And a little about world building…

My writing friend Lily Hammer made an interesting point on Instagram the other day:

“I love world-building, and I love unique worlds that other authors create. I personally walk a fine line as a reader between how much world-building I can handle. If an author introduces a ton of strange concepts, I can’t relate to or I can’t see clearly in my mind, I immediately disconnect from the book… For example, when authors create their own curse words, or use a normal English word as a curse word in their world. That immediately takes me out of the story.”

This made me think about how I present my Void-side/Void-Born citizens of Dark Home. 

Language and People of Dark Home

Since the 1800s, Earth-side humans from the hyper zealous religious hunting organization Sanctum have tried to “colonize” Dark Home. I use the word colonize loosely because they have been, in the last 300 years—give or take—very unsuccessful. It’s hard to expand when monsters eat your troops. And in the 1970s, Hyperion’s Fury began sending hunters into the Void as well.

Because of this Earth-side presence, many of the Void-Born picked up English from the HADES hunters and Latin from the Sanctum hunters. But they have their own language and their own alphabet. In the early drafts of Book One I was taking the soft fantasy route and using just the backstory of the two Earth-side forces to excuse the fact that the Void-Born humans of Dark Home speak perfect English.

Well, that isn’t good storytelling, is it?

Where things are now

Fast forward a few drafts and I have pieces of the alphabet and some of what I call the English translation of Dark Home words for decorating magical items and fleshing out the magic system.

I don’t have the linguistic expertise or the imagination of Tolkin.

I don’t want to copy another language structure, tweak a few things, and call it my own.

I don’t want to disrespect other cultures by appropriating something I have little or no knowledge of.

So what will you find when you read my books?

Two groups of people who speak different languages. There will be translation errors and miscommunications. There will be all kinds of technical issues that will give the plot flavor.

As a child, I lived in Panama on and off for a few years. My Spanish was passable, but I did not have strong communication skills. I struggled through school and though a lot of my classmates helped me; I got to experience firsthand how a non-native speaker has to adapt to a different culture.

Now, years later, I get to use some of these experiences as inspiration for my writing.

So what does all this have to do with vulgarity?

My books have mature language in them. I enjoy using mature language. My characters enjoy venting their frustrations with expletives.

I do not use slurs… unless I introduce a fictional all female pagan punk band called Burning Bitch. Because they are the shit. And it’s an example of reclamation. (They have since been taken out of my current draft because they were taking up words and not moving the plot along. You can read the deleted scene here.)

And Void-Born characters have a unique set of profanities than the Earth-side people.

So, when coming up with swear words for my fantasy population, I wanted to use the element of realism and come up with words that they would naturally use as curses or view as insulting based on their historical and cultural experiences.

The Void-Born humans of Dark Home are very into their gods. Gods being Void Creatures. Dark Home is itself a god, the principle god of the Cloud City. The citizens of the Fire City worship another Void Creature, so much so they procreated with it and filled the city with its human-hybrid Mage descendants.

So they center their profanity on what will make their enemies angry, curses directed toward other peoples’ gods.

There is a bit of crossover. Void-Born humans don’t use Earth-side swear words, but a few of my Earth-side characters use Void-side swear words. The most notable is Theodore Thane because he spends most of his time in the Void, interacting with the Void-Born. He prefers the Void-Born over Earth-side humans, so he subconsciously picked up a few of their mannerisms.

The problem with language like this is semiotics (the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation). You might read the word and interpret the context of its use one way, and another reader can make a completely different and sometimes opposite interpretation.

For me, there is a big difference in quality when an author takes the time and care to make up their own swear words that make sense with their fictional population. I do not particularly care for stories whose authors use their fictional language as an excuse to mince oaths instead of dropping the f-bomb like any sensible person would. Like, if it makes little sense contextually, and the author wants to be profane without using vulgar words, I feel sad for the missed opportunity there.

Character Development

Regina gathered her catalog of swear words from adults she listened to as a child. People she was imprisoned with at the HADES black site, for example.

I struggled a little with whether I wanted her to use religious profanities because she’s not a religious person, but she heard words like dammit enough times that saying them became a habit. And also, as a young child, nothing would have pissed Regina’s mother off more than hearing her daughter say “damn.” So Regina’s most frequent swear word is turning out to be “damn,” where other characters might choose more intense vocabulary. It works with her personality.

She lay on her cot and pretended the bullet hole in the glass above her was the eyepiece of a telescope, and the ceiling was the sky of a strange alien planet with a dozen rectangular, daytime, fluorescent-light suns. The daytime moon was the Exile’s Moon, cold and barely alive in an ocean of cloud-choked blue. Forever alone and abandoned by the shield of night and the unconquerable legion of stars. A sky where day was not separated from the night, and the Exile’s Moon wasn’t alone anymore and her sisters, the Dead Girl Moon… and Havoc’s Moon, the patron saint of troublemakers, prisoners, and hopeless little girls, was almost full.

from Dead Girl Moon, Pulling Teeth and Other Stories of The Slaughter Chronicles

Regina cast a suspicious glance upward, through the canopy of bare oak branches and prickly pine boughs to where the moon hung and the stars twinkled. Overhead, the moon was one week from full. Havoc’s Moon, she thought. Patron saint of best laid plans and miscellaneous fuckery. The tall pines of the forest were stalwart sentinels, their branches were spears and their needles were beautifully crafted rapiers battling the terrors of the night in the sway of autumn’s bonfire smelling breeze.

from Havoc’s Moon, The Slaughter Chronicles Book One

What inspired The Slaughter Chronicles titles?

In case you haven’t noticed in The Slaughter Chronicles series list, all the forthcoming novels have titles that involve the moon. Book one is Havoc’s Moon, book two is Exile’s Moon. Book three… you get the idea. So, aside from the whole werewolf aesthetic, what’s up with all the moon stuff?

Regina Slaughter, my main protagonist, was just a child when her biological father accidentally contaminated and transformed her into a werewolf. In the years before and the two years after, Regina received zero formal education. Before her parents met their tragic end, Regina was homeschooled by her mother. Regina’s mother was a religious zealot who did not believe in Sesame Street, or that little girls needed the same learning opportunities as boys. She taught Regina how to read so she could read the Bible and other religious texts, but she was not allowed to write, sing, play, or do math. Or watch TV.

Regina’s mother… how can I say this nicely?… was a terrible person who should never have been allowed to reproduce and be responsible for children. But if she wasn’t, we wouldn’t have Regina so… *shrug*.

And then, after Regina’s mother (thankfully) died, Regina was kept in a secret laboratory for two years, where she also received zero formal education. But she had a lot of time to think by herself and, as a coping mechanism, she came up with her own unique version of numerology in which she tried to predict the fortunes of her fellow prisoners based on the time displayed in the laboratory’s big digital clock.

Also, in the laboratory, Regina was heavily sedated and given drugs to keep her, and the other adult prisoners, from using their supernatural abilities to escape. (Keeping a bunch of werewolves in cages without sedating them is not smart.) Because she could no longer connect with her werewolf-self, Regina also fabricated her own phases of the moon, based on how she was feeling physically and mentally as the doctor in the laboratory experimented on her werewolf strain.

After she and the other prisoners were liberated, Regina continued to refer to her own moon phases. And that is how the titles for my books were born.

Each moon phase coincides with the theme of the book. For example, the novella Dead Girl Moon is about Regina’s time in the laboratory and the days leading up to her escape.

Havoc’s Moon is the waxing gibbous moon, the phase immediately proceeding the full moon. Havoc’s Moon (also my principal work in progress) is about building conflicts and finding order in the chaos. But the next book, Exile’s Moon, is the daytime moon, the moon of loneliness, defeat, and despair. I don’t want to give too much away, but if everything worked out at the end of book one, there wouldn’t be a need for a book two.

Also, I AM writing grimdark fantasy so expect that if there is a happy ending, it won’t come right away.

Question for writers: How do you come up with your book titles?

Question for readers: What makes a good title? What are some of your favorites?

Please feel free to share your answers in the comments.

I present to you a transcript of what generally happens when I play a tabletop RPG and Mr. J is the DM…

Mr. J: Okay, so Regina’s walking in the woods. What is she doing?

Me: What kind of trees are there?

Mr. J: They’re trees.

Me: <Knows I’m not going to get a deeper explanation> is it hot or cold?

Mr. J: <Rolls dice> cold.

Me: But it’s summer, isn’t it?

Mr. J: Yes.

Me: Is it cold because that’s what the dice said or is it cold because something’s making it cold?

Mr. J: Roll to check.

Me: Intuition Check! <rolls dice> Two!

Mr. J: You have no fucking clue.

Me: Can I make an Observation Check?

Mr. J: That’s not going to help you.

Me: Why?

Mr. J: Because you’re more concerned about how cold it is than where [insert character in peril] is.

Me: Oh! Where is [character name]?

Mr. J: Make a fucking roll, Jessa!

End transcript.

What we know: 1) There’s someone in trouble. 2) It’s Regina’s job to help them.

In the game, Mr. J didn’t want me to focus on the setting, he wanted me to get on with the objective of the game. But in a book the setting can effect how Regina approaches solving the problem.

Read Part 1 of Turning an RPG Campaign into a Book Series HERE.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Inspired by Allison Morton’s guest blog post on Anne Stormont’s website.

What I wish would happen vs. what happens in actual life. See if you can guess which is the real version 🙂

Version 1

Wake up. Holy fuck, I slept in again! The last thing I remember is getting up to pee at 3:36 am and the neighbors honking a car horn and some laughing across the street. And the cat wants water AGAIN (two of them drink straight from the tap). At the time I thought, “Okay, I have 2.5 hours until I need to get up, that’s like taking a nap. No problem.” 

I should not have gone back to sleep.

So I get up and feed the cats, then the betta fish. I notice the betta’s water temp is a few degrees lower than it should be and take measures to heat things up. I don’t have an aquarium heater because it’s always pretty warm where I live. Then I clean up the kitchen; put away dishes, make sure mom’s coffee maker is ready for her morning coffee, etc. I put the kettle on for my coffee and set out to empty the litter boxes. One cat vomits all his breakfast on the floor in partially digested puddles. I clean that up. I resume the journey to cleaning the litter boxes. I notice someone (who shall remain nameless) has peed outside two of the three boxes. I clean up more puddles. I disinfect the floor. Then I empty the fucking litter boxes.

I go back into the kitchen and make my coffee. I take my coffee back to my office/room and set it down on my desk. I realize I have not emptied the betta’s litter box (siphoning out the poop). So I do that. Then I wash my hands, brush my teeth, wash my face. I greet my maternal progenitor and, after making sure she’s all settled for the morning, I sit down at my desk (an hour and a half after waking up) and try to write.

My coffee mug lives next to the betta fish’s tank and every time I pick it up and take a drink he lunges at the glass. His threat displays are epic. One day, he will kill the shit out of my coffee mug.

I try tackling a half-written draft of a chapter. I need to switch character POVs and decide the company policies that this character has to follow. It is not very exciting.

So I switch to school work. Somewhere in there I have breakfast…and lunch. I’m burned out on school work so I look at the clock and holy shit 5 hours have passed, how is it already 4 pm?

The betta fish gets bored and goes to take a nap on top of the digital thermometer. I bought him a special leaf shaped “betta hammock” that he happily doesn’t give two shits about.

I need a nap. But I don’t take a nap. Instead, I sift through my email and read author newsletters.

No writing gets done.

I love getting newsletters (yes, I’m weird). I look at all the success other authors have and go, “Gee, I wish I had that. That will be me someday. Stay positive. Stay positive. Look at all you’ve—fuck! I’ll never be like these people. Half of them I don’t think their writing is any good, I know [insert name here definitely doesn’t use an editor] and they have over a billion 5 star reviews. How. The. Fuck. Is. That. Possible? I’ll never fit in with readers. Even if I finish my book, no one will want to read it because…etc, etc, etc.”

I stare at the betta fish until the negative thoughts disappear. I have an early dinner with mom and, since I’ve already put in a lot of hours for school stuff today, I cut myself off and watch YouTube videos until I’m tired enough to sleep.

Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day. Sometimes my brain feels like a wad of soggy cheese cloth. It’s winter time, but it doesn’t feel like winter. We’re in for a few more hot days before Jacket and Scarf weather officially starts. Not that I have anywhere to wear jackets and scarves too right now…I’m going to have to go to the grocery store in an evening gown and a full face of makeup to boost my morale.

Version 2

I wake up before my alarm goes off. Two minutes and 16 seconds before. I win.

The cats are ready for their breakfast and wait patiently in the kitchen for me to dollop out one spoon of wet food from the can for each of them. Then purr and munch pleasantly as they eat, content that all is right with the world.

The betta fish is happy too. He swims up to the surface to get his pellets and then hovers around his beloved Cobalt Neo-Therm aquarium heater. Even though he has a huge fake plant now, with soft leaves to swim between and rest on, and a diving helmet for a cave to hide in, the heater is his favorite “decoration.”

I have morning chores, who doesn’t. I tidy what I didn’t get to from the night before, and then I make my first cup of tea. Before all I drank was coffee, at least 14 cups a day (not exaggerating). But I’ve gone almost 3 weeks without any, and tea makes an acceptable substitute. I’m sleeping better and I’m not as jittery or irritable/anxious as much as I was before. If I can notice this much of a difference now, it was definitely time to stop drinking coffee. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not quitting coffee, just taking a break.)

I get dressed and sit down at my desk for my pre-morning brain dump. Other writers call this Morning Pages (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way) I call it thought vomit.

After I clear out all the nonsensical things, I can begin my drafting session for the day. I set myself a 500 word count minimum, and if I write more, I reward myself by buying an ebook off of my wish list.

My pets and family all support me on my writing journey and leave me in peace to do my very important work until I am ready to be social. Every so often a cat wanders in and paws at the betta’s tank or sits on my lap, exuding emotional support.

In Real Life

As you may have guessed by the chaos, Version 1 most accurately represents actual life, however, my betta has a Cobalt aquarium heater and I have switched from coffee to tea and I do feel more mellow and less anxious.

But anxiety and writing are still holding hands. I often battle with imposter syndrome and fear that I won’t be able to finish the projects I love so much.

Whenever I don’t add words to my drafts, I verbally beat myself up. That is not healthy. I hide behind the excuse that I care too much and I’m a failure at being disciplined.

But guess what, y’all? Not writing every day is okay. Not thinking about your manuscript or your publishing business every day is okay. Taking care of yourself is okay. Taking care of your pets and your environment and your family is more than okay 🙂

My ideal writing day is one where I don’t have to exist in real life and I don’t have any problems conveying my ideas into prose. That is a dream. That is impossible.

I wish I had a quick fix for all my negative thoughts. I wish I was a writing robot. I wish I had a million dollars.

My husband, Mr. J says as long as I’m trying (not even trying my best, just trying) I’m doing a good job. I try to focus on doing things, on action, instead of wallowing with the negativity. It’s really hard. Sometimes it’s easy to distract myself with other things, but other times all I want to do is take a nap or binge watch anime. But I have to remind myself that stagnation doesn’t help anybody, and even if I just switch gears and read a book, that’s better than mentally checking out.

Thanks for stopping by and keep on keeping on!

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Photo by Nashad Abdu on Unsplash

When I first started writing The Slaughter Chronicles back in 2017 I wanted to make a clear distinction between vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures. For the longest time, I used the generic term “demon” to cover everything that wasn’t a vampire or a werewolf and for a while, it flowed pretty well, especially with Sanctum, my hyper-religious monster-hunting order.

But then, as I put more flesh and definition into my imaginary world, I realized that the secular monster hunters (namely HADES) wouldn’t necessarily use terminology with superstitious or religious connotations. So I had to figure something else out.

This was a problem that stalled my worldbuilding for at least 6 months because I didn’t come up with the character of Theodore Thane or HADES’s Void hunting division until late 2019.

So, I spent 2017-summer 2019 wobbling back and forth between words that were okay but just didn’t feel right and wearing holes in my thesaurus.

Why was Thane (aka Hyperion) so helpful in solving this problem?

Theodore Thane is a “demon” hunter. But he hates organized religion. He’s also extremely analytical and narcissistic. A very thorough researcher, with a heavy science background, Thane has also been around for a few decades longer than most of the other characters so he’s gained a lot of experience and seen a lot of things.

After I built up Thane’s backstory it was very easy to adopt how this one character classified all these other monsters and use his perceptions to categorize the monsters. Using his terminology also works well because Regina, my protagonist, learned pretty much everything about my paranormal world from Thane.

Members of Sanctum still use the word “demon” to talk about every supernatural creature, no matter where they came from.

End Credits and Purchase Links

Pulling Teeth and Other Stories is available for pre-order right now. It will go live on November 24. That’s Tuesday after next!

For 1.99 USD you get two Regina Slaughter backstory novellas, three Slaughter Chronicles short stories and extra worldbuilding content.

Amazon
Apple iBooks
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Barnes and Noble and Google Play purchase links are on the way.

If you haven’t already, give a thought to signing up for my monthly newsletter. As a Thank You from me you will receive one of the short stories in Pulling Teeth for free. The next one goes out to subscribers on November 30th.