Wednesday, May 9, 2018, Santa Fe: A day on foot in the heat and altitude of Santa Fe leaves me feeling ten years older and ruminating on my mortality. The themes for the day are towns that try too hard to be beautiful and end up looking contrived, and a reflection on mortality in general and the pioneering spirit and the way time slowly robs you of the capability for adventure.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018, Las Vegas NM to Santa Fe NM
Today our Grand Tour takes us to the Pecos National Historical Park where we notice the stunning similarities between the ruins here and the stone circles, Roman, and Medieval ruins of Britain. We also note just how much it matters what things look like in New Mexico, and how different the scenery of the mountains makes you feel from the scenery of the prairies.
Fantasy literature is often characterized as escapist. I think this misses the point. Fantasy is fundamentally concerned with power, and our relationship to it. The fantastic element in every fantasy is power of some kind, either existing in nature or in the protagonist or the antagonist. It may be power of many different kinds, but it is always power, and with that power comes both danger and possibility.
I suggest that there are two major branches of fantasy, which I will call the lapsarian and the Promethean. They differ in how they deal with the dangers and possibilities of power.
Sunday, May 7, 2018, Amarillo to Las Vegas, New Mexico
Today’s theme ranges from the tackiness of a deliberate art installation to the truly enchanting highway overpasses of New Mexico. In New Mexico, it seems, it matters what things look like. In Texas, not so much.
The present is an anomaly. We only think it normal because we live in it and don’t know any better. But our failure to see the anomaly that is the present impairs our ability to read or understand history, or historical novels. Or, for that matter, to deal with politics and ideology generally.
As a novelist working largely in historical fiction, I read a lot of published historical fiction, but also, through workshops and critique groups, a lot that is unpublished, and in both I often find places where the author seems to have missed something about the past because they don’t know how anomalous the present is.
Sunday, May 6, 2018, Amarillo
Today is a rest day. I go to Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle church and find the building not to my liking. It is a typical modern auditorium-style church with padded pews. The floor slopes down to the altar like the floor of a movie theatre. It is all about making sure that everyone has a good view. If in the pre-Vatican II days we said that we went to hear Mass, now we go to see Mass.
May 5, 2018 Oklahoma City to Amarillo
Themes for the day: into the West, barbed wire, weak beer, parking meters, and killer slip roads.
The landscape changes quickly west of Oklahoma City. Now you feel like you are in the West. Now you can imagine a dustbowl happening. (Later we see a map of the dust bowl at the Devil’s Rope museum that confirms that this is indeed where it happened.) The land still rolls, but it seems like larger waves, and greens give way to browns more and more with every mile. Trees are few and far between, but jagged and dramatic where they do occur, usually singly or in pairs. It is interesting how often a solitary pair of trees will face each other across the road, one often leaning across the tarmac toward the other as if yearning for companionship. Alas we did not seem to take any pictures of such yearning pairs. A lot of the landscape looked like this:
One of the trickier things about historical fiction is trying to make the language, particularly the dialogue, sound like it belongs to its period while still being easy enough to read for a modern reader. For fairly recent times, this is not much of a problem. The biggest difficulty in writing a story set in the 20th century is probably dealing with words that were perfectly ordinary then and are considered slurs or otherwise offensive now. But go further back and the problem becomes more complex. Go back to the Anglo-Saxons, as I do, and it becomes quite a head scratcher.