There Is No Glass Slipper – A Blast From The Past post from February 2012

*You are not to get alarmed.  I’m not actually sick as such, just very tired and with a heck of a headache.  I thing it was the sudden weather shift (it’s snowing again.)  Anyway, I don’t want to face the blank blog in the morning, so I’m leaving you with a post from February two years ago.  Most of it still applies.  I think.*

Your life is not a story.

I mean, oh, of course, in a sense it is a story – of course it is – in the sense that things happen in chronological order, it has a beginning and one day it will have an ending.  You could also say it is divided in chapters.  In fact we often talk about “entering a new chapter” of life.

But there are differences.

I’ve told you – haven’t I? – that my final exam in Theory Of Literature, consisted of two questions.  The first was specific and required analysis of the use of commas by a Portuguese poet who wrote in blank verse.  The second was “Explain the difference between literature and life.  Give examples.”

Since I have a fraught relationship with punctuation I knew I’d get at best half the points on the technical question, so I had to get full points for the second.  So I spun from memory of my Philosophy classes a deal about Plato and the cave and how only through literature could we see life outside the cave.  I knew that would appeal to literature professors and, as most of you know, my morals are weak.  (If they weren’t would I lie for a living?  No?  What do you think fiction is?)  So… I passed.

However, my rather mendacious answer notwithstanding, or my wished-for answer which was “if I kill you in a book you’ll continue breathing.  If I kill you in real life not so much” the true answer is more complex than that, and more simple.

Life is not like literature because life doesn’t have to make sense.  (We’re reminded of this daily as we see what some of my colleagues post on facebook.)  More rarely we’re reminded of this as an impossible coincidence surfaces that makes us go “What?  That wasn’t laid out in the plot.”

But we forget that too.  We forget it very often, particularly those of us who are dedicated writers – or readers.  We forget it as we think as though life WERE a plot, as though it HAD to make sense.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago while talking to a friend who is a beginning writer.  We were trying, somewhat ineffectively, to convince this person it’s best to go indie now, while this writer has no track record.  This writer was yelling back about wanting what I had.  (Apparently people HANKER after ten years of kicks in the teeth.) About how I was famous (Am too.  Right now I’m the most famous person at this desk.  Well, the cats have left in search of food.)  About how I was a real writer, and therefore I could now go indie with a clear conscience (I’m trying, okay?  I’m trying.  I need time, since I’m also still writing for traditional publishers.)

And then this writer explained that since childhood, the writer had dreamed of having books out “on shelves” and being able to tell friends to go and buy them at any bookstore.

Useless to tell this person that there was that year I had FIVE books come out with traditional publishers and you couldn’t find a single one on a single shelf in the whole state of Colorado.  In this person’s mind, that story from childhood, HAD to have a happy ending.

It’s conditioning.  As writers and readers, we are trained to pick up “promises” in the plot early on.  Some of you who have been following Witchfnder are unreally good at picking up on those promises.  I’ve had emails guessing at Nell’s origins, at the ultimate end of the book, etc, which are, at this point, GUESSES.  Have to be, since my cluing has been as hidden as possible.  And in one case the clue is not yet connected to anything.  And yet, people GOT it.

Unfortunately, we tend to reason about life that way, too.

This might be a case of chicken and egg.  I know that stories are what happens when we turn our mind lose on life and allow it to impose order on reality, whether that order is real or imaginary.  We tell ourselves stories.  And we tend to make stories out of our lives.  Perhaps that’s how we make sense of life.  Perhaps that’s how we remain what passes for sane.  Or perhaps not.

Perhaps life used to be more predictable, too.  I’m not betting on it.  I grew up in a small village, where people by and large, with minor innovations like electrical light and running water, lived the way they had for centuries, observed the same feast days, cultivated the same plot of land, kept the same farm animals as their ancestors world without end – in a place where Romeo and Juliet might have happened in the next village.  (I thought it had, the first time I heard someone talk about it.)  Looking back, life looked a lot more… well… ordered.  You knew the pool from which you’d choose your mate, more or less, you knew the places you’d see in your life, you knew where you’d be buried when you died.  You knew the kids who worked hard in childhood would probably make good, and you knew the class clown would probably have a checkered career, and the kid caught breaking into a neighbor’s house at ten would probably eventually come to a bad end.

But that’s from a distance.  If you increase the granularity and go life by life, person by person, you find it’s not like that.  That kid who worked hard in childhood, walking out his parents’ door one evening, gets run over by a car and spends the rest of his life as a paraplegic, having to be looked after.  The kid who was a bad lot?  Well, he gets drafted, goes overseas, becomes a hero, comes back and picks up a steady job, never has a hobble again… until he’s fifty when he embezzles his boss’s money, runs away and dies a millionaire in Brazil.

Even in the village, with its ordered cycle of life, people could surprise you, events could surprise you, things you counted on – like inheriting the family business – would turn out quite differently – when you found out the company was bankrupt, for instance.

After all, that small village produced me and – good or bad (and often bad) – you can’t say my trajectory was predictable.  When I was born to a rather traditional family in a traditional village and as a female (which in that culture means far less mobile) I can safely say that if some time traveler had told family, friends or extended acquaintances that not only would I survive (an iffy thing, since I was extremely premature, born at home, and not allowed access to an incubator) but I’d leave home and go live in the states on my own (no relatives, other than my husband) AND become a novelist in a language no one in the family spoke at the time (correction, my grandfather spoke it.  He didn’t write it.  But he had no one to speak it to) NO ONE would have believed it.

But even those of you who aren’t little vortexes of unstable fate can probably point out to events in your lives that were in no way “foreshadowed.”

However, it goes further than that.  MUCH further.  Right now, we are in a time of catastrophic change.  By that I don’t mean the intentional, phony and often strange change brought on by political moves.  I mean bone-deep technological change of the kind that leaves a mark.

Part of the reason that change is so difficult is that we are essentially two cultures.  One of them is  “the people who talk.”  (I’d call it “the people who think” but that is unwarranted flattery for most of them – for most humans, actually.)  These are the media, the academia, the people who tell stories whether fictional or fictionalized.  These people in general know nothing – or very little – about what the other culture is up to.  The other culture is “the people who fix”.  These are the people who know how things work, the people who can build and create.

For years now the people who talk have been ascendant.  We’ve been building a little reality of words, telling ourselves stories.  “This is the way things work” and “This is the way things will go.”  Actually, we haven’t been ascendant so much as we were the only ones saying these things, and the other people didn’t or couldn’t contradict us, so we thought we had it all.  Our story was undisputed.  Like the garrulous wife of a silent husband, we sat there for years making plans.  “And when we retire, we’re going to live in Miami.”  And because the poor sob across the table said nothing, we thought we could do as we pleased.

The silent people who fix and create things were, all along, quietly, often in an inarticulate way, pulling the rug out from under our feet.  While we were talking about our condo in Miami they were building an entire retirement community from discarded beer bottles, in the backyard of our house in Michigan.

So while we were creating our just so plots, the people who fix and create things changed the world on us (the bastages.)  While we were climbing the ordered ladder of publishing (such as it was) they were building ebooks, and even – gasp – places like Amazon to sell them.  They were creating the computer revolution which allows us to attend lectures from home (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, education is next in line for that change.)

So, now there’s a choice of courses for us.  The world is changing.  It’s called catastrophic because it resembles Atlantis subsiding beneath the waves.  We can’t change it back.  We can make phony political changes that will make things go a different route, and possibly a worse route, or we can shout into the wind, but it’s not going to stop the change.

The metaphoric oceans are coming in.  You can choose to stand there going “I’m despondent.  My life is over.  I want my beach back.  When I was little I dreamed of a condo in Miami.”  Heaven knows I’ve done a bit of that myself and still have instances of it.  HOWEVER that is not a survival-enhancing behavior.  Those who will survive – and many who will thrive – are already running for the hills, scouting out the now-barren peaks that will be fertile islands when the change is done.

I know it hurts.  It hurts like heck.  We want our stories to make sense, and we want our life to be a story.

But you have to be aware that at some level it was always a lie.

To the extent that you need stories to survive, make this one be about the plucky author/educator/artist who survived catastrophic change – who got out ahead of the mess and the turmoil and came out much more successful than traditional routes allowed.  Make your prototype that of the mythological (but then so was Atlantis) sage who got in a boat ahead of the continent sinking and went to other lands to teach what he knew.  And who was treated as a god in the new land.

You’re not Cinderella.  There is no glass slipper.  BUT if you’re good and pro-active and if you stop lamenting and start looking to the future, there MIGHT be a fortune in canned pumpkin or trained mice.

First let go of the glass slipper dreams.  It was never very comfortable and it came off when you ran downstairs.  Then shake yourself, look around, and find new dreams.  You can do it.  Remember, the best stories change direction halfway through.  Why should your life be any different?

68 responses to “There Is No Glass Slipper – A Blast From The Past post from February 2012

  1. A story is artificial. At some point you have to have a vision of where it ends and what is the ultimate fate of the characters. In real life you have no idea what the endpoint is and you will likely be surprised.

  2. I was thinking about story — and there was time when I was on Cytoxan and high-dosages of prednisone that my mind went naturally to story to make sense of what was happening to me. It was the only way I could stay sane.

  3. The main problem I’ve found with trying to make real life into a story is that it doesn’t end on a satisfying high point. It just keeps going. Which is all for the best, but it can really mess with the narative, if the character maturation can’t be sustained or random events intervene and turn the tale in a direction you really don’t like.

    And D**n it, I just can’t build a spaceship in my garage, IRL. Not. Fair.

    • Fine. I have a time machine in my basement, though… well, in parts right now. But younger son PROMISED.

    • Pam, you can so build that spaceship. Heinlein said so, kinda (GAY DECEIVER was more-or-less a spaceship, if you follow me…)

      Heck, I’ve built more spaceships than I can remember reliably. Or at least designed them up to a point. Just waiting to take delivery of the energy systems, drives, and FTL transition gear in forms that will be compatible with the spaceframe, don’cha know?

      • Sorta-kinda. It was a “Continua Craft”, I believe. It wasn’t until their visit to Oz that she had more than a short-term air supply.

        What? You *can’t* remember the plots of all Heinlein’s books off the top of your head?

        • of course she does. She’s human. I’ve checked.

        • No I can’t. Memory has been likened to Swiss cheese — maybe a nice Emmenthaler, but still…

          If there is one thing I would consider in less than a heartbeat when it comes to nanite-powered upgrades to the bio-systems it would be memory&retrieval enhancements. (‘Tis hard being a Bard when memorization is one of your worst personal skills.)

          • Isn’t that why everything a Bard does is to music?

            I’ve got a rather questionable memory, but if it’s musical I can remember stuff I haven’t heard in decades. (Startled the neighbor by singing the Huffulumps and Whoozles song from memory….haven’t seen that for at least a dozen years before that. Searched it out for the kids and I had remembered the song just fine.)

            • And now you’ve given me an earworm. ;-)

              On Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 1:44 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

              > Foxfier commented: “Isn’t that why everything a Bard does is to music? > I’ve got a rather questionable memory, but if it’s musical I can remember > stuff I haven’t heard in decades. (Startled the neighbor by singing the > Huffulumps and Whoozles song from memory….haven’t se” >

    • Yep. You seem to be hitting a high point, and something comes up and yanks that bridge you can see right ahead of you off just when you are about to step on it.

      But who knows, maybe there is a detour, and you can get there anyway. And the detour may be interesting in itself. And maybe you will even find another, better high point on the way (hey, that first castle was getting kind of worn anyway, this one is brand new!).

      I keep looking at my life as a story no matter what happens. Makes it easier to keep going. Mostly I refuse to read or watch anything which ends in a low note, and I definitely refuse to write that, so of course my own life just has to have some triumphs sooner or later. And this is one place where I just refuse to be realistic. If I start thinking in that way I will become depressed, and when you are depressed you create the tragedy yourself. Yep, it may end that way anyway, but at least you have a chance if you pretend that your story just is one of those which will has that happily ever after sooner or later.

      And then if there are some temporary setbacks after that, no problem, you will conquer them too. But you better remember that those triumphs, or the happily ever after, well, you have to remember too that it may not be quite as grand as you dream, so try be prepared to recognize it when it comes even if it looks a bit different than what you were waiting for. Which doesn’t mean you have to just settle for that smaller, you can still hunt the bigger as long as you don’t get obsessive about it. Remember to enjoy even the smaller ones.

      Stories are good, even when fitted into a real life. But in real life you better play as a pantser. Plotters are almost certain to hit a wall sooner or later.

      • “. Mostly I refuse to read or watch anything which ends in a low note, and I definitely refuse to write that, ”

        Eh, I seem to remember this vampire short, which was rather good with a good moral to the story, but I wouldn’t have said ended on high note.

        • Heh. I had planned it as a part in a series, so that’s different.

          • Let’s say it like this: I refuse to completely end with the low note. So if something does end in that way you can be sure I have not planned it as the final story. There will be a sequel. Maybe with different main characters, but in that case those are the ones I see as the true main characters, and the poor sap with the unhappy end was a really supporting one, only one whose story got told. :)

            • And a bit more: again, I can handle characters dying in the end, if they achieve something worthwhile with it. So something like Heinlein’s ‘Long Watch’ counts as having a happy ending, for me – he dies, but he achieves what he wants, a better future for his family, and he is even remembered as a hero. I can also handle stories where the character achieves nothing provided there is a story which happens later in which some other character does succeed. I would have been happy enough with ‘1984’ if we would have been give a more upbeat novel in the same universe, like the collapse of that system generations later, with a main character who survives that collapse and can take part when people start to build something better. There wouldn’t have to be the certainty it will be better, on the long run, either, just the idea that now they do have the chance and at least the immediate future looks better.

              As it is, ‘1984’ as the only story, no, I do not like it at all.

              So when I say that I want a happy ending I do not mean it has to be a certain happily ever after. Just something better than what they started with, and a chance for the characters to keep working towards something increasingly better. And I don’t mind occasional downbeat endings, as long as they are not the final story in that universe. And of course sometimes the story of somebody who is stupid or otherwise unpleasant and gets a bad ending due to his own miscalculations can give one a rather enjoyable feeling of Schadenfreude, although I do prefer those as shorts unless there are also other, more pleasant characters who fare better.

      • “Stories are good, even when fitted into a real life. But in real life you better play as a pantser. Plotters are almost certain to hit a wall sooner or later.”

        There are advantages to learning outlining as a skill that go far beyond technical and other non-fiction writing… I tend to think of / describe myself as a plotting pantser: there’s a scaffold there, in the form of a timeline or other rough outline, from which I can hang these nifty arrangements and ribbons and collected doo-dads just as soon as I polish them up a bit (or sooner, as a storage spot in the assembly line).

        Of course, some people hear me say that as “ploDDing pantser”, to which I say “Only so many hours in the lifetime”.

  4. Strikes me that this goes a long way towards explaining why most of our current crop of politicians are lawyers, the ultimate people who talk. Of course their primary error is their implicit belief that words, rather than describing reality, can actually shape and change it.
    While our founding fathers were fair to middlin communicators, their skill sets were more in the realm of makers or at least tinkerers.

  5. The first time I read LotR (age 16), I plowed through the entire thing, got to the end, and stared at the pages, horribly disappointed. Because the ending was too realistic! I wanted a happy ending, where Frodo, Sam and their fellows got wonderful rewards and lived happily ever after. Instead they had reality, just like all the military history things I read. It wasn’t fair to them or to me!

    Looking back, that shock may be why none of my stories end with rainbows, chirping bluebirds, and “happily ever after.” I prefer the traditional German ending: “And if they have not died, they are living still.” [Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, dann leben sie noch Heute.]

    • I don’t think “glorious victory” and such was possible to write after WW1. After that war victory was “we made it home” At least in LOR the hero actually made a difference rather than being a pal in a trench on a narrow strip of Belgium in the swamp.

    • J.R.R. Tolkien wrote two unambiguous happy endings. One is The Hobbit. The other is “Leaf by Niggle” — which, you note, ends in the afterlife.

  6. If life is not literature, does that mean I have to stop using the excuse “I’m just comic relief”?

    • Yes. Because that’s my line.

      • Drat. If I buy another book from Amazon, will that work as a royalty so I can keep using it?

        • Um.
          YES. Nodds enthusiastically! :-P
          (Considering sales after the 15th I’ll take what I can get. Yes, installanche helped, but geesh, it’s grim. If I weren’t also selling used not-my-books and those hadn’t ALSO come toa stand still, I’d be crying.)

          • Hey, I didn’t pick up my copy until last night. Being a Nook user, I had to wait until I could find it on B&N or Smashwords.

            • It’s been on B & N … I THINK it’s on Smashwords, but Smashwords ARGH.

              Also, FYI it’s non DRM, so you can change it around… if you’re more clued than I am, of course, because I can never figure out how to do it ;)

              • Calibre is your friend. Load it up then convert to whatever you want.

                • It’s your friend until you try and format from a .doc into HTM into EPUB and Mobi and have everything work. *growl, mutter, mutter, kicks invisible rock*

                  • .doc format? Well, there’s you’re problem right there ;-) The spirit of Clippy infests that monstrosity. I still haven’t forgiven Word for saving the current paragraph as a unique style every time the bus hit a bump as I wrote during my commute. All different, of course. When I tried to set one uniform style when the book was done it took me OVER A DAY to untangle the mess. It was sheer carnage.

                  • .doc? What is this .doc you speak of? :-) epub or rtf all the way!

                  • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                    Opening your HTML file with Sigil to create an ePub works better IMO. Of course, you can create TOC with Sigil in your ePub file. [Smile]

                  • and THEN Atlantis is your friend. Okay, it costs $37 — but trust me.

                • I… looks down… drags foot on dirt… can’t figure out Calibre. I know, I know, but…

                  • This is what intelligent spawn are for. Free, intellectual labor:-)

                  • I had it on my computer for a year before I figured out how to import a document, convert it, and then export it again. And still struggle with it if I haven’t used it lately. Like getting Talbot Mundy books from Gutenberg to my Kindle a couple weeks ago.

                    As far as the other things Calibre is supposed to do, haven’t a clue.

                    • There’s an add button on the toolbar. Then you click the convert button. In the upper right is a selection of output choices. Click the one you want then click convert. I don’t have it right in front of me but that’s pretty much what I did last time with a Kindle book.

                      With Nook or Kobo, just plug it in, tell it yes, you do want to connect to the computer and Calibre sees it and turns on all the cool manage device buttons.

                      I use a Mac so maybe I’m just spoiled but it seems pretty easy to me.

                      If B&N kills the Nook, I may be doing Callibre tech support for an aunt-in-law with a nook. That might give me a better idea how non-techy people handle it.

          • Dinna fret, lass. Give people a few days to come out of shock after Tax Day, and they will realize they REALLY need some good escapist fare to soothe their worried minds.We should really do a April 15th “reward yourself/spend your refund” book bundle some day…

          • Dear Sarah,

            Well, I bought a copy of “Witchfinder” at Amazon even though you’d sent me the eArc. Having bought a copy, no one can accuse me of succumbing to undue influence (read: bribery) because I posted a five-star review.

            Ben Hartley

            • oooooh. Thank you!
              One thing I’m seeing is an unusual number of returns the last two days — since they’re across the board, I don’t think I’ve done anyhting wrong, I think it’s a money thing. I.e. I have TWO returns on No Will But His, and I’ve never had any.

              • Every now and then, someone will post on the Kindle message boards that they return books after reading them, since Amazon has the 1 week no-questions-asked return policy. The people that do this are almost universally criticized and usually end up claiming to be bullied because of the responses they get.

                Having bought Witchfinder about a week and a half ago, I just bought Darkship Renegades so I can continue to use the “comic relief” line (I’m a new customer). I’m so behind on my reading that you don’t have to worry about me returning anything… I bought Darkship Thieves in February, and will probably move it up so I start reading it on Monday.

                • Yea– I would criticize them… it is a form of stealing imho.

                • I tend to forget to return things, unless they’re egregious. Again, I normally have ZERO returns, so the spate of them the last two days, in short stories, historicals and Witchfinder particularly as they move through, make me think three of these people have found me. Oh, joy!

                  • Yea– the read and return robbers (sounds like a cozy)

                  • It seems like the same kind of people who graze on the fruits and vegetables in the grocery store.

                    • Buy an expensive dress the day before the dance, wear it and then return it the day after.

                      Yes, I know people who do it, and yes, they have more than enough money to just buy the @#$# dress. They just get a kick out of using people.

                    • Yea– I agree– I find it reprehensible.

                    • They need to do it to the wrong person. something bad needs to happen to them.

                    • Being the kind of person who does that is a pretty bad thing.

                      I do kind of wish for some sort of lesson that would get through to them, though… might fix things.

                    • That reminds me of what I saw the other day – a woman in produce department took a bag and emptied out the sample display of the pineapple that was in it. I’m pretty sure she didn’t do it to buy the stuff, either.

                    • Amazon will remove the return option for people who use it too much… that’s when they go on the boards to complain. That doesn’t help the authors who had been cheated, though.

                    • Yes– I know that at first Amazon would give a pro-rated (you read 1/3 and you pay 1/3) then they stopped doing that. The sample function should take care of the decision-making process– imho.

    • I’m trying to figure out what to do with my role badges…. I’ve got two, “Protagonist” and “Antagonist.” Depending on the day, I’ll even slip one on. :D

  7. What’s the problem with Smashwords? I’m getting ready to submit and need to know the hurdles.

    • It’s just a pain. The meatgrinder does… stuff and then blames it on you.
      Do yourself a favor and upload ebook. Smashwords = online site most likely to make you prematurely gray (as a publisher/writer.)

    • If you use word– you need to use .doc because it won’t take .docx. Plus there are a lot of things you have to remember like no more than two line spaces at any given time. Or have the unconceal on so that you can tell if Word puts in strange characters– or added characters. Also don’t use too many different font styles (this includes bold and italics). They have a style book. I don’t have a problem with the meatgrinder now–

  8. If I’d read this 2 years ago, I would have cried. I want my happy ending, dammit! But, it’s for the best because I’m not at the end and things right now are so much more awesome than they were.

  9. OK, another new thing, ebooking, to learn, great. Patience is something I ran out of a long time ago. Thanks for saving what little gray hair I have left.