What Can Anthropology Teach Authors?

tourist attraction of a place

Photo by Kong Ruksiam on Pexels.com

Cultural Anthropology is the study of human cultures, beliefs, practices, values, ideas, technologies, economies and other domains of social and cognitive organization, and it has a lot to teach authors. This occurred to me the other day while I was knitting. To understand, you need a little background.

I, along with a friend, manage a group of crafters that have wonderful imaginations. We imagine that we are all students at Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, a la Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Hogwarts creator, J.K Rowling, invented Ilvermorny, but she’s never said much about it, leaving us free to take our version of the school in wonderful new directions. On Ravelry (an enormous crafting-oriented website), there are other “schools” that are magic and crafting related, but we’ve taken our Ilvermorny in a direction that none of them have. We’re injecting a lot of realist education theories and practises into Ilvermorny. The one that concerns us today is the concept of “Majors”.

For those who may not know, a Major is simply a specific subject that students can specialize in while aspiring to a degree. At Ilvermorny, one of the five degrees that our students can pursue is a ‘Cultural Anthropologist Specialty’. The Majors program is a pet project of mine, so I’ve spent a lot of time putting it together. As I worked, anthropology began to look more and more interesting. So naturally, I fell down the internet rabbit hole, as we sometimes do. When I came up for air and coffee, I was struck with the realization that this field was what I could see myself doing in an alternate universe, you know if family dynamics, money, education and all kinds of other barriers weren’t in play. Friends, I honestly got chills.

So what does this have to do with my opening statement? I’m a writer, one stuck in countless edits and rewrites, but a writer all the same. So after I emerged from that rabbit hole, I got to wondering…what does the field have to offer writers? Further, can one study anthropology without the cost? The answer to my first question is easier than to the second. Writers, most especially in speculative fiction, create entire cultures. Those that are more easily visualized are the ones more developed in the writer’s mind, the ones with an economy, religion, social structure, and so on. Instead of relying on twenty or a hundred questions, we writers could learn a lot from anthropological studies already done. In my case, that means that my characters on New Olympus are currently in need of some more culture. Like, a lot more. It’s not really fair to compare a culture only developed within a few hundred years to an indigenous culture thousands of years in the making, but in a side by side comparison, I can see where my New Olympians are lacking. So I begin to get an idea of what I need to study in anthropology to bring my New Olympians more fully to life. To begin to bring them to the level of Tolkien’s ancient races of Elves and Hobbits. And isn’t that what many speculative fiction writers quest for? To create characters that will be remembered a hundred years from now alongside Tolkien’s? Well…it is for me.

 

Next time, what can I learn from comparison? Quite a lot apparently!

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Tim Hortons, Poutine and A Fake Romance

causeandaffection

I’m not normally enthused by ‘fake-romance’ stories, but honestly, what got me to give this one a chance was the cover. It reached out and grabbed me right away. Not only does it depict a city I am very familiar with and have fond memories of, but it is a gorgeous cover!

Through skilled storytelling, you get to know all the characters fairly well, with only a couple of exceptions. These are very minor characters, so it’s easy to understand. There are so many bits of Toronto in here that any reader familiar with the city will recognize them, but not so many that it will put off readers not familiar with the city. (I was especially thrilled to see Tim Hortons and poutine make an appearance!)
The author has given us not only well-drawn characters but two very determined main characters. One is a little more sure of what she wants than the other, but their dynamic is so real, that their determination carries the plot through the slower parts. It’s not all roses and unicorns though. There is pettiness, jealousy, courage, understanding, ambition and greed here. There is an undercurrent of society-induced hesitation about a business leader being a lesbian, but trust me, it works out better than you expect in the end.

I was almost as fascinated by the author’s notes at the end of the book. They added another dimension of enjoyment that was quite unexpected and refreshing.

This is absolutely, definitely, without question going on my ‘READ THIS AGAIN’ pile!

Thanks to Bella and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks also to Sheryl Wright for an absorbing and entertaining novel.

Alone

Alone

There is so much I want to say about this book, I hardly know where to begin.

Before I forget, I want to talk about the cover. It did exactly what it was supposed to do. It grabbed me. Long before I read the blurb, actually. I love places like the one depicted on the cover, so I hoped the story behind it was as captivating as the cover. Kudos to the cover artist!

I’m going to parrot my partner here for just a second…I’ve never read anything like ‘Alone‘.
Ever.
I love psychological fiction, LGBT or straight, it doesn’t matter. This book though…surpasses all of them. Because the writing gives us not just a glimpse, but an extended, intimate look into the psyche of someone who can live over a thousand days completely alone. It takes a very strong kind of person to be able to do that, I think. Whether the voices were a manifestation of Celeste’s Self, or Ego, or just cracks of insanity….it was both fascinating and disturbing to read. What kind of a mother does those sorts of things to a child? (I might never look at my cast iron frying pan in the same way)

How did Olivia…hmm, nope, can’t ask that without giving this other thing away.
How does one live like that for over a thousand days with only themselves for company? I mean, yeah, I need my alone time too (and rarely get it) but a thousand plus days worth? While reading this, I often wondered how I would have coped.

Just before I opened ‘Alone‘ I finished reading a book that had something like thirty characters, many of whom I forgot who they were and who they worked for. So to read a book just after with only two characters (not counting the voices) was a bit of a relief. And those two characters were so relatable, so easy to see, smell and hear that it was remarkable. I understood their motivations, their secrets and their anguish in the last third of the book. And it made perfect sense when those sweatpants showed up again.
(Read the book, you’ll understand)

I started the book just after dinner last night and I’m not ashamed to say that I was hooked by page 3. I read for a couple of hours, slept for a few and then was awake far, far earlier than I needed to be.
I woke up thinking about this book and cannot get it out of my head now. (I understand my partner’s comment now when she said “What do I read now? It’s ruined me”)
I am a fast reader by nature, but I consumed this book. I ate it up like a starving person.
It. Is. That. Good.

I cannot give this anything more than five stars, but damn I wish I could. I would give it 15.

I’ve never read anything else by this author, but I sure will now. You’re crazy if you don’t get your hands on this book. It’s brilliant.

 

My thanks to Bella Books for the ARC that allowed me to write this review. You should pick up a copy when it comes out May 16th.

A Return With An Evil Spirit…Or Is It?

I’ve been away from the blog for a month, but I’ve been busy, (just so you know I didn’t run out of stuff to say.) (Laughs hysterically)

We’ve been renovating our bathroom, and let me tell you what a challenge that’s been! Anyway, when we’re all done, it’ll resemble a cedar-lined sauna.

I’ve also been writing, and hopefully I’ll have something to share with you soon. But in the meantime, check this out…

the-house

I read this book in two sittings, interrupted only by sleep. The first sit-down with this book, I thought it was pretty good and read until I was about 30% through. The next afternoon, I went from that point and read all the rest of it until I finished just before sunset. I mention this because I don’t always read books like that. For that to happen, the writing has to grab me, shake me and not let go.
The House sure did that!
The pacing was pretty good for a debut novel, and believe me when I tell you that’s not always easy.
As a writer myself, I can tell you that writing a story that will leave readers with chills, or even keep them up at night, is tough! I could see the pacing ‘footprints’ here, but that’s not a bad thing. I could see the little clues left like breadcrumbs (Fin’s Uncle is important, pay attention to him) and in retrospect, all of these things were just what the story needed.
I read this as a writer, so while it spooked me in a couple of places, I was left with a great deal of respect for Ms. Darry’s skill and bravery.
As a reader, I’m not too proud to admit it left me with goosebumps.

If you like a little creepy chill with your reading, grab this book from Bold Strokes Books!

Star Trails

NorthStarTrailsImage: © Sérgio Conceição

Short star trails circle the North Star, Polaris, above a gorgeous landscape on Flores Island in this long-exposure image by astrophotographer Sérgio Conceição.

Dark Matter That Won’t Let Go

DarkMatter

 

I’ve had this book for some time now but for some reason, never read it. I started it last night and finished it this afternoon.
Well, holy hell was this good!

Not just good. Mind-bendingly cranial. Awesome. Brilliant. Mind-blowing. All of these and more that I don’t even have the words for. This is the first speculative fiction novel that I had to put down for a minute every other chapter (or so) and stop and absorb what I’d just read. The basic concepts weren’t new to me, although the fish and pond analogy was new. Personally, I like the premise that each time we make a choice, a new world is created, a slightly different world. Who among us has not wondered, “What if I had done X instead of Y?”

This book is one man’s answer, and dilemma, and horror.
This book asks us what makes us unique? What makes us better than the next person in line, or more moral?
I love it when a story makes me think. This one will stay with me for a long time. Heck, it might never leave, just sit in the back of my mind poking me every now and then and say
‘hey, what if…?’
And that will be just fine with me.