Camels, Kitchens, and Executions

In most of the pictures I’ve seen, the camels look like they’re smiling.
I found this image at Wikipedia, and its rights for use say: Approval for the use of this photo can be found at Dubai construction update Part 7 Page 12 at Post 223. Imre Solt’s exact statement is: “I, Imre Solt, put all my images found on the Dubai Construction Update sites on the GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License). I agree to the terms that my images may be freely redistributed and used, that they may be freely modified (and modified versions may also be freely redistributed and used), that any redistribution must include the full text of the GFDL itself, that the work (and modified versions of it) must be attributed to me (the creator), and that the images can be re-used for commercial purposes (as long as the use is under the terms of the GFDL and that the full text of the GDFL goes along with the work). I acknowledge that I cannot withdraw from this agreement.” He gave this statement on 17 August 2007.
There, I’ve fulfilled his wishes, I think.  Thanks, Imre Solt.

The novel I’m currently working on screams for more information on various subjects, and not just in the sense of underlying metaphors, mythologies, or fairy tale roots.  The following are just a few of the things my book and characters insist that I’m woefully naïve about, need to experience, or better inform myself of.

  1. Sometimes the fact that I seem to have a passion for characters that live through disturbing circumstances leads me to grisly places.  Lately it’s taken the form of reading books like Public Executions and watching videos on the holocaust and other atrocities.  I find this simultaneously depressing and inspiring.  I also think my capacity for the morbid might be going out of bounds.
  2. Some experiences can’t be gained by reading about them, especially if one is seeking a novel description or understanding.  How does a camel’s fur feel or smell?  Do they have slitted eyes and how do their pupils respond to the light?  What does their gait feel like?  Do they yawn or have any other movements or expressions I should know about?  I know I can’t afford to put off my book until I can arrange an expedition across the desert, but the most I can summon from my “knowledge” about camels seems to be that they have humps for water storage and that having one spit on me isn’t desirable.  Then there are all those questions about the desert itself.  I lived somewhere that was technically desert once, but that hardly included miles of rolling sand dunes and blistering heat, and my family stayed in one place and had the bonus of running water and electricity.  The best I’ve been able to do in terms of authenticity so far is give myself a case of mild heat stroke at work before going home and writing the account of my character’s experience with it.
  3. Safran’s father was a culinary expert/genius in his time, and he passed his love for the craft and some of his knowledge to her.  This might be the stumbling block that breaks me.  Sure, I can console myself with my first hand experience of the way kitchen crews gossip and play, and the basic principles of how cooking works, but today’s kitchens and food stuffs are a poor representative for what I’m trying to create.  Think for a moment about the differences in food availability, storage possibilities, and wood burning stoves (I’m guessing) of long ago vs. the flat tops, gas powered burners, ovens, and fryers of today.  Also, how does one scrub a pan if a soup or sauce burns or crusts?  Would the scrubber use a piece of hide, some sort of brush or sponge?  What would the dishes and pans look like and be made out of?
  4. “Feral” children.  See my blog post A Perspective on Feral Children for a rambling explanation on why this is so important to me.  In brief, when I pursue this topic I feel I not only have to be aware of things like critical periods of development, the different circumstances which create feral children, their role in previous media, and not only the length of time the child was deprived of normal society, but when in their lifetime the deprivation occurred.

My list isn’t comprehensive.  These little issues are only the beginning, and I can’t even begin to express how much admiration I have for authors who actually write historical novels, science fiction, or thrillers with legal and psychological ramifications.  My mind boggles at the idea of writing a textbook.  How do you do it, writers?  I must confess I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

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Long-Winded

I have a confession to make.  I’m long-winded, as in, verbose.

What?  You noticed that already?  I don’t know how…

It’s always been this way.  I don’t remember a single teacher in elementary through high school saying, “Now kids, make sure your story/essay is less than a page.”  Instead they always said, “Make sure it’s at least a page”, with the specification that the font, if typed, couldn’t be larger than 12 pt. and by the way, tab is definitely not a space key.  For other kids, writing was a chore; I woke up an extra hour before school and tossed off four pages of something that fit the requirements.

In fifth grade my teacher told us to write a fantasy story of at least five pages due in three weeks, and I started my first novel. Strangely, my teacher thought it was fine when I announced this plan, and as a result I handwrote my first 56 pages in approximately a week or less (although I never finished), and had about a hundred when I turned it in.  As a freshman, my teacher demanded that we rewrite the ending to Romeo and Juliet, in any style we held dear at a minimal 2 pages.  I handed in 20 pages of poetic verse and received no objections.  In all this time, it never occurred to me that being brief and concise might be something to strive for.

My college professors made it quite clear that there was a cap on space, because they had no desire to increase the hours spent grading, but alas, most of those requirements were for papers, not essays or fiction.  I wrote them, dutifully, and perhaps prior planning for paragraph layout and citations kept me in the proper page length naturally, but I still never learned to be brief, not when it came to anything “fiction”.

Many people blanch at novels; I shudder at the thought of even trying to write a short story.  It’s hard enough to keep that first novel between 80,000 and 120,000 words.  At last word count, I was at about 51,000 words, and from my outline estimate, I’m only a little over a third of the way through.

My comments are long, my blog posts are long, my stories, and usually my poems, are long.  Only a few days ago, after typing a comment and hitting the post button, I recoiled in horror at its length.  I know the people behind the blogs I follow, no matter how kind they’ve been about it, do not need to wake up to an essay in their comment section, just as I know that my followers have other blogs to read and posts of their own to write.

This is the point where public promises come in, because clearly my efforts to contain my wordiness privately aren’t working.  I’ve been trying for at least a year now, and I’d bet no one could tell that I was trying.

Disturbing fact of the week: it could have been far worse.

I hereby promise to write shorter blog posts, comprising no more than 600 words.  We’ll call those posts bite-sized.  I’ll get to tackling my comma obsession, other punctuation issues, and convoluted sentence structures sometime in the near future, I hope.

You’re welcome.

Choice

Ambivalence, that overworked device

Springs and cogs, stressed and wrought, imprecise

Mounting pressure as grit clogs the gears

Choices grind against the thrall of massing fears.

 

Armies marching toward the eve of dread war,

Clashing on bloody field reap injuries sore.

Still specters rise among the dead, seek hallowed light:

A haunted mind, besieged, knowing not rest or flight.

 

Perhaps if this barren land were just a dream

I could rip out the thread that binds the seam,

Separate the scraps and find peace in between

A haven where none would dare to intervene.

 

Treaty implausible, so it seems, for contending ideals,

Fractured dreams.  Yet if to one I grant the prize, the other appeals,

Oh, with fervent cries!  Can I suppress this other wish, stand steadfast;

Please, might I deny, forget…accept that now the die is cast?