Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Reivew: Discontinuity in Greek Civilization by Rhys Carpenter

The first time I read this collection of three short lectures (and a forward and afterward), I didn't expect it to start out with references to Atlantis. The first lecture points toward the island of Thera as a possible location for a place that became the myth of Atlantis. I'd heard this possibility before, and was only surprised because I didn't expect it.

The other two lectures, though, cover something nearly as mythical -- the fall of the Mycenaeans and the Dorian invasion. Carpenter's discussion of climate change, wind shifts and drought seem to explain the oddness that accompanied the Dorians entrance into Greece. It is important to note that the Dorians are also sometimes referred to as the Heraklids -- the descendents of Heracles -- and that they believed they were returning home.

The Mycenaens were apparently already gone from the scene by the time they arrived, and many of the locations abandoned without sign of destruction. The signs of drought appear in other areas as well, and Carpenter's study of meteorology makes a reasonable answer to a perplexing problem.

Though at times it seems a bit repetitious, with less than 100 pages, this little book is a treasure of interesting information and well-worth a quick read.

The first time I read this collection of three short lectures (and a forward and afterward), I didn't expect it to start out with references to Atlantis. The first lecture points toward the island of Thera as a possible location for a place that became the myth of Atlantis. I'd heard this possibility before, and was only surprised because I didn't expect it.

The other two lectures, though, cover something nearly as mythical -- the fall of the Mycenaeans and the Dorian invasion. Carpenter's discussion of climate change, wind shifts and drought seem to explain the oddness that accompanied the Dorians entrance into Greece. It is important to note that the Dorians are also sometimes referred to as the Heraklids -- the descendents of Heracles -- and that they believed they were returning home.

The Mycenaens were apparently already gone from the scene by the time they arrived, and many of the locations abandoned without sign of destruction. The signs of drought appear in other areas as well, and Carpenter's study of meteorology makes a reasonable answer to a perplexing problem.

Though at times it seems a bit repetitious, with less than 100 pages, this little book is a treasure of interesting information and well-worth a quick read.

Book Review:Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovaly

(ISBN 0-14-0126630)

There are few autobiographies as powerful and heart-wrenching as this one, filled with the profoundly moving account of what one woman suffered; a tale of her tragedies and her triumphs, and a testament to her will to survive.

Heda starts with the first of the many horrible tragedies of her life: the order for all the Jews in Prague to Lodtz. There, living in abject poverty, she watched many people die, including a cousin who died in her arms. But worse came afterwards when they are moved from Lodtz to Auschwitz.

The horror of Auschwitz begins with her mother dragged away to her death. The horrific tale of her life there cannot be imagined, even with the the words on the pages to help. And yet Heda did the seemingly impossible. She not only survived, she escaped.

Finally, back to Prague she found something she had not expected -- friends turn away from her in fear, and she has virtually no where to go. She didn't blame them. It meant death to harbor her -- and yet, there is a sense of such loss in this section that it's not hard to believe that she was willing to die then, when she had survived so much else.

But the war comes to an end. The Russians arrive and drive out the German occupation force. And for awhile... for too short a while, there is joy and wonder in her life again. Her beloved Rudolf had also survived. It seemed impossible, and yet they are together. They have a life and a future.

At this point, Heda presents an interesting view of how it was that Czechoslovakia went willingly to a Socialist government. She has many personal observances that seem to be a good explanation of how this country turned from democracy to socialism in those post-war years.

First was the feeling all during the war that their Western allies had betrayed and abandoned them to the Germans. Then, at the end of the war, the Americans held off and it was the Russians who drove their tanks through Prague and freed the city. Also was the fact that so many people had been living within a communal sort of environment already, sharing all they had to survive, that they understood the need to 'share the wealth'. Heda isn't as convinced that socialism is the best answer, but her husband is, and soon the country moves toward its new future.

For a while, all is well. Rudolf holds a high post in the local party government, but even now there are feelings of stress. Heda, with her new baby son, is perhaps more aware of the bullying by some party members than is her husband, who truly believes in what he is doing. He's convinced they are making a better future.

But then the arrests begin. It is the start of the Stalinist Purges. People disappear. No one trusts anyone else. A single wrong word, a whisper of dislike at anything created for or by the Party, and they were apt to be disciplined -- or arrested. The dream of a communal life disappeared as the top people in the Party did all they could to hold on to power.

The arrest of her husband puts Heda in a difficult position. She has a young child, and because her husband is suspected of treason, she has trouble finding any work at all. Her position at a publishing house disappears. She's strong, though. She will do everything in her power to help her son and her husband. She takes a job working in a factory, she writes letters to everyone she knows. Nothing helps. She is not good at the factory job, but she works, often long after hours, to make up her quota. She does her best for her son....

Months and months pass, and she grows dangerous ill. She holds it off as long as she can, but then finally sends her son to the country when a doctor finally puts her into the hospital. And there, listening to the radio, she hears her husband's voice at the trial ... and the words of his confession. It is, she knows, not the truth. She knows what he must have suffered at the hands of those who held him. It is no better than the Nazis and the concentration camps.

They literally kick her out of the hospital, even though she is still very ill. She is a persona non grata now -- her husband a traitor. After Rudolf is executed, she loses her job, even their apartment, and she and her son live in a hovel until, finally, a friend finally saves her. He marries her, and because he has married the former wife of a traitor, he loses his job. But they survive. They continue on. For awhile, it even looks as though things will be better, in the 1960's when the Czech people rebel against the audacities of the Party leaders who ruled while Stalin lived. It looks better. Things are brighter. It's spring again ...

And then the Russian tanks invade to bring the country back in line once more, and Heda, reluctantly, finally leaves the country behind.

My bare recitation of the events cannot begin to do justice to the anguish of reading this memoir. It is a book that will put your own petty problems into perspective. Even her son left Czechoslovakia because he could not continue to live in a land that had allowed all of his family to be killed. Except for his mother, every one of his relatives had died, and none of them had died naturally.

There is no true victory in this book. You do not come away from it filled with the joy of human triumphs over adversity and evil. You come away appalled at the horrible things that people will do to each other. Through Heda's simple, poignant words, you understand the pain and the loss -- but there will never be a true answer to why it has happened.

But in the end... in the end, Heda survived.

Book Review: The Sumerians by Samuel Noah Kramer

(ISBN 0-226-45238-7)

Until the mid 1800's no one knew of the existence of a land called Sumer in the ancient Mesopotamian (Iran and Iraq) area. Finally, the gradual gathering of information and the incredible deciphering of cuneiform lead archeologists to realize that they had discovered a lost civilization -- and a huge, important one that had affected not only the civilizations that succeeded them, but still has influence on the world today.

While reading 'The Sumerians' I almost found that I was more excited and interested in the work of finding a new civilization than I was about the civilization itself. The gradual realization that there was a vast network of city-states before the Akkadians came as a true shock, especially since the Sumerians were not Semitic as the later Akkadians were. This was proved by the language they spoke, which is still being deciphered from the thousands of clay tablets found in the area.

It isn't that the Sumerians aren't interesting people to learn about. Actually, they are fascinating, from laws that allowed women to buy and own their own property to the schools for scribes (in which at least one woman's name has been found so far). The Sumerians likely had contacts as far as Egypt and Ethiopia to the west and India to the east. Many elements of their myths found their way into Biblical literature, from The Flood to Job. They had law courts, judges and councils of local men that the King's called upon (but didn't always listen to) when making major decisions. This was a far more complex civilization than people believed possible 5000 years ago.

The Sumerians did seem to be a contentious people who seemed to favor acerbic debate, at least from some of the works that have been deciphered. And here is the true glory of the Sumerian civilization and what kept it from being completely lost to the world: they wrote out everything from lists of natural world to copies of essays, myths, proclamations and laws. Thousands of these clay tablets have been found in the ruins of palaces, but also sometimes in the ruins of an edubba -- a school.

The Sumerians bequeathed their great gifts of civilization to the Akkadians who conquered them, but held on to much of what the Sumerians had created, including the complex form of writing called cuneiform. The Sumerian language, through cuneiform, became the 'Latin' of the distant ancient Near East -- a language that continued to be used in written documents that could be read by educated people no matter what their native tongue might be.

The Sumerian legacy is considerable and the discovery of the civilization fascinating. This relatively short book is a good overview of both, and a good basic work for the personal exploration of these fascinating people.

Trying New Things Again

I am, quite obviously, running behind this week. I got caught up in some editing and really just didn't feel like stopping to try and write something for the blog. Or for much of anything else, to be honest. But I got the work done on Kat Among the Pigeons and I really like the end result. I also learned that reading aloud and fixing things is better than fixing things and then reading through and fixing things again. I'm not claiming the story is perfect, but I really enjoyed the process and I feel as though I've made significant improvements in the prose and the story line. I don't think a writer can ask for better than that!

I also learned that pushing through, rather than taking it slowly, kept me in touch with the story. I caught things I suspect that I would have missed if I hadn't stayed so close to the story.

I'm pleased.

I also think I'm going to be doing a lot more of this over the next few months and get more novels ready for submission, rather than pressing a head for more new work. Oh, I'm still working on something new, of course, and I'll start something else on my birthday (I love that tradition), but I'm going to be focusing a lot on the better of the novels I already have: Paid in Gold and Blood, The Servant Girl, Summer Storm -- I'm sure there are more that will come to mind.

I hope my voice is up to it. I suppose living alone is helpful in this case, except that I sometimes drive the cats nuts. I think that's fair, given how much they've driven me over the edge some days. Like at just before the dawn this morning when they made so much noise that I thought someone was at the door. I leapt up -- twisted my thumb -- dressed and came out to find them playing tag. My thumb still hurts.

Now that I have Kat done, I'm going back to finishing the work on Silky 3. I am, I think, going to do it in the same way, in fact. I'd been rewriting, editing, reading -- in that order rather than all at once, and I'm starting to think this might be wasteful.

Maybe I'm just feeling older and a need to get things done rather than messing around so much. Maybe I'm finally coming out of the shock of Russ having to take the job in New York and living alone for the last 2 plus years. Maybe my decision to fret less over Forward Motion and Vision are paying off. And the fact that I'm more confident with the weekly newsletter for DAZ Studio 3D also helps.

Or maybe I'm just, finally, at a point where things are working. We'll see if they pay off.

And here is a bit of UPI #1 -- the new novel, so this is first draft. My agent, Scout, has been off duty for some time because of injuries. He has links to his team in his head, but no one has been talking to him. The storms mentioned are Time Storms. Someone had unsettled things, and now storms blow up, drop stuff out of time sequence.

Storms could hit at any hour. The night ones were the worst, though. Far more dangerous to go into an area where things were unstable at a time when you couldn't see clearly.

The next night a big one hit, and not far away, too. Lightning ripped through the sky, and the cold wind sucked the breath out of him. He looked back at the sight with a growing sense of panic. This one was bad --

"That's too damned close," Ted said, coming up beside him. "We don't usually get them out this far.

"That's not good," Maxie said. She was looking frantically around. "If there are Feeders in that one, and they get loose --"

"I know," Scout said. He pushed both hands through his hair and thought about heading that way. He could do something. He had the training, even if no one was talking to him.

"Get ready to go in Scout," Prentiss suddenly said inside his head.

He jumped, he was so startled. "Son of a bitch. A little warning!"

"Scout?" Maxie asked, looking at him, worried.

"I just got called up for duty," he said, glancing her way. Then he looked back at the storm. "Where the hell have you people been?"

"You needed rest," Dr. Desmond said, his voice clinically cool and as detached as ever. "Though I have to say that your paranoia levels have been worried."

"Paranoia keeps me alive out there. What have we got?"

"Hell," Lindow said and he looked at Scout, startled. "You're a UPI agent."

"Yes. Sorry -- I'm a bit distracted here," he said, and didn't know if he meant that for the team or the people he was with. Probably both. His heart had started beating too hard -- reaction to being called back to duty more than worry about the assignment. "What do we have? Warm or cold storm?"

"Warm," Prentiss said. "We haven't had any cold storms -- no Feeders -- since your last encounter with them. I have the feeling we may have unsettled some plan."

"Good." He turned back to the van, hurrying to get equipment. A warm storm meant something historical -- but that didn't mean they weren't dangerous sometimes. Often, though, they were a small group of people, scared out of their wits and easy to tag and send back. It was even doing them a favor.

He felt better than he had in days. That was the adrenaline rush. He didn't even need Desmond to tell him. He grabbed his weapons out of the hidden, locked box where he'd kept them while staying on the beach and looked around. He only glanced at the ocean and then out the window that looked toward the storm.

"How close? Is there any reason I can't walk in from here?"

"Walking in would probably be best," Townsend reported. "Otherwise, you would have to take the freeway, and it's full of panicked drivers right now. No one expected a storm out this far from the usual area."

"Yeah, I thought about that." He climbed down from the van's back door, closed it up and started to hit the alarm system on. He wouldn't need that here. So much for his paranoia. "Any idea why it's out this far?"

"We've had a number of small storms popping up," Prentiss said. "We suspect that the Feeders may have unsettled something."

"Any idea what it is that I saw --"

"Not yet. We're still looking for answers."

He nodded and started back around the side of the van. Almost everyone from the camp had gathered, watching the storm that sent green sparks into the sky.

"It's not feeders," he told them and saw looks of relief. He hadn't ever considered how most people wouldn't know, just looking at a storm. "That doesn't mean there isn't something dangerous out there, but I should be able to deal with it without too much trouble. I hope. Anyone else coming in, Prentiss?"

"No one anywhere near close," Prentiss said and sounded worried and annoyed. "Even we're still an hour out from you. If you want to wait a few more minutes --"

"No, that's okay. I'll start walking in. That's going to take me a while anyway."

"Yes. True." Prentiss sounded distracted. "It doesn't look bad, but be careful. Things have been odd."

"Odd how?" Scout asked. He hadn't started away yet.

"More storms, but you've noticed that. Spread out farther. And more people seem to be coming through. It's like ...."

Like the tear is getting larger, Scout thought, but he didn't want to say it aloud. Instead, he dismissed the voices in his head for a moment and looked back at Lindow, Maxie and Ted who were still standing by him, looking quite shocked.

"It's not a bad storm," Scout said, trying to reassure them.

"You are a UPI agent," Maxie said. "I never took you for one."

"I've been out of work for a while. And the voices in my head were silent." Prentiss made a coughing laugh of a sound and he smiled. "If the people were on in my head, you would have known. Or you would have thought I was crazy."

"I'm not sure the one precludes the other," Lindow said.

Townsend laughed this time. "My team agrees. But then they think I have to be crazy to be a field agent. Keep an eye on the van. I don't know how long this will take."

"Good luck," Lindow said and gave a nod.

It was good. He felt better heading into this storm than he had in any for a while. Maybe he had needed that contact with real, living people again. It helped him make this more than just another storm, another job.

So, maybe he could forgive them for cutting him off and making him live like other humans for a while. He'd have to think about that for a while.

"You were saying that it's like the tear is getting larger, right?" Scout said after he'd climbed up to the road. Cars went past, but no one else was on foot to hear him.

"Yes," Prentiss replied. He sounded worried again. "More storms, though not any as bad as that last one you were in. More influx of people though. A dozen at a time, sometimes, rather than only one or two."

"Any prevalent time period showing up?"


Scout nodded. They kept hoping for some sort of pattern, but nothing had shown itself so far. Scout really didn't think they would ever truly understand what was happening. He didn't think they would ever be able to fix it. Just keep plugging the holes until dam broke, he supposed.

"You're thinking too hard," Prentiss said.

"Not used to talking to you guys again," he admitted. "And just wondering if we're ever going to make a real difference in this."

"We may not. If we stop trying, we definitely won't."

He nodded, and then thought to speak, though they would see the nod through his eyes. "True. I've drifted far too much into introspection. Don't ever let that happen to me again."

Townsend, Kristi -- he thought even Desmond -- laughed at that one.

"Your body had gone through considerable trauma," Desmond said a moment later. He sounded serious. "And you were denying it to yourself. You needed to rest, and you weren't going to get it if you didn't disconnect from work, so to speak."

He started to say something and stopped. "Yeah, I can see that," he admitted. "It was a sobering time, though, seeing how the others lived."

"Yes, that part didn't work as well as we hoped," Prentiss admitted. "You're about two miles from the epicenter of the storm. If there are people heading your way, you could start seeing them soon."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Character Creation

First, we have been having some incredible winter weather here. Snow up to my ... shoulders in places, actually. Those drifts were horrid. Then days of fog and lovely frosted trees. Today we had a major ice storm with power out in parts of the city. This weekend we're supposed to have a thunderstorm.

It's an odd winter!

But now... on to character creation!

After dealing with an incredibly dense, self-righteous ... person ... on line for a couple days, I realized he made the perfect base for a story character. I even have the novel to fit him into, I think. It actually made me laugh thinking about writing this one up, because the actual person is such a caricature of anything real anyway, that it took very little to expand him into something for a story.

There's something to be said for this kind of character creation. It would have been far more difficult for me to come up with someone as pretentious and annoying as 'Edgar' in the story if I hadn't just found his real life counterpart. All writers know to be on the lookout for potential characters, but the good part of finding them on the Internet is that they have already created themselves in words.

I can see Edgar in a scene from 'Waiting for the Last Dance' a YA contemporary mystery that I'm doing some serious rewriting and expansion on. I'm pretty sure I knew Edgar in school, in fact. He was the guy who had decided he was smarter than everyone else and if he made a decision, no amount of logic could change his mind. He was always right and twisted everything to fit his very skewed view of the world.

This is just a test scene for him. The book itself is first person POV and this is sort of a distant view -- it isn't in Marisha's voice at all yet because I'm not sure where I will put this in. I think it will work, though.

Edgar's eyes bulged behind his dirty glasses; he plainly never cared to see the world clearly. His unkempt hair stood out in clumps and his thin lips remained pursed in a perpetual sneer at anyone who dared to think themselves worthy to even speak to him.

His self-righteous proclamations and constant attacks on 'enemies' had left him very much alone, which obviously annoyed him even more. Edgar hated being ignored and he would rant and rave over it for days if someone walked away in the middle of being lectured. People just avoided having to deal with him. Every now and then, though, an unfortunate newcomer to the school fell into his snare.

"That's not what I wrote at all," Carter said from across the room. He sounded perplexed. "In fact, I wrote just the opposite."

"But you were snide, which means you didn't mean it," Edgar replied, leaning over the table and glaring at Carter.

"I was not snide at all." The tone of Carter's words already began to change. It wasn't taking him long to figure out the game here. "I'm sorry you read it as that, but it's not true."

"Are you calling me a liar? You're the one who insulted the school."

"I did no such thing."

"You're just like all the others, so don't lie to me. You think you can talk your way out of it, but you were insulting and demeaning. You said this was a lovely little school, and I know that by saying 'little' you meant worthless."

"If I had wanted to say worthless, I would have said so."

"So you think it is worthless."

"No --"

"But you said you would say so."

"I said if I had wanted to, I would have said so."

"Which means you believe it. You've as good as said it."

Carter stood from the chair and looked down at Edgar, who plainly didn't like it. Edgar always had to be the superior one. He started to stand, but something in Carter's face made him stop.

"Don't bother me again," Carter said. He turned and walked away.

"Far easier to turn you back than to face the truth."

"No," Carter said. "Just turning my back on wasting time with a fool."

And he walked away.

Edgar went on about Carter's 'true feelings' about the school for some time, but as usual, no one else listened to him.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Moods of Other People

It's just been an odd week. Nothing particularly outstanding, just odd. I have come to believe that a lot of people have gone into 2010 with annoyances and bad feelings and those are starting to appear in posts and attacks that are probably as much frustration at the world as at any one person. And a person who is almost always cheerful about things like writing isn't going to be winning these people over as friends. Just saying...

So, you know, my general 'Polyanna' attitude is not going over well in some areas. Should I be surprised?

I don't have a perfect life. I do, however, have it relatively good compared to a lot of people. I do work from my home, and almost all the work I do is writing-related. That makes me a lucky, and mostly happy, person. I go to bed when I want. I get up and work when I want. The schedules I have to keep are easy to fit into my chosen life-style.

It would be better if Russ wasn't working in New York and if we could spend more than a few days together every few months. It would be better if old bills didn't suddenly leap up to bite us just when we think we are finally getting clear of problems. However, the fact that Russ does have a job counts for a lot. So that keeps me optimistic sometimes. And that means I'm not going to get surly and bad tempered if you don't agree with me on something.

So, if you are going to try to argue with me that self-expression is not the important part of creative writing, don't expect me to bow to your obviously superior intellect because -- sorry -- just not obvious from this side.

If you are going to accuse me of running some sort of scam for money by giving free classes and running large free site for writers, I suggest you put a donation link on a site, don't mention it overtly except in times when the site needs to be renewed, and see how much income you get from it. I'm lucky to get a $12 donation a month most of the time. The idea that I could actually make money from this? Wow, there's a nice thought!

All in all, though, I think I'll just look to writing -- and my own self-expression -- for my future funds. Yeah, I still have a ways to go on that front, but at least I'm enjoying the work.

And here is the opening to the new 500 words-a-day story that I started on January 1. Yes, I'm doing it again this year, even though I growled and snarled and complained about it last year. I finally reread the book and it was much better than I had expected, so I think some of the problem was just my attitude towards things in general.

The new novel doesn't even have an outline. I'm about 7000 words into it. I'm having fun so far!

UPI -- Unexplained Phenomenon Investigator #1

Random Acts of Madness

Chapter One

Someone shouldn't have played with time. No one had any idea of who had done it -- that had been lost when things began to slip. Whatever happened, it tore a hole in reality and now things changed as the slip storms moved around the city. Sometimes they reset. Sometimes they stay. Sometimes they're very dangerous....

Scout woke up feeling very cold despite the hot summer night that had him sleeping with the van's doors open and the sheet kicked off. He'd been sweating like a pig a few moments before. Now it felt like ice had spread across him and he shivered as he grabbed at the thin sheet before his mind fully registered what was going on.

"Scout? Awake?"

He hated the voice in his head, the feeling of never having any privacy. He grunted an answer, still grabbing at the sheet, trying to get warm.


"I'm awake," Scout said aloud. He pushed hair back from his eyes and tried to blink things into focus. "We have a slip. Near here?"

"Yeah. Very close."

He recognized the voice as Townsend, someone relatively new to the team. He wasn't as comfortable with him on Tech, but it was late night and the others were probably sleeping -- like he should have been.

Scout grabbed at his clothing and looking out the back of the van. He could see the flash of green lightning not far away. Not nearly far enough away, in fact. Kristi had put him in the right spot tonight, so she was getting better at taking the storm readings. And this one looked like it was going to be a monster of a storm.

"The others are coming in."

"Good. Looks like a hell of a mess out there," he said. He pulled on his pants, shirt and sandals while he stared out into the night. The flashes of green lightning rose upward into the sky, bouncing into each other and scattering sparks down across the area beneath the display. He tried to get some idea of the size and that sent a new chill through him. Scout wasn't sure he had ever seen a Slip Storm this big before.
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: Wilhelm Hohenzollern, Emil Ludwig

Reading Wilhelm Hohenzollern, The Last of the Kaisers was like watching the movie of a train wreck, one slow cell at a time. The conductor, oblivious to the trouble right before his eyes, scowls at the masses standing by the tracks and smiles at his companions -- the German nobility -- as he takes them on a death ride.

The German Empire suffered two misfortunes that brought William the Second to the throne when it did. First, the grandfather lived and ruled into his 90's and second was that William's father died of cancer only a few weeks into his long-awaited reign. William took the throne at a time of peace and prosperity and he assumed a kind of autocratic control that was better suited to the middle ages rather than a modern empire. From the start, people around him bowed to his capricious whims and no one told him anything he didn't want to hear. Even in the depths of war, they continued to feed him with news of victory and hid from him even that the people who had followed him to the brink of disaster were ready to sacrifice their Kaiser for peace.

William liked to saber-rattle. He wanted to be the most powerful of all rulers, and he turned that longing against two groups: the Russians and the English. This was more than country against country -- Tsar Nicholas was his cousin, King Edward was his Uncle -- and Queen Victoria is grandmother. He hated and loved them all, but it was his personality -- that need to be the better of all of them -- that shaped the policy of the German Empire, and drove Europe into World War I. From his ill-thought outbursts to his private letters and even to his insistence on a growing navy that clearly threatened England, he pushed each country step-by-step toward war.

And yet, when the war came, he was the one who realized the enormity of the trouble and did his best to back away. By then, though, the Generals had gained too much control and he had lost all power of persuasion outside of the German Empire. He had his war when he finally had grown up enough to realize he didn't want it.

This is a complex and long journey through the thirty years of the Kaiser's reign, and the portrait that Emil Ludwig paints is clearly not without the author's own prejudices. Ludwig was too fond of adding the thoughts of people, assigning motivations and other things that he clearly could not have really known. He also tried far too hard to hint that the Kaiser was a hidden homosexual without actually saying it. He did this by the continued use of such terms as 'his womanish tendencies' and applying nearly the same terms to Eulenberg who was removed from his post -- and close link to the Kaiser -- because he was found guilty of sexual perversions, a terrible crime in that day. Oddly, though, Ludwig's sympathy is often apparent when he writes about Eulenberg and he often laments the loss of Euglenberg's influence on the Emperor.

Emil Ludwig's diatribe aimed at William the Second in the final couple pages of the work clearly shows he is not an objective viewer at this point. His regret that the Kaiser didn't make a suicidal march to the front or kill himself 'behind the curtains' rather than go into exile is a personal opinion in full force, rather than half-hidden as such observances had been in other parts of the book.

Ludwig makes much about how the Kaiser's crippled left arm affected his early life and how it likely made him more forceful in his nature. William expected criticism and he used his power of place to make certain he could not be judged as weak. However, Ludwig's assertions that the William was a 'civilian' at heart, and never a military man, seems to be more of a personal attack along the same lines as his 'womanish' statements. There is no doubt that Emil Ludwig had not divorced himself from the situation in order to write this book, so soon after the abdication and the disastrous (for Germany) aftermath of the war. In some ways, that makes it all the more interesting. The views of those who lived through the age are often far different than those written from sources fifty or a hundred years later.

Although I am not qualified to make a true judgment, and certainly not based on one single book, I think William the Second showed signs of being bi-polar. The pattern of frantic activity and high spirits, balanced with crushing depression seems to point in that direction.

Ludwig lacks the grace and style of a writer like Andre Maurois, who also wrote biographies at about the same time. Maybe this is partly due to the choice of subject, or even the work of the translators. However, it seems that Ludwig uses a hammer, pounding the same point again and again. His timeline for the work sometimes skips back and forth making it hard to follow events, and isn't helped that ninety years later the names everyone knew are now obscure.

There is another odd item: While he speaks of William's mother, the daughter of Queen Victoria and named after her, it is never in any good terms. I wouldn't have thought much about it, except that while he mentions William's wife, he never, as far as I remember, named her or even when they wed. The only mention of any of his children is that he refused to visit wife and child when his wife was ill. There are later references to the Crown Prince and even a grandchild. Since Ludwig states in his preface that this book 'is a portrait of William the Second -- no more: it presents neither his epoch, nor the whole story of his life' I find it odd that anything about his marriage would be left out while he dwelled on the relationship with the unfortunate Eulenberg.

Overall, the book proved fascinating and well worth reading and I would recommend it not only to people studying in the history of the era, but also to writers interested in a fascinating character study.
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Thursday, January 07, 2010

What works for one ...

I've had an interesting experience over the last few days on LibraryThing's discussion boards. In the Writer-Readers section there has been an ongoing discussion about creative writing classes. I've come to realize that some people can't see beyond their limited, personal expectations and can't understand that what doesn't work for them isn't totally useless and might help someone else.

Is this something that writers really need to consider and think about? It probably won't matter to the majority of them, I would guess. Except for the people who actively pursue trying to help other writers, it's not going to matter much. Or maybe it does, in one respect: if you are looking for information and answers in writing, never accept that one person has all the answers that are going to help you. What works for one person is not automatically going to work for another, even if they have similar likes and lives. You, as a writer, have your own views and needs. You are writing your own story, not anyone else's. Don't automatically accept answers, even from people you like and trust. Never accept easy answers, especially if they don't help you.

Why is it that some people think they have the only answer to writing? This last conversation isn't the first one I've had along this line. The number of people who think that if they don't like, want or need something then no one else should bother with it is really appalling, especially in the writing world. Insult the people involved and move on -- far easier than considering anything that might help someone else.

How can people write interesting stories if they have so little understanding of human nature? If they can't even comprehend that writers come in all types, with all kinds of needs, how can they see it in any other humans? Or is it just a selective blindness that allows them to think they have the answers and feel smugly superior in their own writing? Okay, I can even accept that part, because as writers we have to have some amount of egotism.

And it is easier to dismiss the needs of others, after all. Far easier to give some facile answer to cover everything (like 'critical reading' as the answer to all writing questions), and move on. But here I am with twelve years at Forward Motion and starting the tenth year of publication for Vision, and all of it aimed at helping writers. I know that what I've done has helped other writers because they've told me so. That counts for a great deal when you aren't doing it for the money.

And from the perspective of all those years working with so many authors, many of them very new to the idea of writing seriously, I guess I can say that I do have more understanding of the wide range of needs that writers have. I certainly don't have all the answers, though.
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