Sunday, May 24, 2009

Living In The Past: "The Measure of a Man"

When I was young my mother was friends with a woman who was about to celebrate her 104th birthday. As the beautician in the retirement home, my mother did the woman's hair up when a photographer came to take her picture for the paper. That night over dinner our family discussed the sheer magnitude of living for over a century. We marveled at what this little old woman had seen in her lifetime. She came to California in a covered wagon from South Dakota. At the ripe old age of 12 she was a school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. She lived through every war from the Spanish-American War to Vietnam. During the 100+ years of her life, the Wright brothers first took flight at Kitty Hawk and Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.

Since then, technology has advanced in leaps and bounds. We have at our fingertips incredible amounts of information. You can look up almost anything and find some sort of info on it. Maybe even a video clip. The internet has become a vast global repository of knowledge. If you were to wake up at 3am with a sharp pain in your back, you could go online and find out what it is or isn't. You no longer have to wait until the doctor's office opens at 8am to find out that it was nothing. You can learn how to build a working replica of the Apollo Guidance Computer from scratch, pay your bills, buy concert tickets, book trips, and so much more, all without having to leave the comfort of your home.

We are so used to all this technology, it seems natural, like an extension of ourselves. Devices like iPods and laptop computers are commonplace. But what if you didn't have all these modern conveniences? What if you were put in a situation where you had to rely solely on your wits to survive? Could you? That is the starting point for several of my stories. I enjoy writing historical fiction and putting myself in the skin of my characters. I try to figure out how I would cope with the situations they face. With no modern technology, weapons or tools, how would I survive?

The hardest part of writing these sorts of stories is putting aside everything you know and seeing the world through the eyes of someone like the main character in "The Measure of A Man". In it we meet Lindani, a young Zulu training to be a warrior. He lives in a time when men take to the seas in masted sailing ships to travel great distances. At twelve years of age, Lindani is about to come face-to-face with some gruesome, relentless creatures. The only things he has to protect himself are a sharp stick and his wits. Put in that situation, how long would you last?

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