songwriters, political hacks, and writers of advertising slogans should probably found an annual holiday devoted to the man who saved them from having to come up with really complicated jingles and slogans.

ALAN: Absolutely! I’ve never understood why you have a Columbus Day holiday in America. You should immediately rename it Vespucci day

JANE: Okay!  I’m fighting an urge to recast a whole bunch of songs…  At least Bruce Springsteen sang, “Born in the U.S.A.”  He’s safe, but…  However, I will be serious and adult.

So, the Dutch were the first to locate New Zealand for the rest of Europe.  (It’s really easier to say “discovered,” but a lot of Polynesian peoples had already done that.)   Were the Dutch also the first Europeans to attempt to settle?

ALAN: Let’s talk about that next time. It’s quite an interesting story…


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