Daily Archives: July 8, 2010

My Latest Thing

I have a stated goal for my summer of losing roughly 20 pounds — going from a flabtastic 180 to a pants-fittable 160 — and aside no longer permanently wearing a feedbag filled with Reese’s Pieces, here’s another tool in my arsenal: The LiveStrong calorie counter, which is available as an app on the iPod Touch. I entered into it my height and (then-current) weight, my activity level (lightly active — SHUT UP) and then also entered the amount of weight I was hoping to lose on a weekly basis (a pound a week, which I felt was reasonable). It then spit out the number of calories I should consume a day to hit my goal, which is, in case you’re curious, 1,743.

I have found this to be a perfectly reasonable amount of calories on a day-to-day basis; it’s fewer than I was eating, apparently, but not so few that I get randomly hungry and try to gnaw on the cats. Aiding in this task is the app’s database of food item calorie counts, so I type in the name of the item and it tells me how many calories I am jamming into my maw. The database is stumpable but most of the big brand names and chain restaurants are in there. Logging one’s calories is surprisingly addictive, which is why I suspect at this point it’s working for me — I’m at 173 pounds at the moment.

This won’t get me to 160 by the time I get to Worldcon, but it’ll get me to about 165, which is the weight below which I no longer have the “defeated middle-aged white man” body profile. Which will work for me.

The Big Idea: Karen Lord

Sometimes in writing, who you make your protagonist, and the qualities that person possesses,  makes all the difference for the story you want to tell. When it came time for Karen Lord to tell the story in Redemption in Indigo, she chose a protagonist who was unconventional — Paama, a character from African lore — but whose unconventionality served her story well. And indeed she has, with the book earning starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. What qualities makes this unconventional protagonist so essential, and so readable? Lord unfolds the tale.

KAREN LORD:

I’ve known Paama for a very long time, almost as long as I can remember.  Her story was in an anthology of folktales from all over the world, in the company of such standards as Aesop’s Fables and The Ugly Duckling.  There were fairy godmothers, talking animals and beautiful princesses (some passive, some plucky).  There were kingdoms, enchantments and adventurous journeys.  And then there was Paama, a ordinary woman living in an ordinary village.  She had a husband, a glutton, an embarrassment, a blight on her happiness.  And she got rid of him!  Now that was real – and useful!

Years later, I sat down to attempt my first novel.  Paama, I thought, what are you doing these days? First I wrote what I knew about her life, which took only three chapters, and then I just … kept going.  I had an image in my head of an uncanny being and an ordinary woman struggling over a cou-cou stick (cou-cou is a Barbadian dish, somewhat like polenta, made of cornmeal and boiled okras stirred smooth together).  That was another fragment of childhood – when the rain is falling and the sun is shining, the devil and his wife are fighting for the cou-cou stick. But now I had questions.  Why that stick?  Why did it make the weather go wild?  I decided it was a Chaos Stick, able to turn any possibility, no matter how improbable, into reality.

I enjoy reading about sword-swinging heroines and heroes of noble blood and epic destiny, but I’ve also observed that in real life the powerful people are those who have learned how to make good choices.  This has nothing to do with luck.  I’m talking about creativity (making the most of what’s available or finding new resources), discernment (seeing people and situations clearly) and detachment (keeping free of peer pressure, the praise and blame of society).  The Chaos Stick would suit someone who already had the knack of choosing well.

It was a risk, making Paama the protagonist.  After all, what makes for good living does not always make for good story.  But Paama told me very clearly the kind of heroine she was going to be and the plot moulded itself around her personality.  She failed, and did not despair; cried, and stayed strong; left, and returned on her own terms.  Her enemy expected a head-on confrontation, but she countered with strategic yielding.  She kept making choices, good and bad, and never stopped learning from the bad and improving on the good.  She mastered the art of serendipity, which is more than mere luck.  She wielded the Stick well.

Paama became my patron saint of editing.  I often don’t know what I’m writing till I’ve written it, which makes editing a crucial exercise in making choices.  It is a combination of finding and following the narrative’s flow; uncovering and enhancing the subtle patterns in the framework; keeping story separate from self-esteem – creating, discerning, detaching.  It is the art of serendipity, which is, for me, the essence of storycrafting.  Serendipity is a lively sprite, always planting surprises in mundane places.  A random, unconnected sentence becomes foreshadowing, a side character develops into the antagonist’s foil, and a watcher from the sidelines ends up conducting the entire orchestra.  Writing has its fun and flow, and so does editing, for all its workmanlike appearance.

Don’t get distracted by the talking animals, the deathless beings, the Object of Power and the other staples of fantasy that I’ve added to Paama’s story.  Redemption in Indigo is a novel which celebrates ordinary people and everyday magic, because sometimes all it takes to be a heroine is to choose wisely, walk softly and carry a small Stick.

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Redemption in Indigo: Amazon|Borders|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt here. Read the author’s guest blog at Powells.com. See the book’s video.