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HollowLands Posts

Character names & the joys of Welsh

Posted in Characters

I'm slogging through the character names index and a Welsh pronunciation guide (very necessary — sorry to do it to you folks. One of my beta readers is complaining bitterly. I say, could be worse – could be a Russian novel.) This requires me to look up every name and make sure I provide some clue about how to say it. Welsh looks much harder than it is because of unusual spelling conventions. “Gruffydd” is Griffith, “Rhys” is Reece, “Vachan” became Vaughan, and so forth, but there are some genuine problems, too.

To begin with, the name of one of my main characters turns out to be the wrong gender. (No, I'm not telling you which one.) That's fixed now (that is, I fixed the name, not him.) Too bad, I liked that name.

Secondly, you can't just look up Welsh words in a dictionary. Perhaps you didn't know this… Celtic languages share a phenomenon known as “mutation” and are annoying enough to change the spelling accordingly. This means, when you pronounce a word differently because of the influence of its surrounding words or grammatical syntax, you spell it that way.

We're used to this in English for vowels in some of our older words, such as our class of strong verbs. We share with other Germanic languages couplets like “run/ran”, “fall/fell”, “know/knew”. Initial letters, on the other hand, rarely do this in English, so it doesn't seem so bad because we only have a few of them, and the initial letter isn't involved. It's different in Welsh.

Darkly kept secret

Posted in Plot, and To Carry the Horn

So here I've been reading lots of writers' blogs, listening to professional cautions and moans, trying to make sure I measure up appropriately to the expectations of my readers.

To heck with THAT. No one ever said what a blast it was doing the final quarter of a novel! That's what's getting me out of bed early every morning.

It's like watching your favorite long form TV show approach the end of its season and chewing on each week's episode, wondering how they will resolve the plot. That sense of time scale seems a closer match to writing than reading a book, which can be over in just a few hours.

Every day, as I commute, I get to chew on the plot so far and plan out the very next bits of it so I can write the scenes effectively the next day. And while I know roughly what will happen, details are constantly popping up (“oh, of course that's what he should do, that's how that gets tied in”) and it's always a surprise. The mind will provide, if you just plow the ground and sow it correctly (and make sure you're working on the right acreage).

The older woman

Posted in Characters, Romance, The Hounds of Annwn, To Carry the Horn, and Works

I'm at about the mid-way point of my current work in progress, and it's time for some romance.  This first book in the series only covers about two weeks, very busy ones, so the most I want to do is have the characters meet each other and begin to form an attachment.

There's just one problem — she's an older woman.  As in, he's 33 and she's somewhere upward of 1500 or so.  Now, the issue isn't her looks.  She's a timeless fae and seems to be about his age.  It's not that our hero isn't attracted to her.

The problem is that he's rather intimidated.  To begin with, she's a serious artist, one who has had centuries to work on her craft.  He understands her work well enough to admire it.  But what can she see in him?  He's a smart well-educated guy, but she's a serious intellectual.  Wouldn't she look at him as a child?  Wouldn't all those years of experience make him transparent to her, the way we can look right through a 5-year old?

And yet…  He's brave, stubborn, and kind.  And he wants her.  These are all qualities she admires, and she lets him know.  All he can do is stiffen his spine and assume a confidence and equality in the relationship that he doesn't yet fully feel, hoping not to become Nick Bottom to her Titania.

What helps is his realization that this must happen all the time with the fae.  With such long lives, they must frequently intermix much older and much younger in couples, and it doesn't mean to them what it means to mortal men

Creating worlds – Heroic Fantasy vs Science Fiction – Part 2

Posted in Setting

Part 1 of this article is here.

In classic science fiction, the story is about an idea and its results. Given X, how is human society affected? If people lived forever, how would society change? If energy were unlimited and free, what would be different? If time travel were possible, what would that mean regarding alternate realities?

Some authors would do their darnedest to keep X as close to known science as possible. Hal Clement, for example would discuss at length the physics of heavy gravity planets and stars so that X would not be “fantastic” and he could explore the notion of a race of sentient beings evolving in those conditions. Other authors cheerfully threw physics out the window and just made up a few new rules (“yep, turns out we can read people's minds after all”) so that they could get on with exploring the results of X. As readers in the genre, we agree to accept the premise of X in order to explore the ramifications within the world of the story.

Creating worlds – Heroic Fantasy vs Science Fiction – Part 1

Posted in Setting, The Hounds of Annwn, and Works

I need to set the stage for this article first…

I go back a long ways. I remember the “paperback revolution” when I was a child because I could finally talk my mother into buying almost as many books as I wanted. Ace Doubles were just coming out, and I read more science fiction than anything else in my book-heavy childhood. I never went to school with fewer than 3 paperbacks, in case I ran out during the day. All this to say that I know my classic science fiction well.

Fantasy during that period, on the other hand, was largely a wasteland of Victorian juvenilia and the occasional odd foray by a literary sort (think: James Branch Cabell) or a conventional science fiction author — until high school, that is, when at last the authorized paperback editions of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit became readily available in America. I bought them all immediately and devoured them, and they changed my life in unexpected ways.

The journey of the adult hero

Posted in Characters, Heroes, Plot, The Hounds of Annwn, To Carry the Horn, and Works

To kick off this new blog, I've decided to share a few thoughts about heroic plots involving non-juvenile heroes.

The typical journey of the hero involves a young man who follows a call and leaves his childhood behind him, maturing through action and conflict into a suitable, perhaps even great, adult. The plot is typically done with him once his path to maturity is complete. It's a young man's tale.

In To Carry the Horn, my current work in progress, the basic plot concerns George Talbot Traherne who is drawn from his Virginia countryside life to an otherworld populated by characters from Welsh mythology. George is 33 years old when the action starts. He is already mature, comfortable with responsibility, his character formed. How then can he become a hero, in the traditional sense of the plot?

The answer is in the deficiencies of the modern adult world versus the idealized world of heroic tales. For a youth in a traditional story, part of the challenge of becoming a hero is finding something worth doing, recognizing and growing into his proper place in the world. George, however, lives in a world all too real and mundane, where many of the basic adult responsibilities of manhood are watered down or absent. He has grown into a proper place in that world, but that world is not serious enough to satisfy him. It's too similar to the protected life of childhood that the youth in a traditional tale seeks to escape.

Perhaps if he lived a life of direct action (military, police, etc.) he might feel differently, but he is just an ordinary, good, competent man feeling constrained by the exigencies of modern life.

The otherworld provides him with scope for action, to explode out of his stunted growth into true maturity. He finds something worth the doing and eagerly seizes the opportunity. He can now build a foundation for a life worth living.