as far as it goes

I was looking for something else deep in the guts of my hard drive, and I ran across this. I wrote it almost eight years ago, but it still feels right to me. So I’m posting it. To prove I’m still here, and writing.

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St. Benedict High School
Class of 2000 Commencement
Chicago, Illinois
May 26, 2000
Rosina Lippi

all rights reserved

Twenty-six years ago I sat where you are sitting right now. Somebody else — and I have absolutely no memory of that person — stood at this podium and gave the class of 1974 advice about how to go out into the world. I’m sure it was a very good speech, just as I’m very sure that you’re going to follow in my footsteps. Twenty six years from now you’ll have no idea who I was, or what I said. So I can be honest. I can give you the very best advice I have to offer, knowing that if you take it and it goes wrong, you won’t be knocking on my door in 2026 to tell me so. So here we go. Continue reading “as far as it goes”

anachronisms

If you write historical fiction, you learn to question every spontaneous bit of dialog you put on the page. Or at least, you should.

A Piece of Cake

It’s very easy to put a turn of phrase into a character’s mouth that couldn’t have possibly been there in the character’s place and time. I run into this kind of error all the time when I’m reading historical fiction. My all time favorite (and I use that term sarcastically) was the story set in 17th century Scotland and the big burly hero who assures the woman he’s with that she needn’t worry about getting home safely. He can manage it, he tells her. It’s a piece of cake. Continue reading “anachronisms”

an idea out of the blue

First: some great entries on the rewrite this! contest. Keep ’em coming. I’ll close the comments tomorrow afternoon, and then I may ask the Mathematician to pick the winner. Or maybe the Girlchild. Certainly my mind is not in proper working order for such an important decision.

Okay so, when I’m sick I tend to be more obsessive than normal. Maybe that’s true of everybody, I don’t know, but it seems unlikely that there are many people in the world who, when they have a fever, find themselves utterly wrapped up in the idea of, say, Cherry Garcia ice cream. So wrapped up that it’s the primary thing on the mind, in the dreams, everywhere.

I know that doesn’t sound very odd. Lots of people adore Cherry Garcia. What could be more natural? Those huge chunks of cherry, the way the the dark chocolate sets the sweetness of the fruit off… a perfect ice cream.

Where was I.

Okay, so here’s the really weird thing. Yesterday I ran across a food weblog (and yes, there are tons of those) and a post on that weblog from last year discussing a European sweet swap. I read that entry about six times. It seems these clever Europeans got together and set this up. You put together a box of delicacies. The one the blogger got was from somebody in Sweden, and had two kinds of homemade cookies (each described lovingly, with photos), and lots of local chocolate and candy.

Can you see this? Homemade cookies from Sweden. In the mail. With chocolate on the side.

Immediately I started looking. Someplace there must be somebody arranging this kind of swap on a larger scale. An International Sweet Swap. Once a month, as I imagined it, you send out a box of stuff, and you get one back. From Japan, from Scotland, from Hungary, France, Portugal, India. This sounds to me like an excellent idea. The reason the internet was invented was to introduce me to more ways to ingest interesting combinations of carbohydrates and fats, after all.

And then the reality: no such website, weblog, notice board. No place on the planet (as far as various search engines could tell me) were such things being planned.

You’d think it would end there, but no. In my fevered mind, an idea: I could start the thing going. The Internationsl Sweet Swap. All I would need is another weblog installation, easy peasy. Yes! Yes! Soon all your cookies are belong to me.

Luckily the Mathematician is familiar with my fevered preoccupation mode. His first question: so, these are all strangers, right? Sending you food through the mail? Um, have you thought about… food poisoning? A box of cookies in transit for a week, butter and sugar and nuts, excess heat… you do remember that last time you had food poisoning.

To which I said: you merciless pooper on parties. Fine. No International Sweet Swap, but let’s have a talk about Cherry Garcia.

There is (sometimes) a method in my madness.

open communication

There’s another (yet again) clash in one very small, limited corner of the internet, but as it happens to be the corner I inhabit, and as I would prefer this not blow out of all proportion, I am going public right here and now. My hope is that it can all be settled immediately. If you are tired of all this (and I am, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you were) please feel free to pass on by. (WW, I’m looking at you.)

There’s a Yahoo discussion group to discuss Diana Gabaldon’s books. It’s a great community of readers who like to talk about the Outlander series. I have been lurking on that board for years, but I’ve never posted, and there are also longer periods where I’m off doing other things and don’t check in.

A few days ago somebody posted on the forum here to ask a question. I’ll refer to this person as WB. It was a simple question. Had the title of the next book in the Wilderness series changed? Because there was a discussion to that effect on the Yahoo Gabaldon board. Also, the person who had started the discussion seemed pretty critical generally of my work.

So I popped over and indeed, the title of the thread included the words “Donati” “Body Snatchers” and “Spoilers”. Once I read the post I understood: RK (as I’ll refer to her here) had just finished Into the Wilderness, and she disliked it. A lot. She was voicing her opinion on the Gabaldon board, which of course is her right. The “Body Snatchers” reference had to do with her claim that ITW is populated by characters I have borrowed or stolen or adapted from other sources, mostly Diana’s books, and that there’s nothing original or interesting in my work.

Let me be clear: RK is entitled to her opinion. I can’t pretend that it’s nice to be accused of plagarism and lack of originality but I am also comfortable enough in my skin to let my work stand on its own merits.*** So let’s take RK’s opinion at face value: she prefers Diana’s books for a lot of different reasons, one of them having to do with the fact that she feels my characters are uninteresting and recycled.

Back at this forum I answered WB’s original question about the title confusion (no, Queen of Swords was not changing title to Body Snatchers). I clarified what I thought was going on, and I responded to the review, very briefly. As was my right.

Now this is where it gets messy. This is where you really need to pay attention. Fact: WB did not email me me the text of RK’s posts or comments on my work. The Gabaldon discussion forum is public, and anybody who has a Yahoo identity can join the group and read the posts. It’s true that WB mentioned RK’s posts, but that’s it. I see nothing wrong in that; she was asking for clarification, and I provided it. Some of the fen over at the Gabaldon forum were upset, however, and WB heard about it from RK and from others as well. I know this because WB told me.

I am a little confused why RK should be surprised that something posted on a public forum might indeed be more widely read. It also seems less than logical to me to accuse WB of bad etiquette for sharing posts from the Gabaldon forum. After all, RK got hold of my post on this whole mess somehow, most likely because somebody pointed her to it.

So let’s be clear.

1. WB did nothing wrong. She likes Diana’s books, she likes my books, she was confused and taken aback by the tone of something she read and so she asked about it. I went and had a look, and answered.

2. RK is entitled to her opinion about my work. The tone of her review is not what I would call professional or balanced or respectful, but it is certainly strongly emotive. Again: that is her right. She can be as vocally negative as she likes; she can stick her tongue out at me and blow raspberries, if it makes her feel better. Following from that, it’s also true that other people are free to agree or disagree with her, on that board or this one. I have to point out though that anyone who publically reviews a book is in fact opening up a discussion, and that in judging, they will also be judged.

3. I defend RK’s right to be negative about my books, just as I defended Beth’s right to post a negative review of one of Diana’s books. And I must point out again: Beth’s review did not appear here. I did not endorse it because I haven’t read the book. I did open up a discussion on the topic of negative reviews, pointing to Beth’s website. I did make it clear that I admired her for her willingness to put her neck out, and for her obvious love and admiration of the early books in the Outlander series. Apparently some few Gabaldon fans are still angry at me for supporting Beth’s right to post her opinions. I wonder if they will also be mad at me for supporting RK’s negative evaluation of my work.

I harbor no deep resentment toward RK, no anger or need for revenge. On the other hand, I feel no need to try to win her over, as she suggests I should. If anything at all was offensive in her posts, it was this idea that it is somehow my obligation to convince anybody of the value of my work. I suppose I could email authors who have written books that didn’t work for me. I could get in touch with John Updike or Nora Roberts or Jodi Picoult or Stephen King or Toni Morrison and offer them the opportunity to pitch their books to me, but then that would be presumptuous and less than respectful.

Finally, a point I need to make: In the course of all this back and forth, bits were copied from my website onto the Gabaldon forum boards. And I’m fine with that — I make the material public, and people are free to share it as long as it’s not done in a misleading way.

***I will point out that it has been postulated that there are only so many plots out there, and everything is a rehashing of something else. Certainly time travel has been done before, as have novels about Scotland, Revolutionary America, and the War of 1812. I have always said quite openly that I got the idea for ITW from an exercise where I put some of Jane Austen’s characters in the same room with some of Fenimore Cooper’s characters. Sparks flew, and ideas sprouted, and here I am five books later.