Thursday, January 15, 2015

An Ugly World

Donis here. Men are outside painting my house. All the windows are covered in opaque plastic and I can't see what's going on. Is it cloudy? Sunny? I am feeling creepily encased in a kind of half-light. But to business...

The gender debate that has been...well, let us not say "raging", but perhaps simmering along for the past few days, has made for interesting reading. I've also found it a bit depressing. Barbara's post on Wednesday nicely summed up a lot of my feelings on the matter so I won't add my two cents.

But if we ever get together for coffee and you'd like to hear what I think, Dear Reader, I'd be glad to give you the entire dollar's worth of my opinion. I've been around a long time and have had a lot of experience being an American woman of all ages and throughout several eras.

In the meantime, let us discuss writing for a bit. I've been working steadily on the eighth installment of my Alafair Tucker series, which is set in the American West during the second decade of the Twentieth Century. The new book, All Men Fear Me, should be published in the fall. The first book in the series, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, came out in July 2005, which means that I've been writing Alafair's story for ten years come this summer.

Writing series characters over a long period of time is like living with real people. When you first meet them, it takes a while to get to know how they think and act, to understand their peccadillo;and to know how they are going to behave in any given situation. But as in any relationship, your characters will surprise you, no matter how well you think you know them. If they don't, you haven't written real people.

Every book I write surprises me. Alafair is raising ten children, and I'm amazed at how each of them is turning out. I mean, I had no idea that this one would grow up to be such a hothead, or that one would be an intellectual, or a tease. Or so self-destructive. Alafair is changing as she gets older, too. She used to be so sure of herself. But then things are happening in the world that affect her and her family, and she has no control over any of it. It's like she said:
"When the kids were little, I thought that if I could just keep them from killing themselves until they were big enough to take care of themselves, then I wouldn’t be worrying about them so much. Turns out I had it backwards. When they were little, I had more charge over what happened to them. But now they’re all about their own affairs, and there’s nothing I can do about it."

It was an ugly world in 1917. I've thought before that writing historical fiction or science fiction is a way for an author to comment on the society he lives in by drawing parallels to the past or future. The more I research what life was like for ordinary people in the early 20th Century, the more I realize that as a species, we humans don't seem to learn anything.

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