Category Archives: European Adventures

Thoughts on Pratchett – [Part 1]

Earlier this year, when I was in Germany on tour, Terry Pratchett died.

It didn’t come as a complete shock. We’ve known for ages that he was sick. We’ve had years to brace for the inevitable impact.

Even so, it hit me surprisingly hard. I hadn’t expected that.

Odds are, if you know much anything about me, you know I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for years. If you follow me on goodreads you’ve seen me write reviews so gushy that they border on the inarticulate.

Terry Pratchett – Facing Extinction

I didn’t know him. Honestly, I didn’t even know too much about him. I saw him speak once at a convention in Madison, and got to meet him very briefly. I wrote about it on the blog.

The fact remains that his work (and a few of the things I knew about him) had a huge impact on me.

So… yeah. It hit me kinda hard.

If you’re in your 20’s and 30’s and reading this blog on the interweb, it may be hard for you to understand that our opinions about authors used to come almost entirely from reading their books. Even after the internet crawled gasping onto the devonian shore of the 1990’s things like social media and author blogs simply didn’t exist in any meaningful way.

As a result, one of my first exposures to Terry Pratchett as a person was in an interview in the Onion back in 1995. Just to give you an idea of the time frame. That was back when you could pick up a copy of The Onion printed on paper. What’s more, it available *only* on paper, and even then, you could only get it in my home town of Madison, WI.

What Pratchett said in that interview had a big effect on me, as I’d been working on my own novel for a couple years at that point.

It took some digging (as I said, this was published pre-internet) but here’s the interview:

O: What’s with the big-ass hat?

Pratchett: Ah… That’s the hat I wear. I don’t know, it… It… That hat, or types like it, I’ve worn for years and years. Because I bought one, and I liked it. And then people started taking photographs of me in it, and now, certainly in the UK, it’s almost a case of if I don’t turn up in my hat people don’t know who I am. So maybe I could just send this hat to signings. I just like hats. I like Australian book tours, because Australians are really, I mean that is the big hat country, Australia.

O: You’re quite a writer. You’ve a gift for language, you’re a deft hand at plotting, and your books seem to have an enormous amount of attention to detail put into them. You’re so good you could write anything. Why write fantasy?

Pratchett: I had a decent lunch, and I’m feeling quite amiable. That’s why you’re still alive. I think you’d have to explain to me why you’ve asked that question.

O: It’s a rather ghettoized genre.

P: This is true. I cannot speak for the US, where I merely sort of sell okay. But in the UK I think every book— I think I’ve done twenty in the series— since the fourth book, every one has been one the top ten national bestsellers, either as hardcover or paperback, and quite often as both. Twelve or thirteen have been number one. I’ve done six juveniles, all of those have nevertheless crossed over to the adult bestseller list. On one occasion I had the adult best seller, the paperback best-seller in a different title, and a third book on the juvenile bestseller list. Now tell me again that this is a ghettoized genre.

O: It’s certainly regarded as less than serious fiction.

P:  (Sighs) Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy. Guys sitting around the campfire— Was it you who wrote the review? I thought I recognized it— Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. Back in the middle ages, people wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing in Death as a character who would have a role to play in the story. Echoes of this can be seen in Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, which hark back to a much earlier type of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature, and by the standard we would apply now— a big muscular guys with swords and certain godlike connections— That’s fantasy. The national literature of Finland, the Kalevala. Beowulf in England. I cannot pronounce Bahaghvad-Gita but the Indian one, you know what I mean. The national literature, the one that underpins everything else, is by the standards that we apply now, a work of fantasy.

Now I don’t know what you’d consider the national literature of America, but if the words Moby Dick are inching their way towards this conversation, whatever else it was, it was also a work of fantasy. Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different icongraphy, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature. You have to fairly dense to think that Gulliver’s Travels is only a story about a guy having a real fun time among big people and little people and horses and stuff like that. What the book was about was something else. Fantasy can carry quite a serious burden, and so can humor. So what you’re saying is, strip away the trolls and the dwarves and things and put everyone into modern dress, get them to agonize a bit, mention Virginia Woolf a few times, and there! Hey! I’ve got a serious novel. But you don’t actually have to do that.

(Pauses) That was a bloody good answer, though I say it myself.

I’m looking forward to buying myself a cheese hat.

O: Back to the hat.

P: Let’s go back to the hat… Everybody needs an edge, and if the hat gives you an edge, why not wear a hat? When you get started writing, you’re one of the crowd. If the hat helps, I’ll wear a hat— I’ll wear two hats! In fact, I’m definitely going to buy a cheese hat before I leave here. We’ve never heard of them in the UK, and I can see it as being the latest thing in fashion.

Okay, you can turn the tape back off again.

I actually remember where I was when I read that. Right now, twenty years later, I remember where I was sitting as I held the paper and read it.

I’m not going to be cliche and say it changed my life.

You know what? I am. I’m going to say it. It changed my life.

Remember what year this was. It was 1995. This was before Harry Potter was written. Before Neil Gaiman wrote Neverwhere.

Pixar has just released its first movie. There was no Matrix. No Sixth Sense. No Lord of The Rings movies. Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy were a decade away.

There was no Game of Thrones on HBO. Hell, there wasn’t even Legend of the Seeker. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was 2 years away, and even more years from being recognized as brilliant television, rather than silly fluff with vampires.

I had been writing my fantasy novel for about two years, and while I loved fantasy, I knew deep down, it was something I should feel ashamed of. Fantasy novels were the books I read as a kid, and people picked on me for it. There were no classes on the subject at the University. I knew deep down in my bones that no matter how much I happened to love fantasy, it was all silly bullshit.

Even these days, people look down on fantasy. They think of it as kid stuff. They dismiss it as worthless. They say not real literature. People say that *NOW* despite the fact that Game of Thrones and The Hobbit and Avengers and Harry Potter are bigger than The Beatles.

That’s NOW. If you weren’t around back then, you really can’t begin to understand how much worse it was. When I told people I was working on a fantasy novel, a lot of people wouldn’t even really know what I was talking about.

I would say, “I’m writing a fantasy novel” and people would look at me with earnest confusion and concern in their eyes, and they would say, “Why?”

Then I read that article, and it filled me with hope. With pride.

*     *     *

I’ve got more to say on this, but this blog is already really long. And I’m leaving for PAX in the morning, so I’ll save the rest for next week

Be good to each other everyone,

pat

Also posted in emo bullshit, Fantasy, Stories about stories., the longest fucking blog ever, the man behind the curtain, travel abroad | By Pat78 Responses

A Happy Ending…

Those of you who follow my Facebook page might have caught wind of a little adventure I had out at San Diego ComicCon this year.

Specifically, you might have read this post I made on Saturday night.

*     *     *

Okay. Everybody, I need your help.

I’m at ComicCon. I met a lovely Swedish fan who said that she’d flown out to the con mostly to see me.

I said, Wow. Really?

She said, Yes Really.

So I got her phone number, and told her that when I had a spare couple hours I’d call her so we could grab coffee or something. My thought is, you come from Sweden to see me, I can spare time for coffee.

But when I called her an hour ago, someone else answered the phone. She’d left her phone on a bus, and a stranger had found it.

So I tracked that person down and got the phone.

So here’s the deal. Swedish fan. I have your phone. I was an idiot, and I didn’t write down your name, so I can’t find you on facebook.

You should call your phone, and we’ll arrange to get it back to you. Plus maybe grab coffee.

Or you should message me here on facebook, and we’ll get in contact that way.

Everyone else, could you Like this and share this around so she has a decent chance of seeing it?

Or, if you know who this is, can you send her a message to let her know what’s up?

Thanks everyone,

pat

*     *     *

I felt really bad for her, how much must it suck to be in a foreign country and lose your phone?

This was all I could think to do. Not much of a master plan, but it’s the only thing I could think to do.

I would have looked though her phone for a number or some information I could use to contact her. But it locked itself down and required a password. At least, I *think* that’s what it was asking for. It was in Swedish, after all.

On top of that, I felt jerky that I couldn’t remember her name. True, I’d signed about a hundred books before we swapped numbers, but I still felt jerky about it. That at least would have given me a place to start trying to track her down.

Thankfully, my lovely readers backed my play on facebook, liking and sharing my message-in-a-bottle post to a ridiculous degree. Thousands of folk helped out. This provides further proof for my “People are inherently good” theory.

And you know what? It worked. When I got back to my hotel room late that night, I had a message:

Hi Pat, this is your Swedish fan with the lost phone!

Have to admit its a bit surreal though, first meeting you, my absolute favorite author and getting your phone number plus possibility of a having a coffee at my first ever stay in America. That was really more than my little fan heart could take. Then the feeling of hitting rock bottom when I lost the phone with said number a day later. Now finding your message on the fb, it goes way beyond surreal and into the realms of things that just don’t happen in real life!

Her name, it turned out, was Jenny. I remember it now.

We messaged back and forth, set up a time and place, and the next day I got together with Jenny and her traveling companions.

We got our coffee and had a lovely conversation about many things, including how we Americans have serious problems with women, sex, and women’s sexuality. This is a favorite topic of mine, and it was nice to discuss it with folks who aren’t part of American culture. It was a good time.

Jenny also gave me a picture she’d drawn of Kvothe. I’d post it up here, but I don’t have access to it on this computer. I’ll scan it in and post it up later.

So there you go. Those of you who were curious have the end of the story. And it’s a happy ending to boot.

We all need a happy ending every now and then….

pat

Also posted in cool news, social networking, Tales from the Con | By Pat63 Responses

Adventures Abroad: Rome

Previous Adventures Abroad post here.

We landed in Rome after 17 hours of traveling and slowly made our way to the baggage claim.

While I’ve been excited about this trip, it’s excitement mingled with a healthy dollop of terror. I find the thought of being in a foreign country vaguely frightening. Not because of culture shock, or pickpockets, or strange food. It’s because of the language issue.

There are only about three things that I’m really good at, and communicating is one of them. Well, actually that’s not true, it’s not communicating in general, it’s use of the English language. In English I’m clever and articulate. I’m funny. I’m persuasive.

If I have a superpower, it’s probably my use of words. But now, suddenly I’m visiting a place where there is no yellow sun. I’m going to be powerless, and the thought is troubling to me.

I’m not entirely monolingual. I studied German for four years in high school, but that was a long time ago. I remember phrases like, “At least the sink still works” and “I have too many monkeys playing in my attic.”

It would be hard for me to work these into a conversation even if I were going to Germany, which I am not.

Sarah has prepared herself. She listened to language tapes and bought a phrase book. She’s proactive

She says, “Are you ready? Here’s how you say, ‘I don’t speak Italian.‘”

“That’s a pointless phrase,” I say. “Within two seconds of interacting with anyone, it’s going to be blindingly obvious that I don’t speak Italian. Why should I tell someone, in their own language, that I don’t speak their language?”

Sarah gives me a look. She has many looks. You would too, if you had to deal with me on a regular basis.

“All I’m saying,” I continue. “Is that if I’m going to learn a phrase, it should be something that communicates information that someone can’t easily infer on their own. I don’t need to learn how to say, ‘I have a beard.’ They can see that. I should learn how to say, ‘I have been stabbed in the guts, and I fear my pericardium is punctured. Would you please summon an ambulance?’ Or ‘Where is the nearest methadone clinic?’ Those might be useful.”

How about ‘where’s the bathroom?‘” she asks.

“I can mime that,” I say. “How do you say ‘hookers’ in Italian?”

That’s pretty much where my instruction in Italian stopped.

So here I am, in Rome, walking to baggage claim, and utterly at sea.

Now normally this would be the part of the story where there’s a dramatic reversal of expectation. I’m expecting things to be scary, but it’s not nearly as bad as I’d feared.

Except it’s just as bad as I’d feared. In fact, it’s worse. After grabbing our bags, I go to the information booth to ask where I can change some currency. The woman there can’t understand me, so she calls over someone else and I ask him. He points me in a direction and I wander off, feeling like a complete idiot. Not an auspicious beginning to the trip.

Another problem was that I’d been focusing on how hard it would be for me to get my point across to others. What I hadn’t realized is that with no working knowledge of the language, I was effectively deaf. I can’t understand a word being said by anyone around me.

This wasn’t really a surprise, of course. But I was startled at how self-conscious it made me. As I walk to the baggage carousel, I pass a group of women who burst into laughter, and I become convinced that they are making fun of my shoes. I pretend that I don’t notice, that I don’t care. But of course I do.

I’ve been in another country for 20 minutes and I feel nervous and awkward. I’m confused and self-conscious. I knew there was a time difference between the US and Europe, but I didn’t know it was big enough to make me feel like I’m in high school again….

Also posted in BJ Hiorns Art | By Pat74 Responses

Adventures abroad: Prologue

Before I start talking about my trip to Europe, I should mention that in many ways I am embarrassingly American. I’m monolingual. I’m fat. And in many ways, I’m terribly ignorant of the shape of the world. For example, until a couple years ago, I didn’t know where Belgium was. True story.

This means that about 95% of my knowledge about Italy comes from two sources. 1) The movie Hudson Hawk. 2) The episode of Angel where they go to Rome to face down the Immortal.

This is important because Rome was going to be our first stop on our European walkabout.

Sarah was good about preparing herself for the trip. She did research. She got phrase books. She looked at maps. I was too busy getting the first draft of the book ready to do much preparation. I didn’t study any languages. I didn’t look at any tourist guides. I know that somewhere in Rome there’s old stuff and a cool fountain. I know that somewhere in England there’s Stonehenge. Somewhere in Amsterdam there are whores. Other than that, I’m flying blind….

And I do mean flying. Our flight goes from Central Wisconsin –> Detroit –> Amsterdam –> Rome. I’ve done a lot of flying in the last couple years, but this is different by an order of magnitude. Pretty much a whole waking day spent in the air.

Interesting fact: When you get pregnant, your body makes a bunch of extra blood. Pints and pints. Sarah told me this. She’s a font of bizarre information about pregnancy. “Today Oot is growing a pancreas,” she’ll say. “Now he has gills like a fish.

I’m fairly certain that she makes a lot of it up. But still, I look attentive whenever she gives me these facts. Partly because I prefer things that are interesting to things that are true, but also because Sarah will cry at the drop of a hat under normal circumstances. Pregnancy has magnified this amusing quirk in a exponential way.

I actually took a video of her crying on the trip. Yes really. These things need to be recorded for the sake of science. She cries because she’s upset, then I cheer her up and she cries because she’s happy. Then she cries because she loves me. Then she cries because she’s crying.

I probably shouldn’t post that video without asking her, but here’s a picture, just add a little verisimilitude.

Witness my mad comforting skills. She was weeping just minutes before this picture. After all these years with Sarah, I can stop someone’s crying jag with two hugs and less than 50 words. You’ll be tear-free in 60 seconds or your money back.

By the way, Oot is the baby’s in-utero name. I figured we couldn’t just call it “it” until it was born, so I gave him a temporary name. It’s pronounced like “boot” without the “b.” Just so we’re clear.

Anyway, the point is that pregnant women have a lot of extra blood. So Sarah says. I can’t remember her saying if it happens to all women, or just her. For all I know it might be something Sarah decided to do on her own.

Either way, apparently all this extra blood makes it a bad idea for her to sit still for long periods of time. There’s a risk of blood clots. To prevent this, she has special stockings to wear and instructions to get up and walk around regularly.

Luckily, the guy next to me is willing to switch seats so Sarah can sit next to me. It’s easy to forget if you watch too much news, but the vast majority of people in the world are kind and generous.

The down side is that Sarah’s fear of blood clots combined with her favorite hobby, peeing, means that she wants to get up every three and a half minutes. This means that I, sitting in the isle seat, have to get up so often you’d think I was doing jumping jacks.

Why didn’t I just give her the isle seat, you ask? Well… mostly because I like the isle seat. And jumping jacks, for that matter.

Eventually we made it to Amsterdam. And while Sarah and I were walking to the new gate so we could catch our connecting flight to Rome, I hear two people talking behind us. They’re speaking Italian, and I hear one of them exclaim, “Mama Mia!” He says it twice in the time it takes us to get to the gate.

What really throws me off is the fact that he sounds like a bad stereotype. His accent sounds exactly like someone pretending to have an over-the-top Italian accent. If a really bad sitcom was going to have an embarrassingly unoriginal Italian character, that character would say “Mama mia!” in exactly this way.

Since this is, in many some ways, my first European experience, I can’t help but wonder: is all Europe going to be like this? Are all the stereotypes true? Will a dark, handsome Italian man try to seduce Sarah? Will English food be horrifyingly bad? Are the French going to wear berets and mime at me?

These were my thoughts as our plane touched down in Rome….

Also posted in foreign happenings, Oot, Pregnancy, Sarah | By Pat65 Responses
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