Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Bigger Playing Field and The Inevitability of Sound

One of the new things to explore in the second novel is the wider perspective both of an omniscient POV (The Ax and the Vase is first-person), but also the breathing room of spanning generations.  Clovis’ story takes place across thirty years, to be sure – but the new work (it still has no title, but I refuse to refer to it by the extraordinarily cheesy working title it’s borne all this time it has languished on the backburner) takes a look first at the mother, then the queen, then her daughter.  It should cover something like seventy years or so, and ranges much farther afield geographically and culturally as well.

More to the point, it’s a novel focusing on feminine characters.  (No, I don’t mean girly girl wearers-of-pink with dainty hand motions and lots of giggles; “feminine” is a perfectly accurate way to describe characters who are women.)  This is remarkably gratifying, because even in the return to my own gender I will get to explore a manner of living still completely unfamiliar.  Did you know that the Ostrogoths of Late Antiquity operated from a point of view in which sound itself was a different experience than we today would understand?  We often don’t stop to think how unfettered—how, in fact, ostentatiously selfish—our “natural” behavior is.  In a world dominated by court protocols and technologies which did not grind, screech, nor blare common noises into every possible milieu, human sound carried a very different currency.  In one character in particular, I will get to explore a kind of physical and even verbal modulation few women *or* men even imagine today.

I’m at least an occasional user of modulation myself.  Communicating with Penelope, in particular, requires a great deal of consideration of the speed of one’s physical motions, the sharpness—no matter the corresponding volume—of one’s voice.  I’ve joked for twenty years about my Patented Modulated Phone Tones, but I do find it is far easier to be understood on a call at the office when I slow down my speech; and, too, keeping a low voice in a cube farm can be key if it’s possible to remember to try.  Speaking to someone on a cell can render me almost intolerable over cube walls, and I know it; more’s the pity I tend to work for executives who often call from airports or their cars—I hereby apologize to every coworker I’ve ever worked next to.  Even the sound of my typing (I type with my nails, pretty fast, and not gently) has, at least once, been an issue for someone working next to me.

It is an extreme stretch, in many ways, to concentrate on the atmosphere of a world without white noise, without motor vehicles, without even the imaginary, to-us-un-hear-able hum of electronics, climate control (even just an electric fan)—the *inevitability* of *sound*.  For some of us, it may be difficult to imagine never quite being alone of other people.  For others, it may be difficult to imagine *being* alone—completely, truly.

Also curious to us are the peculiarities of behavior in a world so unlike our own—between people whose experiences are so foreign to our perspective, our expectations.  Laughter, that simplest of pleasures, which we seek without encumberance, and usually seek to share, would have been almost an assault on the ears of an Ostrogothic courtier.  Indeed, in many royal palaces through history, tittering would not merely have been rude, but inexplicable.  Even today, it’s hard to imagine the average honoree presented to Emperor Akihito thrusting out a paw for a handshake or greeting His Imperial Majesty with a hearty guffaw.  We created royalty as a rarefied institution wherever it exists, and its rules—its sounds and sights and even its very fragrance—are meant to be uncommon, no matter where in time or in the world we find such a world.

World-building requires research into the setting of time, and into the realities for a gender or an age group and ever role, but it cannot be complete without the sensory understanding that NO world has ever been quite like our own.  The very point of historical fiction is to explore a world other than the one we live in, that we know; indeed, to depart our own and visit the other.

I visited the world of a man with Ax.  Now I am stretching my legs and touring a warmer place, a more exoticized place … a time not so far away from his, and yet a world unlike Clovis’ in almost every way.  It’s a gorgeous experience.

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