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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Come see me this weekend at BayCon!

This is going to be a really awesome BayCon - I love my panel schedule, and I hope you can come be a part of it. Non-western mythology, swearing!!! and linguistics for the storyteller with Lawrence Schoen. We're going to have a great time.

Remember, this year the convention is at the San Mateo Marriott!

Here's my schedule:

Autograph Session: Csernica and Wade

Saturday 14:00 - 15:00, Convene Lobby (San Mateo Marriott)
Juliette Wade, Lillian Csernica

Beyond Olympus and Asgard: Myth and Storytelling outside the Western Canon

Sunday 11:30 - 13:00, Collaborate 2 (San Mateo Marriott)
Lance Moore Mr., Heidi Stauffer, Bret Sweet, Juliette Wade, Thaddeus Howze

Frakking Piece of Shaz-Bat

Sunday 13:00 - 14:30, Collaborate 2 (San Mateo Marriott)
Are made up swears and slurs acceptable in speculative fiction, or are they just a form of slipping crude language into stories without offending readers?
Jacob Fisk (M), Carrie Sessarego, Juliette Wade, John O'Halloran

Linguistics for the storyteller

Sunday 17:30 - 19:00, Engage (San Mateo Marriott)

Juliette Wade (M), Lawrence Schoen (Language GOH)


Friday, May 20, 2016

Pat MacEwen - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

We had a great visit with author Pat MacEwen. She was here to talk to us about her story in the May/June issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, entitled Coyote Song - and about her expertise in forensics, which features in the story.

Pat says it's an advantage to writers to have a "checkered career," as she was originally going to be "Jacques-Yvette Cousteau," i.e. a marine biologist. However, life took her in other directions. She says she likes having a background in anthropology. She feels that a lot of anthropology people are "misfits much like science fiction and fantasy fans," with a "taste for the Other."

She told us that the three steps to forensics are, 1. learning how to see what's there, 2. figuring out how that got that way, and 3. proving it.

In crime scenes, you see what you expect. You have to train your eye to look for things, such as shell casings. In fact, if you bring a shell casing with you, drop it on the ground and train your eye on it, thereafter you will have an easier time seeing others. Also it's important to figure out what is normal. There is such a variety of people, we can't necessarily predict what will be normal to them.

Pat's first novel is called Rough Magic and involves the fae and forensics.

She's also spent a lot of time working on archaeological sites, including mass graves in northern Iraq. She doesn't like getting shot at. She told us that no one will sell Zimbabwe paper to make money because they had 3 million percent inflation. This crisis contributed to genocidal tendencies.

Pat describes economics as the basis of all the stuff going on in the world. We should keep our eye on "love, lust, liquor and lucre."

Coyote Song was a story written on the basis of stories she picked up at crime scenes. It involves the Cambodian Angel of Death, as well as a Native American character and a character with ties to Vodou. Pat is very interested in unusual, culture-specific phenomena like Banginget, where Cambodian people in their late 20's to early 30's wake up, scream and die in the middle of the night. Maybe it's genetic; maybe it's a nightmare leading to tachycardia. The families of the victims would hide the bodies because they didn't want them to be cut up, and to CA police it would then look like a homicide.

So Pat does lots of research, files the serial numbers off people she's met, and creates totally unique stories. She has a deep interest in Native American culture because she has a mixture of ancestors from Cherokee, Sioux, Oneida, and Onondaga peoples. She is very interested in cases like the California Miwoks trying to repatriate bones which have been held in museums. When she works with Native American culture she asks people to read the story to see if she's "out of line."

She says that Stockton, where she lives, is very cosmopolitan. People speak 125 languages and dialects there, and it is home to the oldest Sikh temple in the US.

When I told her that there was a great deal of practicality in her stories, she explained that her mother had cerebral palsy, so practicality was critical. Furthermore, in crime scenes, you have to adjust to them, not the other way around. "You can't apply time management to crime scenes." Practically, you can't do everything. There will be a mistake. 95% of what you do won't matter and isn't relevant in court, so you hope your mistake is in the 95%. She has done things like stop by a local hardwarestore to pick up metal screen to help the plaster hold together when she was taking footprints in soft dirt under a bridge.

[content warning on this paragraph]
Pat says nobody does what you see on TV. No one is actually on the cutting edge. Techniques have to be proven in court, and they also involve considerable expense, so they have to be worth the expense. There have been problems with the FBI, such as the hair analysis issue. However, the FBI can also do amazing things like fingerprint ID. Apparently they have an office for detached fingers and hands; local departments can cut pieces off with pruning shears and send those pieces to the FBI where they can be treated with dyes etc. to get fingerprints that wouldn't be recoverable locally. DNA can now be extracted from hair - they use the mitochondrial DNA present in the hair shaft. She told us a story about how the police had been authorized to get a hair sample from a rape suspect (not from the head) and the police had to be pretty forceful to get it (ripping out a handful!).

I asked Pat about archaeological digs and how much we can get with certain types of technology, and how sometimes things get left untouched in anticipation of technological advances that won't destroy the evidence. She told us that there was a period of war in 500 AD when suddenly they started finding arrowheads stuck in bones instead of spearheads. Even if you have no pueblos and no maize, the style of shells, tools, and bird whistles change over time. You can have sudden changes in war technology. The use of an atlatl (spear thrower) actually changes your skeleton. The use of a bow changes it in a different way. She has done work examining skulls and seeing how biologically different they are between one tribal group and another.

She once went to Kosovo to do some work. She was told not to learn the language because simply speaking a local language might commit a person to one side or the other of local conflicts between Albanians and Serbians. The word "pivo" for beer could get you in trouble because it was in fact a Serbian brand of beer. Pat said she drank Turkish beer while she was there. She told us that because the area was Muslim, there were minarets, and calls to prayer at 5am. Also, dogs in the area had gone feral and would run through the town during the night like the Wild Hunt. They would also attack children.

We returned again to the question of what is normal, this time in the context of medical treatments. In some cultures, heated cups are placed on the back for the flu. To California police this can look like child abuse. Pat said they made an effort to tell people that the cups wouldn't pull bronchitis out through the skin.

Deborah, one of our discussants, told us there are times when conventional wisdom doesn't work, as when you are foraging for mushrooms. Apparently there is a mushroom considered a delicacy in Vietnam, that looks a lot like a poisonous mushroom that grows in California. Pat told us that ammonita will kill your liver. She also said that in Italy, pharmacists are trained in mycology so that they can help people tell what they will be able to eat and what might be dangerous.

"It's called a liver for a reason; you don't live without it."

Pat said her grandmother was Cherokee, and they did a lot of berry and mushroom gathering, particularly morel mushrooms. She said that there are two varieties of katniss, one of which is deadly. You have to watch out for these slight variants in wild species which may make them totally inappropriate for consumption. There are also things like red tides which make foods poisonous. Pat says if a berry is blue or black, it's probably safe; if it's red, it's 50/50, and if it's white, don't eat it under any circumstances.

Pat considers Coyote Song the first part of a series. The second story is now in edits, but she has at least two more in mind. The first has Cambodian culture, the second has magic with insects, the third has Santeria, and the fourth may have golden Buddha babies.

This was a great discussion and ranged all over, sometimes too quickly for me to keep up with notes. I recommend that you watch the video for more.

Pat, thank you for joining us and sharing your amazing expertise! Next week we will meet on Wednesday, May 25th at 10am. I'm checking into the technical issues that scuttled the hangout this week, but planning to be there to talk about Bathrooms. I hope you will join us!


Monday, May 16, 2016

Seasons - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

We had a great chat about seasons, which in my head came with a secret soundtrack of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. I started by mentioning how when my Australian husband moved to California, I told him that it doesn't rain during the summer, and about how halfway through the summer he said to me, "You meant it doesn't rain in the summer." Coming from his cultural and climate context, he'd thought I meant it doesn't rain much in the summer.

Che told us she's lived in Montana where they have all four seasons, piles of color-changing leaves in the fall and snow in the winter. When she moved to California, though, she realized there were two: hot, and not hot. Some would of course say that there is the rainy season and the dry season in our are.

Brian said that you have to be at a temperate 40-50 degree latitude to get four seasons. The equator and the poles have no seasons. At the pole, there might be sun at midnight but it is still cold. Four seasons were not a European invention, but the concept comes from the latitudes that experience it, which means fictional worlds may or may not have seasons in the same way.

In ancient Egypt, seasons were defined by the floods of the Nile. In the Middle East, seasons were based on what was coming down the river (which implied what season it was in a different place!).

Seasons are usually based on agricultural expectations and the need to be able to predict those year by year. The Vikings had to make sure they had lots of food stored up because it was impossible to produce any during the winter; they could only eat stored food and fresh fish.

In Japan, they define four distinct seasons. The seasons are extremely important to the culture of Japan, and have deep literary associations. Personal letters in Japan generally start with some kind of comment on the season. There are also smaller-scale seasons defined by the period of time when some festival is going on, like the Gion festival season in Kyoto.

Seasons were a problem in Australia because they were reversed by the southern hemisphere location, but people from England still tried to run their agriculture the same way. This did not end well.

I mentioned my visit to an Australian aboriginal cultural center over Christmas break. One of the things they discussed there was how the local people had organized their seasons. In fact, they recognized six distinct seasons based on what kind of natural phenomena were occurring. There was the season of eels, and the season of bees, etc.

You really don't have to feel restricted by the standard definitions of the four seasons!

We also spoke about N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season. In the world in this book, geologic disasters (volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.) happen so frequently that any strange period of disaster caused by the earth is called a "fifth season." The people in this world talk about how many seasons old they are.

How often do people talk about the seasons? Maybe not at all, or maybe a lot, depending on the significance of the changes of season and how they affect the lives of the characters living in that world. If the season is having a major effect on a character, such as a character who is stumbling through the snow in winter and trying not to die, it's definitely worth mentioning that! On a space station, the idea of season may be entirely irrelevant (unless it affects imports). In my Varin world, the cities are underground, so most people have very little idea of the season; however, the farmers and firefighters and others who work on the surface most definitely have to keep track of the season in order to stay safe.

If you are inventing new types of animals for your world, it's a really good idea to consider how their lives will interact with the seasons. You may also have something similar to the 17-year-cicada season, or a season of madness or heat for some creature. I mentioned The Madness Season by C.S. Friedman.

Brian Stableford's Critical Threshold deals with seasons, involving a mating dance of butterflies that has psychoactive effects, and influences human culture on the planet.

Brian Aldiss' Heliconia Spring, Heliconia Summer, and Heliconia Winter interact differently with seasons, in that the seasons may each last hundreds of years. And who could forget George R.R. Martin and "Winter is coming?"

If you are maintaining an awareness of your planet as a planet, it's a good idea to know the basics of orbital patterns and axial tilt, as well as spin direction, because those can affect how your seasons work.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the discussion! This week, Dive into Worldbuilding will meet one day later than usual, on Thursday, May 19th at 10am Pacific. We will be talking about Bathrooms, so that should be... interesting. I hope you can join us!


Monday, May 2, 2016

Schedule for this week - Hangout on Thursday!

I've had an appointment come up that I can only schedule for Wednesday this week. Therefore, the hangout on Seasons will be moved to Thursday, May 5th at 10am Pacific on Google Hangouts.

I hope to see you there!