Anne B. Walsh - Do you believe in magic?
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Anne's Randomness

Lack of focus

Quite literally -- I woke up this morning and my head was so badly stuffed up that my left eye wouldn't focus. Four extra hours of sleep and two doses of cold medicine later, I'm somewhat better, but still groggy, fatigued, and disoriented. I hate calling off work, especially before my sick days have kicked in, but this time I couldn't help it.

The roommate has informed me via Twitter that being sick is no excuse for slacking on my Internet obligations. To her, I say :-P and best of luck getting sympathy from me next time! Though I know she's mostly kidding, I am feeling about as peppy as I think I'll get today, so this is probably as good a time as any to let you know what's up.

What's up, unfortunately, is not very much. I've been trying to rework what I have of Playing with Fire, but what with the slight insanity leading up to the holidays, some stress at work (nothing awful), and just the general time crunch of living a modern life, there hasn't been a lot of opportunity for the focus I need to write Glenscar. 

Writing historical fiction does require something of a thought shift, and the farther back you go, the more you have to readjust. Even fifty or seventy-five years ago, people were used to waiting longer for things than we are today, and Glenscar's verging on two hundred twenty-five years in the past. The pace of life was different.

In some ways, the pace of life itself hasn't changed so much. People still breathe and eat, laugh and cry, live and love. But in other ways, it has. With certain diseases that were so much more prevalent, dietary restrictions, and likelihood of war or attacks, lifespans were shorter, which meant people actually had to live faster than we do.

Adulthood, too, came far more quickly in a society which didn't have as many safety nets. Children learned hard, painful lessons early on, because they had to. They learned to be self-sufficient and take care of themselves, because even the most loving of parents probably wouldn't have the time or ability to do things for them. 

What allowed people to do things like that, to learn their lessons so soon (by our standards) and stand up to a cruel, challenging world? It's back to what I couldn't do, or not easily, this morning. Focus. They focused on learning to survive, because if they didn't, then they wouldn't. It was as simple, as painfully plain, as that. Learn or die.

Am I saying we should go back to a world where only the fit survive, or those who have people willing to put in the extra time and care to help them? No, I'm not. I appreciate very much all the changes in our world which allow people to survive and thrive. But I do think that along with those good changes have come some unexpected ones.

Why does the mantra I have so often decried for young adult fiction, "Get rid of the parents", even exist? Because parents, in our modern, developed-world narrative, are primarily seen as protectors. They shield and shelter their children from troubles, and heroes or heroines have to get out there in the world and face their problems head-on.

Should parents act as protectors? Not as simple a question as it sounds. There are problems in this world that no one, child or adult, can tackle without help... but on the flip side, so many people are stronger than they think they are. And the only way to build strength is to struggle, and fail, and struggle again, until you finally succeed.

It's a bit like the question of asthma and allergies, which have skyrocketed over the last century or two. Is that because before modern medicine, children who had such problems would usually have died? Or have we actually heightened their likelihood by making our children's surroundings so clean that their immune systems overreact? 

As with all real life problems, the answers are probably somewhere between the extremes, and I don't claim to know them. I don't claim to know anything, except that I hate having a cold and am very grateful for the wonders of the modern world which help me with it. So I shall post this bit of blog and re-medicate, and probably go nap. 

Thanks, as always, for reading. Here's hoping I am recovered enough to go back to work tomorrow, and possibly to post something more coherent on Saturday. Please enjoy these last few days before Christmas, and don't forget to buy an Anne original if you're able and you haven't already! Trust me, every single sale is appreciated!

2 Comments to Lack of focus:

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Geoffrey on Saturday, December 21, 2013 4:24 AM
I enjoy a lot of stories set in different eras. Period novels almost make up their own genre, so it’s hit and miss a lot of the time, unless you go straight to the classics. So when it comes to writing stories set in those time periods, there’s some stiff competition.

Now, any “cultures” course will try to teach students to find out what the mindset of a given people is. What stories do they tell themselves, what are the predominant themes, and how do they see themselves. That is, you’re supposed to understand how they think.

The easiest place to start, I think, is with the three taboos: sex, politics, and religion. How does a people interact with family, nation, and church; how do the three work together, and how has the relationship changed over the years. (And of course, one can do the same analysis on contemporary cultures…)

The thing is, people haven’t changed all that much. We’re still prone to all the same sins we always have been. I think The Screwtape Letters really highlights the point (though Lewis does so within the context of his own culture, I find it impossible to read without seeing myself). When it comes to storytelling, I like to look at the setting and ask what beliefs are a good foil for modern views, and how those beliefs can be highlighted by the unfolding plot.

Another quote from Lewis: “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” The modern world seems to confuse learning with knowledge. But all the books and classes on a subject can never really prepare one for what one learns by doing. In poorer societies, children didn’t have the luxury of not working. They gathered experience early and often, and so knew more about work and action. And as it has always been, those who were willing to learn succeeded.

I could say more. A lot more. I could point to news stories, governments, biographies. But I’d like to stay somewhat on topic, so I’ll close with this: as writers, we too learn from experience. The harder the experience, the more we learn. I wish it didn’t have to be hard, Anne, but I hope it will be worth it.

And since you didn’t answer my last question, I’m going to have to ask it again: Who do you like to read? What was the last book you read? Don’t be embarrassed. I promise not to laugh. Well, not too loud. At least, I don’t think you’ll be able to hear it. It’s okay, I like a lot of embarrassing things, too.
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Anne on Saturday, December 21, 2013 11:12 AM
People don't change, at least not much. We try to get into better control of our worse sides, but those worse sides are always with us. I appreciate your desire for things not to be hard, but hard is how we learn. Which you did say. As for what and who I like to read, I appreciate your promising not to laugh, but you're not the only one who reads these comments. Also, most of the authors I read are no longer among the living. Ellis Peters, Anne McCaffrey, and the aforementioned C.S. Lewis to name a few.

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