Spring has arrived in our part of the world. Last weekend it was 25 degrees Celsius (77F). Typical Melbourne, it went down to 10C (55F) this weekend, but that’s Melbourne for you.
Being at home and inside most of the time, it feels like we haven’t had winter. Which is rather funny because we cruised in December and January to New Zealand, wher the weather was cool, so it feels like we haven’t had any summer either. The grass is high, uncut, and due to the amount of rain we’ve had, so very green. It looks like a meadow.
It’s lovely, especially when the morning sun shines on the damp grass.
I have no plans to write a pandemic novel but I have this snippet of a story idea that keeps popping up at inopportune moments.
It’s set 300-400 years in the future, and it’s a about an academic studying fashions of the early 21st century. In her time there is no grey hair—the anti-aging process that extends life to 130 healthy years also removed the tendency for hair to go grey.
She’s young, our academic, and they’ve had anti-aging for a hundred years now. In her time grey is just another colour people dye their hair.
She’s studying the fashions. Pre-third world war (world war in that many countries in the world were involved, but there were six, major powers fighting each other, with only small alliances, and lots of double-crossing each other.) She comes across this hair fashion. A grey stripe down the middle of the head. She has no context for dyed hair growing out, or lockdowns in a time of pandemic where services like hairdressers are unavailable. Things like lockdowns are long gone in her time, where scientists can grow a personalised vaccine as soon as a virus appears.
Our academic thinks grey hair is a fashion.
I don’t know if this is a valid story or not, and I’m not planning on writing it, but if it pops up in one of our books one day, you’ll know where it came from.
Oh, and another COVID-related observation. Based on the number of overgrown nature strips in our area, lawn-mowing is big business around here. Everyone’s lawns are running wild.
Lawn-mowing services are another casualty of the lock-down. They have not been allowed to work for two months now. I’m not sure which I’m looking forward to more. Getting a haircut, or having my lawn mown.
I sometimes envy authors who plan out not only their novel but a whole series of novels and know exactly what will happen in each book. I love the serendipity of working on a novel that surprises and delights even me (us) as it changes and grows, but sometimes it would be nice to know in advance how the things I write in book one will impact book three.
Say something in book one and want to change it in book three? There’s nothing you can do, because it’s there, in writing, and your readers know it as a fact.
One common subject that trips serial authors up is family. If it’s convenient in book one to have a character who is alone in the galaxy because their whole family was killed in a mining accident on Ceres VII prior to book one starting, then you don’t normally have that family turn up in book three at that character’s graduation ceremony. You might be able to wangle it by casting doubt on the accident—especially if your protagonist wasn’t there to witness the accident but just heard about it—and if you are clever in books two and three.
What you can’t manage so well is the number of siblings. If a character says they have no siblings in book one, and a sister turns up in book three, she’d better be a surprise.
Some authors seem to get away with it. In a recent book I read the protagonist’s love interest said, “No, I’m not married,” in book one. In book two it turns out he’s been married for ten years, and still goes back to see his wife (even if he doesn’t sleep with her). Since he’d already claimed he wasn’t married that meant he had lied to the protagonist. Which, based on the type of character he was, was unlikely.
It changed my opinion of the character, and I spent the whole second book trying to get over that fact. I don’t think the author meant to do that.
Sometimes, too, working your way around an inconvenience you wrote in an earlier story can make a future story stronger.
For example, there’s a whole new sub-plot for our only-child character mentioned above discovering he has a sibling he didn’t know about. Where did the sibling come from? Why didn’t our protagonist’s parents tell him about her? Is she really his sibling or just trying to get something from him?
Yes, sometimes, these little inconveniences you’ve written in aren’t inconveniences at all.
I am losing time. Seriously, one minute I’m writing the blog for mid-August, when I go to write the next blog—I think—a week later, I find three weeks have passed.
Life in lockdown is a blur of work, exercise (still doing Ringfit), and sleep, even on the weekends. The days are running together, with little to no writing done. Many days I don’t even go outside.
I don’t check my personal mail often. It’s mostly spam at present, and I’m sitting at the same computer all day every day. When I’m done I just want to get away there. Hence, if you send us an email, it may take longer than normal to answer. It’s not intentional.
I have made some time for reading—usually at night when I drop into bed, exhausted, and can’t sleep. Which of course means I’m exhausted the next day, too, but that’s another matter. And hey, if someone has come up with a solution for laying down in bed and reading with glasses on, I want to know about it. Falling asleep reading is a luxury I can no longer afford if I want to keep my glasses in good shape.
Amazon had a three-month no-pay option on Kindle Unlimited, so I took that up. I have found some good books there, some bad books, and many in between.
Somewhere along the line I hit a patch of, “Hey girl, you’ve inherited property and powers from a relation you’ve never heard of before, here’s the key,” urban cosies. I like wish fulfilment books as much as anyone, along with inherited powers, but please, please, make the protagonist work for those powers. It’s not super-believable when your former non-powered, no-idea I had powers heroine is suddenly able to overcome bad guys who’ve been evil for hundreds of years.
(It reminds me a lot of Ringfit, actually. The computer exercise game I’m playing. You’re up against a super-buff supposedly-bad dragon who exercises all day every day, and you still manage to beat him. I think not. One hit from him and you’d be dead, even if he knocked you accidentally. Truly. There is no way a newbie like me could beat him in reality. But I digress.)
Not only that, in age of scammers and identity theft, authors please don’t write stories where the protagonist takes someone’s word without verification. Not without setting up a plausible background for it, anyway.
Five of the stories I read and discarded (nowadays I only read as far as I want to) started with the protagonist losing everything—job, home, boyfriend and/or family. (Very convenient if you’re about to up sticks and cross the world.) The doorbell rings. The visitor turns out to be a lawyer, with the protagonist’s unknown [insert relative here]’s will, and the keys to the relative’s house.
Let me tell you dear author, I would think that person at the door is a scammer. I would shut the door in his face (it’s always a him) so fast he won’t finish talking. If you come to my home and tell me you are a lawyer, I won’t believe you. A legitimate lawyer would contact me by letter or phone first, set up an appointment, and I would go into his office to talk to him. Only then, maybe, would I start to believe.
And if I was the lawyer, I certainly wouldn’t hand over the keys to the house and the bank deeds to a total stranger two minutes after knocking on the door, without verifying who they are.
I probably come across as hypocritical here, because I’ve said before, over and over, that I don’t expect my historical fantasies to be abide by ‘how we thought it was back then’, but I find it harder to suspend belief when it’s current time and my own country (two of these books were set in Australia.)
I’d like my protagonists to have a modicum of common sense.
I’d heard about the movie As Good as it Gets long before I ever saw it. Back then it was often cited in screenwriting classes as a good example of screenwriting. I don’t know if it still is. When I finally did see it, I enjoyed it. It’s a film about an obsessive-compulsive romance author (Melvin) who falls in love with Carol, a waitress at the café he goes to every day. He’s the type who has to sit at the same table every day, too, right down to glaring unpleasantly if someone is in his seat, until they move.
Carol has an ill son, and she spends a lot of time looking after the boy.
Even thought I enjoyed the movie, one thing I never understood was why she didn’t take him to a doctor and get him tested.
I mean, I knew in a subliminal way, that it was expensive going to the doctor or to a hospital in the US, and that health insurance is tied to many people’s jobs, but knowing that and realising the consequences can be two different things.
It wasn’t until the introduction of Obamacare—and its attempted dismantling by the current US government—and then the onset of COVID-19, when we started to hear lots and lots of stories about the impact lack of medical care has on US citizens, that I finally got it.
We take for granted that those of us who live in Western cultures have similar lifestyles. And we do, mostly. But we assume everything is the same when it’s not. Here in Australia Carol’s son would have undergone a battery of tests by now, and given she was on a low wage, it most likely wouldn’t have cost her much.
We judge others by our experiences, particularly when they seem to be exactly like us.
In many ways, this can be more of a problem than someone in a completely alien situation. The things we take for granted are often the things we understand the least.
Here in Victoria we are now officially in a state of disaster. We’re in lockdown for six weeks. We can buy food (maximum of once per day), go out for medical or care purposes, and for one hour of exercise. Oh, and we have a curfew.
What’s the first thing many did? They went to the supermarket and bought the toilet paper and staples.
This is the third time! You’d think people would have learned by now. Although some have, because the queues to the liquor stores were easily as long as those to the supermarket. 😊
I admit to being surprised at the number of people who are convinced the whole coronavirus thing is a hoax. Sensible people I expected to be more logical about it. Seemingly smart people who buy into conspiracy theories and government plots and other way-out things. Including the number of people who are convinced that the laws don’t apply to them.
We’ve both been working from home six months. It’s life now. We’re still working, at least. I am working longer hours than ever, sometimes on the weekends as well, which is why there was no blog last week.
But … we are exercising more.
One of the problems we had was that due to work commitments we found it hard to get out during the day, and by night it was dark. It’s not so much fun walking in the dark in winter, and now we have the curfew, too. Some days we didn’t even walk as far as the shop (which is next door to our house). We ended up buying a Ring Fit (and a Nintendo to play it on), and we’ve exercised solidly for the last two weeks. It takes a lot more time out of the day, but it’s fun, and we’re stretching our muscles.
Right now it’s totally ow, ow, ow after each session (and the next day, too), but it’s working better than going for walks.
But this wasn’t supposed to be a blog about COVID-19, even though it’s turning into one. At least historians and anthropologists will have plenty of information online when they’re researching the impact of COVID-19. (For the historical records my thoughts/emotions currently veer between “I can’t believe how many gullible, selfish people are out there”, and just plain exhaustion.)
The newsletter is late
That same exhaustion has delayed our July newsletter, which is half completed and has been for a month. It should go out in the next day or so.
Still, on the positive side, if you haven’t signed up for the newsletter and do now, you’ll get two in a row. The initial welcome letter, and this one. 😊
Coatsworth’s articles are about how science fiction and fantasy magazines are dealing with COVID-19 and some of the possible future effects. He also links to two articles by Neil Clarke, from Clarkesworld.
Toward the end of part part 2 of Coatsworth’s article, publishers and editors talk about the type of writing that might come out of this current crisis.
“I am very curious to see what the literature is that comes out of this event … BCS in late 2016 received more stories than usual featuring dystopian worlds or autocratic governments. I expect to see a similar reaction in writers’ work from this pandemic …”
Scott Andrews, editor-in-chief and publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (BCS)
I agree. I am curious, too. And it’s not just science fiction writers who will be writing about pandemics, now. All writers will. Because this is no longer part of a potential future any more, it’s real. It’s now. It’s life.
So if life now is what we science fiction authors used to write about, what will we science fiction authors write about next?
It is the nature of good science fiction to extrapolate from the now and take potential futures all the way to extremes. Right now, some of those extremes are more dire than they have been in a long while. There’s plenty of room for dystopias and pandemics yet.
But what else?
Here are some types of stories I’d like to read right now.
Hopeful futures. It would be nice if some science fiction started to go the other way. When the world seems to be digging itself into a hole, a little escapism in your off time makes a good balance. I want some light, fun books to read.
Not just in science fiction. Fantasy, too.
Less fantasy based on so-called historical ‘fact’. I’m fine with horses and swords, but no women sitting on the side in their long dresses, cooking and doing the dishes, and non-white races as slaves or servants. Give me a world where everyone is equal and your job doesn’t depend on your colour or race but on your ability. Where people can sleep with whom they like, no matter what sex they are. You’re writing fantasy, for goodness sake. The only rules you are bound by are those in your book.
Plus of course the old faithfuls. Please give me funny books. Not necessarily laugh-out-loud, but fun stories. And characters. Give me characters to love and care about. Actually, it’s not that different from my last wish list.
Are you still in lock-down? Our restrictions were easing—first we could go out in groups of five, then up to twenty—but once people started going out, infections started to rise. Here in Victoria we had seventy-five new cases overnight, which is our fourth-highest ever daily total.
I did go to the shops yesterday, however. I went early, as I’d seen the pictures of the crowded shopping centre near us. I have to say, yesterday everyone was social distancing really well. But the numbers are still going up. And people are starting to hoard toilet paper again. You’d think we’d have learned from the first time around.
I’m staying put a while longer. I’m not getting much exercise, but at least it’s warm inside.
We’re settling down into a better writing rhythm, which is nice. COVID-19 certainly interrupted that. For a while it seemed as we couldn’t write anything. All our old ideas came across as junk, and as for new ideas—they didn’t happen. Now we’re writing more consistently, the ideas are coming more consistently, too. Lovely little gems that we want to write now.
That’s the writer’s life, isn’t it. Pretties, all around, trying to distract you.