Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Love of Language Goes Beyond Definition

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Many authors talk about their love of language, but for me, it goes far beyond the meaning of words. See, most writers get a kick out of double entendre and the clever turning of a phrase. Poets adore images invoked by using precisely the ideal word, or the ambiguity of a sharply placed homograph. Let’s not forget the linguistics of Billy “The Bard” Shakespeare and the haughty analysis of his work which continues to this day, finding, by the hour, nuance and subtlety and deeper meaning to his craft. As one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes says, “The difference between the right-word and the almost-right-word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

However much I share those sentiments, as I said, my love for language is more than witty phrases and sharply punctuated adjectives. What I love of language goes right down to the ink on the page (or the pixels on the screen, as the case may be). I am entranced not only by the phonation of a paragraph, but even by the shape and form of the letters. I love the look and flow of certain characters on the page, right down to the grammatical structure itself. I’m intrigued by great authors who break all conventions taught in school for “good writing” and toy with one word sentences, run-on sentences, repeated repeated repeated words, dissonant dialogue, heck, even…

One.

Word.

Paragraphs!

I love phrases that are duplicated for emphasis and how the sound of impeccably resonant words can remain ringing within your ears for hours, even when they were read in utter silence.

To be clear, I’m not speaking about mere typography either. Typography is concerned with readability and legibility. Typography studies the quality of the engine. The passion of which I speak is a concern for palpable thrill of flowing with the motorcycle upon the road.

Feeling that love for the first time was the moment I realized, my affinity for writing was different from that of other authors. My awareness happened when I became conscious of my esteem for the aesthetic contour of words. I have spent many decades reading about writers. Interviews. Articles. Autobiographies. Whatever. And in all those countless words of advice, among all those endless pontifications of what writing means to them, of all the writers I idolize and admire for their dizzying talent, never once have I seen a single author mention their infatuation with the glorious form of text on paper. Now, I’m not going to claim I’m the only author to ever possess such a passion. There may very well be hundreds of others who feel the same. Be that as it may, I’ve never heard a single one of them proclaim it. Only me. So, while my delight for the beauty of lettering itself may be commonplace, I’m blissfully ignorant of such a commonality, if it does indeed exist. Anyone can commend the craftsmanship of calligraphy. None speak of love for serifs, sensually bespeckled across leaves of a mass market paperback.

My fondness for such visual presentations even causes me to break some conventions of “proper” grammar. For example, the end punctuation of a sentence is always supposed to be placed within quotes:

Sally thought he was kind of “cool.”

Bobby said, “She’s really awesome.”

Grammatically, both of those examples are correct. I have no problem with the second sentence, where the period ends inside of a direct quote. However, aesthetically, I simply don’t like the first sentence. I contend, if it’s not a direct quotation, the punctuation should fall outside of the quotation marks. For example:

Sally thought he was kind of “cool”.

To me, that looks more pleasing to the eye. Therefore, that is the way I choose to punctuate my writing, even knowing it fails to follow “correct” conventions of grammatical structure.

Trivial to some. Vital to me. Mr. Twain was correct, but it’s even more than lightning and the lightning bug – it’s the way your heart feels when you see the flash.

Most people judge books within the first few pages, based upon the tone of a story and the ease with which they can read it. I do that as well. Nonetheless, I also judge by aesthetics. Formatting. Margins. Tabs. Spacing. Is there dialog on the very first page? There better be. I want to know the voice of the characters. Are the paragraphs short and poignant? Do they snap and sparkle off the paper? Or does the author open with two massive blocks of text which are nothing but descriptions and 30-word sentences? I’m instantly turned off by that too. You wrote a damn novel! You have 300 pages to construct your world. Don’t try to build it all up in the first 2 paragraphs. This is foreplay. We’re just getting to know each other. Take your time. Explore. Don’t bludgeon.

I loathe to be dropped into a mire of text. Books shouldn’t start with a dense and muddy swamp of phonetics. They should be brisk. Open. Inviting. Even if the story itself literally begins in a dire setting of dank and foul marshes, reading it should feel as easy and blithe as a summerday in a comforting hammock. Give the words room to breathe.

Consider the power and beauty in single words.

Snow.

Hear how “snow” sounds. Light. Feathery. Just like the physical object it describes. Look at the form of the “s” and how it gently slithers down the page like a falling snowflake. It drifts. Blissful and naive.

Sunlight. Sunshine.

Hear how much more poetic “sunshine” rings?

Propinquity.

One of my favorite words ever. I don’t think I’ve ever used “propinquity” in a single book I’ve written. It sounds like the peal of silverbells or windchimes. Such a lovely word. Looks so sophisticated upon the page. So proper. The letters “i” in repetition and the descender of the “p” and “q” and “y” nearly symmetrically spaced. Beautifully balanced, that word. Dignified.

Consider the name InkShard for this blog. I’ve always been a fan of imaginative compound words. Compound words start to conjure even more meaning than a singular counterpart. InkShard summons a vision of ebony crystal, melting like mercury and flowing across vellum in magic puddle waves. Forming words in a wishingwell daydream. “Shard” sparks crisp off the tongue, as the sword it remains mightier than.

Vials. Parchments. Blades. Quills. Crystals. Shale and stone. Indeed, there be countless images to equate with InkShard.

Of course, examples of individual words pale in comparison to how paragraph structures decorate a page. Therein lay true beauty. Like dollops of paint upon a canvas, they are nothing more than haphazard vandalism, until you start to see them blend together and form coherent dreams. Once that happens, they exist twofold – once as story and once as artistry of physical form.

Ask any author if they love the form of ink on paper and they will most likely tell you they do. Not because they are being sincere, but because the question will never have occurred to them before, and once they are poised a query which sounds eccentric and cool, they’ll feel obligated to conform with it. Read their books though. It’s obvious most of them have no appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of words.

Break. Up. A. Fucking. Sentence. On. Occasion.

Lots of them, professional and amateur alike, have no idea how to do that. Description. Dialog. Description. Description. Dialog. Description. That’s all they know how to do. Glance at the page – don’t read a thing, just glance at it – and the form doesn’t look pretty at all. It should. The words should flow and undulate, like so much moss in a stream.

Writing isn’t what teachers tell you.

Writing isn’t what editors proclaim.

Writing has nothing to do with the wisdom of publishers and their experiences.

These people know only of what sells writing. They have no idea what makes writing. They are the ringleaders of the circus, there to show the magician to the crowds, with no understanding whatsoever from whence the wizard conjures the magic. Writing isn’t merely about the love of a story or the foundations of a sentence. Writing isn’t merely about caring for the characters. Writing isn’t merely about liking the smell of old books or appreciating literature. For the words of great storytellers are not merely the tools to conjure wonderment – the words alone are wonderment too. Writing must dance upon the page as minnows flutter. The very letters themselves, frozen as photographs, just waiting to be imbued with life, and scurry to dance before your awestruck eyes. When the scent of parchment intoxicates you as the sweetginger breath of a lover who is too young for you; When you see beyond the things you were told makes for good writing; When you know more about ink upon the page than anyone you’ve ever met, because it ripples rivulets into your bones like acid, carving stories in scrimshaw from the inside of your skeleton out, seeping through your very marrow, then, then, you start to know what it means to write. Then…

Then you start to focus the prism of your vision, into the blinding Light of Creation.

Let there be lightning!

(And lightning bugs.)

Book Release – “Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival: Concluding Volume of the Vampire Noctuaries”

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When you thought the shadows could become no darker, Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival: Concluding Volume Of The Vampire Noctuaries takes you further into the tale of Elric and Helle DuBois. Told from Helle’s perspective, the story picks up where The Gothic Rainbow: Beginning Volume of The Vampire Noctuaries ended.

We learn the true motives of Camillia, and the mystery of mortals played as Pawns, in centuries-old Killing Games, by the insidious DuBois sisters. The secrets grow deeper. The passion becomes stronger. The fury knows no limits. There is far more to Elric and Helle than they have ever dreamed.

Welcome to Annwn’s Obsidian Sideshow & Maelstrom Festival, where the love of Elric and Helle will cause dominions to fall and tragedy and death be left in their wake.

At the venerable Walt Disney Studios, the illustrious Snow White is affectionately known as “The One That Started It All…”

Of course, this is a reference to a number of things. Snow White was the first feature-length animated film, but it was also the film which the entire future of Walt Disney Studios was gambling upon. Every last penny of the Studio was invested into it and had Snow White failed, the Walt Disney Studios would have been no more.

As a novelist, The Gothic Rainbow: Beginning Volume of the Vampire Noctuaries is “The One That Started It All…” for my writing career. That was my very first novel.

There was only one problem with it; The Vampire Noctuaries is a duology, and I never finished the second book.

Finally, 16 years after publishing The Gothic Rainbow, the sequel is done. Completing the writing of Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival: Concluding Volume of the Vampire Noctuaries, has set me free. A great weight is lifted. At last, I can rest assured the story is complete.

Life didn’t turn out quite the way I planned. I didn’t start writing novels and then just continue to be a novelist like I had dreamed. Nope. I wrote one novel and then life distracted me and pulled me away from writing. For the next 17 years, Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival became the monkey on my back. Nay, it became the “mutant elephant-sized gorilla” on my back. See, I often would get the urge to write again. Some ideas would pop in my head. I’d get stirrings of tales.

Then, from the shadows, Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival would whisper, “You haven’t written me yet.”

Deep inside, I felt like a failure. Yes, completing and publishing The Gothic Rainbow was the first real accomplishment of my life, but in my heart, I knew the story wasn’t done. How could I call myself a success if I was only half finished with what I had intended to achieve?

Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival haunted me all these years. I couldn’t write a new novel until Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival was complete. Otherwise, I was still that 16 year old dreamer who was all talk, but never actually wrote a damn book. The Vampire Noctuaries is a singular epic story. When I completed The Gothic Rainbow, I felt I had only written half a book, not a whole one. Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival had to be finished before I could truly become a “promising young novelist”.

At last, it is done. With the publication of Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival, the Vampire Noctuaries are complete. At last I am a novelist. At last, I can permit myself to write something new.

Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival, like all of my books, is available in hardcover, paperback, or as an eBook for your Kindle or Nook or iPad or whatever. Simply visit the website below to purchase the book in whatever format you desire:
www.AnnwnsMaelstromFestival.com

What’s in a Name?

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Names of characters are extraordinarily important to any author of fiction. You don’t just pick arbitrary names for people in your stories. Names must mean something. They have to reflect the persona of a character. Perhaps foreshadow a facet of their personality. Major characters always have to follow two naming convention caveats when it comes to my novels:
1. It must be a name I’ve never known anyone to actually have in my personal life.
2. It must sound like a legitimate name, even if it’s entirely makebelieve.

Therefore, I have characters like “Helle Tompkins” and “Shamus Devonson” in my books. I’ve never known a Shamus. I’ve never known a Helle.

Well, after I wrote the book, I met a Helle and married her at an Elvis Chapel in Vegas… But that’s a different story.

I never knew a Helle when I first wrote the book. I’ve never known anyone named “Allyson” either; so, Allyson is a major character in my first novel. You’ll never see a “Mike” or a “John” or a “Steve” in any of my tales. Minor characters, sure. But not a major one. Those names are too common and they evoke images of people I know. Characters should be unique. They deserve their own voice. As a result, their names must be special.

Most important of all, you’ll definitely never see a character named “Munluqptin Horsewrath VII” in my stories either. What is it with the tendency of science fiction and fantasy authors to give their characters stupid and outlandish names no one can possibly pronounce? Why is it always Druzovianta D’et from the planet Mtzjala Ghd on the Counsel Of The Twelve Hklurov? Can’t it just be… Mike from Jupiter?

“Yo, Frankie! Look! It’s Mike from Jupiter! How you fuckin’ doin’ Mike? Long time, no see.”

See? Mike from Jupiter is a standup guy! Mike from Jupiter, you can trust. He’ll take care of our hero or heroine. He’ll let the hero date his sister. Mike from Jupiter is a good guy.

Understand that names are vital, because the whole point of storytelling is to have the audience connect with, and care about, the characters. You don’t care about Druzovianta D’et, because his name instantly tells you, he’s an asshole! Kind of like when someone is named Tristan or Clayton, you already know he’s an asshole. No one named “Clayton” was ever a respectable human being. He’s a Brooks Brothers bastard in a BMW. And don’t get me started on that Tristan fucknut. Everyone named Tristan is a blond-haired, blue-eyed prick from Orange County who cheats on his girlfriend. Tristan is a cocksmokin’ douchenozzle, just like Druzovianta D’et.

Mike from Jupiter? He’s a good guy. He’ll let you borrow his spaceship to take your pet pefelfogwok to the veterinarian.

Personally, convoluted names will literally make me stop reading a story. As soon as Cumucho’Fzikj shows up on page two, I’m done. Fuck that author. Any author unable to discern a proper name for the people she is writing about is surely incapable of telling the story correctly. How can you feel a kinship with the characters when you can’t even say their names?

That’s not to say invented names are illegitimate. As I said at the start, makebelieve names are fine, so long as they sound like real names. For example, the main vampire queen in my duology, The Vampire Noctuaries, is named Camillia. Camillia is an entirely fabricated name. The name Camilla is used in the real world. Camillia is not. Yes, the name Camillia is a homage to the vampiress “Carmilla” from the eponymous 1872 novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Although her name is made up, Camillia at least reads like a legitimate name. You can sound it out. You can spell it. The name isn’t some crazy jumble of unpronounceable letters.

Names are so very important.

The Neverending Story was the book which inspired me to become a novelist, and in that story, giving the Childlike Empress a new name, Moon Child, was the whole method of saving her life!

The befitting name is essential. As with Moon Child, the proper name is the life or death of a character. As an author, all you have to do is listen, and the characters will tell you their names. Just write them down.

However, trust me when I say, even on the most outlandish of science fiction planets and fantasy worlds, no one is actually called Munluqptin Horsewrath VII. That’s just an author being a dickhead.

Next time you read a story with Refultxmog’Dnil from the Kingdom of Tzohg, check the author’s biography. I’ll bet you anything, the writer’s middle name is Clayton.