21 August 2023

Critiques and consultations

 In my Kickstarter (185% funded! thank you!), I'm offering the usual set of books and ebooks, but there are a few tiers with big price tags, and I want to talk about them a little bit.

limited quantity rewards: photo of Cislyn Smith: critique of flash fiction or poetry, 100€; photo of Jordan Shiveley: critique of horror short, 350€; photo of CD Covington, personal worldbuilding consulation 250€; chat w/your writing group 500 €

Two generous friends are giving critiques

First, Cislyn Smith, writer, poet, and co-editor of Small Wonders Magazine, is offering three critiques of flash fiction (up to 1500 words) or a packet of poetry of any length for your contribution of 100 €. (One is already taken!) Cislyn's writing has appeared in Flash Fiction Online, Diabolical Plots, Strange Horizons, The Deadlands, and other places. She is especially interested in getting speculative poetry, because she wants more to exist in the world.

Second, horror writer Jordan Shiveley is offering one critique of horror fiction up to 5000 words for your contribution of 350 €. Jordan's writing has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, the Horror Writers' Association Poetry Showcase Anthology, Baffling Magazine, and others.

Both tiers include all digital rewards.

I'm offering two types of personal consultations.

First, for 250 €, I'm offering ten reviews and discussions of your linguistic worldbuilding. This can range from a brainstorming session (up to 2 hours) to sending me your notes and receiving feedback (with a ~1-hr discussion). I can also answer a specific question you may have. You can get an idea of what you'd be getting here. I would give you a much more detailed answer, of course, with citations as needed. 

Second, for 500 €, I'll talk to you and up to four friends/writing group members for 1-2 hours. It could be a Q&A, a presentation, or a combination of the two. I have a presentation I've given at a couple conventions with several types of linguistic worldbuilding and some examples of each one, plus tips on incorporating it into your work.

Both tiers include all digital rewards (x5 for the second one).

Once again, thank you if you've already backed my campaign! Keep sharing with your friends!

17 July 2023

A Writer's Guide to Linguistic Worldbuilding: The Kickstarter


A castle sits on a hill. On the left, a dragon head is saying 'hello'. On the right, a princess says 'welcome'

What is linguistic worldbuilding? It's all the little details, like how people, places, and things get their names and what sounds can be combined into words, but also broader strokes, like how characters from different cultures or subcultures talk, or whether there's a dominant language imposed by an empire. It's all the things that exist in the real world but fly under the radar for many of us.

This project has taken a long time to get off the ground. Around the time when I started writing for tor.com, when I started paying careful attention to the use of language and linguistics in genre writing, I decided I wanted to write a guide on how to do good linguistic worldbuilding. I initially tried it via Patreon, but I never had enough backers to focus on it, so that never went anywhere. (If you ever backed my Patreon, you will get a free ebook, and we can discuss other rewards depending on how much you contributed over time.)

Now I've decided to self-publish it, but I have to write it first. For that, I need your help.

I don't want to give everything away before launch day, but here are some things that will be included:

  • How sound works and how to extrapolate from human vocal tracts to non-human ones
  • How you can do first contact without a universal translator
  • How you can give your characters problems using language and intercultural communication
  • How to make up culture-specific proverbs and cuss words
  • Examples from books I love 
  • Current linguistic research and theory

I have about 15,000 words written, and I expect it'll be somewhere between 60,000 and 90,000 when I'm finished with it. 

The Kickstarter is going to launch on August 15, so follow this link and sign up to be notified! Rewards start as low as 3 €, and I have some limited-quantity rewards that I can't wait to reveal!

04 May 2023

Upcoming convention appearances: Metropolcon (May 18-20, 2023)

 I'm going to be at the inaugural Metropolcon here in Berlin in 2 weeks. I'm only on two panels this time, so I'm actually going to be able to attend some panels other people are on!

Friday - 09:30 - Atelier 1 - Translation: What gets lost and what is gained. (CD Covington, Julie Nováková, Cora Buhlert; Mod: Claudia Rapp)

Saturday - 12:00 - Atelier 3 - Linguistic Worldbuilding (presentation)

 There are a lot of interesting-looking panels (mostly in German, but some will be in English, too). Mary Robinette Kowal is giving a keynote and running her MICE quotient workshop. Maybe I'll see some of you there!

13 March 2023

Upcoming convention appearances: Flights of Foundry (April 14-16, 2023)

With the new year comes a new convention season. Since I'm in Europe now, I miss out on all the cons in North America, because I can't afford to fly over multiple times a year. I'm not quite connected enough here yet to find out about European cons (and also too broke to travel anyway), so I'm so glad that Dream Foundry continues to run the best online con so far, Flights of Foundry. I'm on approximately a million panels this year and running a workshop (please sign up in the lottery!)

Because FoF operates round the clock in all timezones, panel times are given as slot numbers, so here's my (probably final) schedule, given with time in UTC.

Regular sessions

0 (5-6 pm UTC 14 April) Language politics in the arts industries (new time)

1 (6-7 pm UTC 14 April) How to Find Translators

15 (8-9 am UTC 15 April) What makes a work a good candidate for translation?

17 (10-11 am UTC 15 April) Feminist translations

41 (10-11 am UTC 16 April) My first translation (mod)

44 (1-2 pm UTC 16 April) Language politics in the arts industries

45 (2-3 pm UTC 16 April) Reading - come hear the beginning of my "Waffle House in space, asexual lesbian SF romance" novel (aka "the DS9 coffeeshop AU novel")

46 (3-4 pm UTC 16 April) Linguistics primer for creatives

49 (6-7 pm UTC 16 April) What's the word? How to get unstuck as a translator

Lotteried sessions

3  (8-9 pm UTC 14 April) chill n chat (come hang out with me! I'll probably ramble about verbs or something)

20-24  (1-5 pm UTC 15 April) (4 hours; max 16 ppl) Linguistic world building Want your world's made-up words and names to sound realistic and internally consistent, but don't know your glottal stops from your lateral fricatives? Want to ensure your nonhuman species can actually make the sounds you're putting in their vocal tracts? In this workshop, you'll learn basic concepts of phonetics and sociolinguistics, as well as how to apply them when creating your setting and the characters who live in it. This is not a workshop for creating a conlang.

See you (virtually) there!

20 December 2022

"That's too expensive": a mini rant

 I've been too burned by The Discourse on twitter not to include the following disclaimer for something so incredibly obvious it shouldn't need to be stated: the following discussion does not refer to people on limited budgets.

So. There's this habit among Germans to look for the best Preis-Leistungsverhältnis, which literally translated is roughly the relationship between cost and what you get out of it. Price-performance ratio, maybe. Cost-benefit analysis isn't quite right, but you get the drift.

This isn't limited to the Germans, of course! I think everyone who buys something wants to get the best value for their money. But I've encountered the specific attitude I'm irritated about far more here in Germany than back in the US, and I grew up with a single mom who was a secretary. (i.e. we were working poor. A lot of things were out of our budget.)

I adopted a cat from Ukraine, so I've been looking for all the cat things I don't have anymore. I wanted to get a name tag for her collar (and a collar), and I ended up searching at Amazon, where I also looked for a couple other things that were useful for me. (I personally prefer to avoid Amazon if at all possible, but sometimes it's the easiest option because of the extreme siloing of German stores. Which is another mini-rant in itself.) I forget what specific item I was looking at, it might have been eyeglass cases because mine broke and I wanted to replace it, but there were always reviews for the items that were "It was 5 Euro too expensive" or "I wouldn't pay that much again for this."

Granted, on Amazon, a lot of what you'll get is cheap plastic crap, and sometimes the cheap plastic crap is overpriced for something that'll break in five minutes. And the reviews mentioned above also included phrases like "cheap plastic crap." But not everyone was so displeased with the same thing, so I ordered the glasses case that one guy complained had "lumps in the outside material already when it arrived" so it was basically shit. (There is indeed a bit of lumpiness around the hinge, but who cares? It's not structural.)

So some of the Preis-Leistungsverhältnis can be chalked up to different definitions of value for the money. Does it hold my glasses? Great. Does it keep them from getting smashed in my bag? Excellent. I got what I paid for.

I'm going to add a caveat here that it's not exactly true anymore that more expensive equals better quality, especially for clothing. My old roommate in Georgia is a fashion studies PhD student, so I've heard so much about the fashion and textile industries, especially the $$$$ brands. But it's still true often enough that I expect a $150 pair of shoes to last longer than a $15 pair of shoes. (Obligatory "Sam Vimes Boots theory of economics" reference here.)

The following situations are not made up. I either witnessed them first-hand or was a participant in them.

Last year, I got a little into hiking, and my regular gym shoes weren't cutting it anymore. I'm not a hardcore hiker or anything; I'm not going to the mountains on a regular basis and definitely not in the snow. So I wanted to get low-end, quality hiking shoes. There's a sporting goods chain here called Decathlon, which is sort of like Dick's, so I poked around their website for their options. They have their own store brands, which are inexpensive, but I wasn't sure about the quality. So when I saw that they stocked a Merrell hiking shoe, and it was only 78 Euro, I snapped it up. I've always had good experiences with Merrell, and their low-end hiking shoe was well suited to my needs ("hiking" in Berlin is actually "going on long walks in the forest," because it's very flat here.)

Then I brought them home and mentioned it to my then-roommate, who said that was really expensive and promptly showed me the Lidl-brand hiking boots she'd acquired for 35 Euro (and which lived in their box in her shoe cabinet). Sure, they were warm and insulated and supported the ankle by being boots, but they're cheap plastic crap.

Earlier this year, I went to o-hanami with a friend (there's a cherry tree avenue that was planted by NHK) and we went into a shoe store afterward because there was a particular pair she wanted to try. I really like shoes, and I ended up leaving with a pair of not-exactly-olive-green leather peep-toe sandals with an ankle strap and a slight heel for 100 Euro. (The brand is Think! and they follow sustainable practices to make their leather.) That's a pretty normal price IMO for a pair of slightly dressy sandals, and I think it's half what I paid for my Danskos ten fifteen years ago. I have a pair of Keen sandals I bought when I started my MA program in Georgia, and I wore them to death. They were my "dress" sandals, the ones I wore when I was teaching and a pair of Tevas wasn't appropriate. I think they were $90 in 2016. I still have them! They were in storage until recently, so I haven't worn them in a while, but they still work.

Then I wore the new sandals and left them on the shoe mat by the front door, and my then-roommate once again said, "Think! sandals! Weren't they really expensive?" I was just like "sure, I guess?" because I didn't want to have to deal with it or her.

(I have six pairs of Fluevog shoes. I bought them on sale, but they were still a lot of money. And one pair was preorder only, so I paid full price, which was about half a new smartphone. One pair of boots I wear so much I had to get them resoled. And I just spent 300 Euros on a pair of knee high winter boots. So that's my footwear baseline. I grew up on Payless shoes, okay, and those are absolute shit, kill your feet in five minutes, have to replace them every nine months. Shoes are my fashion vice, and I would rather pay more for shoes that don't hurt my feet. And Fluevog makes 2-3" heels that I can stand in for hours, so fuck yes, I'll pay $200 for them, thanks.)

My ex-roommate also said things like "I bought a frozen pizza at the store and it was 4 Euro and that's too expensive. I also think paying 10 Euro for a pizza in a restaurant is too expensive." (I am so glad to be out of her apartment, for so many reasons.)

Just last week I was at a winter market where people were selling their handmade goods, from art prints to ceramics to fiber arts. A friend from roller derby is a ceramic artist, and I wanted to get two more little tart ramekins for my tart ramekin army. (I have 4 now; I want to have a set of 6 eventually. They're really cute, little pastels with polka dots like some 50s retro cuteness. They're 10 Euro each.) A guy comes up and looks at her plates. He picks one up and asks the price. It's an 8" or so plate, handmade, with a hand-painted design on it. It's 25 Euro. He asks about a different plate, a dinner plate, and it's 45 Euro. He makes some comment about the bigger plate not being twice as big as the smaller plate, as if they ought to be priced by the square centimeter or something. Then he says it's too expensive and wanders off.

So now we reach the point of this entire post: "it's too expensive" means "I don't think you, the artist or person who created this item, deserve to be paid fairly for your work. I don't believe you deserve to eat or pay rent or buy your materials." It also means "I don't believe factory workers deserve a fair wage, and I definitely don't believe the price should include external costs like environmental costs. I believe that the cost to me should be as low as possible, no matter who gets fucked along the way." [Please see obligatory disclaimer at the top of the post. Thank you.]

Modern society (and capitalism) has got us so far separated from the source of our things that we don't truly understand that there are people on the other end of the equation. Our comfort is the only thing that matters, not that some factory somewhere is employing people for a dollar a day and dumping waste into the local river so we can get our 35 € hiking boots.

The only way to change this attitude is to change society, and I unfortunately don't see that happening any time soon, what with Amazon inventing a holiday for the sole purpose of getting people to buy things they don't need (Prime Day).

05 August 2022

The Batman (2022)

 I took a trip back to the US to visit friends and family, and one of the entertainment options on my flight was The Batman. Of the people I know who have similar taste as me, most of them said it was good, and I figured I could plug my headphones in and watch it before it was time for me to nap. (My number-one transatlantic flight tip is "sleep as much as you can," and I stand by that.)

The plot was basically any old Batman movie, with villains and Dick Gordon and Alfred and bat-gadgets and all that shit. Bats has to figure out who's targeting prominent politicians and police folks and why, and the villain (Riddler) leaves him clues at every murder scene. He's also trying to help Selina Kyle find her friend, without letting her know he's Bruce Wayne. (not-a-spoiler: The Gotham PD is corrupt.)

What makes it different is a couple things. First, Bruce Wayne is clinically depressed. He has stopped giving a shit about basically everything except being a vigilante. Alfred tries to help him out of it, with limited success. You might think this would make for a bad/boring/whatever Bats movie, but it adds to the noir ambience. Robert Pattinson is a better actor than a lot of people give him credit for, and he really made Bruce a haggard vigilante who had no more fucks to give.

Second, and I think most importantly, the film explicitly depicts what happens when you get a vigilante going around: more vigilantes. The film shows how easy it is for someone (Riddler) to radicalize a group of disaffected white men over the internet. It's the alt-right/Jan6/Q conspiracy milieu in clear text, on screen. When Bruce realizes the role he played in this, he has a moment of crisis.

Normally I complain about how movies these days are all grey and dark, but I think in this case it worked. The noir ambience and all. (I do miss bright color in film, though. Bring back the gaudy colors of Pacific Rim!)

Anyway, I liked it and would like to watch it again on a bigger screen.

17 May 2022

Some books I've read and liked recently

Because word of mouth is the best advertising for books, I'm going to talk about some books I've read and enjoyed.

Clutter, Jennifer Howard (2021). Nonfiction. This is part memoir, part history of consumerism. Howard had to clean out her parents' home after their deaths (or moving into assisted living, I forget), and she weaves her story in with the modern history of consumerist capitalism. It's the type of book that if done wrong would end up being preachy and judgmental, but fortunately it didn't turn out that way. There are strong indictments of industry and consumerism, yes, but not of the people who live under it. She also casts a side-eye on the organizational products industry, because clearly the solution to having too much stuff is to buy more stuff to store the stuff, rather than ... stop accumulating so much stuff.

When I read this book last year, my mother had recently died, so my sister and I were dealing with all the stuff in her house and what to do with it. I was also frantically sorting and reorganizing my worldly belongings as I prepared to ship them to Germany (or shove them in my checked luggage). It was a very timely read for me, and I had a lot of moments of recognition as I read it. With the popularity of Marie Kondo and the growing number of Gen Xers whose Boomer parents are downsizing or dying and who are being stuck dealing with huge pieces of furniture that they don't have space for (for example), it's a very relevant and timely read for pretty much anyone.

(Note: I learned about this book from the blogger/podcaster Gin & Tacos, aka Ed Burmila, and it was an insta-buy, because I liked the last book he recommended, which was Combat-Ready Kitchen, which was a history of how the military-industrial complex led to pretty much all our modern convenience foods. Powdered cheese was invented to be sent to soldiers and reconstituted in their field rations. It didn't work very well, but it turned out to make a great sauce if you mixed it with liquid and fat. Cling wrap, granola bars, improved canning techniques... all of it stems from military research into feeding soldiers more efficiently. Great book.)

Das Doppelte Grab, Margarethe von Schwarzkopf (2021). This is an amateur detective novel set in Cologne, where the protagonist, an art historian, stumbles upon a grave in her deceased godmother's basement while she's renovating the house to be sold. Then, once that one is taken out of the basement by the police, they find ANOTHER, much older skeleton - from the Roman era. Family history, conspiracy theories, the Teutoburger Forest, monks, coin thieves, and double dealing -- this book has it all. I bought it because I wanted to read something not-serious that wasn't translated from English, which an unfortunate majority of YA & SFF books are. Germans LOVE detective novels, and there are tons of them written in German. Judging by the little postcard that was in the book, there are detective novels set in [insert your favorite city here], and you can get a list of titles by sending in to the publisher.

Son of the Storm, Suyi Davies Okungboye (2021). Twitter was all about this book last year, and I added it to my ebook collection at some point. I didn't get around to reading it until the end of the year (literally; it's in my book log as December 31.) I didn't write down anything useful about the plot in my book log (gj, past me), but I noted that there were themes of colorism (all the MCs are black, but people's social value is based on the shade of their skin) and how people react to oppression. The MC, Danso, is a scholar, and he's engaged to an heiress to a rich/prominent family. He is of mixed heritage and is therefore lower in social status. But he's really interested in what's outside the borders of their empire, and he ends up getting tangled in a mess of forbidden magic and secrets the priests don't want people to know. I'm looking forward to the sequel!

The Unbroken, C.L. Clark (2021). This was another of the twitter-buzz books of 2021, but it was on my wishlist until there was a sale. (I don't really have any steady income. I am really bad at the freelancer hustle.) So anyway. This is a military fantasy set in an empire. The MC, Touraine, was stolen from her family as a child, as the empire does when they need conscripts for their army. Touraine is from a desert region subjugated to the empire, and her unit is taken there to suppress a nascent rebellion. Her unit, which is made up entirely of people who were stolen from this desert as children, taken to the heart of the empire, and inculcated with imperial values. Touraine believes in the empire and wants to be a good soldier, get promoted, and take care of her unit - but she faces prejudice every step of the way.

Shortly after they arrive in the desert and escort the princess (who is dealing with her own garbage uncle's usurpation) into the garrison, Touraine thwarts an attempted assassination. As a reward, the princess has Touraine be the executioner (I know, some reward), but one of the rebels recognizes her. This haunts her and eventually leads to her confronting a childhood she barely remembers. Then Touraine is framed for murder, and she has to convince an imperial military that is prejudiced against her that she's innocent.

It's a profoundly angry book, in a good way. Touraine's naïveté repeatedly runs up against cold reality until she understands that no, the empire will never accept her. She has to balance her desire to protect her unit, her growing anger at the empire and ties to the rebels, and her love affair with the princess. I can't wait for the sequel.

Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao (2021). I saw early promo of this on twitter that compared it to a lot of things I like, so it was on my radar. Then Zhao made a little TikTok where they said that the battle scenes read like DragonBall fights with mecha furries, and I was like "lol wtf, I definitely need to read this." So I put myself on the waiting list at the Berlin public library. 

The army uses giant robots to fight other giant robots from the enemy country. These robots are powered by two people, always a man and a woman (his concubine). The man is the main pilot, but he draws additional fighting power from the woman, who stands a good chance of being killed in the process. The MC wants to get revenge for her sister, who died in this way. So she signs up to become a concubine and intends to kill the pilot who killed her sister. She's about to stab him when there's an emergency scramble, and she has to go with him to his robot. She does dragonball magic stuff and kills the pilot. This gets her branded an Iron Widow - a concubine who is stronger than her 'husband' - and paired with the most deadly pilot in the system, because the hierarchy (patriarchy) can't have a powerful female pilot going around and disproving all the sexism they've built into the pilot system.

It's a cracking great read. It's got everything: wuxia tropes, giant robots, feminist rage, a love triangle, and one hell of a cliffhanger ending. I need the sequel, like, yesterday.

The Chosen and the Beautiful, Nghi Vo (2022). The Great Gatsby is out of copyright now, so it's legal to publish retellings, which this is. The narrator is Jordan Baker, Nick Carroway's socialite girlfriend from the original. In this version, she was adopted from Vietnam during the French-Indochine war, so she faces anti-Asian prejudice, which is to a small extent mitigated by the fortune she has at her back. A one-sentence summary could be "The Great Gatsby but queer and with magic." This is both an accurate summary and one that understates the book. Vo's writing is gorgeous. Go buy it, you won't regret it.

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) (2021). A girl whose magical power is baking stumbles across a dead body in the bakery one morning and gets embroiled in politics. Someone is killing people with magic, and she's on the list. She has to figure out who's killing people and why and then save the city. But, as she repeatedly says, she shouldn't have had to. The Duchess should have handled it before it got that far. It's a YA story and a bit dark. Not horror-dark, and the protagonist wins and almost everybody survives, but well. It starts with a dead body.

Starfall Ranch, California Dawes (2019). This was recommended by a friend as an example of "cozy SF" and described as "Stardew Valley in space." So I naturally had to get it. Shy Kerridan is a rancher on a remote moon. She's a loner and really doesn't like other people. Thisbe Vandergoss is the heiress to a vast corporate empire who runs away from her parents, changes her last name, and signs up to be a mail-order bride for Sean Kerridan on the remote moon. But she ends up on the wrong hemisphere and lands on Shy's doorstep just as an electrical storm blows in that knocks out communications. There's one tiny problem: Thisbe has to check in at Sean's ranch and be married to him within a week of arrival, or she will be fined, made to pay for the transportation to the moon, and deported back to Earth. It was a lot of fun, and the dark moments are resolved by ... people being adults and talking to each other. Imagine that.

I've got a bunch of books in my TBR, so I might write about those later. Or I might not. We'll see!