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Battle Writing

 

Of course there is a battle: this novel I am working on is called The Battle for the Black Fen.  The whole point is the battle. My three previous novels in the series are all geared toward battling it out in the end. I have always know there would be a battle.  But how do I write a battle?

Input from grandson #1: I haven’t killed enough of my own people.

Oh dear oh dear,  who  should I choose to die from among characters I have lived with and loved the whole series long? (Disclosure: we are talking twenty years here).

Input from grandson 2: you need a map!

(Query: Is this a guy thing?)

I drew a map, he drew a map, I superimposed them and made a nice copy, if I say so myself, on a special large-item machine at the copy shop, but the first novel’s publisher shrank it down so no one could read it.  Then my daughter  gently remarked that my map looked too amateur.  Besides, it didn’t cover the landscape my characters traverse in the last volume.

A wonderful cartographer, D.N.Frost, popped up on my twitter feed.  After considerable back and forth and much tweaking of detail, we had our map!

But I still have to write the battle scenes. Although I am no fan of action movies, I was impressed  by the way the battle was portrayed in the movie version of J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Return of the King. There was action all over the place, but the director avoided muddle by going scene by scene, from one limited vignette of action to another. Enemies on elephants!   Ents (marching trees) join the fray!

In the build up to the battle for the Black Fen, my characters were in three companies and one enemy militia. Very orderly.  However, the purpose of the companies was to call widely scattered communities to battle, during which members of The Marshland Company, the Delta Company, and the Dunlin Company joined various allies. As a result, when the battle was joined they were distributed all over the fen among Crane Islanders, Stilt Walkers, Turtle Islanders, Fox’s Earth folks – you can see how complicated it all became.

That is where the way the Tolkien movie was constructed –  skirmish by skirmish – came in handy. Also, for a unity of perspective, I positioned my rear guard on the top of the Moor of Nern to watch the action spread over the fen below them.

In the middle of all this heady battle writing,  my excellent new map informed me that I had written southeast when it should be southwest and northeast mixed up with southwest and that, somehow, a couple of extra characters I never really developed have slipped into the action.  Edits all around.

(Query: has my  publisher figured out I am dyslexic yet?)

These last edits took place during a very  dark time in our lives, when the Power of Mordor seems to be closing in and the Dark Eye sweeps over our land determined to destroy our hopes for a better world of being .  And that is why we story tellers go on telling our stories, hoping against hope that the Ring of Power will not fall into the wrong hands and that, puny as we may feel, our strength will suffice for the battle.

 

 

 

 

Midsummer, and the Living is Exciting

By this time most summers, I expect my living to be easy – keeping up with my correspondence, a blog here and there, short pieces of nature writing to accompany lots of time out of doors – but this summer, things are more exciting than usual.

With the help of my (very) patient publisher, Mary Woodbury of Moon Willow Press in Canada, I am doing the final proofreading of The Battle For the Black Fen, the last novel of my eco-fiction series.  Our publication date is August, so I have kept my eyes on my computer screen to find every lost comma, confusing bit of dialogue, and typo.

A couple of tips I have picked up while proofing: in dialogue, always state who is speaking.  Silly me, I figured that if I know who it was, my reader must get it too; similarly, if I start with “Clare thought” and have her musing away about other characters besides herself I had better bring her name in again, even in the same paragraph. And those pesky quotation marks that seem to have vanished into thin air, not to mention the commas and periods before the ends of the quotations…..needless to say, my eyes have been glued to the page.

I never like to dwell in my brain for days on end,   so I have been to my Betsie River cabin a couple of times, and every visit the temperature has plunged to 50 degrees or lower during the (summer?) nights. The wood turtle laid her eggs in mid June; now that other people appreciate my nature observations,  I did my duty as a “citizen scientist”  by reporting her to the Michigan turtle authorities.

By the end of June, tiny fry have hatched and flit about in the warmer shallows, and les becs scies, saw-toothed ducks (mergansers) that give the river its name, are busy and active.

And so are the beaver. Last winter they didn’t fell whole stands of slender trees but were hungry enough to chew completely around the trunk of a sturdy hardwood:


 

This circular gnawing serves two purposes:  the beaver get to eat the inner bark that they can reach and, at the same time, fell the tree so that they can eat the rest. I have never seen them drag a tree this heavy into a dam. It might be possible, but I think mine are bank beaver, only stripping such larger trees for nourishment.

So I let the babble and ripple of the river rest my mind for a while, strengthening my spirit for one last edit of my novel.

Every day of this daunting political year, my fictional battle between a self-sustaining nature-loving people and cruel enemies greedy for wealth and self-aggrandizement seems less a fictional plot than a grim reality. We are trapped in a finite game of victory and defeat; only if we give up on this hoary and outdated paradigm will any of us – enemies and friends alike –  survive. Are we strong enough, smart enough, open-minded enough, resilient enough to abandon the utter destruction of win/lose, you-or-me thinking for an infinite victory where everyone wins, nobody loses, so that we can enter at last the worlds we long for?

 

 

 

 

Anarcho-Primitivism??

This picture shows the island villages of the Ma’dan, Iraqi fisher-hunter-gatherers whose self-sufficient wetlands Saddam Hussein drained.

Kenneth Posner’s “The Long Brown Path: The Cry of the Anarcho-Primitivists,” considers the idea that present-day social domination, enhanced by modern technology, is so destructive that we should return to pre-agricultural community governance.*

Consider the philosopher and writer John Zerzan,” he writes, “a self-proclaimed anarchist and primitivist, who criticizes industrial mass society as inherently oppressive and warns us that technology is leading humanity into an increasingly alienated existence, at the same time that it threatens to destroy the natural environment .”

John Zerzan
Portrait of John Zerzan by Bata Nesah, Belgrade, 2013 (caption)

As an anarchist, Zerzan would like to see a society that is free of ‘all forms of domination,’ and as a primitivist, his model for authentic, intimate existence is the ‘face to face communities’ of our hunter gatherer ancestors, who prior to agriculture, operated in small bands without specialization of labor or hierarchy.”

 

I am by no means as cheerful as Zerzan about our hunter gatherer ancestors, who engaged neighboring communities in wars to the death even while practicing altruism amongst themselves. Nor am I convinced that either agriculture or technology is a bad thing in and of itself. In Cli-Fi and Solarpunk, for example, as in other genres of science fiction, technology is value-neutral. It is we human beings who decide how to use it.

Any of us who survived the anarchic idealism of the 1960s will remember how the absence of rules led to the “tyranny of unstructuralism” when some blowhard rose quickly out of the group to order us all  around.

Although the invented world of my Infinite Games series is pre-modern, my characters are engaged in social, agricultural, and technological experiments. Their leaders are chosen by popular acclaim, never dominate, and govern gender equal communities where decisions are reached by consensus. My Marshlanders are not against their enemy’s drainage projects as such; they are opposed to the inhumane and greedy means and ends to which the technology is put. At Dunlin, my farmer character wins high praise for his ditching and draining inventions as well as for his soil improvement and seed cultivation. When technology oppresses my city dwellers, they replace their oligarchs but not the looms, working out ways to reform the weaving trade on more ethical lines.

I believe that we have evolved since our primitive days, not only in our governance and tools  but in human consciousness itself. Just consider Steven Pinker’s data in The Better Angels of Our Nature, documenting the diminution of violence on a world-wide basis. Where we were once devoted to finite games with win/lose and winner-take-all rules of play, our hearts are opening to  “infinite games”  with their inclusiveness and win/win outcomes where “we laugh not at what has surprisingly become impossible for others, but at what has surprisingly come to be possible with others.” **

 

*brought to my attention by Joe Follansbee , a thoughtful blogger concerned with how writers create speculative fiction in the “strange new climate” we inhabit.

** not to mention the wonderful new P2P paradigms for post-Capitalist societies.