Learning to Read

I had to do a little research and a little decision-making tonight for Mara’s Tale.

She’s starting to learn to read, which is awesome and will set up several other scenes to come.  However, she’s learning to read in a fantasy world with technology similar to the middle ages or Renaissance, from a herbalist in the poor district of town.  This means I can’t have her using lined paper and a pencil, the way I learned to read and write.  What would she use?  Slate and chalk?  Charcoal and… what?  The little research I could do online turned up quill pens and ink on paper, or even pencils.  I’m not sure that the poor herbalist would have access to those, at least not to waste on a child’s practicing.  For a few moments I was stumped.

Of course, this isn’t historical fiction, so in the end I decided to use a variation of it.  Rough paper, probably made nearby, and a charcoal stick seemed to work well for the tale and feel like something that the herbalist would have at her disposal.

Additionally, I remembered that spelling wasn’t standardized until much later (at least, in real history) so I made it a point not to have Mara spell out words or refer to letters explicitly.  It made the section a little trickier to write, but it worked out ok (at least for now).

But My Apartment Is Messy…

It’s been one heck of a week.

There are several things I should do tomorrow, when I have a day off from work.  I should read the book I got from the library, especially considering that I’ve barely made it past the prologue.  I should relax, recuperate, and let my body recover from the last seven days.  I should get groceries and cook up some of the veggies I have left from my CSA.

The problem is that this week has also left my apartment somewhat worse for wear.

It’s very hard for me to relax when my apartment is messy.  There is something in my brain that just can’t sit still or power down when there is clutter on my bathroom counter or dishes that need to go in the dishwasher.

I also have trouble writing when my space is disorganized.  Since NaNo is quickly approaching, it is very likely that I will be cleaning tomorrow instead of reading or relaxing.  That way I can give myself the mental lift that comes from a clean house, and I can prepare my world for the writing storm to come.

It seems off that cleaning can be preparation for NaNo, but if that’s the kind of thing that distracts you, it’s a good idea to have it on the list of pre-November tasks!

Maybe Not a Good Idea…

The next couple of weeks are going to be very busy for me at work, much like the last couple.  One good thing about that is I have a long weekend right at the beginning of November.  That means I can start NaNo with lots of time to work, and maybe get a decent chunk of Mara’s Tale written.

All of that said, I just did something kind of dumb.  I requested the next book in the Wheel of Time series from the library.

My library makes it really convenient to request books.  There are several branches, but they all share the same online catalog.  Put a hold on a book, and as soon as it is available they ship it to the branch of your choice.  That means all I have to do is log on to my library account (my card number is taped to my computer for this very reason) and click “place a hold” on the listing.  Then I show up at the closest branch and grab my book.  It’s very simple, and in this case, kind of stupid.

Yes, I’ve said twice that requesting a book was a poor decision.  Are you questioning this statement?  There is no way I’ll get it done by November 1, and once November hits NaNo becomes a somewhat more pressing demand on my time.  In addition, I typically avoid reading fiction while writing, so even if I do have time to read occasionally during NaNo I should probably stick to non-fiction.

Even writing all of this, I haven’t talked myself out of the hold request.  You never know, I could make it through 700 or so pages in two weeks.  🙂

Book Nerd

“Hey, Leigh, you like books.  Do you want to take care of the library?”

The club VP who asked me that must have been joking, because when I answered, “Sure” his response was surprised.  It didn’t really take me much thought, though.  I’ve taken care of book collections before, at a previous employer as well as my own, and this collection is relatively small.  Plus, really, all it takes is a spreadsheet and a little bit of my trunk space (for storage).

I enjoy books and I like spreadsheets (yes, I’m weird) so giving me a pile of books to manage is not really a hard task for me.  In fact, tonight I had fun going through the collection and making sure the old database was up to date.  I also added categories and sorted the books accordingly, to make it easier for people to find one they are interested in reading.  Now I’m trying to figure out a good storage container; I’d like to be able to simply haul in the bin and set it up on end for people to peruse, rather than unpacking and repacking it every meeting.

Yes, these are non-fiction books related to the general concept of the club, but they’re still books.  Several of them piqued my interest, and I may be borrowing them in the future.  That is the danger of being the librarian, I guess!


Dissecting vs. Reading

I like to think that I’ve gotten reasonably good at understanding the basic mechanics of stories and recognizing common motifs.  That’s how I can break down story elements, like the different ways that you can interfere with a romantic relationship between your characters.  It’s also why I have blog-related reactions to familiar movies on television.  Of course, this skill would have been much more useful in high school and college, when I had to write papers analyzing poems and novels, but I won’t toss the knowledge out of the window just because it came to me later.  (If this is a skill you’d like to develop, I highly recommend How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster.  That’s where I got started.)

Dissecting a story, be it written or filmed, is something I have to do after the fact.  It’s one thing to be able to distill the essence of a character in a blog post, or to find commonalities between familiar tales.  It is something entirely to do it while I’m in the moment and enjoying the story.

Yes, some things become predictable.  I am rarely surprised by movies or television any more, at least in the genres that I enjoy, and when I am blindsided by a twist it is worth noting.  (Recent examples are the 100th episode of Castle and the movie The Tourist.)  This is much less common for me when reading.  Even when the relationship trajectory is clear to everyone, I am still painfully in suspense when the hurdles appear.  Will they get back together?  What’s going to happen?  That’s why books can still prevent me from sleeping – I just have to know what happens next.

After I finish a novel, I can recognize those similar themes and characters that run through many books.  When I’m done, I can look back and see how the author set up certain things, and how actions at the beginning led to results later.  If I’m actually absorbed in the story, however, forget asking me to explain it.  I’m too wrapped up in what’s happening to make those connections.

Ironic Names

There is a character in the book I am reading who is named ironically.  (Of course, I am not the author so I can’t say for sure if it was done on purpose, but given that it’s a Robert Jordan novel, I suspect it was.)  The person is question is a dour, scowling maid named Meri.

In this case, the irony results from the way the name is said.   I am pronouncing the name “Merry” which makes it an odd choice for someone with a perpetually sour face.  Not all ironic naming choices are homophones, however.

There are many names in current use that have literal definitions.  I’m not talking about how Leigh derives from Lea meaning “of the meadow” here.  I’m specifically referring to people named Sunshine, Rose, or Autumn.  If you expand the concept a bit, you can also include nicknames like Rich or Chuck.   They may not be intentionally named with a definable word, but it works just as well for our purposes.

It seems a bit silly (or lazy) to name a thief Rob or a royal daughter Princess, but flipping a name’s meaning for the character’s traits can sometimes be clever.  This is especially true if you don’t point out the name.  Calling a teenage girl Joy when she’s not particularly happy might draw an odd reader remark or two, but unless she explicitly says something like “I’m not happy, but my name is Joy” it won’t be blatant.  Then when the readers get it (like I just did with Meri) they might have a moment that makes them feel like they are in on the joke.

What do you think about utilizing literal names or homophones in your character development?

On a random personal note, I have worked with an Autumn, a Summer, and a Spring.  All I need is a coworker named Winter to complete my set!  🙂

Pondering Robert Jordan

You have to respect a man who does what he says he’s going to do.

I have been re-reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, now that the whole thing is complete.  Most of the library copies I’ve picked up were published after Jordan passed away, so they had the posthumous “About the Author” in them.  This one (Crown of Swords, in case you were curious) has the earlier author description, which got me thinking.

The last line of the bio is “He has been writing since 1977 and intends to continue until they nail shut his coffin.”  Which he did, in a way.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, the Wheel of Time series was incomplete when Jordan passed away in 2007.  (I recall a very dismayed lunch conversation with several colleagues at the time, all of us wondering what would become of the characters we had come to know.)  However, he knew he was ill and prepared for it, writing as much as he could and telling his wife how he intended the epic to end.  Another author was recruited by Jordan’s publisher, with input from his widow, and that author completed the final three books of the series.

If that’s not writing “until they nail shut [the] coffin,” I don’t know what is.  As an author, it’s both amazing to think about someone working that hard for both his characters and his readers, and also totally understandable.  We all get invested in our characters, even for just one novel, so after eleven books I’m sure Jordan was just as eager as his readers to have everything play out and come to a resolution.


I realized today that I’ve been reading the wrong book.

Perhaps wrong is too strong of a term – the book itself is quite interesting, in fact, which is why I’ve been reading it.

Here’s the problem: I currently have a (fiction) library book with a firm due date, a borrowed (non-fiction) book with a relaxed due date, and a non-fiction e-book that I purchased.  Guess which one I’ve been reading for the past few days?  That’s right, the one I own and can read any time.

Somewhat reluctantly, I set aside my Nook and picked up the library book.  Once the Wheel of Time pulls me back in, I won’t be glancing longingly at my Nook, but for right now my brain wants to know what happens next in TR’s presidency.   (Honestly, I can look up the facts, but the way the book is written I find myself enthralled.)

I just have to keep reminding myself that I own that book, and can read it any time I want.  Except right now, apparently. 🙂

I’ve Been Pronouncing It Wrong This Whole Time!

As an auditory learner, I hear the words in my head as I read.  (I know that other people read differently, although I still can’t quite wrap my mind around how that works.)  Because I hear the words, I need to know how to pronounce them.  I read fantasy, so there are often unfamiliar names or terms in what I read.

Different authors take different approaches to this.  Some just let you pronounce names of people and places however you want, or leave you to figure it out on your own.  Some have the characters with tricky names explain it to others (Hermione does this in the fourth book, as does a character in one of Jacqueline Carey’s novels).  I particularly like it when the author has a character list or glossary in the back, complete with phonetic explanations.  (The back is better than the front, so there is less temptation to peek ahead.)  If the author isn’t nice enough to tell me how to pronounce a name, and especially if it has odd letters together, I just make something up.  Sometimes I’ll even just substitute another word – after about six or seven times of seeing the word, my brain usually just puts in the substitute with very little thought required.

I’m currently on the sixth book in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.  This is a massive series (it ended up at a total of 14 books) with lots of different countries and peoples, so the author was kind enough to include a glossary.  For some reason, I decided today to look up one of the countries (Cairhein) to see how it should be pronounced.  I’d been flipping back and forth between two possible pronunciations (CAR-hine and CARE-hine), and I guess I wanted to know which was correct.

It turns out neither of them was correct.  The right way, according to Jordan, is KEYE-ree-EHN.  I’ve been pronouncing the name of the country totally wrong for five books (not to mention when I read some of the series before) and now I have to re-adjust.  Every time I see it I have to correct myself mentally.  Hopefully it will end up like the substitutions, and it won’t take too long to fix.

If you write fantasy and make up names and terms, please be kind to your auditory learners and include a pronunciation guide!

Decision Time

When I moved, I drastically reduced my book collection.  Since then, I’ve made sure that I only purchase books that I know I will read again.  Otherwise, I get them from the library or borrow them from friends.  The idea is to keep my shelves under control; if I didn’t put a limit on it, I’d have to buy bookshelves all the time.

I’ve loosened on that rule a bit with my new e-reader, but now I find myself facing a dilemma.  There is a book that I’ve read before, which I borrowed from a friend.  I want to re-read it, and I know that it is one I want to add to my collection.  I could get it for the Nook, pay a few dollars less, and have it right now.  Or I could work on acquiring it in paper form.  This might mean ordering it online, buying it at the nearby book store, or hoping that the used book store eventually has a copy. 

This really comes down to a question of why I want to own the book.  If the only point of getting the book is to be able to read it whenever I want, then the Nook version should be sufficient.  If the reason I want it is not only to have it readily accessible, but to also have it displayed on my shelf and available to loan to friends, then I need the paper version. 

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