Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Tue 10 Oct 00 08:22
Great to have other folks joining in! I'll bring the Brazen Hussies blimp to all the bookstores and will use it if conditions permit. (We had a near-tragic re-enactment of the Hindenberg disaster at a Booksmith signing, where there was a close encounter between the blimp and a ceiling fan. The blimp got sucked into the updraft, caught in a blade, and spun furiously (making a Thurberesque thwapata, thwapata, thwapata sound and spraying blimp ballast (pennies and beebees mostly) all over the store), until its battery flew in one direction, the gondola flew in another, and the blimp envelope flew in a third. Thanks to the wonders of plastic, the blimp survived, but I am more cautious about where I fly it.) As for more authors, my initial response is "More? More? Are you kidding?" On the other hand, I always wanted to write a romance under the pen name Joyce James. I figure she would have automatic name recognition. I imagine people scratching their heads and thinking, "I've heard of her. Didn't she write literary stuff about Dublin...?" I'll return with the suggestions on how to keep books in print and thoughts on Wild Angel's style and intentions after work. I've got to run to the Exploratorium now, and play some games. We're working on a book of math activities for middle school kids, and I'm working on games just now. Gotta run. More later.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Tue 10 Oct 00 12:07
It's a rough job.
Beelzebubba (sd) Tue 10 Oct 00 12:40
I'm glad that someone does it though!! My kids and I adored the Exploratorium on our visit to SF this summer. I liked being able to see what was going on in the shop.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 10 Oct 00 17:23
Email from Michaela Roessner: Here's a posting for the ongoing dialog/interview with Pat Murphy on topic 90: Although Pat is supposedly a Brazen Hussy, she's probably too modest to mention that if you live in the Bay Area and want to meet her, that the perfect opportunity is this coming weekend. She and the other two Brazen Hussies are going to be doing a mini-signing/reading tour, beginning with Dark Carnival Bookstore in Berkeley starting at 5 p.m. on Friday the 13th; then Borderlands Bookstore in San Francisco on Saturday the 14th, also starting at 5 p.m.; finishing up Sunday with Kepler's bookstore in the south bay at 5:30 p.m. (Kepler's is a signing-only.) Pat gives terrific readings, not to mention that she's very generous with sharing entertaining anecdotes, and answers all non-scurrilous questions openly and forthrightly. Cordially, Fellow Brazen Michaela Roessner -- http://www.brazenhussies.net/Roessner/
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 10 Oct 00 17:27
What a great itinerary that is!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 10 Oct 00 17:28
Via email from Pam Keesey: Hi Pat, Hi Everyone, Thanks for inviting me to comment on the connection between women, wolves and werewolves. Pat, you've pretty much hit it on the head. In my experience, women feel very connected to wolves not only because of the freedom they represent. As you mentioned, women are also drawn to wolves because of their essential wildness, their animal nature. There are also a lot of other parallels between women and wolves. For example, wolves have been maligned and misrepresented, this dangerous reputation leading, in part, to the endangerment of wolves. Their lifestyles and habitats have also been threatened by the encroachment of "civilization." Wolves are very intelligent creatures. Wolves are also volatile when threatened and fiercely protective of their young. In mythology, it was a wolf mother who raised Romulus and Remus who then went on to found the city of Rome. As far as the werewolf is concerned, it's really the animalism that most women seem to find most appealing. Werewolves live by instinct, listening to inner urges and acting on them. While vampires rely on seducing their prey (the classic femme fatale approach), werewolves are proactive, taking what they want when they want it without thinking about it, planning for it, or strategizing. I've had women tell me that they actually find the image of the werewolf more erotic than that of the vampire because the werewolf is more visceral. There's the sensation of "the change," of course, but there is a full-body awareness in the werewolf, more instinctual, more carnal, more lustful than other images of women as mythological creatures. It's this wildness that women find so appealing, I think. Women often relate to both wolves and werewolves as the animal within, living outside society's imposed restrictions on who a woman ought to be. Thanks again for inviting me to join the discussion! Pam Keesey http://www.pamkeesey.com
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 10 Oct 00 17:31
Now that you mention it a wolf is warm blooded, a vampire seems as if it might crave blood because it is cold. And wolves have such beautiful eyes.
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Tue 10 Oct 00 20:31
I'm so glad that Pam Keesey could stop by and join the discussion. She mentioned the eroticism of "the change" of the werewolf's change from woman to wolf. That's something that I found very compelling when I was writing Nadya--the Wolf Chronicles. One of my favorite short passages in that book deals with the change: I'm going to be terribly self-indulgent and type it in here. I just can't resist. For those of you who always wanted to be a werewolf, here's a description of the Change. " You want to know how it feels, to go through the Change? It begins with warmth, as if the moonlight on your skin carried the heat of the tropical sun. But the warmth comes from within you, not from outside. You can feel your heart beating and your blood surging through your body, pounding in your veins and arteries. The moon pulls on your blood as it pulls on the ocean: you are caught in the tide, a riptide that you are powerless to resist. Your body burns with the heat and you breathe faster, moaning sometimes. There is something you want, something you needyou know that, though you cannot yet describe what that something is." "You cannot tell if this feeling is pleasure or pain. Those words do not apply. You feel a new intensity (surely it could not have felt like this on the last full moon). You feel like you might be dying or you might, at last, be coming to life. In this moment, the two seem much the same. And maybe you want to stop, you want to call out "No, no, no, this is too much. I can't..., I won't...." But what it is that you can't or won't do is lost in clouds and darkness, because no words come to you. Words are going away, rushing away from you, a babble that no longer has meaning or value. You are poised on the brink, on the knife's edge, at the precipice of the mountain, at the edge of the cliff, and you are staring down at a new world, a world that you never imagined existed." "And when the Change comes at last, it comes with an inexorable rush, like the rush of orgasm. You cannot control it. Your body has made its decision, and the you that thinks and talks and plans and believes that it controls so much, that you is carried along, like a straw in the river's current. The river is sweeping you away into the unknown. And there is no stopping the river, there is no turning back."
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Tue 10 Oct 00 20:43
Oops. Almost forgot I left some earlier questions unanswered. Here is the list of ways you can help keep books you love in print. (Just to give credit where it's due, some of these are from my fellow brazen hussy, Michaela Roesner; others are gathered from other women writers and readers.) These tips were part of a brochure produced for Wiscon, a feminist SF convention held in Madison Wisconsin each spring. The printing of the brochure was paid for by the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award, an award given each year to the work of SF or fantasy that best explores and expands gender roles. (for more on the award, check out www.tiptree.org) Anyway, here are the suggestions: 10 WAYS TO KEEP BOOKS YOU LOVE IN PRINT #1 Review the book you love online in a newsgroup, on a webzine, on an e-commerce site, or on a personal web site. This is an easy way to tell a lot of people about a fabulous book. People pay attention to reviews. Hey--authors read reviews. With a good review, you can make an author's day. #2 When asked what you want for your birthday, or Hanukkah, or Christmas, or any other gift-giving occasion, answer with your favorite author's current book. #3 Give books as presents. If someone has a favorite author, buy that author's latest title. If the gift recipient doesn't have a favorite author, buy a book by an author you like. If your friend likes the book, you've done the author a big favor by creating a new fan. #4 Ask for books by your favorite author at your local library. If the library doesn't have a book, request it. Checking a book out of the library helps establish that there's a demand for that author's work. Demand leads library systems to buy books. #5 Tell writers how much their work has affected you. Go to readingseven if you can't afford to buy the book. Urge your local library bookstore or your school to invite the writer to do a talk, a reading, or a class visit. Sometimes writers just need to know that someone is listening. #6 Talk about books and authors at work, among friends, and in other not-necessarily literary environments. If you belong to a writing group, recommend your favorite authors to the group. If you add a book to your reading group, tell your favorite bookstore what you've done and buy your books there. The bookstore may put them out front on display. #7 Point to good books in the bookstore and tell people, even total strangers, "That one is great." If you see someone looking at a copy of a book you like, encourage them to buy it. #8 Carry around a copy of a book you love. Read it on buses, in waiting rooms, and in other public places. Be prepared to wax eloquent about itspontaneously or only when asked; that's up to you. #9 Just because a book is out-of-print doesn't necessarily mean you can't get it. Lightning Print Inc. is currently asking for suggestions for books to reprint. You can vote now at their web site: http://www.lightingprint.com/scripts/TitleRequest.asp?nav=bookstores. #10 Nominate your favorite authors for awards. Any year that you are a member of the World Science Fiction Convention, you can nominate and vote for the Hugo Award. Nominate gender-bending works for the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award (http://www.tiptree.org/) and works with gay or lesbian content for the Lambda Literary Award. If you subscribe to Locus Magazine, you can nominate works for the Locus Poll and Survey. And yes, it's worth taking the timeawards make a difference to an author's sales and that helps keep books in print. Above all else, keep reading!
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Tue 10 Oct 00 21:29
OK, now I'll finally get back to emilyg's excellent question: "Did you consciously decide on how you'd emulate the pulp style, Pat?" That's such a good question that you forced me to go back and take a look at the characteristics of the pulps, which I compiled back when I was teaching a class on Science Fiction at University of California at Santa Cruz. I did not, mind you, look at these characteristics when I was writing Wild Angel. But now, after the fact, I figure that they can help me figure out exactly what I was doing. Here are the characteristics of the pulp stories and magazines of the 20s and 30s, extracted back when I was playing professor. A work of pulp fiction: 1) Includes a hero with whom the reader can identify. 2) Employs an action/adventure formula with threats that are overt and physical, not abstract and thoughtful. There's good and evil and not a lot of gray areas. 3) May create characters that have so firm a place in the culture that the images and conflicts they summon could be considered archetypal. (Tarzan is an example of this) 4) employs straightforward, idiomatic language, often quickly written prose. 5) reinforces the general culture. (At the time, this meant white guys were smartest people around, women must be protected, foreigners are dangerous, etc.) In Wild Angel, I was consciously doing #1 and #2, while striving for #3. As for the prose itself, there was no way I was going to attempt to imitate Burroughs' prose. I mean, consider this sentence plucked at random from Tarzan: "Never had the ape-man fought so terrible a battle since that long-gone day when Bogani, the great king gorilla, had so horribly manhandled him ere the new-found knife had, by accident, pricked the savage heart." Whew! No, I wasn't going to try that. In There and Back Again, Max emulated the style of Tolkein, but Tolkein was a good writer. Burroughs was not. Moving on, I played with #5--the villain is a white guy, the hero is a young girl, the native Americans are among the best people. One of the reasons that I wanted to play with classics of fantastic literaturesuch as The Hobbit and Tarzan--is to introduce to these worlds characters and ways of thinking that were more in line with my own. That's what I can tell you about what I was trying to do. I didn't want to borrow style from Burroughs, but I did borrow the wild abandon with which he constructed a plot. I had a great time writing about the Clampers, the traveling circus, the Temperance lecturer, and the encounters among these groups. (One of the things I remember best about the Tarzan books was the way Tarzan was always racing across the jungle, from one group of travelers to another. There were always multiple folks lost in the jungle, getting into trouble and requiring rescue, providing an opportunity for much adventure.) emilyg also asked: "Did you mean to avoid updating it to a more contemporary, sort of "post-modern" self-parody?" I'm not sure what you mean. The shift in attitudes does constitute an updating, as far as I'm concerned. I really wasn't after a parody--Wild Angel is an unabashed action adventure book, not a parody of one. Does that answer the question? I hope so. If not, try asking again from another angle, and I'll try another answer. Oh, yes--one other borrowing from Burroughs. His work emphasized return to a pastoral environment, escape from claustrophobic urban culture. Wild Angel definitely fits that description, I think.
Shaun Dale (stdale) Tue 10 Oct 00 22:33
I sat down with "Wild Angel" fully intending to find all kinds of interesting observations to add to the discussion here, but I have to admit that I just got caught up in the yarn, finished it straight through in a day, and enjoyed the hell out of it. Now that I've read some of the thoughts presented here, I'm starting to think about it more, but so far that hasn't diminished my enjoyment measurably. I was never a particular fan of Burroughs. My favorite Tarzan stories were Johnny Weismuller movies. I have read more Doc Savage books than I generally admit to, though, and they're about as pulpy as it gets. I think you wrote a heck of a pulp, Pat. I'll come up with something more profound as the conversation develops, I hope, but meanwhile I hope it's ok if I thought the book was a lot of fun.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Tue 10 Oct 00 23:35
It is a fun book. Remarking on your #5 (and there is a much stronger, Dances-with-Wolves strain in today's general culture about Indians being among the best people): the Indians are among the best people in the book (though there are a lot of really swell good guys in it). But the Indians don't stick around very long. Long enough so that a modern reader can allow herself not to quibble _too_ much about Sarah being able to pick up English as a teenager, long enough to explain why she knows some of what she does about weapons--but then they go offstage. What does an Indian have to do to get equal billing with a traveling circus? Or is it just out of their control?
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Wed 11 Oct 00 06:54
Hey, Shaun, it's more than OK that you thought the book was a fun read--that's just great. I'm glad to hear you got caught up in the yarn. In a way, this project has been, in part, an excuse to write a couple of books that I figure would make excellent reading on the beach or on a plane. You know, those books that you pick up and read in one sitting without stopping for breath. It sounds like I succeeded in that for you, and that makes me very happy. I'm really hoping that all this analysis of pseudonyms and pulps and metafictional conceits doesn't ruin anyone's enjoyment of the books. First and foremost, I intended both There and Back Again and Wild Angel to be good reads, books that swept the reader away for a time. You know, good, old-fashioned, escapist literature. Hey, I lived on that stuff as a kid (growing up in the suburbs in an unhappy household, I would far sooner have been swinging through the trees or blasting off through space). I should probably say something about "escapist," lest I be misunderstood. "Escapist" is usually regarded as a slam, as in the phrase: "trashy escapist literature." But I don't share that view. I find in my lecture notes on the pulps: "All art provides unearned instant gratification: a gratification necessary to our psychic well-being. C.S. Lewis was once moved to observe that the only people to whom the word "escape" is a pejorative are jailers." Pulp literature (you know, that trashy escapist stuff) is often regarded with disdain. But hey, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler wrote for the pulps. There's good beach reading and bad beach reading. Writing There and Back Again and Wild Angel was, for me, part of acknowledging and accepting the roots of the science fiction genre and of my own affection for it. As a "literary science fiction writer," I've spent a lot of time saying, "No, the stuff I write isn't like Star Wars. No, not at all." Now, There and Back Again is like Star Wars--at least in the superficial, action-adventure, blast off across the galaxy stuff. But there's something else to this, too. Why write a pulp, action-adventure story that just carries the reader along and doesn't really make him/her think? Well, it's a sneaky way of changing the world. I don't know if anyone out there has read a book by Carolyn Heilbrun called "Writing a Woman's Life." In it, Heilbrun talks about how we live the stories we read and hear. She writes: "...it is a hard thing to make up stories to live by. We can only retell and live by the stories we have read or heard. We live our lives through texts. They may be read, or chanted, or experience electronically, or come to us, like the murmurings of our mothers, telling us what conventions demand. Whatever their form or medium, these stories have formed us all...." On an unconscious level, we accept fiction as real (especially during our young, impressionable years). The stories we read sink down into our unconscious minds and shape our view of the world. If, as in the classic pulps, men get all the starring roles, that becomes an unconscious assumption to be battled. As a writer, my job is to tell stories that you believe. If I do my job well, you believe these stories on a very deep level. As a writer, I present my view of the world. My view is one with strong women doing interesting and adventurous things, and I'd like that view to become part of the popular unconscious. As Martha pointed out, "Studies show that most people (men and women) in our culture tend to think there are more women when the number of women is over about one third." The direct way to change that is to keep pointing it out. The sneaky way is to keep write books that work to change it on the unconscious level. But if I wrote the books just to do that, I'd be writing propaganda, and that's not what I'm up to. I'm trying to tell interesting stories filtered through my perceptions of the world--and I'm using the pulp tradition and a metafictional conceit to do it. For people who haven't read Wild Angel or There and Back Again, I suggest that you try to put all this theorizing from your minds when you read them. Just read the story. When I conceived of this, I hoped it would unfold like an extended joke where each book works in its own right but adds up to something bigger. Whew! Scratch a writer and you find a whole lot of theories. Anyway, on to Martha's question: "What does an Indian have to do to get equal billing with a traveling circus? Or is it just out of their control?" It's tough to compete with a traveling circus. Once I brought an elephant to California, I had to use her. My apologies to Malila's tribe. Maybe they'll get a bigger part in some future Mary Maxwell story. In Nadya--The Wolf Chronicles, the native Americans played a much more significant role. But in Wild Angel, I just couldn't stop Gyro Serunca and his traveling circus from taking center stage. By the way, I must warn other writers about introducing an elephant to a novel. Ruby was a very well-behaved elephant, but I found myself constantly concerned about where she was, what she could eat, all the details of an elephant's life. My advice to young writers: Don't introduce an elephant into your novel unless you know what you are doing!
Martha Soukup (soukup) Wed 11 Oct 00 12:16
I once wrote a favorable review of a fat clever horror novel, and at a convention later on the author of the book came up to thank me for the review. I told him cheerily that I'd thought it was good beach reading for smart people. He looked at me with an unreadable expression, and I think he thought I'd insulted him somehow. I hope he didn't think that; really it wasn't an insult at all. It's like saying these books are fun to read--but you can see why people worry you'll take offense! Everyone should feel free to continue to jump in; here's another little question from me in the meantime: In your good-guys/bad-guys pulp novel, was it fun to make one of the wolves a bad guy? How much different was it writing wolf characters than human characters? (Okay, maybe not _too_ little a question.)
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Wed 11 Oct 00 21:34
I guess many people equate "beach reading" with light weight and therefore trashy. But I think something can be light, but not trashy. I won't go on and on about that (I feel like I've held forth with theories quite enough for a while), but I'll refer people who are interested to an essay by Italo Calvino (who was, incidentally, a pataphysician). The essay, titled "Lightness" is in Calvino's "Six Memos for the Next Millennium" and it begins: "I will devote my first lecture to the opposition between lightness and weight, and will uphold the values of lightness. This does not mean that I consider the virtues of weight any less compelling, but simply that I have more to say about lightness." As for writing wolves as characters, that was fun. Very interesting to try to convey attitude with no dialog, to use wolf body language to convey personality. I spent a chunk of time with my Wolf Ethogram propped open by my keyboard. An ethogram is a catalog of wolf behaviors and the conditions under which they occur. This one is from the folks at Wolf Park in Indiana. It describes situations and then details the body language that accompanies them. For instance, "Airplane Ears" (one of my favorite behavior names) is when a wolf's ears are "held out to the side, inner surfaces down, like the wings of a plane." This behavior occurs in situations of defense and submission, care giving and care solicitation, and greeting. So I would figure what was going on in a scene, figure out what the roles of the various wolves would be, then figure out what behaviors would be exhibited. Then describe all that in a scene without using the terms from the ethogram, since most people wouldn't immediately know what an "Agonistic Pucker" or "Play Face" looked like. Oh, yeah--I also had a great time rereading Jack London's "Call of the Wild" which I had read when I was a kid. I remembered some excellent fights among the sled dogs. Just as good going back to them as I remembered. I enjoyed making one of the wolves an out-and-out bully and bad guy. One of the joys of working in the pulp tradition is being able to paint parts of the world as black and white, rather than shades of gray.
Shaun Dale (stdale) Wed 11 Oct 00 22:19
One of the consequences of getting caught up in the story the way I did is that I really didn't notice that there was no dialogue among the wolves. Sarah seemed to relate and communicate with them so effectively that the descriptions of the wolve's behaviors became a sort of virtual dialogue, I guess. Actually, it was really good writing that did it, I think. Now I've got to reread the book. Enjoying it so much made me miss so much of it.
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Thu 12 Oct 00 08:36
What a wonderful compliment! I figure that there are many things that I do in my writing for my own satisfaction, really. The careful attention to wolf behavior--making sure I was describing wolf body language well--may fall into that category. But it also may be important to the reader. But one of the things I tell my writing students is: the more unbelievable the situation, the more carefully and accurately you must describe it. I figure scrupulous description of detail helps draw a reader into suspending disbelief in an impossible situation.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Thu 12 Oct 00 11:47
Okay, here _is_ a little question. "Wild Angel" has a map at the beginning. I have to confess, I never ever look at maps when I'm reading the sort of book that has them: I trust the author, more or less. But they're a big tradition in genre, especially in fantasy. What made you decide to have a map in the book, and is it the map you used in constructing the story?
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 12 Oct 00 14:18
(I never look at them either, and now I'm wondering if any author has ever just stuck a map at the beginning of book that had nothing to do with the story. And if anyone noticed.)
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Thu 12 Oct 00 21:18
What a great idea! I'll file that one away for future use. ;-) I used a number of maps for reference while I was writing Wild Angel. Another one of those efforts at verisimilitude, probably more for my own benefit than anyone else's. I had to make sure that the events I described--the journeys from one place to another--matched the territory. I realize that 99% of my readers won't care, but I do. I find maps of Gold Rush California particularly appealing for the names of the settlements. (I don't call them towns because some were a single shack or hotel.) Who can resist places like Gouge Eye and Red Dog and Humbug. I was very disappointed that Humbug changed its name to North Bloomfield sometime in the 1860s (I think). They wanted to have a post office and there was already another town that had the name of Humbug. So they settled on Bloomfield, but someone else already had that. So they tacked on "North" and ended up as North Bloomfield. Seems like a failure of the imagination. I mean, they could have been Northeast Humbug if they were going to go adding on directions to find a name! Maps in books are definitely a fantasy tradition. The only one I ever studied at length was the one in The Hobbit. I wanted to put a map at the start of There and Back Again, since a map of the wormholes figures in the book so prominently. But I couldn't figure out how to draw anything that would come close to the map described in the book, so I steered clear. One amusing bit about the map (and a town) in Wild Angel. All the towns descibed in the novel were real except for Selby Flat, which, as near as I can figure, was a hoax. In 1906, a San Francisco publisher published a book titled "Diary of a 49er." The book was published as fact but was later revealed to be fictional. Most of the events in this diary take place in and near Selby Flat. I could find no historical records of the town, which made it the perfect setting for my tale. So I borrowed Selby Flat. The novel I'm currently working on, Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell, takes place on a cruise ship traveling through the Bermuda Triangle. I am very tempted to include a map at the front of the book--but I can't decide whether it should be a map of the voyage (with warnings of "here be dragons" and blowing winds) or a map of the ship itself, with all its decks and restaurants and recreational facilities. Cruise ships are like floating resort hotels and you definitely need a map to get around! (I went on a cruise for research, so I know!)
Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 13 Oct 00 13:32
I should mention that anyone who wants to can jump in with questions for Pat: I don't need to hog the mike! Pat, I wonder if you could talk a little about the lead male viewpoint character in the story, Max, the artist who ends up being the first white person to talk to Sarah after she's made a life with the wolves. Max happens to be a real sweety (one with dark secrets in his past). Where did he come from?
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Sat 14 Oct 00 07:52
Hey, for once I have a short answer. I really haven't a clue where Max came from. He just wandered out of the hills, leading a mule named Wordsworth. All I knew about him initially was that he always named his mule after a poet whose work he considered over-rated. His character (and his dark past) developed along with the story.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sat 14 Oct 00 10:56
Well! Then I'll ask similarly about Mrs. Selby.
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Sat 14 Oct 00 11:35
Mrs. Selby is an amalgam of many women I encountered in reading about the Gold Rush. Since there so were few women in the diggings, men really would travel for days to see one--even someone as stout and matronly as Mrs. Selby. And many of the women who came to California set up boarding houses--or made their fortunes by doing laundry, baking pies, and performing other "womanly" tasks for men who were far from home. When I was writing Wild Angel, my understanding of Mrs. Selby's character emerged from my first description of the bar room of Selby's hotel: "The walls were hung with pale pink calico that had been printed with roses of every size and variety, ranging from delicate blossoms smaller than a baby's thumb to cabbage-like blooms the size of a man's head. The cloth draped elegantly around a massive mirror, brought all the way from New York to San Francisco by ship, and from San Francisco to Selby Flat on the back of a mule." "Mrs. Selby took very good care of that mirror. Every morning she wiped away the dust and polished the glass. Then she polished the cut glass decanters and the jars of brandied fruit that stood on the shelf in front of the mirror. The floor was dirt, of course, but that dirt was hard-packed and Mrs. Selby swept it each morning. The room was furnished with benches and tables constructed from rough-cut planks. Mrs. Selby had wanted nicer furniture, but she made do by draping the tables in bright red calico to hide the rough wood." When I teach writing, I sometimes have students describe a character's home or car. "Don't describe the character," I tell them, "but show me what the character is like by showing me where they live." The description of Mrs. Selby's bar room gave me a clear notion of what Mrs. Selby was like. She was trying to make things nice. She wanted to bring civilization to the wild lands of California. She wanted things to be elegant, but she's really rather down to earth. She was sentimental (the roses told me that). She was nurturing (her careful attention to all the details of the room told me that.) I figured all that out later. But my very first knowledge of Mrs. Selby came with the image of those calico roses.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sat 14 Oct 00 12:32
From these last two answers, it sounds like you must often create characters by starting with a striking image--lengths of calico, a mule with a silly name--and feel them out from there. Do you ever start with an image that doesn't turn out to go anywhere, and have to start again with the character?
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