February 7th, 2008


I give my kids books for Christmas. That’s what they want. And, for the last while, I have also made them each a book for Christmas. The last few years I have had to work much harder on the projects than in the past, mostly because T.R. has requested much more elaborate tales. Two years ago, he wanted an adventure story that was also funny. Last year, he wanted a longer one. Sixteen thousand words later, I was done.

Because the books take longer now, I have to start earlier. Like, now. T.R. thought this last book, while funny, wasn’t adventuresome enough. I know what he really wants: a swashbuckling tale of pirates who run each other through with swords and shoot each other with cannons on the way to fabulous treasure, or possibly a quest that ends in victory, but only after a bloody, gallant, and protracted battle, preferably involving wizards, demons, and knights.

Unfortunately, I’m a hippie kind of person and I don’t want to write something violent. I want to break the connection between excitement and fighting. Silly me.

Brent helped me out of this difficulty by reminding me that adventure stories can be about exploring. He’s brilliant.

I know I’m really starting the writing process for a new project when suddenly I have 37 new books to read. I’m currently reading Richard Burton’s account of the search for the source of the Nile and a raft of books about the Lewis and Clark expedition, including the first (of eight or nine!) volume of their journals. And I have a new problem.

Exploration stories seem to be about violence as well. I, the endlessly naïve, thought, foolishly, that these guys went off into the jungle or the wilderness to see what was there. That’s partly true, but the funding (ah, yes, the all important funding) comes from that most usual suspect, the military-industrial complex. Burton is supposed to find out what resources there are in the interior to exploit. Lewis and Clark are supposed to begin to break into the English fur monopoly and to gauge the strength of the indigenous people. Who knows what I’ll find when I dip into Livingstone and Stanley?

(I’m not even going to start on the issues of racism and sexism.)

The good news is that I am writing fiction. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, fiction is where the good end well and the evil badly. For now the challenge is to keep reading and exploring the data without freaking out so totally that I get no information or inspiration.