Archive for October, 2017

FF: Killing Frost???

October 27, 2017

This weekend I’m off to MiHiCon, where I’m author GOH, along with Eric Flint.  Complicating preparations is learning that we’re supposed to get a killing frost this weekend, so I had to go and save any produce I could.  This included about twenty more pomegranates!

Do Guinea Pigs Have Fairy Tails?

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt.  I liked more for the settings than for the humor, which didn’t strike me as very funny.

Fairy Tail, manga, volumes 10 and 11 by Hiro Mashima.

Champagne for One by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Murder By the Book by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

Fairy Tail, manga, volume 12, by Hiro Mashima.

Another Fine Myth by Rober Asprin.  Continuing my research for a panel this weekend.  I loved this series years ago.  Will it hold up?

Fer-de-lance by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  One of the longer ones…

Also:

Various items as I prepare for my panels.

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TT: Blendings

October 26, 2017

ALAN: Last time we discussed how Roger developed a meta-style that allowed him to complete a novel that Philip K. Dick had been unable to finish.

A Few More Mixes

I recall that when you were both here in New Zealand, Roger said that he was trying to do something similar in order to complete a novel fragment that Alfred Bester had left behind when he died. This collaboration was eventually published as Psychoshop.

When I read it, I was again impressed by the skill with which Roger blended his and Bester’s voices together. However, I was less than impressed with the novel itself. I felt that Psychoshop was a rather weak novel probably, I suspect, because the fragment that Bester left behind was itself very weak – a shaky foundation on which to build.

JANE: What I remember about that project is that Roger was incredibly excited by the idea of completing something by Bester.  He was a great admirer of Bester’s work, and this was a chance to try to slide into Bester’s style and mindset.  I don’t recall at this point how much of Bester’s work Roger had to go on, but the concept of a store that sells what you need…

Well, interesting as it is, it’s loaded with potential problems from the start.

ALAN: Indeed it is, and of course Bester wasn’t there for Roger to bounce ideas off. That must have made things difficult.

Roger went on to write two novels in collaboration with Fred Saberhagen. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember that Fred and Roger were close friends, so of course nothing could be more natural than to write stories together.

Rather like the collaborations with Thomas T. Thomas, they wrote one SF novel (Coils, 1982) and one fantasy novel (The Black Throne, 1990).

JANE: You’re absolutely right.  They were good friends.  Of the two novels they co-wrote, I’m particularly fond of Coils, but I couldn’t recall Roger ever telling me how he and Fred came to write it.  I asked Joan Saberhagen, and she said:

“In 1982, Fred and I were involved in creating computer games through our company Berserker Works Ltd. Seems likely to me that during  one of our social meetings, the guys would start discussing gaming and computers and such.  Can’t remember any specific instances though. Do remember our being up at Roger’s place and trying to talk him into using one of the early Apple computers for writing. Well, I believe, he always preferred his trusted typewriter.” (e-mail, 10-05-2017)

ALAN: Was she right about Roger and computers?

JANE: Oh, absolutely.  Fascinated in the abstract, but he never used one in practice.  Fred always claimed not to trust computers – and that was why he created the Berserkers – but he was definitely computer literate.  Roger would have enjoyed asking him questions, and I’m sure the seed of Coils were planted in that way.

ALAN: I’m mildly surprised at Roger’s lack of computer knowledge. His impressive fix-up novel My Name is Legion makes use of some very sophisticated computer ideas…

Anyway – back to Roger and Fred. How did they come to write The Black Throne?

JANE: What I recall Roger telling me is that The Black Throne began because of the Poe Parties Joan and Fred used to hold.  After a chat with Fred at one such party, Roger wandered off to Fred’s office, borrowed a typewriter, and wrote a rough treatment that they later built on.

Joan recalls something similar: “Yes, that seems quite likely. I was pretty busy being hostess at the parties, but, perhaps because the situation was somewhat unusual,  I do have a vague memory of Roger coming down from Fred’s office when the party was breaking up. Of course, I had no idea why he had been up in the office. I do know that both fellas were avid Poe fans. And, shortly after the Party, work on the book began.” (e-mail 10-05-17)

ALAN: Do you know how they handled the writing process?

JANE: Funny you’d ask that, because I asked Joan the same question.  Here’s what she said:

“As I recall, Fred wrote the first draft, Roger the second. Can’t remember how many passes they went through. I know they both felt the collaboration went exceptionally smoothly. I’m reasonably sure Roger did the final clean-up as to my mind Roger’s beautiful word play is all over that manuscript.“ (e-mail 10-05-17)

ALAN: I find the mechanics of collaboration endlessly fascinating…

Roger also wrote three novels with Robert Sheckley. Sheckley is one of my favourite writers. He wrote some brilliantly funny (and often very odd) stories. And of course I’m a huge fan of Roger’s writing as well. But I must confess that I felt their collaborative novels did neither of them any favours.

JANE: I will admit, they aren’t my favorites either.  I liked If At Faust You Don’t Succeed, but then I have a weakness for Faust stories.  The others were okay, but not really my flavor.

ALAN: The terrible pun in the title put me off the book straight away. And reading the book did nothing to correct that first impression.

Roger also collaborated on a novel with Gerald Hausman. We discussed this in detail as part of another Tangent.

JANE: We definitely did.  Rather than repeating ourselves, if anyone’s curious, they can look here.

ALAN: And finally, Roger collaborated on a short story with Harlan Ellison. This was part of a project that was eventually published as Partners in Wonder, a collection of fourteen short stories, each of which was an Ellisonian collaboration with another writer. Of his collaboration with Roger Zelazny, Ellison has this to say:

“…in a career lifetime of writing violent and frequently loveless fictions, this is one of the few times I feel my work has reached toward gentleness and compassion, and I don’t think I would have been able to do anything even remotely like it, had it not been for Roger.”

And that, I think, speaks volumes about the benefits of collaborative writing.

JANE: I agree… I certainly feel that way about our collaborations.  I enjoy how our chats lead me into areas I never would have gone on my own.

ALAN: That reminds me.  I have a question for you about a different sort of blending.  I’ll save it for next time.

Wolves at the Door

October 25, 2017

Outside, the wind is roaring.  Inside, my “to do” list of projects is also mightily gusting.  In fact, it’s longer than I can possibly get done before I depart for MiHiCon early Friday morning.  I’m looking forward to being one of MiHiCon’s author Guests of Honor, along with Eric Flint.  Although I’ve corresponded with Mr. Flint occasionally, I’ve never met him, and am quite looking forward to the opportunity.

Just Some of My Wolf Stuff

If I read the schedule correctly, you should be able to join me, Eric, and Carrie Vaughn for coffee on Saturday morning at the 9:00 a.m. Kaffeeklatch.

In addition to panels and interviews, I’ll be doing a reprise of my much-praised talk, “This is the End: Concluding Your Story or Novel.”  I came up with this topic after I noticed that there’s lots of material out there about getting started, but not nearly as much about finishing.  I’ve met many authors who have a book “almost” done, so I thought that talking about how to make the “almost” go away would be worthwhile.

Of course, I’ll end up talking about other things, too, because you can’t talk about the end without discussing other parts of the process.

During my “Hour With,” I will either read a short story or something from my forthcoming novel Asphodel, depending on my mood and whether the audience wants an ending or not…  I’ll also take questions about projects past, present, and future.  There are a lot of these!

I haven’t visited Colorado in a while and I’m hoping the weather will cooperate.  I used to drive to Colorado a couple of times a year when my dad was still alive, so the journey is certain to be very nostalgic.

My inside life has been full of wolves as I gear myself into beginning writing the seventh Firekeeper novel.   After a long break from Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and the rest, I find myself really excited about spending time with them again.

A small warning to those of you who are hoping for a nice trip down memory lane, complete with a golf bag full of token appearances of any and all characters.  That’s not going to happen.  I waited to write a new Firekeeper novel until I had a fresh new story so, while you’ll definitely hear about many of your old friends, we’re off to see new places, meet new people, and face new challenges.

This means that those of you who aren’t familiar with the series don’t need to worry that you need to read thousands of pages just to try out a new book.  However, this is definitely going to be a new Firekeeper novel, not merely one set in the same universe.  It begins within a year or so of the events chronicled in Wolf’s Blood, and Firekeeper and Blind Seer will be at the heart of the action.

That’s about all I have to say about the book right now…  However, if you’re the sort of person who likes to re-read a series before starting the new book, you might want to get started.  Some of those earlier books are long.  Don’t have copies anymore?  I have copies of all the hard covers except for The Dragon of Despair for sale in my website bookshop.

If you prefer e-books, you might want to wait before buying copies.  New editions will be coming out – hopefully sometime early in 2018.  In addition to the text of the novel, the new editions will have an afterpiece dealing with about some aspect of the series.  These editions should also be free of the numerous typos/formatting errors that plagued the Tor editions.  Careful proofing is one reason they’re not ready yet!  It takes a while to carefully read something that long.  I can only do a few hours a day.

So…  Time’s a-wastin’!  Hope to see you this weekend!

FF: Changing Seasons

October 20, 2017

When I’ve had spare time,  I’ve been shelling pomegranates.  While I do so, I listen to audiobooks.

Kel Wants a Hippogriff

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Prisoner’s Base by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt.  I’ve read the first two installments (The Roaring Trumpets and The Mathematics of Magic). Now reading The Castle of Iron.  I’ve also read the Afterword, where L. Sprague de Camp discusses collaborating with Fletcher Pratt.  Very timely in light of the discussion Alan and I have been having in the Tangents.

Fairy Tail, volume 10, by Hiro Mashima.

Champagne for One by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  In case you wonder, these are really short!  I’ll probably finish this one today.

Also:

Anyone else’s mail beginning to fill with holiday catalogs?

TT: The Sum of the Parts

October 19, 2017

ALAN: Last time I mentioned the symmetrical Thomas T. Thomas who collaborated on a novel with Frederik Pohl. It occurs to me that he also collaborated with Roger Zelazny on a couple of novels, Flare and The Mask of Loki.

Collaboration and Inspiration

Indeed, now that I think about it, Roger actually wrote quite a lot of collaborative novels with a large number of different authors. Shall we talk about these?

JANE: Absolutely!  I believe I’ve read all of them and, now that I consider it, written a couple as well, although those were…  Well, we can get to that later, if we want.

Roger’s collaborative works were mostly novels.  He wrote one with Philip K. Dick, two with Fred Saberhagen, two with Thomas T. Thomas, three with Robert Sheckley, and one with Gerald Hausman.  In addition, he wrote a short story with Harlan Ellison.  Oh!  And he completed a work that Alfred Bester left unfinished.

Where would you like to start?

ALAN: Well, since I’ve already mentioned Thomas T. Thomas, let’s start with him. The two novels he and Roger wrote together are almost at opposite ends of the literary spectrum – Flare is science fiction and The Mask of Loki is fantasy (though with some science fictional elements), which says something about both their talents, I think.

It’s been many years since I read these books, so I’m a little vague about the details. Flare, if I recall correctly, has almost no plot as such. It deals with the effects of a huge solar flare on a disparate group of people – really it’s just a series of vignettes. But I found the technique to be very effective and I remember enjoying the book a lot. The Mask of Loki is a much more traditional fantasy about an eternal battle between the avatars of Loki and Ahriman and outside of that I remember nothing at all about it, so clearly it didn’t make much of an impression on me.

JANE: I haven’t read either in a long while, but I vaguely recall that I preferred The Mask of Loki, because it was more of a story with plot and characters, although I will admit it had few surprises.  Flare was definitely the more ambitious book.

By the way, Flare was meant to be episodic.  I believe the influence was a book by George R. Stewart called Storm, in which the main character is a storm.

Flare had another bonus in that it gave Roger a chance to delve into writing poetry again.  He wrote an entire poetic imitation of Iknaton’s “Hymn to the Son,” small portions of which were used as chapter breaks.  Some years ago, Warren Lapine’s DNA Publications published a chapbook that includes the entire poem, as well as an essay by Roger about his writing.  There’s also an essay by me…

ALAN: How did Roger and Thomas get together? Were they friends? Thomas is a rather obscure writer, so it seems odd that the two of them would collaborate, particularly on more than one book. Do you know anything about the background?

JANE: Oddly enough, you’ve chosen to start with one of the few of Roger’s collaborations that didn’t begin out of Roger having a previous relationship with the author.  Roger had met Thomas T. Thomas before they started writing together, but the collaborations were encouraged by editor Jim Baen.

That said, Roger did enjoy working with Thomas.  (Heh, you can guess if I’m referring to him by his first or last name).  So overall, it was a good experience for him.  Actually, I hope it was for them both.

ALAN: When you and Roger were here in New Zealand, I recall Roger talking about Deus Irae, his collaboration with Philip K. Dick. Apparently Dick had a fragment of a novel that he was stuck on and somehow (I’m not sure how) Roger had been persuaded to complete it. Dick’s title for the novel fragment was The Kneeling Legless Man (which may well explain why he got stuck!). Do you have any idea how Roger got involved in the project?

JANE: That was well before my time, so I can only say that Roger heard – I think from Ted White – that Dick had a novel he couldn’t finish and needed to.  White had been approached, but had not been able to get into the project.

Roger knew Dick and was interested in his work, so he offered to step in.  They worked on the project in a somewhat dilatory fashion until the publisher pressed Dick either for the book or a return of the advance.

ALAN: Roger said that he’d tried very hard to emulate Dick’s writing style and tone of voice. I thought Roger did a marvellous job of chanelling Philip K. Dick. The joins didn’t show at all.

JANE: Actually, what Roger did was more clever than merely emulating Dick’s style.  Let me quote from a letter Roger wrote to me about the process:

“Before I’d started on it, I read or re-read sufficient of his material to teach myself how to mimic his style.  I didn’t do it though, but chose a style between his & mine, a kind of meta Phil Dick style which blended well [with] his own & made the thing come out sounding like something reminiscent of both of us but not exactly like either.” (August 3, 1989)

ALAN: That’s interesting – and you’re right, it’s a much more clever and more subtle approach than I remembered. And there’s another writer whose style Roger adopted (and possibly adapted) in order to complete an unfinished work. Perhaps we can talk about that literary experiment next time?

JANE: Sounds good!

Living Jewels

October 18, 2017

These days, pulled as I am between various projects, I feel like Persephone – no, not my cat – the goddess who lived between worlds because she had dined on the fruit of the Underworld and ever after could never be fully at home in either world.

Persephone and Pomegranates

I’ve finished a rough draft of the novel, possibly novels, I’ve been working on since April.  I’ve written a proposal and given it to my agent.  Now I’m reviewing the treasure chest of future projects.  Looking at the omens, I think the next one is likely to be Firekeeper-related, so I’m sinking myself into that world and those characters.

I’m also considering a short story.  This not as contradictory as it may sound.  I tend to get fidgety if I’m not writing, so doing something short is a good way to let my creativity relax so my subconscious is freed up.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be working on other promised projects.  Asphodel – my first original, self-published project – is still on track for release early next year.  The new cover art for the e-books of Changer and Changer’s Daughter is just about ready.  I have several e-book reprints in the works.  However, if all I did was editorial and administrative, I’d be unpleasant to live with.

In most retellings of the Persephone myth, the fruit she dined on was a pomegranate.  I have a thriving pomegranate shrub in my yard.  Seen from the outside, the fruit doesn’t look like much, but when you crack it open, it shines like jewels.

Nice when metaphor and reality fit so neatly, isn’t it?

FF: Sitting and Waiting

October 13, 2017

News Flash: Today at 4:30 p.m. on KURU 89.1, GMCR radio, I’ll be doing a half-hour interview. The show is called Use Your Words: Writers Speak.  If you can’t get that station, the interview should be archived, at some point, at http://gmcr.org/category/use-your-words/.

Ogapoge Approves of Greebo

This week I’ve done a lot sitting in waiting rooms, so I’ve also done a lot of reading.

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  We finally finished this driving back and forth from Santa Fe on Tuesday.  Not the strongest plot – in fact, there was a strong sense of “Oops!  I forgot to tie up that loose end!” but good enough as a distraction on the road.

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett.  Fun and thoughtful enough that the next book I chose to read was…

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett.  New Orleans heavily seasoned with fairytale motifs.

Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

In Progress:

Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

The Compleat Enchanger by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt.  At MiHiCon at the end of October, I’m on a panel on humor in SF/F and this is an interesting way to prepare.

Also:

Still working on the most recent Smithsonian.  Almost done with the article on Russia.

TT: Fred Pohl — Team Player

October 12, 2017

ALAN: As we mentioned last time, Pohl was a great collaborator. He wrote some short stories with Isaac Asimov (published as by “James MacCreigh”). He wrote a novel with Lester Del Rey (Preferred Risk by “Edson McCann” in 1955). He also collaborated with the oddly symmetrical Thomas T. Thomas on Mars Plus! (1994), a sequel to his own 1976 novel Man Plus!  He wrote a lot of first class novels with Jack Williamson. And of course there are the famous novels that he wrote in the 1950s with his close friend Cyril Kornbluth. Despite being more than fifty years old now, these last can still be read with pleasure today. They are genuine classics.

Two To Carry the Book

I suppose everybody has to have a hobby…

JANE: From what I’ve gathered, Fred Pohl’s participation in the SF world was rich and multi-faceted.  He was a member of the Futurians, a group dedicated to “radical politics and the conviction that sf should be forward-looking and constructive” according to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Pohl was also an editor for various magazines, including Astonishing Stories, Super Science Stories, Galaxy, and If, among others.  He also edited original anthologies.

ALAN: And when he was sitting in the editorial chair, he would sometimes buy stories from his writer self and then publish them under a pseudonym so as to conceal what he was doing! How’s that for having your cake and eating it too?

JANE: Gee…  I guess self-publishing has a more noble pedigree than I’d ever realized.

For a period following World War II, Pohl was also an agent.  I suspect that his roles as author, SF think tank member, editor, and agent put him in a position to find people who had a great idea that they couldn’t quite bring to fruition.  At the very least, there were probably some marvelous brainstorming sessions.

ALAN: Cyril Kornbluth and Isaac Asimov, with both of whom Pohl collaborated, were also Futurians.  So there may well be something to what you’re saying. And certainly in his book about the history of the Futurians (The Futurians ,1977), Damon Knight makes it very clear that one thing they all really loved to do was talk about anything and everything.

JANE:  Let’s move from generalizations to specific cases.   You seem very fond of Pohl’s collaborations with Cyril Kornbluth.  Was there something special or unique in these that the books would not have had if they had been written by either Pohl or Kornbluth alone?

ALAN: That’s difficult to answer because Kornbluth died quite young (he was only thirty-five), and so his output was small. He only wrote three novels under his own name and all, with the possible exception of The Syndic, are minor works

However his short stories often exhibit the same sardonic cynicism that is used to great satirical effect in his collaborations with Frederik Pohl.  We also see a similar emphasis in the novel Gunner Cade (1952) by “Cyril Judd”, another collaboration, this time between Kornbluth and Judith Merril.

Pohl, in his solo works, exhibited many of these same traits, and so I suspect that the Pohl / Kornbluth collaborations do not really showcase anything special that the other collaborator did not have, rather the two of them were so similar in their views (and their talents) that they struck sparks off each other and somehow the whole was far greater than the sum of the parts.

JANE:  That sounds like a reasonable conclusion.

Jack Williamson had a long relationship with Fred Pohl as a collaborator.  Interestingly, the collaborative partnership grew directly out of the fact that Pohl was Williamson’s agent.  Let me quote directly from Seventy-Five, a Jack Williamson tribute anthology.

“…when a story called ‘The Bottom of the Abyss’ failed to work, he turned to his then-agent Frederik Pohl, and together they turned out three juvenile stories about Jim Eden and his undersea adventures.  Later, when a story about ‘The Iron Hand’ stalled, working with Pohl again resulted in the ‘Starchild Trilogy.’  All subsequent books co-written with Fred Pohl were planned at the outset as collaborations.”

ALAN: That’s interesting. I wasn’t aware that the ‘Starchild Trilogy’ came about because Williamson got stuck. It was one of my favourite stories when I was a teenager and I read it multiple times. So naturally I’m very pleased that he and Pohl got together and finished it.

JANE: What about Pohl’s other collaborators?  Anything special there?

ALAN: The Asimov collaborations (just a couple of short stories) are of no great interest.

The 1955 collaboration with Lester del Rey (Preferred Risk) is interesting, but for all the wrong reasons! One of the great strengths of the Pohl/Kornbluth collaborations was the biting satire that they applied to various institutions. Pohl returned to this satirical theme with Lester del Rey and together they attempted to do for the insurance industry what Pohl and Kornbluth had done for advertising (The Space Merchants), corrupt business practices, corporate law and propaganda (Gladiator-At-Law), and sociology and politics (Search The Sky). Unfortunately Pohl and del Rey did not strike sparks off each other in the way that Pohl and Kornbluth had done and Preferred Risk reads like a very pale imitation of the much more sucessful collaborations with Kornbluth.

JANE: What about Mars Plus?

ALAN: Pohl’s original book Man Plus! was such a hugely successful, award winning novel that the last thing it really needed was a sequel. So while there’s nothing about Mars Plus! that you can really complain about, it nevertheless feels a bit wishy-washy in comparison.

JANE: Of course, the hugely successful award-winning novels are the ones publishers want sequels to…

So, which collaborative author or pair do we look at next?  Whisper in my ear so we won’t have any spoilers!

ALAN: Whisper whisper.

JANE: Ah!  That might be very interesting indeed!

What’s Good About Stereotypes?

October 11, 2017

These last couple of weeks my pleasure reading has largely centered around rereading some of the works Dorothy L. Sayers and Terry Pratchett.

This Will Make Sense. Honest!

Last Sunday, as I was cutting up apples for an apple/quince pie, it occurred to me that both of these authors get a lot of mileage out of using stereotypes to develop creative three-dimensional characters.

Yep.  You read that right.

I know, this seems a complete contradiction.  One of the worst things critics can say about a book is that the characters are stereotypes.  Yet both Sayers and Pratchett are repeatedly praised for their thoughtful and well-developed characters.  How can they be both?

What exactly is a stereotype?  Well, to oversimplify, a stereotype is when something – I’m talking about characters in this Wandering, but this can apply to plots or settings or nationalities and many other things – is oversimplified down to a few highly recognizable details.  The thing is, the reason stereotypes work is that there’s usually a grain of truth at the heart of them.

The first time I attended an archeological conference with Jim, I was bemused to find my weathered, long-haired, bearded husband fit in very well in the company of his tribe.  The fact is,  many male archeologist do wear their hair longer and are often bearded.  Why?  More hair protects the neck and face from exposure.  Also, if you’re living somewhere without running water, shaving is a real nuisance.  Weathered skin comes with working outdoors in all sorts of conditions.  Sunblock can only do so much.

I can already hear the “buts…”  Hold onto them.  I’m getting there.

Stereotypes certainly have a negative side.  However, the negative reaction to stereotypes has become more pronounced in recent years both as a very justifiable reaction to profiling and a cultural obsession with individuality.   The reality is that, not so long ago, people delighted in wearing the badge of their particular tribe.  And, no, I’m not talking about the traditional peasant dress of European cultures or Native American tribes.  When I was in college, the “preppie” look was all the rage.  Before that there were hippies, beatniks, and red necks.  These days we have Goths and so on…

I’m sure you can think of others.

The trick with using stereotypes effectively is knowing when and how to give the stereotype the twist that turns the character into a three-dimensional person.  An added bonus is the fun that comes when the stereotype acts out of type – or when another character judges the supposedly stereotypical character on appearances alone.

Remember I said I’d come back to your “buts”?  There are always exceptions to the stereotype – so much so that the phrasing for reacting to such has become standard in and of  itself.   “I never would have imagined you were a…” Fill in the blank: librarian, soldier, police officer, kindergarten teacher.  Or, by contrast, “He was so typically a fill in the blank that it was a surprise to find out that he fill in the blank.”

Terry Pratchett so often uses stereotypes as the building blocks of both his characters and plots that I could write an entire book on how cleverly he subverts, inverts, and probably even coverts expectations.  I’ll restrain myself to just one example here.

The classic “Mother, Maiden, Crone” triad is at the heart of his three original witch characters: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick.  However, right from the start he starts playing with the stereotypes.

Granny Weatherwax is not just the wisest because she’s the oldest – the crone (though never call her that to her face, not if you want to keep on having a face).  She’s the wisest because she’s what you might call an intellectual witch with a specialization in “headology.”

Nanny is definitely a mother…  In all senses of the word.   She’s matriarch of an impossibly large clan, deliverer of numerous babies, and definitely an “earth” mother type.  In fact, the word “earthy” was probably invented for hard-drinking, gluttonous, highly sexual Nanny.

Margrat is the modern witch.  Let her speak for herself:

“Witches just aren’t like that… We live in harmony with the great cycles of Nature, and don’t do no harm to anyone, and it’s wicked to say we don’t.”

The next line is the kicker that swerves the stereotype around into reality:

“We ought to fill their bones with lead.”  (Wyrd Sisters)

Dorothy Sayers often carries her use of stereotypes  as far as giving her characters names that reflect some aspect of their character – although even there, she’s often being sly.  Lord Peter Wimsey is thought by most who meet him to be the stereotypical British peer: idle, drawling, “a bit of an ass.”  Even his family motto “As my Whimsy takes me” seems to support this view.

But Sayers swerves this hard to one side because it turns out that where Peter’s whimsy takes him is in on unflinching quest for discovering the truth.  Those who judge him on stereotypical surface traits are in for a shock.  Is the rest a lie or pose?  Not at all.  It’s just another part of a complex human being.

I could go on at greater length, but I shall restrain myself.  After all, I might fall into the stereotype of the author, former professor of English, who cannot restrain herself from pedantic exposition.  Instead I’ll go off and paint a horse…

FF: When I’m Writing

October 6, 2017

When I am immersed a difficult or complex part of a project, I still read, but very often I re-read, because this lets me moderate the extra voices in my head.  Think of it as a literary soundtrack meant to be enjoyable and even stimulating, but not distracting.

Kel says: Sink into a Good Book!

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.   This book was published in 1934, and still speaks to many issues.  Two that immediately come to mind are writing from the heart, rather than only the brain, and the challenges that face professional women in a way they do not their male peers.

On Bowie by Rob Sheffield.  The author notes at the end that this book was written in a month, and that Bowie’s now-classic album Low was also done in a month.  I must admit, I didn’t see a correlation.

In Progress:

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  Jim and I often listen to Stephanie Plum novels on road trips.  We were so taken by the scenery, that we didn’t quite finish, but doubtless will – maybe while running errands or doing a puzzle.

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett.  I believe this was the first Pratchett I read, a gift from a delighted Roger Zelazny.

Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

Also:

I’ve moved on to the most recent issue of Smithsonian.