Wednesday, May 23, 2007

childhood was better the first time around

As an exercise, I recently bought a copy of Classics Illustrated Junior no.554, The Enchanted Deer, vaguely recalled from my childhood. I'm pretty sure I also had 548 The Magic Pitcher (story of Baucis and Philemon), 553 King Thrushbeard, and 555 The 3 Golden Apples (Hercules and the Apples of the Hesperides). I may have had others, but memory fails.
Some of the Classics Illustrated were excellent. The War of the Worlds and Time Machine (especially the cover paintings), Faust and Macbeth, those stand out. The Juniors were a mixed lot. The art is pretty flat and stereotyped, and the selection of stories is all over the place. The majority are Grimm tales, but Andersen and Ruskin (King of the Golden River) get a look in, as does Browning (Pied Piper) and Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz). Greek mythology, English folktales (Jack and the Beanstalk), American tall-tales (Paul Bunyan) and Russian tales (The Salt Mountain) fill in gaps. The Runaway Dumpling may be Japanese. It's a bit difficult to tell from the cover art.
You may have guessed that my interest in The Enchanted Deer is not only that I read it in childhood, but that it's a retelling of Grimm 11, Brother and Sister. I was curious to see how the adaptation was handled, because the story has some awkward aspects. For instance, our heroine is murdered and comes back as a fairly physical ghost.
So. First off, the children are given names: Gretchen and Jon. Jon is established as the older, and as the caretaker. He carries Gretchen's bucket and shares his bread with her; he's half a head taller. This is a bit jarring when he's the one who can't control his thirst, but ties in nicely with Gretchen's vow "You have always taken care of me. Now I will take care of you." (Though I have to think that a deer is better adapted to surviving in the wild woods than a small girl is.)
The wicked stepmother is a sharp-featured woman in a headscarf, who conjures up the children's images in a bonfire, rather an effective panel, and curses "Brooks and streams, who drinks of thee will be an animal instantly" a scansion not entirely satisfactory. The three animals of the streams are lion, tiger and 'deerlet'--roebuck being too foreign a word, perhaps.
Deer-Jon is a dead ringer for Bambi with a haircut. Gretchen makes a collar for the deer not from her garter (another foreign concept unless elasticised and worn by Goldrush dancehall girls?) but from her golden necklace, which contrasts rather with her patched clothing.
So far we're keeping pretty close to the story, with a few fireworks added. Gretchen and Deer-Jon live happily in the cottage they find, and two panels show them growing older. The deer gets little stubby antlers, then a 4-point rack. Gretchen gets taller, develops a bosom and hips, but her tightly braided hair remains the same length, and her clothes magically grow with her. Her skirts, in fact, lengthen from above her knees as a little girl to below her knees as a young woman. The square blue patch on her red dress remains in the same position.
Not that I worried about any of this as a child.
The young king--whose hair is the same odd grey-brown that Jon's was--comes to hunt, specifically to hunt the enchanted deer with the gold collar, a nice shortcut. Three times the deer begs to go and be hunted and bounds merrily away (yes, with that wording each time) and leads the hunters a merry chase (yes, that too).
Here's where the story diverges. The wicked stepmother (remember her?) chooses this third day to come and spy on them. For unexplained reasons, she changes herself into a black deer with a 5-point rack and follows Deer-Jon, while both are followed by the king's hunters. The king himself is being led to the cottage, where Gretchen lets him in, thinking it's her brother knocking.
Gretchen tells the nice man that her evil stepmother enchanted her brother into a deer (how she figured this out is unclear) and the two of them race off to stop the huntsmen. Fortuitously, both the enchanted deer and the black deer have been captured, not filled full of arrows or had the dogs set on them (hm, no dogs visible). The stepmother, perhaps fearing this fate, turns back into herself and is promptly accused by Gretchen. The king explains that he's the king (something which has escaped everyone's notice, despite the large golden crown he's wearing) and commands the stepmother to break the enchantment.
Jon reappears, startling a small Disneyish bird which has no lines in this scene. Now, when enchanted, he was wearing a blue jacket patched at the elbows, blue overalls with patches on knees and seat (sort of a lederhosen pattern, but not leather) and a white shirt. Reappearing, he wears a short-sleeved white shirt, tight-fitting blue trousers (or hose, I can't be sure) and ankle-boots replacing his low shoes. The golden necklace has vanished--perhaps he bought the clothes with it during the changeover.
The witch skulks off, the king proposes to Gretchen and she accepts. "So they all went off to the palace and lived happily ever after."
It's rather a clever shortcut, really. It avoids the issues of the pregnancy and delivery, the queen's murder, the substitution of the stepmother's daughter, and the burning at the stake. I'm not sure any of the adaptations for children deal with that part of the story. At least, I haven't run across any that provide an illustration for it. A little strong for the picture-book audience, perhaps (by which I mean the reading-out-loud parent).

Writing: The Willow Knot is about 87k, which means 12k more than my original estimate, without quite being finished yet. I'll be in transit for the next few days, so my writing time will be variable, but I'm still reasonably confident of finishing the first draft this month. I'm feeling slightly daunted by the coronation and wedding scenes, and would dearly like to cheat and have it all pass in a blur of colours and noise and be briefly memorialised at the end of the day. But that would be cheating.

I've mostly recovered from the trauma of registering my domain name. There's a placeholder page, with a not-bad template (better than the rest of yahoo's rather dull selections) and a little bit of text. Looking at it, I can't think of very much more to say. Perhaps I should leave it as it stands?
But my son offered, as a Mother's Day present, to design my website. Which was very sweet of him, and I accepted. I shall try not to be too exasperating during the process.

Just finished reading: Blind Justice, a Sir John Fielding mystery, by Bruce Alexander. Good fun and a quick read. The period setting was nicely handled, and young Jeremy isn't terribly irritating. There's some sententiousness, as his older self--the narrator--points out his younger self's failings, but that does fit with the time and tone. Two usages made me blink a bit. Lady Goodhope speaks of a footman who "turned up missing", a jokey phrasing I'd place at not earlier than the 1920s, just off the top of my head. Sir John Fielding warns Jeremy of becoming "disorientated" in the city. I seem to recall orientate arriving as a back-formation from orientation, the previous (in my lifetime!) verb being orient. I haven't verified this with the OED, though. The solution to the mystery is very suited to the time, though it would be completely over the top in a modern setting. One could imagine a broadsheet ballad coming out afterwards, with cheap woodcut headers.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Other people's dreams are boring

But one's own dreams are full of mad invention and glowing images, if only one could convey them in words.
Fold was based on a dream, one of those half-awake dreams I have when trying to snatch a little more sleep before morning forces its way in. I dreamed of being able to fold myself up into utter flatness, slide out of the way into some crevice and hide. The ending with the books, that came from another dream, which may be one reason why a couple of readers have felt that the ending didn't quite fit. Oh well.
There was, you may note, very little plot in either of those dreams, not much more than a conceit--the trick of folding yourself, memories torn from books. That made them unusual, since my dreams (those I remember) suffer from an overabundance of plot, not to mention an overstuffed sets-and-effects budget.

A few mornings ago the cat woke me from one of my more plot-laden dreams.
The daughter of field-anthropologists had her apartment wall explode, and there entered a young woman (possibly an angel, at any rate not quite mistakeable for human) who had with her a stunted demon, all head and stumpy legs, carried in her backpack.
The angel and the demon were on the trail of some other being, never clearly described or explained (my dreams could use more info-dumps) but of some malevolent intent. The trail led to the informants who had told folktales and superstitions to the heroine's(?) parents. The daughter had the habit of identifying (seemingly) everyday events by their motif-index numbers, and no, I don't know how I managed to remember those in the dream.
Clearly, it was the fairly-standard structure of racing off to warn people, neck-and-neck with the baddie. This isn't uncommon for my dreams, which often require me or the me-figure to warn people of something or other. An invasion of the undead is a popular favourite, with floods a distant second.
I'm pretty sure this ties in with my personal anxiety-dream. While I may have exams or find myself naked in dreams, that doesn't make me anxious, because I've always tested well (bright but lazy) and was raised without a nudity-taboo. What does leave me moaning and twitching and having to be woken up by my husband and reassured is dreams of not being listened to. Being ignored or talked over.
So of course, the task the Fates of Dreamland recurrently lay on me is of going out and being listened to. Because terrible things will happen if I can't make people listen to me.
Really, couldn't I go and find the Three Obscure References of the Isle of Britain instead?

Striking images from the dream: a standard-issue apartment coated with plaster-dust and lumpy with rubble, a big-headed Flemish-style devil stumping about impatiently; a black man in overalls ploughing a field by night, his eyes glowing red and his wife and son weeping to watch; running down a road towards the round yellow light-patches of fairground rides, old trees draping their branches just overhead, their roots lumping up the cracked pavement; the slatted wooden deck of an old-style ride lifting up like escalator steps, perhaps part of the ride's function, perhaps not, and people staggering as it lifted. There were more, but that was all I could catch hold of when the cat sat on my chest.
The ploughing scene was narrated by the man's son, and laid out like a double-page comic-book spread with jagged panels. The man and horse, both pitched forward with urgency, in the foreground, lightning in the background. The wife and son in a separate panel, word balloon about how the father, desperate, had bargained with the devil, and lost. I could probably name the artist, with a bit of work.

Might be my next 3-day novel plot, if I can keep the dream/nightmare atmosphere. On the other hand, there are commercialish aspects that make me wonder if it would be appropriate for a semi-literary contest.
It could even be a commercial novel, in theory. Two girls and their demon sidekick on the trail of unspeakable evil? The motif-index quoting might get irritating and have to be dropped, which would sadden me.
But I have other books to finish before I can pay attention to plot bunnies, even if they come to me in dreams.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

ghostly online presence

This morning I registered my domain name. I feel a bit queasy and what-have-I-done? about it. I'll have time to adjust, because Mark is off to Kalamazoo (and Tyler too, whoops, wrong rhyme) and I decided to go with Islandnet through him. Nothing can be done until he returns, by which time my stomach should have settled.
Islandnet's $10 Cdn a month, but they're local and easy to get hold of. Which reminds me that I need to start collecting receipts and things so that I can figure out what to do about my taxes next year. Argh. I've seen what Mark goes through doing the small business taxes thing for Gaukler Medieval Wares, and now I'm venturing into the self-employed course?
He keeps saying "You're allowed two work-related conferences a year!" in a cheerful voice. I hope that means he'll keep on doing my taxes.
I suppose designing a website could be fun, in between the screaming in frustration and banging my head parts. Should I have lots of blinking lights and contrasting backgrounds? Maybe some Flash animations to liven things up?
Let's see. Things a website should have: index, bibliography, news, excerpts, bio?

Writing: Finally, into the last quarter of Willow Knot. 83k - did I once say blithely that I was allowing myself 80k so I'd have 5k slop allowance? Ha. I'll be lucky to get out of first draft under 90k. On the good side, much of the last quarter is already written, including the ending. And I'm starting to see my way through the court/intrigue part, and understand what happened there.
I know who the bear is now, and an acute reader should pick it up pretty quickly as well.
Began the conversation that should lead to Alard proposing to Myl (Mylla now) but they've veered off into talking about the divine right of kings (not in those words). That's all right, since it works towards Myl's purpose at court and the dream-vision.
I'm feeling a little more confident about them falling in love in a meeting-of-minds Heyerish way, which is my ideal. Not that I can write as well as Georgette Heyer, but at least if I aim high I fail higher than if I aim low.
I've also realised that neither of them will be in love when they marry, and that Myl's going to enter it in quite a cold-blooded way, hoping to get security and free Tyl from enchantment. With luck the reader will be fond enough of her by then to forgive this unromantic attitude.
I will--I will finish the draft this month. I swear. Witness this.

The first 3 chapters of Cost of Silver (pt. 1 The Astrologer's Death) went up on my LJ. *flinches at admission of having a Livejournal account*. Ferret caught me up on a major historical glitch, which I am humbly grateful for her doing. She also pointed me towards a way around it. Words are insufficient to thank her. Bookherder (another Furtive Scribbler) demanded the next chapter, even if I've run out of festival names (octave, quinzaine - then what? I dunno) so I'll probably do it, because cliffhangers are cheating.
Re-reading the first chapters pleased me--I've gotten past the 'this is all dreadful' stage and reached the 'this isn't bad, did I write it?' stage. If I picked it up in a shop I'd read further.
Soon I'll be able to get back to Astrologer, while letting Willow Knot sit before revision. One of my OWW critique semi-circle was asking about it, too.
Maybe get the Boxer Rebellion magic story and the poltergeist chimney-sweeps story done as well?

Glimmer Train rejected "Foretold", no surprise, and "Bride" didn't win for short fiction, again no surprise. Tesseracts rejected "Spellcheck" which will leave me wondering if I should have sent "Bride" instead--my two stories with Canadian settings.
"Spellcheck" is off to SH, "Foretold" to Fantasy, and "Bride" to Clarkesworld because it has a sexy vampire and I only need 4 more rejections to meet my 2007 goal.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

There I was, holding this hummingbird

I was biking in to work this morning when an iridescent flash on the road caught my eye. Something small and shiny, a couple of feet from the curb. Then it moved, and I saw it was a hummingbird. I pulled over and laid my bike down. The hummingbird didn't move away, just sat quietly. Figuring that the roadway was a poor choice of habitat, I crouched down and scooped him up. He didn't look injured, but I'm not a vet. I guessed he was stunned, though I didn't know what he might have run into that would only stun and not break him.
That part of the street has a side-road that makes a small half-circle, leaving a treed boulevard. I considered leaving the bird on one of the stumps or in the grass, but when shown the enticing green leaves etc. he made no move to leave my hand. He shifted his feet and stuck his wings out - what small wings! - so I had some hope he wasn't broken.
His throat was a brilliant red with purplish lights, and his back and tail were leaf-green. Beak long and narrow, about half the length of his body, I think, with a glint of purple at the tip. Tiny soft down feathers on my palm, and scratchy legs. Eyes round and black, when he opened them. The little wings were the dullest part, like one long grey feather with white down underneath. They didn't seem enough to lift him, let alone hover.
Yeah, so, I have a bike and a small injured bird. Next step?
An older fellow, tall and with thick white hair, came along and told me that it was a rufous hummingbird, and that he hoped it wasn't the one that fed in his backyard. He seemed confident that it would recover, and told me about a Coopers hawk he'd seen fly into a window, lie like one dead for a half hour, then fly to a tree and sit there for six hours (probably wondering what the hell happened and vowing never to go there again). He suggested that I continue with my first idea, of walking to the Biology building on campus, where he promised they had a hummingbird feeder. He also offered me a handkerchief to cover my hand, but since I was guessing that the warmth of my hand was good for the bird, and I planned to wash my hands anyways (bird-lice, bird-poop, etc.) I didn't bother.
It takes much longer to walk that little last stretch to Ring Road than it does to bike it. At last I got my bike locked up and was able to walk without leaning. Lovely.
Biology has moved to a different building. Which one? How long would I like to wander the campus with a hummingbird? I considered going into the library and getting someone with a window cubicle to take charge of the bird, but he was holding up its head and looking around, and I didn't want to risk him taking off inside the building.
While I was asking a cyclist which building Biology had fled to, (her toddler, in a bike-trailer, was totally unimpressed by the hummingbird) the bird took off from my hand and flew a few yards, landing under a tree.
His second hop attracted the two groundskeepers working nearby, one of whom was a birder and had rescued birds before. Yay! He promised to keep an eye on the hummingbird, and told us a few birding anecdotes.

Hm. Google Images pic of rufous hummingbird doesn't look like the one I found. He looked a lot more like a ruby-throated hummingbird, because his back was all iridescent green.
But I am not a birder, so what do I know?
Hah! I'm pretty sure he was an Anna's hummingbird, which do reach the southern end of Vancouver Island.

My history with birds: I've rescued three birds while at work, but this was the first hummingbird. The others were small brown and grey sparrow-like things (have I mentioned I'm not a birder?).
One had stunned itself flying into a window on a miserable rainy day. I thought it was a small pile of sodden leaves until it moved (giving me that ick! feeling of discovering something alive where you didn't expect it). That's when I learned that one of the best things you can do for a stunned bird is to keep it warm, because birds have such a high body-temp they can't stand much chill. I carried that one around until it lifted up its head and sat up in my hand. Then we moved it into a box-lid padded with paper towels and took it over to Biology, where they put the box on a window-sill until the bird flew away.
Another had trapped itself by flying through the first set of the double doors in the library entrance, and was hopping disconsolately about. I tried to shoo it towards the door to the outside, but it hopped onto my hand instead. I carried it outside, but it took a considerable time to decide that it would fly away.
When a third bird somehow got inside Tech Services, and was fluttering about in a corner, I was reasonably confident that I'd be able to scoop it up without terrifying it into heart failure, and so it proved. That one was so calm in my hands that I think I stood by the trees outside (yes, I walked from the secret backrooms of the library, through the old card catalogue and the double doors, outside, around the corner of the building and over to the trees, while the bird sat there like a baby in a pram, surveying the landscape) for fifteen to twenty minutes before it decided that it would have to use its own wings if it wanted to get any further.

I have no idea why this happens to me. I'm not a birder, and I've always had a cat. Birds should be alarmed. Mind you, I don't know how strong their sense of smell is.
When I was six years old, a crow flew into our house one evening, perched on my head, and flew out again, but that doesn't seem particularly related, any more than my once having owned a budgie because someone left it behind when she moved out.