In Which Our Heroine Dodges Spurious Pattern-Matching

12 January 2006

I have horrible feelings of foreboding today. I write this kind of thing down so that I can look back at it and say, "See? And nothing unusual and horrible happened that day." The pattern-matching parts of my brain are on such hyperdrive that I set up reality checks for them just so I don't get all woowoo on myself. And then the next time my brain has provided me with the neurochemical equivalent of tense string or organ music, I can smack it lightly upside our head and remind it about the last three times it was playing the Jaws theme for me and the worst thing that happened was a stubbed toe.

I think a certain actively anti-melodramatic streak is very good for fantasy writers. Probably for writers in general, but fantasy writers in specific. Probably historical fantasy writers even more so. When a lot of your job involves thinking of things like how imaginary people caused real historical events...well. Building checks into that system is a good, good thing, I think.

I don't think all writers -- even all speculative writers -- have to have brains that are on overdrive with the pattern-matching. It's pretty integral to how I do this stuff, though. Some people if they see a flash of black out of the corner of their eye will not process it into an image. They will simply process "black thing." Some people will process it into something likely -- "trash bag flapping in the wind," for example -- and I bet those people spend a lot of time trusting the perceptions they have on limited data, because their brains are, for whatever reason, better at picking out what's likely to be the case, based on limited sensory input.

Someone like me sees a flash of black out of the corner of her eye and processes "hound of the Wild Hunt." Do I actually believe that's what it is? No. But that's what pops into my head with limited sensory data. When I see a shadowed silhouette with a funny top, I'm more likely to think "jackal god" than "kid in weird hat," even though I believe that kids in weird hats walk around my neighborhood all the time and jackal gods do not. When you get passing thoughts like that, you might as well make something useful out of them.

I think it's partly just me, though. Science required this kind of reality check of me, too: whenever I noticed strings of digits recurring in long series of data, down in the insignificant figures, I would make myself look for recurrences of the very next string of digits I saw. And sure enough, the randomly selected ones were generally there, just like the ones I'd noticed for whatever reason.

Silly, silly brains.

I have gotten a we-like-this note from a magazine, and they tell me to expect revision suggestions for it soon. They have not yet used the phrase "we would like to buy," so I'm not considering it any kind of done deal. (Hell, I've had editors use the phrase "I would like to buy" and still not considered it a done deal -- and a good thing, too, because sometimes the editing process is slow.) And that is what I know right now.

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