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.