Another awesome personality behind ‘Unburied Treasures‘ is Leslianne Wilder – author of ‘A Young, Green World’ and the mind behind our very first anthology ‘Trespass‘. Today, Lesli shares her thoughts on etymology, art, and other interesting tidbits.
Thanks for coming over to my blog, Lesli, let’s start with a little bit about yourself.
These days I’m doing a lot of plain, boring employment, which isn’t much fun to read about but it does pay at least some of the bills. Two years ago I moved out to Oxford in the UK to marry my husband, and right now we’re in the process of getting everything ready to move the two of us back to Austin, Texas. We figure if we go in the fall, he’ll have most of a year to ease into the climate before he has to try to survive a proper summer.
Aside from that, I enjoy hiking, travel when I have the money for it, and lots of different types of games (actually there’s a very cool cafe here called Thirsty Meeples where you pay a cover charge and you can play with anything from their extensive library). I draw a bit as well, and I had a lot of fun with the illustrations for Trespass– though they’re nothing on the ones you and Isaia have done here for Unburied Treasure. Those things are fantastic.
I disagree! You did a great job with all the internal illustrations in ‘Trespass‘. I have seen some of your art as well, they’re absolutely amazing! In fact, let’s pepper this interview with your awesome work, shall we?
Anyway, I really love your story ‘A Young, Green World‘ and how deals with language through time. The idea that people may lose and preserve certain words in future is quite fascinating. Tell us a bit about how this story came about.
I love etymology. One of my favorite things in the world is how some words have come down from specific historical contexts. “Laconic”, “buckaroo”, “lesbian”, “amok”, “vandal”- each of them has a neat historical story behind it, most of which has withered out of the popular knowledge around the term. (One of my favorite of these, in Spanish, is “ojalá” which is an idiomatic expression for “I hope” or “I wish”, but is also a vestigial trace of the caliphate conquest of Iberia- literally “if Allah wills it”.)
Individual languages also have their quirks based on what’s important to the culture they come out of, broadly speaking. English has jettisoned its formal/informal pronoun dichotomy and now only uses “you”, but most European languages still have both. And Japanese has sixty personal pronouns for “I” and “you” that can convey very nuanced combinations of age, gender, and relative rank. So culture definitely influences what words are adopted and maintained.
But there’s also a lot of research indicating language shapes the way individuals think. I was just reading about a fantastically fun experiment where they took native Spanish and German speakers (both of which have gendered nouns, something English lacks) and asked them (in English) to describe a series of objects whose nouns were opposite gendered in their respective language. So Spanish speakers were describing a generic key (feminine) as “tiny”, “delicate”, “lovely”, and “golden” and bridges (masculine) as “sturdy”, “towering”, “strong”, “big”, and “dangerous”. For German speakers, who had grown up with the genders reversed, said that keys were “hard”, “heavy”, “jagged”, and “useful” while bridges were “elegant”, “pretty”, “delicate”, and so on. Studies of witness reporting have shown serious differences in how fast people will say a car was going if you ask them to describe the same video depending on whether you use the word “crash” or “accident”. While a pure on Sapir-Whorf “language circumscribes thought” line doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, there’s a lot going on there.
Which is kind of a long digression and not the question you asked, sorry.
Haha, not at all. I’m sitting here totally fascinated by all the cool details you store in your head there, my dear. 🙂
Now, where was I? Oh yes, my story. My first stab at the story was a much more traditional close third perspective story entirely from Zenobia’s perspective, on the idea that the most interesting people to throw buried treasure in front of were people who didn’t believe in property. I’d recently read Joanna Russ’s The Female Man and fallen in love with Janet and her decentralized anarchist lesbian utopia, so that was a big influence.
In the first draft, Zenobia spent a lot of time actively fighting against ideas from the old world as a character thing, but I didn’t like how focused and polemic it felt, so I scrapped it and went for an omniscient perspective that would let me get across that some words and ideas had been deliberately excoriated from the language hundreds of years ago, related to the specific tragedy of that fictional future.
I don’t think I did as good a job at it as I would have liked, but I’m glad it was something you enjoyed.
It’s an amazing piece. I really enjoyed it as I’m sure many others do too! So what words do you think we get to keep and lose in our future, and why?
I think for us, if we do lose words, some of it will be that they’re just not useful (the language is littered with words for forgotten technologies and scientific theories), but some of it will depend entirely on who’s in control. There are a lot of people working really hard to get ethnic and ability slurs out of our speech. If you remember a couple years back in the US there was a bill introduced to try to keep teachers from mentioning homosexuality, ever, in a classroom context, which is similar to a policy that was in place in the UK into the 90s. On the other hand, top-down doesn’t always work: McDonalds tried to sue the term “mcjob” out of the dictionary, and not only did it lose, but now more people are aware of the word than ever.
We’re definitely losing whole languages at an alarming rate as nations consolidate different small groups under one official rule; after a few generations it’s hard to convince young people there’s a lot of point learning the language their grandparents spoke when it won’t help them one or two towns over.
That’s definitely true. I’m certainly guilty of that ’cause otherwise I would have been able to speak Chinese and Dutch as well today.
We’ll always have new words, though. Beautiful, creative, unexpected new words. Mostly from kids.
Yep, like ‘twerking’? Although Oxford Dictionary said the word had in fact existed for 20 years!
You recently did a very interesting exercise: you went back to your old stories and reviewed them as though you were a different person reading them for the first time. Tell us about this exercise – what made you do it? What did you learn from it?
The single place I most need to improve as a writer is in editing, and I know that. Luckily have an awful lot of unrefined material to work with. Going back to very old stories has been interesting because I can see where I’ve improved, and I can glaringly spot some things that I still have problems with.
So, years ago, I was in a live drawing class and the woman teaching it came up to me and said “your proportion is wrong.” And of course I got flustered, because I was a younger person then and drawing was the thing I was really good at.
She told me to draw left-handed. It looked awful- I didn’t have the fine control at all to do all the things I was good at with line weight, or shading, or even straight lines- but the shapes and relations were absolutely right. She gave me advice that’s stuck with me, which is that it’s easy to paper over a fundamental problem with little skill tricks you pick up, and eventually it looks so good you can’t even always see the problem. But the problem is still there, and sometimes you just have to come at something from a different angle, to put yourself in a position where you can’t fall back on what you know and what you’re good at.
So, I try to do that whenever I can, in different ways.
That’s a very sound advice.
Now, you have published many short fiction in various pro magazines, and one of your stories even appeared in Tangent Online 2013 SF&F Recommended Reading list, that’s pretty neat! You have also done some fun geek publication researches like this one Can you tell us a bit about your writing process in the publishing world? Do you write stories for magazines you want to get published in or do you just write for love? What do you look for in good stories and do you apply the same to yours?
Unless there’s some kind of call or prompt, I don’t tend to write for a specific magazine on the first draft. When I’m choosing what to revise though, I take into account if I think I can place it.
The last year or so, I’ve been making sure I read one new market’s magazine cover to cover, editorials, stories I might not care for and all, and that’s been incredibly helpful, and at times very eye-opening. It’s something I should have been doing from much earlier on in my writing career, but better late than never.
I am always reading things with an eye to what I can pick up from them. I’ve copied out whole stories more than once to better pick them apart. Language is something that’s always been very important to me, but I think really the most crucial thing is surprise. That can be on any level from words put together in a novel order to the famous shocking but inevitable ending to just a situation that never would have occurred to me, but it’s something I need, especially as I get older as a reader.
Ah, the element of surprise. It’s very hard to write surprises these days or come up with original concepts. The world has access to more information – fiction or not – than ever before. But then again, the more we know, the more ideas take form. So it’s a good thing.
Last question: this anthology initiative is really your idea. Last year, you gathered us all and published our very first one ‘Trespass‘. What gave you this idea? Tell us a bit about how it all was born and your experience publishing it.
Well, part of it was that I looked around and saw us succeeding in various venues, and it felt a little bit like graduating and moving away. I wanted us to get back together every so often.
There’s honestly also the promotional aspect that’s always a part of anthologies – maybe you’re only there for one story by one author that you liked, but if you take the time to read the rest, you tend to find other people you didn’t even know you wanted to read.
I fell down a bit on that end, because I’m terrible at self-promotion of any kind and I was content to be kind of passive about it. What you’ve done with ‘Unburied Treasures‘ is leaps and bounds ahead of it, and I’m really glad you have. It’s a beautiful book, and you should be really proud of what you’ve put together.
I wouldn’t have had the guts if you hadn’t done ‘Trespass’ in the first place, Lesli, and really, we all did an awesome job with the two anthologies out there… and it’s only the beginning. I hope we all get to do it again too!
Thanks heaps for being here to chat with us today.