Second, because she’s so darned interesting, I want to show you my friend Linda Carson, talking about art history and Lady Gaga’s references to same. (It’s a quickie: the Waterloo Ignite talks give speakers five minutes and twenty slides–the motto is “Enlighten Us, but Do it Quick.”)
I’m thinking “Bring on the meat dress!” may become a new catchphrase here at Chez Dua, which ties into some musings and observation of mine about language. None of us speaks quite the same language, you see: we all have our own DIY dialect.
Groups of people start building their own language as soon as they come together. Work groups, friendships, sports teams, theater companies, lovers… it’s part of the process of forging connections: in-jokes, the task-specific language, all this in-speak forms the true secret handshake. Once established, it can be used to refer back to specific facts, to memories, to emotions; it can also be used include or exclude. Your personal language is a merger of these separate variations, a fusion of the tongues of the family, the workplace, and your variety of social spheres.
The inspeak also can come with grammar and usage conventions. This spring I learned that in birding, the use of the term LBJ can refer to any one of the numberless brown handful-sized birds out there. LBJ stands for little brown job, and means, therefore, your basic bushtit or sparrowy bird. But I dug further, and discovered that within birding culture, you can’t just just go sticking this label on every LBJ that comes along. Once or twice, and you’re in the club. Once too many times, and you become some schmuck who can’t identify what’s in front of them.
(Also, if you’re me, this leads to an earworm of: LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? Which sparrows appreciate not at all. Or it takes me to memories of the weird-butt animatronic LBJ cracking jokes at the Presidential Library in Austin. Really. Not joking.)
One very rich and heavily mined source of inspeak, of course, is pop culture. Here in North America, we eat, sleep, and breathe movies, TV, and books. We transform catchy quotes, imbue them with our own meanings, and sometimes make them impermeable to others in the process.
In my house, Monty Python has provided the line “S/he is a standard British Bird.” To us, this means any UK actor we recognize from multiple costume dramas, but don’t know by name. Not Dame Judy, not Rupert Graves… but the actress who was in Sense and Sensibility, say, who then played the King’s widow in Young Victoria. (I know, I could look her up, but that’s not the point.) Anyway, she’s an SBB.
Or the two blink and you miss ’em little boys on BlueBloods (What, you’re thinking, there are kids on Bluebloods?) have become Dr. Quinn and Medicine Woman thanks to Will Ferrell and Talladega Nights. Kelly and I crack up pretty much every time we say this.
Finally, no Child of the Eighties private language would be complete without a scattering of quotes, some mangled, from Ghostbusters. We were dragging ourselves out the door the other day and what came out of my mouth wasn’t “Rah rah, let’s go, we can do it, go team!” It was: “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown.” It made sense. I’m not sure it should have.
This is a basic human behavior, but it can be a tricky thing to set up in fiction. If you’re writing something contemporary and you use actual pop culture, you may be stale-dating your stories. If you’re not, there’s a process. You make up the source, put it in context, use it appropriately… and bang! When you bring off that effect, of letting the reader in the club, of having them understand perfectly, on an emotional level, something that doesn’t make actual sense when scanned… it’s a powerful thing. It’s hard to do but it’s also something I find hugely compelling, when I encounter it as a reader.
Where do your linguistic quirks originate? If you’re a writer–have you ever pulled this off in a way you’re exceptionally proud of?
This being Monday, I am at Favorite Thing Ever, blogging about the wonders of The Vinyl Cafe. Or, if you’d like a behind-the-scenes look at Indigo Springs, check out “Magic Calls to Magic” in the Tor-Forge blog. Enjoy!
This weekend I will be at Orycon 32, meeting up with many wonderful people, reading, speaking, and generally saying hello to anyone who’s greetable. My finalized schedule is here:
Saturday, November 13
11:00 am Reading – 30 minutes of Blue Magic
12:00 pm The unique challenges of urban fantasy
3:00 pm Later Afternoon Autograph Session
5:00 pm To Outline or Not to Outline, that is the question
8:00 p.m. Broad Universe Rapidfire Reading, with M.K. Hobson, Jessica Reisman, Camille Alexa, Cat Rambo, and other wonderful Broads! (I’m thinking I’ll read the opening of “The Cage.”)
Sunday November 14
2:00:pm Does writing speed matter?
5:00 pm Sci Fi AuthorFest IV at the Beaverton Powell’s
My very first story sale was to an Alberta literary magazine in 1989. I have no idea if anyone read that story, which was called “Quiet Father” and which earned me ten bucks, and I probably never will.
By 1995, when I went to Clarion West, I’d sold some SF and mystery stories, and once in awhile I met up with people, usually other writers, who’d tell me they’d seen my stories, usually the ones I’d had printed in Crank! This was almost always an entry point into a conversation about their notorious “Kill YOur TV” rejection slip. It was still a face-to-face or print on paper world, is my point–you had to be fairly conspicuous as an author to hear much from your readers. They either had to write to you the old way or make their way to a convention.
So I don’t know what the era of fan contact by snail mail was like. I do know that now it’s incredibly easy, as a reader, to be able to drop someone a line saying how much I like their work. I do this from time to time, usually when I’m very very enthused and excited, and could you please write another one now? Anyway, it is very nice to get feedback on one’s own stories and books.
(If fantasy isn’t so much your thing, I should mention that there is also a Women in SF club, with an amazing reading list and Tiptree mid-month bonus stories, and the sign-up for that one is here.)
You can’t help but feel gratified and appreciative of attention like this, especially when you find yourself in such good literary company. Really, if you’re me, you want to rush over, saying “Hey! Can I do anything? Bake cookies, answer questions, change your oil?”
And that’s where the double-edged sword of “It’s so easy to just drop someone a line” comes in. Because I can’t help thinking it might be a little weird if we authors descended on the club like a bunch of bright eyed and eager birds, waiting to gulp up their every thought on our respective masterpieces.
And also, possibly, because I don’t know how to change someone’s oil.
Is there etiquette for something like that? Anyone know?
Kelly bought herself a Kindle not long ago, and one of the first things I learned as a result is that a Kindle account comes with the assumption that you may have more than one e-reader in the house. If one or two of those happen to be, say, an iTouch, there are unexpected benefits. For example, once I’d downloaded the Kindle ap, either of us could buy a book and then we could both read it at the same time.
I’d have thought reading on the iTouch screen wouldn’t be all that appealing, but I gave it a try, and absolutely ripped through the latest Connie Willis book. Was it the novelty, or do I really like reading this way? I’ve bought a history book, Bloody Crimes, to put it to the test. So far, I’m halfway through.
It is also nifty knowing that, what with the Kindle version of Indigo Springs being out, I can essentially carry a copy of my book with me everywhere I go.
On a completely different and more toobalicious note, my Quantum Leap rewatch of “Catch a Falling Star” went up on Tor.com last week.