Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Death and the Writer - a Halloween audio story

Getting this week's audio file ready turned out to be tougher than expected.  But I did manage to get it done and up on YouTube.

NOTE: at the time of posting, YouTube is still processing the file.  It should be available soon, however.

This week, a short story for Halloween: "Death and the Writer."  It's a little fable for writers, (and yes, it kinda looks back at the days of legacy publishing, when you needed an agent and publisher to publish a book). 

I still hope to have the audiobook of The Curse of Scattershale Gulch done before Halloween. That will not be posted on YouTube.  I'm hoping to make a downloadable MP3 available to my blog readers and newsletter subscribers.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Too Busy Writing....

Too busy writing to post anything tonight.

There will be audio tomorrow -- a Halloween story embedded in the blog, and maybe another for download as an MP3 file.  Everything is recorded, but the cats "helped" by adding sound effects, so there will be extra editing and also probably some re-recording.

And that will be the end of the audio "blog" experiment -- but I will take up a fiction-only podcast later on.

In the meantime, kerfuffle and family visits will take place later this week, so... probably no posting again until next Tuesday or so.  (Other than, perhaps, an announcement of the audiobook download.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

First Readings 3 - Choosing a Voice.. and Mick and Casey!

Finished up the third experimental podcast, in which I am teaching myself to read aloud and record.

In this week's episode, I finally read from my own work -- an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Have Gun, Will Play.

It's probably not the best excerpt in terms of reader interest, but it was perfect for this spot in the ongoing learning project, because it had a good deal of narration, and a little dialog with several different characters.  I'm getting comfortable with Mick's voice, but nobody else's voice comes out quite right. 

Still, I had a lot of fun, and it's a stepping off point for doing my first audiobook. I'll be recording The Curse of Scattershale Gulch this week, in hopes of having a free MP3 download for Halloween week.

The video is uploaded, and seems to have finished processing. 

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Story Game - Fortune Cards and Writing Prompts

I came up with a new game -- it's actually going to be part of the larger game later on, but for now it is a fun game for creating writing prompt.

I created a set of what I call "Fortune Cards." These are elements and turns of plots and catalysts that change the direction of the scene.  They might be a character's mood or goal, or something that happens.

My eventual use would be where I could pull out a card at random to throw spanner in the works of the scene.

But I find that I can pull three cards at random, and they make one of those writing challenges.  You know, where someone gives you a list of words or elements and you have to come up with a story that uses them all.

So here is the writing prompt for this week.  Three cards, drawn at random:

  • 1. A large angry dog
  • 2. A conversation overheard
  • 3. A magnetic personality

The challenge is to come up with either a complete microfiction, or a concept of a longer story, using these elements as major elements of the story.

In the meantime, I'll be posting a new audio podcast tomorrow -- this time with a selection from Have Gun, Will Play.

I'm also recording The Curse of Scattershale Gulch as a gift audiobook for those who have subscribed to my newsletter, or read the blog.  I hope I can get it properly done before Halloween.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on innovation and Publishing from FutureChat

There are always interesting ideas that come up in #FutureChat (Porter Anderson's Friday morning Twitter chat - 11am eastern time).  But it's always a little frustrating because even with multi-part tweeting, it's hard to get complex ideas across.  (On the other hand, being forced to communicate 140 letters at a time, including hashtags and reply addresses, can focus the mind wonderfully.)

This week, there were a couple of issues I wanted to talk further about, even explain.  We were discussing innovation, and I tend hold a contrarian position from most publishing folks on just where the curve of innovation happens to be right now.

In particular, I think that publishing is so far behind the curve that they can't recognize it when they see it.  They're kind of like the line from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy about humans, who are so backwards we still think digital watches are a keen idea.

This week, we were discussing the fact that ebooks were still basically plain "vanilla" ebooks -- just linear text.  And yes, basically the same format as oral storytelling.  It was noted that attempts to innovate -- particularly with interactive books -- have failed to catch fire. 

Some people see this as a sign that the reading public is behind the curve. I see it as the opposite: technology has so far bypassed the publishing industry that even the general public, and laggards, are ahead of the publishing industry.  Publishing's most bleeding edge thinkers are, thus, coming up with ideas that suit the technology and world of decades ago.

It's like communications: When I was young, the idea of a video phone seemed like the coolest thing.  We were sure that in the future, everybody would have them.  And yes, we do.  We can indeed make video calls on the internet. It doesn't cost anything. And yet, we don't use it much.  It's something for special situations, where seeing someone is as important as what is said.  Given all the ways we have to interact now, how do people routinely interact?

Texting and old-fashioned voice phone.

The more advanced and bleeding edge we get, it seems, the more the more useful we find to the simplest forms of communication.

Why is this?

Most technological innovation amounts to reinventing the wheel. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to invent new ways to enable the wheel.  The wheel itself is fine.

We also live at a time when everything is integrating. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We can make use of wheels that are already out there... as long as we create things that are actually compatible with the wheels that ARE already out there.

What modern, up-to-date consumers need from publishers is flexibility.  We need to be able to consume our content in whatever way we currently like best.  And more importantly, we need to be able to consume it in whatever way we will like best next week.  Because that will be different.

So when it comes to delivering content digitally, SIMPLE is better. No fancy formatting (don't define the fonts and layout -- let the reader choose their own defaults) interactivity via links only.  The idea is that content creators should focus on content, and let the delivery be handled by the forms people are using.

Yes, people will buy great proprietary products -- that is, products that are locked in and too complex to be very flexible --,but only because that one specific product is cool.  We also liked Pet Rocks and Chia Pets.

For a product, that's fine.  For something as wide ranging as publishing, universality will always win out.

The real innovation comes from realizing we are a part of a hive.  Content flows throughout the wildly changing open-sourced world out there.

You want to include extra materials? Just include a link.  And Google and Twitter provide even faster, richer and more enhanced supplemental information.  The internet itself IS the enhanced edition.  Interactivity? More information?  Discussion?  Games and the internet do it better.  No matter how much work we do, we'll never provide an enhanced product better than what's out there.

And no matter how well designed, it will not beat the accessibility and ease of use of the internet.

The real, world-changing innovation in publishing is happening out there in the world.  We don't need to do it.  As I mentioned on #FutureChat a couple of weeks ago:  Amazon created WhisperSync, which connects the audio and text versions of Kindle books.  It's not a sexy new thing.  It happened almost invisibly.  It doesn't require a different edition of the book or the audiobook.  It just connects them up.

Heck the self-publishing platform -- for ebooks, print books and audiobooks -- is the real innovation.  Social media, podcasting. RSS. Blogging.

These are the real innovations that transform the book.

You could say that the things that really transform the book are not about transforming the book.  They're about taking advantage of other, already created resources.  It's about understanding the new paradigm -- which is about connection.  It's modular.

Publishing should be thinking about innovation in terms of content. About creating things that are worth connecting.  It's about creativity, not about technology.  Let tech innovators create the tech. Let the customers decide how they will use the tech. We make the content they consume through that tech.

And most importantly, remember that innovation isn't innovation unless is solves a problem of the user.  It's just novelty or niche products. Like video phones.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Excavating a Genre 3 - Picaresques, Road Movies and Quests

(This series starts with Part 1 - The Book List), and Part 2 - Looking at Theme with Understood Betsy.)

Many of the stories I listed at the beginning of this are very episodic.  This is true of a lot of children's fiction, and even of the early grown up fiction that influenced so much of children's publishing.

"Episodic" is a kind of plot structure, and I think it's important to this "genre" I'm trying to uncover.  But to identify it, I need to take a step sideways and look at similar genres with similar structures.

Anna and the Picaresque

In college, one of my professors, when he read the novel I was writing as my graduate school entry submission, got all excited and told me the story was a "picaresque."

Later on, I came to learn what a Picaresque really was -- it was a popular kind of story in Spain about a wandering "Picaro" -- basically a trickster/adventurer.  Often very loosely plotted.  And I've heard the term applied to all sorts of books from Don Quixote to Puss In Boots.

And yes, The Adventure of Anna The Great is that kind of story.  It's about a girl who dresses as a boy, takes her sword and her horse and sets out to find adventure.

But at the time, I didn't realize he was using the term to describe the swashbuckling side of the story, or the character.  What he talked about was more the structure of the story.

This was before it was finished -- and before the connecting plot was clear -- so what he saw was a series of episodes.  What I would describe as a "road movie."

On Roads and Buddies and Quests

A Road Movie is a popular genre in Hollywood. It actually has two kinds of story -- the journey story or the relationship story. (I.e. the Buddy Movie -- but one that takes place in a car.) 

The difference between the "journey" and "relationship" type stories is important, though: The relationship or Buddy story is usually about what happens inside the car.

That is, you stick two characters inside a car and trap them there for the distance of the plot, and things boil over and they become better friends or learn things about themselves.  Everything outside the car is really just a catalyst for this relationship.

The non-relationship Road Picture, though, is about what happens outside the car.  As with the story of the lone Picaro traveling from town to town, it usually has a single hero, or a team of characters whose relationship is reasonably settled.  Or just a relationship that develops, but not so excitingly as to overshadow what goes on outside the car.

And now that I think about it, there is a third type of story -- which is a hybrid of the two.  I think of it as the Wizard of Oz model, but I suppose it's really a variety of the classic Quest story.

This kind of road story begins with a lone hero who travels along and acquires companions, who each have a quest or two of their own.

I think, though, that Quest stories tend to lean in one direction or other when it comes to whether they are a relationship story or a journey story.  They are more often about the Quest -- which is "outside the car" -- but not always. Sometimes the quest is just a MacGuffin, and it's all about the bonding among the characters.  I would say a good example of this is many of the "Male Bonding" comedies about a bunch of friends who head out on the road.

(I want to pause to point out here that I'm not talking about character development here -- and I'm not talking about the difference between "character driven" and "plot driven."  A quest story can be totally character driven, and have amazing and deep character development. And, frankly, a buddy story can be strictly by the beats and still be totally plot driven.  What I'm talking about is the structure of the plot itself.  Regardless of characterization, what drives the plot?)

But to get back to "outside the car" stories: A lot of classic television drama fell into this model -- from Maverick to Route 66, to The Fugitive to Kung Fu.  An itinerant hero travelling from town to town, experiencing an episode at every town he meets.  Of course, the "episodic" nature of this kind of story is ideal for a TV show, but it shows up in movies and books as well.

The focus of these kinds of Road Stories is often a series of encounters in which we, and the hero, learn about something new and unknown.  And the hero may make a difference to that new and strange situation (in classic Wandering Hero style - slays the monster and moves on) OR the hero may learn and be changed by the wisdom or example of the strange folk he encounters.

And that takes us back to Understood Betsy and the whole concept of being faced with new and strange things and coping with them and learning from them.

And that, I think, is where the Picaresque and the Road Movie fit perfectly with the Orphan on a Train sort of children's story.  These are stories about life -- in all its variations -- outside the car.  Out in the real world.

Next time I'll talk more about a couple of these stories, which provide great examples of variations on this structure and this focus on the world out there.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First Readings 2 - One Voice at a Time

The second episode of the "podcast" is up.

I didn't do the reading from a Mick and Casey story because I realized that excerpt wasn't right for the subject of the podcast -- which is about a preliminary step in learning to do voices, before going all out for dialog.

In this episode, I picked a poem from a pulp magazine I was studying ("New Love" March, 1943) and read it in four different voices.

The audio is a bit sloppier in this one because I had a lot of fun playing with the voices. (I only did four on the podcast, but I did a dozen or so in the privacy of my basement.  Editing is a wondrous thing.)

Unfortunately, YouTube seems to have screwed up the "thumbnail" in the preview -- so the video comes up with that blank, three dot icon of deleted images.  I am told that sometimes the thumbnail catches up.  Here's hoping. (The video plays just fine...)

 Tomorrow, the next written post about Excavating a Genre.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Update - Genres, Voices, and My Cat Thinks He's Star-Lord

One of the reasons I'm having a hard time moving forward on the Excavating a Genre series is because it fits in with this audio stuff I'm doing.

So every time I sat down to write, I would git distracted with an "oooooo, shiny!"

But eventually I figured out that I was also trying to move on to the wrong subject in that series: I've got to talk about genre structure, and a couple of similar genres next time -- in particular the 'Road Movie' and the quest, and hte "Buddy picture" (which is not actually a part of the genre I have in mind, but overlaps with it a lot).  But it also has something in common that a teacher in college told me that I was writing -- the Picaresque.

And that explains to me why this genre, or trope or pattern keeps making me think about The Serial, and it's world.  What I have in mind has a different tone, a different pace, and is likely for younger readers -- but the genre nails the same structure and themes.

So that's what I'm going to post about on Wednesday.

Tomorrow, I'll likely post the next audio/podcast experiment.  I have the rough cut all recorded, but it definitely needs editing, and I don't have visuals yet.

For those waiting for my promised reading of a Mick and Casey excerpt -- I decided not to go with that this week, because something more frivolous actually met the needs of the subject.  I read a short poem over several times in different voices.  It was fun.

In the meantime....

My Cat Thinks He's Star-Lord.  And Drax.

So Max likes to have disco music on in the background when we play "Mousie" (in which I throw the mouse and he catches/chases/wrestles it).  But I have to throw it just right for whatever game he's playing at the moment.

Lately, with the "Awesome Mix Tape" soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy playing in the background, he wants me to throw it so it lands inside the "Temple of Doom" (aka, the remains of the cat tree) and he makes a bunch of wild and awesome moves to retrieve it.  Just like Star-Lord in the opening of Guardians.

Then, at the end of the game, he plays Drax the Destroyer, where he parks himself somewhere, and NOTHING goes over his head.  His reflexes are too good.  He will catch it!

(This, for those of you who have not seen Guardians of the Galaxy, is a reference when Rocket points out that Drax is very literal, and that metaphors go over his head.  Drax says:  "Nothing goes over my head!  My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it!")

If you haven't seen Guardians of the Galaxy, btw, you've missed something that's a LOT of fun.  All Marvel movies seem to have more of a human touch than most comicbook/action pictures, but this one has an even sweeter, lighter touch.  Clever, funny, human -- especially in depicting the non-humans.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Post Delayed Due to Sleepiness

The next Excavating a Genre post is coming. Honest.  It will be about rebel orphans, and the "Picaresque" tales and maybe some related literary genres -- like road picture and buddy stories. (Although that may be saved for another post....)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

First Readings 1 - Getting Used To Your Voice

My first audio podcast is up on YouTube. (And also embedded below for your listening pleasure.)

I had a little fun with the images (which are presented in a boring slideshow over the sound track), and a little trouble with levels (I've got a cheap mic -- sorry if you have to turn it up and down).

This is a learning experience for me. I have a little audio learning from film school (waaaayyyyy back in the seventies).  Teaching for 25 years made me not all that shy, but I really don't feel comfortable reading fiction aloud.  So I've been practicing my reading aloud for awhile, and now I've got to move on to do something more formal.

I was going to do a written blog series on this ongoing project, but I realize that is silly!  I need to do audio, so why not do an audio blog!

The first four minutes is the "blog" part -- where I give some advice on the first step, Getting Used to the Sound of Your Voice.  The rest is a reading of the first few pages of a classic -- and out of print -- mystery novel.  Murder in a Hurry by Frances and Richard Lockridge.

If you can't find a used copy, you can read it on line at The Open Library. (Murder in a Hurry online.)

I picked that particular book because the opening pages have no dialog, and I wanted to start with something that didn't require voices.  It's also kind of difficult.  Richard Lockridge was prone to write convoluted sentences.  (But the advantage of recorded audio is...EDITING!)

Next time, I'm going to start on character voice -- but I'm also going to start with something easy, something that requires only one voice: Have Gun, Will Play.  I'm going to try to do Mick.

See you in the funny papers!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finding a Blogging Schedule

The kerfuffle in my life seems to be relenting a little bit.  The plan I had, before things spiraled out of control, was a new schedule.  I never got a chance to try it.

Find Your Best Time To Work

That's what everybody says is the most important thing about writing productivity.

I find that, for me, the times closest to sleep are the best time for my writing. However, I have to be free of any kind of social interaction.  In the morning, I have only had good luck writing when I didn't actually have to interact with anybody before the writing session -- and I mean not even making eye contact.  Even the slightest interaction, and suddenly I am out of the dream-state and into reality.

Unfortunately, I'm a night person, so the world is always waiting to pounce on me when I get up.  So morning is right out, unless I'm on a roll.  Morning is a good time for kerfuffle.

Which leaves my other prime creative time as evening.

The problem with evening is... blogging.

Blogging has deadlines.  The natural time to finish up and post to a blog is last thing at night -- because you want it to post in the morning (for a number of reasons I won't go into here).  So unless you are an early riser (which I am not) your last chance to make those little tweaks and changes and such happen the night before.
And because it is my best working time, I tend to do a better job of writing a blog post at night as well.  (Actually, that is when I tend to finish a post. During the day, I write unfinished posts.  Then when the deadline comes up, my brain kicks into gear, and I finish it.)

So, a couple of months ago, I decided that what I should do is allow myself to blog all I want.... before 5pm. After 5pm, no blogging at all.  I can do anything else, but not blog.

I never got a chance to try that out.  Stuff happened.  The kind of stuff that has you scrambling to remember what day it is.  What I usually do to protect my sanity during those times is stop trying to do things that matter (so I haven't been writing fiction or doing art) and start screwing around with things I had on the back burner.

Which is mainly, for me, rough drafts of blog posts (unfinished, because I'm writing in the day), and .... audio.

Or more specifically, reading aloud, as a practice for creating podcasts and audio books.

Or even more specifically, writing unfinished blog posts about my experiences in reading aloud in preparation of creating podcast audiobooks.


For this week, to get back into the swing of everything, I'm going to break my rule about no blogging after 5pm, and finish up some blog posts to be posted later.  And....

I'm particularly going to finish up those posts about my Audio Project.  But I'm going to do something interesting: They're going to be audio blog posts.  I'll post them on YouTube and embed them here.  Each post will include a few minutes of blathering about the project, and I'll read aloud an excerpt of some fiction -- mostly other people's but sometimes my own. I expect to post them on Tuesdays.

I have finished the audio portion of the first post.  I need to put some images to it to turn it into video.  (This will be faux video: just some "slides" to accompany the audio.)  I think I'll have this up tomorrow.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Excavating A Genre 2 - Coping with Understood Betsy

(This series starts with Part 1 - The Book List)

When I was a kid, I had access to lots of dusty old books with no jacket copy, and no indication of what the book was about.  I also had access to lots of discarded paperbacks of all ages.  My dad was a book hoarder.  So were most of the other people I knew.  We were the sort of people to buy books from used books sales which offered "Fill a grocery bag for a dollar!"  My schools tended to have stacks of books just lying on counters for kids to pick up.

We also had a farm house far in the distant country where we went during the summers (and sometimes winters -- though I didn't really have central heat).  That farm house came full of books.  OLD books.  Weird books. But also fun books. It was there I discovered Trixie Belden, for instance.

Combing through the silt for nuggets of gold was a favorite pastime of mine in those long dull summers.

I honestly don't recall how I came across Understood Betsy.  I can't even call it one of my favorite books.  All I know is that it struck a tone that stayed with me.  It was a tone I found in other books that weren't necessarily my individual favorites, and looking back on it, I responded to those books the way one responds to a genre.

It was the archetype.  The pattern of the books over all, rather than the details of the individual books, that grabbed my imagination.  Some of them rose above.  Some did not.

So the experiment in this series of posts is an attempt to dig up the bones of that genre and study it.

Understood Betsy

Recently I rediscovered this book, and re-read it.  I found the first chapter to be a slog, but the rest more and more interesting -- partly because as a grown up, I could see why it got past my "wholesome" filter.

As a child I hated wholesome.   Well, I could abide a certain amount of it.  I could abide some quaint and out-of-date attitudes.  And when I stumbled across Understood Betsy I expected it to be one of those stories about the superiority of wholesome, clean-living country folk, vs. city sophisticates.

And in some sense, I was right.  That's kind of what it's about on the surface.  And yeah there is definitely a preachy agenda to this book. But it was kind of a subversive agenda.  It wasn't about the superiority of clean-living or country life.  It was about approach to life. In particular, the raising of children.

The author, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, was a radical education reformer.  She was a big proponent of the Montessori method, in particular.  So the book was really about how you should give kids things to DO, and not smother them with either protection or rules. Let 'em grow naturally.

The agenda is not what appeals about the plot, however.  Frankly, if that's all there was too it, it would not have become a classic, liked by people with all sorts of beliefs about child rearing and wholesomeness. (Including the very strict church-going mother of a friend of mine who loved that book, and was shocked when hippies said they'd liked it too.)

The agenda, though, did something for this book that made it ring true to a theme of lots of great children's books -- and books for adults too.  IMHO, that's what makes it kind of a model for the "genre" I'm digging up.

The Story

Betsy -- or at the beginning, Elizabeth Ann -- is an orphan who was raised by a pair of aunts who were the 1910s equivalent of modern "helicopter parents" -- smothering, anxiety-ridden, indulgent.  The aunts learned their parenting skills via the latest modern book on How To Raise A Child.  And went after raising Elizabeth "right" with an OCD fervor.  (One of the things they wanted more than anything was for Elizabeth Ann to feel "understood" -- something they simply never managed -- hence the title.)

So by the time Elizabeth Ann is nine years old, she is a sweet neurotic who is afraid of everything and unable to do anything.

And then disaster happens: one of the aunts becomes ill and the other has to take care of her, and Elizabeth Ann has to be sent, entirely on her own, off the horrible, crude, country cousin side of the family.  She has been raised all her life to believe these people to be ignorant and strict and mean.

Turns out they're relaxed, laissez-faire sorts of folks.  But still scary because... they expect Betsy (as they call her) to do things for herself -- and don't worry over it at all!  Like they think she can do things for herself.

My favorite scene is when Betsy is picked up at the train station by her "much feared Great-Uncle Henry" with a horse and wagon.  As soon as they get on the road, he turns the reins over to Betsy to drive, because he's got some "figurin'" to do and he needs to concentrate on his accounts book and pencil.  She is in a panic, but dutiful and obedient, so she throws her all into figuring out how to manage this plodding, relaxed horse, makes what she considers to be horrible mistakes and barely manages to fix them. All the while her cousin sits figuring and doesn't seem to notice at all.

And that's kind of a mini-version of the whole story.

It's really a story of discovery -- which was my first instinct in naming this genre, but I think that's more of an umbrella category.

Throughout the story Betsy is faced with various situations in which she doesn't know what to do or what to think, and she has to figure it out.  She learns that she can deal with these; She can deal with life.  And as she develops into a fully autonomous human being, one of the things she is faced with is being lost while being responsible for others.  The climax of the story has her stranded far from home with a smaller child in her care.  But this time she has the inner resources to come up with a multi-step plan and get them both home safely.

And she has the confidence to do it.

The Great Theme of Childhood: Coping

The author of this book might have intended it to be the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" of childhood education -- which I don't think it did -- but the reason it became a classic because it reflected one of the great tropes of childhood: Coping.

In some sense, all fiction is about coping with things we are not prepared for.  But as adults, we're long past the stage where basic life is a series of crises. We don't even remember that for a baby, a game of peek-a-boo is a high tension suspense story.  If you can't see Mommy's face, she's GONE! You're alone! Who will feed you? Who will love you?

That level of life is pretty stable, and we have some control over it. So for adults, most fiction deals on a more sophisticated, and varied, smaller issues that we have to cope with.   Achieving, competing, loving, healing.  We only get back to that elemental "survival" aspect in a disaster story.  Which, of course deals with extraordinary circumstances.

But for children -- and somewhere deep in our psyche, all of us -- coping with simple existence is still new, and it's still an every day thing.  While most kids are allowed many choices by their parents, they really don't control where they sleep and what they eat and what they wear.  They know full well all their choices are subject to approval.

Now, we think of this as something limiting and bad. Something to strive against.  Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? sing the Beach Boys. 

At the same time, though, having a parent making decisions and taking responsibility is safety.  Even if you can choose for yourself, even if you fight to choose for yourself, you can still fall back on Mom and Dad and teacher and authority.  It's much more comfortable to have the right to choose if you have experienced back up who can give you guidance if you want it.

And what about all those decisions you never wanted to make?  The ones you didn't know you needed to make because they were made by others in the background?  One anxieties of growing up is that, you begin to realize how much more there is to the world than you thought, and your parents are out there managing it for you.  And one day, they're not going to do that any more.  You're going to have to do this on your own.

For children, there is a very thin veneer between real life and the fictional life of the lost orphan.

And that risk continues into adulthood: you might carve out a pretty steady and relatively comfortable existence for yourself. That is, not necessarily comfortable in form (because your house may be too small, and your bed used and lumpy) but it's still comfortable in understanding. You know when the rent is due. You know where the bed is, and where the lumps are.  You are familiar with most of the problems that will come up and have some idea of what to do to handle them.

And yet....  we're adults.  Most of us understand that there are things in this world we have no idea how to handle.  Most of us, even in the U.S., are one major illness or accident away from being homeless.  If you travel, you're one wrong turn from being lost in a bad neighborhood where you don't speak the language.

That's where the appeal of disaster and survival stories come from, but our anxieties are broader and also subtler than that.  Moving to a new house or taking a new job -- especially if it means moving across the country -- can make you feel a little like a lost orphan.  You're tearing loose of your resources, going into unknown territory. You don't know if it will turn out your have a psycho-boss or psycho-neighbor.  You don't know if you'll fit into the new local culture.  You're bound to make some faux pas.  You have no idea the consequences of a small mistake -- will it be smiled at and ignored, or will it cost you new friends?  Or worse?

And you have no idea if someone will hand you the reins and expect you to drive the wagon, when you have never seen a horse up close before.

All the same, we have learned, through the years, that we can survive unknown disasters. We have survived the emotional roller-coasters of adolescence. We've been lost, we've had near misses. We've had grief, we've mourned.  We've had to deal with unexpected bureaucracy, we've made mistakes and had to pay penalties.

Kids aren't sure of these things, so pure survival of these is a bigger theme in children's stories, but even as adults, the achievement of coping with the unexpected and mastering new skills is still an incredibly satisfying trope.

So my first thought about the models for this "genre" is that this is the overriding theme of the kind of story.  (As I pull apart other stories, there may be others, but I certainly think this is what tied the stories together to me.)

But theme does not a genre make.  It doesn't even make a trope.  It's just the meaning of a set of similar tropes.

I think I need to look at a few more titles before I get a sense for form.  Next time I will look at a couple of other stories that come to mind on the same model, and see if I can pull out a few more tropes that they have in common.  And I'm also going to talk about a related literary genre, the Picaresque story.  While it is different in theme, it is often similar in form.

See you in the funny papers.