TT: Brain Snakes

July 27, 2017

ALAN: Last time you promised to share some of the brain snakes that occur when you start to conlang. The image of something wriggling around inside your skull is gruesomely attractive. I can hardly wait!

Brain Snakes

JANE: Right…  Most of my brain snakes hatch from an element of conlangs we discussed last time.  If you create a language – even to the extent of implying that your characters are not speaking English – then you’re opening the door to a whole raft of issues.

ALAN: Wait!  How can you imply your characters are not speaking English?  Surely it should be quite clear?

JANE: Actually, a lot of would-be SF/F writers don’t seem to realize that even giving characters or places weird names implies a different language is at play.  By weird names, I don’t mean simple phonetic spelling, like “Soo-san” instead of “Susan” but calling a character Gyriitink or M’ff’mn.

Names don’t come from nowhere.  I’ve discussed this some in a past Wandering, but let me repeat the basics.  Names start out meaning something.  They may indicate that you’re the third male child (Number Three Son).  Or they may refer to some characteristic that your parents hope you will have (Faith, Hope, Charity).  Or they may indicate where or when you were born or where your ancestors came from.  Eventually, however, even names with meaning become ciphers.

ALAN: You mean like my name being “Alan”?  According to what I’ve read, “Alan” comes from the Breton and it means “handsome” (or possibly “little rock”, but I prefer handsome because clearly that describes me more accurately). Apparently there was also an Iranian tribe known as the Alans who migrated into Europe in the 4th century. The name might derive from them as well.

JANE: You can be a handsome little rock from Iran, if you like…

When numerous cultures come into contact, the cipher problem increases because people don’t just chose names from within their own culture.  They name to commemorate famous people, or relatives, or a good friend – any of which might have a root in another culture.  Or they just like the sound of a name and borrow it.

I’m curious.  Your wife is named “Robin.”  Was she named for the bird or for some other reason?

ALAN: She’s named after a friend of her mother’s who was called Robyn. No one is quite sure how or why the spelling changed on its way to Robin’s birth certificate… Except that it seems to be a family tradition to spell names “wrongly”. Robin’s mum is called Phyllis rather than “Phylis” and Robin’s grandmother was Ilean, as opposed to the more common Eileen…

JANE: That’s fascinating.  Just to complicate the brew, I’ll note that I’m more familiar with the spelling “Phyllis.”  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the name spelled “Phylis.”

Anyhow, before I tempt myself into tangenting off into why I always check the spelling before signing a book for someone…

When I’m writing a book in an imaginary world setting for which I’m going conlang, one of the first questions I need to ask myself is what are the naming conventions, because names will be one of the major ways the reader will encounter the conlang.  Does the culture name for qualities?  Job?  Social position?  Or is it a cipher thing?  If a cipher thing, and the words are “made up,” that implies a complete language to go with the names, and so the names should at least sound as if they come from the same language.

 And, of course, in most cultures, a mixture exists, so, Gyriitink’s best friend might be named Trumpetvine.

ALAN: It seems to me that different naming conventions can be a good way to imply different languages being spoken.  Michael Moorcock’s anti-hero Elric had a best friend named “Moonglum.”  The difference in their names provided a quick and constant reminder that they came from different cultures in a multi-lingual world. Am I correct in that assumption?

JANE: I agree.  That’s what I always felt.

ALAN: Do you have any other snakes squirming around in there? What colour are they? Do they bite?

JANE: Many.  One that really “bites” (in the slang sense) is the question of titles or honorifics.  Do you make up new ones to go with the new language, or do you stick with familiar ones like “king” and “queen.”

For me, there’s a constant balancing act between risking alienating readers by providing too much information that has to be learned before they can settle in and enjoy the story, and falling into a cookie cutter universe.

For the Firekeeper Saga, I opted to stick with the familiar titles for the first encountered cultures, then slowly segue into different titles for new cultures, hoping that, by then, the reader would have a foundation and be willing to tackle a little more variation.

ALAN: But familiar titles carry a lot of cultural and linguistic baggage with them. We all think we know what we mean by the word “king,” but our meaning would not necessarily correspond to that of another culture. Therefore, using the word might give the reader a false impression of the society you are describing based on the reader’s own preconceptions. I suspect this might be slightly more true of American readers than it would be for readers from other countries because Americans have never lived with kings and queens or with aristocracy in general (except very briefly a few hundred years ago) so they might lack the necessary historical perspective.

So perhaps you might try and avoid that trap by using less familiar, but nevertheless very real, titles. Caesar – or “Kaiser” as I was (Germanically) taught to pronounce it in Latin class, for example. Or Vizier perhaps. But as soon as you do that you are back with the problem you were trying to avoid of potentially alienating your readers by using too many unfamiliar words. Where does the happy medium lie?

JANE: Oh… And that’s only part of it.  Remember, “Caesar” didn’t start as a title.  It started a one part of a Roman personal name, that of Gaius Julius Caesar.  So, if you use “Caesar” as a title, a reader would have every right to assume a tie to ancient Rome – and many would expect it and be disappointed when it didn’t develop.

Just to toss more into the soup kettle of complexities, “Tsar” is “Caesar” slightly mispronounced (that is, adapted for another language), so if you use “Tsar…”

Well, you see how complex it gets and why sometimes a writer just settles for “king.”

ALAN: I certainly agree that it’s a knotty problem of Gordian proportions. As with the original Gordian Knot I suspect that simple solutions are probably the best. So “king” it is.

JANE: But the brain snakes of conlanging get even more complicated.  I’d love to talk a little more about them, and toss out a question that’s bugging me as I write my current book.  How about next time?

Time Management

July 26, 2017

It’s summer vacation and you have all the time in the world.  Or you’ve just retired.  Ditto.  Or the kids will be going to camp (or back to school).  Ditto.

Time: Not Waiting in the Wings

I’m here to share a dark and evil secret.

There is no such thing as “All the time in the world.”  As soon as those around you perceive you as “free,” they’re going to find uses for your “spare” time.   Forget about that novel you were going to finish or short story you were going to start or comic you were going to draw.

A couple of weeks ago, a writer friend of mine, recently retired from teaching full-time at UNM, asked if we could meet up.  She wanted to consult me regarding  how I managed my time and remained a productive writer.

I agreed to meet with her.  However, in a weird way, my agreement also contained my first answer to her question.  I was already booked for that week.  And the week after, I was taking care of my friend’s cats, so I wasn’t available.  And the week after that (that’s last week), my first free day was Thursday.

Wait!  Haven’t I said I’m self-employed?  Doesn’t that mean I don’t have anyone to answer to?  Deadlines are flexible.  Haven’t famous writers who shall remain nameless proven that?  And what if – like my recently retired friend – you don’t have any deadline that’s not self-imposed?  How can you possibly be “booked”?

Well, the difference is how you view being self-employed.

For me, being self-employed means I have the toughest boss there is.  My boss insists that the majority of my work day is spent doing something related to my job.  Writing new material is crucial, but there are additional writing-related activities like social media (such as this WW I’m writing right now), proofreading, editing, exploring markets, and various tasks related to getting my backlist (and some original fiction) self-published.

My boss does not accept “I’ll get around to it, I guess, but I need to read just one more chapter in this great novel” as an excuse.  Or, “I’m tired.  I’ll just play this video game for a while.”  Unreasonable?  Well,  no.  If I had a “real” boss, I can’t imagine that those would be considered acceptable excuses.

My number one time management tool is limiting my extracurricular activities to one per day.  That means if I know I’m taking a cat to the vet, I don’t schedule having lunch with a friend.  If I’ve scheduled a phone date with someone, I don’t also plan to go out and run a bunch of errands.  I belong to exactly one club, and that club meets once a month.

Remember the phone dates?  That’s another time management tool.  Several of my closest friends live out of state.  We schedule times to talk, just as we would set aside time if we were going to meet for lunch.   Furthermore, phone dates often double as chore time for me, because I can talk on a headset and take care of filing or chopping up veggies for dinner or other mindless tasks.

When I was taking care of my friend’s cats, that ate my free time for an entire week.  That was even with my taking work over to his house so that I could proofread while giving Alfie and Dexter the reassurance that there were humans available to cuddle them.

My newly–retired friend was surprised at how fiercely I protect my time.  She wanted to know how much of that time was spent actually writing.  I couldn’t give her a clear answer.  Either I write a couple of hours a day five days a week, or I write twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  The latter is actually closer to the truth.  I’ve fussed over a section of a story for hours, only to have the ideas come clear as I’m getting ready for bed.

What’s important is that I have time to think, time to muse, time to slide the bits around until everything tumbles so perfectly into place that it seems incredible I didn’t see how the story was developing from the first.

Does the level to which I preserve my time sound draconian?  It wouldn’t if I had a “real” job, and was at someone else’s beck and call nine to five, Monday to Friday.  Well, guess what?  I do have a real job.  Accepting that, and accepting my right to manage my work day to make sure that job gets done is the first and most important time management tool I know.

FF: Reading and Researching

July 21, 2017

The balance seems to be shifting toward non-fiction again.  I left out a bunch of books I’m skimming for research purposes.

Kel After Looking Up Catnip

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise and Other Imponderables? by David Feldman.  The occasionally dated nature of some of the material does not detract from the charm and fascination of these short – sometimes only a few paragraphs long – essays.

Speed Racer: The Official 30th Anniversary Guide by Elizabeth Moran.  Stumbled across this at the library and couldn’t resist.  I didn’t read the episode summaries, but the material on how the character came to be and how the story was subtly re-interpreted for American audiences was fascinating.

In Progress:

Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Re-listen.

Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language by Esther Schor.  Alan and my Tangent discussion on Esperanto a week or so ago led me to want to learn more about the context in which this language was developed and in which it continues to – if not thrive – at least exist.

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart.  Very informative and interesting.  However, I find the conceit that poisonous plants are “evil,” as if they act with intellectually calculated malice, a bit wearing.


Still re-reading Through Wolf’s Eyes by Jane Lindskold.  It’s been long enough that I can read this as if it was written by someone else.  Fascinating.

TT: Learning the Conlang

July 20, 2017

ALAN: Last time you were telling me about your thoughts on constructing languages in your fiction. Now I have another question for you. If your protagonists arrive in a new place, how do you handle the problem of having them learn the local language?

Language is a Gateway

JANE: Well, that varies from book to book, even within books.  By the way, this problem applies not just to conlangs, but to any book in which the characters encounter a culture that speaks another language.

In the Firekeeper books, there’s usually someone with an incentive to teach the language.  For example, poor Derian gets stuck with teaching Firekeeper Pellish.  He’s very sympathetic to the people who have the job later on – and when it’s his turn to learn a new language, he’s eager to cooperate.

In the “Artemis Awakening” novels, Griffin Dane comes to Artemis believing that he’s prepared to speak to the inhabitants.  The culture is conservative in regard to change, which helps, but he does have a pronounced accent and occasionally uses phrases the locals find archaic.  Conversely, they’ve developed terms that weren’t in his primer or use terms that are in his vocabulary, but for which the meaning has shifted.  So, although communication is possible, it does stumble from time to time.

Those are just two examples, but I hope they give you a sense of the way that languages can impact on the story, even in ways that have nothing to do with the languages themselves.

ALAN: In Real Life (TM) I’ve always found learning a new language to be a relatively painless experience if I am surrounded by the language all the time. I tend to just soak it up like a sponge. I worked for the United Nations for a time and I spent six months in Geneva where the lingua franca is French.

JANE: (chuckling) The lingua franca is French.  Well, yeah…  Uh, please, go on!

ALAN: By the end of my stay there I was quite fluent in French. I was even thinking in French. The language had become so second nature to me that when I flew home to England I spoke to the immigration official in French while proffering my British passport. Very embarrassing…

JANE: That’s a great anecdote!  You really do have a gift for languages.

ALAN: Of course it helped that I’d studied French at school, so I had a firm foundation to build on. But that hasn’t always been the case. I once spent three weeks in Russia. I entered the country with no knowledge of Russian whatsoever. But after three weeks I could read the Cyrillic street signs and I could hold (very) simple conversations.

JANE: My dad spent some time in Russia.  When he came back, he enjoyed showing us how familiar words would be spelled in Cyrillic, and how he’d managed to get by once he’d learned what letters were which.

I wish you two could compare notes on your experiences.

ALAN: That could be fun.  Russia was a very surreal place – I once ordered drinks in a bar. I paid in American dollars and I was given change in Deutschmarks…

But my gift for languages doesn’t always work. I spent some time in China and got absolutely nowhere. I didn’t pick up any of either Mandarin or Cantonese.  Perhaps that’s because they are tonal languages and I’m tone deaf. I also realised for the first time just what it means to be illiterate. I never learned to identify a single written character…

But I’ve gone Tangenting off the topic. Sorry.  Let’s come back to it. It certainly sounds as if you’ve done a lot of thinking about conlangs.

JANE: I have.  In fact, as I said when we were getting into this discussion, I may have thought too much about it.  I find myself thinking, If these people really are speaking another language, why isn’t the entire book written in it?

ALAN: If I hadn’t already mentioned Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, now would be a good time to point out that the whole book is written in his made-up language. So it can definitely be made to work.

But the master of conlangs, J. R. R. Tolkien himself, had the best ever excuse for not writing the whole book in his made-up language. In the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien states explicitly that his earlier novel The Hobbit is simply a translation from sections of The Red Book of Westmarch. And, by implication, so is The Lord of the Rings itself:

Further information [about hobbits] will also be found in the selection from the Red Book of Westmarch that has already been published, under the title of The Hobbit. That story was derived from the earlier chapters of the Red Book, composed by Bilbo himself…

About The Lord of the Rings itself, Tolkien goes on to say that:

This account of the end of the Third Age is drawn mainly from the Red Book of Westmarch. That most important source for the history of the War of the Ring… It was in origin Bilbo’s private diary, which he took with him to Rivendell. Frodo brought it back to the Shire… he nearly filled its pages with his account of the War.

JANE: I’ve always thought that was a great explanation.  The hobbits speak English (therefore, their bits are translated from hobbitish), but they need to learn all the other cultures’ languages.

This is the foundation excuse in most Fantasy (and even far future SF, where logically the language would have drifted so that, even if the people still spoke English, it would be as incomprehensible to us, now, as is Old – or even Middle – English).

ALAN: Anthony Boucher’s short story “Barrier” has some interesting speculations about how language would evolve in the future. At one point someone says, “Eeyboy taws so fuy, but I nasta. Wy cachoo nasta me?”. And it (almost) makes sense in context.

JANE:  Let’s see, is that “Oh, boy, that’s so funny, but I ask you.  Why are you asking me?”

ALAN: Well done! However I think “Eeyboy” might actually be “Hey, boy”. But the point is moot.

JANE: Or a demonstration of exactly what we’ve been discussing.  I’m American, so I “see” “Oh, boy,” which is a common American use.

Both the Burgess and the Boucher examples only work because they’re deriving from already familiar languages (Russian and English).  If the language was completely made up—like Elvish – the readers would need to translate as they read.

But asking myself why I’m not writing my entire book in the conlang is only one of my problems.

ALAN: What other problems have you encountered?

JANE: Oh, several, many of which are just the snakes in my own brain.  Can I save them for next time?

Try, Try Again

July 19, 2017

This week began on a very positive note.  My short story, “Unexpected Flowers,” was accepted by Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.  This is the first time I’ve sold a story to that magazine, so I’m very pleased to have finally achieved that particular personal goal.

Unexpected Flowers

I don’t know which issue it will be in, but I promise to let you know as soon as I do.

“Unexpected Flowers” was written late this February.  It’s not very long: only about 1,400 words.   For that reason, I can’t tell you much about it without providing too much in the way of spoilers.  I will say that it’s a very mathematical story…

In case you’re wondering, “Unexpected Flowers” was not accepted the first time I sent it out.  Or the second.  Or the third…

Or the fourth.

This was my fifth attempt.

If you think that rejections hurt less when you’re an old professional (which I guess I am, although there are times I feel as if I’m still just getting started), the answer is “No.”  Honestly, I wanted to give up after that first rejection, but I did like the story, so I kept trying.

Submitting stories to short fiction magazines has changed quite a bit since I started in this field.  In some ways it’s easier.  Most magazines actually prefer electronic submissions, so there’s no need to go to the post office.  There’s no need to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope with correct postage if you want your manuscript back.  (I started writing in the dark ages, in the days before disposable manuscripts.)

On the other hand, in some ways it’s harder.  One of the ways it’s harder is that most magazines request that you only submit one story at a time.  This means that if a magazine has a long waiting list – Asimov’s took three months to get back to me – then you’re not only tying up that story for a considerable time period, you’re also closing the door to that market if you come up with another story you think might suit it.

It also seems to me that there are fewer “professional” markets out there.  However, I haven’t sat down and done a studied comparison and contrast, so I can’t say for sure.

When I was first going to conventions with Roger Zelazny, a question I heard him asked over and over was “What do you think is the single most important thing for someone who wants to be a professional writer?”

His answer was always the same: “Persistence.  Keep writing.  Keep sending things out.  But most of all, keep writing.”

I kept this in mind as the rejections were coming in, went back to the market lists, reviewed my options.  I wrote a few more short stories, then a novel came and swallowed me.  I’m still mucking around in its gullet.

I also kept reminding myself of something so obvious that it might seem ridiculous: If you try, you have a chance of succeeding, but if you don’t try, you have no chance at all.

That’s cold comfort when the rejections are coming in, but when the acceptance happens, it’s really very sweet.  Now, off to do some more persisting!

FF: Substance and Illusion

July 14, 2017

I found myself wondering a lot this week about depth versus the illusion of depth…

Kel likes Marvin Gardens

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  Audiobook.   A series of vivid, often elegant, descriptions tied together with an unsurprising, although not off-putting, plot.

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King.  The author writes gripping YA novels as A.S. King.  Among my favorites are Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Past.  This middle grade book is superficially less ambitious, but manages to pack a lot of subtext into what most kids will read as a modern ecological fable.

In Progress:

Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise and Other Imponderables? by David Feldman.  The occasionally dated nature of some of the responses does not detract from the charm and fascination of these short – sometimes only a few paragraphs long – essays.

Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language by Esther Schor.  Alan and my Tangent discussion on Esperanto a week or so ago led me to want to learn more about the context in which this language was developed and in which it continues to – if not thrive – at least exist.


This book called Through Wolf’s Eyes by Jane Lindskold.  I haven’t read it from beginning to end in well over a decade.  I find myself enjoying it.

TT: To Conlang or Not

July 13, 2017

JANE: Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been escaping from the summer heat (here) and the winter chill (there) by discussing the fascinating subject of languages in SF/F.

Conlang Zones

ALAN: There have been a lot of excellent books and articles written about the subject, and rather than just recapping those, I thought I’d ask you about how you — to mangle Hamlet’s famous query – approach the issue of “To conlang or not to conlang.”

JANE: It’s certainly an issue I’ve thought a lot – maybe too much – about.  So, fire away!

ALAN: Have you ever felt the need to invent a language in order to give depth and flavour to the world you are writing about? And how far along that track are you prepared to travel?

JANE: Yes, I have.  Can I back up slightly?  I need to provide a foundation for my answer.

ALAN: Go for it! I’m all in favour of firm foundations.

JANE: As I mentioned a while back, my first several books were set either on our Earth or in a future of that Earth,  so the earliest novel in which I might have dealt with this issue was When the Gods Are Silent.  This was my first attempt to write what is often called “imaginary world fantasy” – which is just what it sounds like.

I did a lot of cool things, but I didn’t get into the issue of language.  I’m not sure it even occurred to me.  If it did, I dismissed it because in this world there had been global travel for a long time, and it seemed likely that the equivalent of a trade tongue would have been in use.

ALAN: I’ve actually just re-read When the Gods Are Silent. There’s a coincidence!

JANE: I hope you enjoyed.  It’s finding a new audience now that it’s available as an e-book.

Anyhow, the first book in which I really had to consider the question of creating a language or languages was when I decided to write imaginary world fantasy again in the “Firekeeper Saga,” which starts with Through Wolf’s Eyes.

But a funny thing had happened between my writing this and When the Gods Are Silent.  I’d written two books in which multiple cultures and multiple languages were important: Changer and Changer’s Daughter.  For Changer’s Daughter (originally published as Legends Walking) in particular, language was crucial.

ALAN: These are my very favourites of your books. The cultural and linguistic aspects give the stories a depth and solidity which I really enjoy. I think I find something new every time I read them.

JANE:  Thank you!

From the original proposal forward, Through Wolf’s Eyes and its sequels were intended to be “frontier books.”  This frontier – just like the American continents – would have been colonized by various nations, each with their own languages.  So, even before I wrote a word, I was committed to at least minimal conlanging.

But that wasn’t the only language problem I was facing.  Firekeeper herself introduced an enormous language challenge.

ALAN: What was that?

JANE: Firekeeper was raised by wolves.  Although she speaks their language – no quick and easy telepathic fix for me! – she doesn’t remember speaking any of the human languages.  Initially, I planned to write the entire novel from her point of view, but I rapidly realized that the readers would shoot me.  (I might have shot me, too.)

ALAN: Sounds painful. Why the urge for self-harm?

JANE: Since Firekeeper has a very limited background, when she starts encountering new things, they’re largely defined by what they are not.  A horse is a “not elk,” because an elk is the closest reference point she has to a horse.

ALAN: That’s an interesting approach. After all, a horse is not a lot of things. That could make it hard to be precise. But I take your point – I think I’d very quickly get annoyed with conversations full of nouns that are negatives of other nouns.

JANE: It certainly made any scene in which Firekeeper encountered something new exceedingly cumbersome, so I introduced Derian Carter as a point of view character so that each and every scene would not need to be an anthropological investigation.

Firekeeper’s twisted way of seeing the world is much more inviting in smaller doses.   Eventually, she does learn Pellish (the language of the first two nations she encounters), although she remains slapdash in her sentence structure.  You can tell when she cares about something because she takes the time to speak carefully.

ALAN: Are Pellish and Firekeeper’s animal talk the only languages?

JANE: Oh, no!  Even the two Pellish colonies, Hawk Haven and Bright Bay, show some linguistic and cultural drift.   Several other nations are introduced as the series advances, and each has its own languages.  Therefore, as Firekeeper encounters new cultures, she has to learn more languages, a process she finds very annoying.

ALAN: I’ve been in her position, so I sympathise. I generally find that I understand far more than I can actually articulate, which can be very frustrating indeed.

JANE: As for me, I rather liked creating the languages.  I didn’t actually “conlang,” but I did come up with basic rules of grammar, forms of address, and the like for several different cultures.  The languages, to me, were windows into the cultures and their values –a show, don’t tell, for those readers who care about these things.

But the question of comprehension wasn’t the only language problem Firekeeper created for me.

ALAN: What other headaches did she give you?

JANE: I did a great deal of research into how humans learn language.  One thing that most researchers agreed upon was that if the concept of spoken language was not learned early, a child will not be able to learn how to speak.

ALAN: Yes – there are many documented cases of feral children who were rescued from the wild quite late in their lives and who never really came to grips with the idea of language at all.

JANE:  I read about those…   The same is true – although the window is a bit larger – for written language.

ALAN: I always admired the way that Edgar Rice Burroughs gave Tarzan both spoken and written languages. Tarzan’s first spoken language was that of the Mangani, the great apes who adopted him, so the concept of speaking was very firmly part of his life. But interestingly, his first written language was English, which he puzzled out from the pictures and words he found in the books in the cabin his parents built before they were killed. However he didn’t learn to speak  English until many years later. (Amusingly, his first spoken human language was French).

Burroughs’ description of Tarzan’s initial struggles with the written word is beautifully written and very poignant.

JANE: Tarzan’s experience definitely had an influence on me.  I loved those parts of the story.

With Firekeeper, I made certain that I showed (through the nightmares that serve as flashbacks) that Firekeeper had been exposed to both spoken and written language before the deaths of her parents and her adoption by the wolves.

Maybe that wouldn’t trouble any of my readers, but once I knew the theory, I had to lay the foundation.

ALAN: I have another question…

JANE: I’d love to hear it, but let’s wait until next time.  I need to go invent another language for the book I’m currently working on.


July 12, 2017

So, folks, tell me…  How do you feel about authors doing self-promotion?

I have mixed feelings, I’ll admit.

The Underdesk Crowd

When I write these Wanderings, I enjoy feeling as if I’m at a convention or something, chatting with people either on a panel or maybe in the hallway between events.

I like telling you guys about new projects.  I don’t mind announcing when something new is bought, sold, or re-released.  After all, in most cases, the reason you’re reading these words is because you “met” me through one or more of my writing projects.

My discomfort level comes when I need to say things like, “Hey.  I’m glad you’re excited about this new project.  I hope you’ll actually buy it, not just take it from the library or borrow it from your best friend.  You see, to make a living, I need sales.  I’m not independently wealthy.  Yes.  I’m married, but it may shock you how little an archeologist makes.  I need, not just for my ego, but so the cats and guinea pigs can keep living in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, to be able to earn a living from my work.”

Whoosh!  I have palpitations just from writing that!  Why?  Because I’ve been poor.  I mean really poor, as in nearly hitting the poverty level.  There have been times in my life where the library or used book store was my only option.  I’ll always be grateful that when, at our very first meeting,  I asked Roger Zelazny to sign an obviously used copy of Creatures of Light and Darkness for a college friend, he didn’t shove it away and refuse.

I’m also really, really bad about hinting I’d like to be involved in a project – an anthology, say, or a theme issue of a magazine.  Why?  Because it seems to be bad form.  Won’t people ask me if they want my work?  I’ve learned to my surprise that they won’t always, that if they’re talking about something in my vicinity they may be indirectly sounding me out, trying to see if I’ll express an interest.  If I don’t, they think, “Oh, she’s not interested.”

In reality, I’m like the girl at the dance who’s there cleaned up, dressed nice, and hoping, hoping, hoping…  But I’m afraid that I’ll be rude if I ask someone if it’s possible for me to dance.

I’ve been told I should encourage people to sign up for my mailing list.

Deep breath: “Hi folks, please sign up for my mailing list.  Especially now that I’m experimenting with self-publishing, this is the best way to learn of promotions, contests, and new releases.  The new releases might not matter to you, but the other two will always be of limited duration.  I’d hate for you to miss, just because you were on vacation or having a bad week at work.”

Whew…  Heavy, heavy sigh…

(Time Travel Moment.  In the Comments, John C. encouraged me to include link to my website, where you can sign up for my mailing list. Here it is.  Thank you, John, for the coaching!)

If I ever do a Kickstarter or related program, I’ll really have a lot of trouble because that means asking people to give me money for nothing but trust.  Wow!  That’s terrifying.

Roger Zelazny was a lovely person to learn about the business of writing from, but his advice in these areas was non-existent because these options didn’t exist.  He began writing in a time and place when self-promotion – up to and including anything more than gently hinting that you had a new book out – was considered very bad form.  We talked a lot about the (then, early 1990s) trend of self-promotion for awards.  He thought it was a bad idea.  I’m afraid that his restraint in such matters rubbed off.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on when you find self-promotion helpful, when you find it off-putting.

And, now, having asked that, I think I’ll join Kel the cat under my desk…

FF: Heating Back Up

July 7, 2017

The temperatures aren’t the only things that are going up…  I’ve been writing a lot, which means reading less.

Persephone Chills

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge.  Ambitious in setting and plot with well-designed characters.

In Progress:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  Audiobook.  Something Wicked This Way Comes meets The Prestige.  Still very episodic.

In Search of Marvin Gardens by A.S. King.  Just starting.


Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners by Bill Manley.  An interesting approach.  I wish I was better at drawing.

TT: A Language of Hope

July 6, 2017

JANE: Last week, when we were talking about created languages (conlangs), we were doing so in the context of SF/F.  That got me thinking about a conlang I encountered first through SF/F, assumed was created for the purposes of fiction, and only later learned was a “real” language.

A Fascinating History

This language was Esperanto.

ALAN: Esperanto was created by L. L. Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist from Poland. He wanted to devise a language that was easy to learn and which had a regular grammar so that there would be no exceptions to the rules that the students were taught. He hoped that it would be universally adopted and that it would break down the language barriers that separated people from each other.

JANE: What I find most fascinating about Esperanto is that it was created with the idealistic hope that, if we all spoke one language, not only would the time spent in translation no longer be necessary, but misunderstanding would be eliminated.

Lovely idea, but Jim and I manage to misunderstand each other all the time, despite the fact that the only language either of us speak well is American English.  Sometimes I think that – to slightly alter a proverbial phrase – “To misunderstand is human.”

ALAN: I actually studied Esperanto for a few years. I think I first came across it in Harry Harrison’s novels (the Stainless Steel Rat and Deathworld novels use the language a lot). It sounded interesting, so I dug a bit deeper…

JANE: And was Esperanto as easy to learn as its creator hoped?

ALAN: Well, yes and no. My first wife, Rosemary, and I studied it together. She found it much harder to learn than I did because she had never studied grammar in any formal sense. So she didn’t know what the infinitive of a verb was, and she didn’t know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. Also, she had no idea how to identify the parts of speech that make up a sentence. I already knew these things – I’d studied grammatical constructions in both English and Latin lessons at school so I found Esperanto quite easy. But Rosemary struggled a bit with the grammar. And it didn’t help that, on top of that, Esperanto is an inflected language.

JANE: I think that Rosemary would be in good company, at least these days.  Many of my students had never diagrammed a sentence.  Anything more complicated than the difference between a noun and a verb confused them – not because they were stupid, but because they hadn’t been taught the terms.

Heck, these days I’d need to go look up the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb, and I’ve completely forgotten what is meant by an inflected language – if I ever knew.

ALAN: Well, let me remind you what it means…

In an inflected language words have different endings to indicate their function in the sentence. So in Latin, for example, a noun can have six different forms depending on exactly what job it is doing.

JANE: Oh!  So that’s called an inflected language?  Interesting.  I had three or four years of Latin in high school, and I don’t think either of my teachers ever used the term.  I did learn the case endings, though, and to this day I remember “orum” is something like the “genitive of possession.”

Does Esperanto have as many endings?

ALAN: No, Esperanto isn’t that bad – it only has two inflections, nominative and accusative which define whether the word is the subject or object of the sentence. So, for example:

Esperanto estas lingvo – Esperanto is a language. The word Esperanto is the subject of the sentence and is therefore in the nominative case.

Mi parolas esperanton – I speak Esperanto. Here Esperanto is the object of the sentence and so it appears in the accusative case.

JANE: The term “accusative” never made sense to me.  I always thought that it indicated an adversarial relationship.  Really, grammar doesn’t help itself by using words so oddly.

ALAN: Quite right. I never really understood the ablative case in Latin. What does a grammatical construct have to do with material that wears away in order to protect the underlying surface? The ablative tiles on the space shuttle come to mind, and there’s nothing grammatical about those! Grammar is its own worst enemy.

Anyway, Rosemary had never met these grammatical ideas before and consequently she struggled a bit. English, the only language she spoke, is almost completely uninflected. About the only trace of it that remains is who (referring to the subject) and whom (referring to the object). As an aside, the almost complete lack of inflection in English is probably the reason why so many people find the use of who and whom confusing…

JANE: I’m sure you’re right.  English is full of relics of other languages that linger to delight linguists and philologists and drive the rest of us crazy.

ALAN: My own personal experience suggests that native English speakers often find inflected languages hard to learn. Certainly I struggled a lot with the complexities of Latin grammar and I failed most of my Latin exams. Fortunately Esperanto is much easier than Latin. But I definitely found that my Latin (and English grammar) lessons were a huge help in understanding just how Esperanto was put together. Rosemary didn’t have that background knowledge, and so she had a much harder time of it than I did.

JANE: I’m not sure that inflection is the only problem with English speakers learning languages, but that’s neither here nor there.

Did you ever use your Esperanto?

ALAN: Yes I did. Harry Harrison was a guest at one of our New Zealand conventions, many years ago. Since I knew that he spoke Esperanto like a native (to quote his own joke), I wrote the invitation to him in Esperanto. I’ve no idea whether or not that influenced his decision to come, but he did come and he had a great time. He was a wonderful guest.

JANE: I bet he was completely tickled by your invitation!

ALAN: We’ve strayed a little from created languages in fiction.  As a writer, the question of whether to conlang or not to conlang must be one you’ve encountered.  Can I ask you about it next time?

JANE: Please do!