Charlottesville

There are things happening, writing-wise. Things as in I have plans, and projects that are in progress, however slowly. Good things and bad things, none of which I’m in the mood to talk about. Right now the main thing on my mind is Charlottesville.

I don’t like talking about politics here, but then I don’t consider the subject of Charlottesville political. If you do, well, fair warning. One actual problem with talking about this is I wasn’t there and don’t feel like I have the right to talk about it. Yet, in a way, I already talked about it, four years ago. Same subject, different day, different place. Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ll quote a passage from then:

“So, when all that’s said and done, am I still a racist? Well…probably. In the same sense that I’m still a Southern Baptist, as in I was raised that way, it informed my upbringing and, while intellectually and spiritually I’ve come to reject its tenets, it is still a part of me and I can’t completely escape that. Which means that I always have to be on my guard, and always aware. I’m not proud of the fact, but I own it.”

I was born and raised Southern in a conservative family. Not Klan-level conservative, but the more “genteel” sort, which in a way was worse for being more subtle and pervasive. When I speak on the subject, I know what I’m talking about. So here we are. Supposedly the marches were to protest removing the Confederate statues from Charlottesville, Virginia, and protecting “heritage.” Sorry, but no.  I remember the arguments back in my home state about removing the Confederate flag canton from the state flag, and how it was all about “heritage.” All it takes to know what a bullshit argument that was and  is? Just watch the Confederate and Nazis flags proudly waving side by side in Charlottesville. If that doesn’t make the point to you, nothing will.

As I also said before, when I first moved to New York state I was surprised and disappointed to find people also displaying the Confederate flag up here. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised, because it’s not about heritage and never was. Some people have glossed over their own fear and hatred by calling it heritage, but they’re fooling themselves. They’re not fooling anyone else.

Removing the statues of Confederates is long overdue. As for those who argue that it’s erasing history, nonsense. Statues are not history. Memorials are not history. They’re about who and what we honor. Charlottesville proved that some of us are honoring all the wrong things.

 

True Things

A wise writer (@saladinahmed) once tweeted something to the effect that the plot of any story will fall apart if you look at it closely enough, because it was a story, not real life. What wasn’t said, naturally, is that the difference between a story and real life is that a story, at least within the confines of its internal logic, has to make sense. Real life, as Mark Twain once famously observed, suffers no such limitations.

So we’re automatically at a disadvantage at least in that regard, trying to write a story where the reader, at least for the space of time they’re reading it, can forget that they’re not really living a story but reading words on a page or screen. We like to talk about something called “The Willing Suspension of Disbelief,” which is the ability to do just that. We like to talk about it because, to a fiction writer trying to reach a fiction reader, it’s beyond important—it’s absolutely necessary. All fiction readers have it or they wouldn’t be reading stories. Some people, I’ve discovered, have this ability to lesser degrees or even not at all. I vividly remember doing a signing where an older lady approached and asked if my books were about “True Things.” It took me a while to realize she wasn’t talking about non-fiction. She was talking about stories that mirrored and reflected, to a greater or lesser degree, the sort of things she saw and experienced every day. Give such a reader a story by, say, Ray Bradbury or Octavia Butler and the immediate reaction would be something along the lines of “This isn’t real!”

Of course not. It’s a story. If it’s a good one there’s Truth in it, but real? No. Then again, the “True Things” which she enjoyed weren’t real either, but try to explain that? No thanks. I’ve seen that lack go even further, and those readers only read news stories or biographies or, well, words on a page which claim to mirror actual events. Nothing speculated, nothing made up. It’s not their fault, but for whatever reason, they lack the toolset for anything else. I’ve tried to imagine what that’s like and the closest I can get is to picture a situation where you hear people talking about different shades of red when you’ve been colorblind all your life. You’d think they were talking nonsense, and from your perspective, you’d be right.

Anyway, to get back to my colleague’s point, no plot is perfect. There’s always a hole somewhere. If we do our job right it’s a little one, hardly noticeable or missed completely if the narrative pulls the reader along as it should. There’s a reason it’s called The Willing Suspension of Disbelief. It’s primarily our job not to muck with it as we spin our stories. Anything that throws the reader out of the story, even for an instant, makes them less inclined to trust you next time, if there even is a “next time.”

There will be holes, and inconsistencies, and whatnot. That’s inevitable. What’s not inevitable is that they will ruin the story. If the story works, the question on the reader’s mind will be “What happens next?” rather than “WTF was that?”

It’s our job to make sure the reader’s concern is the former and not the latter. If anyone ever said this was easy, that was not a “True Thing.”

Shifting Gears

I don’t shift gears well, as in flitting from one action to another. The first time I wrote that sentence I typoed it to “I don’t shift fears well.” Both are true, and maybe part of the same thing. See, right now it’s blog time. I set myself a deadline to do at least one blog post a week. Deadline being Monday, as in “today.” I don’t always make it, but at least when I don’t, I know which deadline I’m flubbing.

The thing is, it’s also Chapter 2 time. Which is sort of a made-up thing except that it could be anything else. Chapter 7 time, or a story where “that scene where the thing my heroine dreaded turned out to be the least of her worries” time. It just so happens that this time is actually Chapter 2 time. As in “Why, this is Chapter 2, nor am I out of it.” Except I’m writing this thing I’m calling a blog post instead of Chapter 2. What is Chapter 2? Good question. Remember, I’m a pantser, as in writing by the seat of my pants. See, I didn’t know that the norn Skuld was going to show up in Chapter 2 until she did. Why did she show up (It’s a book. Everything happens for a reason. Some say real life is like that too, but the jury’s still out on that one)? Good question. Frankly, I wanted to know the answer to that one myself. Right now the characters are hashing that out while I try to write it down. Or at least that’s what I was doing until the blog called.

A Pooka, a Banshee, and a Norn walk into a laundromat. It’s no wonder I’m confused. The real wonder is I’m not confused all the time. Rather like my “hero.”

 

Aednat frowned. “He’s looking confused again, so perhaps we’d better cut to the chase. Nudd, it wasn’t that you played a trick. It wasn’t even that it changed the past and present. No, the real issue is that no one anticipated it.”

Skuld nodded. “Or were able to factor your action into either the intent or necessity of the outcomes my sisters and I had projected.”

I bowed slightly in Skuld’s direction. “With all due respect, how is that my fault? As I said already, what I did to McReedy is no different than the sort of things I’ve done to mortals hundreds of times over the centuries. I’ve even done worse, the truth be known.”

If Skuld took offense, she didn’t show it. She simply said, “Not this time. You changed the past and the present, none of us saw it coming, and right now no one—including the norns–knows how you did it. That’s the different part.”

“Which means,” Aednat added, “that what you did was pure chaos. Or do we need to explain that part as well?”

Oh, crap….  They did not. Rather like looking up in the middle of the street and seeing a speeding garbage truck looming over you–you immediately understand the situation, even if that understanding doesn’t do you a damn bit of good.

 

Sorry, had a little bleed over there, which turns out to be the scene where our hero realizes just how much trouble he’s in, and why. Now, as soon as he tells me, we’ll both know.

Time to shift gears. Later, people.

 

Angry Mohawk

Mohawk River at Little Falls Photo by Christopher Hendrie

As you can see, we’ve had a bit of rain. Still being new to the area, we had decided to take an expedition to Utica/New Hartford to pick up cat food. This, as we were to later understand, was a Bad Idea.

Upon our arrival, we found that Highway 5 through Utica was closed. We didn’t think too much about it since there has been ongoing construction on that stretch of highway through Utica since we moved to the area. We just picked up 5S to Genessee Street and went that way. It was right about this time we realized why Hwy 5 was closed. Large stretches of Genessee Street were under water. It didn’t help that I got turned around and we spent over half an hour getting back on track. All the while wondering if the water would get too deep for our vehicle to handle. We finally made it to our first destination, only to run into another flooded street on the way to the second one. Flooded as in Road Closed.

Again found an alternative route, managed to finish our business but now it’s past time we got out of there and headed home. We couldn’t get back to Hwy 5, but 5S was reachable, even though we were up to the top of our hubcaps in flood water most of the way back down Genessee. Though I admit it was kind of interesting as almost all the side streets had turning into river rapids draining into what was starting to feel more like the Genessee River than the Street. Once on 5S everything was fine until we noticed a line of cars up ahead. Not stopped, but moving very slowly because a section of 5S was now under water. We got through that one–barely–and were almost home when the road got closed…again. One more detour and we made it, but next time? After a few days of rain, we’re just gonna stay home.

 

 

 

Two Hours on the Erie Canal

These days I live less than a mile from the Mohawk River/Erie Canal, and which one it is at any given time is a distinction I wasn’t clear on until a few of us took a boat tour originating in the next town over, Herkimer. Having gotten lunch at the Waterfront Grill, we picked up our boarding passes and got on the Lil’ Diamond II and cast off.

While the original canal was built between Buffalo (Lake Erie)  and Albany(Hudson River) the barge canal system as it currently exists was built between 1905 and 1918 (it took a while) and all the lock mechanisms still in use today date from that time.

Here comes the distinction between what is the Erie Canal and what is the Mohawk River: the canal and the river run together except in places where the river gets a bit too “natural” and shallow/twisty to make a good canal. In that case what is called a “land cut” was created, a separate channel where barge/boat traffic would travel until it was safe/practical to rejoin the Mohawk. There was then the problem that the water depth in the land cut was not the same as the river. That’s where the locks come in. We were only on the river a short while before we entered one of those land cuts, terminating in Lock 18.

Here we are entering Lock 18. The building in white would have housed the original power-plant for the lock, since there was no grid at the time, though it has since been converted. The Lock doors are visible straight ahead. All boats entering need to moor to prevent jostling. We were the only boat in the lock on our trip down, however on the trip back up we were joined by five other boats, some rather bigger than we were, and it got a bit crowded.

Once we were secured, the rear doors of the lock closed and the water level started to drop as we were being matched with the Mohawk again. You can’t see them in this picture, but steel mooring cables run from the top down the canal lock sides, and boats moor with sliding hooks so they can move up and down freely as the water level changes.

 

 

 

 

 

The difference was about 20 feet, as you can see now that the lock doors have been opened to let us on our way. Beyond this point we’re back in the Mohawk, at least for a while. We’ll turn around soon to come back to Lock 18. I wish the cruise had continued to Lock 17 at Little Falls; it has a vertical lift of 40 feet, which for many years was the largest of any canal lock in the world, even the Panama Canal. It’s since been dwarfed by one in China, with a vertical lift of 250 feet.

Here’s a close-up of one of the lock gates, which fits into the canal wall when open, to give the boats more room. It’s of steel, except for the two lower beams which are white oak. They are replaced about every fifteen years.

Most of the river traffic these days consists pleasure boats who pay a yearly fee for the use of the locks. They’re divided into “locals” and “loopers”. The term Locals is pretty self-explanatory. Loopers are ones who travel a great canal circuit through as many waterways as they can before returning to where they started. Sort of like a road trip, except on the river/canal. Must be fun, if you’ve got a fair sized boat and nothing else to do.