the many hues of being born yesterday
This blog post comes to you after a successful arrival and first couple days in Avon. I have run away from home for the weekend, which means I've got no responsibilities but the writing ones. Granted, this theory has been put sorely to the test by my having visited the library and brought six books with me back to the Christie Lodge--Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals is the first temptation on the to-be-tempted by pile, and I'm halfway through it already--but it is a test I intend to pass, darn it. Look, there's evidence in my favor. To wit:
- "Keeping Time," a 1,200-word expansion on what was originally a 739-word entry in the 2012 edition of the annual Weekend Warrior flash fiction contest on Codex, got emailed to a prospective market late Sunday night. Sunday, of course, was the deadline for that particular submissions call.
- Sunday was also the deadline for submissions to SpeckLit for publication during the first quarter of 2015. I sent in two new drabbles. I'd have preferred to send the full slate of ten, but two was what I had. I'm rather proud of those two, too.
- Speaking of SpeckLit, I cast my votes for the Best of SpeckLit 2014 Q3 (also a November 30 deadline). Did you?
I got right back to work on the novel today, too, and with inspiration from the most unlikely of places. I recently stumbled across The Pervocracy, "a kinky, feminist sexblog" if I may borrow Cliff's own words to describe it. (My own words began with "a whip-smart kink blog," but I couldn't seem to continue on from the pun. Which, I hasten to add, was meant with sincere admiration.) Cliff is reading Fifty Shades of Grey and blogging about it one chapter at a time. Like many people, I began reading this series for the lulz, but past chapter 12 my attitude became one of horrified ongoing enlightenment. I'd heard about this book's representation of BDSM being offensively inaccurate. What I hadn't known, because I hadn't gone looking for details, was that E. L. James has chronicled a deeply abusive relationship in disturbing detail--you can play Potential Abusive Partner Red Flag Bingo with these books--then marketed it as desirable romance. And if you're saying, "Well, but, duh, it began as Twilight fanfic, and that's exactly what Twilight is." To which all I can say is,
when Edward broke into Bella's room, all he did was watch her sleep. He did not rape her and leave her sobbing all night long on the bathroom floor.
Seriously. Chapter 12, y'all. It makes Edward's hinge-oiling shenanigans look sweet by comparison. Apparently some people really need to be told that D/s doesn't mean "the Dom is allowed to sexually assault the sub if it sounds like she's trying to end the relationship."
So what does this painful horror story have to do with Iron Wheels beyond a both having a nodding acquaintance with Twilight? I'm getting to that.
Much earlier in the read-through, when there were red flags for potential abuse popping up everywhere but it was still possible to laugh about it, Cliff had a fantastic observation about the character of Anastasia Steele. James has, for the purposes of the plot, carefully written her to be so "pure" as to be unrealistic. This goes well beyond our toxic social notions of "virginity" or "innocence." Ana has not only never kissed anyone, had sexy thoughts about others, or experienced orgasm--she has also apparently never exercised in her life? Oh, and she has no idea how to use a computer. She has never used Google nor sent a frickin' email, ever, in her life. Despite
being a college graduate (apparently I'm wrong here, she graduates in chapter 14) who is currently pursuing a career in journalism. I cannot imagine how one can be a journalist in the 21st century without being able to do cursory fact-checks on the internet, but then I can't imagine writing a novel set in Seattle without fact-checking things like what the nearby international airport is called, or the relative positions of Vancouver WA and Portland OR. And yet here we are with a novel for which the author has apparently fact-checked none of these things and more besides. So there you go.
But Cliff's observation is this:
Okay, new theory: Ana spontaneously appeared out of nothingness, full-grown, a few days before the events of the book. She's never done anything before because she literally did not exist.
And I thought, "Oh. That's almost literally true of Etienne Farfield, isn't it?"
Etienne is a changeling. Her entire function for hundreds of years has been to look exactly like, so as to temporarily replace, stolen infants. The way I imagine it, this means she has not been an autonomous being at all until the novel takes place. Between "assignments," she is simply stored, in stasis, a wind-up toy that isn't wound up. So her conscious existence up to now has consisted entirely of a brain incapable of verbal thought and a body incapable of performing any but the most rudimentary of voluntary movements. But now, suddenly, she's walking around like a real girl, pretending to be a normal human high school senior.
For some reason, it took reading Cliff's half-joking observation about Ana Steele to make me realize that if you really do have a character that was born yesterday, you have to put some real thought into all the implications of that. You have to work with those implications. But the good news is, you get to play with those implications. What's it like, thinking in words for the first time? What's it like, suddenly confronting the ability to do things? How does she get up to speed on this whole "being human" thing? How does it work when she's not actually replacing someone this time around? Or isn't she?
So that's what I played with today--writing yet another brand new first scene, one that starts with her narrating what it's like to wake up as a human teenager for the first time.
Where it will go tomorrow is anybody's guess.