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Columbus Day: It’s All in the Point of View

Columbus in his glory

Columbus in his glory

 

Another Columbus Day, another round of arguments at the intellectual level of 1066 and All That. Was Christopher Columbus a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

It all depends on your POV. The meaning of the Columbus story, like any story, can be whatever you like. It’s more interesting if you let it tell itself to you from all possible points of view, and then thread your way through them. The greater the number of threads, the subtler the story.

A single POV might yield a genre pot-boiler. Conquering hero braves disaster, nearly dies, wins new continent, bestows Civilization on benighted heathen.

Conquistadors in action

Conquistadors in action

Alternatively, noble savages (variant: sophisticated though low-tech culture) welcome strangers; strangers turn out to be pox-ridden thugs; lovely hemisphere and its people ravaged; reparations now due.

Suppose we mix in a little more back story. Christopher knows the world is round. Educated Europeans did know that. Facing east, you go overland to India. Facing west, you cross the sea to India. Then it turns out that there is a whole New World in the way.

“New World” wasn’t a metaphor. It wasn’t a new planet, but it was so huge, so different, so strange and hence so dangerous that it might as well have been. Monsters and marvels that had floated in medieval minds for centuries instantly crystallized into stories about the New World.

Christopher's new American neighbors

Christopher’s new American neighbors

There be blemmyes, headless men with their faces in their chests! There be monopods, single-legged men who lie on the ground in the shade of their enormous, single feet!

A writer could do better than sci-fi with that. Imagine exploring a place full of actual dangers – venomous snakes and fanged beasts whose habits you don’t know, a population rapidly learning that they might be better off without you – while behind every bush you know that an unhuman human might lurk. Imagine a stream of consciousness that holds both kinds of knowledge with absolutely equal certainty.

Or take the sci-fi angle from the other side. The Spanish chroniclers thought the welcome they received meant that the native population thought the conquistadors were gods. Maybe, maybe not. But what if they, or some of them, did think Quetzalcoatl had returned?

Quetzalcoatl Codex Telleriano

Quetzalcoatl, Codex Telleriano

Seriously. If you are or have been religious, what would you do if you met your god, embodied, right here and now? How would you imagine the likely future? How would you imagine it if your god were Quetzalcoatl?

Two points of view. You could have a collision of disillusionments. You could have a folie á deux. You could have one disillusionment confronting a persistent monomania. (No, please, do not make one side a languorous beauty and the other Bruce Willis. I don’t care how big the royalties would be.)

And why confine yourself to the humans? What stirred in the mind of the Spanish horse who first saw the Argentine pampas? Europeans introduced the domestic cat to the New World. What delicious new prey for the jaguar! What an Armageddon for the voles!

It must have been like two galaxies colliding. Slowly, over the centuries, they interpenetrate. Columbus Day focuses on the explosions. A better story might explore all the gravitational pulls. Then – if you tell it all carefully enough and honestly enough – like any story, its meaning can be whatever you have learned.

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More than one

Taunted by the books

Taunted by the books

The royal blue three-ring binder taunts me from its secure spot on the bookshelf. Eighty-one completed pages of “Anne” with additional pages of notes, outlines, and prose tucked here and there. Hidden underneath are two manila folders. One holds “It Takes A Village Store,” 50,065 words of my 2014 NaNoWriMo submission. “Full Circle,” my 2015 submission, 50,212 words total, is ensconced in the other. The main characters of each novel are strong women from the same family, a mother, daughter, and niece/cousin. The setting is the same town for all three novels.

Originally I intended to have the novels comprise a trilogy but now I am reconsidering that. I feel that it makes more sense to combine them into one novel. How did I reach that conclusion? Good question. One issue is that none of the three are long enough in their current state to be a complete novel. Another problem is that they are extensions of each other, their plots and characters interwoven as only a family can be. I could solve the problems by expanding each of them, differentiating the plots so that they stand alone yet remain connected. Or I could stick with my decision to produce a single novel. Flip a coin?

BooksI have looked for novels with more than one main character, and diverse points of view (obviously), for inspiration. I am surprised that the last three random books I’ve read meet those criteria. (“The Valley of Amazement” by Amy Tan; “the speed of light” by Elizabeth Rosner; “Life After Life” by Jill McCorkle.) Each one has taken a different approach, probably none of which will work for me.

A long time ago I heard that first-time authors should stick to a straightforward, one main character, one point of view, story. I can see the wisdom in that advice. Yet I’m in a situation where that won’t work. Unless I write three separate novels. Can you hear my teeth gnashing?

No wonder the binder and the two folders that took up valuable space in my suitcase—at least two pairs of shorts worth–have sat untouched on the bookshelf for two months. (Of course, they also are on my laptop but a hard copy is easier to edit. You’ve got to pick it up to do that.)

My only writing goal for this winter in Arizona was to work on this project. Instead, I have devoted my writing time to my short story, “He’s All She Has” (originally titled “The Intruder”). The last revision of this story garnered the suggestion from John, our facilitator, that I put it aside and move onto something else. And I thought it was one revision away from being completed…I’ll try to put a positive spin on it–guess I’ll have time to work on my novel(s)!

 

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