It's always hard to find the balance between giving readers the descriptive details they want, and not going overboard. Reader feedback on the Alpennia books has taken contrary positions: some praising me in relief at not being subjected to endless details of ballgowns and parties, some wistfully longing for more details of ballgowns and parties. The tight third-person point of view that I use can make it awkward to describe things that the characters would take for granted or consider unremarkable. But sometimes there are opportunities for such descriptions to be critical for character development, as when Serafina is unexpectedly invited to the Ambassadors' Ball in recognition of her work with Margerit on the All Saints' Castellum mystery. This enflames Serafina's social anxiety. In her academic work, she may move among people who are comfortable in high society, but she is quite certain that she doesn't belong there herself. Unfortunately, the protestation that she has nothing suitable to wear fails when she is put in Jeanne's capable hands...
* * *
Chapter 7 - Serafina
The shop had a tidy little face with a bow window on which neat gilded letters proclaimed “Madame Dominique, Modiste.” The simplicity of the display was an obvious testament to the quality of the custom she expected.
Once more Serafina hung back. “Jeanne, I don’t think…”
“You needn’t worry too much about the price. I won’t insult you by making a present of it—Antuniet scolded me on that point! But I’ve brought her a great deal of business and she will return me the favor by charging only what you can afford.”
“No, but Jeanne…a society dressmaker! She won’t want—” How tiresome to need to explain.
But Jeanne had already opened the door, setting the bell above it jangling.
The girl who came out of the back room to greet them wore the sort of neatly elegant dress that advertised the proprietor’s skills in even the simplest fashion. But Serafina scarcely glanced at her clothing, instead matching gazes with the bold eyes looking out from a brown face, framed by a lace-edged linen cap.
The girl dipped a curtsey, saying, “Good day, Mesnera de Cherdillac.”
“Celeste, I do hope your mother has time to do something for Maisetra Talarico,” Jeanne said. “I sent a note this morning but there was no time to wait for a reply.”
She disappeared with a nod.
“Her mother?” Serafina began, a different question on the tip of her tongue.
“Dominique studied dressmaking in Paris as a girl—she came here with a group of French émigrés back during the war—but I think she was born somewhere in the Antilles. I think you’ll like her. She has a knack for choosing exactly the right style. God knows she’s done wonders for Antuniet!”
Serafina was barely listening. A knot eased inside her when the girl returned, followed by a tall woman dressed with equally quiet elegance. She was darker than her daughter—well, that was hardly surprising if Celeste’s father were Alpennian. If Paolo had given her a child, she might have looked much the same. The thought pricked like a tiny hidden thorn. Serafina found her voice at last, “Madame Dominique, I would be very grateful if you could dress me for a dinner with the Royal Mystery Guild.”
It was the girl, Celeste, who took her measurements, jotting down numbers on a slate while Dominique brought forth samples of fabric and discussed the details of tucks and ruffles. Jeanne participated with a few pointed suggestions.
“Nothing too fussy, I think. There isn’t time.”
Tactful of her not to mention the cost.
“Perhaps something like that wine color you chose for Mesnera Chazillen’s New Year’s gown?”
Dominique deftly turned Jeanne’s suggestions into her own, bringing out a soft red wool with a border of flower vases woven in golds and blues. “This, I think. It was meant to be cut into shawls but if we set the border design at the hem—” She held it up to fall from just under the bosom. “—and a bit more of the motif on the sleeves. No ruffles at all, just a few tucks along the edge of the corsage.” She pinched the fabric between her fingers to show the effect along the collarbone and looked up at Jeanne for approval.
“Yes, you’re right as always!” Jeanne laughed.
“Will you have jewelry?” Dominique asked.
Serafina started to shake her head but Jeanne suggested, “A string of pearls?”
“Perfect! Now how do you plan to wear your hair?”
By this time Serafina had abandoned the thought of having her own opinions, but they all stared at her in expectation. “I usually…” She unpinned a lock and wound it into a tight curl around her finger to hang along her cheek. “Like that.”
Celeste paused over her slate to say matter-of-factly, “I wish mine would do that.”
“Then I think just a small band,” Dominique concluded. “To tie around in back. No feathers, no ribbons.” She kissed her fingers to set the seal of approval on her own vision.
I think that Chapter 13 "One of the Populace" is my favorite part of A Little Princess. You know that tv commercial a couple years back--I think maybe it was for an insurance company but I could be wildly wrong--showing a long chain of people doing random kindnesses for a stranger in passing, which was witnessed by a third party who was then inspired to do a random kindness for a stranger in passing, which was witnessed...and so forth? Chapter 13 it a bit of that, showing how an act of selfless charity can touch and chance the hearts of others unknown.
The chapter begins with a contemplation of the power of imagining, when Sara and Becky are commiserating after a hard day and, instead of telling stories reframing their lives as The Prisoners in the Bastille, Sara paints an idyllic story of the life the Indian Gentleman's monkey led before being captured and brought to England. When Sara asserts, "What you have to do with your mind, when your body is miserable, is to make it think of something else," Becky question whether that's really possible. In a very human moment, Sara admits, "Sometimes I can and sometimes I can't." Then she talks about the power of her princess persona. This segues into "one of the strongest tests she was ever put to" which forms the rest of the chapter.
We are shown the depths of Sara's most dreadful day, when the weather conspires against her, and Miss Minchin has refused her food as a punishment for some unstated transgression, and she's trying desperately to imagine herself into warm clothing and the most luxurious meal she can imagine: six penny-buns hot from the oven at the bake shop, which she would buy the a sixpence she imagines herself finding. And then...she finds a coin. (We learn later that she still has the sixpence that the Carmichael boy gave her for charity. But I have suggested that to actually spend it on such basic necessities would make it charity, and not the keepsake of a friend that she chooses to consider it.) The coin isn't even the meagre fortune she has imagined, but only fourpence. But there it is, right in front of a bakery, with hot buns just been put into the window display. Surely it is A Sign.
And then she sees the second Sign: a barefoot, rag-clad, freezing, starving beggar girl sitting on the steps of the bakery. Sara speaks to her and is struck to the heart at how much worse off the girl is than she herself, and her Princess Nature kicks in. If she is truly a princess, then it is her duty to give largesse to her people, even at great cost to herself. So she decides to share her small fortune with the girl.
This is the exact point at which the balance begins to assert itself. The owner of the bakery, impressed by Sara's honesty at first asking if anyone has lost the coin she found, and noting Sara's hungry look, impulsively gives her sixpence worth of buns for four. Sara, instead of splitting the six buns evenly, gives five of them to the beggar girl and keeps only one for herself. And when the bakery owner notices this--though not in time to speak to Sara again before she leaves--she is touched and a little shamed to think that a girl who was herself cold and hungry could give so much when she had barely noticed the presence of a starving child literally on her doorstep. So she invites the beggar girl inside to warm herself and tells her to come back any time she'd hungry. As we will learn much later, this is the first step toward a deeper relationship where she takes the beggar girl on as an apprentice and gives her a home. To be sure, it's only one beggar out of no doubt many on the streets. But it will turn that one person's life entirely around.
Though Sara doesn't know it yet, everything is looking up from here on. But there are diversions to endure first. Sara will undergo one more crushing disappointment before The Magic comes. And in echo of that, she passes Mr. Carmichael leaving his house on the trip to Moscow in a vain quest to locate Captain Crewe's lost daughter.
ETA: So here it is April 16, 2017 and I'm preparing the beds for the new tomato plants and I discover that of course I kept track of exactly what was planted where, becasue I tucked each plant ID tag right along the edge of the wall of the bed where it was planted. These tags were, of course, impossible to see in mid-summer when the plants were lush. So I've annotated the entries below with the correct IDs when I guessed wrong.
Tuesday is supposed to be Alpennia Teaser Day, but I can tell that I'm not going to have the energy to write something up by the time I get home after dragonboat practice. So I'm swapping in the post that was meant for Random Thursday instead: the 2016 Tomato Review!
Tomatoes are the keystone of my vegetable gardening. If I could grow tomatoes and nothing else, I'd be ok. (Though it's really nice that I can grow other vegetables too!) Since moving to Concord, I've had good tomatoes every second year and I don't know if it's something about what I'm doing or the luck of the weather. After a disappointing crop last year, I decided to put in three new raised beds in a solidly sunny location and fill them entirely with tomatoes. Seventeen different varieties of tomatoes. (Not sure why I didn't round it out to eighteen. I may have simply run out of momentum.)
Well, they delivered. I'm in the stage where I have tomatoes for all my lunches, tomatoes as part of my dinners, and I'm freezing a couple quarts of tomato puree every weekend. And because I'm just that sort of person (i.e., a cataloger), I thought I'd do a detailed review of the crop. This is hampered somewhat by the fact that I didn't quite keep track of exactly what got planted where. I did fill in the spreadsheet with the names. And I sorted them out by color into the three beds (reds, yellows, and a miscellaneous that includes all the purples and blacks plus spillover). But I hadn't accounted for the fact that I have three plants with different names that produce functionally identical-looking fruits. So I'm reviewing them by location, and attempting to assign a name as best I can.
In several places I refer to a "cherry habit" by which I mean that the fruits grow in clusters rather than individually. Some of the medium-sized tomatoes follow this pattern, but others of the same size don't. When I describe a shape as "heirloom" I mean the sort of over-large, irregular, often cracked shape that gets this label slapped on it in grocery stores.
Standing on my little patio, the beds are numbered 1-3 from nearest to farthest. Each bed has a near row and a far row. And each row has a left, center, and right plant (except for the one short row which is missing the right one).
Bed 1: Tomatoes with purple or black highlights, plus spill-over from the reds
1. Near Left: I’m highly confident this is the Black Krim, a large “heirloom” style shape, dark red with a greenish top. (Tomato varieties advertised with “black” in the name may include colors that range from greenish-black to purple-black.) Like most “heirloom” style varieties, it’s prone to cracking and may assume some peculiar shapes. The Black Krim is very mild in flavor--one might even say bland. It’s not particularly sweet and has low to medium acidity.
2. Near Middle: Based on the process of elimination, this should be Black Prince. It’s described as being “pear-shaped” in the catalogs though I’d call it more “round with a slightly pointed bottom”. It’s on the small size of medium but grows with a standard habit rather than a cherry habit. A fairly uniform dark red in color. I guess I can see some dark highlights on the shoulders. Mild but flavorful and slightly sweet. Medium acidity.
3. Near Right: Indigo Rose. Quite small in the small-medium size range but without the cherry habit. A bright almost orangey red with purple-black patches on the shoulders where exposed to sun. The flavor is disappointingly bland. It’s low on both acid and sweetness. Use this one for visuals, but not for flavor.
4. Far Left: In theory, this bed was for varieties with some black or green coloring, but I seem to recall I had to fill in with spill-over from other beds. So based on appearance and the process of elimination, I’m pretty sure this is the Brandywine but there are two others I’m not certain about distinguishing: Mortgage Lifter and Beefsteak. (That is, I seem to remember planting a Beefsteak, though it isn’t in my spreadsheet.) In any event, this is Tomato #4. It’s a large, “heirloom” style shape in bright red. Prone to cracking. Moderately flavorful with mild acidity. Low sweetness. [ETA: yes, this is confirmed as Brandywine by the tag.]
5. Far Middle: Black Pearl. A standard cherry size and fruiting habit. Dark red with a faintly greenish-black top. On the higher side of acidity and not particularly sweet, but nicely flavorful. No tendency to split after picking, unlike some of the other cherry varieties.
6. Far Right: Cherokee Purple. Large to very large, with the larger ones taking an “heirloom” shape and a tendency to crack. A sort of pinky-red with dark green shoulders. A very interesting flavor, with an almost “hoppy” under-taste. Not sweet, moderate acidity.
Bed 2: Yellow Tomatoes or with Yellow Highlights
7. Near Left: Golden Jubilee (I think). I’m not entirely certain I have my two yellow tomatoes identified correctly. The main difference is that #9 is more in the orange-yellow range while #7 is more lemon-yellow. So on the basis of the names, I’m going to guess that #9 is “Persimmon” (because the color matches a persimmon) and this one is “Golden Jubilee”. Medium size and standard shape. Bright lemon-yellow, sometimes with a slight pink blush on the underside. No cracking. Either I’m picking them too early or this variety is simply a bit on the hard side when ripe. Mild flavor, low acidity, slightly sweet.
8. Near Middle: Mr. Stripey (This was the last one to come ripe and it wasn't until the color developed that I was confident of the ID.) Medium size and standard shape. a Medium red with yellow blush that is supposed to develop in a striped pattern. The first ones ripe are a little cracked but that may be a weather issue. Like all the yellow tomatoes, very sweet (though not as sweet as the Sun Golds) and low acidity. A pleasant, mild flavor--not strong but not bland.
9. Near Right: Persimmon (based on the color). A standard shape and bright orange-yellow color. Both of the ones that have come ripe so far have had an odd brownish blemish (about the size of a silver dollar) on the flower end, which contributes to the “persimmon” appearance, though I suspect it’s because this plant is at the end of an irrigation line and may have been underwatered at a key develpment point for these specific fruits. Very flavorful, sweet, with medium acidity.
10. Far Left: Yellow pear. A pear-shaped, lemon-yellow, cherry-type tomato. Mild and pleasant flavor but not particularly sweet and low acidity.
11. Far Middle: Sun Gold. A cherry-type with considerable variation in fruit size, from the small end of the standard cherry range down to chickpea-sized. Wait for the darker orange color to develop for best results, though you can pick them ad a more lemon-yellow stage. When ripe, prone to splitting after being picked, but they don’t seem to crack while on the vine. Extremely sweet and flavorful with medium acid. Probably the most flavor per unit of any of the varieties I grew this year. Eat them one at a time, sun-warm, and put the memory away for a rainy day.
Bed 3: Red Tomatoes
12. Near Left: By process of elimination, this may be Mortgage Lifter, though as noted above, I’m not entirely certain I have that, Brandywine, and Beefsteak distinguished properly. Size and shape ranges form a large standard shape to very large “heirloom” shape. Medium red, sometimes with a faint hint of green on the top. Mild and sweet with fairly low acidity. Very “meaty”. I’ll probably earmark these for sauce. [ETA: Curiously enough, this turns out to have the tag for Shady Lady, which I had thought was one of the small-medium varieties. I think this must be a mis-placed tag because otherwise one of the small-medium plants would end up being Beefsteak by process of elimination, and that just can't be right.]
13. Near Middle: There are three varieties that have ended up being nearly indistinguishable in appearance. All three are bright red and have a size that would be quite small for a standard tomato, but they all have a cherry-type grown habit but are very much on the large size for a cherry (ranging up to almost pingpong ball sized). These three are planted in positions 13, 14, and 16 and match up to the labels Early Girl, Shady Lady, and Cherry. The review descriptions are based on planting position and I haven’t attempted to guess at which variety they match up with. #13 is sweet and flavorful with very mild acidity. [ETA: This was the plain "Cherry" variety.]
14. Near Right: For identification problems and physical description, see #13. Very sweet with bold flavor and medium acidity. ETA: This was "Early Girl".]
15. Far Left: At least I don’t have to guess at which plant is the Roma, since I didn’t plant more than one of this shape. It’s...um...Roma-shaped (elongated and slightly bulbous toward the bottom). A later ripener than all but one of the other varieties. Bland in flavor and very low acidity and sweetness. Very “meaty”. Romas are designed for sauce and that’s what I”ll earmark it for.
16. Far Middle: For identification problems and physical description, see #13. Sweet and very flavorful with mild acidity. [ETA: See my note on #12. I think this must actually be Shady Lady, despite the tag for that variety having been in position #12.
17. Far Right: See my comments about being uncertain I have Beefsteak, Brandywine, and Mortgage Lifter sorted out, but we’re just going to call this one Beefsteak arbitrarily. A large to very large “heirloom” shape, somewhat prone to splitting, in a medium red with a slight orange blush to the shoulders. Fairly flavorful and somewhat sweet with medium acidity. Very meaty. [ETA: this turned out to be Mortgage Lifter.]
Here I am, bleary-eyed and just about to pack up and vacate my Worldcon hotel room. This is when I really appreciate the ability to set up LHMP posts in advance! A very short entry this time, as the article was primarily concerned with data on men.
Monter, E. William. 1985. “Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland” in Licata, Salvatore J. & Robert P. Petersen (eds). The Gay Past: A Collection of Historical Essays. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 0-918393-11-6 (Also published as Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 6, numbers 1/2, Fall/Winter 1980.)
A collection mostly of case-studies of specific historic incidents or topics relevant to the changing understandings of homosexuality. Most of the papers address male topics. Only the three relevant to female topics are covered in this project.
Monter, E. William. 1985. “Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland”
The majority of this article concerns accusations of sodomy between men, and looks at the numeric distribution of evidence with regard to the date, location, nature of the charge, and demographic information about the accused. The analysis is particularly interesting with regard to the interplay of religious and sexual concerns. There is a single reference to an incident involving women.
In 1568, a woman in Geneva was accused of fornication and “irritated her judges” by proclaiming her innocence, based on a claim that she was a virgin. When a midwife (who presumably examined her physically) testified otherwise, She broke down and confessed to both heterosexual fornication and a lesbian interaction four years previous with a woman who had died since then. The record of the sentence included, “it is not necessary to describe minutely the circumstances of such a case, but only to say that it is for the detestable crime of unnatural fornication. ... a detestable and unnatural crime, which is so ugly that, from horror, it is not named here.” But her death sentence focused more on the crimes of blasphemy and the heterosexual fornication. Execution was by drowning.
Given that torture seems to have been a routine part of obtaining evidence from defendants, the trial record may be considered more accurate with regard to what the court believed to be plausible than to the woman’s actual deeds.
You just know that these reports are going to get briefer and less coherent as the con goes on. It's a wrap at this point and here's what I recall from the last 24 hours.
When last we heard from our valient heroine, she was about to dress up a little and head off to join up with various other folks from File 770 to attend the Hugo Award ceremony. OK, so not all my readers may know what all that means. The Hugo awards are the annual member-voted awards from the World Science Fiction Society, given at Worldcon. There are awards for both professional and amateur writers, artists, etc., and for fiction, commentary, various types of activity (podcasts, either print or online magazines, etc.) relating to science fiction and fantasy writing and the SFF community. File 770 is a "fanzine", that is, an amateur publication of news, commentary, and discussion of the SFF scene, originally founded as a print periodical, but now also existing as a website that has developed a very active discussion and commenting community. It's a forum where I've been quite active in the past year and where I've made a number of new friends. And both File 770 and its founder, Mike Glyer, were finalists for Hugo awards (for Best Fanzine and Best Fan Writer). So those of us who had gotten to know each other through the site did a lot of socializing at this year's Worldcon--especially given that Our Gracious Host, Mike Glyer, was not able to attend for health reasons. So we sat in a group and were able to cheer together when Mike and File 770 both won in their respective categories. Here's a picture of the physical awards, held by John Hertz, who stook in to accept them for Mike...and he let me hold one of them for the picture.
After that, it was another evening of having startling success at finding fun conversations at the Marriott bar, but for the life of me I can't remember all of them. All I remember was that I succeeded in doing a few chained introductions where all manner of amazing people who hadn't previously known each other now do.
I had two panels, with the earlier starting at 11am, so I had to skip the last business meeting, but as I expected, the various decisions were ones I would have supported. The first panel was "When the Magic Goes Away", discussing stories and settings where magic is in transition, the magic-technology interface, the continuing echoes of the "lost golden age" motif, and the various purposes that both magic and its loss serve in stories.
The second panel was "Austen and Shelley and their influences on SFF" which was an amaingly fun discussion moderated by Mary Robinette Kowal that covered the literary, historic, and social contexts of Austen and Shelley's works, the reasons why the themes in their work continue to inspire SFF today, and all sorts of ways that readers engage with them. Really, you should have been there. It was a lot of fun.
I finished up by attending a panel sponsored by some of the con committee for next year's Worldcon in Helsinkii on "How to talk to Finns". Lots of humorous presentation of cultural differences and expectations, with a bit of practical Q&A for those expecting to travel from the States for the convention.
I didn't feel like trying to go off somewhere for a real dinner, so I grabbed a sandwich in the bar and hung out with Renay Williams and other folks from the Lady Business blog (who were also finalists for Best Fanzine). And now I'm about to go meet my interviewer. (Someone I met through facebook, not related to Worldcon except by geography.) I'll probably have time to do some more summing up tomorrow since my plane doesn't leave until after noon, but at this point my brain is completely toast.
Oh, and I got an email to expect the editorial feedback on Mother of Souls to be waiting for me when I get home, so there's no rest for the wicked.
Worldcon is a very long convention. Although I'm having a lovely time, I'm starting to look forward to it being over.
I started Friday evening at the Marriott bar, having recalled that a conversation with a new friend (and fan of Alpennia) had vaguely been scheduled to continue there. Found said friend easily and had a nice long chat about all manner of things with her and another participant. The Marriott bar was much quieter and less crowded because vast quantities of people were at the Tor (publishing) party instead. I figured I'd stick my head in there for at least a little bit, since it seemed like the "It Party" of the con. It filled up the ballroom at the top of the Crowne Plaza (with a glorious view of the city) and was jam packed with "name" authors...but it was jam packed. And the wall of sound battered at you when the elevator was still a couple floors away. I made one circuit of the room, waved hi to a couple people, and hi-tailed it out. Tried the SWFA suite next, but it's very catch-as-catch can, in my experience, in terms of finding people to talk to. This time, I didn't. Just as I was tweeting my decision to pack it in for the night, my roommate Fade responded with an enthusiastic command that I join her at a small semi-private speakeasy party at the Aladdin, so I checked it out. Nice friendly people (though I only really knew one other person in the room besides Fade, and that was Elizabeth Bear) but I ende up only staying a little while becase said roommate had set her heart on checking out the Tor party and was in a cheerful enough state that there was a communal decision that I should accompany her and see she got safely back to the room afterward. This time the Tor party had thinned out a little (though still quite noisy) and we worked our way through several converations and a lot of gazing at the aforementioned delightful view before turning in.
Well, I was going to do Saturday morning too, but I really need to change and get back to the main convention center to line up for the Hugo seating. So, briefly: morning full of WSFS business meeting again (I now have some strong opinions on the misuse of Roberts Rules of Order), several lovely panels, got a few autographs, bought some new earrings, then back to the room for some quiet time and a snack.
In theory, Friday is supposed to be review day, and I have a review partially drafted up. But it still needs some polishing and my brain is rather wrung out, so you just get the continuing con report instead.
Maybe I should have talked up my Kaffee Klatsch a bit more because only half the available slots were filled, but we had a good time. I talked about future plans for the series, answered questions, and did a short reading from Mother of Souls. Bringing the special print edition of The Mazarinette and the Musketeer was an excellent idea, because I've been handing out copies right and left, and it has served the intended function of being something I can sign for people if they don't have a hard copy of anything else available. My original idea was to suggest adjourning to dinner afterward if anyone were interested, but it turned out all the likely candidates were planning to head for the File 770 dinner at the Flying Saucer pub, so the two concepts were combined.
An evening panel on how media invite and adapt to various queer "gazes" was on my list to see, so I headed back to the main convention space. While I was killing time before the panel, I ran into Bogi Takács (one of the panelists) who was on my "Twitter people to meet in the flesh" list so we chatted a bit until it was panel time. The panel was one of those contexts where one is reminded of the mild absurdity of lumping together of all the various identities and interests covered under the label "queer". Lively conversation, though.
After that I tried the Marriott bar again, and worked my way through several conversations, both ones I inserted myself into and ones I was invited into. So: success. Very exhausting, though.
Slept in a little then grabbed breakfast at Starbucks with my roommate Fade Manley on the way to the business meeting. I have to say that WSFS business meetings are a fascinating universe, but I don't know that I'll continue to have long-term interest in attending them. A surprising amount of business got finished up.
Someone at my Kaffee Klatsch had mentioned that Larry Smith Books had sold out of my books, so I swung by and asked if they'd like a few copies to re-stock. It turned out they still had a couple, but did want the additional ones, and the displays had thinned out enough to give me face-out on an end cap. Of such things are authorly dreams made!
My tentative schedule was looked solid from there until 7pm. Took in a very packed panel on keeping track of characters and data in epic fantasy doorstop series (which I attended primarily for Kate Elliott). Then "We Deserve Better" a venting panel on the treatment of lesbian and bi female characters in tv. Finally met up with Twitter friend @Sandstone. There was a panel on cookbooks in the next hour that I'd liked, but decided to hang out and chat for a bit, and then went off to hide in the Green Room and collect up my notes for the panel I was moderating later on supporting characters in steampunk. Which people said went well. But first was my first panel as a particpant on "Queers in Heroic Fantasy" which was quite lively, covering subjects like "does sexuality even matter when you're being epic?" and issues of genre expectations. I tossed off some of my favorite tidbits of classic epic literature.
I thought I'd had some vague plans to meet for possible dinner plans after the steampunk panel, but they didn't materialize and instead I took up an invitation from Cat Faber to join her dinner party. After rejecting a 40-minute wait at our original (noisy) venue, we just got deli & salad bar takeout from Cosentino's, which also had a small area with tables.
And now I'm decompressing a bit before deciding which parties to try. (Haven't made it to the SFWA suite yet, though that's always pretty random in who's there. Will probably stick my head in at the Tor party, since people I know are likely to be there.) The weather forecasts have been promising lightning storms this evening, and I see by my window that they're finally delivering. Fortunately, I needn't stick my nose outside to get to any of the places I might go.
I have no programming commitents tomorrow, so I can finally take in the art show and do a serious circuit of the dealers' area, if I want. Thinking seriously of actually attending the Hugo ceremonies rather than catching them on video-cast, but it will probably depend on whether I get together with other people who want to do that.
At some conventions, I feel like I have lots of down time to compose daily blog entries. This time, I'm feeling very "on the go" and figure I'll just jot down impressions and experiences.
After registering, there were a couple hours to kill before the event space actually opened. I tried wandering around to orient myself but was a little stymied by the con's renaming of spaces. (Which space does the "Heinlein arena" correspond to again?) Once things got going, I haven't had any problems finding anything, but it's a very spread out space and I tend to get anxious about not knowing where things are. While wandering, met up with a local couple for whom this is their first ever SFF con (not just "first Worldcon" but first con ever). I hope I was sufficiently enthusiastic about welcoming them and giving useful advice.
When the event space opened, I pretty much only had time before my signing to survey the dealers' tables to know where to send people who might want to buy the Alpennia books. This was a good thing, because not only did I get a steady stream of over a dozen people for signing[*] but about four of them went off to buy copies to bring back. Also handed out about 10 copies of the Musketeer story, which served its intended purpose of being something to sign for those who didn't have physical books.
[*] OK, so maybe a dozen people would be pathetic for most authors, but I think it's the most I've every had for any signing ever. Personal best, and all that.
Spent some time wandering the dealers' area (most of the non panel stuff is all on the one big event space, which is a great layout). Did my site selection voting for 2 years from now. Tried to sign up for some volunteer time with the San Jose bid, but never quite seemed to connect with anyone who was coordinating it. Bumped into a number of "first time in person" encounters, including JJ from File 770 with whom I grabbed a quick late lunch/early dinner. Went to Rachel Acks's "literary beer" (an alternate form of Kaffee Klatsch), then a panel with Sumana Hariahareswara, Teresa Nielsen Hayden & Heather Urbanski looking at historical fiction as "fan fiction" in how it fills in the gaps in stories and adapts existing characters to new storylines.
At that point, I was looking for known people to hang out with for the evening and had a brief period of thinking it was going to be one of those "wander around feeling lonely and not seeing anyone I feel able to approach" times. Now that I have Twitter, I have a potentially productive way of expressing that when it happens. Fortunately a brief Twitter coordination got me a chance to finally meet Renay of Ladybusiness & Fangirl Happy Hour. (Although after I briefly fangirled at her, I kind of ran out of things to say and felt really awkward just hanging out.) Got another tweet leading me to a group I met at Sasquan who were hanging in the Marriott bar, which took me through the rest of the evening.
This morning, met up with Catherine Lundoff & friends (Martha Wells, Steven Gould, and a couple others) for breakfast. It really helps to have the in-person thing with people I've only met online! Then off to do time at the WSFS business meeting. (3 hours of voting on the agenda and schedule for the rest of the sessions. Alas, some of the most intense debates will be on Sunday when I have programming opposite.) Went to a ready by Rosemary Kirstein, whose books have been on my to-be-read pile for quite some time now. And now I'm taking some brief down time and catching up before my Kaffee Klatsch at 4pm. I wasn't able to get a peek at the sign-up sheets, but I'll just assume that if I was able to pull a full slate last year, I should do the same this year.
At that's my Worldcon so far.
This week, I’m going to pause in the chapters and go back to one of the concepts I discussed at the beginning of this series of posts: moral accounting as a literary analysis technique. To reiterate, it’s a concept that came out of the field of cognitive linguistics, and specifically the sort of conceptual analysis of metaphoric structure pioneered by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. In brief: the use of the langauge of accounting (debts and payments, balances and sums) to talk about how people’s interactions--and especially a series of interactions over time--reflects an underlying concept of “moral balance”. That is, that people who do good things (or who have bad things happen to them for no reason) are “owed” a good outcome, while people who do bad things (or who have unearned good things happen to them) accrue a moral “debt” which can be balanced either by disaster or good deeds. That fact that we use the language of accounting to talk about such things is both a symptom and a motivation for actually thinking/believing in the reality of "moral balance". (It is, of course, not the only metaphoric model we have for morality and ethics.)
A Little Princess has always struck me as a supreme exercise in moral accounting. Sara begins with an “unearned” balance (i.e., a debt) due to her social and financial circumstances and her happy family situation. All these are taken away from her so drastically that she shoots right past balance into severe credit. That is: a state of being “owed” good things by the universe. Then she is driven even deeper into credit by the combination of continuing to do good deeds as best she can, and experiencing unwarranted bad experiences (e.g., the persecution by Miss Minchin). It is only by this continued accrual of credit that Sara can “earn” the eventual conclusion of the story where she becomes wealthy beyond imagination and once again achieves a happy and loving family situation.
But before she has earned that, she has to hit bottom. First, we’ll see Sara perform a significant “good deed” (the part of the accounting under her control). Then we’ll see a series of external bad deeds done to her (e.g., deprivations of food and comfort). And then, when it seems that complete disaster has struck, the balance will begin to assert itself. Not all at once--that wouldn’t be satisfying. Rather in a long, slow build-up to the final climax.
Mr. Carrisford's moral-economy arc is in a different place. Like Sara, he begins the story with what we can assume is a moral debt due to unearned life circumstances. This debt inflates greatly by the good fortune of the diamond mines and by his failures toward Captain Crewe during the supposed crash. His brief brush with the threat of financial loss can't really be treated as a payment toward that debt because it's so quickly neutralized. One might say that Mr. Carrisford's illness is something in the way of paying "interest" on the debt. (A different symbolic understanding of morality might view the illness as a physical realization of his moral weakness--that he won't be healed until he makes good.) Carrisford will work toward balance by a combination of taking action (performing charity for "the little girl in the attic") and experiencing failure (the unsuccesful quest to find Sara). But when you look at the magnitude of these events compared to his wealth and good situation, one can see that he may be carrying a debt load even past the end of the story.
Compare all this to Becky's moral account books. One might think that she begins with a credit due to her economic circumstances and the hardness of her life. It's clear that she is treated much worse as a school employee than Sara is. One might think that she increases this credit by the way she supports Sara through her difficulties. If one's absolute situation were what mattered, one might think that she is owed a larger payoff than Sara is. But the story dynamics of moral debt appear to place a stronger weight on changes than on static experiences. Or, to put it another way, Becky's plot/accounting arc is "damped down", with smaller movements around a lower balance point. One could either see this as an implicit, invisible difference in how their experiences are valued, or one could see it as defining the difference between a protagonist and a supporting character. (When you look at changes in accounts, pretty much the only minor characters who have any activity in their moral ledger at all are Becky and Anne the beggar girl.)
So far, my Worldcon activity has been meeting up with some other early arrivers from the File 770 community for dinner & drinks at The Dubliner.