My Yuletide stories

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 07:29 pm
jenett: text-only icon: Virgo Hufflepuff : details managed (details managed)
[personal profile] jenett
First, I would love to point out that the two *amazingly* excellent stories I received this year were both written by Fabrisse who *also* was my assigned author in 2013, and produced the equally amazing Foyle's War story I got then (Vignettes) She has a lot of other excellent and varied stuff, you should go read the parts that appeal to you.

All three have a particularly gorgeous understanding of the relevance of history, while being very much about the people living it rather than the big chewy events. I am by nature very much a social historian (when I'm being a historian with my spare brain), someone who is about how events - living through time - changes people, rather than focused on events or larger movements.

And all three of these stories give that in spades, along with an attention to fascinating and meaty details that I love (the discussion of Sam and food and how you get things done, the paragraph about how things fit together and irregularity is beauty, the look at how two men navigate that particular complexity.)

Right. Onto what I wrote. My actual assignment was Collection Development, a Libraries (Anthropomorfic) fic for a fellow librarian, who is forordwraith on DW (though she's in Canada, more on that in a moment or three.)

The treat I managed is for Betony who was my recipient last year, and whose prompts this year included "The Hogwarts- AU Trojan War fic I half-wish existed (bizarrely, I've always fan sorted the Trojans into Hufflepuff, shielding Helen in the spirit of their house and consequently getting on the wrong side a Gryffindor-Slytherin-Ravenclaw alliance.)"

Which promptly became the seeds of Seven Badgers of Troy

Some background

The first thing you ought to know is that this fall has been hellish for me - a physical move at work has lead to me having a lot more migraines, and specifically migraine *aura* symptoms that mean I've felt like myself for a grand total of 3 days since sometime in September. This was not helpful. (The current situation is at 'we have done some things so it's not getting *worse*, but the current state is still pretty lousy, and I don't know if or when that's going to change.')

In particular, I've had a bunch of cognitive issues that make sequencing things tricky, and have been coming home from work basically good for nothing almost all the time, not making progress on other projects, and if I'm lucky managing a couple of productive hours on the weekends that mostly have to go into household upkeep rather than creativity. (And that's if the weather behaved. I live in Maine. You can guess how often that isn't.)

And it meant that while I very much wanted to do Yuletide, I needed to be very practical about it. (I didn't want to give it up, because by the time we got around to doing requests,it would have felt like one more thing I was losing this fall.)

So I was very careful with my offers to offer fairly small canons (things I could review several times if I needed to) and did a bit more poking around for possible treats than I have in the past, as a "Use as lure for bribing my brain" because if I didn't manage the treat, no one would know except whoever I told about it.

And that lead to my getting matched on Libraries (Anthropomorfic) - which this year had the nominated 'characters', Book, Archive, Catalogue, and Computer.

Collection Development

Collection development is one of the library jargon terms for 'how we decide what goes in this library' - an active selection process that makes each library just a little bit different from every other library (even very similar libraries in type, size, location, focus will make different decisions.)

As I mentioned in my author's note on the fic, one of my favourite library school profs (for the collection management class) talked about how ideally, you look at the whole thing as a series of relationships - not only between an item and a reader/viewer/patron, but between an item and other items in a collection.

Anyway, I'd already gotten this possible idea, but wanted to see my recipient's full letter before I started writing (and as she is a busy woman, she didn't add the further details stuff she'd been working on until a few days after assignments went out.) So I set it aside for a little bit.

When I came back to it, I really liked her comment about conferences (and also knew I couldn't manage to do the Canadian library politics correctly: I just don't know the relevant players well enough, though I could make some guesses. But that's the kind of thing that if you can't get it absolutely right, you shouldn't try.)

And that lead to me doing some excellent brainstorming about other conference panel titles, and what it'd be like to have a large conference where lots of different kinds of library items showed up.

Then [personal profile] synecdochic helped me brainstorm panel titles. Which included, among the ones that didn't make it into the fic (the three with the stars were mine, the rest are all hers.)

- Crumbs In The Keyboards Never Stop Itching: Enforcing 'No Food or Drink' Policies
- When You Prefer Dewey But Your Human Servants Swear By LoC
- Things That Go Bump In The Night: Effective Use of Eerie Sounds, Odd Drafts, and Occasional Things Thudding To Discourage Unwanted Guests
- How I Derailed A Plan To Replace Me With A Prefab Brutalist Concrete Block: A Case Study
- Negotiating with Isis and Osiris: Improved Shelving in Archival Spaces *
- At Least Your Patrons Are Reading Something, Even If They Give You Indigestion: Trashy Magazines 101
- The Lessons of Sunnydale: Creating Succesful Disaster Management Plans *
- Above Average: Collection Development Advice from Lake Woebegone *

And then I tried to figure out how it might go, got to thinking about "Your first conference?" advice, and then ran with it from there.

I also got to thinking a whole lot in here about how we treat others in the profession, which things are supportive and which things are destructive. The library world - like several other communities I spend time in - has had several notable conversations and situations around harassment in the past couple of years, and they can make conference going tricky.

I really wanted - however briefly, in fiction - to have a space where there's a model of things going better. Of being critical about the things that aren't helpful (like futurists proclaiming things that most libraries can't even think about doing for a decade, or that don't solve the current real needs of the community a given library serves) but doing it in a way that *does* get us to solutions. Maybe.

There's a lot I love about my chosen profession, and I wanted to show that too - intellectual curiousity and willingness to help, and how we need so many different sets of skills and talents and bits of knowledge to make a library work really well.

Other things of note:

- I believe I managed not to use a gendered pronoun to refer to Computer anywhere. That was intentional.

- I love that Archive is from Newford, which is the city in many of Charles de Lint's books (and it is explicitly ambiguous whether it's American or Canadian). Thinking about that lead to me wanting to pick fictional cities for all the place names.

(I almost went for something out of Lovecraft for where Book is from, and then decided that would be a wholly different kind of fic, and I was not up for reading the amount of Lovecraft required to do that right, even tangentially.)

- I really wanted a conference that talked about lots of things (though actually, all the conferences I've been to directly to this point have been tech focused, because I'm more over on that side of the field.)

I'm very pleased with how it came out. There are lots of little touches that make me think my writing's gotten substantially more fluid in ways I care about over the past couple of years (thank you, Alternity!) and I'm particularly pleased that it's been resonating with other librarians.

I wrote for Betony last year (Anagnorisis, which is Penelope and Odysseus, after the Odyssey). It had come out shorter than I'd wanted then, and I was sort of hoping she'd have a prompt that would let me do something a bit more.

Her prompts this year were Illiad, not Odyssey, and normally, I'm less interested in the Illiad. But I have a great and abiding love for Hufflepuff, and especially for the view of Hufflepuff as an incredibly complex house, with a lot of pieces that go into making it up ("Take the rest" has a lot of implications.)

And about two hours after reading her prompt, I knew I wanted seven badgers, each representing a particular virtue of the house.

- Priam is justice (suitable for a king)
- Paris is friendliness (because, really)
- Hecuba is fairness (how else do you manage that palace?)
- Hector is hard working (a very diligent prince)
- Andromache is loyal (and in a new land)
- Cassandra tells the truth (though no one listens)
- Anaeas is patient (for a very long time)

The point at which I got Paris and Cassandra was the point at which I went "I MUST WRITE THIS FIC" at everyone in chat with me who might get it, and then started poking at the rest of the structure. Because it's so true and so bitter, and virtues have other sides to their coins.

I also knew very early on that I wanted to have the line of Brutus (mythologically one of the founders of the British Isles) travel onward to Helga, because that just made sense.

The first half mostly wrote itself: I did the first 3500 words that weekend, because the first bits were mostly poking at the myth sequences and sorting out how things happened and when. And then I stalled for quite a while, both because I'd gotten to just before Hector goes out to die (which is a hard thing to write) and because I really needed to be diligent and work on my actual assignment first.

And so I had about 25 tabs open for this for, y'know, a month and a half, with various different bits of the mythology, and the Perseus Project to poke at the actual text, and SparkNotes to keep the summaries in my head long enough to fit the stuff that *isn't* actually in the Iliad into the bits that are, so it'd make a cohesive story (and trust me, fitting an epic into under 7000 words of fiction is complicated.)

The almost final version had house references - omens, not hat, clearly, but obviously Godric got the idea from somewhere, and as it turns out, badgers, eagles, lions, and snakes are all indigenous fauna in that area of the world. (And lions, of course, are one of the emblems of the palace at Mycenae, with the great lion gate.)

But it didn't have as much explicit magic, until I went "Really, there should be more of that there." and went and put some in.

The other thing that fascinated me was figuring out the house affiliations. Some of them are very obvious (see Menelaus and Agamemnon, also Odysseus and Achilles). Some were less so, or took a little digging to figure out how to put into context briefly. (Getting Idomeneus right made me grin.) And again, making it not always the very obvious thing, but having reasons for it.

Bits I'm proudest of
- The thing with Ilus and the cow.

- The commentary about the horse as an emblem, versus putting your own animal all over everything.

- Also, so much of Priam's life makes a lot more sense if you read him as a Huff desperate to replace the family who were slaughtered and taken away from him.

- The pacing of the Helen information, in contrast to the Andromache information.

- Specifically, I think I managed to get it so that you *can't tell Helen's actual motivations*. She is a snake, it is possible that she saw Paris as a way out of a life she didn't want. It's possible she planned to ditch Paris and go do something else. It's possible that her listening to his stories is entirely sincere and caring. It's possible it's not. I don't think you can tell - I hope you can't tell - from what this fic actually says. I wanted it to be nebulous and uncertain and snake all over.

- And then Andromache's view of the world, having been raised in a palace that wasn't badgers (I think her family must have been mostly eagles or maybe snakes). And knowing there were things that the people around her weren't seeing, things that were huge and mattered, but not knowing how to talk about them and not wanting to risk her own rather tenuous place that depended so much on their good will.

- The connection between Cassandra's native intuitions and the fact that Apollo is so closely associate with snakes, in particular.

- And finally, the essential tragedy, the way that trusting to the virtues leaves things open, makes for bad choices, sometimes, that no matter how practical you are in some ways, there are people who may use it against you. (And yet, that those virtues, continued and carried forward, continue to do great things in the world.)
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