Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Curmudgeonly Pontification on Editors and Self-Promotion

       I'm plenty old enough to be called a curmudgeon and I've occasionally written a post where I assume that appellation. A couple of observations have occurred to me lately that fall under that category.
Editors and Editing

Thanks to
       I'm probably the only person around who prefers to indulge in that tremendous no-no, the violation of which shocks and horrifies!  I prefer to edit my own books.
       I have recently encountered someone who knew her book needed editing, so she hired an editor and paid good money, and then everybody who reviewed the book talked about how poorly edited it was (including me).  I am not about to waste money for somebody to do what I can do better, and I have no desire to be patronized by somebody who just assumes that if you're looking for an editor, you yourself are an uneducated simpleton.   (To be fair, I should insert a disclaimer here: I realize that not all editors are like that.)
       I have a sufficient academic background in English and language that I think I know how to write English using correct grammar and usage.  And I certainly know how to look things up, not only in the dictionary but in other tools.  I was a librarian, for goodness sake!  And when I first started writing when I was 29, I had my mother right there.  She was an English teacher and she's the one who taught me most of what I know about grammar and usage.  She and I proofread my early writing together, in the proper way -- with one person following the manuscript and the other reading in a slow, detailed way -- one word at a time, with all the punctuation verbalized.  Somewhere along the line I was taught that method, but it doesn't seem to be something anybody knows about these days.
       Now my mother is gone and I don't have anybody to proofread with, and I'm aware that when you proofread by yourself, you can miss a lot of typos.  So I apologize if a few typos slip through, or possibly the occasional small grammatical error.  Still, I trust myself to catch, for example, misuses of  homophones like "horde" and "hoard," a couple of words I always check out in every book so I don't have the Shshi sending out a "hoard" to found a new fortress.
       I think the reason people need editors so badly (apart from dyslexia, which can't be helped) is inferior education (and also poor typing skills, but that's a different problem).  Where were they during their high school English language classes?  Off in some adolescent haze, I guess, because it was obvious they ain't never gonna have no use for what the teacher was trying to larn 'em.  I think that's always been true to a considerable extent.  I'm quite sure many people who sat in my mother's classes back in the '30s, '40s, and '50s didn't learn grammar any better than the kids do today.
Thanks to
       We indie authors beat our brains out trying to get people to buy our books.  I list all my special prices on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, Google+, and in special forums and listings. I post them on my blog and I get promos on websites like The Story Reading Ape (bless his furry hide!)  I've been interviewed, and I thank all those interviewers.   I belong to several book promo groups on Facebook and Google+.  You put your posts on those and immediately they sink like a stone in the sea. 
       So I've decided all this is based on a false premise:  that people are actually out there trolling all these sites, looking for books to gobble up in order to fill their cavernous maws that hunger for reading matter. 
       I don't think this is true at all -- I don't think anybody is looking for books to read.  I'm basing this on myself.  I admit I hardly ever pay any attention to the myriad of books posted on these sites (not cites, you notice).  That's probably a flaw -- I should pay more attention, especially if I want them to pay attention back.  First off, who has time to investigate every book that's just been published?  Secondly, most of these books are in genres I have absolutely no interest in.  Erotic romance? Forget it!  Vampires?  Likewise (I have read one or two with vampires).  Zombies?  tha'sask|>|| as my Shshi would say.  Paranormal in general?  Nope!  I realize that my interests and the books that I write are literary in style and trends don't attract me.  I've even quit reading most high fantasy (dragons and elves and magic don't seem to appeal much to me these days).  I read tons of it in the '70s and '80s, as well as a good bit of more traditional science fiction.  Ursula K. LeGuin was my favorite, however, and I think everybody realizes her stuff is pretty literary in tone -- carefully crafted, with deeply dimensioned characters.   That's what I like, and I hope that's what I write, whether it's laid in the real world of the future or on a distant planet.
       There are many books that I would like to read before I die and unfortunately most of them were written years ago -- standards that I never got around to reading earlier, like The Great Gatsby or The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende.  I cannot possibly check out every book that crops up on a promo listing no matter how much I want to support indie authors. When I do, sadly, the books often turn out to be a waste of time.  It's not only poor editing -- it's that the authors think they can toss off a book in a week or a month and publish it immediately and have a masterpiece that sells a million copies.  They need to write ... and write ... and write ... and put the manuscript away and let it cook and then go back to it months or years later after they've gained more knowledge and experience, and then judge if it was really any good.  Perspective -- authors need to gain perspective on their own works by coming to them as if they were new.  I have no intention of ever publishing anything I wrote in the first eight years of my writing life.  I rewrote it so many times that the beginning became nothing but a jumble.  I do have a couple of manuscripts from the late '70s or early '80s (the period around the writing of "The Blessing of Krozem," my free novelette on Smashwords) that I may resurrect someday, but much as I loved the really early stuff when I wrote it, I think it's consigned to oblivion.  Juvenilia, they call it -- only I was in my thirties at the time! 
       So I apologize if I cannot pay attention to every indie-published book out there, and I understand why mine get ignored.  If I don't like to read erotic romances, the writers of erotic romances surely don't want to read character studies of giant termite people.  But somebody out there does want to, and that's why I don't give up.  You just have to find your readership.  That is what is important, and probably the hardest thing you have to do!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Do My Books Fit an Agent's Criteria?

Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head
Stands Guard
In the foreground (from left):
A'zhu'lo (Ki'shto'ba's twin),
Wei'tu and Twa'sei
(the smallest Worker),
Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer
(a Star-Winged Alate)
       On his excellent blog Nicholas Rossis recently published a post entitled The Worst Way to Begin a Novel. His criteria are excerpted from The Write Life and enumerate complaints of agents that can cause rejection.  I decided it would be interesting to consider some of my own books in relation to these criteria, so here goes!
"Prologues: not so much! Agents find them boring and think that it’s much better to include the description of the prologue in the actual story plot."
       I have only one book with an addition called "Prologue" at the beginning.  It's my WIP entitled The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars.  I extracted this and published it in the first Read for Animals book (proceeds going to support animal shelters) because it deals with a wounded eagle.    I'm thinking if I ever publish that humongous novel, I might retitle the Prologue as Chapter 1, because it relates directly to something that happens early on in the book and also to the book's broader theme of the eponymous Captain as a wounded man.  Furthermore, it's quite absorbing in itself.  I wouldn't want to omit it.
       However, all of my Ki'shto'ba books have introductory matter, specifically, a Translator's Foreword, because I've set up a scholarly framework.  These are tales written by an extraterrestrial and they require scholarly explanations. 
"No dreams in the first chapter: it makes readers identify with a story plot and/or a character/situation and then realize there was no point it, since it was not real. This can make them feel cheated."
       Not sure I agree with this premise, because dreams can be quite revelatory of a character's psychological state, so they can enrich the reader's understanding.  Why would that make you feel cheated?  That said, I've never written a dream in a first chapter.

"Too many descriptive adjectives: 'overwriting' is considered the mark of amateurish writing, as is language that’s too rich for its good.  As I always say, don’t let your writing get in the way of your story."
       I think Nicholas and I agree on this one.  I may occasionally violate it, although I'm not going to dig for an example.  You'll just have to read my books and decide for yourselves.

"No long descriptions: it’s all a question of balance between plot and description. You want to create a setting, but describing the colour of the flower in the vase for three paragraph could be dull."
       I think I deal with that pretty well, most of the time.  In Chapter 2 ("In the Nu'wiv'mi Marsh") of the second volume of the Ki'shto'ba series, there is quite a lot of description of the Companions' surroundings, including the plants and animals. I think any conworlder would appreciate that -- how can you construct a world and then not describe it?  And this watery environment is new to the characters in the story as well, so it fascinates them.
"Action: literary agents want action in the first chapter so that they -- and the readers -- get hooked."
       I sometimes violate this one.  I think I handled it OK in The Termite Queen, v.1, because the first short chapter is an internal monologue of the captive termite, and the second chapter introduces some characters in a way that doesn't explain everything (Who is this strange being on the other end of the com link?  Why does he talk in musical notes?  I want more!)  However, I confess that in the Ki'shto'ba series, I sometimes open with a chapter where Di'fa'kro'mi is simply talking with his scribe about his present life, his old age, how he happened to invent writing, etc.  The books often don't have much action until the second chapter or even later because that's where our narrator begins the actual story.  But when you get to that point, things pop. 
       Here are some sample openings of the main part of the text:
       Vol. 2: The Storm-Wing:
“We are lost.  I mean, we are quite lost!  Yes, I have to admit it.  I am not at all sure of the way!”
Ra’fa’kat’wei’s confession did nothing to improve my mood.  I was covered with mud, my wings were encrusted with drying shreds of water-weed, and I was sprawled on my belly huffing with fatigue.  So my rejoinder was tart.
“A fine guide you have turned out to be!  You said you knew all the paths!”
Vol. 3: The Valley of Thorns (this sets a tone of nostalgia, an anticipation of something that will be lost, including a bit of foreshadowing):
As travel-weary as they were, the Marcher Commander Gri’a’ein’zei’a disdained to rest its company long, saying that the situation demanded speed.  The following day we spoke our final farewells to our good friend Sa’ti’a’i’a, girded on our gear, and regretfully allowed No’sta’pan’cha to slip into our past.  When we came to the Ya’ur’akh’on, I looked down the valley toward the land where that river had another name.  My home fortress of Lo’ro’ra lay somewhere out there, past the distant haze that eternally hung upon the swamp Nu’wiv’mi, down the river called Rim’pol’bu, between the volcanoes, beyond Za’dut’s home fortress of Kwai’kwai’za.  I would not come even that close to the place of my hatching again in many season-cycles … so many …
Vol. 4: Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear (where  the Companions first encounter Bu'gan'zei, the Orpheus character):
       A wind had sprung up – the tree limbs seemed to be dancing and from a nearby overhang some stones broke loose and skittered down …
       Is’a’pai’a was the first to receive the sending and it stopped so abruptly that Wei’tu and Za’dut bumped into its posterior.  Then we all took the sensation – an antenna-buzz at once penetrating and delicate, so unusual that we were all entranced.  Simultaneously there was the smell of a male At’ein’zei Alate, along with the rank odor of reptiles and the feather-stench of birds!
       “Holy Nameless!  What can that be?” Ra’fa’kat’wei exclaimed.
       And then we detected words in the sending …
Finally, my latest publication, v.5: The Wood Where the Two Moons Shine (also an example of my description):
       After safely negotiating the daunting bridge that crossed the Sho’gwai’grin at the Great Waterfall, we found ourselves descending an ancient zigzag path that had been hollowed out by the scraping of countless claws.  Off to our right, the escarpment, an impassable precipice layered with gray and white and brown stone, stretched westward until it vanished into the distance.  To the southeast, beyond the end of the spur, we could see the glinting line of the river, with cliffs continuing to abut it on the east.  If we were to follow the west bank of that river, it would bring us into Gwai’sho’zei country and lead us quickly to the sea.
       Our immediate destination lay southwest, however.  In that direction we could see stubby hills thickly covered with dark trees and hung about with mist.  I always associate mist with these lands in which we would spend the final days of Ki’shto’ba’s quest. 
Personally, I think those are pretty good opening paragraphs, but I could be prejudiced!

"Make the reader want to learn more: the literary agent wants to see something captivating about the character, something that will make her read more in order to discover the plot and how the character unwinds."  And I'm combining with this: "Characters that are too perfect."
       Character is all, in my opinion!  Well, not all, of course -- a good tale needs many layers and aspects -- but still, if the characters are crudely drawn, cliched and commonplace, the whole story falls flat.  The good guys and the heroines need to have flaws and quirks that make them human (even if they are alien termites! -- "human" is in the eye of the beholder!)  And the villains ...  well, it's nice to have a villain that has redeeming qualities -- whose motivations are comprehensible -- although I confess to finding few redeeming qualities in Mo'gri'ta'tu (the villain who wreaks such havoc in The Termite Queen).  But then I based Mo'gri'ta'tu on Iago in Othello, who is frequently criticized for having unclear motivations.  The villain in The Wood Where the Two Moons Shine is possibly a little easier to understand, although he is even more devious and evil than Mo'gri'ta'tu, if that's possible.

"Don’t describe your characters fully in the first chapter: a), it’s boring, b) you really need to leave mystery for the rest of the book."
       My characters never emerge all at once; after all I've written some 600,000 words in the Ki'shto'ba series (averaging about 100,000 words per volume).  If they all emerged in the first chapter, nothing would be left to write!  They change and grow as the series progresses -- every single one of them.

"Unrealistic situations: literary agents feel that however inventive and imaginative a book can be, some things have to remain genuine and authentic, especially when it comes to human reactions."
       So how do you remain "genuine and authentic" when you're writing about giant alien termites?  You do it just as I said above -- you make them as close to human as you can.  You show that extraterrestrials -- aliens, if we must call them that -- may very well share the human qualities of compassion, caring, loyalty, self-sacrifice, adventurousness, joy, grief, and humor.  They also share characteristics  like intelligence, stupidity, anger, betrayal, sibling rivalry, a desire for revenge, and the ability to forgive.  It doesn't matter if they have three Castes and all of them are deaf and two Castes are blind.  It doesn't matter if they can only speak through their antennae, if they breathe through the sides of their bellies, if the Warriors can't feed themselves, if some of the species eat their own dung, or if all of them are necrophages.  What really matters is what is in their guts, or as humans might prefer to say, in their hearts -- their several hearts.  That is what makes them "genuine and authentic" and I'm egocentric enough to think I achieve that.  Whether a literary agent would ever think so is irrelevant.

Thanks again to Nicholas Rossis for giving me the idea for this blog post.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Three New Reviews on Three Different Books

       I casually went into Amazon this morning and lo and behold!  I had three new reviews, all by the same person!  The Termite Queen got a 4 star, The War of the Stolen Mother a 5 star, and Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder a 2 star (more on that presently).
       Here is the review of The Termite Queen (it's posted on v.1, but it covers both volumes (the bold type is mine):
       "The two volumes here comprise a classic first-contact scifi story, and opposites attract romance, and a court intrigue "historical novel". At least. And they all flow together smoothly into a satisfying whole. The scifi part has the usual unexplainable "science" bits, but they are used judiciously as vehicle, not hinges for the whole plot. The real science -- of Linguistics, mainly, is accurate within its limits and well presented. The romance is credible and the intrigue is made new again by being adapted to structure of termite society and the realities of termite physiology (about which we learn a good deal as well). The only complaints I have are to the assumed panspermia (or whatever puts all discovered life forms on the terran tree) and the needless complex (from a linguistic point of view, not from a scifi novelist's) phonology of the termites."
       This reviewer really likes The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head series (which I consider to be the best thing I've written):
       "This and the next volume are novel retellings of best of epic myths. Transferring from demigods to termites refreshes the perennial motifs and tales, while the mix of elements and the lively characters bring out the nobility and low cunning, the humor and the pathos of these episodes. The hero is all that that title implies, his companions the appropriate mix, complete with internal tensions and hearty cameraderie. And the narrator is just the right mix of keen observer and fussy pedant. And the tale continues into the fourth and soon fifth volume! Hooray!"
        I'm also going to give you the 2-star review of Monster.  In fact, it's a good 2-star review - nothing insulting or nitpicking about it -- it's fair-minded and reasonable.  I concede that some people will react like this to Monster -- it will creep them out.  Yet others rave about the novella and give it 5 stars.  A matter of taste, I think.  Why don't you give it a try and form your own opinion?
       "This is a very disturbing tale. As an allegory is quite dark; as a scifi novella it is ultimately wrenching. It starts with a twisted premise (even for an allegory) and then moves inexorably to its devastating conclusion. I like all of Taylor's other works (as I have said elsewhere) but this one creeps me out. Only the fact that Taylor is a very good writer (which makes the effect here more affecting) keeps this from a one-star (or a 0, if that were possible)."

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Monday, August 4, 2014

The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende; an Analysis

Barrabás came to us by sea …

The preceding constitutes the first and the last line of this monumental novel.  Barrabás is a bizarre, gigantic, black dog who was found nearly dead among the possessions of Clara del Valle’s Uncle Marcos.  The little girl immediately adopted and named him, and he becomes the glue that holds the book together.  He never stops growing, it seems, and becomes as big as a colt.  On Clara’s wedding day, the cook stabs him to death with a kitchen knife.  He drags himself into the wedding celebration and dies with his head in Clara’s lap, staining her wedding dress with his blood (prefiguring horrors to come, perhaps?)  Afterwards, Esteban Trueba, Clara’s new husband, has the pelt tanned and turned into a rug, complete with head and glass eyes.  Finding this construction laid down in the nuptial chamber, Clara is horrified and consigns the grotesque gift to the cellar, where years later her daughter and granddaughter play on the rug and make love there.  At the end of the book, the aged Esteban and his granddaughter Alba bring up the rug and place it where it belongs, in the bedroom of Clara, thus completing the union and reconciliation of past, present, and future.
I’ve summarized this to emphasize the truly fantastic nature of this book, coupled with its objective brutality.  When I set out to discuss a book that is as famous as this one, I never read any reviews or critiques beforehand – I want the assessment to proceed from my own impressions.  And this book was not what I was expecting; it’s my first foray into magical realism and I was anticipating a whimsical tale, charming and perhaps a bit sentimental. 
Instead, I found a book that is massive, brutal, coarse, direct, and totally without sentimentality.  I have never read a less sentimental book.  Everything, even the most painful events, is presented in a detached style, as if seen from a distance.  There was not one moment when I was moved to weep for a character, even when the most dreadful things were happening to them.
It’s the story of three women – Clara, Blanca, and Alba – mother, daughter, and granddaughter.  It’s surely no coincidence that the three names mean “clear,” “white,” and “white.”  It’s also the story of Esteban Trueba, who fell in love with Rosa the Beautiful, Clara’s older sister.  Rosa, who has the green hair of a mermaid (Alba inherits the trait), dies when she ingests the poison meant for her father, a neophyte politician.  Later Esteban marries Clara, but he is hardly an ideal man or an ideal husband.  He is a landholder – a patrón – but he fails to grasp the fact that the peasants on his land are human beings.  He rapes every girl as she comes into puberty, and the offspring of the first of these comes back to almost destroy him and the only thing he loves in his later years.  Furthermore, his temper is as volatile as the volcanoes in the cordillera.  When his daughter gets pregnant by one of these peasants, he whips her, then sets out to kill her lover, in one of the most memorable scenes in the book.  And when he discusses Blanca’s pregnancy with his wife, she says to him:
“Pedro Tercero Garcia hasn’t done a thing you haven’t done yourself.  You also slept with unmarried women not of your own class.  The only difference is that he did it for love.  And so did Blanca.”
At that, he hits Clara in the face and knocks her teeth out.  After that, although she continues to live in the same house with her husband, she never speaks a word to him again.
Beneath the personal stories of the main characters runs the political situation in Chile.  The story spans a period from early in the 20th century through the 1970s coup that killed Marxist President Salvador Allende and its aftermath of repression under the military and Pinochet.  In fact, however, these actual historical characters are not mentioned by name; Allende is simply “the President” and Pablo Neruda is referred to only as “the Poet.”  Furthermore, the name “Chile” is never uttered, or the name of any city in the country.  At one point the country is referred to as “this half-forgotten country at the end of the earth.”  All this adds to the fantasy feeling; this could indeed be a constructed world – an imaginary country devised by a fantasy author – a strip of land between impassable mountains and a vast sea, which stands alone and is unconnected to reality.  People may leave and go to other countries, which are indeed named, but whatever and whoever remain in this fantasy world is not governed by the same laws as the rest of the Earth.  Sometimes in a fantasy world, the fantastic things that happen illustrate reality better than reality illustrates reality. 
The paranormal powers of the women is one aspect of fantasy in the book.  Clara in particular is not only clairvoyant – she also has powers of levitation and she can summon spirits, and after her death she remains a presence in the house, appearing frequently to members of her family.  Esteban Trueba’s sister Férula is the most tragic of the characters; she sacrificed her youth to take care of their disabled mother, and after the mother’s death, she comes to live with her brother and Clara and help run the household.  She falls in lesbian love with Clara, which rouses Esteban’s jealousy.  He throws Férula out of the house, whereupon she curses Esteban (a curse that comes only too true).  One day she enters the house, approaches the family at the dining table, and kisses Clara.  When she leaves, Clara announces, “Férula has died.”  They discover later that she died in poverty and dementia, having refused to spend the money her brother has supplied to her.  Indeed, Esteban Trueba’s principal attitude to the women in his life is that as long as he supports them monetarily, it doesn’t matter how he treats them.  Later, he comes to realize that this attitude isn’t enough, but by then it’s too late.
Another aspect of fantasy is the theme of the prevalence of monsters in that world.  It all starts with Barrabás – that hulking dog of unknown breed.  One can’t imagine Barrabás as a fluffy little lap dog.  Blanca (who becomes a potter) makes Christmas crèches that include monster animals.  And the land itself is a monster, ready to consume its parasitic population at any time through the action of earthquake and tidal wave.
I have to say, one of my favorite fantasy passages is the way the old peasant Pedro Garcia rids the land of a plague of army ants, after the experts have failed in every attempt to destroy them.  He does it by talking to them.  “Tell them to go, that they are a nuisance here.  They understand.”
I noted two stylistic elements utilized in the book.  The first is foreshadowing.  Here is only one of many possible examples: (Re Blanca’s first meeting with Pedro Tercero when they are both small children): “When they found them, the little boy was on his back on the floor and Blanca was curled up with her head on the belly of her new friend.  Many years later, they would be found in the same position, and a whole lifetime would not be long enough for their atonement.”
The other stylistic element is the use of long descriptive lists, which add to the richness of the world being presented.  Indeed, the book includes wonderful descriptive passages, some delicate, some brutal.  It’s difficult to choose examples from so many, so I’ll supply only three – one delicate, one grotesque, one horrific. 
The first describes the fourteen-year-old Blanca (daughter of Esteban and Clara) as she is becoming a woman.
“She took off her nightgown and, for the first time in her life looked at her body in detail, and as she did so, she realized that it was because of all these changes that her friend had run away.  She smiled a new, delicate smile, the smile of a woman.  She put on her old clothes from the preceding summer, which were almost too small, wrapped herself in a shawl, and tiptoed out so as not wake the rest of the family.  Outside, the fields were shaking off their sleep and the first rays of sunlight were cutting the peaks of the cordillera like the thrusts of a saber, warming up the earth and evaporating the dew into a fine white foam that blurred the edges of things and turned the landscape into an enchanted dream.  Blanca set off in the direction of the river.  Everything was still quiet.  Her footsteps crushed the fallen leaves and the dry branches, producing a light crunching sound, the only noise in that vast sleeping space.  She felt that the shaggy meadows, the golden wheatfields, and the far-off purple mountains disappearing in the clear morning sky were part of some ancient memory, something she had seen before exactly like this, as if she had already lived this moment in some previous life.  The delicate rain of the night had soaked the earth and trees, and her clothing felt slightly damp, her shoes cold.  She inhaled the perfume of the drenched earth, the rotten leaves, and the humus, which awakened an unknown pleasure in all her senses.”
Blanca is forced to marry a certain man to cover her illegitimate pregnancy, and this man traffics in Indian artifacts. 
“The only thing that truly distressed her were the mummies. … Inside its jar, shrunken into a fetal position, wrapped in tatters, and accompanied by its wretched necklaces of teeth and a handful of rag dolls, the mummy looked like the pit of some exotic fruit.” 
And finally, this speaks for itself:
“The child Esteban Garcia was by my side, staring at me silently.  He had picked up the sliced-off fingers and was holding them like a bouquet of bloody asparagus.”

This leads me to talk about the point of view.  This book is a prime example of alternating points of view.  Mostly it’s omnipotent third person narration, but occasionally an “I” crops up, and it isn’t always clear who is speaking.  In the very first paragraph of the book, we have this, speaking of Clara’s diaries: “She also recorded trivialities, never suspecting that fifty years later I would use her notebooks to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own [foreshadowing again.]”  We don’t learn who this “I” is – who is writing the book – until the epilogue.  But there are also lengthy passages in the first person and this is always the voice of Esteban Trueba, as in the asparagus allusion above.  In the epilogue, the explanation for this is stated.  “I began to write with the help of my grandfather [yes, it’s Alba who was the “I” on the first page]. … In his own hand he wrote a number of pages … ”  So this explains the change of voice.  It’s actually quite effective, even though I was under the mistaken notion that when a stray “I” turns up from time to time, it's always Esteban.  It’s effective because some of the most intense passages proceed directly from Esteban’s violent reactions and emotions, while the bulk of the book remains in the detached style I mentioned earlier.
The House of the Spirits was not difficult to read – the style is limpid and clear – but it wasn’t what I would call a “fun read,” either.  I noted in some of the excerpts from reviews at the beginning of the book, remarks were made about the book’s humor.  I find it to be a very black variety of humor.  For example, when Clara’s parents are killed in an auto accident, her mother’s head gets cut off and nobody can find it.  Clara goes out searching for it and finds it in the bushes.  The body is already buried, so she brings the head home and they keep it in the basement, along with the Barrabás rug, for years.  This may be called humor, but it’s not funny; I would designate it dark grotesquerie.
The House of the Spirits is fascinating, compelling, overwhelming, and unforgettable – certainly something I’m happy to have read.  I’ll probably try my hand at more magic realism in the future, but not immediately!  I need something lighter first!
One final thought:  the author begins the book with an epigraph, a brief poem by Pablo Neruda.  It really does characterize the theme of this great story – that the same stories are lived over and over again and thus no one ever really dies.
How much does a man live, after all?
Does he live a thousand days, or one only?
For a week, or for several centuries?
How long does a man spend dying?
What does it mean to say “for ever”?

Monday, July 7, 2014

An Interview with A Walker Scott, Fellow Conlanger and Nascent Novelist (Part 2)

This is Part 2
of my interview with A Walker Scott.
To read Part 1, click here.

Walker's interview of me is now posted on my

       At one point Walker posted this on his Facebook timeline: "This is very slow and very hard work, so why am I writing a novel? My only answer comes in a quote from one of Tolkien's letters where he quotes CS Lewis from memory, "If they won’t write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves; but it is very laborious." 
       I personally concur with that statement -- I also write the kind of book that I like to read! Today we have the privilege of learning all about the extraterrestrials that Walker has created for his books, and we get to read an extract. (Oh, and for curiosity's sake, here is his translation of the above quotation into his conlang Carrajina: "Si nu voluns sciviri uls tipus djals livras fi feremus ledjeri, nechidemus scriveri nozus probjus dals fistas, peru esti mutu lavorozu."  I'm sure you can detect the Romance language association.)
        ·       I know you’re also working on a science fiction novel (and a sequel, at the same time). Do you have titles for these novels? Can you tell us something about the plot, the locations, and the period of time?
       I have working titles, but I am dissatisfied with the first. Currently it is titled If by This Hand I Slay, but I find it overly melodramatic and rather misleading about the story itself. Sooner or later, I will find a better title. The sequel is titled Words like Leaves on the Wind. That one fits very well.
       IBTHIS is set at an interstellar university on a space station. The students come from a multitude of worlds, mostly from within the Interstellar Commonwealth of Sentient Species, but also from worlds well outside the ICSS. My story follows one group of students studying diplomacy, engaged in a year-long simulation project to show they know what they are doing in their chosen field. My main character, David Asbury, really doesn't want to be there, but circumstances have left him no choice. Just as he's starting to settle in and accept his fate, the game turns real-world serious.
        WLLOTW picks up about three years later when David is on his very first First Contact assignment, struggling to learn an alien language that keeps changing on him just when he thinks he has it figured out. Then an enemy from the past shows up to make things really difficult. Under torture David begins to remember a different version of the last three years of his life and realizes something very important may be locked inside his head.
       Both these novels are set about 300 years in the future.
·   How do you use your constructed languages in these books? I mostly use my conlangs as an aid to discovering what it would really be like when we make first contact with extraterrestrials, but my intelligent termites also speak in these languages from time to time, especially when it comes to words that don’t translate well. I also include one specimen piece (in v.3).
        I use them in various ways. There is the occasional greeting or rude comment in an alien language. Sometimes there are brief snatches of conversation. At one point some of the characters get to argue about poems in a couple of languages.
·    A lot of your characters are non-human. Tell us about some of the characters. What are your non-humans like and how many different kinds are there?
           Well, I could really go off on a tangent here. There are a LOT of different aliens mentioned in passing in my novels and most of them have one or two representatives walk on stage for a paragraph or a page somewhere in one book or the other. In the first book, David finds himself on a team with nine other classmates, only one of whom is Human.
        Tkal is a Tvern An who was raised on Earth since his parents are the Tvern An ambassadors to Earth. He's the leader of the group. He is big and friendly and covered in green and yellow stripes. He is very enthusiastic about English slang and loves to eat -- except bread ... he has a terrible allergy to yeast.
        Gronorgh is a Gravgurdan, a huge warrior, over seven feet tall who would make the biggest Human bodybuilders look anorexic. He's rude, enjoys using his size to intimidate, and hates Humans. But he's smart and good at whatever he does.
Dai-Soln (a Taisiran)
Drawing by A Walker Scot
        Dai-Soln is a Taisiran. They are frail-looking, and have powdery skin in shades from blue to lavender, obsidian eyes and these fronds like moth antennae where we have eyebrows. Dai-Soln often takes on the task of peacemaker trying to smooth things over between Gronorgh and whoever he has totally insulted most recently. He's actually a prince somewhere waaay down in the succession to the throne of his people's Empire, which is currently in a rather disadvantageous relationship with the Gravgurdan Stronghold.
        Shintikaisen is a female warrior of the Trelkairni. She is a traditionalist, so she has never really thought of men as quite people in the same way as women are, until she finds herself working with males as equals. She is roommates with Ael, the other Human on the team, and they spend a lot of time in good-natured bickering about males and "their place" each trying to "enlighten" the other.
        Red-shimmer Gold-streak is an Iridian who is specializing in trade relations and the economics of diplomacy. She feels rather isolated at times since she's only a couple of feet tall, shaped like a rock and can only communicate with her teammates through a translation voder.
Enemwunu (an Alelliawulian)
Drawing by A Walker Scott
        Xtp is a neuter Xttg, an insectoid race. Its language consists entirely of clicks, so it too must use a translation voder to speak Standard. It rooms with Red-shimmer.
        Enemwunu is a gamma-gender Alelliawulian. They are tripedal, hoofed cephalopods. Five is an important number to them. They have five limbs (three legs, two arms) and five genders, five major organs, five elements, five vowels ...
        Fthsaisth is the very first of his species to be educated off-world. His people have just made first contact and are finding the idea of sharing space with so many strange flightless aliens a bit difficult to cope with. Part of Fthsaisthf's job is to help his people decide whether or not to join the ICSS.
  • Parenthetically, I had to look up “voder” to make sure it was a "real" word. I thought you had mistyped “coder.” Turns out there is a Wikipedia article on the subject -- it was a very early form of voice synthesizer. I might not be the only person who never heard the term (it’s even older than I am!)
        I think I picked up that word up as a child while reading some of Heinlein's juveniles. I believe his Venerians/Venusians had to use a "voder" to produce English. A little search shows me that not only Between Planets (the one I was remembering) but also The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress uses the term. I probably read both of those more than once in my early teens. I have a bad habit of pulling out odd words -- like voder and vibrissae. I ended up nixing vibrisssae for "fronds." I hadn't thought of voder as being a problem, but maybe I should insert a bit of explanation somewhere in the text.
·    Give us an excerpt from the first volume, to whet our appetites. Two or three paragraphs up to a page.

Here's a bit some might find interesting:

        Just then, the outer door to the corridor opened. David turned to see who was entering. Half way through the turn he froze. The half smile on his lips melted away and all the color drained from his face.
“What is that creature doing here?” thundered the Gravgurdan warrior from earlier.
        David's eyes were as big as the warrior's fists. Sweat was glistening on his brow and dark circles sprouted on the fabric under his arms.
       Dai-Soln stepped from behind the Gravgurdan's shadow to see, and his fronds swept immediately back over his shoulders as his obsidian eyes darted around the room trying to piece together exactly what was going on. Before everything blew up.
        Shintikaisen huffed. “Lower your volume, Gronorgh. None of us here is deaf.”
        "Nor blind,”added Red-shimmer Gold-streak, whose voder had just assaulted her with some very intense color to translate Gronorgh's shout.
        Gronorgh brought his voice down to a low rumble, but still demanded, “I ask again, what is that creature doing here. It better not be the linguist.”
        He is,”said Tkal striding forward with all the muscles along his jaw standing out in sharp relief and his stripes darkening fiercely. “He is the best on this station, and I had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get him.”
        “Pah! It’s too scrawny to make out-caste. And too timid to breathe. Ones like him foul the gene pool. He should have been exposed at birth.”
        David was trembling on the inside. He fiercely hoped it was only on the inside, but he couldn’t stop the sweating, and there was no color left in his already pallid skin. Gronorgh had used the Terran word for exposed, driving home that Humans had once practiced the most abhorrent of Gravgurdan customs – disposing of weak babies like garbage.
        David knew he had to say something, but his brain wasn’t working right. All he could think about was how big Gronorgh was and how far on his bad side he had already managed to land. He thought he was about to faint. He wanted to run for the door and never look back. But he couldn’t. Doing that would be giving up everything he had worked for, everything he wanted for the future. He had to find a way out of this, or around it, or through it. His brain was buzzing for an answer.

·    Well, that makes me want to read more! Personally, I like for my extraterrestrials to be portrayed as real people, no matter how bizarre they are, and you're surely fulfilling that requisite!  So do you intend to try to publish professionally, or are you planning to join the community of self-published authors, as I have?

I'm going to try to go the traditional publishing route. We'll see if anyone bites!

·   Finally, say something about your other interests or hobbies. I understand you’ve won some arm wrestling competitions!

        I wish! Actually, my best result was a second place in the North Dakota State Championship several years back. I love armwrestling (it's usually spelled as one word within the community), but it's been several years since I last competed.
       My other hobbies go in every direction imaginable! I collect hats, Christmas music from all cultures, Chinese mythological creatures, dictionaries and grammars of foreign languages, books period ... I paint, I crochet, I lift weights, I cook, I dance, I love Renfaires, I like to travel (I've been to 11 countries and 27 of the states).

·    That sounds like you could be the subject of a dozen interviews, Walker! Are there any URLs you’d like to share with the readers, such as a Facebook page or a website?

        If you want to follow my journey to completing this novel you can check my Facebook Page and friend me.!/profile.php?id=100006969166318

        Thanks so much, Walker, for visiting with me and my own readers! I’m eager to following that journey and I wish you much good luck in your literary progress! I definitely look forward to reading your books in the not too distant future!

FYI: The intention is that Walker will now
turn around and interview me!  If he does,
the interview will appear over on my other blog
because Walker doesn't operate a blog or webpage.

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Interview with A Walker Scott, Fellow Conlanger and Nascent Novelist (Part 1)

       When I first started this self-publishing effort, I knew I wanted to get acquainted with other conlangers, since I had constructed a couple of languages for the extraterrestrials in my books to speak. I surmised conlangers would have some interest in what I was doing and I haven’t been disappointed. Through Twitter I discovered the Language Creation Society and proceeded to join. Through those contacts, I met some of the most interesting people on the internet, although only a few of them (like David Peterson, who writes conlangs for TV series, including Game of Thrones) are well-known outside of conlanging and scholarly circles. Recently, in a Facebook discussion, the idea came up of doing an interview with one of my new friends, so I’m pleased to be introducing you to A Walker Scott, one of the most interesting people I’ve met during my self-publishing journey.
·    Welcome to my blog, Walker, and thanks for allowing me to interview you. Let me start by asking you to tell us something about yourself – your background, education, and professional life, and something about the places you have lived. I know you read and speak Chinese and taught for a while in Taiwan.
       Thanks, Lorinda. Well, I'm afraid this is not incredibly interesting. I hold a Master's in Teaching and have started but never finished a Master's in Linguistics. I taught English conversation to junior high and high school students in Taiwan for three years, and then English Literature and various electives (Yearbook, Logic, ASL) to junior high and high school students here in the US for another three years, before a one-year stint at a junior college. I left teaching due to the unpredictability of paychecks and such. Now I work in a warehouse as a shipping and receiving manager (read: I am a one-man department!)  In the past I have worked as a library supervisor (not a real librarian), a house painter, a nighttime stocking clerk at a grocery store, a customer service rep and various other jobs related to teaching – sometimes three or four simultaneously!
       I have lived nearly my whole life in and around Dallas, TX. But there was a brief stay in the San Luis Valley of Colorado when I was five and the three years in Taiwan about a decade ago.
       My Chinese skills have gotten quite rusty as an hour of attempted conversation last week brought home rather emphatically! I never did reach reading fluency. At my peak, I could read and write about 900 characters, but something like 3000 is needed to read things like newspapers.
       · An adjunct question: how did you happen to become proficient in American Sign Language? 
       Well, I have been interested in languages since I was really young, so when I got to college and there was a summer intro class on ASL, I took it. Then I took Beginning Sign Language that fall and Intermediate Sign Language that spring. Then I transferred and the university didn't have ASL and didn't accept it for the required foreign language credits, so it was good I had also taken Spanish. I kept up my ASL using it here and there over the years, and then took some Linguistics classes focused on the world's many signed languages. Now I'm interpreting on a weekly basis.
·     I’m personally not a professional linguist as you and so many other conlangers are; I’m just a writer and student of literature who dabbles in languages. When did you get interested in constructing languages and why?

       Well, I'm not a professionsal linguist either. I have taken some graduate level classes, but that's FAR from being a professional. I have read quite a lot, and I've been playing with language for decades. I would love to finish a Linguistics degree, but time and money are both somewhat lacking.
       I can actually pinpoint my first foray into conlanging rather precisely. It was about a week before my 12th birthday. My mother was in the hospital because of complications with her pregnancy before the birth of my youngest brother. I was riding my dad's delivery route with him and bored out of my head. I had recently checked several language learning books out of the public library – French, Russian and Esperanto. The idea that someone could just “make” a language was really interesting, so I decided to give it a try. That first language was horrid. I did just about everything wrong. But it started an interest that has lasted over 30 years now.
  • How many have you written? Give us some examples! I’m particularly interested in that color language! And I believe you’ve constructed a Romance language that is spoken in North Africa in an alternate history of Earth.
       How many have I written? Well, I have done a lot of sketches, some of which might eventually get more attention, but most just languish on my many, many back burners. Let's see ...  How many have I given enough attention to, to be worthy of mention? Well, Gravgaln, Tvern El, B-G-2-3, maybe Alelliawulian counts, Lrahran, Dabiš. Then there are other languages that only exist in measure enough to include a line of dialogue or a few names in the text of a story. Let’s say eight or so, including the Romance language you referenced.
       Gravgaln is spoken by the Gravgurdan, a race of warriors with some really nasty cultural traits. The grammar is very complicated. The verbs are based on an obscure language from the Solomon Islands. The nouns are inspired by some of the more conservative languages of the Indo-European family and some of the odder members of the Uralic family. You can end up with some really long words, but a two-word sentence in Gravgaln might need 15 words or more to translate it into English.
       Tvern El started out inspired by ASL grammar; I wanted to see how well the grammar of a signed language could be translated to a spoken medium, but pretty soon it acquired influences from Chinese grammar as well as some outright inventions. It is strongly isolating so there are lots of very short words, but the consonant clusters freak people out.
       B-G-2-3 is the color language you mentioned. The Iridians speak by changing the colors and patterns of their skins, much like chameleons or squids, only more sophisticated.  The language looks like some bizarre code when written out, but the letters are colors and the numbers are the patterns in which those colors are manifested.
       The Romance language is called Carrajina and has a whole history and culture attached. It has folk tales, and Scripture passages and recipes and traditions about how to paint your door! I never thought I'd enjoy creating a human language, but once I got started it really took on a life of its own. Someday I may even get around to writing a novel or at least some short stories set in that world. Who knows?

·    So many conlangers write in the abstract – for the sheer love of it, or to investigate the potentialities of language. And some actually write conlangs to be spoken – as auxlangs, or auxiliary languages. What is your view on how a conlang should be utilized? When you began writing conlangs, did you intend to use them in fiction?

       How should a conlang be used? However the creator wants! There is no wrong way to conlang. Some painters use oils, some acrylics, some water colors. Some use badger hair brushes, some a palate knife, some their fingers and some just throw the paint at the canvas. There is no one way to paint, likewise there are many, many ways to go about inventing a language.
       When I first started inventing my first language, I had no thought of using it in fiction, but very quickly my thoughts migrated that direction. I would say most of my conlanging is more or less directed to that goal at present.

·       I believe you’ve written some short fiction that’s been published. Tell us about that.

        Well, actually, the only short fiction I've had published (so far!!) is a science fiction sonnet that appeared in Asimov's. I have written a fair number of short pieces that I should be submitting, but I still find the idea of submitting my work intimidating. However, I am determined to start getting my work out there so, hopefully, I will have more examples soon.
       Though it isn't anything original, only a translation, I do have a translation of the Babel text from Genesis that should be appearing in the next issue of Aequinox.  If you really want to see the Gravgaln language in action, that's the place to look.
·     You’re also a conworlder or conculturist – you create worlds. This is also done by many people simply for the joy of it, without any intention of writing stories laid in these worlds. That’s not my practice – I only create worlds if I have a story to tell in that context. What about you?

        Well, I've done both. My alien languages and cultures are meant for storytelling. Carraxa was just an exercise in “what if.”

Coming in a few days:
Part 2 of this interview, in which we learn
all aboutWalker's exterrestrials and read
some sample text from his novel.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Pendragon Legend, by Antal Szerb: "I believe in the resurrection of the body."

"All Welshman are mad.  In England,
 every primary schoolchild knows this."
       And so the tone is set for this thoroughly enjoyable book.  I first discovered Antal Szerb on Max Cairnduff's literary review blog (Pechorin's Journal), where he has discussed all three of Szerb's novels.  Mr. Cairnduff recommends reading the books in order of publication, so I have begun with The Pendragon Legend (1934).  I wasn't disappointed. 
       First, a word on Szerb (1901-1945).  According to Wikipedia, he was a Hungarian literary scholar of considerable note.  He was Jewish in origin and was killed in a concentration camp in 1945 -- another tragic loss to the Holocaust.  You can find a more complete biographical sketch at
       The Pendragon Legend (translation by Len Rix) attracted me through its title, since I'm interested in Wales and in the Arthurian legend.  However, I discovered that the story had nothing to do with the Matter of Britain and everything to do with the mysteries that are inherent in Wales.  I also was expecting a more serious story and so I thought it started off a little slow, but I quickly began to realize that the book is a satire.  The word "satire" can conjure up the image of a biting or even bitter and black put-down of unfortunate people and events.  Not so here.  This is a gentle but insightful poking of fun at almost everything -- the British, the Welsh, the Irish, the French, all Europeans, and to top it off, the fiction genres of gothic, mystery, suspense, adventure, and paranormal (not sure that was recognized as a genre in the early 1930s).  The pseudosciences, particularly alchemy and attempts to bring the dead back to life, are significant elements of the mix.  As the kirjasto website noted above states, the novel can be categorized as a gothic fantasy detective story.
       Its characterizations (often comic) take it a notch above all the preceding.  Szerb spent a year studying in England and probably based his first-person narrator, János Bátky, on his own experiences.  Bátky is a Hungarian scholar, a dilettante -- an affable young man unaccustomed to adventures but ripe to take some on. At the moment he is studying the occult, especially in its 16th through 18th century manifestations, including the Rosicrucians.  He is also in love with the idea of aristocracy, especially as embodied in the upper crust of the British class system.  Therefore, when he meets the Earl of Gwynedd at a soiree and gets invited to visit the ancestral Pendragon home at Llanvygan in Wales, he jumps at the chance.  It so happens that the Pendragons have historical connections with occult activity, especially through one of the earlier Earls, Asaph Pendragon, who is said to have died and come back to life.  The current Earl is involved in "scientific" experiments, especially attempts to regenerate the dead using the axolotl (Mexican salamander).   
       Shortly thereafter, Bátky meets an Irishman of dubious character named Maloney, who is an ignorant but clever trickster type, quite willing to commit crimes for hire.  He is an acquaintance of Osborne, the nephew of the Earl, and it so happens that these two are also headed for Llanvygan.
       I'll insert a passage here to illustrate both the character of Maloney and the type of humor that can be enjoyed throughout the book:
       "Tell me," he asked, with some embarrassment, as we strolled along: "you're a bloody German, aren't you?"
       "Oh, no, I'm Hungarian."
       "What's that?  Is that a country?  Or are you just having me on?"
       "Not at all.  On my word of honour, it is a country."
       "And where do you Hungarians live?"
      "'In Hungary. Between Austria, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia."
       "Come off it!  Those places were made up by Shakespeare."
       And he roared with laughter.
       " ... And what language do you Hungarians speak?"
       "Say something in Hungarian."
       [Bátky quotes some poetry, translated as "Under a strange, lilac-blue sky /  The girls stroll to their assignations; / Mysterious, enigmatic / Summer afternoons."]
       "Very nice.  But you don't fool me.  That was Hindustani.  It means, 'Noble stranger, may the Gods dance on your grave in their slippers.'  I've heard that one before."  
       After arriving at Llanvygan, Bátky meets Cynthia, the niece of the Earl of Pendragon, with whom he immediately falls in love.  He sees her as the remote, mysterious female, the high-borne lady to his medieval knight.  Cynthia, however, is more interested in becoming a folklore scholar and the normally genial and likable Bátky naively reveals his snobbish male chauvinism.

       The Cynthia of my imagination was the sort of girl who, on the one hand, would swoon if she caught her beloved devouring a hot dog, but if the need arose, would be capable of giving her maid a thrashing.  She was the Lady of the Castle, proudly enthroned in her fairytale tower, blissfully ignorant of entire nations dying of hunger.
       I had not yet abandoned the hope that Cynthia really was the person I believed her to be, it was just that she hadn't been brought up properly.  No doubt her mother was to blame.  Under the influence of who knows what disappointments of her own, her mother must have dunned into her the great middle class myth that intellect mattered, and that everyone was equally human.

       This scene is in fact a clever reversal.  Just a few pages earlier, Bátky has been judging the Earl for being captive to an illusion -- for failing to acknowledge that his own great love could in fact be involved in a diabolical plot against him. 
       "That isn't true!" he yelled, finally losing control. "How dare you speak of things you know nothing about?  How can you possibly think you understand the motives behind what I do ... ?"     
       At that moment, in that spontaneous outburst of unguarded arrogance, I suddenly understood him.  ...  For a proud man no error can be more painful than to admit that in this regard he has blundered:  that the woman he has chosen is not what he thought her.  For a truly proud man the worst horror of disappointment in love is not the slight he has received:  far, far worse is the failure in judgement that led him to construct a myth with no basis in reality.  And a man as supremely proud as the Earl of Gwynedd has thereafter to maintain the illusion ... lest he be forced to admit to himself that he has blundered.
       Bátky can't apply that insight to himself; he is subject to the same kind of illusion where Cynthia is concerned.  Needless to say, the two do not come together in a permanent arrangement in the end. 

       In contrast we have my favorite character, the German woman Lene Kretzsch, who is an egalitarian and lacks any vestige of the proper aristocrat.  The only way to do her justice, and also to again illustrate the comedic elements of this book, is to quote the extract where Lene is introduced to the reader as an old friend of  Bátky's, a student studying at Oxford on a Prussian scholarship:
       However, I also went in some trepidation of her. ... It wasn't that she was ugly.  On the contrary, she was quite a handsome woman in her own substantial way, and she was always a hit with men. You might even say she was attractive, but she belonged to that class of girl whose stockings have just laddered, or who has just lost a button, or whose blouse has burst open, giving a chap the impression that she was in a state of non-stop physical development.
       This was how our friendship began: I set myself on fire and she put me out.
       There is much more to this passage, but, tempting as it is, I  can't quote the whole book, which is loaded with quotable passages.  The hilarious thing is that Lene is the one who takes Osborne, the nephew of the Earl, in hand and rescues him from his obdurate British sexual repression. 
       "[Osborne] said he hadn't enjoyed himself so much in ages.  Oh, and he hoped we'd tie the marriage knot soon."
       I was horrified.  Such a misalliance!  My snobbish heart wept blood.  The poor Earl ...  This was all the Pendragon destiny needed.  It would be the end of everything.
       "My congratulations," I muttered, with tears in my voice.
       "Come off it, you idiot!  You don't think I'd really marry him?"
       "Why not?  It's not a bad match."
       "No, my dear boy, I'm not that stupid.  Marry into such a degenerate aristocratic family?  What would my friends in Berlin say?"
       All of this makes the book sound rather like a comedy of manners, but it's really the gothic elements and the adventures into the occult that form the meat of the book.  One of my favorite passages is the long quotation from the Memoirs of Lenglet du Fresnoy (this is a real person who lived in the 17th and 18th century, although I'm not sure the Memoirs actually exist).  It's a priceless spoof of the rituals of Freemasonry and similar secret societies and is worth reading on its own, even if you don't read any other part of the book.
       The visions of the black night rider with his torch, the visit to the tomb of Asaph Pendragon in the ruins of  Pendragon Castle, and especially Bátky's experiences after he gets lost in the primeval Welsh forest form compelling gothic adventures.  Wales and its forests and "natives" can be seen as representing the primeval arcane forces that are never far below the veneer of civilization.  That veneer reveals itself in the behavior of the characters.  Whenever our trio of Bátky, Osborne, and Lene completes a venture into the occult and returns to civilization, the first thing they do is wash, change clothes, and eat a properly presented meal  And the men shave immediately; the beard represents the undercurrent of the uncivilized.  This is especially noticeable after Bátky's traumatic experience in the woods.  He has just slept all night in a meadow -- "My clothes were crumpled, torn and filthy, and my face was disfigured by several days' growth of stubble" -- but when he  arrives in Abersych, "I shaved and sat down to lunch at the inn."    
       I find this point interesting: did Bátky really experience those Satanic rituals in the strange house with no windows or was he dreaming or hallucinating?  Leaving this in doubt is one way to account for fantasy elements in an otherwise more-or-less realistic tale.  (Again, I maintain that all significant literary works have elements of fantasy in them.)  I used that method myself in my rendition of Ki'shto'ba's descent into the Underworld (in Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear).  In The Pendragon Legend there is no doubt that certain people did die that night, but was the perpetrator real?  It does seem so, but still ...  Readers will have to decide for themselves.
       One final remark.  I have noted over the years that the syllable "Mor" occurs with great frequency in the names of villains and places in fantasy -- to name only a few, Mordred, Morgan le Fay, the Morrigan, the kingdom of Mordor.  Curiosity made me look up the derivation of the syllable.  The Wikipedia article on Morrigan states:  "Mor may derive from an Indo-European root connoting terror or monstrousness."   It seems to be embedded in the Western subconscious, or perhaps the fact that in The Pendragon Legend the villain is named Morvin was a deliberate choice of the author.