The Time Has Come, the WriMo Said…

…to write of many things.  Of shoes and ships and sealing wax; of cabbages and kings…

My friends, the time is upon us.  Midnight marks the beginning of the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo, the summertime counterpart to the wonderful November event we’re all familiar with (or should be).

This June, I will embark on yet another attempt to write 50,000 words, although I’m secretly hoping to be interrupted by starting a new job.  But don’t tell anyone.  Wait – tell anyone who has a job for me, okay?

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for three years now.  The first, in 2009, produced the rough draft of TLDTC.  The second was a failure, which saw me switching stories in the middle of the month, and falling short by several thousand after Thanksgiving derailed me.  2011 gave me The Paper Flower, a techno remix of characters from my previously abandoned attempt.

What I’m trying to say is that NaNoWriMo is the reason I’ve found my passion for novel writing, and the reason I was able to muster up at least a little bit of the dedication and drive to keep at it when I thought I was going to scrap the whole darn thing and burn my hard drive for good measure.  I had never written a piece of long fiction before NaNo, and now I can’t stop even if I wanted to.

For those of you who are skeptical about being able to force that many words out of you frazzled brain in one month, take heart.  Use Camp NaNo as training wheels for the main event, with its thousands-strong community of incredible, inspirational, insane fellow writers.

I really can’t recommend it highly enough.  Obviously.  So if I’m a little quiet over this next month, this is the reason why.  I really want to push the first draft of SZ-K forward, and I can’t think of a better way.   Look me up at jenjiyana42, and join in on the fun!


Females and Other Strangers


As promised, here’s my first stab at taking the co-hosting chair on the amazing and fascinating podcast, Friends and Other Strangers.

Join us as we talk about feminism in the modern world: a little bit of history, the search for a female identity in a quickly changing social landscape, the dangers of Victorian fashion, and me going on about a lot of random stuff, like I do.

It’s great fun, so please drop by and take a listen.

Memorial Day

Hello everyone!  Just popping in quickly to wish all my fellow Americans  (et. al.) a very happy Memorial Day.  Let’s all take a moment to thank the troops for a chance to drink beer by the pool and burn a bunch of hamburgers which you’ll have to eat anyway and pretend you enjoy them.

I can think of no better tribute than my favorite stirring patriotic song, written and performed by the wonderful Hugh Laurie himself.

Enjoy, don’t get too drunk, and be generally safe on this lovely day.

Beautiful Blogger Award

My goodness.  I’m being inundated with accolades.  One might have been a fluke, but two gets me thinking I might be doing something right (although I just accidentally typed “write” instead, so that was a short-lived feeling).

It’s been really awesome to cultivate this site, share my work and my photos, and meet a fantastic group of creative, funny, passionate bloggers.  I am, in fact, quite honored that any of you stick around to listen, let alone think I’m worthy of any mention at all.

A special thank you to Katherine Givens for the nomination and her very kind words. Please go check out her site.

The rules are similar to the last award, although this time I don’t have to share any deep, dark personal secrets, just nominate seven bloggers to pass it on.

These are more recently discovered blogs, visually pleasing or otherwise charming and interesting.  I hope you’ll give them a visit.

1. In My View

2. Essence of Kate

3. Eating Towards the Finish Line

4. A Nine Pound Hammer

5. Purveyor of Words

6. Emily Anne Shaffer

7. The Thoughtful Life

Thanks again.

In other news, this week I recorded a  full-length episode of Friends and Other Strangers, the wonderful podcast run by someone who is, oddly enough, a little bit of both.  Join us as we talk about modern femininity, the struggle of women to define themselves throughout history, and my struggle to keep my accursed router from deciding it’s tired and needs a nap.  I’ll post a link to it on Tuesday when it goes live.

Other than that, have a very happy Towel Day.  In a rather pleasing coincidence, this is my 42nd post.  So just remember: don’t panic.

Poetic Interlude #4

In myth, Atlas holds up the heavens,

But it seems this world is mostly sky.

I wonder at the airy places in my heart,

Where cool numbness rises to form clouds

That drift through the caverns in the breeze

As the walls close in, and dissipate:

Tempestuous packets of electric fluid

Traveling with the currents of my mind,

Breeding into thunderstorms behind my eyes.

Tools of the Trade

Just a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post.  I meant to talk about a couple of other websites and programs that I find useful in the losing battle to properly organize my thoughts, which makes it sort of self-explanatory why I got sidetracked.

I already know I’ll be working on The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun for the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo coming up in the month of June, but for those of you who don’t have a project in the works, and either a) have no idea what you want to write (or even that you had the opportunity to do a non-November NaNo), or b) have nothing more than a jumble of scattered ideas, here are some things that might help:

My Favorite Outlining Tool

SuperNotecard by Mindola Software is a free download for Mac, Windows, and Linux that allows you to create decks of virtual note cards, shockingly enough, to help organize your outlines.

Each “deck” opens to a series of cards for more detailed notes.

I love it because you can color code everything by character, category, or place, making it simple to keep track of who is where and with whom and when and why.  It also allows several different ways to visualize this information, including a timeline, which is pretty neat.

The interface is intuitive and easy to learn, and you don’t really have to make the $30 upgrade if you’re only planning to do relatively compact projects.  I highly recommend it for anyone whose typical outlining procedure is this:

I really think this show could have gone somewhere. Oh well.

My Favorite Motivational Tool

WriteOrDie.  Hands down.  I know, I know.  Some people hate the pressure of a time limit, and totally blank out.  I can’t do word wars with other human beings, because I get all panicky like I did when we would play Jeopardy! in high school, and totally blank out.  But computers require no social skills, remember?  Computers are easy.  If I’m really stuck, or I’m just being lazy and want to make my word count for the night, I’ll reluctantly type this URL into my address bar.  And it is a sleek little interface, that does exactly what it says with no fluff, no ads, and no nonsense.  For ten bucks, you can get a desktop version, but the web app works just fine for me.

Pick a goal and a time limit, and it gives you a blank page with a text box and a countdown at the bottom.  That’s it.  It’ll turn red and do a flashy thing if you stop typing for too long, or if you’re approaching the time limit.  It won’t actually kill you, at least to the best of my knowledge.

See, it was getting angry at me for pausing to take a screen shot.

I wish it did give you a little more time to pause and think before going all drill sergeant on your ass, but I guess that’s kind of the opposite of the point.

My Other Favorite Motivational Tool

Okay, so maybe that one doesn’t work as well.  Darn.

My Favorite Naming Stuff Tool

Because naming stuff is always my downfall.  Aside from the fantasy character/place name generator I talked about last time, I discovered this fantasy novel title generator when I was desperately searching for a title for TLDTC.  I had been using a working title that I won’t even bother repeating, and I knew it was just pretty bad.  I’m terrible at naming my work.  If I could get away with calling everything “Untitled”, or “Shrug In Your General Direction and Hope You Read It Anyway”, I probably would.

Most of the things this generator comes up with are silly and unusable, but occasionally something halfway decent will pop up, or something will spark an idea.

“The Autumn Doll” isn’t bad, and “Dancing Prophecy” could be worked with.  I’m not sure I really want to know exactly in which part of the slave that talisman ended up, but you get the idea.  It’s a fun thing to play with, and it can be properly helpful.

My Favorite Toy

I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to use the same words over and over to describe stuff without knowing it.  I can’t even tell you how many times my characters say something sharply, or sigh, or smile, or snap, or even glower – at least in my first drafts, before I realize I’m being repetitive and unoriginal.  That’s what first drafts are for.

Wordle is not entirely for pointing out how horrible of a writer you are, but that’s an added benefit.  What it does is take the word frequency of a sample of text and make a pretty, customizable word cloud, like the kind you see on motivational posters and teenage girls’ Facebook walls.

Just go to “create” and enter your text, anything from a quote you like, to your entire manuscript.  More frequently used words will appear bigger, so you can skew the results for shorter bits by adding multiples of that word if you like (I I I I I want ice cream cream cream cream cream).  Here’s the one I did for TLDTC.

Is it a fantastic breakthrough that will jump-start your writing career?  No, of course not.  But it’s kind of neat, in a procrastination sort of way.  And you can get access to the compiled word frequency list to check it out.  If you’re ever unsure who your main characters are, this is one way to be absolutely clear about it, at least.

So that about sums it up for now.  I would encourage you to sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo, or to log in via your normal NaNo screen name, although you’ll have to build a new profile. If you don’t have time this June, there’s another round in August, and of course the main event in November.

It’s a great program and I can’t speak highly enough of it.  Look me up at jenjiyana42 and wave hello.  I’m sure I’ll be talking about it constantly once we get started.  Hope to see you there!

My Bologna Has a First Name…It’s Zykquixa

One of the questions writers in general – and fantasy/speculative fiction writers in particular – are often asked is this: “how do you come up with all those names?”  This is usually closely followed by, “I seriously can’t remember all those names.”

In my experience, that’s one of the things that makes people shy away from fantasy, especially epic or medieval-inspired fantasy, where the likelihood of encountering some good old ‘Murican appellations is fairly low.  Sure, some writers like to take names from the classic Big Book of Dark Ages Names (Except for the Weird Ones), which can work if you mix them in proper proportion with the made up variety,  à la George R.R. Martin.  But it’s tricky, and it depends on what kind of world you’re trying to build.  Sometimes it’s appropriate, but sometimes it’s not.

I tend to shy away from using recognizable names.  I did attempt it in The Earth-stepper’s Bargain, as an experiment, and I’m not sure it’s something I would make a habit of.  I think it can be jarring to the reader to suddenly come upon a character named Bob among all the exotic Z’s and X’s and Q’s that seem to be so popular, and it can give the reader unintended associations, which changes the story.  You’re unlikely to have an Uncle Zykquixa that ruined your 5th birthday party by showing up drunk in his underwear and giving you a dead possum as a gift, even though he had very thoughtfully put a bow on its head.

But when you’re going to make up names, you’ve got to be careful.  You need to have a theme, or several, if you’re dealing with different cultures.  They can’t be too complicated, but they have to be original.  And you do have to remember that your reader hasn’t had the benefit of working with those names for months or years, so being clear about your characters is extra important.  I read a preview of a story the other day where every single person – every one – had a name that started with a Z.  There were like five of them within the space of two pages.  Needless to say, I didn’t get very far.  It was unoriginal and tiresome, although it was also a story about vampires, so I think that goes without saying (sorry, not my thing).

One of my favorite tools is this online fantasy name generator.  I’ve been using it ever since I started TLDTC, when I switched to a Mac and didn’t have access to EBoN anymore (I really miss EBoN).  Sometimes it comes up with some pretty wacky stuff, but it’s great for tossing around some syllables you like and getting inspired.

I tend to pick a starting letter I want, or have an idea for the shape of a name in my head, and then I keep refreshing until I find something that catches my fancy, and go from there.  And then I Google it, to make sure it isn’t a Malay curse word or the name of a famous African singer I haven’t heard of, because that happens sometimes.  Sometimes the name has been used by another author in a work I wasn’t aware of, and that simply won’t do.  But it’s amazing how many arrangements of syllables there are that don’t mean a thing in any popular language.  It’s kind of awesome.

Another helpful hint that can lend an air of authenticity to worlds that are more or less rooted in the Celtic or medieval European mythos, is to know how common names were constructed, back in the day.  You don’t have to be a linguist like Tolkien to get an idea of how that works – there are about a billion lists of names you can find instantly with a simple search.  Adding on a familiar ending to a name kind of bridges the gap between completely made up and instantly recognizable.

I’m talking things like -wyn, -eth, -wen, -ert, -ir, -ann, -ryn, etc.  Some ones I’ve used: Cerawen, Branneth, Seovann, Calebert, Pridwyn.  They’re not so far out there that you can’t pronounce them, but they don’t really ring any historical bells.  That gives you an anchor without resorting to the approach of throwing a lot of high-scoring Scrabble tiles in there and calling it a day.

Personally, I find the process to be a lot of fun.  All people are defined by the names they carry, whether they’re being reactionary against them or not.  It’s an excellent opportunity to impart character traits without being blatantly obvious.  There are certain expectations from fantasy names that can add to the story if you do it right.  It’s like an old Western, where the bad guy was always the one in the black hat.  Evil guys tend to have a lot of harsh consonants; good guys have strong, bold, open-sounding names (and you can automatically make either of them into a girl’s name by adding -ya at the end).

And my number one tip, as long as I’m giving advice?  Include a glossary.  Always, always include a glossary.  There’s no more valuable tool for a reader who’s new to your world.

Yours truly,

Her Royal Highness Princess Ackingasyriqua-et’dedo Jocylee von Doranyryn of the Kingdom of Ineunaxyk-Hatyque-Larashmoosya