Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | April 17, 2013

Is it Jade or Meconium?

A couple of weeks ago, while on vacation in Florida, my husband and I decided to take a walk along the beach. Though chilly, Florida was, unlike Pennsylvania at that moment, sunny and without snow. I was taken by the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico and commented on the unusual clear, jade color of the water. I could see right down to the white sand –

“It the color of baby poo,” my husband said after studying the surf.

“Excuse me?”

“Baby poo, it’s the color of baby poo. The early stuff – meconium,” he said.

I looked out and, though I didn’t want to admit it, he was right.

“Well, that’s true. Disgusting, though, and not really what I was aiming for.” I said.

“We describe things differently.” he said. “I’m an engineer, I have to make my ideas real. You write fiction. You have to make worlds and pictures in people’s heads.”

As you can imagine I have been thinking about this ever since.

What would it be like if what I imagined had to be made real? Currently that’s a deeply disturbing thought. My WIP has demons emerging from the floor of a Children’s Room at a B&B, an idea I most certainly don’t want to have come true. Yet not creating worlds is as foreign to me as my designing a straightforward wrench that would do all the things a wrench is supposed to do. Creating a world where wrenchs roam free would make far more sense.

I admire my husband’s ability hugely. To be so sensibly creative, to have a mind that can picture the wrench, turn it round and round in his brain, see its length, understand the correlation between its length and the width of its top and then go out and make it real? Astonishing.

But there are writer’s who bridge this gap, aren’t there? Writers such as Scott Westerfeld in his Leviathan series where he makes up science that sounds so plausible. I know that real scientists (his ‘Boffins’ who wear bowler hats as a mark of office) (to wear a bowler hat, at least, my husband would love) cannot combine ‘life threads’ and turn a whale into an air ship. But Scott Westerfeld’s world has such a solid underpinning of real science it’s sometimes hard to tell where the science ends and the made-up world begins.

There are other writers who use hard science in their fiction such as Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and, currently, Jonathan Maberry. Entire dissertations can be written about each of these writer’s use of hard science. But, ultimately, they are making up a story. The story may hinge on real science, but it is still a story. (Thank heavens, any of us who have read even one of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series would agree that we would like to keep that science firmly in the realm of fiction).

Over the last six years while I spun stories my husband wove his ideas into reality and gives us a machine that measures a person’s bone density with very little radiation. He may see baby poo where I see jade but what he creates is amazing.

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