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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - 03:11 am:   

I start this thread bleary-eyed, at almost six in the morning, having stayed awake until two dealing with the family tangles surrounding who is (or isn't) coming to the baby's christening, and woken at four to give her a bottle. She's four months old now, and I'm starting to write again, after a year when I could barely put pen to paper. (Yes, I write everything longhand. Yes, it makes my hand very tired.)

And I remember that somewhere, in one of the Ratbastard topics, a discussion developed on writing and parenting, although I don't think I could find it again. So I thought I would start one of my own.

Not having anything insightful to add this morning, I will simply solicit advice. If you have written and raised a child, or are in the process of doing so, tell me: Can it be done? And if so, how? For goodness sake, how?
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Keith B
Posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - 06:42 am:   

Hi, Dora (we met in Boston back in April, when I was staying with Jim Kelly).

What to say? In my experience, it's like most things to do with writing: perseverance is one of the most important factors. That and having a damned supportive partner!

We have four children, born within four years and six days of each other, and the simple truth is that for a long time I managed to keep things ticking over with the writing, but looking back, it looks as if I took a lengthy break... I found short stories easier than novels, and without splitting the load of child-care, writing and earning the regular income with my partner the writing would have slipped even more.

One thing I've found is that as the children grow older, I've really benefited from the discipline: my time management is far better now than it was before. I used to be really precious about the time required for serious writing, but now I know to make the most of every scrap of time available.

The short answer is, yes, it can be done: just look at all the writers who manage to combine parenthood with writing. One friend of mine took the birth of her first child as the opportunity to get away from the day job and write her first novel and she's never looked back... Goodness knows how she managed.
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AliceB
Posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - 06:17 pm:   

Dora, to my surprise, I found writing easier after my second child. I think it's because my learning curve, when it came to parenting, was so steep with the first, I didn't know how to find time. Having found the time with my second child, I realized I really wanted to go from being an amateur to being a professional. This is where a very helpful partner came in handy.

Things get easier--time wise--as children grow older. The first few years are hectic, and there's not much to be done about that aside from begging or paying for child care (nearby grandparents are an unbelievable blessing--which I longed for during those years). Actually, I've always believed couples should be able to marry a wife (male or female) to take care of all those sundry things that eat away at our time (I really, really wanted one--for years. Now I'd settle for a gardener and chauffeur.)

Now that my kids are pre-teens, it's not time I demand so much as a clean desk. (What are all those art projects/homework/legos/computer games/dirty dishes/argh!... doing here?) Of course, that's when I'm not in the car, driving them all over creation...

All the best,
Alice
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AliceB
Posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - 06:33 pm:   

Okay, a maid. I'd settle for one of those...
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, July 01, 2004 - 09:38 pm:   

Hi Keith! Good to hear from you! I hope everything's going well?

"We have four children, born within four years and six days of each other . . ."

Wow. I have to admit that we're finding caring for one a full-time job, which we mostly split, sometimes not so well. We're such wimps. (Kendrick has an actual job and I'm working on a doctorate, so my schedule is far more flexible than his.) I'm trying to stay organized, despite the tiredness.

Alice, I'm glad you mentioned the learning curve. It's definitely a steep one. The first three months were the hardest, I think. She's now, at four months, starting to take nice, long naps, and to not be upset when she wakes up and I'm out of sight.

Though I think it's going to take a while before I feel particularly competent as a parent.

Did you find that having a child changed your writing? I'm suddenly writing stories about children, and children's stories.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, July 01, 2004 - 09:40 pm:   

Yeah, and I could go for a masseuse. Lifting an almost-fifteen-pound infant can, I've found, do things to your shoulders and back!
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AliceCEB
Posted on Friday, July 02, 2004 - 07:40 am:   

"Did you find that having a child changed your writing? I'm suddenly writing stories about children, and children's stories."

Since I write juvenile fiction, my field of writing hasn't changed that much. However, I get the parent concerns much better now. There was a short period where a lot of what I wrote was treacle--but I got over that, and I think being around kids so much has much improved my perspective.

What really changed is what I am willing to watch and read. You kill off a child in a story for effect--I'm outta here. Same goes for torture and abuse. On the other hand, I've rediscovered A.A. Milne's brilliant poetry and have connected with it in a whole new way--and generally have enjoyed rereading much of juvenile literature with my children. (Beware, however: I'm also capable of arguing at length how "Good Night Moon" does indeed have action and a plot, or analyzing the writing and art of "Where the Wild Things Are" ad nauseum--but I suspect that's a personal character flaw.)

Best,
Alice
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Keith B
Posted on Friday, July 02, 2004 - 07:59 am:   

Hi, Dora,

Yes all's well, thanks. Particularly now, because I've just started two weeks away from the day job to concentrate on the next novel. Two weeks of being a real writer! (Although I think that's a myth: being a real writer is fitting it in around all the other things - things you love, like the family stuff, and things you would, to be honest, willingly give up, like the day job...)

"Though I think it's going to take a while before I feel particularly competent as a parent." Ha! That's another myth. I've been waiting to hit that point for the last 13 years! I hope you manage sooner...

"Did you find that having a child changed your writing?" Hard to say, but I don't actually think that it did. There have been two big changes in the last few years: I've started writing children's stories, and I think I'm writing a lot better than I once was. But while it's possible that these are the result of a different perspective, I think they're unrelated: the children's fiction is for teenagers, so I don't think that was triggered by having a house full of babies. And I think I'm writing better simply because I should probably have been writing for teenagers all along.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 10:32 am:   

OTOH, can you think of a more effective way to mark a character as a villain than by having them do something bad to a child?
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AliceB
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 01:44 pm:   

"OTOH, can you think of a more effective way to mark a character as a villain than by having them do something bad to a child?"

I read kid lit all the time--bad things happen to children. Some even die. But unless the death is integral to the character and plot, it's a device, and a cheap one. I find it far more interesting to read or see villainy that doesn't resort to yanking heart strings.

Then again, as I said earlier, my tolerance for killing off babes has gone down the toilet, so I may not be the best person to respond.

Alice

P.S. Although I do confess that I've always been amused by the extras on the old Star Trek that invariably got bumped off by the bad guy. It became a kind of game: "How many minutes does he get to live?"

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Melissa Mead
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 04:50 pm:   

I wasn't thinking so much of killing in this case-your post got my attention because I'm working on a novel that includes a scene involving violence to the 9 year old (albeit adult sized) protagonist.

It was already so unlike me to write a scene like this (I had to stop in the middle, because I was crying.) that I'd been asking myself "Where the heck did THIS come from?" This just got me wondering even more if the scene is gratuitous. I don't think it is, though.
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AliceB
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 05:49 pm:   

There have been other threads about the use of violence in fiction, and what might constitute "gratuitous violence"--you might find them interesting. For me, if the violence comes out of the story, i.e. this is how the characters must behave/this is how the action must proceed to make sense, then it should be there--regardless of the age of the protagonist. I object strongly, however, to bumping people off to show someone's "character trait". It doesn't make sense, unless the character happens to be an executioner. The line for when I'm willing to put up with violence in fiction--particularly regarding children--has become thinner with age, and especially since I've had kids. I guess I got a heavy dose of those she-wolf hormones--you know, the ones that make mothers bare their teeth if anyone even thinks of messing with their pups...
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 07:25 pm:   

In this case, the story revolves around a "giant" who insists on being treated as a human being and a sideshow owner who thinks of him only as something to exploit. The violent scene happens because the boy's realized he's gotten too big to order around, and the owner's desperate to reassert control.

I needed something drastic enough to force the boy to make a life-changing choice.

Overall, the book is anti-violent: The boy knows he's big and strong and EXPECTED to act like a wild animal, and he's constantly fighting the rage that tempts him to do just that.

(He's also got my nephew's wide-eyed, trusting smile, which makes it VERY hard to be mean to him! ;) )
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 07:42 pm:   

"OTOH, can you think of a more effective way to mark a character as a villain than by having them do something bad to a child?"

I wonder if it isn't, in a sense, too effective? It's one of our cultural triggers, things we've been taught about so often that we respond to them automatically, without thinking. So, for example, we know without having to think about it that cruelty to children or animals is bad. Unspoiled natural scenery is good (this is a relatively recent one, historically). Loving your country is good (one that's gotten significantly more controversial in recent history). Some of these, I would uphold with my last breath. But they're things that create a response in us without our having to think about them (until they become controversial, like love of country--but whether cruelty to animals matters was once also a matter of controversy).

So, when you (by which I don't mean a specific you but any writer) show that someone is a villain by having that person behave cruelly to a child, you're piggybacking on the cultural system. Like using a system of shorthand--you don't have to spend time spelling it out. The problem, I think, is that you will have evoked a response without actually working for it, and your more sophisticated readers will realize it. And they'll feel manipulated. I know that when I think a writer is manipulating me, I don't trust that writer. The one example I can think of at the moment is the first Thomas Covenant book, which was famous at the time for having an antihero in high fantasy. It started with the antihero coming to a fantasy land and promptly raping someone. At which point I, though a not-so-sophisticated teenager, thought, "Great, the writer is trying to make a point. He's an antihero." I was so bored that I never finished the book. (I know many people liked the series. I just wasn't one of them.) So, I think it can be a dangerous tactic.

Of course, this has nothing to do with the morality of it. I wanted to approach the issue as one of writing technique.

"Although I do confess that I've always been amused by the extras on the old Star Trek that invariably got bumped off by the bad guy. It became a kind of game: 'How many minutes does he get to live?'"

Like that Star Trek joke: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Ensign Smith beam down to the planet's surface. Who's not coming back? (Go ahead, groan. I know it's an old one . . .)

"I object strongly, however, to bumping people off to show someone's 'character trait.' It doesn't make sense, unless the character happens to be an executioner."

Too funny! :-)
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 07:58 pm:   

Ah-The villain's wearing such a big black hat you can't see his face underneath? Good point.

He's got a face. I'll just have to learn how to show it.

(I didn't like that series either, and I stopped at the same scene. My reaction was along the lines of "Ugh! What are you trying to prove?")
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 07:59 pm:   

"'Though I think it's going to take a while before I feel particularly competent as a parent.' Ha! That's another myth. I've been waiting to hit that point for the last 13 years! I hope you manage sooner..."

Really? I was hoping it would be like going to law school, or taking ballet. It always took me about a year to figure out what I was doing, and then things started to click. But I guess a pas de chat is a pas de chat is a pas de chat, whereas a one-year-old and a five-year-old and a fifteen-year-old are completely different things. (But I do keep thinking it will get easier when she starts communicating? It's such a guessing game sometimes, trying to figure out why she's doing whatever she's doing. Although I'm getting better at guessing.)

"On the other hand, I've rediscovered A.A. Milne's brilliant poetry and have connected with it in a whole new way--and generally have enjoyed rereading much of juvenile literature with my children."

I love A.A. Milne! He's an incredibly funny poet. But he raises another ethical question. Is it fair to write about your child? I think of Chris Milne complaining that people would come into his bookstore and want to talk to him because he "was" Christopher Robin, although of course he wasn't, particularly. Christopher Robin was a character his father had constructed--but was it fair to use his son to do so? (I'm posing this because I've been doing sort of the same thing recently--not that I expect to be another Milne!)

"I guess I got a heavy dose of those she-wolf hormones--you know, the ones that make mothers bare their teeth if anyone even thinks of messing with their pups..."

When my mother came to meet her grandchild, she complained that I hovered around while she held the baby, as though she might drop her. (My mother is a pediatrician . . .)
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Keith B
Posted on Wednesday, July 07, 2004 - 11:32 am:   

"Really? I was hoping it would be like going to law school, or taking ballet. It always took me about a year to figure out what I was doing, and then things started to click."

Yes, I was being a bit sarcastic. I think it's the sort of thing you notice after the event; or rather, that there isn't an event at all, a point when you become confident in your parenting skills, you just grow into it. Probably the time you'll realise you're more comfortable in the role is when friends have a first child: you notice all the nervous first-parent things they do which you long ago stopped bothering about. I'm sure it doesn't take as long as a year: you've probably hit your stride already, you're just not aware of that.

You're right about the communication. Lovely as my children are now (you never know, they might be reading this), my favourite time was when they were between about the ages of 2 and 6 - wonderful!
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Wednesday, July 07, 2004 - 01:23 pm:   

I read once that Frances Burnett's son had a similar problem. People kept expecting him to be Little Lord Fauntleroy, and he got quite bitter about it.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Monday, July 12, 2004 - 01:58 pm:   

Apologies for the several days' absence! At the moment, I take care of the Pipster during the day, while Kendrick is working, and then he takes her when the workday is over. Which, theoretically, gives me some time to work. The problem is that the system is flexible only in my direction (he can't not work), so if anything happens, like his parents coming to visit, or our needing to finally buy a crib (because she's outgrown her cradle), it has to happen on "my" time. I keep trying to catch up, but I always seem to be answering emails sent three months ago, and I think I once had a dissertation to write but can no longer seem to remember what it's about . . .

Does it get easier? (Will I ever feel less tired? Not her fault, she sleeps beautifully through the night, but once I start writing I'm not very good at stopping, and writing until four in the morning just once a week can throw me off for the rest of it.)

"I think it's the sort of thing you notice after the event; or rather, that there isn't an event at all, a point when you become confident in your parenting skills, you just grow into it. Probably the time you'll realise you're more comfortable in the role is when friends have a first child: you notice all the nervous first-parent things they do which you long ago stopped bothering about. I'm sure it doesn't take as long as a year: you've probably hit your stride already, you're just not aware of that."

I'm hoping for a nice steady trot, not as smooth as a canter but less scary :-). I mentioned the learning curve earlier because there are so many things I learned in the first few months that I didn't know, and the books didn't tell me. (Someone, I think my pediatrician, told me about a couple who took their new baby to the emergency room because it spit up . . . I can imagine the doctors howling with laughter. What I've learned just lately: since Pip has begun to turn over, which she does about every five minutes, her range has increased to a full 360 degrees. I'm finding spitup in her eyebrows.) But actually I imagine your first statement is right, that you never really feel like you know it all. And then, I imagine, the second child, that you feel you've now practiced for, turns out to be completely different . . .

"I read once that Frances Burnett's son had a similar problem. People kept expecting him to be Little Lord Fauntleroy, and he got quite bitter about it."

I can imagine that any self-respecting boy would. He's such a Victorian woman's construct of what a boy should be. And there are other boys in Burnett's fiction that he could have been compared with . . . (Dickon and Colin in A Secret Garden come to mind, but I think she wrote many more books that aren't widely available now.)

If this email seems rambling, it was written over more than an hour. (She was asleep when I started. It didn't last.) But four months is a really charming age (writes the woman who's changed outfits several times today--hers, not mine).
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Monday, July 12, 2004 - 02:04 pm:   

Keith:

Are any of yours twins? (They run in my family. The first thing Kendrick said during the ultrasound, with considerable relief in his voice, was "There's only one!") :-)
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AliceB
Posted on Monday, July 12, 2004 - 05:40 pm:   

I agree with Keith--you never feel like you know enough, but you learn confidence, especially that it's okay to make mistakes. My grandmother liked to tell me, as I fretted about eating habits, or potty training, or spitting up (my first was a gusher): "Don't worry she won't be doing that on her wedding day." My mother's more modern approach, when any of us complained about something she had done was: "When you grow up, you can tell it to your psychiatrist." I now use both phrases freely. I guess the key to survival is a healthy dose of humor.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Monday, July 12, 2004 - 06:26 pm:   

I'd rather be compared to Dickon or Colin myself. If I remember correctly, part of the son's problem was that she dressed him in the same type of little suits and had him grow long curls.

I've got a few of her other books. One has a character who's like Colin with a bitter, street-smart attitude. Weird reading experience.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, July 13, 2004 - 05:57 am:   

"My mother's more modern approach, when any of us complained about something she had done was: 'When you grow up, you can tell it to your psychiatrist.'"

Too funny! I think a sense of humor is crucial. Barth Anderson's blog captures it so well--I love the entries about his son.

"I'd rather be compared to Dickon or Colin myself. If I remember correctly, part of the son's problem was that she dressed him in the same type of little suits and had him grow long curls."

Ugh. Although that must have been more usual in the Victorian era. I think toddler clothes didn't reflect gender until into the 20th century? (Everyone started out in dresses and long curls.) Although it sounds like Burnett's son had to keep those curls longer than most?

"I've got a few of her other books. One has a character who's like Colin with a bitter, street-smart attitude. Weird reading experience."

Do you remember which book, Melissa? I have The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and an obscure one called The Lost Prince. The back-of-the-book blurb reads:

"For years Marco and his father have moved secretly from capital to capital, dedicating their lives to one cause: saving the kingdom of Samavia from destruction. They live in hope that one day the Lost Prince will come home to rule his people. Now, at last, a change is coming, and Marco is to cross Europe with his friend The Rat, disguised as beggar boys, to bear the great message that the salvation of Samavia is at hand!"

Quite a good book, although it's obvious from close to the beginning who the Lost Prince must be. And subscribing to the belief that social class is a sort of natural attribute, an essential part of character, which is also important to her other books. (I thought, once, of writing a fantasy in which the heroine was a kitchenmaid, with absolutely no magical powers and no grand destiny--just a sense of humor.)

Has anyone read The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren? It's my favorite children's book in the world.

(I reread The Book of Three recently, and was curiously disappointed. It had never been one of my favorites, but so many other people liked Lloyd Alexander that I thought I should read it again. But it seemed flat somehow . . .)
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Tuesday, July 13, 2004 - 01:37 pm:   

The dresses lasted until about age 4 or so for most boys. (Funny you should ask that just when I'd been looking up 19th Century boy's clothing! ;)) I think it did last longer for FHB's son.

I think it was either Robin or That Lass O' Lowrie's, but it was a while ago.

I have The Lost Prince, but it bugged me that the Rat's disability disappeared, for all practical purposes, whenever it might've become an actual handicap.
I suppose Colin's miracle cure should bug me too, but his is more plausible.

I like that kitchenmaid story idea.

FHB's real life was pretty interesting too. She was considered shockingly independent for a woman of her day.
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Celia
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 10:35 pm:   

Dresses for boys, at least babies, also lasted into the 20th century--we have photos of my grandfather, born 1911, in a dress. (we also have photos of my brother in a dress, but that was voluntary). I don't know how long they kept boys in the dresses though at the time, as I think we just have a few pictures of him, and he's very young in them all.
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AliceB
Posted on Thursday, July 15, 2004 - 07:39 am:   

Curls for boys also lasted into the 20th century--at least into the 1920s in parts of Europe. We have a series of photos of one of my uncles at age 3 or 4 with the most beautiful blond curls which my grandmother refused to cut. It didn't seem to have caused him any damage.

Alice
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, July 15, 2004 - 02:14 pm:   

We have a picture of my grandpa (born 1907 and in better shape than I am ;)) in a dress. My mom says it might've been a baptismal gown as opposed to regular clothes, though.
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Keith B
Posted on Saturday, July 17, 2004 - 11:38 am:   

"Are any of yours twins? (They run in my family. The first thing Kendrick said during the ultrasound, with considerable relief in his voice, was "There's only one!")"

Yes, numbers three and four, Ed and Daisy, were - and still are - twins. You might be surprised how many people asked us if they were identical, even when they knew one was a boy and one a girl...

And yes, each of the four have been different, and similar, in so many ways that you just can't generalise (other than about not being able to generalise)!

They're fun though: Molly's 11 tomorrow - party, birthday tea, sleepover. She's been planning it for months...
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, July 17, 2004 - 08:00 pm:   

"They're fun though: Molly's 11 tomorrow - party, birthday tea, sleepover. She's been planning it for months..."

Congratulations to Molly! 11 is a very important year. It was the year I discovered Tolkien. I think at 11 I would have loved a "birthday tea," but this is the wrong country . . . It would turn into something like a "birthday afternoon snack," not at all the same thing.

Tomorrow is Ophelia's christening, and after the logistical difficulties of travelling to another state with a four-month-old (we were searched at the airport, I suppose on the assumption that four-month-olds are a danger to national security, which I will not dispute, and our luggage decided to take a later plane), I'm afraid I'll fall sleep in the middle of it all. Dropping baby in a puddle of lace on the floor . . . (Do any christenings come right in fairy tales? I'm apprehensive.)

"You might be surprised how many people asked us if they were identical, even when they knew one was a boy and one a girl..."

And we complain about the outsourcing of technical positions. I would have been tempted to answer, "Oh yes. Don't they look alike?"
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - 08:15 pm:   

Saw a picture of my grandfather this weekend in a christening gown. Acres of white, with embroidery and lace. By the time he's about four, though, he's in a sailor suit or something else appropriately (by the standards of the time period) masculine.

"I think it was either Robin or That Lass O' Lowrie's, but it was a while ago."

Haven't heard of either, which puts me to shame. I'll have to look them up!

"I have The Lost Prince, but it bugged me that the Rat's disability disappeared, for all practical purposes, whenever it might've become an actual handicap.
I suppose Colin's miracle cure should bug me too, but his is more plausible."

I think she hints that Colin's is essentially psychological. He was a weak child, and was expected to be a weak adult, and then neglect did the rest. Everyone told him that he was ill, and no one paid any attention to him apart from his illness. Interesting, I never thought of the book as a commentary on parenting, but that's essentially what it is. Both Mary's parents and Colin's father neglect their children. The contrast is with Dickon's mother, who takes care of--how many children?--successfully, even on little money. The message is that (physically and psychologically) healthy children are a result of attentive parenting.

Interesting how that ignores social issues. I was thinking, recently, of how hard-headedly realistic fairy tales are. Beauty's family loses all its money, so their friends drop them. Hansel and Gretel's family is too poor to feed them, so their stepmother and father leave them in the woods. By contrast, in the Victorian novel poverty is usually an elevating experience, and the honest poor, like Dickon's family, are marvels of moral behavior. Strange, that the fairy tales should treat poverty with (I think) greater realism.

Hmmm. I'll have to read The Lost Prince again, since I don't remember The Rat's disability or how it was treated. Yet another mark of moral superiority in Victorian literature, though--at least literature for children.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - 02:15 pm:   

I only found out about them because I went on a FHB spree on e-Bay. I's never heard of ANY of her adult books before that, except The Shuttle.

Exactly-"miracle cures" are OK in that case. ;)

I haven't read The Lost Prince in years, but I THINK the Rat starts out handpedaling a wheeled board, but once he gets hold of a pair of crutches-Bingo! A little practice and he can hike for miles. I may be wrong-I should go back and check.

The Secret Garden especially is all about parenting, but a lot of her other books are somilar-especially when it comes to flighty, childlike mothers. I think that's semi-autobiographical.

Yes-the Victorians had this attitude that being an object of charity was almost a divine purpose, because it gave the well-to-do a chance to practice Charity as a virtue.

Oooo, the Victorian attitude toward disability. My pet peeve. ;) If you put people who are "different" up on a pedestal, you don't have to treat them like human beings.
(I'm fascinated with the era, but I'm really glad I don't live in it! ;))

Ok, now you've got me wondering-how many Sowerby (sp?) children were there? 10 comes to mind...
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - 06:07 pm:   

BTW, have you heard the soundtrack to the musical of The Secret Garden? This thread got me listening to it again.

It takes some major liberties with the story, but I'll forgive a lot of a CD with Mandy Patinkin+Robert Westenburg on it. ;)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:08 pm:   

"The Secret Garden especially is all about parenting, but a lot of her other books are somilar-especially when it comes to flighty, childlike mothers. I think that's semi-autobiographical."

Interesting! Sounds like you know a lot more about her autobiography than I do . . .

"Ok, now you've got me wondering-how many Sowerby (sp?) children were there? 10 comes to mind..."

"Eh! you should see 'em all," she said. "There's twelve of us an' my father only gets sixteen shillings a week. I can tell you my mother's put to it to get porridge for 'em all." That's Martha, but I can't find the spelling of the last name. Ah, there it is: Sowerby, just as you spelled it. Poor Mrs. Sowerby. Thank goodness she's a literary character. Although my husband's maternal grandfather was one of nine (from the mountains of Virginia).

"BTW, have you heard the soundtrack to the musical of The Secret Garden? This thread got me listening to it again."

No! But I love Mandy Patinkin. Did he play Mr. Craven? Also, have you seen the movie version by Agnieszka Holland? I thought it was fabulous. It and The Secret of Roan Inish are my favorite movies for children.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2004 - 01:04 pm:   

Huh! I answered this post a few days ago, but it looks like my post didn't show up. Anyhow-I found a FHB treasure chest!
http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/subjects/Young-Readers.html
I haven't read most of these. (And if you want to see another classic example of that Victorian attitude, check out The Blind Lark, by Louisa May Alcott (Whose writing I like except for that, BTW.)

12-Aha! Thank you. I knew it was a lot (in modern terms, anyway.)

Yep, Mandy Patinkin played Archibald. He's got a great voice. He's nice, too. I met him once, and he kissed me. :blush:
Robert Westenburg played Dr Craven, who they messed with. I guess they figured the play needed a villain and a love triangle. He sings so well, though, I had to forgive him. ;)

I like The Secret of Roan Inish too. Got me reading about selkies.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, July 30, 2004 - 09:01 pm:   

Thanks for the link! And there's a new biography of Burnett out, which I read about in the Times. I won't provide a link, since I never understand how the Times moves stories around online, and it's likely not to work in a few days. But the review mentioned many of the things you did. (Evidently the author had access to family papers that no one else has seen, but none of the revelations sounded particularly new.)

I read something by Alcott, a gothic sort of thing--aha, A Long Fatal Love Chase (I just looked at a bibliography). Have to admit that I thought it was dreadful. And there's something about her fairy tales that just doesn't ring true to me. But I love her children's novels, even the less popular ones like Under the Lilacs. It's sort of like loving the Oz books. Even the ones that aren't as successful, as novels, are interesting to examine in a scholarly way, to see how the author thought and what the era expected, particularly of a portrayal of children. (The differences, for example, between Rose of Eight Cousins and characters like Dorothy, Trot, and Betsy Bobbin (have I got her name right? I don't want to go searching through the books).

"Yep, Mandy Patinkin played Archibald. He's got a great voice. He's nice, too. I met him once, and he kissed me. :blush:"

You've been kissed by Inigo!
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, July 30, 2004 - 09:03 pm:   

Add to that: !!!!!!!

(I find, on reflection, that my original exclamation mark does not reflect the amount of exclamation involved.)
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Saturday, July 31, 2004 - 03:34 am:   

Ooo, I'll have to look that up! Thanks!

I've read all of Louisa May Alcott's kid's books, and some of the adult ones like "Work" and "Hospital Sketches," but never her thrillers. Sounds like I'm not missing much? It's funny; I've read that she got frustrated with being expected to write children's books, and that her heart was in the thrillers, but she had to do it under a pseudonym, because ladies didn't write stch things.

I still like the OZ books, although I can't quite lose myself in them the way I did when I was a kid-especially I found out that he swore never to write a really wicked villain after the Witch of the West, because "there must be nothing to frighten the little ones." (Speaking of "Wicked," BTW, there's another book-musical with great music in it.)
Yep, I think you got the names right.

BTW, I don't normally obsessively research every author I read-just the 1800s kidlit ones. ;)

Yep, Inigo Montoya kissed me. I was prepared to die. He kisses nice, too. ;)

Not on the mouth, of course! He was doing a show at Proctors in Schenectady, and collecting for charity afterwards. I gave a donation, and thanked him for such a wonderful time, and he said "No; thank you for coming," and kissed me on the cheek.

I think I said something like "Gah? Eep?" and went around with this dippy expression for the next couple of days.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 08:48 am:   

Arg! I wrote a nice long message about what ladies could and couldn't do in the 19th century, and it disappeared during the website update. I don't remember what I wrote exactly. Something like, I wonder about Alcott not acknowledging her thrillers because they weren't ladylike. We have ideas of what 19th century ladies did and didn't do that don't always reflect the reality of the times. (Burnett, for example, evidently left her husband for her lover, whom she eventually married.) I think it's because the historians do their research in "conduct books," essentially etiquette manuals. But that gives us as accurate a picture of the times as, say, a 30th century researcher looking back at the 20th century by watching episodes of TV sitcoms.

Writing was one of the few professions actually open to ladies, because it involved no manual labor but also didn't require a university education. And women writers were known for producing gothic novels. I think I read somewhere that most of the gothic novels (now long forgotten!) were in fact written by women, and that they were criticized not on the basis of content but because they were taking writing jobs away from men! A Long Fatal Love Chase is pretty tepid gothic, though I'm not familiar with her other thrillers.

So, I wonder. My admittedly uneducated guess, because I haven't studied Alcott, is that she might have been more influenced by her family's attitude toward her writing than by society's? But I really don't know.

I'm wondering, now, whether there was any scandal surrounding the publication of a novel like Lady Audley's Secret (Lady Audley is a bigamist and, worse, a Bad Mother). I'm guessing that it would have been more scandalous for a woman to write a philosophical tract than a thriller.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 01:50 pm:   

And how many 19th century women read those ettiquette books, much less followed them? Only the ones with a lot of spare time, I'll bet.
(I'll admit, I've read several for research. Even if most ladies didn't follow the directions for a Proper Dinner Party, it's a way to learn what was in the kitchen.)

About your guess, I suspect that you're right. I read that she wasn't happy with Work because she showed it to her family, tried to accomodate everyone's advice, and ended up feeling like she'd torn her work to bits.

Funny, if that's true about philosophical tracts, since women were supposed to be more "morally refined."
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 03:27 pm:   

"Funny, if that's true about philosophical tracts, since women were supposed to be more 'morally refined.'"

Ironic, isn't it? But they were supposed to embody morality, not write about it. Their morality was natural. Men, being naturally more sinful, had to think about being moral! Though I suspect the issue would have been that a woman could not be sufficiently educated (in the Greek and Latin classics) to take on serious philosophical issues.

I've always liked the beginning of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's first Sonnet from the Portuguese, which goes,

I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue . . .

Which is both a lovely sentiment and code for "I can read classical Greek, thank you." In other words, EBB is establishing her educational credentials for being considered a serious poet.

(Her poem "A Musical Instrument" is one of my favorites, and intensely creepy. Recommended for poets!)
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 06:50 pm:   

I'll be darned-my reply post got lost again! And I forgot what it said, too.

I should read more poetry. Trouble is, I'm already behind in my prose. I guess that's the downside of writing-it uses up reading time.
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Iain Rowan
Posted on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 02:14 pm:   

Coming in rather late with this, sorry, but I've only just stumbled on this discussion. I wasn't writing when my first child was born, but was by the time the second arrived. Which, I think, made it easier on me, because the whole being a parent experience was so much easier second time round - much more relaxed, much less anxious.

Even so, it wasn't easy because of the pressure that it puts on your ability to manage time and fit thirty-six hours worth of things into twenty-four, and think about anything else at times other than I'm so tired and why won't this carpet stop smelling of sick.

Things that worked for me:

A little often is better than a lot now and again. If I just kept writing on a fairly regular basis without trying to break any records for output, I felt better than if I set myself targets I could never achieve.

It gets easier. This was a mantra that kept us going for a few years, and not just in the writing. Everything gets easier. Or maybe it just stays difficult, but in different ways. Whatever, life with a six year old and a two year old is a lot easier than life with a four year old and a four month old. And I suspect it will be better still in a year or two.

Don't beat myself up. Sometimes things happen. Children are ill. Partner needs a break. Writing can't get done. Sod it. Life goes on, and I'll make time tomorrow, or next week.

Hmmm. Why am I writing lots of stories in which the protagonist is possessed by a bone-crushing, mind-numbing weariness? Stop it now.

And there was inspiration too, to keep going. Blink, and the children have grown up a little bit more. It never ceases to amaze me how fast they change, how quickly the last six years have gone. And I thought to myself: it's not just them, my life is moving on at the same rate, and there just isn't the time to waste. I really didn't want to be sitting with my children now grown up and have one of them say hey dad, didn't you want to write once...

And the other inspiration: a constant joy has been how magical their world is. Everything is full of wonder to them both, nothing is prosaic, and the tiniest of things is a miracle. Stories are *alive*. Characters are *real*. The world is full of magic. And seeing that, makes me want to write stories which capture some of that, even if it's just for a moment.

Of course, wanting to do that and actually doing that are two things that don't necessarily follow on from one another, but it's nice to have an ambition.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 12:13 am:   

Thanks, Iain!

Three in the morning, and your post makes me feel so much better. The Pipster actually cried tonight, for three hours more or less (mostly more) straight. Lest other parents wonder why I remark, she really never cries for more than about five minutes. As soon as we figure out what's bothering her and fix it, she's fine. But not tonight. So I called the doctor available for emergencies, who probably thought I had a lot to learn about babies (but really, she almost never cries), and we gave her baby Tylenol (grape-flavored) and put her to bed. And she finally slept.

And then I started balancing the checkbook, postponed from Sunday because of a wedding at which she was handed around by many people. So maybe she caught something? Or maybe staying up late on Sunday night threw off her sleep schedule? I wonder if all new parents are insanely compulsive and protective? Are we all the bane of our pediatrician's existence? (Although he was really very nice.)

It must be easier the second time around.

"And there was inspiration too, to keep going. Blink, and the children have grown up a little bit more. It never ceases to amaze me how fast they change, how quickly the last six years have gone. And I thought to myself: it's not just them, my life is moving on at the same rate, and there just isn't the time to waste."

I feel that too. It's a frightening feeling, sometimes.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, December 05, 2004 - 08:08 am:   

Status report:

Tired. Tired tired tired.

Baby is everywhere and into everything. Husband is travelling for the third time in two months. Or the fourth? (I hope he enjoys his conference rooms . . .)

Writing while taking care of a baby is IMPOSSIBLE. (Even typing while taking care of a baby is almost impossible. Baby is sitting on my lap, trying to type and changing the settings.)

I do appreciate all the advice and encouragement. But this morning I once again fell asleep on the floor.

(And now she's going for the electrical cords . . .)
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Sunday, December 05, 2004 - 03:50 pm:   

Baby is sitting on my lap, trying to type and changing the settings.

This sentence makes it sound like you have a really pushy collaborator. Baby probably wants to change the setting to epic fantasy so it can type names like Alsfdj;liu and Spfekhdghj and still have them make sense :-)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 11:21 am:   

The fire had burned low.

"Well," said Alsfdj Liu, "Should we try to defeat the Dark Lord tomorrow?"

Spfekhdghj (Spfek to his friends) shook his head so that his scales glittered in the firelight. "I don't know, Alsfdj. I've got a lot of Christmas shopping to do. I got a sweater for Tghdru, but honestly, I can't think of what to get you. Ear warmers? Those pointy elf-ears have to get extra cold."

Alsfdj Liu sighed. "You know, it's so hard saving the world around the holidays. There's just no time."
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 02:24 pm:   

LOL! I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything when I read that.
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Amy Sisson
Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 11:53 am:   

I was just browsing through and caught your post above that said "It must be easier the second time around" (in ref to a second child, I assume).

I suppose now is NOT the time to mention the number of parents who have said to me, "If we'd had the second one first, we never would have had another. The first was so easy compared to the second..."

Hang in there!
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 04:54 pm:   

Thanks, Amy! Actually, I later spoke to an editor who told me that two children are more than twice as much work. Which makes sense, since you've got each child individually and then their interactions to deal with. I distinctly remember teaching my brother how to dial 911, and my mother having to come to the phone to tell the police officer that there was nothing wrong, the children had just dialed emergency for fun. And a writer I know, who recently had a second child, told me that the second one takes up all the free time that you didn't know you had with the first.

I think the ideal would be to have a second child first, right off the bat. (Yes, I write fantasy . . .) :-)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 10:10 pm:   

What no one told me, and any prospective parent ought to know: there will come a day when your child will throw up four times, quite possibly although not necessarily on you.

It's funny that they never tell you these things.

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