Age differences in my couples, revisited

In loving memory of my maternal grandpap, who left the material world 13 January 2017.

I originally posted about this topic on 17 March 2011, in a 1,132-word post. (I really was way too wordy in those days!) Why not revisit it, without all that rambling and those way-too-long paragraphs?

By and large, my fictional couples are within a year of one another’s age (i.e., in the same graduating class), or only a few years apart. Two main reasons so many of my couples are matched up so young:

It behooved couples in the pre-Pill era to marry very young and quickly. You couldn’t just cohabit out of wedlock in those days, even if there were no accidental pregnancies.

The modern concepts of casually dating around, and delaying marriage and parenthood, were completely foreign to me. I expected to be a married mother in my early twenties. I seriously compromised my values by dating my ex for almost five years, instead of walking when marriage wasn’t forthcoming after the first year or two.

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Some of my ancestors at a 1907 wedding. The bride’s name was Julie Hoffman.

My couples who aren’t in the same graduating class are usually no more than 4–5 years apart. Since I’m all about equal opportunity, either partner can be older, not just the guy. I also make sure the age differences aren’t illegal. Things to keep in mind for your characters:

In some jurisdictions, minors and legal adults can be sexually involved, IF the age difference is very small and the older partner is below a certain age. E.g., 16 and 19, 17 and 21.

Just because someone is the age of consent doesn’t automatically make a giant age difference totally cool. It’s about differences in maturity, expectations, and life experiences, not just numbers. There’s a huge difference between, e.g., 18 and 21, or 20 and 25, and 18 and 28, or 16 and 35.

Some people are more mature and experienced than others. Compare a 23-year-old marrying a 43-year-old after living independently and working since 16, and shouldering lots of adult responsibilities for years, with a sheltered 16-year-old hooking up with a 40-year-old feeding her lines about how much he loves her, how he thinks she’s so beautiful and special, and how she’s so much more mature than other girls.

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One of obnoxious SJW Milo Stewart’s few vlogs which I actually agreed with discussed how deeply creepy it is when adult men tell underage girls they’ll wait for them to turn 18. I was also skeeved out when one of the survivors at the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive said her 22-year-old father was so besotted with her 12-year-old mother, he told her he’d wait for her to be old enough to marry.

When there’s a minor age difference, and your story is set over many years, it adds a lot of expectant tension as the younger party gets older. That makes it so much better when they finally get together. I did this with Allen Troy and Lenore Hartlein, who met at 18 and 15, and with Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov and Inga Savvina, who were 23 and 18.

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Someone who’s not just lusting after a quick roll in the hay will respect the age difference and move slowly, even after they’ve gotten together. My paternal grandpap was 26 to my grandma’s 19 when they met. He was afraid to reveal his actual age, since she might not like him anymore.

Age differences do level off eventually, but the half-plus-seven rule is a good measuring stick. You divide your age in half and add seven to get the age below which you shouldn’t be dating. E.g., 17 and 20, 20 and 26, 22 and 30, 15 and 16.

While many May-December relationships are healthy and respectful, there’s also the danger of a skewed dynamic. The older person views the much-younger partner as more of a child than an equal, not to mention the generational gap.

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Minor age differences seem immense when we’re younger. Compare, e.g, the difference between 5 and 10, and 25 and 30. A 16-year-old may view her 20-year-old crush as an unattainable fantasy who’d never develop special feelings for her, only to be happily surprised a few years later.

People in bygone generations matured quicker. An 18-year-old of 1914 marrying a 25-year-old would be a more equal relationship than today, with these more and more extended childhoods.

Finally, The Time Traveler’s Wife creeps me out. A thirtysomething guy should not be kissing a 16-year-old, nor should a 41-year-old be bedding an 18-year-old. They’re 20 and 28 when they meet in real time, which still skeeves me out.

WeWriWa—A night in the Bohemian Forest

In loving memory of my maternal grandpap, who left the material world 13 January 2017.

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, I’m starting a scene from Part II of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which is my now primary WIP.

This opens the fourth section of Chapter 18, “On the Move Again.” It’s now late February 1945, the eve of Purim. Four of the boys have held onto their humanity and friendship, but the other three have become very cynical and animalistic. As bitter and angry as 15-year-old Kálmán has become, he still thinks of himself as a human being, and lives for revenge.

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View into the Bohemian Forest, Copyright DeutscherAar

The seven remaining boys had lost track of how long they’d been trudging away on the road, though one of the religious men keeping a calendar said it was Ta’anit Esther.  This year, just about everyone kept the fast through default, since there was barely any food distributed for anyone.

“This is the coldest winter I can remember.” Kálmán pulled his worn-out coat and blanket from Jawischowitz tighter around himself as they huddled in that night’s encampment by the Bohemian Forest. “I wish those stingy, murderous bastards had given us furs and down comforters.”

“I’m thinking again of escaping,” Adrián said. “Thank God we’re in Czechoslovakia, so the natives will be good to us.  The Czechs are modern, enlightened people, not a pack of anti-Semites.”

Kálmán grunted. “Obviously not enough of them are like that, or else their country wouldn’t have been occupied and their Jewish community wouldn’t have been deported.”

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The Bohemian Forest is a large mountain range on the Czech–German border, with lots of historic landmarks, skiing resorts, protected forests, and spas. It’s called Böhmerwald in German, and Šumava in its native Czech.

A primer on Tajik names

The Tajik language is closely related to Persian, and is the primary language of the Central Asian republic Tajikistan. Though Tajik used to be widely spoken in neighboring republics Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, it’s gradually been displaced by their respective native languages. However, some people in those republics still speak Tajik, as do some people in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

There’s a political debate over whether Tajik is its own language or a mere dialect of Persian, though it’s officially considered a true language. Over the years, Tajik has greatly diverged from Dari (the Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan) and the Persian spoken in Iran. Due to the Tajik people’s location and geographical isolation, there remain many archaic elements which the rest of the Persophone world has long since discontinued. There’s also some influence from the Uzbek language.

One of the secondary characters in Journey Through a Dark Forest, Manzura, is Tajik. Manzura volunteers as an interpreter while part of her orphanage is en route to Isfahan in 1937, and makes herself extremely useful.

Tajik alphabet:

Tajik was written with the Persian alphabet until the 1920s. In 1923, the Soviets started simplifying the Persian alphabet, and in 1927, the Roman alphabet was introduced. Then, in the late Thirties, Cyrillic was forced upon them, as part of the cruel Russification policies of Stalin (who ironically wasn’t Russian himself). Though attempts to reintroduce the Persian alphabet began in 1989, these campaigns weren’t very successful.

In the Roman alphabet, there are a few odd letters—Ç, Ƣ (Gha), Ī, Ş, and Ƶ. W and Y aren’t used. Ƣ is represented as Ғ in Cyrillic, and typically transliterated as Gh. Other Cyrillic letters include my favorite Ж (Zh), Ӣ (Ī), Қ (usually transliterated as Q), Ӯ (Ū), Ҳ (usually H), and Ҷ (usually J).

Surnames:

Due to the decades of Russification, many Tajik surnames have Russian endings. Like other surnames of the Central Asian republics, they have their own native twist. Sample surnames include Abdulov, Abdulayev, Abdulin, Ibragimov, Nabiyev, Niyazov, and Rakhimov. Recently, Slavic surnames were banned, and it’s now illegal to give babies non-Tajik forenames.

True Tajik surnames usually end in -zod(a), -i, -on, -yon, -yor, -far, -niyo, and -ien.

Sample names:

Male:

Abdullo, Abdullohi
Abdusalom
Alisher
Anoushirvan
Anvar (Brighter, more luminous)
Arash
Ardavan
Ardshir
Armin
Arzhang
Ashkan
Atash (Fire)
Azad (Free)

Babak
Bahman
Bakhriddin
Bamdad
Behnam
Behrang
Behruz
Behzad

Dara (Rich)
Darab
Darvesh
Daryo (River)
Daryush

Faraz (Of high status)
Fardad
Fardin
Farhad
Farhang (Of good breeding)
Fariborz
Farkhod (Happiness or Elation)
Farrukh (Happy)
Farshad (Happy)
Farzad (Splendid birth)
Farzam (Worthy)
Farzan (Wise)
Farzin (Learnèd)
Firuz (Successful)
Fruhar

Jahandar (Owner of the world)
Jahangir (Conqueror of the world)
Jahanshah (King of the world)
Jamshed
Janob (Excellency)
Javid (Everlasting)

Kambiz (Fortunate)
Kamran (Successful)
Kamshad (Successful)
Kamyar (Successful)
Kanishka
Kasra
Kavah
Khakim (Wise)
Khon
Khoram
Kosha (Diligent)
Koshan
Kourash

Mahyar
Mamadsho
Mamur (Judge, officer, magistrate)
Mani
Manuchehar
Mashhadi
Mazdak
Mehrab
Mehrak
Mehran, Mehrang
Mehrdad
Mehrzad
Mirzo (Prince)
Muhammad
Mullo
Murivat
Murod, Morad (Desire, wish)

Namdar, Namvar (Famous)
Niyousha (Listener)
Noushzad
Nuriddin (Light of religion)
Omaid (Hope)

Padshah
Paghahan
Pagzman
Paiman (Promise)
Parsa (Pure)
Payam (Message)
Pazhman (Heartbroken)
Pendar (Thought)
Poya (Searcher)

Qiomars
Qubad
Rahmatillo, Rahmatullo (Mercy of God)
Raimkul
Rastin (Truthfulness)
Ravshan (Light, bright)
Ravshanbek
Rouzbeh (Fortunate)
Roshan
Royan
Rozi
Rukhshan (Flashing)
Rustam (a legendary Persian warrior)

Salar (Leader)
Saman (Home)
Sasan
Sepehr (Sky)
Shadan
Shahbaz (Royal falcon)
Shahin (Falcon)
Shahram (King’s subject)
Shahrdad (City’s gift)
Shuhab (Meteor, shooting star)
Shuhrat (Fame)
Soroush (Messenger)
Sougand
Suhrob, Suhrab (Red water or Illustrious, shining)

Toktam
Ulugbek (Great chieftain)
Ustoz (Master, teacher)
Yusuf
Zardusht

Female:

Afarin (Praise; To create)
Afsana (Legend)
Afsar (Crown)
Afshan (To sprinkle)
Afsun (Charm, spell)
Anahita
Ara (Ornament, decoration)
Ariana
Arezo (Wish)
Arghavan (Reddish-purple)
Armaghan (Gift)
Asal (Honey)
Asiya
Avizeh (Pendant)
Azaliya (Everlasting, eternal)
Azar (Fire)

Bahar (Spring [season])
Baharah (One who brings the Spring)
Baharak (Small spring [season])
Banafshah (Flower)
Behnaz
Belourine (Crystal)
Bizhan

Darya (Sea, river)
Delaram (Quiet-hearted)
Delbar (Charming)
Delkash (Fascinating)
Delruba (Heart-robber)
Dorri (Glittering star)

Farahnaz (Splendid coquetry)
Farhana
Farkhonda (Joyous, happy)
Farzaneh (Smart, wise)
Firuza, Firoza (Turquoise)
Flura
Freshta (Angel)
Fila (Lover)
Forozan, Fruzan, Forozenda (Shining)
Freba (Charming)

Ghoncheh (Flower bud)
Giti (World)
Golbahar (Spring rose)
Gugush
Gulchekhra, Gyulchekhra (Appearance like a rose)
Gulnar, Gulnaz
Gulpari
Gulshan (Rose garden)
Gulshod
Gulya, Gyulya

Hasti (Existence)
Huma (A mythical bird symbolizing freedom)
Indira
Jasaman (Jasmine)
Javaneh (Sprout)
Katayoun
Khandan (Smiling)
Khaterah (Memory)
Khojasta (Auspicious)
Khorshid (Sun)
Lala (Tulip)
Lila (Lilac)

Mahasti
Mahnaz
Mahrukh (Face like the Moon)
Mahsa, Mahwash (Moon-like)
Mahtab (Moon)
Manizha
Manzura
Marjan (Coral)
Marmar (Marble)
Mastana (Joyous, carefree)
Mavzuna
Mehrangiz (Affectionate)
Mehrnaz
Mehrnoosh
Mehry (Kind)
Mina (Enamel)
Minou (Paradise)
Mona
Munisa
Murwarid (Margaret, Pearl)
Muzghan (Eyelashes)
Muzhdah (Good news)

Nahal (Young plant)
Najela (Cute)
Nargis (Daffodil, narcissus)
Nasrin, Nastaran
Nava (Tune)
Nilab (Blue water)
Nilufar
Nikou (Beautiful)
Nousafarin (Creator of joy)
Noushin (Sweet)

Oisha
Padidah (Phenomenon)
Parand (Silk)
Parastou
Pariya
Pari (Fairy)
Paricheher (Fairy-like face)
Parisa (Fairy-like)
Parvana (Butterfly)

Rasa (Expressive stature)
Roudabeh
Rukhsana (Roxana)

Saaman (Jasmine)
Saghar (Wine cup)
Sahar (Dawn)
Sahba (Wine)
Sapedah (Dawn)
Sima, Seema (Face)
Setara (Star)
Shabnam (Dew)
Shahnaz
Shararah (Sparks)
Shirin (Sweet)
Shogofa (Blossom)
Sholah (Flames)
Simin (Silvery)
Souzan (Burning)
Sumayah

Tahminah
Tanaz
Taneen
Tara (Star)
Tarana (Song)
Taranum

Zarrina, Zarrin (Golden)
Zeba
Zhalah
Zhila

The problem with a plethora of topical content

One of the reasons contemporary has never been my genre, either as a writer or reader, is because even the best-written contemporaries tend to inevitably date themselves. I understand that not everyone is interested in crafting timeless works of literature for the ages, but if you want your shelf life to last at least through one more generation, it behooves you to tone down the topical content.

As I’ve mentioned several times, not only is a lot of the advice given in Olga Litowinsky’s Writing and Publishing Books for Children in the 1990s now very dated, but much of it also operates on the presumption that one is writing a contemporary. She barely touched on historicals at all, mostly to say they’re not popular and that kids typically won’t read them and editors won’t be so hot about them unless they coincide with an important anniversary year.

She did come out with an updated version in 2001, It’s a Bunny-Eat-Bunny World: A Writer’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Today’s Competitive Children’s Book Market, but that book too came out before the rise in smaller publishing houses and indie writers. In 2001, it was still almost all about the Big Six and needing an agent.

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One of her misguided bits of advice was to name your characters after your friends’ kids, or to otherwise use popular names. NO! Fewer things put a timestamp on a book as much as names tied to one particular generation. One of the books I read for my Lit Kit portfolio in my children’s lit class was the second book in Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries series, and as fun as the story was, it was also gut-loaded with current Top 100 names.

Just think of your own circle of friends and relatives around your age. Isn’t there a mix of timeless classics, popular or trendy names, and outliers? I was born in 1979, and have known many people with names beyond Jennifer, Jason, Jessica, Kimberly, Amanda, Nicole, Joshua, Justin, Brian, Kevin, Jeffrey, and Melissa. I’ve met people my age with names associated with older generations, as well as names that didn’t really get popular until 10–20 years later. I’ve also known people whose names have never been super-hot, or which haven’t been on most people’s radar in over 100 years.

Yes, it’d be realistic if my characters born in the Forties and Fifties all had names like Linda, Barbara, Susan, Debbie, Nancy, Patricia, Ronald, Larry, Donald, Kenneth, Dennis, and Frank, but that wouldn’t make my characters stand out. There’s nothing wrong with those names, nor the people who bear them, but the most memorable characters tend to have distinctive names, like Ammiel, Octavia, Felix, and Morwenna.

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While I despise the trend of “updating” classic youth literature, I do agree topical content quickly dates a book, movie, or TV show. For example, while I’d laugh at jokes referencing news stories from the Nineties, someone a generation younger than I am would draw a blank. It’s the same reason I’ve never laughed at the clips I’ve seen from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. The jokes are painfully dated, not timeless humor.

Who, e.g., still uses MySpace or AIM? Would the average teen or preteen of today know who most has-been celebrities from 20+ years ago are? Have they heard of the TV shows I grew up watching? Have they ever seen a Walkman or cassette tape?

If your goal is just to write a book that’s popular for a few years, and don’t care about being a writer for all time, you can go ahead and fill your book with topical references, but I’d like to think most serious writers care about their legacies. We all want to still be read and positively remembered long after we’re gone.

A truly good contemporary has a timeless feel. It’s not tied to the era in which it was published, and feels like it could be set in any modern generation.

Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage

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I read this fascinating book in 2010, after seeing it recommended on the now-deleted Television Without Pity forums. I wanted to try to understand why so many poor girls and women have such a different outlook on childbearing and marriage than I do.

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Having kids is the one thing a poor girl can be good at and look forward to. It motivates them to tone down a wild lifestyle and want to do better for themselves. Sadly, the odds are stacked against going to college or getting a good job. There’s also the attitude “Don’t get above your raising.”

Many used birth control, but then stopped, got more sporadic, or gave in to a partner who didn’t want to use condoms. A lot of these children were neither accidents nor planned, but somewhere in between.

Youth is considered the best time to have kids, since there might not be another chance. Men worth marrying don’t often come along until they’re much older.

Whereas having a baby as a teenager would’ve ruined my life, these mothers usually believe they got pregnant “only” a year or two before they were ready. They can’t fathom why so many bourgeois women wait until their thirties or forties.

Marriage is an adult activity, something you do when you’re more mature and settled, with a man who’s proven his worth over at least 5–6 years. The guys they deem good enough to procreate with aren’t always deemed marriage material.

It’s contradictory to view marriage as a bigger step than bringing multiple children into the world. Cohabiting for years and doing everything married people do is also marriage in all but name.

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Many courtships proceed at lightning speed, with men saying they want to have a baby after a handful of dates. Many mothers get pregnant within a few months, when they barely know one another.

A lot of these couplings disturbed me because they involved teen girls and legal adult men, or other inappropriate age differences (e.g., 13 and 17). An older dude hitting on me as a teen would’ve given me the creeps instead of making me swoon, “Ooh, he’s older and he likes me, I must be soo mature!”

That’s how teen girls get taken advantage of, older dudes pretending they love them and think they’re so beautiful and special, just to get them into bed. I tend not to have age differences of more than a few years in my characters’ relationships until it’s leveled out (e.g., 41 and 51, 23 and 28).

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When this fantasy pregnancy and baby become reality, men often deny paternity or jump ship. Often there’s a brief reconciliation after the birth, but these relationships typically don’t last. It’s not humiliating or embarrassing to get pregnant out of wedlock and to have all of their kids very young, because almost everyone does it in their communities.

They by and large reject abortion and adoption, even though that would greatly improve their chances of getting an education, finding a good job, and moving out of the slums. Adoption is seen as “giving away your own flesh and blood” instead of a selfless act of giving your baby the chance at a better life.

They take the attitude “If you’re gonna have sex, accept the responsibility,” though I consider it far more responsible to take birth control religiously. However, the bourgeoisie also have divorced marriage from these adult activities. Gone are the days of the shotgun wedding and needing to be married to be a respectable part of the community. People who cohabit and have kids out of wedlock are no longer social pariahs.

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The authors don’t have any definitive solutions, but they posit some ideas. If these guys had help with job training and education, these women would have better partners to pick from, instead of feeling they have no choice but to wait until their thirties and have already had three children.

They all need economic help and more resources put into their schools and local job markets. Relationship training would also help, so these girls wouldn’t be so quick to hop into bed with guys they barely know. They’d correctly understand “I wanna have a baby by you” is a pickup line or a goofy sentiment so early in a relationship, when they haven’t even discussed marriage yet.

With all these changes, they might start to value their futures and respect themselves enough to postpone sexual activity and childbearing until they’re in a position to support a family, and mature enough to handle adult relationships.