Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

We're shuffling back to Tuesday for the weekly post because it is the only weekday I won't be in class this upcoming quarter - oh, yes, you heard that right.  It's been a great ride, but I am so ready to graduate, ladies and gentlemen.

In the first draft of Gone With The Wind, so the story goes, Margaret Mitchell had named her heroine Pansy.  It wasn't until later that she changed the name to Scarlet.  Now, it seems almost inconceivable that Scarlet should be named anything else.  What would a Pansy be like?  I picture a plain, naive, sweet girl - or maybe a frumpy governness.

For me, names are inextricably linked to character.  I find that characters don't fully form in my head until they have a name, and oftentimes, the name I've chosen will influence their development.  This makes renaming - the few times I've had to do so - a grueling process.  How do you find a different name that feels exactly the same as the original?  And that feeling is an elusive, ephemeral thing:  I couldn't necessarily articulate what the names I've chosen convey to me.

For some of my fantasy novels, I've done full-blown naming languages.  Some writers find this excessive, but honestly, it's something I enjoy doing.  I love coming up with the basic rules of word construction - maybe this language lacks the aspirated H sound? - and lingual drift, then watching the evolution.  A side bonus is this also gives me a source for naming cities, rivers, countries, and so forth, which is something I often have trouble with.  (That's another post, I think.)  There is a fantastic basic primer that I use for generation, plus - if I feel ambitious - a list of (I believe) the 150 most commonly used words.  I'm no Tolkien:  the physics of linguistics, how sounds are produced in the mouth, how to "properly" represent subtle differences in sound that are represented identically in writing - all these things are outside the scope of my creations.  Maybe some day.

For other works, I've simply created an internal sense for myself about how names from a particular culture or region should feel.  (Are we getting the impression I'm a very kinesthetic person yet?)  Sometimes, this is a specific analogue to the real world - similar to Welsh, Greek, Native American - and sometimes not.  Other times, I'll set forth particular rules for consistency.  For instance, in Journal of the Dead, all female names have a silent H in them somewhere; and to avoid a typical naming disease, female names never end with an -a.  Male names almost always end in consonants.  

In Unnatural Causes, the desert countries in which the story takes place have a very distinct naming convention.  There are no "stand-alone" internal vowels - it's always some kind of dipthong.  The only exception is the letter y.  Names can, however, start or end with a single vowel.  This gives me names like Roendair, Iluenn, Eshaira, Nydrian ... and it also sets up a nice contrast between them and the familiars, whose names don't follow these rules (Vil, Duvalis, Koric), and the lone westerner, Davsin.

... I would just like to observe that spellcheck is flipping its lid right now.

Which brings me to the use of contemporary names.  I genuinely dislike real world names in secondary world fantasy, unless there is some hidden connection to our world in the backstory.  It jerks me right out of the story.  Obviously, all fantasy worlds are in some way modeled after ours, if only by contrast, but to have characters named - for instance - Alice and Thomas lampshades it too much for my taste.  (Go here if you're unfamiliar with Lampshade Hanging)  On the other hand, names that are "real" but not recognizably evocative of our world are all right with me.  For instance, Pazia (from Fatecraft) is actually a Hebrew name meaning "golden."  (I seem to be drawn to names in this particular vein ...)

And what about stories set in our world?  There, I find a whole new set of challenges in naming ...

Monday, March 30, 2015

Homeschooler's Perspective: the Age Gap

One of the major differences between homeschooling and conventional schooling is the fact that typically, life and learning experiences (the two are inextricably linked) do not occur with a large group of people the same age.  Theater, sports, music, zoo class, and assorted field trips tend to be a family affair.  You become accustomed to hanging out with people of all ages, rather than your friend automatically being the person closest to your own age, and their family members regulated to "annoying siblings" or "the mom."  For me, this was often even more the case:  because my family started homeschooling when the movement was novel and strange and because my mother spoke on the topic, adults wanted to talk to me as "exhibit A," while their children met me as their introduction to homeschooling.

I'm not sure whether homeschooling, happenstance or inborn preference played the greater part, but this trend only continued as I grew older.  For several years, one of my closest friends was my neighbor's younger daughter.  I worked at the Cincinnati Museum Center during school hours, so made friends with the adult volunteers.  I was always very comfortable and at ease with them.

Then I entered the world of the traditional lever harp.  Most harpers start either very young - they take lessons as children - or later in life, often towards retirement.  I was sixteen and right in the middle, and in general, I've stayed there.  I do meet some harpers close to my age, but most are on one side or the other.

My final encounter with the age gap came in culinary school.  Once again, I was surrounded by people who were just out of highschool - given or take a few years - or people a decade or two older starting a new career.  I tended to feel more kinship with the older students than with the "kids," but I've had good luck getting along with both.

Does it really matter?  In the end, common interests and dedication trump age every time.  If there has been any difficulty, it comes from the generation gap in terms of pop culture and common views - quite simply, we don't always get each other's jokes.  For instance, in the kitchen one day, I made a "crunchy frog" joke to absolute silence.  I've been the only person to laugh when my teachers made a reference.  I was completely boggled to find out that many of my younger classmates never check their email.  And who can live without their own printer?  (All right, that may be a writer thing.)

Speaking of writers, that's another area that spans the gamut of ages, but I don't tend to notice it as often.  A big part of it, I'm sure, is because there are almost no physical reminders.  Another component is that if a joke does fall flat, it doesn't land in an obvious abyss of blank stares.  But then, there's the fact that we writers tend to collect information and trivia, and we're more likely to get jokes that don't fit our generation, background, or chosen (non-writing) career.

... a bit like homeschoolers, really.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

That Time of Year

It's that time of year again.  No, not spring - you couldn't prove that by the weather around here, anyway - but the annual submissions period for the Sword & Sorceress anthologies.  This has been a dream market of mine for years.  I've managed to get stories held for second reading, but haven't broken through yet.

So this year, I have two stories selected for editing and eventual submission.  They are:

The Dragon's Dinner:  a recent story of mine, a short, humorous tale about a princess who goes to rescue her beloved from a dragon, only to find that things are appetizingly not what they seem.

Unblemished:  a much older (and longer) story about a woman who becomes a Silver, a healer whose powers only work unless she herself is never injured ... not so much as a scratch.  Family loyalties come into conflict with her profession.  This story needs a lot more work than the other:  descriptions added, paragraphs rearranged, language tidied up ... but the plot is strong, and I think it will be worth it.

Fingers crossed that this will be the year.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Location, location, location.

Back when Flow first came out, I defined why I considered it contemporary fantasy, not urban fantasy.  Part of the reason is, despite the road-trip aspect of the story, it doesn't really occur in or involve a city environment.  Most of the tale is spent in smaller population centers or in outlying suburban areas.

As I look at other contemporary fantasy stories I've written, this generally holds true.  (Xmas Wishes occurs firmly in suburbia.)  Part of it is, I'm sure, that I'm not comfortable enough with many big cities to be confident using them as story setting, but the lion's share is that urban settings really don't interest me that much.  As a personal preference, I don't like the bustle and claustrophobia of big cities; I don't feel the allure or the mystique, even if I can grasp it on an intellectual level.

It is in the quieter spaces that I seem to find my modern-day stories.  Some of them are even inspired, to various degrees, by experiences I've had.  A Flow-verse story I'm currently trying to sell entitled "A Dose of Aconite" is set largely in an anonymous nowheresville motel that is modeled after the place I stayed outside of Oberlin when I was getting my SHSA (Scottish Harp Society of America) judging certification.  And the skeleton outlet mall between Cincinnati and Columbus where confrontation occurs in Flow?  That's a real place ... with some tweaks, of course.

I do think that abandoned and desolate places have appeal for me as a writer.  (A while back, I mentioned that I finished a new story, then an old free-write start ... only to realize that both revolved around a mysteriously abandoned population center.)  Most of the action in Flow occurs in the spaces between ...

Of course, one of the fun parts of using the real world is highlighting its oddities.  A retired humorous novel of mine pokes at the fact that the Cincinnati airport is in Kentucky.  Flow makes a reference to the glitzy, over-the-top McDonald's in Asheville, North Carolina.  One of my unsubmitted stories, Lip Service, uses every single reference to metaphorical kisses I could find, from Kissimmee, FL, to Kissing, Germany, to Hershey's kisses, to a Glasgow Kiss ...

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Happy National Grammar Day!

It should surprise no one that I am a big fan of this holiday.  I am an unabashed grammar fanatic, and I will confess that seeing grammatical errors (with the exception, perhaps, of the most obscure) in professional documents, from announcements to job descriptions to newsletters, tends to lower my opinion of the company or individual.  I try to resist it - I know that it's not as important to some! - but I can't help it.

I realize that English is a living language, and that grammar use will drift as the language does and eventually become "correct."  On the other hand, the language is much more codified than it ever was in the pre-modern era, so to what extent is drift natural and acceptable, and to what extent is the application of new terms / grammar conventions an ad populum fallacy - that is, the idea that it's right because most people believe it to be true?  I don't know that there's a singular answer.  That said, I can tell y'all definitively that "ain't" ain't in my dictionary.  (Y'all is probably a good example of all this!  People will insist that it should be "ya'll" or that it's "y'all" if singular or "ya'll" if plural or ... this is not a debate I'm up on.  ;-))

(This makes me think about the response to the "rule" about not ending a sentence with a preposition:  "This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.")

(Yes, I have a parantheses addiction.)

To me, though, it's more than just a debate, and there are both practical and artistic reasons for it.  On the practical level, grammar and punctuation are vital for clarity.  The argument for putting a comma on the word before a person is addressed is easily illustrated with the difference between, "Let's eat, Grandma!" and "Let's eat grandma."  As for applying it in other situations, I think it's much easier to use it consistently than to have to stop and consider clarity every time ... especially when the definition of clarity may vary from person to person.

On the artistic side, grammar and punctuation inform the music of the written word.  They ask for pauses; they group phrases together like a singer following breath marks.  There is a marked difference between two independent phrases separated by a period versus the same two phrases separated by a semi-colon.  I confess I'm heartily addicted to ellipses and dashes, and I constantly have to edit back my use of them, but that break, that beat, is as much a part of my writer's lexicon as any word.

Some online publishing houses have moved to a trend of removing any punctuation that is not strictly necessary for clarity.  This drives me batty.  To me, it's taking some of the music out of the language.  Please save the commas!  Catch them and release them back into the wilds of prose, where they belong.