Yep, you guessed it, Darkship Revenge isn’t done yet. I can honestly say it’s taking me the longest on the “snip and integrate” pass, something I honestly don’t even do on most of my books, or at least only minimally.
It’s not just the moves, really, it’s the fact that this book has a cast of dozens, too, and I’m juggling at least five subplots all through the eyes/mind of a woman who doesn’t even know about them in the beginning. It’s not impossible. I’m not the sad naif with no more craft than talent who once tried to juggle a revolution with a cast of thousands (a book that will need to be rewritten sometime and put out, but probably not this year.)
And I’m starting to see the end, but the book finished short and I know where those last 20k words go and what happened and I’ve got the betrayal scene all wrong.
Part of the reason I think this book is so different is that it’s about children and parents. Motherhood, mostly, and what a mother is. For various reasons that’s a difficult subject for me, not the least because I had no clue what I was doing as a mother and because I never expected (I wanted to, but never expected) to be one, I had no preconceived ideas.
I ended up being the sort of goofy mom who would build railways with younger son all over the house, and play rousing games of aliens versus dinosaurs in world war two with him until he was sixteen or so. (The dinosaurs were on the allied side. As one knows.)
And Robert, being the older, just got integrated in “things mom does.” Which included an unnatural knowledge of the hardware store, and knowing how to build a balcony by the time he was 13.
Which doesn’t mean I don’t have traditional domestic virtues, and the kids learned that too: cooking, cleaning, which means when they each went out on their own, they were pretty good at it.
From Dan they learned computers, programs, and a goofy interest in really corny movies. (The younger one. The older one learned to roll his eyes early.)
From the cats they learned bonelessness and snuggling. I think. Though Robert claims he learned cursing from Petronius the Arbiter (first cat ever) and bravery from Pixel Who-Walked-through Walls (Best cat ever.)
The thing is I was never very good at “roles.” For various reasons, but really mostly because I couldn’t compete with my mom (she didn’t take female competition very well. Most of my attempts at doing things that were in her domain got the stuff taken out of my hands and me screamed at. Yeah, openly it was because she couldn’t see me struggling with it and didn’t remember her own learning time, but mostly I think is that mom really didn’t like female competition. She was still comparing my looks and feminine demeanor unfavorably to hers when I was in my twenties. This went along with the “no man will want you” which in turn is why I never expected to be a mother.) I grew up more like a boy than like a girl. I spent one summer assembling a radio from old parts of various other radios; an earlier summer was devoted to making rubber band powered cars (from matchboxes, which were made of balsa wood.)
Mostly I spent time inside my own head, which means I was completely detached from my body and what my external form gave people the impression I was or should be. I think, from pictures, that my look was the “innocent baby doll” which considering I spent time in my own head building a detailed empire which put the Game of Thrones to shame (except that I didn’t kill for the hell of it. I’m not 2016 or GRRM) always seemed weirdly at odds. I was virtually impossible to shock, but I sure didn’t look like that.
In college I tried to be more “present.” I’ve since realized, from reading other people’s biographies, that I used my imagination like other people use drugs. I would withdraw into it and be somewhere completely different. I think it was my Junior year in high school I realized this was a problem because I wasn’t really living, and limited the daydreams to morning and evening. Tried to. It was a process. Then I became an exchange student and tried to be really there, and tried to be normal. Anyway, in college I found a good way not to be absolutely terrified to be out in public was to have “war clothes” and war paint. For some reason most of the time (not always. Sometimes I was very eighties) this consisted of thirties-style clothing, including silk lace stockings and stilettos, and hobble skirts. Those of you who met my older son: he comes by it naturally, even though he never knew of my retro-style years. Something there is in the genes that codes for the thirties? Who knew?
Though I dated — and got engaged — before, I never really expected to get married, and Dan’s and mine was sort of a whirlwind romance which grabbed me and threw me accross the ocean before I could stop myself. Which was good, because despite my love for the US marrying Dan meant being utterly irresponsible for the first time in my life. It meant leaving behind my family, their network of connections, but more importantly rendering my training irrelevant.
In Portugal, with seven languages, four of them fluent, and a college degree, I could have written my own ticket. (Heck, a friend who never made college, with just semi-fluent English got a job escorting executives around Porto when they had to visit town. Yes, we made jokes about her being an escort. No, I’m almost sure that’s not what she was doing. The almost part came from the fact that she didn’t… uh… she wasn’t the most chaste of women. But at any rate, I’m sure it wasn’t part of the job description or expectations.)
In the US languages aren’t very useful. The world speaks English. And there was no internet for hooking up with freelance work, piecemeal. There were three or four full time translator jobs that opened a year in the US, but you sort of needed connections (of the “went to school with you” type) to get them. I had no connections and no job experience in the US.
Yes, once the world stopped spinning, the idea was that I would write. But I was home all day and Dan was running the beginning-programmer gauntlet of 16 hour days and more during crunch. Which meant mostly most of the time what I could do was cook and clean. So I became a little obsessive about it, in a justify-my-existence type of way.
And when we had the boys, even if Dan was mostly mommy and daddy to Robert the first six months (because I was very ill and he was unemployed) after a while child care defaulted to me, without a blueprint. In retrospect I obsessed about all the wrong things, like REALLY clean FLOORS. And carrot cake. Because if I finished a chapter people said “Oh, good then.” BUT carrot cake got me enthusiastic grins.
We sort of fell into traditional roles because of our relative occupations. I’m still — though doing better at it now the boys are grown and mostly moved out (yes, the older is in the basement, but it’s his apartment, not really our house) — struggling with the idea that writing is a real occupation, and that I’m not ALSO required to do all the house work and keep a spotless house, even on deadline.
I’ve since found this is not so much a “feminine” thing — falling into the housekeeping role — as a writer thing. The writer in the house normally cooks and cleans, because he or she is there all the time, and their spouse is often out, earning the “regular” part of their living.
If you look back far enough our whole idea of the domestic role being feminine comes from women staying in the house and doing the tedious every day work, because they can bear children (and a pregnant woman can’t run for miles) and they’re weaker, relatively. Men had the outdoor dangerous, difficult, unpleasant and often lethal work (I love how we talk about the historical oppression of women because we had to stay inside and do the boring, soft (relatively) work. The case could be made that women oppressed men throughout history by making them go out to war, or hunt, or protect them. It’s only that for whatever reason feminism values male role over female. I’m not going to pursue the rabbit hole as “feminism is a projection of women’s mysogyny. But a case could be made. More easily than for the oppression of women, in fact. Of course a case most of all can be made for contemporary intellectuals shutting their mouths about a past they haven’t lived and don’t understand. In many things, really.)
In our case we fell into a very traditional role, but it was really “What can I do” which is why I ended up doing most of the remodelling on the two Victorians we lived in and fixed while living in. Because I could. (Dan did plumbing and electricity because though I could figure it out, I don’t like it.)
And away from mom’s eyes, I did an awful lot of sewing. Taught myself. Because we bought clothes at thrift stores that needed to be altered for the boys. Or I made myself dresses because nothing fit and I couldn’t afford the store prices.
Only I spent a lot of the time feeling guilty about cooking and cleaning and sewing because my school-upbringing had taught me it was a mark of oppression. Just like my family upbringing had taught me I wasn’t good at it and shouldn’t even try.
In restrospect that seems completely insane. they were chores that needed doing, and I could do them. What is there of more oppressive about them than, say, with my refinishing the thrift store furniture we bought? In retrospect all that is crazy cakes.
I’ve settled into just being me. Sometimes I cook elaborate meals (usually when both boys are here for dinner) and I don’t feel particularly opressed or feminine. I just feel I want to show the boys love. And most of the time I’m the one who cooks, though I suspect when we are really just the two of us alone, that will dwindle to maybe once a week, because we can get take out or grab a salad.
The elaborate almos tdaily meals are an expression of being a family of more than two, of getting together. Perhaps in my somewhat damaged psyche, it’s easier to say “I love you” with food. This probably explains all of our weights. (“Mom couldn’t say she loved me, so she baked me carrot cake.” My husband says that both of us, growing up, displaced “I want to be loved” to “I want chocolate cake.” Eh. And we’ve lived on diets most of our lives. Don’t go there.)
In Revenge I find myself struggling with that, because Athena just became a mother, and she’s growing into being a mother in other ways too, as there are feral children who fall under her sway. So she finds herself doing a lot of the feminine tasks. Not cooking. I don’t think she knows how (never asked) but just about everything else. Partly because she’s not a biologist, which is what they need, partly because she has to watch the baby because her baby was already kidnapped once, so she tends to have Eris (yeah, I know. Don’t blame me.) with her ALL the time. Which limits what else she can do.
The conclusion she’s coming to is that she’s doing these things because love seeks an expression. And the idea is as weird to her as it was to me, as I came to realize it, as the boys grew up. “Because I can, and because I love them” is an still small voice with which to beat back the years of “female work is oppression.” But it was all I had, and by and large it worked. It seems to be working for Athena too.
None of which is nearly as difficult or as funny as writing Athena trying to teach morals and why we shouldn’t just kill babies to a feral young man. Because Athena herself doesn’t have what you’d call a moral structure. It’s sad and pathetic and funny and tear inducing all at once. or it was for me.
Not to give you the impression the book is a delicate bildungsroman devoted to interior development and feelings. I mean, it is that, but it opens with a battle and has explosions and the part I need to write which is missing, and which caps the emotional development is an all out raid, with fighting in tight spaces, explosions, sabbotage and deaths.
But that’s because I am who I am.
And I’m okay with that, domestic virtues, carpentry and all. They’re all me.
And now me is going to drag her behind back to the work computer and go (G-d willing, please?) finish that novel.