Two Ships From History

View of the Pinta and Nina Replicas, Hudson River 2017
Photo by Carol Parks

Friday we took a trip to Albany to visit replicas of two of Columbus’ three ships, the Pinta and the Nina, docked on the Hudson River. It’s the sort of thing anyone with more than a passing interest in history tends to do (Remember the viking ship? Yes, sort of like that). In case you were wondering about the third ship, the Santa Maria? There isn’t one. A replica, that is. Since it never made it back, no one’s entirely sure what it looked like. Plus Columbus hated it, which is why he spent more time on the Nina, despite its small size. Or because of it. He considered the Santa Maria too big, clumsy, and slow. As for the Pinta, apparently Columbus hated its captain, Martín Alonso Pinzón. Some accounts say this was why the ship was named the Pinta, which translates as something a bit rude.

At this point we might as well address the elephant in the room. Columbus’ crimes against the people he met in the New World are well documented and I’m not going to deny, defend, or rehash them here. Yet there’s a perspective to history you don’t really get from a book, important as books are. Take a good look at the two ships in the photo above, then compare them to the speedboats and small pleasure craft with them at the dock, and you soon realize something important–those ships are tiny. Yet over five hundred years ago about fifty men willingly got into those craft and sailed out into the wild Atlantic Ocean to they knew not what. Say what you will about their moral failings, that took some cojones.

 

 

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.

 

Empty Places, Part 2

In case you missed it, “Empty Places, Part 2” as performed by LeVar Burton launched on July 4. I use the term “performed” advisedly, because that’s a distinction I learned early on. Back when I was attending more sf/fantasy conventions, I was fortunate enough to attend a reading by Parke Godwin. I’d been to a few readings before that and I’d always enjoyed them, but this one was a revelation–Parke Godwin was an actor before he turned to writing, and he approached his readings the way an actor would approach a play–as a performance. The characters each had their own voices, the inflections were placed where he wanted them, the emphasis of one word over another precise and intentional. I was transfixed, and it was a lesson I always tried to bring to my own readings when it came time to do them. I never had the actor’s skillset to pull it off in the same way, but changing my approach improved my readings greatly.

LeVar Burton has those skills. Listening to him perform “Empty Places” Parts 1 and 2 was almost as if I was hearing the story for the first time, and I wrote the darn thing. I can’t recommend “LeVar Burton Reads” highly enough.

LeVar Burton Reads

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.

 

 

 

Readers and Writers

I don’t know of any writer who wasn’t a reader first. Once we learn how it’s done we tend to do a lot of it. When I was a kid give me a summer day with no chores pending and a book or two which I hadn’t read yet and I was a happy guy. Such idylls don’t last. Soon it’s off to work, or for the luckier, college first, then work, but the result is the same. The leisure time which helped make reading such a joy is likely gone. If you remain a reader, you fit it in when you can.

Or worse, you become a writer. Then reading strictly for pleasure is all but gone. Unless you have an independent source of income or a spouse with a job and a very forbearing attitude, you’re still going to have to work for a living, and still be there for your family, and still everything else involved in having a life yet make the writing work however you can. So that reduced slice of leisure time for reading? Yeah. Much smaller slice now.

Not good, right? Heh. It’s about to get even worse than that. Some poor sods find that it’s almost impossible to read fiction while you’re trying to write it. The only time you can lose yourself in a novel or story collection is when you’re not actively involved in your own projects. Good for reading and keeping up, lousy for getting your work done. Now, even if you’re one of the lucky sods who dodge that particular bullet, there’s another waiting, and it’s simply this—in order to write convincingly about any subject, even if what you’re writing is almost completely made up, there’s going to be research involved, which also involves—you guessed it—reading. Which means you’re going to spend that bitty slice of reading time reading only what you need to read, not necessarily what you want to read.

Yes, this sucks, unless you get really lucky and discover that doing research is one of your favorite things to do. In which case you will still get to enjoy your reading, it’s just going to be mostly non-fiction. For instance, that review of Terry Pratchett’s MORT I did recently? Yeah. I picked that book up at Flights of Fantasy Bookstore in Albany over a year ago. I just nowish got it into the reading queue, which is a good thing because my writing projects are currently dictating a solid shift in that queue. Let me run it down a bit:

The Encyclopedia of Fairies, Katherine Briggs, Pantheon, 1976.
Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio, Pu Songling, Penguin Classics, 2006.
(originally from about 1700CE).
A Field Guide to Demons…and Other Subversive Spirits, Carol & Dina Mack,
1998
In Search of the Supernatural, (original title, Sou-Shin Chi, or The Account of Seeking Spirits) Kan Pao,w/Kenneth DeWoskin & J.I. Crump, Jr, translators.
Original compilation 220 CE.
The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People, Thomas
Keightly, Grammercy Books, 1978 (orig. ed. The Fairy Mythology, 1880.
A Field Guide to the Little People, Nancy Arrowsmith with George Moorse,
Macmillan 1977.

And that list is not yet complete because I haven’t yet found everything I think I need. Suffice to say I’ll be concentrating in two separate (?) areas for the foreseeable future. I will get very little fiction reading done, which sucks. Yet I will be reading non-fiction on subjects I enjoy (whether the subjects themselves are fiction is another matter), and that most emphatically does not suck. True, the tension between writer/reader is never quite satisfied, especially when the writer and the reader are the same person. But sometimes, you get close.

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Speaking of reading, you can skip reading and have a story read to you by LeVar Burton (Star Trek, Roots, Reading Rainbow, and do I really have to tell you who he is?). The first three episodes of “LeVar Burton Reads” are now available for free on iTunes and Stitcher, including my own “Empty Places, Part 1.”

Here’s the description from the podcast:

“An accomplished thief is approached by a wizard who wants to send him on an unusual mission. The two embark on a journey together, matching wits along the way. “Empty Places” was collected in FANTASY: THE BEST OF THE YEAR (2005). “