I’m perhaps unusual — and it’s perhaps part of the uniquely Portuguese upbringing — in that my earliest memories include story-songs.
Maybe not absolutely unique. A lot of European culture included folk ballads that told stories in song. Fairytales, mostly, but also strange otherwordly happenings.
Mine were mostly fado. And it wasn’t just being sung to sleep with them (though that was part of it, my being a sickly premature baby who often had trouble breathing through the night, I spent a lot of time being held and sung to. And both parents have operatic-grade voices, well suited to the exercise.) It was the fact that mom worked from home, and like many women who work at manual (okay, hers was mind too, but the execution was mostly hand) work, she amused herself by singing to herself (when she wasn’t listening to radio programs, mostly on history and mythology because apples, trees, etc.)
Fado, for those of you who don’t know it — go look it up on youtube. I’ll wait — is mostly mournful songs about doomed love. So, Country, you guys say. Eh. Kind of. If you overlay the left-over-Arab-colonization bullshit about fate. Yeah.
It’s funny, and I must have been an unusually cynical three year old because my earliest memories of mom’s songs, I dismissed all the ones about a mother’s love as “mommyist propaganda.” But the other ones?
When you’re a kid, you’re sort of a sponge, and you look around everywhere for info about what the world is actually like. EVERYWHERE. I remember looking for clues in brother’s biology books, pamphlets he brought home, books he and my cousin read which were like spaghetti westerns written ten to the day or something, Disney comics, comments dropped by grandma… And extrapolating. Grandma would say something about how chickens acted when broody, and I would apply it to pregnant women. (Not even joking.)
Kids are WEIRD.
And I was constantly bombarded with the idea you were born with a “star” with “fate.”
So, how much of this made it into my writing?
I don’t know.
Obviously I use prophecy and foretelling in my fantasy. Or at least in my historical fantasy. And sometimes in my historicals, period, since people at the time believed in these things.
And obviously, my stories — at least short stories — often get their emotional punch from a sense of tragedy and trust me, guys, there’s nothing quite so tragic as fado stories, but… How much does it seep in, really?
I don’t know.
I know I have that issue in my life. I keep realizing I’m planning for things as though there were a fate, and I have to either help or combat it. Which is deranged, because even if there were predestination, free men and women are honor bound to disbelieve it, because it’s evil and counters free will. I mean, even if it really were the way the world worked, we should fight it.
Only I don’t think it is. Except sometimes my back brain defaults to that as an assumption. Except… I don’t know if that’s from fados or just normal human nonsense. We really have trouble with the idea that the future is unwritten, at a fundamental back-bone level. As a species.
Then there are the other songs and stories. A lot of what got sung are medieval ballads, and somehow my crazy family preserved the original/close to versions. Possibly because most of our women were literate, and either wrote them down or read them in compilations.
There is the one that starts with “It was midnight when the blind man came and knocked thrice on the middle door.” It doesn’t end well. Or at least it doesn’t end well, if you go with older son’s interpretation. Having caught me singing it while working, and understanding just enough to get the gist he said “Would you stop singing about death?”
But you wouldn’t know it from the 17th or 18th century version in which the blind man is a king and the girl becomes a queen or whatever.
Those I can trace more directly to my writing, because certain situations in them fascinate me. One of them being the shepherdess who suddenly becomes a princess. “Put rings on her fingers and silk on her back” is something that gives me chills for some reason. Perhaps the sudden change in fortunes.
For the record I’m also fascinated by the “If you like pina coladas” situation in which two cheating spouses find out they are perfect for each other. But I l like in all sorts of other situations, like two friends conspiring for opposite sides realize they are still friends, etc. For some reason, the situation is very common to fado. Fado “corrido” which is usually tragicomic.
Other than that?
Most Portuguese literature has a slow and tragic feel. At least most traditional Portuguese literature. But not only. I used to be able to identify Portuguese writers in anthologies, even when they were writing under English names, simply by the “feel” and tempo.
That I was aware of when I first started writing for publication. That I’ve tried to counter. At least, unless it’s a short story that calls for it, and I want to emphasize it. Even then, the tempo is a problem, even when the tragedy isn’t.
So, if you’ve ever read one of my stories that left you sobbing and puddled on the floor? Thank a fado.
If you think I need to speed up my narration and add more action? You’re not wrong. And I’m working on it. But you should probably curse a fado.
I’ll go into other bits and pieces that might have seeped in, Monday.
For now? I don’t know my influences, except for the slow tempo, are unique. As I said, all old European-upbringing people would have them, and I find echoes in Pratchett and Christie.
Like most human beings, I came to writing with baggage. And if we look carefully it goes all the way to the Iliad. At least. Maybe further back.
And all I can say is: And? Other than being human, what does that mean?
I don’t know.