Sunday, August 7, 2016

Children of the Music - Published!


THURSDAY, AUG.11, 2016, ON FACEBOOK
BECAUSE IT'S THE 11TH BOOK I'VE PUBLISHED!






Here are the buy links:
Paperback on Amazon (US) (they haven't linked them yet)

     I'm optimistic about the appeal of this book because I think it's the most accessible tale I've written so far.  Some of my books are a bit specialized and -- let's face it -- a bit difficult.  You should have a strong interest in languages and communication to really appreciate The Termite Queen, and you have to have the tenacity to plow through to the end of v.2 to get the most out of it.  Not everybody has done that and so they have missed out on a lot.  The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head series is best read after finishing The Termite Queen, but those who have read the whole thing love it! "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" is a shocker; lots of people think it's excellent (see the reviews on Amazon), but it turns off some people, and it's entirely different from my other books, which are much tamer.  Fathers and Demons is a piece of weighty speculative fiction containing a long discursion into the Jewish religion as well as an absorbing psychological study of a troubled Rabbi and a disturbed spacefarer.

     So what makes Children of the Music different?  The length is moderate (Smashwords lists it at 122,000 words, but some of that is Character Tables and an Afternote by the author (me!)  It's laid in a world of medieval cultural level, and the genre can only be called fantasy, although magic is restricted to prophetic utterances and the strange effect the Golden-Eyed Siritoch have on the Epanishai, the invaders of their land.  Back in the 1970s when I wrote this book, I called the genre the "realistic treatment of an imaginary world," which is what I considered LotR to be.  I had no knowledge of the term "constructed world" at that time; today I would probably say "realistic treatment of a conworld."  
     Realistic treatment means that the characters are recognizably real -- you can relate to them as human beings no matter whether they are good guys or villains, Siritoch or Epanishai.  The characters are admirable but also flawed.  And there is a lot of irony -- both people honor the God of Life but in such radically different ways that, as I say on the back cover, "When two such peoples are driven together, which one has the most to lose?"

     But there is another reason you should enjoy this book: Its tone is lyrical -- smooth, poetic, flowing ...   You should simply begin reading and let the sound of the words and the movement of circumstances flow through your consciousness and captivate you.  It affected me that way when I first read it after hardly thinking about it for 30 years (the odd thing is, I barely remember writing this book -- spooky!)  And the characters evoke so much empathy -- my favorites are (in Part One) Himrith the Headman's wife,  the pivotal characters of Leys and his great-grandson Nebet, and of course Daborno, the Chieftain of the invaders. In Part Two, you have to love Ondrach the shepherd who rebels against the circumstances of Siritoch existence; his wife Lisarith, who grows in stature as the book progresses; Saremna the willful child of the Epanishai; Cumiso the Chieftain of Galana; his brother Sembal ... 


     I'm going to end this with an extract to illustrate what I meant about the lyrical flow of the text.   I hope you enjoy this sample and choose to immerse yourselves in the entire book.

From Chapter 15 (The Makers of Music) Ondrach and his family have gone to the village of Preymis to earn some money entertaining the Mayor and his cohorts on his wedding anniversary:

But then there came a lull, while the laughter died back, the guests wiped eyes streaming with merriment, the horns were drained and refilled.  In the midst of the relative quiet, Doranath struck his harp, and the tone was altered – as gay as a moment before – as quick and teasing – but different: sunlight on dew-silvered spider-silk – hummingbird flight – a whisper of dawn-wind among harebells.  Real silence drew down upon the hall as the Siritoch began to play Siritoch music. 
At first it was only the harps, but soon pipe and flute joined in, and the lute, and the tinkling finger bells.  And then the tone changed again – sunlit gaiety darkened into mystery as Doranath and Farnol began to sing. 
The words were ancient, older than Siritoch memories, coming from the clouds that were whirling up the years – from the Clouded Time that was past yet ever drawing perilously nearer.  The Siritoch were forgetting their tongue.  They often spoke Epanishai even among themselves.  When they did not, they spoke a dialect in which the concrete realities were their own but the movements and relationships were borrowed from a less patient race.  The cherry tree might be “thirnam,” but the word that made it bloom had passed away. 
The songs, passed from parent to child at the crib, kept the ancient tongue pure, but even these held only traditional meaning.  No Siritoch could have translated phrase by phrase from the song into Epanishai, or even into the dialect.  This song was the river; another was the stars.  The words and the melody were fused; they meant themselves, no more and no less: they were the Music. 
And the Epanishai felt this, but they did not understand.  In fear they called the Siritoch witch-people and their music incantations.  At the same time they treasured the spell.  They felt in it the dark groping of the roots of their own dawn-tree and the lifting of its branches toward the sun, and they yearned to be swept toward a depth of joy, endurance, and serenity that most of them could never plumb. 
So Doranath and Farnol sang words whose lost meanings were perfectly understood, while the Epanishai stood silent, their drinking horns forgotten in their hands, stirred by the glimpse of trembling stars, the dark waters of the luminous sea, the soaring of the eagle around dread, forbidden crags.  And when the song passed into silence, they could not quite remember what they had felt, but they wiped tears from their eyes. 
The youngest adults of the troupe had donned dancing cloaks and the Epanishai pressed back to give them room.  There was a pause.  The youth and the girl stood facing each other, an arm’s length of emptiness separating their extended hands.  Then the music commenced – flute and lute and the wordless descant of a woman’s voice, and the throbbing of a tabor to mark the rhythm. 
In a moment boy and girl began to move – circling slowly, always facing, never touching – swaying to and fro, bending and stretching – two willow wands caught in the winds of the music.  The movement grew swifter, the tempo more demanding.  The eyes of the dancers bound them together, their glances never parting even when their bodies turned.  Still those bodies within the floating cloaks did not meet, and the watchers began to desire their contact – to wait with breathless pain to see arms and torsos entwine as intensely as the eye beams. 
But some in the crowd gazed more at the minstrels than at the dancers – at the solemn little boy who beat the low-toned drum – at the woman whose fingers moved over the twelve-stringed lute as tenderly as if it were her child – at the man whose fluting brooded, one with the woman’s chanting, like the shadow of an oak tree on a starlit night.  The woman’s eyes were the color of swirling gray river mist touched by the sun; the man’s were moss green and leaf color, the forest floor dappled with sunlight.  The watchers did not look long into those eyes, which like the pulsing of the instruments spoke of things more ancient, more golden, and more living than the Epanishai could bear to contemplate. 
The tempo had grown – not frantic, such a word might never conjure up the mood – but stretched to a tension that could only break.  And then it did break – the boy and girl had come together, she bent backward in his arms while he bowed above her body.  For a moment all was suspended.  The Music was silent.  If the dancers should never move, the world would hang timeless for eternity.  
But the dancers did move, springing apart and darting from the hall through yielding revelers.  And the Epanishai sighed, vaguely disappointed, half relieved.  What they had experienced was too strong for them.  They were glad to be done with it – they wanted it again – it made them angry to be at once so shaken and so unsatisfied. 
And so someone called for Epanishai songs – ”Enough of this dirge-playing!” – and someone called for a dance tune – “To stamp the foot to! That’s the way to hoof it!” – and soon the rousing rhythms had cast out the stars and sealed up the depths of the ocean and bound the eagle’s wings.  The Epanishai danced – reels and jigs and circles that drove faster and faster until one nearly fell dead from laughter and breathlessness. 
The ale flowed and the mead was brought out.  The crowd grew unruly and inattentive; they could hardly hear the music and made little attempt to keep its rhythm.  Some, drunken, called the Siritoch “pasty-face” and “wool-sucker” and more obscene epithets, while others, scarcely more sober, tried to repress them.  “You want a curse on you? You want a two-headed calf like last year?”  “You want to see your daughter violated?”  “Faugh, those tales are rot!  These lily-loined runts haven’t the stomach to bed a stout Epanishai woman!”
“It’s time to take the money,” said Horbet quietly, “and leave before our welcome goes before us.” 

I could quote a whole array of passages to illustrate 
why I think you'll relish this book, but I have to stop. 
 Please do pick up a copy!
 Ebooks are only $2.99!  
And come to my event if you're on Facebook!
There will be prizes of free books!


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Writing about Immortality


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     I haven't updated my progress on publishing Children of the Music since May!  I'm happy to report that I'm close to considering it ready and will try to publish it before the end of August.  The book was meant to be a prequel to a much longer fantasy, which I never completed and do not plan to complete. This means that the prophecies uttered in Children leave the reader with a lot of unanswered questions.  I have been writing an Author's Note to set at the end of the book, explaining what was meant to happen in the larger work.  I'm going to quote parts of the Author's Note here (without giving away anything important about Children!) and add a few comments that I cut from the Note.

The “big story” was entitled To Sing with the Wind (a title I never especially liked) and it grew out of my fascination with the immortality of Tolkien’s elves.  I began to wonder – what would it actually be like to be immortal, especially in a world also inhabited by mortals? To explore this, I created an immortal race of my own called the Demrai, who fell victim to hubris, dominating and mistreating the “inferior” mortal peoples of the world who were supposed to be under Demran care. Their god (Dar) punished them by mewing them up in the mountains, unable to find a way out.  However, they were promised a Liberator who would come when they were worthy and guide them back into a life in the larger world. Simultaneously, all mortals were imbued with a sense of horror toward the spine of mountains that bisects their land, ensuring that there would be no accidental contact between mortals and Demrai.   

Now a few words about the difficulties of creating a race of believable immortal beings.  For example, if Immortals propagated at even a slower-than-human rate, they would ultimately overrun the earth.  There had to be a way to kill off some of them.  Furthermore, what would happen to Immortals who were maimed in some way?  Would they simply regrow a severed hand or an eye?  My invention of the Demrai predated Highlander, but the writers of that motion picture and series had to deal with some of these same problems.  Highlander-style Immortals are sterile, so that fixes the propagation problem.  And as we all know, they can die if their heads are cut off. 
My Immortals didn’t get off so easily.  The only way for them to die was to will their own deaths.  Life can become very tedious if it has no end (remember the song in Highlander “Who wants to live forever?”)  Depression would surely have been rampant among the Demrai, especially since their lives have lost all purpose during their separation from mortals.  When their Liberator finally appears, their numbers are in a dangerous decline.  
Several dilemmas are solved by the suicide concept.  What happens if an Immortal is buried in a landslide?  Would this person still be alive if he or she was disinterred thousands of years later?  Such a situation would surely be unendurable, and a person in this situation would undoubtedly choose to end his or her own life.  
And what about physical damage?  In Highlander: the Series it is made clear that severed limbs of an Immortal don’t regrow and that if the voice box is damaged, a glorious singing voice can be destroyed.  In my version one of the main characters is a blind Demran priest.  But I never tackled the question: What would happen to a Demra is his or her head was cut off?  Or if he were chopped into a hundred pieces?
I remained fixated on immortal beings for years.  I couldn't seem to come up with any other theme, even though I had already mentally stored away the concept of a race of giant intelligent termites.  After I abandoned To Sing with the Wind in the late 1970s, I invented a new world with another version of immortal beings.  The series, laid in a much more fantastic world with more fantastic beings, was to be called The Wizards of Starbell Mountain.  I did manage to complete the first volume, but later efforts also fell victim to the improvisation virus that had doomed Wind.  Anyone who is interested can get a taste of this world in my novelette “The Blessing of Krozem,” which is perpetually FREE on Smashwords.  It was written as a Prologue to the Starbell Mountain series.  Someday I might look into publishing that first volume.  But don't hold your breath.





Friday, July 1, 2016

Smashwords Summer/Winter Book Sale!

ALL MY BOOKS ARE HALF-PRICE 
THROUGHOUT JULY, 2016
AT SMASHWORDS

SEE THEM ALL HERE:
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/TermiteWriter
CLICK ON THE BOOKS YOU WANT
AND USE THE COUPON CODE AT CHECK-OUT!

IT'S SO SIMPLE A TERMITE COULD DO IT!


Saturday, May 7, 2016

"Bend to the reed's tune - sing a new song": Update


     It's time for an update on the book I'm currently working on: Children of the Music.  The title of this post is the epigraph for the book -- a traditional statement from the Siritoch culture.  The book itself is divided into two halves, the first being "The Reed's Tune" and the second "The New Song."  You can discover how those phrases apply to the story when you read it.

     I have also decided to reveal the cover art.  This doesn't mean the book will be published soon, because I'm not quite satisfied with it yet, but this gives me an illustration to post in various places.  The cover incorporates every symbolic element of the book: the differing eyes of the two peoples, the Music of the Siritoch (of particular importance is the serpentine trumpet that I featured in another post), the sacred tree of the Epanishai, and the circle of standing stones where a shrine exists that is holy to both peoples, although they don't realize it.

     The back cover will have a map of the Land between the Mountains and the Sea, and the text of the paperback will have two internal black-and-white maps, one for each half.  The second part of the story takes place 285 years after the first, so the land has changed considerably in that time -- a larger population, more cities, roads, etc.

Names and Conlangs in Children of the Music

     The reader will not find the names in this book as difficult as my termite names, although of course they are not English.  There are quite a few characters and the relationships among them may be a little difficult to keep straight at first, so I've compiled tables clarifying who is related to whom.

     When I wrote the book some thirty years ago, I wasn't into the conlanging mode yet.  I've always been interested in language, but I mostly just made up names on impulse. (In fact all of my conlangs started out that way.)  Consequently, I wasn't as careful about some aspects of the names as I would have been if I had written the book in the last ten years.  

       A word on the phonetic system:
     These days when I construct names or a language, I never use the English letter "C" because its pronunciation is too ambiguous.  Is it to be pronounced like an "s" or like a "k"?  In English it's usually like a "k" when it's followed by "a," "o," or "u," and like an "s" if the following letter is "e" or "i"  (examples: cake, cere, cinnamon, conlang, culinary).  
     In the two languages in Children of the Music, I consistently used "c" instead of "k."  I think my intention was to have it be always "hard" as in Latin, but who is going to know that?  So we have names like Cumiso and Cormaldur and Corith.  In fact, I discovered that actually I had only one name where there was an ambiguity in the pronunciation and that was a minor mention of a river named Cindala.  I'm changing that to Tindala.
     So I decided to keep the letter "c" instead of changing it to "k."  I've grown accustomed to the "c," and "Kumiso" and "Kormaldur," etc., just don't feel right to me.
      "G" presents a similar difficulty.  However, I find I used only initial "ga" in Galana and Galno and Gauramur, so those don't present a pronunciation problem.  And I never used the letter "j" so its pronunciation is a non-issue.

     I have thought about writing some rudimentary conlangs for the two languages, but I don't really want to spend a lot of time doing that at this point, even though it would be fun.  And I've decided it wouldn't add anything to the stories except maybe for some of my conlanger friends.  I do have a few words in Siritoch and Epanishai.  In Siritoch "Wal" means "Grandfather"  (of any degree, actually).  I wanted something for Nebet to call his great-grandfather.  Just "Grandfather" seemed too formal for a seven-year-old and "Grandpa" or "Granddad" seemed too colloquial and too native to our planet Earth.  I really think it would have been appropriate to make Siritoch words for "Mother" and "Father," too, and I've considered adding those to make it less formal.  However, I haven't decided yet whether to do that.

     The odd thing is, among the Epanishai, I felt that having  Saremna call her father "Papa" seemed perfectly appropriate.  "Father" would be way too formal from a five-year-old, and I never even thought of making an Epanishai word for "Father."  So I haven't been exactly consistent, but it seems to work.

     For the Siritoch, I did come up with diminutive suffixes, such as "Walanatha," which would in effect equal "Grandpa."  This can be used with personal names as well, such as Nebetanatha or just Nebetanath and even the long but sonorous Batharamolanatha (her name is Batharamol).  This is sometimes shortened to simply 'Ramolanatha.  Otherwise, I have very little Siritoch vocabulary, only "Thirnam," a name which means "Cherry." Frankly, I've always liked the word "Epanishai" (pronounced Eh-PAHN-ish-AI), but I never cared for sound of Siritoch (the "ch" should be that soft gutteral sound as in German "Koch.").  However, after all these years I'm stuck with the word -- my mind would not accept using any other term for those people!
     If you look at the names of the Siritoch, there are repetitions that surely mean something in their language.  A lot of names end in -ith or -ath or -eth, and others end in -ol.  I've sometimes thought of -ith as a feminine ending, but I haven't been consistent in this.  I think the names all have a meaning which could be worked out if a conlang was composed (e.g., -ol could be a plural form), but again I don't think that would add anything to the enjoyment of the story.

     I did do a little more technical work with the Epanishai language.  The holy trees are called the "sharovai" (singular: sharova), so it's clear that at least one form of plural in Epanishai is changing the -a ending to -ai.  I figure "Epanishai" is plural, too, but I never use a singular -- it never occurred to me back then.  The sacred grove is the "Codia," and a Priestess of the Grove is a "Codian" (plural: Codiant, so that's another way to make a plural in Epanishai).  And I do mention the names of some of the Epanishai months: Torhorda (the month before the new year begins; Danhorda (the midwinter month), and Nalhorda (the month just before midsummer).  I clearly remember setting up the calendar to have eight-day weeks, because I've always found our seven-day week annoying.  If you have to do something every other day, for example, you can't make it come out even.  If I have more information on time keeping, it's buried irretrievably in my voluminous collection of early manuscripts.
     The Epanishai names themselves are distinguishable from Siritoch.  The male names often end in -o.  For variety, several male names end in -ur, -is, or -al, or even -ab.  I didn't seem to vary the female names; they all end in either -ia or -a.  Of course, I could still change some of those, but I don't think I'm going to do that. 

     And that's about the extent of the linguistic work I did for this book.  Probably enough, although not thoroughly satisfying.


A Follow-Up on My Political Correctness Post

     I did decide to change the word "men" whenever I had used it to mean "people."  There was a lot more of that in there than I had realized.  I did keep the term "bearded men" because the Siritoch have no beards and it's the male Epanishai that they fear, not the women, so it makes sense they would make statements like "the bearded men are coming to kill us."  They wouldn't say "the bearded people."
    And I also eliminated "alien" when it's a noun referring to the Epanishai.  I kept it in certain adjectival usages such as "that's alien to our way of life."

     

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Heroes, Fathers, and Mothers

Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head
The greatest epic hero in the galaxy!
   
     In a recent blog post by E. C. Ambrose, Kylo Ren and the Question of Parental Succession, she discusses how fictional children cannot become heroes in their own right until their parents are gone and they have nobody to rely on but themselves.  I found this to be an interesting premise and it got me to thinking about the heroes in my own books.  It also made me wonder if the same thing applies to female heroes -- are their heroic capabilities suppressed by their dependence on their fathers, or their mothers, perhaps?  And what about male heroes and their mothers?  
     I'm a big fan of Xena: Warrior Princess, so that character immediately came to my mind.  She never knew her father, as I recall, but her mother certainly played a big part in her development.  Xena engaged in much evil activity before she became a hero, and that might have had something to do with her father, whom her mother killed in order to protect her daughter. Furthermore, her father might have been Ares -- a problematic possibility, since Ares is Xena's love interest.  But aren't most Greek-style heroes fathered by a god?  So the situation can get quite complicated.

      Now to my own books.
     In my signature novel, the 2-part Termite Queen, I have a heroine and a hero.  Kaitrin Oliva has a close relationship with her mother and doesn't know who her father is because she is the product of artificial insemination from a sperm bank.  I don't think her relationship with her parents has anything to do with the strength of her character -- she was born to do great things, and her mother nurtured her in that direction.  She had a step-father, but he is dead by the time our story starts.
     Griffen Gwidian, our "hero" (or anti-hero, a term I'm sure would suit some of my critics better) is another kettle of fish altogether.  The loss of his parents did nothing to make him a hero -- in fact, it prevented him from reaching his heroic potential.  It took a lot of experience to drive him in the direction of heroism.  And that's all I can say without spoiling the plot.
     
     However, I don't feel The Termite Queen is a good example, because it isn't fantasy; it's realistic science fiction with a literary feel.  So what about my termite series, The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head?  We definitely have Greek-style heroes here!  Ki'shto'ba and a few other heroes are said to be offspring of the King (read Zeus) of the Shshi's Mother Goddess.
     Termites don't have parents in the traditional sense.  They all have Mothers, of course, whom they revere their whole lives, and they have male progenitors, but they are expected to live lives apart from their "parents."  In some cultures the Mother has more than one King, so the offspring may not even know who their father is.  Is'a'pai'a (the Jason character) lives the early part of its life not even knowing which home fortress engendered it, so in a sense Is'a'pai'a is an orphan.  But once Is'a'pai'a discovers the story of its past and its destiny, it is catapulted into full-fledged hero status (a Champion, as the Shshi call it).

     Now to two of my other books (actually WIPs, since neither has been published yet).  Robbin Nikalishin in The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars is a hero for the modern world -- eager to perform heroic deeds and capable of great things but often totally inadequate in dealing with his problems and tormented by events in his life that he can't wrap his mind around.   His father, whom his mother divorced when he was eight, was a poor example of a man.  Robbie never saw him again and he always rejects his father as a role model.  It is Robbie's mother who has the greatest influence over him, and even after she is gone, he is tormented by things he can't understand.  Perhaps the concept does apply that a hero never reaches his potential until he is orphaned, because ultimately Robbie gets his act together, overcomes his inadequacies, and achieves one of the greatest heroic acts in modern life -- making first contact with extraterrestrial intelligent life.

       And finally the WIP I'm working on right now:  Children of the Music.  This piece is much more in the traditional fantasy mold, laid in a constructed world where two branches of humanity come together in a disastrous confrontation.  One of the peoples could be considered traditionally heroic -- a barbaric horse-people composed of clans of male warriors and their retainers and women, some of whom are Priestesses and Seeresses of their sacred tree.  The other people are meek, peaceable shepherds and farmers who don't even have a word for "murder" and for whom Music represents all that is Sacred.
     I made Nebet an orphan.  He is the seven-year-old boy who plays such an important role in the first section of the book,   He isn't a hero except as a symbol, but still I find it interesting that I used the orphan aspect.  (Actually, I had a prosaic ulterior motive, which was to keep Nebet a little separate from the rest of his family so he could get left behind at the end.)  Daborno, Chieftain of the invading Clan of horse-people, is also an orphan, but his father remains Daborno's own hero, someone to be emulated.  Unfortunately, Daborno never completely rises to the challenge of becoming a hero in his own right.
       Interestingly enough, the second part of Children of the Music (laid 285 years later) opens with the death of the father of Horbet and Ondrach.  It is the orphaned younger brother Ondrach who must rise to a semi-heroic status, making decisions and confronting dilemmas that are not natural for his pacific people.  He would have never done what he did -- rebel against his people's way of life -- if he hadn't lost his father.  And in an interesting parallel the Chieftain Cumiso and his own younger brother Sembal have also just lost their father when the section opens.  Cumiso is not much of a hero in anybody's book, I fear, but again it's his younger, scholarly-minded brother who achieves a status much closer to heroism.
     
The Madness of Ki'shto'ba
Huge-Head
(alternate cover for v.3)
     After considering all these points, I think I have to conclude that I never write about heroes  in the traditional sense of somebody like Superman, who goes about the world doing good, fighting on the side of the right, performing superhuman feats, and gaining glory.  I suppose that's why Xena appeals to me -- all heroes should have their dark side.  I'm more interested in those dark twistings and turnings that go on in the human mind.  Ki'shto'ba is the closest to a traditional hero that I've ever written and even the Huge-Head has feet (or claws) of clay, sinking into madness at one point and committing murder just like its counterpart in my Greek sources, namely, Hercules.
       I'm going to conclude with a quotation  from a later part of The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, where Capt. Robbin Nikalishin, who is suffering from PTSD after a space disaster where he lost a third of his crew, is giving a speech on the occasion of being awarded Earth's highest honor, the Crimson Ivy medal.

     “Now, I’m no philosopher, gentlemen and ladies, and I’m no expert at formulating philosophical definitions.  But it seems to me we ought to take a few minutes to contemplate what makes a human being a hero.  And it seems to me that a hero is somebody who reacts with courage in an impossible situation so that a positive outcome is produced. ...
      “But there’s a downside to any definition of a hero – it has a corollary, so to speak.  It’s not enough that a hero win – a hero inevitably has to lose something.  He has to lose something and react nobly in the face of that loss." ... 

     Robbie elaborates at length as to why he himself isn't a true hero, but I think I've said enough for my purposes.  By Robbie's definition Griffen Gwidian is a hero, and so is Kaitrin Oliva.  My Champions in the Ki'shto'ba series are heroes, and so is the small boy Nebet and his grandfather Leys, and so is Ondrach the Siritoch shepherd.  And certainly Robbin Nikalishin and certain other characters in MWFB fit that definition. as well.
      So it seems I do write about heroes after all.                                                                                                                                 


Friday, April 1, 2016

Political Correctness: How Do You Handle It in Your Writing?

     “Bend to the reed’s tune – sing a new song.”

The Siritoch were made to endure and the Epanishai to strive. 
When two such peoples are driven together, 
which one has the most to lose? 


     I've now been through Children of the Music twice, correcting the scanning errors and making a list of all the names so I can consider whether I should change any of them.  For those of you who might have forgotten, Children of the Music is the 30-year-old story that I'm working over for publication. I'm considering putting the passages quoted above on the back cover.  The first line will be the epigraph of the book.   

     I'm liking this book better and better, but I need an opinion on one aspect of it (well, really on two aspects).  The gentle, pastoral Siritoch, who have no word in their tongue for murder, have dwelled alone in the Land between the Mountains and the Sea for longer than memory, and now they are being invaded by a different people -- a fierce tribe of horsemen and cattle-drovers who are themselves fleeing an even more barbaric foe and who don't take kindly to finding that the land they have been seeking is occupied by sheepherders.  And they have no aversion to murder and pillaging.

     Both sides see their adversary as demonic beings.  And so I have a chapter in which the wise women of each tribe reject this, saying, "For they are men."  Now, when I was growing up, way back in the dark ages of the 1940s and 1950s, before gender equality became such a big deal, I was taught that terms like "men" or "mankind" or "he" could legitimately be used as collective nouns or pronouns subsuming both sexes.  That made perfectly good sense to me.  It's just a convention, after all -- one I still had no trouble with when I wrote this story in the late 1970s.

      Let me give you some examples in the story -- first the Epanishai:
“Rashemia, I didn’t intend for this morning to go as it did.”
“Nor I.”
“Even you – even you failed.”
“Do you think I am not human? After all these years you could think that?”
Her bitter candor vaguely surprised him.  “Did you really believe the holy wood would mean something to them?”
“I hoped.  They are men, Daborno.”
“But they frightened you.  Dare I say that? You were human enough to be frightened – even you.  Perhaps they are not men.”
“They are men!”  Rashemia struck her fist into her palm, hunching her shoulders.  “And, yes – 1 was afraid! Their music is inexplicable! It comes up as if – from deep water – or out of the wind.  It says things in some language older – older than the trees.  By Aftran, I yearn – I yearn to understand it!”

And now from the Siritoch's perspective:
“There is no being prepared – can’t you see that?”  Himrith had gathered herself up, clenching her hands in the wool.  “Oh, Narlach ... Parnom ... fleeing can’t save Thran! The only course is to wait and hold to the things we know – and – and – perhaps when they come back, we – and they – will understand!  For they are men, my son – I could see human trouble in their eyes.  If they are men, they are not evil!  No more evil than those winds and clouds and the grass that flourishes and fades.  For there is a third choice – I have only just seen it!  We have a third choice: to stay and not to die! And if we put enough faith in the Music, we need not fear these men, for all their giant horses and their knives and their loud voices.” 

Now I could substitute "humans" or "people" for "men."  Try reading it with those substitutes.  I just think the impact is lost.  "Humans" and "people" are both weak words with a feminine rhythm. (Are we going to have to get rid of the terms "feminine and masculine rhymes"?  Just wondering.)  "For they are humans."  "For they are people."  Just lacks the punch of "For they are men!"

So what's your opinion?
Are you so offended by this use of the word "men" 
that the story will be ruined for you is I leave it as is?
Would you enjoy it more if I used "people" or "humans"?
Tell me!

 And one other thing along the same line.  The Siritoch refer to the Epanishai as "aliens."  I don't know why I used that term instead of "strangers" or "outlanders" or some such.  I wasn't into science fiction in those days, so I wasn't thinking of the connotation of somebody from another planet.  This one I really may change because I've come not to like the term "aliens" -- it's come to connote humans ("men") from a country not your own, and I prefer to reserve it for extraterrestrials or else to eliminate it entirely.  I wrote about that once before here: You Say Alien and I Say Extraterrestrial.

     (Sorry -- still no artwork for this story!  I'm working on the cover, but it's a long way from being finished.)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Next on my Writing Agenda: "Children of the Music"

Known as a serpent, this antique musical instrument
looks like the trumpet that plays such a significant role
 in Children of the Music

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d5/Serpent%C3%B3.jpg
By Sguastevi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons

    First off, let me say that from now on most of my posting will be on this blog.   My Termitespeaker blog (entitled "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head") has lost relevance because I have now completed the series.  I had also used that blog as a vehicle to discuss myth, especially myth in literature, but I've kind of moved away from that, so I'll reserve Termitespeaker mostly for book reviews of the series.

    Today I'm going to talk about Children of the Music.  It's one of those manuscripts that has been stored in a drawer for 30 years and has now been taken out and dusted off.  That's supposed to be a no-no, but I see no point in trashing something that I believe has merit.  Here's how it came to be written.

    I started writing in 1969 and I churned out an unending manuscript over a period of years.  It got way out of control for length, because of my propensity for improvisation in the middle of books.  I always have a beginning and an end, but how in the world do you get from here to there?  And since this was the first thing I'd ever written, I kept going back and rewriting the beginning, which never made it shorter.  Finally I threw in the towel.  The book could never be finished.  I have shelves of manuscript for this book, which bore the title To Sing with the Wind (somebody once said to me, "You should just call it 'Sing with the Wind,'" but you see, that's the wrong connotation.  I'm not ordering somebody to sing (imperative) -- I'm emphasizing the process of learning how "to sing with the wind."  And yet to use the infinitive really does weaken the impact).  

    But that's beside the point.  When I gave up on my Tolkienesque first novel, with its evil sorceress, white-bearded wizard, young female heroine, and tragic young hero, I decided I needed to write a prequel.

    That prequel is Children of the Music.

   It features the past history of the two peoples who exist at the beginning of the humongous piece and depicts the families of the parents of To Sing with the Wind's hero and heroine.  And it benefited from my "million words" -- the amount you're supposed to have written before you can call yourself an author.  It turned out really well -- it had an appropriate beginning, middle, and end, and some really intense storytelling and compelling characters.  And it's a reasonable length of 118,000 words.

   Now I'm planning to publish it after some revision.  My problem is, I don't anticipate ever completing the book that was supposed to follow it.  Children is complete in itself, but it does contain some prophecies that foreshadow the main book, and it kind of leaves things hanging at the end.  Am I capable of writing a totally different book to follow it?  I somehow doubt it.  I simply don't like the book I originally wrote.  My original idea in To Sing with the Wind was to investigate a race of beings who were immortal, and somehow I don't want to do that anymore. These days, I'm not much into magic -- seers and prophecies are fine, and hints of the interference of gods, but my worlds are always real worlds, not governed by magical principles that have nothing to do with scientific reality. And my characters are always human.  (And if you say, well, giant termites aren't human ... just ask the people who weep over their story whether or not they have human appeal.)  

    But Children of the Music really does have sufficient merit to stand on its own.  Until I complete its revision, I'm going to blog about the book from time to time, and probably post excerpts.  I also have some questions I want to throw out to anyone who is interested.  But that will have to wait for another day.

    (Sorry I have no drawings yet for Children of the Music.  I do have some planned, however.  And take a gander at the great serpentine trumpet at the top of this post.)