Monday, May 24, 2010

"If you thought your cruise wasn't entirely perfect, then that would be a 1 to a 3..."

So I'm back from southeast Alaska, and I dare say the entire experience was...pretty cool. We ate too much at the deck 14 buffet. We rushed dinner to get to the shipboard shows. We really only had three days in Alaska proper, with two days each way to get there and back from Seattle. But the weather was fantastic: it only really rained on the first day, in Ketchikan. And while I suffered greatly for the lack of free internet. It was worth it.

In terms of writing progress, I outlined in rough detail the final three chapters of book one of Identity. While I'd hoped to make some headway in fixing book two (which I feel needs a good bit of work; book three I'm relatively happy with right now), this is good stuff. The next three chapters now have that much more material feeling that you get when you actually know what's going to happen in gritty details, as opposed to having just a vague idea of what you want to happen. That's how I've been doing things, anyway, and it's nice to know there aren't too many serious problems to the plot.

But let me talk about Alaska for a minute. Traveling to Alaska, we encountered a good deal of stuff relating to the native tribes, particularly the Tlingit. With the Tlingit, you're dealing with totem poles. A lot of totem poles, actually; we met with a carver who's been doing this stuff for decades. We're talking about a years'-long carving process with prices in the range of thousands of dollars per linear foot (and 20+ foot poles). We're talking about remote, isolated areas of the world where access is expensive and limited--Juneau, for example, has no roads in or out of town. In Skagway, we're talking about a town that is two miles long and four blocks wide and basically depends on tourism to survive, with mountain passes that killed pack animals and men by the hundreds on their way to Klondike gold.

This, folks, is what we call fodder for stories. The Tlingit themselves are a case in storytelling. It's a big part of some of their totems (some totems tell stories; others are like family crests or seals, and others still are actually made to ridicule a family who's yet to repay a debt or throw a party to make up for the other family throwing them a party, etc.). The gold rush and how it created Skagway is another story. Stories are all around us, I feel, and just coming off this trip, I've had the first idea for an original (non-fanfic) story in a couple years (I call the story Caroline, for now). That's good stuff.

This is one of the reasons I encourage people to travel when they can, when it's within their means. There are things about the world that you don't question, but outside the confines of our everyday lives, there are tons of little things out there worth talking about, thinking about, and writing about. The intricate clan and family structure of the Tlingit, for example, and their oral tradition of stories. The tale of newspapermen holed up in a tent city outside Skagway, fabricating columns about a gold rush they couldn't witness because the way was too dangerous. The way the glacier outside Juneau has carved out a place for the city over the last few thousand years and may yet take it away again.

Discovery Channel likes to say the world is awesome. I'm not sure if I agree; in a lot of ways, the world simply is what it is. But it's certainly complex, and it has a richness that, at times, is easy to forget.

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