Tuesday, June 30, 2020

New Fantasy Romance Release: THE LOST PRINCESS RETURNS by @JeffeKennedy

Our Sunday powerhouse writer Jeffe Kennedy released her latest in the award-winning Uncharted Realms Fantasy Romance series:


More than two decades have gone by since Imperial Princess Jenna, broken in heart and body, fled her brutal marriage—and the land of her birth. She’s since become Ivariel: warrior, priestess of Danu, trainer of elephants, wife and mother. Wiser, stronger, happier, Ivariel has been content to live in her new country, to rest her battered self, and to recover from the trauma of what happened to her when she was barely more than a girl.

But magic has returned to the world—abruptly and with frightening force—and Ivariel takes that profound change as a sign that it’s time to keep a promise she made to the sisters she left behind. Ivariel must leave the safety she’s found and return to face the horrors she fled.

As Ivariel emerges from hiding, she discovers that her vicious brother is now Emperor of Dasnaria, and her much-hated mother, the Dowager Empress Hulda, is aiding him in his reign of terror. Worse, it seems that Hulda’s resurrection of the tainted god Deyrr came about as a direct result of Jenna’s flight long ago.

It’s up to Ivariel—and the girl she stopped being long ago—to defeat the people who cruelly betrayed her, and to finally liberate her sisters. Determined to cleanse her homeland of the evil that nearly destroyed her, Ivariel at last returns to face the past.

But this time, she’ll do it on her own terms.

BUY IT NOW: AmazonBN | Kobo |  Direct from the Author

New to the series? Here's the Reading Order.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Censorship: The Pros and cons

Want to see a magic trick? I've got one.

It's called pissing off everyone without even meaning to.

This week on Sff7 we're to discuss whatever is on our minds, and one that has been bothering me a lot lately in censorship.

See? I haven't even started and I bet some people are getting riled up.

According to Merriam-Webster as directly relates to this post; 1
a:      the institution, system, or practice of censoringThey oppose government censorship.
Censorship. It's pretty straightforward. Growing up I heard the almost weekly kerfluffle of one or more books being censored by school districts, states, counties, et. al. Huckleberry Finn was bad for schools because the name of one of the characters was "Ni**er Jim." (this one is censored by me, personally, because I'm not fond of the word.) The purpose of the censorship was the use of the word itself, not how it was used in the story. Part of me could always understand that, but I was also a bit annoyed because while the N-word is employed, it was written when the word was commonplace and it was written to portray the character in a positive light. It stood for exactly the opposite of what many people used the word for at that time. 
Now, let's be honest, there's a lot of gray shades in the English language. Not really around the N-Word. Not for a very long time. I can see the sides of this coin. My answer? Long before I would consider taking one of Twain's works out of print in a school district, if I was worried about offending, I'd have simply removed the word itself and replaced it. 
That's a bit easier than some cases. 
A similar issue was found (and still is) with Joel Chandler Harris's SONG OF THE SOUTH and the nearly mystically legendary movie by the same name. Legendary? Yes, as in legendarily hard to find for decades. Why Because Disney did all they could to suppress it, because there was a lot of bad blood of the portrayals in the story.
Which is interesting because the tales were told to Harris by ex-slaves and their descendants and distilled into form by the man. If you want to follow that particular rabbit hole to see more of the origins and controversy, here's a link for you. It is only the very tip of the iceberg.
In the US a LOT of the censorship came from the segregation of races. I have to say, for a country that has often touted itself as a melting pot of cultures and ideas, we sure do have a history of mucking yo the river's flow. 
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee is another example that dates back a ways. The portrayal of racial tensions in the book and in the movie alike have caused endless troubles and, ironically, admiration, over the years. currently there are some interesting takes on that censorship. For example in Minnesota schools, the books have been removed from class syllabuses but kept in libraries. This is at least a nice change of pace from outright book burnings. 
I'm going to skip merrily past the other books for a moment and look at an incident from the distant past that has always blown me out of the water. Back when the Beatles first came to the USA (I want to say February 1962, but honestly I'm too busy/lazy to look it up) they were OVERWHELMED by the crowd reactions. Those lads from Liverpool had spent years on the road and in Germany playing small clubs, just to come over to the States and meet with massive crowds waiting for them at the airport, and along the sidewalks of their hotels. Hysterical young women and men drying and screaming their adoration for the Fab Four. It must have been a truly staggering experience.
Somewhere along the way, when they were asked how they felt about it. John Lennon (again, I think: It might have been Ringo) said, in a dazed voice, We're bigger than Jesus Christ." and it got recorded, heard, and immediately sent out as a sound bite by the press. 
Now let's take a second here. First, the offending party apologized as quickly as he realized offense had been taken. Second, it wasn't bragging: It was pure, hard shock. You didn't have the internet back then and Beatlemania was really just a vague concept to the Beatles. They knew they were popular, but they had no idea they had become icons. Had the response been "We're bigger than McDonald's" no one would have cared, forgiving the analogy being off by a decade or so on the Big Mac's rise to infamy.
The response in a land of God Fearing Christians? The immediate demand to burn all Beatles Albums and never ply them again. There were bonfires, people. Almost immediate and very, very large bonfires.
Again they apologized and the Ruffled Feathers Brigade decided the boys could be allowed one mistake. 
on my personal favorite example: Comic Books. One Frederick Wertham decided that comic books were the cause of children going psychotic. One of the charges brought into this was that Batman and other comics where a sidekick was included were designed to lead to homosexuality and pedophilia. His proof? The lurid covers of a few E.C. Comics. The end result? The Comics Code Authority, which forbade the use of zombies, vampires, werewolves and, I believe, demons. There were other rules. Excessive violence was a no-no. Makes sense, you say? Kids shouldn't be exposed? The authority came around as self-censorship. It was that or continue the Senate Hearings brought into focus to crucify those foul-minded commies who were trying to ruin our children. There is a lot of material to study. The link above takes you to the Wikipedia link. 
My point is that for a country that be;ieves in Freedom of the Press and Free Speech (excluding out POTUS, who only wants those things for himself from what I've seen) we sure do like to censor stuff, don't we?
My mother always said that censorship belonged at home. Parents should decide what kids could or could not read. (During the Senate Subcommittee meetings, one senator was OUTRAGED by the thought that parents should have to work that hard and carry that sort of massive responsibility simply because they wanted to bring young lives into this world.  The mind boggles)
So now we have today. 
Just off the top of my head, H.P. Lovecraft, a racist who died in 1937, decades before any sort of civil rights movement, has been declared a racist. There's evidence to support that fact. There is also evidence (more debatably) that he was moving away from that earlier philosophy before he died. The point is moot. At least at one point during his college years, he wrote a truly, epically racist poem. You want to know about it? Look it up. It uses that word I don't like. 
The resulting tumult when this was "discovered" 70 odd years after his death, continues on today. I agree with some of it and not with other parts. Change the World Fantasy Award to it doesn't offer up the face of a racist? Absolutely. Take his books out of print or try to make certain I can't read them. No, thanks. 
Isaac Asimov has been discovered as a pitcher of female bums and a letch at conventions. It was common knowledge as I understand. It amused him. Yeah. Him and half the men walking around in the 60s as I understand it. Was it right? No. Was it considered "acceptable" back then? Sadly, yes. 
Little anecdote for you. Back in 1977 when I was a wee lad, my mother worked for the Baton Rouge Hilton. Every day she had meetings with the other executives there and because she was  on her feet and walked easily five miles a day at the hotel (she used a pedometer once and clocked 11.3 miles, I believe) she always wore slacks. One day her general manager came up to her and told her she would have to were skirts. She objected, tried to explain that the chafing of her thighs (six kids, folks, you're gonna have some chafing) would be nearly crippling. He did not care. his response, "When you can grow a mustache, you can wear slacks."
She approached work the next day with a new mustache carefully spirit gummed to her face, and said not a word. When the meeting was almost done the man took a look at her face and promptly laughed himself half senseless. The entire meeting he had not noticed the cause of several other people snickering and whispering. 
He said the words. "You win, Inge." and that was the end of it. 
There are all kinds of way to win a fight, I suppose. 
My point is, censorship STILL belongs at home. 
Now the flame wars can begin properly:
We are, thank GOD, slowly going through social changes. When I was thirteen or so I saw my first ever interracial couple and I was HORRIFIED. I find;t give a good damn about a black teen and a white teen together. I was just afraid the poor guy was going to get himself lynched. You see I was raised in the SOUTH, and that just did not happen. I was in Maryland, which at that point (and probably today) was a bit more socially enlightened than some parts of Georgia and surrounding states. Your mileage may vary, of course. Nothing happened that I know of. Four years later, back in Georgia, there were grumbles but a lot less automatic hatred was shown to interracial couples, Amen. 
Forty years ago homosexuality was a death sentence in a lot of places. It still happens, but, happily, not as often. That it happens at all is a tragedy, but you know what? Same-Sex Marriage is now a part of the LAW in this country, no matter he much that pisses some people off. And again, I say, AMEN!\
Guess what? I don't care about your gender preference. You're a guy who's int guys? Good for you. You're a girl who likes other girls? Cool. Somewhere in the middle? cool. Not at all interested? Cool. YOUR sex life is your sex life. I have no vested interest. I respect your choices as much as I respect all choices in this matter. 
Not sure what else I can say about that. But there have been plenty of authors who had (or have) a problem with it. And I don't care. They are entitled to their opinions. They're wrong, but that's okay. That's their right. 
Don't want to read them? Okay. Don't want them published and shown in schools? Sorry. Censorship belongs at home. Always has, always will. 
One more, the official fuse to this mess: J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, a woman who literally built herself up from homeless to billionaire, is a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). 
There. It's out in the open, Sher does not see transgender females as female. I do not agree with her. Trans-women ar women. Trans-men are men. It's that easy for me. Listen, this is a NO-BRAINER. If you identify as male. you are male. If you identify as female, you are female. If you identify as atheist, you are an atheist. If you identify as Christian, there might be a few arguments depending on your practice, but that's another debate. Same for Muslims. 
Once again, I simply do not care. You decision harms me not at all. 
The only MINOR logical argument I've heard involves transgendered men in female-dominated sports and you know what? I'll leave that one to the courts. 
I DO NOT AGREE WITH J.K. ROWLING. I know that her actions have left a lot of trans-folk truly devastated, especially when her writings in many cases helped them through truly troubling times.  But I believe in her right to have an opinion that does not affect her career beyond the obvious sales drop caused by potentially losing fans. That's on her. Her books shouldn't be excluded from schools or libraries based on the assumptions or hurt feelings of a few. 
Books that actively promote hatred? We have laws for that here. Take 'em off the shelves, by all means. Books that want to separate people due to their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender beliefs are crap to me. I won't read them. By all means, get rid of every derivative of MEIN KAMPF promoted by white supremacists. Keep the original around as a reminder of how someone who is small-minded and ignorant (Cough POTUS Cough) can too easily gain power. 
but don't try to tell us what we can read, because you don't like the author's personal opinion. That isn't what this country is about. Or, please God, not what it's supposed to be about. 
By the way. I've never read J.K. Rowling, and I'm not in a hurry to, but I DO ADMIRE her for giving millions and millions of dollars to charity. I've never been in the position to even consider that sort of generosity. 

Okay, let me have it. 
Until next week, I'm still James A. Moore.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Staycations and Refilling the Well

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is whatever is on our minds.

And I'm thinking... what IS on my mind? It's kind of a blank, in truth.

But I think that's a good thing. This last week my folks have been visiting. They're staying in a VRBO in a fun, historic part of town, and we've been doing touristy things every day. You know how it is when you live in a tourist destination: you never really go do all those fun things until out of town guests arrive. So, this last week has been like a staycation. I haven't been writing, just keeping up with business in general. Otherwise we've been savoring life and the window of opportunity to enjoy the outside world and each other's company again.

It's been lovely.

But I do feel mushy-brained. I haven't been on social media much, but I'm aware of the troubles this week in the land of SFF - mostly because I'm on the SFWA Board and we've been discussing measures and taking steps.

The upside of emptying out the mind is that new stuff flows in. A new idea came to me this morning for a fantasy story. (I know, I know - like I need new ideas, but still! This one is pretty exciting.) I'm feeling the itch to get to work, which is always welcome.

Has anyone else ever tried a staycation? How did it work out?

Also, today is the last day to preorder THE LOST PRINCESS RETURNS at the lower sale price! The print version is also now available!

More than two decades have gone by since Imperial Princess Jenna, broken in heart and body, fled her brutal marriage—and the land of her birth. She’s since become Ivariel: warrior, priestess of Danu, trainer of elephants, wife and mother. Wiser, stronger, happier, Ivariel has been content to live in her new country, to rest her battered self, and to recover from the trauma of what happened to her when she was barely more than a girl. 

But magic has returned to the world—abruptly and with frightening force—and Ivariel takes that profound change as a sign that it’s time to keep a promise she made to the sisters she left behind. Ivariel must leave the safety she’s found and return to face the horrors she fled.

 As Ivariel emerges from hiding, she discovers that her vicious brother is now Emperor of Dasnaria, and her much-hated mother, the Dowager Empress Hulda, is aiding him in his reign of terror. Worse, it seems that Hulda’s resurrection of the tainted god Deyrr came about as a direct result of Jenna’s flight long ago.

It’s up to Ivariel—and the girl she stopped being long ago—to defeat the people who cruelly betrayed her, and to finally liberate her sisters. Determined to cleanse her homeland of the evil that nearly destroyed her, Ivariel at last returns to face the past.

 But this time, she’ll do it on her own terms.

Available at these Retailers
   Or Buy Direct from Jeffe

Friday, June 26, 2020

Fail Big

The most profound thing for me to say about failure comes from gaming. Big surprise, I know. It's from an old guild leader. He said: 

If you ain't dyin', you ain't tryin' 


Good advice in a situation where there are only pixels on the line, I suppose. But honestly, after the 12th wipe of a raid when you're trying to get everything just right, having the permission to relax into the ridiculousness of what you're attempting to accomplish changes EVERYTHING.

Any failure that is nonfatal is a chance to learn and grow. According to Carol Dweck (check out her book Mindset) how we view failure has a profound impact on whether we do succeed or fail over the course of life, love, and business. Those of us with a Fixed mindset are afraid of failure because we're certain it shows up our short-comings. Those of us with a Growth mindset might not relish failure, but we embrace it as an opportunity to learn something new. Not surprisingly a Growth mindset sets us up with far greater odds for success over time. And the good news is that you can change your mindset. It's in the book. I'm not rewriting it here. 

So maybe don't go looking for failure in say, cave diving, or free climbing El Capitan just yet. Scale the fail. Where physical safety isn't on the line, dare to fail big. The risk should be just enough to give you a little anxiety but not quite enough to keep you up nights. Not many, anyway. You're learning stuff. You need your sleep.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Epic fails, little fails...you've got to face them all.

I can’t count the number of things that I’ve failed at…and I’m a type A, will-do-everything-to-get-it-right kind of person! So it’s a little funny that I decided to become a writer because it’s upped my fails exponentially. 

Usually, when you do something over and over, you tend to get better at it. I guess you can say I’m getting better at failing, but it’s really one of those things that’s messy/ugly no matter how it happens. Life lessons are usually messy and ugly. 

My most recent read, I CAN’T MAKE THIS UP: LIFE LESSONS by Kevin Hart, ended up being pretty timely for this week. If you haven’t read it, it’s funny and inspirational, you should definitely check it out. Hart’s humor shines in this book, but it’s his outlook on life and the lessons he’s learned that really resonated with me. 

“One of the key factors for success—beyond work, talent, timing, relationships, and all the other qualities I’ve mentioned—is the glue that holds all of these together: commitment.” 
(page 160, I Can’t Make This Up)

Sticking with something isn’t a new idea, I wouldn’t be able to make such amazing pies if I’d given up after my first attempts. See the failed cake pic at the top! But it’s really nice to know that I’m not the only one struggling, failing over and over, and still tenaciously holding on, committing, to my dream. 

Because I agree with Kevin Hart, you have to commit if you want to succeed. You’ve got to be willing to put in the hours and energy all without the guarantee that you’ll get something in return. And you’ve got to be willing to do it again and again. 

So many try to write. Most don’t finish that first book. A good chuck that do, get some no’s and don’t do anything with it. Some will put out one book and then walk away. There’s a lot that goes into each individual decision, but I do know that if you give up on your dream there’s no way it’ll happen. 

Yes, you’ll hit times when you’re already down and get more rejections, more fails, and it seems like the entire universe is against you. There’s no easy fix. The best suggestion I have is to celebrate your friends successes. If you notice someone else is struggling, send them an emotional boost, or even a coffee! Lifting up someone else helps take the focus off your own problems, lightens your soul, and can give you energy to keep going. 

Stay committed. Don’t give up.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Dealing with the F word

You know Rudyard Kipling, the problematic imperialist poet dude? He wrote this poem called IF, and even though it's about how to be a man (because so much of pre-21st c. art is), bits of it speak to me. For instance:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
You know what he's talking about there, right? It's a thing many writers know all too well. The F word. No, the other one: Fail. Failure. Bombing. Splatting. That thing NASA says isn't an option. Hell, I didn't know it was ever a choice. Like, I'd like to skip the fail today, thanks, can I have double beans instead? 

But it's always an option, frequently the only one. And if you've gotten a fresh serving of it, you aren't alone. Many of us experience failure. We almost court it when we query agents or submit to contests or publish a book that we're timidly hoping people will love, but our choosing to take the risk doesn't make failure hurt any less when it comes. Having courage doesn't mean you don't feel pain when you lose.

So, how do you deal with it? I guess a really important skill for a writer to have is the ability to bounce back, or as the poem says, "lose, and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss." Because that's what's we are expected to do: cheerfully just keep writing, and just keep risking. Excruciating review? Don't read it. Traditional publishing slams the gate on you? Move on to self-publishing. Sales are crap? Just change your name or genre or both and keep on keeping on.

Yes, the other really important skill to develop as a writer is internalizing all of your feelings. When you experience failure in this biz you cannot show anyone how much it hurts. You can't talk about it, not to your friends, not to your agent, and definitely not on social media (don't don't don't do this). You keep it secret, keep it safe. Otherwise you are whining, and that's not a thing writers do. We are optimistic happy people, damn it.

If that sounds like a load of fecal matter, well, it is. And if you're feeling the sting, I absolutely get you. You aren't alone, even if it feels like it. I believe you can come back from the F, that we can both come back, but it doesn't have to happen all at once, and it's okay to feel the way you feel. If it ever gets to be too much, look me up (twitter, facebook, email). I promise I won't tell you you're whining. 

Also, please remember this: Failure does not define you. You are worthy, and anybody says otherwise, I have another F word for them.

p.s. -- A friend posted a link to this video of Michael Caine reading the poem IF, and it's ... well, it's Michael Caine. *hearteyes* I had to share.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Permission to Fail: Granted

Failure. Culturally, we're conditioned to avoid it at all costs. Public education punishes us for mistakes. Private education threatens us. Corporations terminate us. Society ridicules us. 

How dare we not be perfect?

Little wonder our ingrained fear of failure holds us back, particularly in a creative field where our work is subject to multiple layers of opinion. Yet we've chosen to be authors, we've chosen to subject ourselves to public censure in hopes we'll acquire accolades. Fans. Followers. Automatic buyers. 

Playing it safe doesn't get us what we want.

Fact is, we will fuck up. More than once. Quite often actually, if we're any good. It means we're learning, we're challenging our comfort levels, and we're widening our horizons. We're evolving as better people, better creators, better initiators, and better instigators of helping others grow. As long as we're not making the same mistakes because we repeat the same methods or remain in the same mindsets, then we shouldn't fear failure.

Sure, educating ourselves can be difficult. Being dragged for screwing up can be devastating. Have courage. Dare to learn from the mistakes. Dare to improve. Dare to try again. Dare to fail, because the feeling of overcoming that failure, of earning that accomplishment, that's soul-deep satisfaction. That's the stuff that makes life worth living.

There are certain readers of my work who've been delightful ~cough~ enough to say, "Hey, KAK, that first book is quite crap. Now that you're writing better stories, are you going to go back and fix the shitty one?"

No, I'm not. 

I absolutely can see the flaws in my early work. Yes, I cringe when I re-read it (and I do re-read it to double-check certain rules of the lore I created.) I'm not going to change that book because I consider it the starting point in a public record of improvement. I'm not ashamed of failing. Yes, it's taken me a long while to get comfortable with that notion. Now that I have, whoa, I'm so much happier with me. 

Say this aloud, "It's okay to fail."

Look at it this way: Reviews that say "this series just keeps getting better and better" are much preferred over "the first book was great, the rest are DNFs." Besides, I consider my failures to be learning opportunities for others. Yep, I've got just enough ego to hope that someone out there who isn't confident in whatever aspect of their life gets ahold of my series, sees the flaws, sees the improvement, and what they take away from that progression is that it's okay to stumble and keep going. You don't have to be perfect in public. You just have to keep challenging yourself. 

Fail. You have permission. 


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Confronting Failure - and Learning from It!

Did you see the cover for THE LOST PRINCESS RETURNS yet? I'm so in love with it for so many reasons, but mainly because it so perfectly captures Jenna/Ivariel in my mind. Especially everything she's feeling about returning to Dasnaria after all this time.

I'm glad everyone nagged me to write this story! The novella turned out to be a short novel, and releases June 29. You can preorder at the links below at a special sale price or here. Yes, there will be a print version; it should be available for preorder later this week.

Our actual topic at the SFF Seven this week is confronting failure. Not just the occasional downturns of fortune which is the lot of every writer, but also being able to take an honest look at what is just not working.

I recently signed up to be mentored during SFWA's Nebula Conference. (Salient note: because the conference was online this year, we've been able to keep it going. For a reduced price, you can avail yourself of the recorded panels and workshops, along with ongoing chats and discussions!) I've always volunteered to mentor others, and I've always joked that I *want* a mentor. While I know I have an enviable level of success compared to many, I'm also invested in evaluating what's NOT working in my career (Spoiler: I am not a millionaire) and how I can do better. I ended up having a fantastic conversation with Laura Anne Gilman. She took my questions and ramblings very seriously and gave me some great ideas for how I could "level up," career-wise. (She did say she thought "leveling up" applied mainly to craft, and I could see her point.) Amusingly enough, by the end of the conversation, she said she needed to write down some of her wise insights for herself.

I think taking a hard look at what is not working for us career-wise is just as important as taking those hard looks at why a manuscript won't sell or isn't grabbing people.

That kind of work never ends!

  Or Buy the ebook Direct from Jeffe

More than two decades have gone by since Imperial Princess Jenna, broken in heart and body, fled her brutal marriage—and the land of her birth. She’s since become Ivariel: warrior, priestess of Danu, trainer of elephants, wife and mother. Wiser, stronger, happier, Ivariel has been content to live in her new country, to rest her battered self, and to recover from the trauma of what happened to her when she was barely more than a girl.

But magic has returned to the world—abruptly and with frightening force—and Ivariel takes that profound change as a sign that it’s time to keep a promise she made to the sisters she left behind. Ivariel must leave the safety she’s found and return to face the horrors she fled.

As Ivariel emerges from hiding, she discovers that her vicious brother is now Emperor of Dasnaria, and her much-hated mother, the Dowager Empress Hulda, is aiding him in his reign of terror. Worse, it seems that Hulda’s resurrection of the tainted god Deyrr came about as a direct result of Jenna’s flight long ago.

It’s up to Ivariel—and the girl she stopped being long ago—to defeat the people who cruelly betrayed her, and to finally liberate her sisters. Determined to cleanse her homeland of the evil that nearly destroyed her, Ivariel at last returns to face the past.

But this time, she’ll do it on her own terms.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Tomato Tomahto Yumblie

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our favorite and least favorite ways the language is changing.

(Looks at topic, pokes it with a stick, turns it over and then upside down…)
Yeah, not a subject I give any thought to. I use language, I write books using language and I’m happy to learn and utilize new terms.

When I see a term being used in social media that I’m not sure of, I – what else? – google it. 

In the case of my title today, I googled synonyms for tomato and - oh my - a lot of them are red cheek inducing but this one was fun...

Yumblie: "Yumblies are small red creatures found in Bubblegloop Swamp in Banjo-Kazooie. They pop up out of the ground in the minigame Eat More Yumblies or Grumblies than Mr. Vile, where Banjo (as a crocodile) must consume more Yumblies and/or Grumblies than Mr. Vile"

Apparently they are deemed to look tomato-like. Amazing what a google search will bring you. I also found 'jumblies' from an 1871 poem. But I'm getting sidetracked here which is what happens when an author does research online!

I’m happy to invent new terms for my science fiction romance novels and to create words for my alien languages from syllables that sound good to me. I also have given my various characters different kinds of universal translators. Here's a sample from MATEER: A Badari Warriors SciFi Romance Novel: A tiny chiming sounded from the edge of the table, drawing her attention as the three alien males sat. A discrete display blinked at her in thin air, hovering below the tabletop, offering six choices, one of which was Basic. Hastily, she clicked that one—the only recognizable thing on the display—with her index finger and was rewarded with voices in her ear, apparently translating what the others were saying. The selection menu disappeared. She glanced at the men, but they were ignoring her, so either no one cared if she now understood them or the scientists were unaware the conference room had offered her the amenity. Schooling her face to be blank and bored, she sat and waited.

My attention can be briefly caught by some fascinating linguistic trivia, like the amazing @HaggardHawks serves up daily on twitter.  Here’s a sample tweet from Friday: In 17th century English, an EGG-WIFE TROT was a fast walking pace. It literally referred to the quickest pace an egg-seller heading to market dared to walk at while carrying a basket of eggs.

And then I might retweet it or I might just move on.

One thing I found fascinating over my long career at the old day job in process improvement and change management was how each area has its own terms and verbal shorthand which can seem impenetrable to the newcomer or outside. I think every organization has this. I still remember my ‘blue pencil’ number from working at the old May Company. I was 318881 and if the procedure called for a clerk to get a blue pencil approval on a return or other transaction, they’d have to find me and get me to scribble that plus my initials on their sales document. I can still do the scribble in two seconds flat.

When we did an enterprise-wide installation of Oracle software for the first time at the old day job, one of the biggest challenges was getting various departments together to flowchart the movement of various transactions. I remember sitting in one meeting where because of my broad interdepartment experience, I knew one of the words they were all using, thinking everyone understood it to be the same thing, actually had totally different meanings. I stopped the meeting and went around the room and had each department explain what the word meant to them. A lot of dropped jaws and disbelief by the end. We had 64 different understandings of the same word. Of course we eventually overcame that and other linguistic challenges but it was a good lesson learned for me.

At one point, years later, I was working with a team from a high powered consulting firm, who of course had their own jargon, which began to creep into our daily conversations because we were hearing it all the time. I had to laugh out loud the first time I heard one of them describing something as being ‘crisp’ because that was MY word and I was always demanding our presentations to my management be ‘crisp’ and anything else we delivered as a work product had to be ‘crisp’. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing my language infiltrate their corporate culture. I’m sure after the engagement with us ended, ‘crisp’ went away too, for lack of daily reinforcement.

Words have power and I’m happy that in the current world the English language (and others as well but I’m an English speaker so…) is so adaptable and welcoming to new words or combinations of old ones.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Changing Language

Language changes. I strongly suspect change comes faster when a culture is highly mobile like ours is.  There is a quote out there in the world about English rifling through the pockets of other languages, but in its original form, the quote is super problematic for it's sexism and attempt to somehow shame sex workers. I prefer the mental image of English as a thief willing to sneak up on another language, club it over the head, and take everything it could find. 

It's how we got hurricane. And geyser. From entirely different parts of the world. Imagine trying to learn English as a second language and having someone tell you, "No, no. That word's Japanese. Yeah, that word's Icelandic. And that one? That one's -- hell we have no idea where that one came from. Sorry." 

Then add in the variations and dialects associated with the language. The UK has one version of English. The US another. Australia yet another. The we add in Canada and the Caribbean region and I defy you, if you aren't practiced in hearing it, to decipher a southern Creole dialect speaking what's supposed to be English. You'll understand my sympathy for anyone trying to learn English. The language makes no damned sense. 

While I occasionally feel like some old curmudgeon yelling, "You kids get off my linguistic lawn!" I'm learning to not mind the ground of my language shifting beneath my feet. It's been rightly pointed out that rigid, codified grammar is a form of oppression. Insisting on "The One True Way" of language devalues the speakers of other dialects. For the longest time, the most common impression most people had of anyone who spoke with a Southern accent was that they were less intelligent. Now think about how grammar rules are used against Black culture and the dialects that have grown out of Black experience in this country. It absolutely casts Black language and culture as lesser. As something to be mocked and laughed at. Instead of listened to and appreciated for the original music it brings to the whole of the English language.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Oh, for the love of language.

“Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” ~Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

As writers, words are our tools, our weapons, our voice. And as writers that means we always need to be collecting new tools, sharpening our weapons, and improving our voice. How do we do that?

We listen.

I don’t believe it matters what genre you’re writing in, you’ve got to be able to listen to people. Not simply what language they’re speaking, (English, Spanish, French, etc.) but soak up their personal language. How do they use their words, what do they enunciate, what offends and what makes them laugh. 

You don’t have to go far for language to change either. For a broad example you can look at the US, there’s southern drawl to the long o’s of Northern MN…don’t ya know. 

For a specific example, when I was in high school my hometown used the word barr. 

Barr: something stupid, ridiculous, dumb. 

Our school’s top rival, the neighboring town, didn’t use barr. If you used it in that town...they knew exactly where you were from. By the way, the distance between these towns is about ten miles. 

What does that have to do with writing? 

If you can listen then you'll hear words used in ways you've never imagined. Our languages change all the time. If you doubt that, check out the yearly additions to the dictionary! If you can listen and understand people, you can write realistic characters. And that’s one thing that all books should have in common. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Former editor gets a bit ranty about language

True story: I'm sitting in my comfy chair, probably pretending to write a book, and my phone rings. It's a talky-type phone call, right, not a text, so I knew instantly that it was either my mother-in-law or my mom. And since it was a Yoda ring tone rather than R2-D2, I was fully prepared for my mom-in-law. Not unexpectedly, she was in a flutter about something, but this time it wasn't her computer, her car, or her cat.

It was language, a thing which is dear to my heart. Rant away, Meemaw, for I am here for it!

Anyhow, she was editing a paper for her son, who is a social sciences PhD student and worries maybe too much about his command of commas. She knows I was an editor and copy editor for coughfifteenyears, so she trusts my opinions on things like semicolons and style guides. She also expected me to be horrified at a thing she was horrified over. See, my brother-in-law had broken a basic usage rule repeatedly in this paper, and he is a smart dude so it made no sense. His mother was concerned.

The problem was pronoun-antecedent agreement. As the Towson University web site phrases it, "A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number. Rule: [Their bold, not mine] A singular pronoun must replace a singular noun; a plural pronoun must replace a plural noun." So, if Chris went to the store, he bought beer. If Christa went, she bought wine. If all the Chrises went together, they bought cheese. We all learned this stuff in grade school, if it sounds familiar.

But my brother-in-law consistently used "they" as the pronoun for all singular nouns. Which was wrong wrong wrong... right?

Except no.

See, Meemaw, I explained, our language is living, agile, functional, and as our society changes, so change the rules. As we try to be more inclusive of gender identities, the old he/she/it rules need to flex to accommodate. "They" is perfectly acceptable -- turns out English speakers have been using the plural "they" to refer to singular nouns of unknown gender for a really long time, and most major style guides have approved the usage. Also, considering the paper was for an academic social-sciences audience, it would have been a mistake to replace "they" with "he or she" (or s/he, which was always an abomination). It would have been wrong.

Which, in my mind, is something so very, very right about language.

So, you just keep evolving, English, you adorable tongue you. The rest of us will catch up.

p.s. -- I am considerably less down with all the run-on sentences I'm seeing lately from people who I guess are trying to use fewer commas? There's nothing wrong with commas, people! If you have two independent clauses, please stick one of those little beauties and a connecting word in between, even if you don't pause at that part of the sentence. Trust me. Also, lay off the semicolons. I can almost guarantee you aren't using them right.