Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Name Game

Names are very important - just ask any expectant parent who's pored over a baby name book trying to pick out just the right moniker to hang around their offspring's neck for the rest of its life, or any kid whose parent didn't use enough caution.  Names are crucial.

Everyone has a name.  Most names have meanings.

Declan: an Irish name meaning "full of goodness."
Chloe: a Greek name meaning "verdant and blooming."
Hinata: a Japanese name meaning "sunflower."
Amani: a Persian name meaning "security, trust."

But here's a fun fact about names: while in Western cultures, most people use the same name (or, at least, the same first name) from birth to death, this isn't the case the world over.  For example, in some Native American traditions, a person may use different names at different points in their lives: a child has a child's name, an adolescent takes on a new name when they outgrow their childhood name; as adults, they may take on names that are descriptive of their achievements or their experiences.

So how do you handle names in your writing?

Do you use strictly Western/European conventions?  Do you explore the conventions of a non-Western part of your own heritage?  I, personally, tend to use Western conventions, just because that's where my head is at and, frankly, I do enough research for school.  Writing is supposed to be fun.

But I'm arriving at a point where I have to figure out what to do about names.  Because the thing about a name is that it isn't just a sound that identifies you to other people - it can be symbolic of how you think of yourself.

Consider a scenario.  Jake is an ordinary fellow from, say, Detroit, who is going about his ordinary life.  One day, an extraordinary thing happens to him, and in the process of dealing with that, he learns something he never knew about his heritage: part of his family comes from a different culture: they're from the Isle of Man, and they live a traditional Irish peasant lifestyle and speak only Manx Gaelic.  He goes on a trip to learn about that part of his family, and when he meets them, they hang a different name on him.  They begin calling him Laoidheach.  (That's pronounced Lee-ach, by the way.)  

Now, even though Jake might answer to Laoidheach, and recognize that it's the name his Manx-speaking relatives have attached to him, he obviously still thinks of himself as Jake.  When he writes letters home, they're going to be signed "Love, Jake."  But what if he stays on the Isle for a long time?  Suppose he decides he loves it there and he wants to become a recluse writer, and he relocates there to live among his Irish family?

Suppose that, while he's there, he undergoes a life-changing event or two.  Maybe he learns things about himself that he never suspected were true, and he starts to realize that he's changed; he's not the same Jake who graduated from Kettering High School, dropped out of the University of Michigan, and worked at GM.  He's different now.  He's changed.

So one day he writes a letter home to his sister, and he signs it Laoidheach.  In his mind, he starts referring to himself as Laoidheach.  He has become a new person with a new name.

So how would you handle that if you were writing it?  Because I have a character in a similar situation, and the Point of Change is coming soon.  So I'm very, very interested in hearing how some of you might handle it.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Miserable failure? Or what?

I just read a blog post, located here, written by Dan Blank.

Now, here comes my personal version of full disclosure.  Someone posted that link to the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter.  I don't know who Dan Blank is (should I? Is he a Big Name?).  I've never looked at that blog before.  But his title caught my attention, because it reads, "You, Dear Writer, Are Going to Fail Miserably."

My first reaction to this title was mild affront.  Dude, I've never even heard of you, and you're just going to blanket tell me how I'm going to fail miserably?  But I clicked the link anyway, because I thought, Perhaps this will be advice on how not to fail miserably; I should give it a shot.

I'm glad that I did.

In his blog post, Dan discusses what an unnamed "we" are going to do to the writer.  "We," he says, are going to make fun of you, take potshots at you, leave you in miserable loneliness, dig out all of the flaws in your story, and ignore you.  Dan writes,
Dear author, we are not going to make this easy for you. Which is why so many authors stop. They stop writing. They give up. Too soon.
Sometimes moments before success and validation; other times, years before.
We win. Game over.
And that is a very interesting idea.  He finishes out his post by asking two important questions: Who is "We," and what are you going to do about it?

So let's address this.

Who is "We"?

Some commenters said that they thought "We" was readers.  Others mentioned critics - not professional critics, but the ones in your life who tell you that writing is a pipe dream and you should be perfectly happy with your job down the factory or in a shop or wherever it is that you work when you're not bleeding on your manuscript.  Still others mentioned agents, reviewers, editors, publishers, and other gatekeepers of the "professional publishing" world.

And several others suggested that "we" is actually ourselves, our own crippling self-doubts and worries and fears that keep us from reaching out, that keep us from brushing off rejections and querying again, that keep us in frantic-editing mode because it has to be perfect before we can move on, that stop us doing whatever it is that we need to do to put our words out there in front of an audience.

I think the answer to that question is pretty much "all of the above."  Because the problem as presented in Dan's post is not just that critics will dislike you, agents ignore you, and publishers reject you.  The problem is not that readers will not find or appreciate you, that editors will slash and burn your perfect and beautiful manuscript, or that the critics in your life will (knowingly or unknowingly) try to crush your dreams.

The problem is that we let it happen.  The problem occurs when you listen to an un-constructive criticism and take it to heart.  The problem is when you give up after one or two (or ten) agents ignore you or publishers reject you.  The problem happens when you decide that your dad is probably right, that being a writer is a pipe dream, and that you should be perfectly happy with an eight-to-five office job where you have to wear khakis and a polo shirt and smile at people you hate and carry your lunch in a Tupperware container (and half the time, someone steals the good part), and every day that you go there, you feel a little more of your soul dying inside of you.

Okay, I may have been projecting a little bit on that last line.  But my point still stands - as does Dan's.

The problem occurs when you allow one of the many stumbling blocks on the authorial path to become a wall that prevents you from passing further along.  The problem occurs when you give up.

So what are you going to do about it?

The only way to fail is to stop trying.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spiders. Spiders everywhere.

You know how you see these houses in scary movies that are all full of cobwebs and covered furniture and you think, "how did it get so disgustingly creepy?"

My office, such as it is (and I admit, it is pretty awesome) is in our garage.  We remodeled to turn it into livable space, adding an air conditioner and a ceiling light and fan and taking out the bugs.

Well, most of the bugs.

We still have these funny black beetles that keep getting in from somewhere - I have no idea where - and every so often you'll see one dying out in the middle of the room.  And of course there are the spiders.

Our neighborhood is right on a lake and also deeply wooded.  Because of these two factors, there are spiders freaking EVERYWHERE.  And I'm not just talking about those funny little jumping spiders with the wobbly eyes, either.

I was going to put a picture
of a wolf spider here
but I got the heebie-jeebies looking at them
so I decided not to.
Check Wikipedia if you really want
to see one.

We've had, so far this summer, at least 8 wolf spiders around the outside of our house.  Three of them have been on the doors.  These have been murdered with extreme prejudice and malice aforethought whenever located.  There are two, however, that are up on the roof.  We can't get to them; not even the wasp spray with the 40' jet can get to them.

Something is going to have to be done.

Indoors, of course, it's tiny spiders.  And probably brown recluses, because hey, why not?  But we don't talk about those.  And I only decided to write about this because I glanced over at one instance of my yarn stash and realized that there is a spiderweb running from its top corner to the back of the broken-down easy chair nearby.

I watched that cobweb glisten in the afternoon sunlight and I realized that if I don't clean this room sometime soon, I'm going to end up looking like this guy.

Also, if anyone knows how to repel wolf spiders (short of dark witchcraft) let me know.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An excerpt: Chapter One

An excerpt from Chapter One of The Diamond Sword, presented here for your enjoyment.

It always happened like this: he was minding his own business, completing a task or working at his lessons or even just sitting under a tree, enjoying the sunshine, and then suddenly there they would be. They seemed to have a knack for knowing when he was alone, or when he was around adults who either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care. He never saw them when the lord was around - they wouldn’t dare - or any of the ladies or gentlemen who’d taken a liking to the skinny, dark-haired young squire-apprentice from Jorash City. But the moment he was alone, they materialized as if by magic.

They, of course, were the eldest of the manor’s boys: a group of four young toughs who would be men before too long. Their leader was a boy who thought it good sport to toss kittens into the fighting dogs’ pen: the lord’s bastard son, Jervan. Jervan was keenly aware that, as one of many bastards, and not the eldest by far, his position in his father’s graces was very precarious. So when the lord brought a new squire-apprentice back from a trip to the duke’s court, Jervan had moved immediately to make that new addition to the household properly submissive to himself.

For two years, the smaller boy endured the taunts and the sneers of Jervan and his mates, he suffered their attacks, and he bore their blows. He did so because, when he took his leave of her, his mother had held him close and whispered her best advice into his ear. “There will be those,” she had said to him, “who will seek to abuse you simply because they can. If you can help it, try not to sink to their level. Keep your own hands clean as best as you can.” But a boy can only be expected to endure so much ill-treatment before he simply cannot bear any more.

“Oh, look, it’s the weed-boy,” was how it started on the warm day when Eltan the Squire-Apprentice reached the end of his tether. They had started calling him that one day when the weaponsmaster had noticed that Eltan needed new practice armor and had commented that the boy was growing like a weed.

“Perhaps we should pluck the weed,” Jervan said to his companion Rell, a brute of a boy who ought to have been assigned a man’s tasks several seasons before.

Rell laughed his ugly laugh. “I’ll pluck it out by the roots,” he said, strolling toward Eltan, who was quickly and quietly packing up his belt pouch.

“I say,” chimed in a third voice: the silky, urbane tone of Rojis, another bastard with a temper. “What has the weed-boy got there?”

“Some kind of box,” said the fourth, the wiry and dark Sera - the only girl Eltan knew who would have anything to do with Jervan or his friends.

Eltan slipped the box into his pouch quickly, not looking at the other boys as he tied a hasty knot in the pouch’s strings and gripped it tightly in his hand.

“I’ll have that box,” Jervan said flatly. “Give it here, weed-boy.”

“No,” Eltan said, his voice quiet but firm, and his leg muscles tensing.

The four bullies stopped, glancing at one another as though surprised that their prey had the temerity to refuse. “What did it say?” Sera exclaimed. “I think it refused a direct order.”

“Not surprising,” Rojis drawled. “It hasn’t got the sense to defer to its betters. And I’m not certain, but do I smell offal?”

“Yes, you do smell awful,” Eltan snapped, provoked at last by nothing more than the available pun. “Maybe you should take a bath.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Jervan pointed at him. “Get him! I want that box!”

Eltan sprang from his seat and fled, and they pursued him. He dodged around buildings, scrambled over fences and even detoured through one of the barns as he attempted to shake them off, but he couldn’t quite manage it. They were larger and heavier than he was, which slowed most of them down, but Sera was quick, and harder to lose.

He finally evaded his tormentors by ducking into a field of young corn; slight as he was, the stalks closed over his head and around his frame and he vanished into them with little more than a shiver of leaves to mark his passage. They rounded the corner of the field just a few seconds too late. Their quarry had escaped; the path was empty. Loudly disappointed in the abrupt end to their game, they wandered away from the cornfield, moving toward the salle as their noon appointment with the weaponsmaster approached.

From between the thickening stalks of corn, Eltan watched them go, heaving a soft sigh when it became obvious that they really had given up the chase. For now, he thought bitterly, knowing perfectly well that when he arrived at the salle for his own training, they would be there, and the torment would begin again. He groaned softly, pushing the cornstalks aside so that he could see the sky. The first sun was very nearly overhead, and the second wasn’t far behind it. He would be expected in the salle with the others. Likely there would be a beating in it for him if he didn’t turn up.

He stood very still in the corn for a long moment, tying his pouch around his waist and considering. Then he turned his back on the buildings and made his way through the field. On the other side, he clambered over a low stacked-stone wall into one of the hayfields. It was up to his armpits - the second harvest of hay this year - and moving through it felt a bit like wading through very deep water as he made his way even farther from where he should be. His eyes remained fixed on his ultimate goal: the dark bulk of the forest.

He took an angled track through hay that billowed in the sweet summer breeze, and it wasn’t long before the shadows of those great trees were casting over him, their cool shade a balm after the burning heat of noon. He felt the trees open to him, welcoming him into their gentle silence, and he sighed softly, relaxing for the first time since the older boys had caught sight of him.

Resentment for the bullying burned in his belly as he made his way deeper into the woods, ignoring the regular hunting trails in favor of a deer track he happened to stumble upon. Though he loved exploring the forest, and had done so often, he didn’t think he’d seen that particular track before, and he had never been the type of boy to pass up a chance to seek out something new. He placed his feet carefully as he moved, quiet to avoid disturbing the wildlife and quiet to avoid detection as well. A boy never knew when one of the men would take it into his head to form up a hunting party, and he really didn’t want to be caught.

The overhead canopy blocked out the sunlight, making the forest floor cool and shady. It was no great strain on a healthy young lad to travel a well-worn deer track for quite a long time - long enough that he almost certainly faced a beating for shirking when he returned. He didn’t care. If it wasn’t shirking, it would be something else; the lord, who usually protected him from such mistreatment, had been gone for several days. The boy bitterly wondered if he might not be best served by simply remaining in the forest until the lord returned. Snorting softly at himself, he rounded a rock outcropping that had forced the track to turn - and he stopped still at its edge, gasping in awe.

That was no outcropping, he realized belatedly, a flash of childhood memory overtaking him. That was a stacked-stone wall, covered in the moss of centuries. He rounded the fallen edge of the wall, clambering over a bit of the remaining debris, and stared around with glee. “I didn’t know there were ruins out here!” he exclaimed, heedless of the birds who took wing at the sound of his voice. “This is wonderful!”

And indeed it was. The stone wall he had mistaken for an outcropping stood eight feet high, encircling an overgrown but still beautiful courtyard. The pavers were cracked and shifted with the centuries, mossy in some places and sprouting grass in others, but their design was still visible; the faded variegation of the colored stones radiated out from a five-tiered marble fountain which held court in the precise middle of the area. Off to one side, two stone benches still stood beside the remains of a third, which had toppled; across the flagstones on the opposite end of the oval-shaped area were the remains of two wrought-iron chairs which faced one another across the skeleton of a small wrought-iron table. In the grass beneath them, the boy discovered a set of chessmen, carved of green and white stone. Gleefully, he collected these, digging his belt pouch from under his tunic to pour them in.

As he did so, he felt the weight of the small box that was already in his pouch, and he remembered, quite suddenly, the reason why the older boys had been chasing him earlier. He fished it out and set it aside, then lined up the chessmen on the stones to be sure he had them all. Once he was certain that he did, he transferred them into the pouch and tucked it away again. Then he picked up his parcel, holding it carefully as he walked over to perch on the side of the dry fountain. He took a deep breath and opened the box. The first thing he encountered was a letter from his mother. His fingers traced the familiar shapes of her handwriting as he read it.

My dear son,

I hope that this letter finds you well and happy on the twelfth anniversary of your birth. Know that I miss you greatly and think of you always, and I yearn for the day when I shall see you again. Lord Andrus writes me often to tell me of your progress, and expresses his pleasure with your hard work and eager mind; I do wish, though, that I might hear directly from you a bit more often.

He grinned slightly. He could write every day and it wouldn’t be often enough for his mother.

I have enclosed your birthing-day gift; I confess that I found myself flummoxed when attempting to decide what you should have. I know little of the habits and preferences of adolescent boys, and with you so far away, I am sadly unaware of what you might lack or desire. After consulting with my Lord, I thought it best to let you choose for yourself.

He blinked, looking back into the box, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of the fat little leather purse which was waiting for him. Knowing his mother - and the generosity of her master, who had only ever been kind to both of them - it probably held more coin than he would be able to spend in a year. Dodging into that cornfield had been the best idea he’d had recently; the loss of that money would have been quite a blow. He returned to the letter.

My Eltan, I do miss you greatly, the letter continued. Lord Andrus has promised that you will come to see me soon, but he is distracted by the Sandrian incursions on the eastern border, and my Lord will not permit me to travel while the situation is so precarious, even to the relative safety of the west, where you are. So I shall not see you again until conditions permit; I may only hope and pray that it is soon.

Your little brothers send their regards; Tybost wished me to send you the tadpoles he found in the stream, but I convinced him that this would not be a good idea.

I hope that you think of me occasionally, and remember me fondly.

All my love,


By the end of the letter, the boy was sniffling; he missed his mother terribly on the best of days, and today was far from the best of days. A sudden wave of homesickness washed over him. That protected courtyard reminded him strongly of the walled gardens in the Hall of Women where he had been born. Sitting there in the middle of it, with the afternoon suns warming his head and shoulders, he clutched the letter against his chest and cried softly.

A sudden sound interrupted his grief - a ringing like the chime of a bell. He raised his head and looked around. A sudden, extra-brilliant shaft of late-afternoon sunlight fell from the sky, perfectly illuminating the massive figure that strode toward him. Each footstep rang against the cracked flagstones, and the chimes echoing around the little courtyard did not fade until more had rung out. By the time the figure was eye-to-eye with the boy, his head was ringing with the sound of bells.

It was a magnificent unicorn stallion. He stood still for a moment, bathed in the light, and then his caramel-colored head dipped, his golden eyes taking the boy in carefully. There was a long moment of silence as the ringing faded. “No offense,” the unicorn finally said, his voice a deep baritone, “but I really thought you’d be taller.” It - he - blinked at the boy. “What’s your name, child?”

“El -” The boy’s voice cracked, and he swallowed. “Eltan, sir.”

The unicorn shook his pale mane, his nicker sounding suspiciously like a laugh. “No need to ‘sir’ me, boy. My name is Teriántan. I’m called Teri.”

Out of habit, Eltan gave a half-bow, nearly braining himself on the unicorn’s golden horn. Teri took a quick half-step back, a sound of alarm escaping him. “Careful, now!” he exclaimed, shaking his mane at the boy. “This thing isn’t for show, you know.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Eltan stared at the unicorn for a moment longer before suddenly blinking, his eyes narrowing just a fraction. “Wait a moment. What do you mean, you thought I’d be taller?”

“Aha!” Teri nickered in amusement again. “So your brain is working again already. Next time, I need the light to be higher, so you’ll be dazzled longer.” He gave the boy a sidelong look that could only be interpreted as a horsey sort of grin. “And I meant, of course, that our meeting here was no accident. I came here for you.”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Geaux Saints!

This is not a post about football.

I am a brown-bagger from way back.  I grew up in Pensacola, Florida - on the Gulf Coast just five counties and one parish east of New Orleans - and the Saints were the nearest professional football team available.  My parents, being transplants from a bit farther west, were die-hard Cowboys fans, but America's Team never really did it for me.  I have always been a fan of the underdog, and there was one just three hours up the Interstate: my beloved "Ain'ts".  Jokes like this were common:

Q: How do you keep Saints off your lawn?
A: Put up a goalpost.

As I got older, I learned to love the city of New Orleans as well as its football team.  I found joy in the cobblestoned streets and dank, malodorous alleyways of the Vieux Carré and in the slightly snooty iron-fenced yards and antebellum constructions of the Garden District - some restored to former grandeur, some moldering in quiet obscurity.  I developed a deep appreciation for the food, especially - gumbo thick with shrimp; red beans and rice with boudin and cornbread; beignets and cafe au lait, like a tourist but at 3:00 in the morning.  (The advent of online shopping has made it much easier to keep myself stocked with chicory coffee, especially since I've moved to Tennessee.)

In August of 2005 I was still living in Pensacola, and though you may hear flippant stories about hurricane parties and those sorts of things, I assure you, anyone who lived through Erin and Opal (1995), Helene (2000), Ivan (2004), and Dennis (July 2005) took one look at Katrina as she came roaring across the Gulf of Mexico and flipped out.  Anyone with sense knew what was coming.  But you know as well as I do what happened, so I won't go into detail.  Suffice it to say that anyone who knew and loved the city was nearly as devastated by what happened as those who lived there.

The love of the "Ain'ts" spread across the U.S. following Katrina; there was a small diaspora as Gulf Coast residents and natives, many having lost everything but their lives, sought new places to settle.  For many, many people, especially multi-generational Acadiana natives, it hurt too badly to go back.  Homes, family members, livelihoods were gone in an instant.  There might be nothing to go back to - like other large cities, there were many in New Orleans who were lifelong renters, and didn't even own a patch of land to try to rebuild on.  It was easier to go elsewhere and start fresh - even with an accent that's incomprehensible to 95% of America.

And then, from nowhere, in the midst of the rebuilding and all that it entailed, the 2009 NFL season happened, and Brown Baggers all over the U.S. sat up and went, "Bzuh?"  Where did this Brees kid come from, and how'd he get that arm?  And how did we get him?  And - and - oh my God, did Tracy Porter just INTERCEPT A PEYTON MANNING PASS AND OH MY GOD HE'S OUT IN FRONT THERE'S NOBODY AROUND HIM GO BABY GO OH MY GOD TOUCHDOWN SEVENTY-FOUR YARDS DID YOU SEE THAT HOLY SH!T THREE MINUTES LEFT IN THE GAME OH MY GOD I THINK WE JUST WON THIS GAME

That was the year New Orleans became, not a team to be feared, but a team to be respected.
And I'm feeling nostalgic today because we won, but I didn't get to watch it because my local FOX affiliate decided some movie was more important.  *sigh*

We're 3-0 so far this season. I'm hoping we can keep the momentum going.  I'd like to hang another Super Bowl Champions t-shirt in my closet.  For right now, though, I'll settle for a cup of cafe au lait.  And maybe I'll make some red beans and rice for dinner.

Brown bag Saints fans photo from, used without permission.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

First post!

I'm warning you ahead of time that I am TERRIBLE about keeping up a blog.  TERRIBLE.  I can write in my paper journal almost every day, but when it comes to blogging, I haven't done it regularly since... um...

Let's just say it's been awhile, and go from there.

So, briefly, let's address a few frequently asked questions.


My name is J. B. Kaye and I am the resident epic fantasy author at this-here blog which bears my name.


Well, to be perfectly honest, nothing - yet.  I'm nearly finished with my current project though, and once it's done, then the answer to this question will be "The first book in the Tower Cycle; the title is The Diamond Sword."


Ah, summaries - the bane of every author's existence.
In short, The Diamond Sword is the first part of a story about a world in crisis.  Eltan, the young son of a former concubine, has been chosen, along with some companions - a human boy, an elven girl, and a unicorn, among others - to help avert a possible apocalypse.


Soon!  Very soon.