Aside from my serious overuse of the letter "J," I usually don't have a problem naming characters. Protagonists' names take a bit more time, so occasionally I'll give them a silly or symbolic nickname until I figure out the real one. This can be fun -- while I was working on StarDoc book one, Reever's nickname was Professor X (to remind me that he was a telepath and [emotionally] crippled.) Kathryn Tremaine's working name from Paradise Island -- Jade, for her ring -- actually made it into the finished story. And one of my short story WIPs has a villainous female I've tagged as Nurse Ratchet. Once I settle on the final name for the character, it's easy to do a find-and-replace on Microsoft Word, and if I miss any, the nicknames stick out like a sore thumb during the final edit.
Naming people is always a fascinating business. In some tribal cultures, children aren't considered to be alive until after they're named, usually during a ritual that occurs sometime after the actual birth. Other societies give children "statement" names based on birth order, the circumstances of the delivery, the weather, or something to do with the family itself. Translated into English, these names mean things like "second boy," "feet first," "heavy rains" or "after we moved to the valley." Certain tribes give names that expire at a certain age, and the child must be renamed (a practice that is generally attributed to high infant mortality rates in third world countries; if a child survives to a certain age, they have earned a "proper" name.) Unlike the Western tradition of first-middle-last names, such cultures may also give a child sets of names (example: one for outsiders, one that is only used by the tribe, and one that is only known to the individual and the spirit world.)
If you're looking for online resources for names, one of the better sites is the Kabalarians
which offers a free index of 800,000 names in 288 ethnic categories, a search engine and alphabetical listings (skip down to the bottom of the linked page for these.)
Some examples, to go along with WT#8:
The corpse's left eye squinted at me from mere centimeters away. Decomposition lent her face an increasingly inscrutable expression; the first time I'd regained consciousness, when I found myself tied to her, she looked like she had died in terror. After a while, she started leering at me, as if she had reached the place where I was going and took perverse pleasure from the thought that I would join her there soon. -- "Hunting the Corrigan's Blood" by Holly Lisle
Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, "That afternoon when I met so-and-so . . . was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon." -- "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur S. Golden
At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman's eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward. -- "Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier
When Archbishop Richard Rushman, known to Catholic, Protestant and Jew alike as "the Saint of Lakeview Drive" because of his great charitable works, stepped out of the shower, he had less than ten minutes to live. Death stood in the doorway. -- "Primal Fear" by William Diehl
I jerked upright in bed, clutched at my neck, and doubled over as a god-awful pain ripped through me. I'd heard a man yell, just beside me, nearly right in my ear. I couldn't draw a breath, I was suffocating. And a guy who wasn't even there was yelling at me and I was dying. -- "The Edge" by Catherine Coulter
and from one of my WIPs --
“You must go to Kevarzangia Two, HalaVar.”
I watched my adopted brother pace around the command console. TssVar’s tail had been thrashing with agitation since he'd received the sub-Hanar's signal. Emergency relays from the Hsktskt homeworld rarely brought good news; from the second-most powerful leader of the Faction, never.
Little agitated TssVar more than wasting lives. Which meant a great many people -- my kind, humanoids -- were going to die.
"Indeed." I might be able to save some of them, unless he wanted me to lead a raid. Then I would have to kill myself. “How may I serve useful among warm-bloods?” -- "Illumination" by S.L. Viehl
Writer Trick #8: Avoiding Set-up Beginnings:
Learning to write screenplays gave me a different perspective on writing novels, and helped me avoid one standard writing technique that can often kill a novel before it ever gets off the ground. Screenplays have to be very spare on details, and I kept running into one bit of advice repeated over and over -- "Come into the scene as late as you possibly can" -- in other words, avoid setting up the scene and jump as late as you can into the action.
This works great for novel beginnings, too, although not everyone is a fan of this concept. Many writers (including Christopher Volger of The Writer's Journey fame) suggest beginning a novel with "The Ordinary World" chapter -- in other words, set up your characters and the environment before you throw the first conflict at them. A famous example of this is the opening chapter to "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Dickens's first chapter continues on with a lot more of this poetic description of the Ordinary World -- tons of it, in fact. But there is so much presentation of the Ordinary World that the story of "A Tale of Two Cities" doesn't actually get started until the middle of chapter two:
The sound of a horse at a gallop came fast and furiously up the hill.
"So-ho!" the guard sang out, as loud as he could roar. "Yo there! Stand! I shall fire!"
The pace was suddenly checked, and, with much splashing and floundering, a man's voice called from the mist, "Is that the Dover mail?"
"Never you mind what it is!" the guard retorted. "What are you?"
Now, this will be difficult, but try to forget that this is Charles Dickens for a minute and compare the two passages -- which appeals more to you as a reader? Being poetically lectured about a world of extreme contrasts, or hearing the sound of that horse coming up the hill, and the guard threatening to shoot the rider?
Immediate action or dialogue may not be as pretty or poetic, but it does a better job of capturing your reader's interest. Humans are insatiably curious, and when we see or hear something interesting, it usually grabs our attention. Also, while the opening is beautifully written, the writer is telling
you the story, while in the scene with the horse, he's finally showing
it to you.
Establishing the Ordinary World is still important, because the reader does need some information on where/who/what/when this is all happening. Don't throw them at the reader in a big pile, but try to weave in those details as the action progresses.
Eat My Dust, Mr. Clean:
I indulged in one of my rare rituals and cleaned the entire house from one end to the other yesterday. I scrubbed floors, polished windows, washed laundry & dishes an disinfected everything else that didn't move to my heart's content. Certain cultures believe that you can get rid of evil spirits or bad luck by cleaning, but the real value -- other than having a house that looks and smells wonderful -- lies in the physical labor. I always feel like a mighty warrior when I clean. My sponge is my dagger, my mop is my sword. I battle evil germs and their dust bunny henchmen and slaughter them without mercy. Go on, snicker, it does sound silly -- but try it sometime, too. It is impossible to feel bleak and hopeless when you can eat off your floors.
What They Don't Tell You:
Stare at a big picture for twelve hours straight and you notice all kinds of things you never saw before. If you happen to own the big picture and it's been sitting in your livingroom for two and a half years, you'll feel kind of dumb and amazed at the same time. Then try and remember how you felt when you saw it for the first time and fell in love with it, or when you brought it home and hung it on the wall, or when your best friend saw it and said, "My God, where did you get that
piece of trash?" or when your husband tried to get rid of it so he could hang a black velvet picture of Elvis, or later, when he tried to claim it as his part of the assets during your divorce. Imagine complete strangers walking into your house whenever they feel like it so they can tell you what they think of your picture, and a lot of them think it should be burned, along with you and your house. Imagine selling your picture so you can buy food, pay rent, and take care of your kids, and the buyer takes the picture but only pays you when he/she feels like it.
Now imagine how you'd feel if all that happened and you'd painted that big picture yourself, and you'll be where I've been.
Some decisions had to be made, and since I hate procrastinating, I made them. I am not dumping my contracts, my agent, or my writing career. I will have to do some things differently now. I've been getting caught up in too many things other than the work, which is what the agent gets her 15% to handle. As of today, I'm not personally getting involved with any of this stuff -- she will be calling the shots. It's a lot to dump on my agent, but she's willing, and it will remove 75% of the stress from my life. I simply cannot deal with it anymore and remain productive. It also puts me in the lovely position of having no responsibility for anything but the work. The other thing I'm going to dump are my expectations outside the work. I'm a writer, and I will write. That's what I do -- and that's all
I will do. Nothing else interferes, nothing else matters.
As for me remaining a full time writer, I can't tell you right now. I have a few more weeks of financial grace, and I'm going to take full advantage of them. There are lots of ways to make a living, but if I have to get another day job, then I will. And I'll work for as long as I have to until I can write full time again. I already know the next year is going to be very difficult for me, but despite everything that has happened, I believe in what I am and what I do. It's my glass, and I'm not throwing it away.
So Now What?:
I really appreciate the messages of support, thanks to everyone who sent them. I'm down but I'm not out, not yet. I've cancelled my appointments for the day -- my splint isn't going to impress any prospective employer anyway -- and I'm going to take the next twenty-four hours to rest, write, and look at my glass some more. If there's a way to beat this thing, I'll find it.
The Glass is Half What?:
(rated R for language) The manuscript went off to NY, the web site story and the monthly update are done and off to the web designer, the hand is wrapped and splinted, and this post being brought to you courtesy of my Dragon Naturally Speaking Software. The hand turned out to be a flareup of my arthritis, not a sprain, and should be okay once the anti-inflammatories kick in. If not, it'll be talk to the headset for a while. I didn't leave the house except to go see the doc, but the agent got busy and never called. I left two messages then gave up. Tomorrow I have to do the call-fax-run-drop-off-resume-interview rounds, so I won't be home, and we'll end up doing the phone tag thing all week. Business as usual.
I'll be brutally honest with you -- well, what else am I but? -- I was far from Zen today. I've been questioning a lot of things lately, but today I considered chucking it all out the window and starting from scratch with a new plan. Dump the contracts, dump the agent, dump all the related bullshit and go back to the serenity of doing it for fun. This is not an easy thing for me to even contemplate. I've fought so hard to get this far as a writer; you cannot imagine -- trust me, you can't -- and am now clearly seeing what's really ahead, which may be worse than what I left behind. It gets pretty damn daunting on good days, but when you feel tired and battered it's just that much harder to deal with. And it's not just the writing and me -- it's my kids and my ex and my family and my life all mixed in with that. There's a lot more at stake than books with my name on them, and the weight pressing down on me just won't let up, and I'm discovering that I'm not (much to my personal dismay) indestructible.
You know that silly saying about the glass being half-full, or half-empty? Today I felt like mine tipped over and spilled shit everywhere.
Usually I get angry, and I have been angry, and I'll probably keep on being angry. Anger and I are old pals, and we do very well together. The only difference this time around is, I'm sad, too. My head prevails, but my heart has started taking the aftershocks. I have such silly faith in my own abilities that I think I can conquer anything, even defeat. I've never given up on anything I believed in. I've taken long, extended vacations, but in the end I always came back fresh and ready to fight again. After a lifetime of doing just that, I guess I finally hit that "Why do I bother?"
So, everybody depressed now? Yeah, I know. You need this like you need an IRS audit, right? Hang on, I'm getting to the point. Slowly but surely.
I trudged through e-mail this afternoon, trying to catch up. A friend who has nothing to do with writers and the publishing industry e-mailed me and told me she'd finished reading my latest book. She said lovely things that some of the weight off -- I hate the first week of new releases -- and then she ended with this final pat on the back:
No one writes books like you do.
She was dead right -- no one will ever write books like me. There's only me to do that, no one else. People can rip off my work, imitate my style, even plagerize me, but they'll never be me. They'll never write what I can. Yes, the burden of the work is mine, but so is the beauty. And no matter how my work affects anyone else, it stays mine forever. No one and nothing can touch that.
It doesn't matter whether my glass is half-empty or half-full. My glass is going to get emptied and filled and knocked over and cracked and all the other shit that can possibly happen to glasses. The point is, it's my glass. Not theirs.
And the Beat Goes On:
Finished the web site story last night, giving it a final buff before sending it along to Willa
my web goddess for posting. Screwed up my right hand somehow -- feels like I sprained it -- and am now typing in a thermal wrap. I think I'd remember if I punched out a wall, but my knuckles aren't bruised. Tired, cranky and in no mood to talk to anyone, so of course
the agent will be calling this morning. Must run errands and grocery shop later, must find wrist splint if this wrap doesn't work, must remember to be nice to people. (Attempting to mentally compose nice things to say. As usual, coming up empty.) Nope, nice is out of the question -- mute and belligerent will have to do.
The story came out well, the hand will heal, the agent will do whatever the agent will do. Work will get done, regardless. And when I stop feeling sorry for myself, I'll attain the nice plateau again. So all is not lost, my true woes are few and I can channel the rest into the work. Later.
Help Save a Life:
I read a post over on Forward Motion about this horrendous story
and am posting the link here. This article details the case of a Nigerian woman who will be stoned to death
because she gave birth to a child outside of wedlock.
There is no possible reason to condemn an innocent woman to a dark ages execution simply because she had a baby. It is time to stop murdering women in these honor killings
which are as brutal, pointless and evil as those who are responsible for them. Please check out the article if you have a chance, and I urge you to write to those parties specified if you feel as disgusted and appalled as I do.
Warning to parents: The link for honor killings contains some extremely graphic photos of violence done to one young woman. Please do not allow your children to read without your preview first.
Tardy Once More:
The web site story for the month is late (again), but I thought I'd post a preview of what I hope will be finished today (Rated R for language and violence, kids, go tend the barbecue.)
Excerpt from A Personal Injustice
“A personal injustice is stronger motivation than any instinct for philanthropy.”
– From “A Son of the Circus” by John Irving
“She’s a little young for you, don’t you think?”
The man kneeling over the unconscious teenager scowled up at me. “Get lost, bitch.”
“As it happens, I am.” I scanned the filthy alley from end to end, but we were alone. I set my medical case down, out of the way where it wouldn’t get kicked or stomped. “I don’t suppose you could stop assaulting that girl long enough to tell me how to get to Johnson Avenue.”
He jumped up and came at me with the knife he’d been using on the girl’s clothes. “I’ll cut your fucking throat.”
Child rapists. Always so cranky when someone interrupted their fun.
I waited until he was close, then grabbed his wrist. The knife quivered between us, a quarter inch from my neck. He grunted, pushed, then froze in place – just like his blade.
“Where’s this famous southern hospitality I’ve heard so much about?” I tightened my grip. “You’re giving Atlanta a bad rep, you know.”
“Fuh-uh-” his eyes bulged out, and the knife fell from his fingers. “Uh—uh—”
My probe rendered him temporarily incoherent – none of the other rapists, abusers and killers I’d met had been very chatty when I’d picked through their memories. I didn’t like digging through his mind trash, but I needed to know if he had any other girls stashed elsewhere. The one in California had locked three little boys in a cellar, and I’d barely gotten to them in time.
Happily, my attacker preferred the one-on-one approach, with desperate runaway girls as his main victim of choice. He was a real gem, too. None of his victims had ever come forward; only being caught in the act had earned him any jail time. He’d just been released from prison yesterday, after spending twenty months as a model prisoner and chaplain’s aide.
“You’re a bad boy, Raymond.” I clamped my other hand around his neck, and walked him back toward the wall. “Swearing you found Christ when you hadn’t even been looking for him.” I tsked. “That parole officer of yours is going to be so disappointed.”
Because I wasn’t letting him have any air, all he could do was make little squeaky noises. His head bounced a little as the back of it hit brick, then he tried kicking me with one of his work boots. I pinned him with my knees, watching as fear and pain made his face into a cartoon. I could almost see the question mark form over the top of his head.
How? How? How?
He was screaming behind his face.
“See, I don’t look like it, Raymond, but I’m pretty strong.” I broke his wrist and felt his carotid jump under my fingertips. “Bet that hurts. Well, you’re really not going to like this part.” I released him, then cradled his face between my palms. As he brought his good arm up to punch me, I jerked his head hard to the left. What breath there was left in his lungs emerged in a low liquid gurgle as he slid down the wall.
. . . warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife . . .
I stepped over his body, retrieved my case and went back to the girl. A quick exam revealed a nasty bump on her crown, some cuts and bruises, but no signs of oral or genital penetration. Since Raymond was not only a monster but also HIV positive, that was a small blessing.
The scent of her blood made me swallow hard.
I took out my cell phone, dialed 911 and requested an ambulance and the police. Before the operator could interrogate me, I ended the call. Climbing up to where I could observe without being detected was a bit of a bitch – I was wearing heels – but I refuse to use the other methods available to me. The paramedics arrived three minutes later, and once they had the girl strapped to a gurney I slipped down and silently retreated back to the street.
I ignored the low, accented voice and kept walking.
“You promised to return and speak with me.”
“I lied.” I knew he’d catch up to me. Cyprien never had learned how to take a brush-off. Of course, being five hundred years old and strong enough to toss a dumpster into orbit might have had something to do with that. “I don’t need a coach. Go back to New Orleans.”
He didn’t. He caught up with me and paced me. I didn’t have to look at him to know he was dressed in the usual black trench coat and Armani suit – standard uniform for the tasteful but trendy omnipotent immortal. Sometimes I wondered if they all went shopping together, like best girlfriends.
“We need you to come back to New Orleans.”
I skirted around two prostitutes who eyed Cyprien like Santa had delivered early. “Do I really
look that stupid to you?”
“You are a brilliant woman.”
“I wasn’t smart enough to dodge you, was I? And now look at me.” I crossed the street against the light, making a taxi swerve. The driver stuck his head out the window and shouted his poor opinion of my mother. “Living the new life you gave me. Which sucks, by the way. Thank you very much.”
He tugged me to a stop at the edge of the curb. “The child in that alley would disagree, I think.”
“Would she? I was a heartbeat away from making her corpse number two.” I finally looked up into his beautiful face – the face that I had reconstructed for him – then dragged in a deep breath. “You got what you wanted, Cyprien. I didn’t. Fuck off.”
“I would respect your privacy, but there is no one else who can do this.” He dragged a hand through his hair, scattered the white strands around his face into the rest, which was long and black. “Some of our kind were captured and tortured. We need you to–”
?” I wanted to grab the gun from my case and shoot him, but I hadn’t loaded it. Stupid me. “You might want to rephrase that. Fast.”
His black brows rose. “You cannot deny what you are, Vanessa. You are my sygkenis.
“You don’t own me, you jerk. You victimized me.” As the words left my lips, Phillipe and another of Cyprien’s French thugs flanked me. “I won’t be so easy to kidnap this time.” I looked at Phillipe, who was giving me that faintly disapproving look. “What’s your problem?”
“Vous ne devriez pas insulter le maître.”
Good old Phillipe. Always the epitome of the devoted manservant. “He’s not my master, and I can insult anyone I damn well feel like insulting.” The threat of violence broke my shaky self-control, and two hollow, pointed teeth – my dents acérées
– punched through the bilateral abscesses in my upper palate. I flashed my fangs for them. “Take a walk, boys. I’m hungry, and you’re starting to resemble a double cheeseburger.”
When Phillipe advanced, Cyprien lifted a hand, halting him in his tracks. “You still wish to find the ones who attacked your burn patient in Chicago, don’t you, Vanessa?”
I thought of Lousia Lopez, who had been raped, tortured, and nearly burned to death in a fire set to hide the crimes. Did I want to find the men responsible for that?
“I can find them myself.” No, I couldn’t, although I intended to keep trying.
“Your resources are limited; mine are not.” Cyprien made a casual gesture. “Do this thing for me, and I will deliver these men into your hands.”
He had me. He had me and he knew it, the son of a bitch. “What thing? I want details this time. All the details.”
“Come.” He held out his arm. “I will tell you everything.”
Copyright 2002 by S.L. Viehl
All Rights Reserved
Women in Distress is $75 richer this morning, thanks to Neil Gaiman for winning the Hugo for best novel (as I predicted.) I won my annual bet with another colleague by predicting that he would -- like anyone else even had a prayer against that kind of monster publicity -- and as usual I donate my ill-gotten gains to charity. I got a bonus by correctly predicting the winner of the Campbell.
My colleague, who is tired of losing, has upped the stakes. If I correctly predict who will win in all of the categories for the next Nebula awards, she will donate $1000 to an abused women's shelter and write a SF novel. If I'm wrong -- since I'm not able to match the bet -- I have to read all the winners books plus Lord of the Rings (shudder) and write a straight mystery novel featuring a heroine who is at least 65 years of age. Yes, there are a lot of personal in-jokes involved in this bet.
I want to win that money for the shelter but the prospect of Tolkien and
writing a cozy....(cough) However, I'm not a spineless coward, and I can read really, really fast when pressed. I'll do it. :)
In the Cave:
Finishing up late snack of spiced pears; sandalwood incense burning, Ekova playing low, comfortably resplendent in an emerald jersey over black velvet slacks, barefoot, hair (dark, wonderful brown) damp, the felines sprawled and snoozing on the bed quilt, surgery book bookmarked to page on procedure to correct clubfoot, notebook flipped to "do this by Monday or ELSE" page, children asleep, window cracked two inches so I can hear the pines.
Paging through e-mails, Forward Motion discussions (one tempts me sorely to jump in, but I am womanfully resisting it) and the last of the newsgroups I haven't dumped. Jessie is thinking of buying a new car, would I go have a look on Wednesday, she's buying lunch. Mom got the books. Viagra, breast enhancement, Cayman Island revolutionary fund spams.
Three more hours of work before I can sleep. Kids home tomorrow, picnic basket ready to be packed. Resume folder on the side table, envelopes typed and stamped, waiting to be stuffed. CEM for Blade boxed. Revisions for whatever they called book 2 next. To-do list for Tuesday already filled. Phone unplugged. Back to work.
Blogger, be nice to me. I have a headache.
Finished the copy-edit on Blade Dancer; crawled through it three times at a snail's pace. I filled in a couple of small plot holes, killed all the typos I could find and corrected the copy editor's errors. Hopefully production will use my electronic copy to prepare the galleys, otherwise, I'll have to pick my way through that sentence by sentence, too. Oh, and I'm late by a week on my deadline, but no excuses -- I'm simply going to be late with everything this month. No cookies for me until I get caught up.
It's hard to let go of Jory and the crew. I spent two years preparing and writing this novel, and almost as much time with these characters as I've had with the cast of StarDoc. The book is a standalone, but if readers like it there's room for more novels in the future. We shall see. I hate this stage of the work, when I've finished my part, send it off, and hope for the best. I don't want it to end -- maybe that's why I'll always be a series writer at heart. I always have more stories to tell.