Friday, March 23, 2012

My First Trip to Europe

Dining Hall, Christ Church College, Oxford

I come from people who don’t travel overseas except in uniform. Or in chains. My ancestors came here a long time ago—mostly from England, Scotland, and Ireland—likely in chains. Once here, they pretty much stayed put. And it never occurred to me that I would be among the first to break through the family inertia.
Susie in Oxford Garden
            I worked my way through college in a minimum wage office job. In those days, a person could pay for college that way if she lived at home and went to dollar  movie nights at the university. Me, I was paying my tuition and also saving up money to get my teeth straightened, something my parents couldn’t afford.
            And then my friend Susie suggested that I go with her to Europe.
            She had signed up for an English literature tour through the university, and also planned to travel the Continent on the cheap, with a Eurail pass and a series of  $5 and $10 a night hotels.
            Cheap was still extravagant to me. But I did it anyway. I took that orthodontics money and squandered it on a trip to Europe.
It was the best decision I ever made. It changed my life.
Ralph Sykes and Bus
In England, we traveled in a little bus that could get to those narrow places that history happens. Ralph Sykes Davis was our bus driver and guide to real life. Arthur Kincaid, a doctoral candidate at Christ Church College, was our mentor in all things literary.
Arthur Kincaid
For two weeks, we traveled throughout England. We saw Diana Rigg as Lady Macbeth at the Old Vic in London. We toured Westminster Abbey and paid our respects to the poets in their corner.
I got drunk for the first time. I recall staggering through the streets of Camden Town, heading back to the dorm at the University of London. 
On the Altar Stone, Stonehenge
Leaving London behind, we visited Stratford On Avon, and toured Ann Hathaway’s cottage. We walked the lonely moors in Hardy Country and stood in Keats’s garden. At Canterbury Cathedral, we saw the spot where Thomas Becket was martyred. I still love a good murder story. 

We visited Stonehenge, and I sat on the altar stone and dreamt of old gods and old rituals. We visited Christ Church College, Oxford. You know what the dining hall looks like if you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies.
Ann Hathaway's Cottage

Dungeon Ghyll Hotel
In the Lake District,we stayed in the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, still a hangout for climbers. We visited Dove Cottage, Grasmere, Windermere—all the places immortalized by Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, Coleridge, and others.
That was decades ago, but I am still mining those experiences. Scenes in The Warrior Heir take place at St. Margaret’s Church, near Westminster Abbey. The magical guilds were born in a fictional spot in the Lake District called Raven’s (Dragon’s) Ghyll—modeled after the Dungeon Ghyll and Raven’s Crag, a pike I climbed with Susie.
It’s a landscape that would turn anyone into a poet. It made me raise my eyes from the ground in front of my feet and see new possibilities. It’s taken a long time to get here, but the journey began in England.
Last week, I went back.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to Write in Alien

The Reader writes: What’s the best way to handle alien languages in a story? Do I put the translation in parentheses right after the sentences in Alien? Or do I use italics? Or maybe put a glossary in the back?

The Writer writes: Generally it's not a good idea to have lengthy passages/conversations in an alien, magical, or foreign language, even if translated. That slows down the pace and has the potential to send the reader elsewhere. Tolkien got away with it, but that was a while ago, he was a linguist, and even then, it was mostly in songs that readers could skip over if they chose.
Where alien or foreign languages are being used, if your viewpoint character understands the language, then it's already translated in his/her mind for the reader. If she doesn't understand the language, then it's just gibberish (no translation available.) 
A good way to indicate a foreign speaker through dialogue is by using sentence structure and word choice in English to indicate that it is someone who is speaking a foreign language, while throwing in the occasional key foreign word, where the meaning is clear from context.
I don't have any aliens in my books (yet!) but people do speak different languages, and that's usually handled this way:
"Get out of my way!" Han said in Common, a language that even an Ardenine would understand. 
Or "You're not going anywhere!" King Girard shouted in Ardenine, the harsh Southern syllables echoing in Raisa's ears. 
I also use quite a few magical terms and slang words, which are explained, usually by a character or by context. For instance, a character says, "It's aelf-aeling. Also called Wizard Flame. It's like an amplifier for power."
Or, through context, as when a character says, ana memorare. When the victim loses his memory, the reader figures it out. 
A glossary can be helpful for reference, in case a reader wants to double-check a meaning or takes delight in magical trivia (I have readers who do.) But glossaries, character lists, maps, and the like should be considered enrichment—an additional resource for the interested reader. The book should be readable without it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seven Realms Promo in People Magazine Out Today!

This gorgeous advertisement is appearing in today's People Magazine Hunger Games special issue.