Sorrow and Joy in History

[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from the British writer Jacey Bedford, whose latest book, The Amber Crown, came out January 11.]

By Jacey Bedford

The Amber CrownThe king is dead, his queen is missing. On the amber coast, the usurper king is driving Zavonia to the brink of war. A dangerous magical power is rising up in Biela Miasto, and the only people who can set things right are a failed bodyguard, a Landstrider witch, and the assassin who set off the whole sorry chain of events.

I love stealing from history for my fantasy books. When I was researching for The Amber Crown, which has a Baltic setting, I found some fantastic nuggets from the pages of history that turned into inspiration. I offer two examples, one so gory and grim that it makes you wonder who thought it up in the first place, and whether they were entirely sane. The other is so fantastic that my critique group thought I’d made it up, but I just transplanted it straight from history.

Grim enough to be Grimdark

Let’s get the grim one out of the way first – execution by sawing. I don’t put this on the page in all its gory detail, but sawingone character thinks it might be his fate, another reflects on it after seeing it take place. We tend to know about hanging, drawing and quartering. The drawing by the way was being drawn to the place of execution on a hurdle, not having the guts drawn out of the belly while still alive. So the victim was drawn through the streets, hanged and then his body cut into quarters. So really it should be drawn, hanged and quartered, in that order.

Accounts differ, but sawing, with a two-handed saw, could be across the body, or lengthways down the body starting at either end. The medieval illustration in Wikipedia shows that they tied the victim upside down on a frame, legs apart, and then began to saw them in half, lengthways, staring at the crotch. The theory was that because they were upside down the blood drained towards the head and so they didn’t bleed out, or pass out, quickly, but stayed alive and screaming while being butchered like an ox. It’s hideous, so I reserved it for traitors and king killers. In The Amber Crown it’s a character we haven’t met who suffers this fate, so it’s not as personal as if it’s a character we’ve already become invested in, though, sadly, it is an innocent man. Continue reading “Sorrow and Joy in History”

I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part II: Raising the Stakes

As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.

 The first part: Setting the Hook is here.

In April, 2021, C, the Nigerian, was back with another tragic tale.

C: i was called earlier today that my Dad was not feeling fine and his in the hospital.  Will be traveling tomorrow to P– to see how’s doing.

C: My heart is so heavy and i weep. Today life has brought me the greatest shock of my life and has left a wound in my heart. Why is life so unfair to me, why will i keep losing the once i love the most even in the face of untold hardship. I arrived P– after 4 hours trip and gotten to the hospital i found out that the only thing that ever made sense and mean the world to me was no more and the reality of my present has left me with a broken heart and broken spirit. I lost my Dad today Deborah

C: Please i know am only your friend on fb and in a matter of fact i am not related to you in any way but you have been so kind to me irrespective of me being a stranger. Please help me talk to your family or probably your husband that i need you people assistant. People i never thought would assist me did that during my Dad’s funeral and and i borrowed little money to add up with the one i have to make the burial successful as the first son. Please am begging you with what you hold secret. I need you help now than ever and i don’t have who to run to. I need a loan of $300 so i can put things in other and pay few debts and take my younger once along with me. They can manage them self even if my house is not that big enough. I feel so ashamed of myself asking for help from you but i don’t have a choice because if things were moving fine for me i won’t have ask for any help from you.

 Commentary: By now I was firmly hooked, so I lent him $300. Notice that he asked to speak with my husband, figuring he might be an easier mark. I didn’t mention this to my husband, which left me feeling uneasy and dishonest. C and I spent a couple of months talking about how he could repay it. In the end, I forgave the loan. During July, he tried to get me to help set up an account at Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a crowdsourcing marketplace. Since I already had an Amazon account linked to my email address, it wasn’t possible. This was actually a trial run to see how far I would go using dubious means to promote his interests. I’m relieved it didn’t work, although even unsuccessful attempts served to further cement the relationship.

Direct gifts of money aren’t the only payoff for scammers. Setting up fraudulent accounts and campaigns like GoFundMe with the scammer as beneficiary are equally lucrative and, as in my case, don’t trip alarms as readily. Continue reading “I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part II: Raising the Stakes”

Finding comfort in reading

Today I want to write about something reassuring, comforting or even cheering. The last few weeks have been isolated and the solution has meant much sleep and a bit too much discomfort and pain. This is more than somewhat typical of the lives of far too many of us right now.

I explored my library for comfort reading. Normally, when in crisis or misery, I’d take a large stack of books off the shelves and pile them to be read until life improves. Tonight I discovered I’ve already done that. None of the books I most needed were there. I couldn’t find the stack I’d put them into and so I thought, “I have around 7000 books. I can find another comfort read to talk about.”

I did better than that. I found my copy of Van Loon’s Lives (written and Illustrated by Hendrik Van Loon). My copy is from 1957, and has the same cover as the one I found in the local library. I first discovered it when I was teen recovering from whooping cough. Or maybe I’m simply linking the two, because I had a vaccination and am full of some of the aches that went with whooping cough. I re-read it again soon after, when I was confined to bed for two very slow weeks because something was wrong with my back.

I thought then, “Why is this like What Katy Did, and yet… not?” One reasons is that Katy addressed her illness by moralising. If she turned into the right kind of person, then she would be fine. By the end of her ordeal, she was over her illness and had become of the centre of the family. Perfect outcome. I got over my illness much faster (and, to be honest, it wasn’t severe, just a shock to not be able to get out of bed without help and to be unable to do most things) but I haven’t been and never will be a central point for my family.

Also, two weeks is not a long time. It feels like a long time for a teenager, but, in the absolute scheme of things, two weeks passes.

All of this meant that What Katy Did is not comfort reading right now. But Van Loon’s Lives is, despite the fact that Van Loon invites Torquemada for dinner but has a lack of interest in fascinating Jews. Even if I were one of the great people of history, I’d not have been invited.

Why?

It’s a book that’s full of historical dreams. Each chapter is a dinner party with famous guests from Van Loon’s sense of the past. I could read a chapter back then and that chapter would lead me to memories of other books and thoughts of what I wanted to learn about history. The first Queen Elizabeth makes an appearance, and, while my body was recumbent, my mind argued for hours about the Elizabethan material Van Loon invented and that Alison Uttley used in A Traveller in Time. That’s the special magic of Van Loon’s Lives. It’s a fantasy novel. The food is wrong, the history is not the history I know today and, even as a teen I as wondering about it, but, back then, it brought famous historical figures to life and made that enforced bedrest less intolerable.

Van Loon’s most interesting historical figures matched mine when I was a teenager. We were taught, in Australia in the 1970s, that there was nothing interesting in Jewish history but that European Christian history was magic. I wanted to meet almost all the people he wrote about. Some I knew about already (Elizabeth, for instance, and Voltaire – Voltaire is someone I’ve read a lot, but cannot like as a person), while others were my newfound lands, and I began to explore who they were and what they did (Erasmus and Descartes, always come to mind). This fantasy book triggered a whole new path of independent learning, a couple of years before university offered me formal tracks. I remember feeling so pleased that I worked out how to cook Van Loon’s own speculaas from his description in the book. It wasn’t the first bit of food decoding I’ve done from literature, but it was one of the most satisfying.

It’s been so long since I first read it that I suspect that I’ve forgotten most of what I discovered back then and really ought to begin again.

A few years ago, when I finally found my own copy of the book, I realised I had changed and with my changes came a new interpretation. As an historian, each chapter and its meal and guests told me much more about Van Loon and the way he saw the past than it told me about the history of any other period. I realised that I had learned to discount myself and my own history. It wasn’t just family I would never be central to. It was part of a reconsideration of what I knew and why I knew it and who I was. This is part of the trail that led me to write The Wizardry of Jewish Women, The Time of the Ghosts, and The Green Children Help Out. Instead of arguing from my sick bed, I argued using my own fantasies.

And now, why is it comfort reading again? Van Loon’s Lives was first published in 1943. Hendrick Van Loon wrote his book under a kind of lockdown. He was in exile from his homeland, which was under Nazi occupation. Nothing like our COVID lockdowns. In its way, this set of dinner parties is an emotional safety net for the war that was then raging. Van Loon himself doesn’t leave the war out of the volume, and the epilogue that one can’t know without investigating his life is that he wrote the book when in exile and died before the Nazis were defeated. He never went home.

It’s a comfort book right now because it’s a reminder that other writers have handled the impossibilities of life. We talk a lot about Camus, because he wrote about plague and we know plague. But the isolation of great change and the memory of how very welcoming and magic life was just a few years before the world turned upside down is just as important. It provides a way to evaluate the world that contains some emotional safety. Hendrik Van Loon sets the novel in the 1930s, when his world was safer and it was fine to invite famous guests from different times and different places.

I wonder if it’s time for another fantasy dinner party book to be written for our own comfort? Who would it include? Who should we leave out? One thing’s for certain, all the food history I’ve done in the last forty years would be useful. I know what to feed Thomas Jefferson and Elizabeth I and, yes, even Erasmus. I don’t know if I’d invite Jefferson or Elizabeth or Erasmus. Time for a new set of thoughts triggered by this single volume.

Exploring the Undiscovered With Robert Freeman Wexler

Undiscovered TerritoriesRobert Freeman Wexler’s novel The Painting and the City was recently released in paperback by The Visible Spectrum and his collection Undiscovered Territories is now out in limited editions from PS Publishing.

Robert and I met at Clarion West in 1997 and have been friends ever since. It helped that we share a love of Texas music and also that we liked each other’s work from the beginning, despite the fact that we are very different writers.

So this will not be an arm’s length interview, but rather a chance to revel in the very different worlds that Robert can create. His is the kind of fantasy in which anything might happen.

NJM: Hi, Robert. Welcome to the Treehouse.

RFW: Hi Nancy. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

NJM: I’ve seen a lot of discussions by writers about magic systems of late. Some writers set up systems of magic as detailed and documented as those used to explain the science in hard science fiction. Others wing it a little more, but still have rules. But many of the fantastical things that happen in your stories don’t seem to fit into any rules of any kind. Why have you chosen to do that?

RFW: This isn’t something I’ve thought about at all, so I can’t say I’ve even made a choice. But I hope that my lack of rules doesn’t make everything feel random, unthought, arbitrary. In my writing, rules, if there are any, grow subconsciously, organically, for what fits the story. Things need to make sense, even if they weren’t created with textbookish thinking.

NJM: If I were going to describe your work, the word surreal would come into it. What surrealist works influence you?

RFW: Salvador Dalí, first, as in the first surrealist artist whose work I saw, because my mother gave me a book of his art when I was young. After Dalí, you could say pretty much everyone else. René Magritte, Max Ernst, Remedios Varo, Yves Tanguy, Victor Brauner, art and writings of Leonora Carrington. And those whose art I’ve seen but can’t remember their names. And others not necessarily surrealist but connected, like Joseph Cornell or Giorgio de Chirico. So, sure, all of them. However, Magritte especially, because I attempted to use his imagery in a lot of early stories.

NJM: I’ve always considered The Painting and the City as a love letter to New York City, though one mindful of theThe Painting and the City contradictions of its history and its difficulties. Was it intended that way? As someone who once lived in NYC, what are some other thoughts you have about the city?

RFW: I didn’t set out to write the city a love letter, but I can see the novel giving you that sense. New York has always been in constant flux, yet maintains its sense of self. Not the public, generic self of the Big Apple or whatever, but as a city that’s an originator, incubator, etc. It’s a big messy place, beautiful and horrible. Ruined by too much money yet not all of it, not all the time. One reason is that it can’t sprawl like other cities, so change needs to conform to geography. Although I just read about a plan to extend the city into the harbor, past Battery Park.

Unlike, for example, Houston, where I grew up, which spreads like a bloated sewer with no sense of self. Or that’s the Houston I remember from growing up there. Maybe it’s different now. Houston has become one of or maybe the most culturally diverse city in the country, which is neat, and way different from when I lived there.

But back to NY. Unable to expand and annex the way other cities do, New York sprawls upward, leveling shorter buildings to build taller ones, usually condominiums for the continual and continually mysterious influx of young people with money. That destruction-construction bothers me, especially in what I consider to be my parts of town, Chinatown and the Lower East Side. I would rather those be preserved, especially Chinatown.

And speaking of rapid change to beloved cities, I recently read a book called Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper—A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by Fuchsia Dunlop, which is in part a love letter to the city of Chengdu and Sichuan food. She went to Chengdu as a student in 1994. In the late ’90s, during China’s push to industrialization, she saw massive changes overcome the city.

In the mid-nineties, Chengdu was still a labyrinth of lanes, some of them bordered by grey brick walls punctuated by wooden gateways, others lined with two-storied dwellings built of wood and bamboo. (p. 38)

Later, in 2001:

…during the architectural reign of terror of city mayor Li Chuncheng (or Li Chaiqiang—‘Demolition Li’—as he was popularly known). Li was a man determined to make his mark on the era by demolishing the old city in its entirety, and replacing it with a modern grid of wide roads lined with concrete high-rises. Great swathes of Chengdu were cleared under his command, not only the more ramshackle dwellings, but opera theatres and grand courtyard houses…. (p. 41)

One week I would be cycling through a district of old wooden houses…the next, it was a pile of rubble, with a billboard depiction of some idealized apartment blocks overhead. (p. 110)

…It felt like a personal tragedy for me, to fall in love with a place that was vanishing so quickly. My culinary researches began as an attempt to document a living city; later, it became clear to me that, in many ways , I was writing an epitaph. (pp. 110-111)

This kind of change hasn’t happened to New York, yet. But I find the concept interesting, the idea of someone with the power to recreate a city without having to worry about those little people who live in it. And, so, I’ve used this power of destruction reconstruction for a fictional New York, in a middle grade novel that I finished last year. A man known as the Developer is in process of reforming New York in exactly that way.

I set The Painting and the City before 9/11 because that’s when I lived there. I had intended The Painting and the City to be a 9/11 novel that never mentions 9/11, but I must have failed, because no one noticed. Continue reading “Exploring the Undiscovered With Robert Freeman Wexler”

Influenza and Harper Lee

One of these things is not like the other.

Generally I have two books going at any given time: one on my phone (for reading when I go to and from work) and one paper-based book at home for reading when I have a moment (mostly but not always before bed). And generally they’re fiction–unless I’m researching something or a book catches my eye. Two books caught my eye recently: I just finished The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry, and The Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep. They made for very interesting co-tenants in my head.

I have always been fascinated by pandemics, medical history, and public health stories–yes, even before COVID took over our lives. Barry’s book, which is big and comprehensive, covers not only the origin of medical science in the US (it’s hair-raising to learn how recently many “doctors” didn’t actually study medicine, and those who did never saw patients or studied anything as rarified as anatomy) but the context–politically, socially, and scientifically–that allowed the 1918 pandemic to wreak the kind of havoc it did. Continue reading “Influenza and Harper Lee”

Sometimes it takes sophistication to learn to write simply

Today I wandered around my bookshelves until I found a book that made me dream. Nostalgia is one of the better side-effects of the pandemic.

Recently I’ve been working away and trying to understand how writers develop worlds for novels. I started thinking about language and rhetoric decades ago, and my research now is where that track has led me. One of my big moments of “Oh, this is so much something I need to understand” came when I was studying in Toronto in 1983-84. I was doing a Masters in Medieval Studies and one of my teachers was Sister Frances. She told her favourite student pope jokes and she taught the rest of us Medieval literature and rhetoric.

The book I have before me right now is a tiny paperback, published in 1967. Unlike most of my old paperbacks, it’s held together very well. It was one of my textbooks for that class, and I’ve referred to it many times since, so I can’t help thinking that, for a sixties paperback, it’s very robust. I would like my old age to be robust, but I’m not made that way. It’s a translation of Geoffrey of Vinsauf’s Poetria Nova, and the translator was Margaret F. Nims, who was, in fact, Sister Frances.

I made sure, decades ago, that no-one could steal this little volume. I didn’t write my name in it. I printed a little label using a pseudo-Medieval font and an old dot matrix printer (it was a brand-new excitingly innovative printer in 1985) and the label reads:

Yee that desyre in herte and have pleasaunce

Olde stories in bokis for to rede

Gode matteres putt hem in remembraunce

And of the other take ye more hede

Whanne yee this boke have over-reade and seyne

To Gillian Polack restore yee hit ageyne.

I meant to commission several new sticky labels from artist friends for all my more recent books. I still want to do this, when I find the money.

Let me talk you through some of the reasons I love this volume.

Poetria Nova is a guide for writers by someone who knew his stuff. It taught me that it’s more important to be readable than to show off my erudition. The author shows off his erudition to write a manual, which makes good sense given the time and place of its writing. Also given its form, because it was written as a poem. It is, however, not a quick or easy read, even in English translation.

Anyone who looks hard enough into my fiction will see all kinds of daft allusions, because I am the kind of person who enjoys putting Easter eggs in my novels, but Geoffrey de Vinsauf taught me that showing off matters intellectual is secondary to ease of reading. In my dreams, my writing is elegant and learned and full of sophistication (and Easter eggs), but if readers don’t want to continue reading, then elegance and learning and sophistication are completely wasted.

Sister Frances taught me to look for the underlying rules and work out why they were applied to that kind of writing before thinking to dump them. The Poetria Nova is one of the sets of rules she used to explain this. She was explaining why rhetoric is so important to writers, and she had us apply rhetorical theory to some beautiful Middle English poems, which is why that particular rhyme marks that particular volume.

I decided I was incapable of writing poetry because I learned what was hidden by the words in just four poems. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I learned that knowing theory doesn’t improve writing unless the theory can be applied. It’s important to write and practise and create to make the theory so much a part of one’s being that the focus can be on using it to bring the world and the people who live in that world to life.

When I first read the manual, it looked like an awful lot of rules that were only good for people who like applying rules. Nearly forty years later and I can look at a rule and across to my fiction and see where it makes a difference. The thing is… I don’t apply the rules mechanically. I’ve learned (through the ‘part of one’s being bit) hear the music in the words and see the pictures they create. That’s when I’m writing at my best. I merely try to do this most of the time. The trying, though, is where the learning happens.

I don’t explain rhetoric at great length. I haven’t for years. Decades, even. I used to be able to, but not doing so means I’ve lost a lot of the words and concepts. There is, however, a few words I’ve used over and over again in teaching. This bit reminds me of the reasons for the rest. It gives me a structure to play with when I sit down to write.

The text is about the concept of structure, to be honest. It’s the idea that the order we set something down reflects the needs of what we’re writing about and makes it easier for a reader to understand what we’re saying. This is particularly important to me because my brain doesn’t work in a lineal fashion and I often have to re-order ideas to make them make sense. Knowing that there is an ideal order of words and of ideas for any type of writing helps me step back and ask how I should be writing and how I should be editing. There isn’t a single ideal order for all types of writing – writing is a wonderfully fluid and dynamic thing in that way – understanding genre means understanding what order of words and ideas work within a given genre.

The perfect order changes according to what we write, and Geoffrey of Vinsauf gives examples of how to start different types of stories. I tested all his opening styles, just the once. Medieval rhetoric is an imperfect vehicle for modern writing, but it was a lot of fun to translate into openings for novels. Since then I’ve been fascinated by openings and what they do and how they work and how they change over time and for different types of story.

One of my biggest issues with the openings of many modern novels I’ve read is that they introduce the first thirty or so pages perfectly, but not the rest of the book. It’s as if the writer has been trying for a perfect hook for a reader, then followed up that perfect hook for enough time to bait the publisher… but has forgotten that the whole novel should fall neatly into line. I feel betrayed when this hurts the whole story.

What is that bit of the text I use in teaching? It’s just a few words in the middle of the section on Amplification and Abbreviation. Geoffrey is talking about description:

“So let the radiant description descend from the top of her head to her toe, and the whole be polished to perfection.” I translate this to most modern styles as “If you need to move a character from one side of the room to another, find a way that adds to the story and doesn’t waste the moment. Isolate each element in order. Make every word count.”

I suspect most writers have books like this in our past. Not necessarily translations of Medieval technical manuals (our earlier selves always appear in our work, in their own way) but unexpected books all the same.

Sister Frances didn’t know I was a writer: I was very careful to keep that side of myself hidden from most of my lecturers in Medieval Studies. She nevertheless taught me more about writing than I learned from any other single lecturer in my whole varied academic career. Geoffrey de Vinsauf brings that back, every time, and, if it weren’t an unholy hour of the night here, I’d be hauling my volume of work by the Pearl-poet off the shelves right now and seeing what memories lurk in their lines.

Helicon Lifetime Achievement Award Goes to Jeffrey A. Carver!

Treehouse Editor Crow is excited to report that Treehouse author Jeffrey A. Carver has been named recipient of this year’s Helicon Society’s Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award!

2022 Helicon Award Badge

From his perch in the treetop, Carver responds, “This came to me as a bolt out of the blue. The Helicon Awards are announced each year by the Helicon Society, ‘a collective of SF/F authors and other creators who subscribe to the Superversive approach to creating SF/F media and look to promote good quality sci-fi/fantasy…’ The judges and membership are anonymous. They have been announcing these awards since 2019. I am humbled and gratified that they have found my work worthy of a lifetime achievement award! Thank you.”

Here are the past winners of Helicon’s Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award:

  • 2019 – Jack McDevitt
  • 2020 – Anne McCaffrey
  • 2021 – David Weber
  • 2022 – Jeffrey A. Carver

Carver is delighted to join their ranks.

See the recipients in other categories here. Congratulations to all of them!

Physical Enlightenment

I had a flash of enlightenment lately. Like many of my flashes of enlightenment, it was something I already knew. I just hadn’t been paying attention.

Ready to be enlightened? Here it is:

Using your body correctly when doing any movement is vital to both good performance and good health.

This advice comes from a mashup of a couple of things my (wonderful) physical therapist said combined with other things I know (but haven’t been thinking about lately) from training in Aikido, Tai Chi, and Qigong,  and taking classes in Alexander technique.

While this advice applies to playing sports or lifting weights or dancing, the real pay off for me is that I’ve figured out how to get in and out of chairs and walk up and down stairs without pain. 

Back when I was training in Aikido — and after I had trained enough years to stop trying to force technique when it wasn’t working — I was pretty good at working to do a movement correctly rather than pushing to “win.” But somehow I’d forgotten how important it was to move correctly in every part of your life.  Continue reading “Physical Enlightenment”

I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part I: Setting the Hook

I don’t consider myself naïve about scams. I know to never give out any my bank or credit card numbers, Social Security number, or date of birth to anyone who phones me out of the blue. In fact, when I am in a cranky mood, I might lecture the caller about how what they’re doing is fraud. I read articles about romance, grandkid-in-jail, phony arrest warrants, and other scams. As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.

It all began in July 2020 with a Facebook Friend request from a young man in Nigeria. I didn’t believe that all Nigerians were scammers. Some very fine science fiction writers are Nigerian Americans. I accepted his request. Here’s his response.

 C (the Nigerian): Where are you from? I’m from West Africa. Nigeria precisely! I know not every white lady likes comunicating with a black man  and i hope in your own case it’s different. I have had couple of friends here on fb and when ever i tell them i come from Africa and Nigeria they see you as an asshole and stop talking to you because am black and i come from Africa. I still have good white friends that has influence me positively and i respect them so much. I wish every white lady out there can see things the way you do.

Commentary: From the first, C tackled the issue of Nigerian scammers and put me on the defensive about his race. On face value, this seemed to be reassurance that he is not a scammer. In actuality, he was fishing for a response of, “I’m not racist, so I will trust you.” Then he added another layer of what an admirable person he is. This will be a recurring them. He used praise as a manipulative tool.

Over the next couple of months, C sent messages like these:

8/3/20, 10:59 am. You stopped writing

8/16/20, 2:29 pm. Hello

9/2020: Things are really deficult for i and my family right now and i was thinking about starting a frozen food bussinss here but i don’t have the capital to start with. I discussed it with a friend in the US and he said he was going to help me. So, he helped in set up a gofundme campaign and here is the link. He’s name is M a very good friend of mine i met on fb.

C: Life over here in Nigeria is really not easy. I’m a graduate of civil engineering but ever since i finished school no firm wants to hire me for my service. It is more political over here searching for a job because jobs are only given to relatives, family members and well wishes. If you don’t have someone who has connection to help you, getting a job becomes difficult.

 Commentary: First, C demanded my attention. He elicited reassurance as well as the commitment of my timely responses. Then he segued into how hard life is for him, what an admirable person he is, and how an American friend is trying to help him. (This was one of C’s tactics to convince me that it was okay to act on C’s behalf because others have done it.) This GoFundMe ended before reaching its goal.

 Later in September, 2020, came the first request for money. Continue reading “I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part I: Setting the Hook”

Out of the Silence and into Culture Shock

Today I’m thinking about a group of older Australian science fiction and fantasy books. I’ve just finished writing them up for a magazine (several articles, will appear sometime in 2022) and I am just emerging from culture shock.

There’s a difference between reading something for fun and reading it with intent to analyse. The ‘intent to analyse’ means I have to delve into how the novel is put together, what it carries with it to the reader and a bunch more. It’s where my historian brain tackles my writer brain for my own work, and where my historian brain meets up with my editor and literary brain when I’m thinking more academically. To be honest, I have no idea if it’s possible to shift between different parts of myself in this way. I pretend I do, though, by changing my vocabulary and approach to the novels and working out which audience I’m writing for. Sometimes I go profoundly wrong in this, especially when I’m writing pure literary studies in the middle of writing novel myself, and editors have saved me from myself several times now.

Back to culture shock. The novel in question is out of copyright, so you can find a free copy and argue with what I’m saying here, or nod sagely, or simply get angry. It’s a good novel, but very much of its time. It’s Erle Cox’s Out of the Silence and was first published (as a newspaper serial) in 1919.

The thing about analysing a novel is that I’ve got to get under its skin and see how it works. This brings me up close and personal. When a story has a group of people who decide that their view of their own cultural superiority means they should commit genocide (as Cox’s novel did) I can’t politely distance myself and say, “Thank goodness I am not that person” and put the book down. I have to understand why the story was told in that way and that means reading deeply into it and analysing it word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence… I want to list all the different levels of one type of analysis and move on to another and generally prevaricate rather than address this subject. That’s how bad it is when you can’t say “I’m a superior being.”

The big question is, in this instance, why I couldn’t just say “I’m a superior being and this is something I don’t have to worry about.” I’ve seen any number of reviews and articles implying just this.

Firstly, a century later, it’s easy to see Cox’s prejudices. It’s easy to see that those who actually committed genocide were the baddies as Cox intended, but that all the good human beings were equally potentially culpable. It’s not so easy to see my own bias. Who do I condemn to a secondary position when they’re in my vicinity? How do I do this? I can explain Cox’s novel, but I’m in no position to judge Cox.

Secondly, as I said just a moment ago, Cox is of his time. He was born in 1873. During his lifetime his home state went from being a colony to being a part of Australia. In chronological order, during that same life, Ned Kelly (is Australia’s Jesse James a good description? Maybe…) was tried an executed. Women were given the vote. Many, many people Cox would have known would have died in World War I and then from the influenza pandemic after it. The Russian revolution and so many other world events changed the world as he knew it, and he saw so much of it, as a journalist. All of this was before he serialised the novel.

After he serialised the novel the world changed again and yet again. 1873-1950 is a heck of a time for a science fiction writer to live though. By the time the last edition of Out of the Silence was published (1947), Cox had seen more than one attempted genocide. His novel wasn’t prophetic – it simply turned into story what a journalist saw.

That’s the thing. We write science fiction about futures and about strange worlds. They always include us and are always about us. I can’t know if I have Cox’s level of prejudice against some people or his capacity to be honest about racism. I can say, having looked closely at his work, that he intended his novel to reveal uncomfortable truths and to help address them. I doubt if he saw his own biases clearly.

I need someone to analyse my work if I really want to know these things about myself. I do. I want to know.

It’s moments like this when honesty about ourselves when we read and analyse can bring the most uncomfortable truths into daylight, where it’s very hard to ignore them. This is the culture shock. It’s not the first time I’ve suffered from it, and I sincerely hope it won’t be the last. I hope I don’t ‘recover’ from it and bury these truths. Insights may sometimes be terribly uncomfortable, but both my own fiction and myself will be the better for this one.