#amwriting: getting lost in translation

The question about using foreign languages in dialogue recently arose again, so it seemed appropriate to revisit a situation from one of last year’s posts.

The quote that started it all was posted in a writers forum: “I have a main character in a fantasy novel who speaks no English. She speaks several other languages, though. Should I put the translations for her dialogue in italics or in parentheses?”

The answer to both options is a resounding no. We write in our native language for people who read in that language.

We can add a slightly foreign flair, but translations should not be necessary at all. We don’t put the reader through that kind of torture, wading through a language they don’t understand, and then giving them the translation in italics. (Or large chunks of whatever in parentheses.)

The writer whose question had begun this was writing a fantasy novel, and there are certain conventions readers expect authors to adhere to in this genre. When writing genre fantasy it’s a generally accepted practice that thoughts are set off with italics, not parentheses (aka Virginia Woolf), and so brackets have no place in the fantasy narrative.

Too many brackets clutter up the narrative just as much as large blocks of italics. In fantasy, the em dash or ellipsis has the function of setting portions of the narrative aside or giving it emphasis.

Italics, parentheses, and foreign dialogue are like cayenne—a little goes a long way. It’s all right to include an occasional foreign word or phrase, as long as it is done in such a way that the reader who most likely does not speak that language is not completely thrown out of the book.

My next thought when I was told about this particular conversation was, does the writer speak the languages she is writing, or is she getting her Russian (or Spanish or German) from Google Translate?

If that is the case, this author has a hot mess on her hands and her readers aren’t likely to finish her book.

Original sentence in English: “It appears as if my dog may have fleas.”

Google translation in French: “Il semble que si mon chien peut avoir des puces.”

Re-run that French phrase through Google translator: “It seems as if my dog can have fleas.”

Note the slight change in the translation—one word has been shifted, “may” becomes “can.” While these words are sometimes interchangeable in English, they don’t always mean the same thing:

  • May sometimes means might or perhaps; or sometimes may gives permission.
  • Can gives permission or enables.

That slight switching out of the word “can” for “may” changes the meaning of the sentence. The first sentence with “may” suggests it is possible the dog has fleas. The second translation to French assumes the word “may” is permission and gives the dog permission to have fleas.

These are two entirely different concepts.

English originally developed from a set of Anglo-Frisian or North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes traditionally known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.  So, modern English is an offshoot of Frisian, as is Dutch. Basically, we speakers of English speak a version of Dutch.

I hear you now: “But I don’t understand Dutch!”

This is because even though we share the same roots, we have widely different syntax.  English is heavily influenced by Latin, thanks to the Roman Conquest of Britain. In linguistics, syntax is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of sentences in a given language, specifically word order.

How do you know that the Google translator understands syntax? The answer is: it doesn’t.

Imagine this situation: Your character from Amsterdam has bent a spoke on his bicycle wheel. He speaks Dutch. Filtered through the translator, it goes like this:

English: “Oh no. My bicycle has a bent spoke. How can I fix it?”

1st Dutch translation: “Oh nee. Mijn fiets heeft een gebogen sprak. Hoe kan ik dat op?”

2nd English translation: “Oh no. My bike needs an bent. How can I fix it?”

Note the misplaced words: When we retranslate it back to  English, the second translation makes no sense.

Google Translate is an extremely useful tool, but it is not intended to be used to translate an entire book into a foreign language. You need to hire a translator for that.

So, now we know that texts translated via Google Translate often emerge slightly twisted and make no sense, which is not what we want. If you do use the occasional foreign word or phrase, it’s no big deal as long as it is used appropriately and in a context that will be understandable to readers who don’t speak that language. It lends a certain realism when done with a deft and sparing hand.

Just don’t rely on Google Translate to help you write your Russian spy novel’s love scene.

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#amwriting: action and introspection

All works of fiction, no matter what their genre have several commonalities. Protagonists and side characters begin in a comfortable place. An incident/event occurs, throwing them out of what they know and into disarray. This is the inciting incident.

Once they recover from the first stumbling block, our protagonist realizes they want or need something: an object or person that will resolve the situation they are in. This is a moment of truth, a point where the protagonist realizes they could lose everything.

To resolve their situation and acquire what they need,  the protagonist and their companions must enter unfamiliar circumstances. They will flounder and make mistakes until they become accustomed to their new situation.

In my own work there have been times where I was so busy setting traps and roadblocks for the protagonist and their nemesis that the story line wandered off and got lost.

For a particular event to have a place in the narrative, it must fulfil several requirements:

  • It must entertain the reader.
  • It must enable new circumstances.
  • It must force growth on the character, for good or for ill.

We do not insert random incidents simply for the sake of action. The events the protagonist experiences must be there to facilitate change. The action must force personal growth or otherwise affect the characters involved in it.

When we are deep in the creative process, it’s easy to forget that characters must evolve. Morality, love, coming of age—these ideas can be found in nearly every book on my shelves or in my Kindle.

Perhaps you are experiencing writer’s block. Inspiration has abandoned you, and you become desperate to get your narrative moving again.

It may be that you have lost track of what you originally imagined your story was about, and your characters no longer know what they are fighting for. Was it love? Was it destiny? Was it hope?

When you first imagined you had a story to write, you had an idea of what the characters would be like. Did you picture them fully formed? At the beginning, we must leave room for growth and change, for us to show the character evolving, growing to that finished state. This is how we involve the reader in the hero’s journey.

When an author becomes desperate and inserts outlandish events or conversations “just to show they are human” it disrupts the story arc. At that point, the author frequently loses interest in the story and believes they are suffering writer’s block.

Think about novels you may have read where the author became too focused on the action and neglected to devote a few sentences detailing the character’s introspection. Their protagonist went from one death defying incident to another, without a pause or a moment to catch their breath. The protagonist may as well have been a crash test dummy, ricocheting from one event to the next with no thought or feeling.

The constant onslaught of random action became a loud noise that didn’t make any sense because there was no chance to link the events together and put them in perspective. Events inserted for shock value  and with no pause for reflection don’t show personal growth. This can make an otherwise good character two-dimensional.

This need for pauses between the action has been referred to (by better educated people than me) as: writing the way a skater skates: “push  – glide – push – glide.” Action – reflection – action – reflection. These small pauses give the reader a chance to breathe and process what just happened.

What will the protagonist gain from the experience? Action, deeds, and accomplishments are necessary to force change and growth on the characters. When you write a scene, ask yourself, “How will their fundamental ethics and ideals be challenged by this event?” If there is no personal cost, the scene is a side trip to nowhere and should be removed.

Writing these blind alleys is not a waste of time. You never know when you will need those ideas, so don’t throw them away—always keep the things you cut in a separate file. Remember, just because that idea doesn’t work for this book, doesn’t mean it won’t work in another book.

I label that file “outtakes,” and believe me, it has come in handy when I need an idea to jump-start a new story.

In the greatest, most memorable novels, the reader experiences the characters’ lives as they react to the events and setbacks.

This is what we want to achieve in our own work. The genre and the setting in which these characters react to the wider concepts are just a backdrop. The world they are set in is the picture-frame, a stage upon which the themes of the story play out, and characters are shaped by a force beyond their control—the author.

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#FlashFictionFriday: Silence and Love

Silence and Love

There was a time when we talked,

A time when words connected us the way kisses join lovers.

You mind amazed me as much as your body did

And I knew them both better than I knew my own.

You still amaze me but years have wedged silence between us.

Not the stony silence of anger or hurt—thank god, not that.

 

It is the silence of comfortableness,

The soundless speech of two old people

who sometimes read each other’s minds.

The quiet sharing of a back porch in the summer.

Side-by-side on a second-hand settee with a blue cushion,

You reach for my hand, and I am swept away.

 

Now when we speak, it is a more cerebral sharing,

Mind to mind, heart to heart,

Two old people still in love, but with little to say.

Did we say it all in the young wild days?

Did we spend our words the way we spent our kisses?

If so, then many more remain, waiting to pass between us.

 

No. We were learning each other, discovering truths

and facing our self-deceptions.

Now it is a calm sharing.

I still know your mind and your body

and love them better than my own.

I still love it when you hold my hand.

 

And when we speak it means something.

And when we kiss it means something.

And when we hold hands in the silence

Of an evening on a back porch,

Side-by-side on a second-hand settee with a blue cushion,

It means everything.


Credits and Attributions:

Silence and Love © Connie J. Jasperson 2015–2017, All Rights Reserved (First Published Nov. 13, 2015 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy)

Sun in May, Józef Mehoffer 1911 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#Amwriting: The Coordinating Conjunction

In grammar, a conjunction is a connection: a part of speech that connects words, phrases, or clauses.

What are coordinating conjunctions and why should you care? For one thing, conjunctions are like any other essential part of English grammar. They have a particular use, and when they are used correctly, they blend into the background.

The Fount of All Knowledge, Wikipedia, says:

Coordinating conjunctions, also called coordinators, are conjunctions that join, or coordinate, two or more items (such as words, main clauses, or sentences) of equal syntactic importance. In English, the mnemonic acronym FANBOYS can be used to remember the coordinators for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. These are not the only coordinating conjunctions; various others are used, including “and nor” (British), “but nor” (British), “or nor” (British), “neither” (“They don’t gamble; neither do they smoke”), “no more” (“They don’t gamble; no more do they smoke”), and “only” (“I would go, only I don’t have time”). Types of coordinating conjunctions include cumulative conjunctions, adversative conjunctions, alternative conjunctions, and illative conjunctions.

Here are some examples of coordinating conjunctions in English and what they do:

For – presents rationale (“They do not gamble or smoke, for they are ascetics.”)

And – presents non-contrasting item(s) or idea(s) (“They gamble, and they smoke.”)

Nor – presents a non-contrasting negative idea (“They do not gamble, nor do they smoke.”)

But – presents a contrast or exception (“They gamble, but they don’t smoke.”)

Or – presents an alternative item or idea (“Every day they gamble, or they smoke.”)

Yet – presents a contrast or exception (“They gamble, yet they don’t smoke.”)

So – presents a consequence (“He gambled well last night, so he smoked a cigar to celebrate.”)

We use and, or, and but as connectors of words, phrases, clauses, or sentences of equal rank.

  • apples and oranges
  • apples or oranges
  • apples, but not oranges

In a sentence, we can use “and” and “or” to join strings of nouns or strings of verbs:

  • Apples and oranges and bananas (are tasty).
  • Wash and dry (the dishes).
  • Apples or bananas or oranges
  • Apples and oranges, but not bananas
  • I love cooking and my pets and my family.

I would prefer to use serial commas to connect my string rather than conjunctions:

  • Apples, bananas, or oranges
  • Apples, bananas, and oranges
  • I love cooking, my pets, and my family.

Yes, I said I would use a serial comma. I’ve seen people launch into rants against serial commas, claiming it’s too many and looks awful.

That argument is hogwash.

For whom are you writing? Are you writing only yourself or are you writing for an unknown reader who may one day buy your book? If you are writing for your own eyes only, do whatever you like. But if you expect others to enjoy your work, you need to think about the reader. Using serial commas will make your work easy for the reader to understand what you are saying. Other aspects of commas may escape me at times, but the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, is one I adhere to in my own work, and heartily wish other authors would too.

But enough about the commas–let’s get back to conjunctions.

The word “but” is a little different from “and” or “or.”  It is a coordinating conjunction, and we use “but” to join two words:”

  • (I want you to) sing, but loudly.

“But” is also a connector that indicates contrast.

  • I like black but not white.

“But” can connect just about any kind of word or phrase that “and” and “or” can connect, with one difference: it can’t connect nouns in phrases.

  • Consider Betty and Judy (went shopping). We wouldn’t say Betty but Judy (went shopping).

However, “but” can connect noun phrases to other phrases:

  • Betty and Judy (went shopping) but I don’t know who drove.

When I speak, I have a habit of beginning my sentences with the conjunctions “and,” “but,” “because,” and “so.” Because these words are conjunctions, connector words, some people will say this is wrong.  I disagree with them, for this reason: in this case, these conjunctions are connecting ideas.

On page 257, The Chicago Manual of Style says this rule has “no historical or grammatical foundation.” The CMOS further points out that William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and the authors of America’s Declaration of Independence freely began sentences with those four conjunctions.

These people were well educated, and we can assume they understood grammar as well as anyone. Consider the following sentence, written by Abraham Lincoln:

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.” (Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)

As he was a lawyer as well as a respected public speaker, we know Abe was a well-educated man.

Get It Write Online says:

“Most likely, many people believe they should not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction because their grammar teachers in grade school discouraged them from doing so. Yet such a rule is completely unjustifiable. When grammar teachers teach youngsters the essentials of sentence structure, they most likely explain that coordinating conjunctions are used to hold together elements within a sentence. Therefore, they may discourage students from starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions because they are trying not only to explain conjunctions but also to help their students learn to avoid sentence fragments like this one:

She was a nice girl. And smart, too.

In this example, using “and” after the period is wrong because the second “sentence” is not really a sentence at all: it has neither a subject nor a verb.

So, just like the ubiquitous (but often unnecessary) “comma before the word because” and the silly debate over the incredibly important serial comma, we will likely have this disagreement for many generations to come.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Conjunction (grammar),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Conjunction_(grammar)&oldid=771179901  (accessed March 28, 2017).

Weird Coordinating Conjunctions: Yet, For, and So, © Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, July 10, 2014, http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/weird-coordinating-conjunctions-yet-for-and-so, (accessed Mar. 28, 2017).

University of Chicago (2010). The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-226-10420-1.

Starting Sentences with “And” or “But,” © 03/26/2001 Nancy Tuten,  Get It Write, http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/032601startsentandbut.htm  (accessed Mar. 28, 2017).

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#amwriting: Update, and the Room of Shame

I work in a room officially designated as the Room of Shame. It is not a room of shame in a dark, Fifty Shades of Gray way.  No. That would be interesting, which this particular Room of Shame is not.

This room is a boring office that could be owned by hoarders. I’ve mentioned before that it’s haunted by the Ghost of my Feline (Past): Yum Yum (the demon-possessed cat). My little companion died died in 2009, and I’ve never had the heart to replace her. Despite my oft-repeated intention to clean this toxic waste dump out, her ghost still manifests in the fur that still lurks behind the sagging bookshelves and boxes of papers dating back to the Bronze Age. Plastic bins filled with my books, ready to take to a show or signing, are stacked atop dusty crates still bearing her furry imprint. The disgraceful carpet is proof that to clean the floor, one must be able to find it.

Somehow, despite the embarrassing chaos, I do manage to crank out the work.

Last month I finished the second draft of Billy Ninefingers. He has been through the beta reading process and is currently fermenting in a dark place while I wind up some other projects. I received excellent feedback and have a firm idea as to how I will structure the final draft.

I am making headway on the first draft of Eternity’s Gate, a new novel in the Tower of Bones series. This is the ‘how it began’ story, and it features Aelfrid Firesword, Edwin’s many time’s great-grandfather, and the unintentional founder of the College of Warcraft and Magic. Even though it is set in an established world (Neveyah), planning this novel presented an unusual problem in that the magic system had to be redesigned as much of what is canon in the later books doesn’t exist during the time this story is set. New maps have been drawn. Alf is a Barbarian, so I have learned a great deal about his culture in the process of creating this early, far wilder version of world of Neveyah.

Knight’s Redemption, a novella featuring Julian Lackland, Golden Beau Baker, and Huw the Bard, is in the final stage of the revision process.

As always, I am working on flash-fiction and poems as the mood strikes, some weeks more than others. Flash-fiction usually happens when I’m at a stopping point on my other projects and my mind just wants to roam free. This is always a good time to think about possible blog posts.

And finally, I’m in the process of rewriting a short story for an editor who likes the overall premise, the protagonist, and the way the story ends, but wants me to make some fundamental changes to the way I am telling the tale. In my opinion, any interest from an editor should be celebrated, and their requests and suggestions should be given my full, immediate attention, so that will be an ongoing project over the next few weeks.

Not being rejected out-of-hand is good, in my opinion. I see this type of interaction as an encouraging thing. The door is open to an opportunity I might not have again, so I try to make whatever changes they request. The trick is to make the changes with your own flair so that you don’t lose what they liked about the piece in the first place. Either way, whether they ultimately reject it or not, I will gain something out of this.

Also, I have been cooking. I’ve found some more wonderful food ideas to take along when I am on the road. Traveling as a vegan can be quite dicey, unless you carry your own food. Once I leave the Northwest, restaurants don’t offer vegan options. Rather than go hungry, I make my meals ahead. I’m always looking for tasty treats that travel well, and are satisfying.

Today is a good day to write. I intend to make the most of it, working on whichever project is inspiring me. Having more than one project going at a time allows me to stay productive because when I can’t think what to do next in one manuscript, I’ll know exactly what I need to do in another.

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#FlashFictionFriday: Dreams and Shadow Truths

Dreams and Shadow Truths

Tales, dreams,

Shadow-truths…

The fabric of the multiverse.

One universe touches upon another, and

The dreamer dreams.

The faerie queen leads her court though the forest and

One more mortal falls in love.

Books are evidence that once upon a time

A mortal slept, and dreamt.

Within the pages of dusty, leather-bound books

Lies proof the philosophers’ stone

Exists in the realm of imagination,

Spinning words of straw into gold,

Bequeathing immortality to those who possess it.

The multiverse is yours for the taking

If  you believe, and

Are unafraid to dream.

Open a book, and

Step into a realm

Unknown.


Credits and Attributions

Dreams and Shadow Truths, © Connie J. Jasperson 2015.

Fantasy Digital Painting, By Boxiness (Painting using tablet PC.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: proofreading vs. editing #NotTheSame

The last stage of getting a manuscript ready for publication is critical.  This is where the final person in the process comes in–the proofreader. Perhaps you have volunteered to proofread a friend’s book. The friend arrives with the proof copy (or maybe you have been sent a manuscript). They ask you to look for typos, cut-and-paste-errors, or autocorrect errors. These are things they and their editor may have missed.

Before we go any further, proofreading is not editing.

Editing is a process that I have discussed at length elsewhere and is completed long before we get to the proofreading stage. A good proofreader will understand that the author has already been through the editing gauntlet with that book and is satisfied with it in its current form. A proofreader will not try to hijack the process and derail an author’s launch date by nitpicking his/her genrestyle and phrasing. 

The proofreader must understand that the author has hired a professional line editor and is satisfied that the story arc is what they envisioned and the characters are believable with unique personalities. The editor has worked with the author to ensure the overall tone, voice, and mood of the piece is what the author envisioned.

You will note that I have used the word envisioned twice in my previous paragraph. This is because the work is the author’s creation, a product of his/her vision, and by the time we arrive at the proofing stage, it is intentional in the form it is in.

At this point, the author and his/her editor have considered the age level of the intended audience, so if you feel their work is too dumbed down or poorly conceived and you can’t stomach it, simply hand the manuscript back  and tell them you are unable to do it after all. DON’T go through it with a red pen and mark it up with editorial comments, or critique their voice and content because it will be a waste of time for you and the author.

But what if it is your manuscript that needs proofing? What should you ask from a proofreader?

Even though an editor has combed your manuscript and you have made thousands of corrections, both large and small, there may be places where the reader’s eye will stop. Words have been left out, punctuation is missing–any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur despite the most thorough of edits.

If the person who has agreed to proof your work cannot refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content, find another proofreader, and don’t ask the first reader for help again.

The problem that frequently rears its head among the Indie community occurs when an author who writes in one genre agrees to proofread the finished product of an author who writes in a different genre. People who write sci-fi or mystery often don’t understand or enjoy paranormal romances, epic fantasy, or YA fantasy.

These are genres with specific styles and reader expectations, and many authors don’t understand this. For this reason, some otherwise wonderful people become terrible, arrogant readers, when they have been asked to proofread in a genre they don’t care for, or for an author whose voice they don’t like. They can’t proofread because they are fundamentally driven to critique and edit.

It is your task to ensure that your intended proofreader is aware of what they are to look for.

In the publishing industry, proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made, and hopefully, it is done by someone who has not seen the manuscript before. That way, they will see it through new eyes, and the small things in your otherwise perfect manuscript will stand out.

What The Proofreader Should Look For:

Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These words are insidious because they are real words and don’t immediately stand out as being out of place.  A human eye is critical for this.

  • Wrong: There cat escaped, and he had to chase it
  • Right: Their cat escaped, and he had to chase it.
  • Wrong: The dog ran though the house.
  • Right: The dog ran through the house.
  • Wrong: He was a lighting mage.
  • Right: He was a lightning mage.

Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them. To you the author, they make sense because you see what you intended to see. For the reader, they appear as unusually garbled sentences.

  • Wrong: First of all, First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
  • Wrong: First of all, it is accepted practice to practice thoughts.
  • Wrong: First of all, it is accepted to ot  thoughts.
  • Right: First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.

Missing punctuation and closed quotes:

  • Wrong: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area. What do you know about the dead man? asked Officer Shultz.
  • Right: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area. What do you know about the dead man?” asked Officer Shultz.

Numbers that are digits:

Miskeyed numbers are difficult to spot when they are wrong unless they are spelled out.

  • Wrong number: There will be 3000 guests at the reception.
  • Better number (but still written wrong): There will be 300 guests at the reception.
  • Right: There will be three-hundred guests at the reception.

Dropped and missing words:

  • Wrong: Within minutes the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table me gently.
  • Right: Within minutes the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table grilling me gently.

Make your corrections with care. Each time you create a new passage in your already edited manuscript, you run the risk of creating another undetected error.

At some point, your manuscript is done. The line editor has beaten you senseless with the Chicago Manual of Style. The content and structure are as good as you can get them. At this stage, all you want is one last eye looking for small flaws that may have been missed.

Before you upload that masterpiece to Kindle or wherever, do yourself a favor and have it proofread by several intelligent readers who understand what you are asking them to do and who are willing to do only that.


Credits/Attributions:

The Passion of Creation, Leonid Pasternak [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing letter, By Kusakabe_Kimbei [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#amtalking: #interview with @authorLeeFrench, Ghost is the New Normal

Author Lee French is a prolific writer, with more than twenty books to her credit. Her work is featured in many anthologies, and she is a driving force in the Pacific Northwest Indie author community. She is a strong proponent of NaNoWrimo, and works with me as Co-Municipal Liaison for the Olympia region. Her insights and commentary regularly crack me up, but more than that I really enjoy her work. Two of her series, The Greatest Sin and Ilauris, have become favorites of mine. Her YA series, Spirit Knights, is an excellent adventure series, completely appropriate for teens and readers of all ages.

CJJ: Your new book, Ghost is the New Normal, is the fourth installment in the Spirit Knights series. This series is set in Portland, Oregon, and features an unusual cast of characters. Claire is sixteen and is in foster care. Her new family has connections to her deceased parents, and this unusual connection is the core of the story. Claire’s father was a Spirit Knight, a member of a group dedicated to hunting ghosts in Portland. Tell us about the Spirit Knights and the story so far.

LF: At its heart, the Spirit Knight series is about the same thing all my books center on—family. The people in your family, whether it’s the family you were born with or not, are the people who affect you the most throughout your life. All three of the primary characters, Claire, Drew, and Justin, have lost their parents, and all three are affected differently by that. It’s how they deal with those issues, feelings of betrayal, survivor’s guilt, abuse, and loneliness that makes their stories worth telling.

CJJ: Claire is a unique girl. She is fun and feisty, a girl who makes mistakes along with her successes. But even when she has stumbled big-time, she picks herself up and keeps going. When did you have the idea to write her story in the first place?

LF: Claire began life as a Werewolf: the Apocalypse character. That’s one of White Wolf’s role-playing games. Her humble beginnings as a relatively dumb, brute-force werewolf provided a foundation for someone who solves problems by punching them in the face. At her core, she’s an exaggeration of the “strong” female character, softened into realism by adding layers of humanity over that.

CJJ: You write in several different genres. As an Indie trying to carve a niche for your work, has that presented a challenge for you?

LF: With work in five different subgenres now, it’s challenging to find readers who like all of it, which means I have to approach each subgenre’s books as a separate entity. I can get crossover between epic and sword & sorcery fantasy, and between superheroes and urban fantasy, but never the twain shall meet, and nothing else intersects with cyberpunk. As a result, my fans are in three disparate groupings. Marketing to one grouping is time consuming and often expensive. Marketing to three is more than I can handle, so I try to take turns with each thing.

TL;DR: Yes, and I don’t recommend it. Stick with your genre until you achieve success in it.

CJJ: You have an eye for graphic design and have done covers for several books. You have also worked with several professional designers. What should the cash-strapped Indie consider when looking and budgeting for a cover designer?

LF: Pre-made covers are economical, and you can see the quality before you buy. If you don’t personally have design skills and software, it’s a good route to take for your first few books. If you do have the skills and materials, it’s important to understand the specific market of book covers in your subgenre. There are expectations about covers, and there are techniques specific to covers that should only be subverted once you understand them. Just like with writing. Research your subgenre and fit into it.

CJJ: If you could go back to your first books and do anything differently what would that be?

LF: At this point, I look back at that first year of publishing and wish I’d known someone who could’ve given me good advice on what to do with those first 5 books. I read lots of advice, but have come to appreciate that some of it wasn’t good. Most specifically, I think I would’ve dumped a lot more money into the first few books, for editing, covers, and initial roll-out. I’ve since gone back and had the editing and covers redone.

CJJ: What has been the greatest hurdle for you to overcome in your career?

LF: Meeting people. I’m horrible at remembering names, I have a hard time digesting information I only get aurally, and I have anxieties that kick in around large groups. Attending parties where the purpose is meeting people in the biz is a special form of torture. As my own sense of personal success builds, I’m getting better at it, but the socializing will always be my least favorite part of this job. After writing blurbs. Blurbs suck more.

CJJ: What has been the biggest happy-dance moment for you as an author?

LF: Joining SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, was always a sort of pie-in-the-sky thing for me, up until I did it as an indie last December. The moments that allowed it to happen—hitting #1 on Amazon in multiple high-level subcategories—were pretty good too. Those kinds of moments help create a sense of legitimacy in my own mind, which helps me convince others I deserve a seat at the table.

CJJ: You and Indie author, Jeffrey Cook, wrote Working the Table, the Bible for Indies who intend to have tables and sell their books at conventions. Tell us a little about that book and how it came about.

LF: Jeff and I worked 32 shows in 2016, plus another dozen or more in 2015. Between the two of us, we climbed the learning curve pretty fast. Watching others work and settling into what we found both comfortable and successful has given us a reputation in the Pacific Northwest among a fair-sized swath of indie authors. A few people suggested we should write a book with all our tips and tricks, which we brushed off because neither of us felt especially wise or learned in the subject. At one show, a friend issued the ultimatum that if we didn’t write it, she would. I did some research and discovered Amazon had no such books, so we wrote it. That book took about 3 months to produce and was probably the least stressful authorial experience I’ve ever had.

CJJ: Where will readers be able to find you this spring and summer?

LF: This is my current schedule through August, but more shows may be added:

  • Wen-Con—Wenatchee, WA
  • Norwescon—Seatac, WA
  • CapitalIndieBookCon—Olympia, WA
  • Miscon—Missoula, MT
  • GEARCon—Portland, OR
  • MALCon—Denver, CO
  • GenCon—Indianapolis, IN

>>><<<

Lee French can be found blogging on all aspects of her writing life at Scripturience, www.authorleefrench.com

Follow Lee on Twitter: @authorleefrench

Lee’s Facebook page can be found at:  https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLeeFrench

You can find Lee’s books on Amazon. Her books are also available at Barnes and Noble, Kobo,  and  in all other digital formats as well as in print, and as audio books.

Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She is an avid gamer and member of the Myth-Weavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending too much time there, she also trains year-round for the one-week of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.

She is an active member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the Olympia Area Writers Coop, as well as being one of two Municipal Liaisons for the NaNoWriMo Olympia region and a founding member of Clockwork Dragon Books.

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#flashfiction friday: St. Patrick’s Day at the Drunken Sasquatch

There’s something about St. Patrick’s Day that brings out the crazies, even in Seattle. Or, should I say, especially in Seattle. If there is one night of the year when were-dragons should stay home and avoid the tavern, it’s March 17th.

Now in a place like Seattle, folks like me usually go unnoticed because the Emerald City is just that kind of town. The people are relaxed and accepting here. It’s like they don’t even see us.

Oh, sure, a few members of my community aren’t the kind of people most folks  want to know. Being a reporter, I tend to come across them in the course of my work, and let’s just say it’s not all rainbows and unicorn farts for  some of us anymore.

Modern society has ruined the weaker minded. You didn’t hear this from me, but some of the most unusual and largest thefts of metal can be laid at their door. Ever hear of the wholesale disappearance of live electric wires for the length of a city block? How about an entire condominium’s worth of  electric water heaters going missing?

In some cases, that stolen metal isn’t being sold for drug money, as the ordinary folk assume.

That would be normal, and being what we are, we don’t really do normal that well.

No, instead of financing drug habits, it’s worse.

This stolen metal shows up at Renaissance Fairs and Fantasy Cons all over the West Coast in the form of knock-off medieval armor, pseudo-medieval jewelry, and fake regalia, hawked by elves wearing obviously plastic Spock ears and cosplaying as Legolas.

But I digress—we were talking about St. Patrick’s Day and why a were-dragon like me avoids the Drunken Sasquatch on that day. I admit that bar is my second home under ordinary circumstances, but this is not a normal holiday. And while the Drunken Sasquatch is in what is known as the Scandinavian side of town, these normally sober, morally upstanding leprechauns of the Lutheran persuasion seem to come out of the woodwork.

These are people who have no knowledge of how things work in a neighborhood bar. Ignorant of the proper protocols, they will blithely sit on a regular’s favorite barstool with no remorse or fear of reprisal.

Don’t look at me like that. You’re thinking, “Dan Dragonsworthy, don’t be such a curmudgeon. They’re leprechauns–it’s their big holiday. Why shouldn’t they celebrate a little?”

Well, I’m not a curmudgeon. I’m smart.  First of all, these folks never set foot in Ireland. They’ve been here for three generations, like the rest of us.  And once they start pounding down the beers, these leprechauns do something no sane person would consider hanging around for.

Karaoke.

You know you’ve died and gone to Irish Hell when a marauding band of leprechauns, drunk on their entire year’s quota of green beer, takes over your favorite watering hole and turns it into a karaoke bar. There is no agony like that of ten drunken leprechauns, all insisting on singing the same three Sinead O’Connor covers over and over again, all night long.

Bloody Bill doesn’t even try to fight it anymore. He just lets them set up their machine and puts in his earplugs.

Me and all the rest of the regulars—we meet at Alfredo’s house for a little BYOB party, play a little cribbage, and listen to his collection of Pogues CDs all night long. For a vampire, he’s a pretty good host, and provides us with all the little Vienna-sausages and microwaved popcorn we can consume.

So, St. Patrick’s Day is the one night of the year when you will not find me in my usual chair at the Drunken Sasquatch. Instead, I’ll be drinking my orange juice at Alfredo’s and watching Harry Wolfe try to beat Grandma at cribbage.

He won’t of course. He never has and and he never will. No one can beat Grandma at her favorite game. Of all people, Harry should know that, seeing as how she wears his stepdaddy’s hide to church every Sunday.


St Patrick’s Day at the Drunken Sasquatch, © 2017 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

Green Beer, b y SpaceAgeSage from USA (Green Beer) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Skunk Fur Coat, By unknown / –Kürschner (talk) 19:02, 3 June 2009 (UTC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: worldbuilding: a framework to hang a story on

I write in many different worlds with widely varying levels of technology and forms of government, some set in fantasy worlds and some set in contemporary real-world environments. When I first began writing I had been reading and studying the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, and the many other pioneering sci-fi and fantasy writers of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

This was long before eBooks, and I had discovered the joys of the secondhand book store. Every payday I had several new books to add to my collection. In fact, it became hard to find people to help me move whenever my work took me to a different place, because of my large collection of secondhand books.

Many times the actual details of the society and the infrastructure didn’t matter and didn’t come into their stories at all. But the authors knew them, and their visualization of each character, each setting, and the other elements of the scene came across clearly in their writing.

These are subjects that arise my mind in the second draft because after the story has been laid down in its raw form, the answers to these questions matter. And in truth, the answers to these questions are only important in a peripheral way, an invisible framework to hang your story on. The answers ensure continuity and prevent inadvertent contradictions from arising within your manuscript.

Social Organization: What place does your character occupy in her society? That will determine how she interacts with others. Society is always composed of many layers and classes. How is your society divided? Who has the wealth? Are there

  • Nobility?
  • A servant class?
  • A merchant class
  • A large middle class?
  • Who makes up the poorest class?
  • Who has the power, men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?

Language, the written word, and accounting: Do they have a written language? This is really important if you are setting your people in a medieval world or in a really low-tech society because access to a written language determines how knowledge is passed on.

Is there a system for communicating knowledge across generations? How does historic information get passed along? How do they communicate knowledge over long distances? Books? Songs? Messengers? Subspace Communication?

Some ideas to consider:

  • How are people educated?
  • Who is allowed to learn to read and write?
  • How are bards, storytellers, teachers, and other disseminators of knowledge looked upon?

Ethics and Values: We currently live in a world where ethics and values are hot topics, and morality in government is a mushy concept. This especially true if a politician has enough plausible deniability or enough bravado to tell and maintain a bald-faced lie despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. In your fictional society, what constitutes morality? What constitutes immorality?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated? How are men treated?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?
  • How important is it to only tell the truth?
  • What level of deceitful dealings is acceptable?

Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior and how are criminals treated?

  • How important is human life? How is murder punished?
  • How are thieves viewed? What place in society do professional thieves have?
  • How are treachery, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness/drug abuse?

Level of Technology: What tools and amenities do people have available to them? What about transport? Low technology generally can begin with an oral tradition and have some written languages. But low-tech means it takes time to pass along messages, and information can get lost or skewed over generations. Low technology in my books ends with the invention of the printing press and widespread access to Roman-style plumbing.

In my work, high levels of technology begin with the invention of the telephone, steam engines, blimps, and other motorized transport, and the use of radio communication. It grows from there to include cyborg technology for instantaneous communication, warp engines, and all manner of nanotechnology.

  • Hunter/Gatherers?
  • Agrarian/farming
  • Greco-Roman metallurgy and technology?
  • Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  • Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  • modern day?
  • How do we get around and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, by train, or by space shuttle?

 Do they have the use of magic or a magic-based technology? First you must consider who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? Magic is an intriguing tool in fantasy, but it should only be used if certain conditions have been met:

  1. if the number of people who can use it is limited
  2. if the ways in which it can be used are limited
  3. if not every mage can use every kind of magic
  4. if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
  5. if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work
  6. if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal

Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:

  • Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  • How does the government fund itself?
  • How are taxes levied?
  • Is it a feudal society?
  • Is it a tribal clan-based society?
  • Warlord, President, or King/Queen?
  • How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  • How is the government viewed by the citizens?

Religion and the Gods: How important is religion in this tale? Feel free to skip this section if religion plays no role in your tale. If religion is central, ask yourself: Is there one god/goddess or many? If the worship of a deity is a key part of your tale, you must design the entire theology. You must know the rituals and know how their deity holds their hearts. You must know how that deity considers his/her worshipers.

  • What sort of political power does the priestly class wield?
  • What is the internal hierarchy of the priesthood?
  • Who has the power?
  • Is this religion a benevolent entity or all-powerful, demanding, harsh?
  • How does the priesthood interact with the community?
  • Who can join the priesthood
  • Do people want to join the priesthood or do they fear it? How is the priesthood trained?

Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?

  • If not, why? What causes the tension?
  • Can people freely cross borders?

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is part of a collection at the University of California, Riverside.

Waging War: This is another area where we have to consider the level of technology. It is critical for you as the author to understand what sort of weapons your characters will bring to the front, and also what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

When you have cemented the world in your mind,  you will leave enough clues in your writing that the environments your characters inhabit will flow naturally, and your protagonists will fit into them organically. Your fantasy society will be visually real to the reader, even if the world it evokes in their minds isn’t exactly your vision of it. You will have done your job, by giving them a solid framework to imagine the story around.


Attributions:

First Edition cover of A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin, Illustrator, Ruth Robbins, published 1968 by Parnassus Press.

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, image by vlasta2, bluefootedbooby on flickr.com [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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