Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Those who do not remember history...

It is said that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. I am beginning to suspect that those who do not remember history become copy editors.

I have a story in the anthology Elementary, which is coming out next week. The stories are set in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters world, and mine is set in Victorian England. (Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and died in 1901.)

When I got the copy-edited version of my story, it contained comments such as: “But a girl is a person” in response to a request that a twelve-year-old Fire Master be treated as a person, not just a girl, and “The general message that’s coming through is that being feminine is a bad thing...”

Even today, a twelve-year-old of either sex has limited rights. Just think of how many Internet sites require you to be at least thirteen to have an account (which explains the 22-year-old on Facebook who was still in middle school—really he needed to add only one year to his age, ten was overkill). Today a girl is considered a person and does have some rights.

But let’s go back to the mid-20th century. Where I grew up it was illegal for a married woman to use birth control until 1965. This meant that my parents were breaking the law, but it’s why I’m the oldest of three children, not the oldest of seven or more. And that was in Connecticut, which is not exactly a bastion of conservatism.

Women could not vote in the US until 1920—and not every woman cared. I once asked a ‘feminine’ woman (one whose primary interests were getting married, having children, and making a nice home for her family) what she was doing during the fight for women’s suffrage, and she replied, “Oh, I never paid any attention to all that nonsense.” She got the right to vote at the age of 24, and probably just voted for whoever her husband told her to—if she bothered to vote at all.

In England women who met age, educational, and property-ownership requirements could vote in 1918, but it wasn’t until 1928 that all women could vote. And a married woman could not even own property prior to the first of the UK’s Married Women's Property Acts, which was enacted in 1870.

In the mid-19th century, being a woman meant you had few, if any, rights, and choices as to what to do with your life were severely limited. So if you take a girl who has been raised—and educated—as a boy, and a mother who thinks that pretty clothes and a suitable marriage are a woman’s highest aspirations and expects her daughter to instantly learn to be a proper young lady, you are going to have conflict. And that’s what gives you a story.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November Books to Read

Books I have read or want to read in November (I've read about half so far):

Books I edited that were published in November:
I intended to post this at the beginning of the month, but with two books being published then, I was first busy and then exhausted. November is also National Novel Writing Month, which is really not helping with either the lack of free time or  the exhaustion.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Trodden Down by the March of Technology

I just read the release summary of WordPress version 3.7 (October), which updates version 3.6 (August), and announces that version 3.8 is expected in December. Did anyone think Windows 8 was bad? At least updates from Windows are measured in years, not months, and you generally are not forced to update until you buy a new computer or they stop supporting your current operating system.

I am also the owner of two iPods, neither of which will run the current iPod operating system. Fortunately, both of them still work perfectly well for the things I need to do with them (mostly read my eBooks). And it's not just the hardware and software that's changing faster than we can keep up with; there's also the problem of what these changes are doing to the English language.

For example, I recently saw this post in a group I'm in:
 > I don't know how to get buttons.
 > We need a thread, I think.
 Perhaps we need the thread to sew on the buttons? Oh, how language has evolved.
The language has evolved all right; we can now make puns that weren't possible before, as each word carries still more additional meanings.

We live in interesting times indeed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where Do You Get...?

All writers get asked where they get their ideas. Another question that comes up (especial during National Novel Writing Month) is "where do you get your character names?" That's actually a pretty good question.

Back in the olden days (before the Internet), we collected baby name books. I still remember one that claimed that Gamaliel, a boy's name usually said to mean "recompense of God" meant "camel of God." Even in Biblical times, I don't think parents named their children after camels. I could, of course, be mistaken.

Now we have the Internet, where large amounts of data can be gathered together and indexed and made searchable. There are a number of baby name sites, generally sponsored by companies that make baby food, clothing, toys, etc., of which my favorite is

Another popular source of character names is to use the names of your more obscure ancestors. Even though I complain that I come from a family that has way too many people named John Brown and Mary Smith, there are unusual names in my family. One of them even comes from a book: in 1897 somebody had twin daughters and named them Vivian and Villette. Villette is a novel by Charlotte Bronte, published in 1853, and for the longest time I thought that Villette was the heroine's name. It turns out it's a fictional city. But Villette's daughter was named after her mother (and called Letty), and there are two more of them in my generation. One of them dropped her first name and uses her middle name instead, and I can't say I blame her.

If you don't have enough strange names in your family tree, or if you've never bothered to trace it back far enough to get to names like Phineas, Zebediah, Tamesin, Jabez, Elihu, Caleb, Clerice, and Hepzibah, don't despair. The Social Security Administration is happy to help you. They've been collecting names since 1880, and on their website, at, they have names broken down by year, by decade, and by state or territory. From 1880 until 1924 the most popular names were John and Mary, which probably explains all my John Brown and Mary Smith ancestors.

I still have a lot of my baby name books. My current favorite is A Saint's Name, which contains the names of many saints even I have never heard of before, thus making them suitable for characters for my fantasy stories.