Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Creating Names

One of the online reviews of my book had a very interesting paragraph.  The reviewer went through exactly where all the major names in my book came from. I found it interesting because the writer was so confident of his/her logic, and thought it was so obvious as to be boring and banal and was so thoroughly, completely and entirely wrong.

That made me think it might be useful to post where the names really came from. That way you can see the difference between my creative process and the reviewer’s interpretation.

First off, the story of Blade’s Edge is set on the planet Timarron. The reviewer thought this was obviously a takeoff of Cimarron. It’s actually my attempt to condense “Timmy and the Lords of Destruction” into one word. I did look up Cimarron to see if the word Timarron was going to sound like something disgusting, but beyond ascertaining it wasn’t something icky, I don’t actually remember what it meant.

Timmy and the Lords of Destruction is, of course, the name of a band fronted by a handicapped boy (who pretty much only says “Timmy!”) on South Park. Yup, I named a planet after a fictional band on a cartoon. I like Timmy.

That brings us to Barian. The reviewer was quite certain it came from Bahrain, but, alas, that’s not how it transpired. Barian is the last two syllables of the word “barbarian” just as Zona is the last two syllables of the word “Amazon” that have been rearranged a little bit. I thought it would be a dead giveaway, since the ruler of the Zonans is named Silean Penthes and the queen of the Amazons was named Penthesilea. Barbarians vs. Amazons; is it not tidy and balanced and strangely symmetrical as a starting point? Obviously I thought so.

The capitals of the respective countries, Balsom and Krystale, came from television as well. Balsom was respelled from a shampoo commercial featuring the herbal ingredient balsam. The reviewer seemed to think it came from a city on Mars in a famous SF book I’ve never actually read. Krystale came from a Biography Channel episode about 1980s drama Dynasty. You’ll never guess which character (she typed with tongue firmly in cheek). The reviewer didn’t have an opinion on that one.

And that brings me to the main characters: Taryn Penthes and Blademir von Stossos. Well, we know where Penthes came from. Blademir came from a baby-name website that listed it as a variant of Vladimir–I wanted something sort of Eastern European/Slavic, but not quite so vampire-evoking as Vlad. And this was long before “Blade’s Edge” became the title, so it wasn’t nearly as punny as it ended up being.

Taryn was always Taryn; she sort of popped into my head with that name. And I used to have a manager named Wally–he had a twin brother named Walter, so I have a precedent for Taryn’s evil twin, Talyn. Two precedents, actually; while I was working for Wally, a colleague told me about her friend John, whose psychotic identical twin had escaped custody and might be trying to kill him–again.

I also don’t remember where von Stossos came from. It might have had something of John Stamos the actor in it, or something of John Stossel the television journalist. Or the girls in the basement (my subconscious mind) might have sent it up the way they sent up Taryn.

So there you have it. My creative process in selecting or creating names is probably odder than some and not nearly as odd as others. I still like Timmy.

Hot Fairy Tales, or Can I Write a Novella?

Samhain (my publisher) recently put out a call for submissions for a new anthology of hot fairy tales. They want 20-25,000 words, which is novella length.

I wrote my first novel in 2001–a 60,000-word opus targeted toward the Silhouette Desire line, with much trepidation because it seemed so long. I mean, if you write in 12-point Times New Roman like me, that’s 180 pages of stuff you’ve made up about people you’ve made up. And it all has to make sense together.

I’d been a technical writer for years, I’d written magazine articles including a six-page thesis on satin (the fabric, it was for a sewing magazine), but a novel is completely different. I did it, although it was a typical beginner’s book–utterly unworthy of publication.  And now I have several manuscripts under my metaphorical belt, all more than 250 pages long.

Can I write a novella? Well, I’m going to find out. I’ve started my story, which I’m calling “Finding the Briar Rose,” which is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It’s science-fiction romance, of course, because everything I try to write ends up as science-fiction romance.

If I can write a page or so per day (in addition to working on my work in progress), I’ll still have something done before the deadline, February 10, 2010. Let’s see how it goes.

Man, What a Ride…

Blade’s Edge went on sale Tuesday. It hit the top-10 bestseller list at Samhain on Wednesday. And a book pirate was requesting the file on Astatalk on Wednesday. It hit #8 on Samhain’s list on Thursday, it hit #7 today. And it peaked (yesterday) at Amazon Kindle rank 6,842 yesterday, which ain’t bad for a first book from an unknown writer.

And today is my 17th wedding anniversary. Someday I’ll post the story of My Big Fat Redneck Wedding, but for today suffice it to say that it’s a miracle we found someone to perform the ceremony at all, let alone making it through without nervous breakdowns. And I mean redneck in the best possible sense — one of my grandfathers was a homesteader in Kuna, Idaho, and the other one was a sharecropper from southwestern Missouri who lost everything in the Dust Bowl & had to move in with his wife’s sister in Weiser, Idaho. Yeah, I come from tough, rural people.

The Popular Fiction Association of Idaho, Murder in the Grove and Me

When I was nineteen I got a job as a theatre critic on my college newspaper. Two weeks later, I became the Features/Entertainment editor in spite of the fact that I was a chemical engineering major. The major changed shortly, and the next school year I was editor in chief.

This was at Boise State University in the 1980s–I was there before the blue turf, and I think I wrote the story about it being installed. BSU didn’t have an actual journalism program, just an English/journalism emphasis to its BA in communication, so I ended up teaching several dozen people how to write journalistically.

In 2001 I started to write fiction seriously–I had dabbled over the years, but 2001 was the year I joined RWA and started reading books and taking classes. It was the year I finished my first manuscript, may it rest in peace.

By 2003 I was the president of the Coeur du Bois chapter of RWA (fondly known as CBC), and in 2004 I volunteered to head up the conference committee for Murder in the Grove 2005, because nobody else was stepping up to the plate. I don’t even write mystery, but I’m in charge of the MITG organization again, through 2011.

Are you sensing a pattern, yet?

Now I’m teaching an online class through PFAI/MITG, for several reasons.

First, I believe that commercial novel writing can be learned; it’s a form of writing, just like technical manual writing, poetry, or journalism. There’s a structure to it, just like getting the five Ws into the lead of a news story. And it’s different from literary novels, which are the form taught in college fiction classes. Well, for the most part.

Second, Popular Fiction is a not-for-profit corporation that exists to support commercial fiction writing in Idaho.

Idaho is a geopolitical territory the size of Great Britain, give or take the Hebrides islands. Getting to workshops, classes and conferences can be expensive in a place that size.

So we’re trying online classes this year. I know they’re not as good as the energy and vibe you get from real classes, but they’re a lot less expensive, too. In case you haven’t noticed, the economy, ah, stinks and will probably continue to do so for the next year.

My next project is how to inexpensively replicate the panels from Murder in the Grove, where fans get to interact with authors. I’ve known that writers are interesting people for a long time, and it’s fun to watch other people discover it.

And in the meantime, my debut novel goes on sale Tuesday, September 8. Sometimes those who teach also end up doing.

So I’m Teaching This Class…

I’m teaching Practical Chemistry for Writers as the first Murder in the Grove online class. This is a reprise of the class I taught through RWA KOD’s COFFIN program last year (with a couple of easter eggs they didn’t get). It’s also probably the last time I’ll teach this class for the foreseeable future.

Practical Chemistry will cover:
* Poison 101 – the basics
* Poison 102 – overview of alkaloids
* Meanwhile Back at the Lab – how we handled things in my lab
* Herbal Medicine that Really Works
* Suburban Terrorism – what HSA won’t tell you
* Love Potion #1 – neurochemistry of attraction, infatuation & attachment
* Soapmaking
* Distillation (making good brandy out of bad wine)

You can find more information (or sign up for the class, hint hint) at http://www.murderinthegrove.com

Feel free to forward this information wherever you think it might be useful or welcome.

Val Robertson

Blade’s Edge – on sale Sept 8, 2009 at Samhain

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