robertsloan2: Ari sweet (Default)
Last night I sketched the first of three cats I'm painting this month, trying for a March 13th deadline. This is ludicrous speed compared to previous cat commissions but that's also a matter of budgeting time. I felt confident enough to start it and seriously hope to finish all three by the March 13th Reveal Date. Not have them shipped yet, but posted so the recipient gets to see them and anticipate their happy arrival.

They're beautiful cats and I'm inspired again after some time off painting waterfalls. Also if I keep that schedule, I'll have my commissions done before the Rocks course starts and be able to devote my Saturdays to painting rocks. Which is always fun too. Rocks are easy but I may learn some fine points about them. So it's likely to help improve my art in general.

Beyond art, there's writing. My good writing buddy Nonny, who has been my muse and writing buddy before, during and after our brief relationship, is back to late night chats that stimulate both of us to work on our fiction. She's got a fantastic novel in progress that I enjoyed in its first iteration, the changes she's made since then are spectacular.

Tonight she was unusually quiet about her work and kept drawing me out about mine. She's providing a level of support that's priceless - letting me open up about my backstory and plot and plans, the details of the yet-to-be-written Garden of Earthly Delights and the future history that connects with it.

I wound up ruminating on the ways all of my backstories connect between novels - the Crosstime novels and their species and worlds connect through various races that discovered parallel worlds. Nomad universe never discovered that but they got faster than light travel. They colonized in a way that avoided contacting any aliens because worlds couldn't be terraformed if there was so much as a microbe on them.

Eventually they'll connect but I'm not ready for that book for a long time. Other than Nomads having some urban legends about lost ships and mystery sightings (many of which were just hallucinations or urban legends.)

Tonight I discovered the little short brilliant Hindu doctor is a widow and last time I talked to Nonny before this, I discovered she invented the rejuvenation process the Nomads have. That erased the last barrier between humans and vampires - they're different and equal if you don't need to have a liquid diet and different instincts in order to live for centuries. That affected society too - older people living longer would slow the rate of cultural change.

Demeter's got the hyper-complex ecology to keep on making medical and scientific advances and the brain power for it. Demeter's a very influential planet in the Nomad history. They were a breadbasket too for a long time before the Nomads really got a handle on that closed fishbowl sustainable lifestyle and they always provided more variety in food and plenty of arts too.

What I realized tonight is tremendous. I know why I lost the first version. It wasn't an accident. It was my unconscious telling me I was not ready to write this book. I didn't have the experience. I was living in New Orleans and until I got sick with a prescription side effect and went wandering stoned through the city, getting tireder and sicker and needing help, I didn't connect with black people the way I did afterward.

Almost everyone that helped me during that walkabout was black. I was welcomed and taken care of and treated well in poor black neighborhoods by kind people everywhere I went. I started smiling and feeling more trusting whenever I saw a black face. One old white hippie helped me out and some paramedics checked on me when I was trying to sleep in a park and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, but I didn't. I'd just come from there and did not want to go back.

Eventually I got arrested and spent 21 days time served for the misdemeanor of trying to sleep on a streetcar without paying the fare. By then I was giggling drunk on sleep deprivation and Prednisone, hallucinating so tangibly I could only distinguish it from reality by logic - I did not turn into a white whale beached and unable to breathe, I just had an asthma attack and was too weak to stand up. Stephen King was not my cell mate, but the long conversation I had with him was a good representation of his views on writing as expressed in many of his novels and interviews. He didn't need to be there to be there in spirit. The jail was real. The shackles were real. Getting thrown down by guards because I threw a tantrum like a three year old about getting in the shower was real, that was why I got the shackles and wound up laying naked in my own excrement in a cell in the psych ward end of the jail.

When I asked for a shower coherently and agreed not to make a fuss about it they unlocked the shackles and let me shower, hosed the cell clean, gave me clean clothes. Stephen King told me to remember every bit of it because I'd probably never be in a jail again and it would be worth describing from life. He was right. He was my conscience telling me to take it like a writer, accept the adventure, hallucinations and all, as an experience that would enrich my writing.

I made a number of black friends in that jail. We got along well. Not everyone, some people didn't like me, but I pretty much stuck with those who did and some of them were among the guards. None of the guards really picked on me - or the others. It was the city jail, not the state prison or federal prison. Just the city lockup with a lot of misdemeanors and a significant number of innocents, many of them black.

That's where I met the fiftyish mother of a cocaine addict who was up on felony charges of possession with intent to sell cocaine because her son who was living with her and supposedly in rehab, slipped and was dealing dope out of her house behind her back. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she didn't have the kind of names and contacts to get off by turning over drug dealers. She was pretty sure she'd be convicted and she explained to me why she was up on those charges even though she'd never used drugs and she didn't tolerate it in her son and he'd successfully hidden it from her. She couldn't resist taking her son back when he showed up sober and in rehab and wanted help staying sober. She got lied to. She was more grieved that her son had backslid than about what happened to her.

I heard stories that broke my heart in that jail.

I let go of that novel after the three day walkabout. I gave it to a young black woman who'd helped me carry it home when I wasn't strong enough to carry the bag. I'd promised her money and I didn't realize I didn't have it till I got in the door and couldn't breathe, had an asthma attack, knew I had nothing to give her for all her trouble. So I gave her the laptop instead. I let go of it and the backup was in the pocket of the case.

I look back at the original and it was racist. Not totally, but I learned so much just in the three sick days of stumbling around on Prednisone side effects that I'd completely blown my previous characterizations. Everyone in the rough draft was white and Euro-pagan except the Hindu doctor - that may be why she and the painter are the only characters that survived the changes.

Maybe I could not do justice to this book until I came home to San Francisco and live in a building where nobody's the same, where the people across the hall are an interracial marriage and there's Filipino and Hispanic and gay and straight and black and Samoan and Asian - where the diversity is world diversity. Where my being me is one thin stripe in a very big rich rainbow instead of that rainbow-tints rough draft where I found the general story.

The events, the main plot of the book is sound. The big problem was the characters and the minor conflicts told from too narrow a perspective. The book was racist by what I've learned today - liberal, but not really progressive. It had serious flaws and now I know I can do better. In all ways, I can do better with the cast. It's no longer color blind casting of essentially white characters, like an opera cast for the Ring cycle with a black Brunnhilde - who in character is still a Norse Valkyrie even if her face is dark and the actress-singer is black. Now the characters will be truer to who they are and the book richer for it.
robertsloan2: Ari sweet (Default)
Way back in 1995, I had a novel in progress titled "Garden of Earthly Delights." I was in love with it. I wrote the opener in a passionate frenzy describing the launch of a colony ship full of religious colonists. Pagan religious colonists, progressive people with plenty of diversity. I had a grand idea that burned bright and fierce.

I loved Edgar Rice Burroughs. I enjoyed Pellucidar and The Land That Time Forgot and every Dinosaur Novel that I came across. Except that when I was a little kid, I hadn't noticed the stories were extremely sexist, racist and right-wing capitalist. It was a shock when I got hold of them again as an adult and realized that I stood against so many childhood heroes.

So I set out to write my own Dinosaur Planet with all the grand wildlife and glorious adventure of the old pulps - and a modern progressive viewpoint. Boys' adventure for boys with two mommies. Or for adults who used to be those boys, girls who wished they could have adventures instead of just being rescued, people who weren't straight or white, well, you know! Everybody Else! If you add up all the minorities, we're the majority, the number of right wing straight white evangelical Christian males is not that high.

Not to mention that in the decades since ERB did the first round of grand Prehistoric Places where everything survives and extinctions get rolled back, new discoveries in paleontology have made all the ancient critters even more exciting. Dinosaurs are fast-moving warm-blooded ground-running eagles with teeth. Sauropods got bigger and better. Smaller theropods got feathers. Ceratopsians lived in herds, so they could stampede!

The story possibilities are endless.

There is a big fat novel in that premise. Unfortunately in 1995 when the first iteration was half finished along with the funniest chapter I ever wrote, I lost the laptop I was writing it on. Worse, the backup disks were in the laptop case. I lost the novel.

Recently, I remembered something about Raven Dance. I remembered how many versions of it I abandoned or threw out because I thought the idea was stupid and then started over from memory. I missed my greatest Lost Novel periodically, like thinking of a beloved cat that died. Then it finally hit me.

I wouldn't miss it if it was dead.

There's a better version of Garden of Earthly Delights that has been banging on my head several times a year since 1995. It's screaming for attention. It's got a big diverse cast that I haven't met yet and the characters I remember are strong enough to keep their parts. It doesn't matter if they change their names because I forgot their original names. One of the clearest is the middle aged Indian woman who's the doctor in the group. An empty-nest high achiever with long black hair to the back of her knees, barely five feet tall and a genius. Stunningly beautiful if you like middle aged women with gray streaks in miraculously long black hair. I'll have to rename her, but I can hear her voice as if I worked on it last week.

So I'll start over from premise. It's set in the same universe as Raven Dance, so the stuff about the colony ships is already worked out. The backstory of the planet is solid. I had that worked out so well because I told the story a few thousand times at parties bragging on the book in progress.

So every now and then I'll blog my progress on Garden of Earthly Delights.

I'm not going to wait till November. I'll start hitting keys and go back there, because I miss that planet and I miss those people and the critters are even cooler in 2012 than they were in 1995. They can even tell what color Confuciusornis was and some of the smaller feathered theropods - I didn't have feathered theropods in the previous version.

Hee hee! Nope, that is Not A Prairie Chicken! Watch out! It bites! With Teeth!

This is going to be fun.

Additional tidbit. I decided to keep the Nature Painter character from the old version. Nonny and I discussed the cast and she noticed a gap - no disabled character - so now instead of being a wish fulfillment that I had perfect physical health and could hike around Dinosaur Planet having adventures, the Nature Painter character just got my skeletal deformities and mobility limits. He also gets power mobility, a sort of spider-legged robot walker rather than anything urban with wheels - and that of course will give him plenty of heroic opportunities when the power runs down while everyone's running away from Big Beasties.

He'll have to be tough. But I get sick of the wheelchair guy always dying in those movies. He makes a great rolling mini-tank carrying all the extra firepower till one of the critters bites him off the Big Strong Black Guy's back. One or two monsters later the Brother Gets It and the white guy and the pretty white girl are the only survivors.

I have been working on characters today and that ain't how it works on my Dinosaur Planet. I had the Nature Painter as one of the narrators and he lived through to the end of the book. I also didn't have a cat in the first version, so I'm giving him a faithful Siamese companion who sneaks out of the compound when they go romping off on their expedition.

Nothing like having a sympathetic cat running for its life dodging giant dinosaurs. Besides, it can face off against those smaller theropods pound for pound, it's a cat. It can make all kinds of discoveries in the wild and almost get itself killed, then wind up shoving a cold nose into Nature Painter's armpit to shiver and meow right in the middle of scenes that need breaking up with a moment of humor.

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