Software Reviews Series (0/?)

I mentioned this in my last post, but didn’t explain.  A problem with Windows 10 had me downgrading to Windows 7; unfortunately, that downgrade didn’t work right, and I wound up having to wipe out my C drive and reinstall all my software) ate most of the time I had to work on my blog this week.  It did, however, remind me of another series I was considering:  Reviewing “Software for the Author.”  It was never my intention to only run one series at a time, especially as open-ended as the Research series is, so I figured I could introduce this new planned series even if I’m not ready to start the actual articles.

Now, DO NOT EXPECT THIS SERIES TO START NEXT WEEK.  It requires research (hm…), and I’m not prepared for it.  I’m only adding this post now because I didn’t have time to do any of the other blog posts I have planned.

Keep in mind I am not a technical expert on these pieces of software. There are things I will not, or do not know how to, test (for example, I can’t test cross-platform compatability for many of the products that claim this as a feature).  There are things that you might think are vitally important in a piece of software, but I don’t even think to look at them because (in my experience) they’ve never come up.  This is just based on my personal experiences with this software (or, at least, simulations of my normal experience, if I’m doing a comparison with something I haven’t used often).

In some cases, I will be comparing the latest version of a freeware program (such as Scribus or LibreOffice) with older versions of professional software (I intend to do a review of Adobe InDesign, but I refuse to use their latest, cloud-only offering.  I have access to Microsoft Office 2003, 2007, and — if I borrowed my mother’s computer — whatever version of Microsoft Word she got off the cloud, though not any of the other parts of the suite)

I also have no intention of testing every feature of this software.  These will just be reviews of how I use them, why I — as a writer — might choose them over various alternatives, and what I think a writer would be most interested in with them.

Now, I reiterate — don’t expect me to start this next week.  I hope to go right back to the Review Series (with something on Constructing Languages and why I’ve only made rudimentary efforts, so far) — but below you will be able to find an index for what I plan on reviewing (not necessarily in order; depends how long I have to test some of these things), below.  I’ll add  hotlinks when I start.

  1. The Hemmingway App (vs. Grammarly, perhaps?)
  2. Scrivener
  3. Sigil
  4. InDesign vs. Publisher (2003 and 2007) vs. Scribus (this one may be bumped down, folks; I’ll need to figure out something I can use as a sample to compare these with)
  5. EPub to MOBI
  6. LibreOffice (vs. OpenOffice vs AbiWord vs. WPS Office Free vs. Microsoft Office 2003 vs. Microsoft Office 2007 vs. whatever other free Office packages or word processors I can find between now and then, perhaps?  Recommendations might be nice)
  7. Jutoh, maybe? (I haven’t bought it, yet, but I will if there’s interest.  Yes, that means I need at least ONE comment, somewhere, if you want me to test this)
  8. ???

 

Weird Things I’ve Had To Research (3/?): Making Lemons Out of Lemonade

As a reminder, this is the third part for my Weird Things I’ve Had To Research series.  You can find my series introduction, which will include a (growing) table of contents, here.

INTRODUCTION

For months, now, I’ve been working on the sequel to In Treachery Forged.  In the middle of the new (still with the editor and cover artist) book, I had a situation where I wanted to use the phrase “Let’s make lemonade out of lemons.”

I typed out the line, but then I had to pause and think about it for a minute.  This is a fantasy novel, set in a fantasy world.  Would they have lemonade?  Is the environment of this world even capable of sustaining lemons?  I mean, I’ve created this world, but there are some references which just wouldn’t make any sense without some real-world concerns.  At the very least, it might throw someone out of the story.

And that’s the point of this “wierd research” article:  How to deal with things that throw your readers out of the story.

WHAT MATTERS AND WHAT DOESN’T

The word “anacronism”, according to Wiktionary, means:

  • A chronological mistake; the erroneous dating of an event, circumstance, or object.
  • A person or thing which seems to belong to a different time or period of time

If you are writing historical work (fiction or not fiction), you’re probably concerned with the former.  For my purposes, however, I’m going to refer to the later:  Something which seems to belong to a different period of time.  It might even be proper to refer to it in that period, but if your reader thinks its strange it could be an anacronism.

For example, the flush toilet.  If you had a fantasy set in roman times and you described a scene where a character went to use the flush toilet, it might draw a very strange picture in your reader’s head.  “That can’t be right — toilets didn’t exist that far back!” they would think.  If they’ve seen certain shows on antiques and antiquities, they might even add “Crapper didn’t invent his toilet until 1897!

True, the modern flush toilet didn’t exist until the 19th century (and Crapper, while not the only contributor, helped with the design).  But, going as far back as neolithic britain or the prehistoric Indus Valley civilization, we’ve had some form of hydrolic flushing toilet.  Yet if you were to include one in your fiction — at least without somehow describing their mechanism and how they differed from the modern flushing toilet — a flush toilet would strike most readers as anacronistic.

So, it isn’t so much “would lemons\lemonade exist in my world” so much as “would they seem out of place in this fantasy world?”

So, where does the research com in with this?  Well, if I were writing historical fiction, I’d want to be careful not to create a first-definition anacronisms (the erroneous dating of an object, event, etc.); but in fantasy fiction, it’s “what do I need to know to avoid an anacronism?”  You can have a line about lemonade only if you establish that lemons exist in your world prior to the scene it comes up; you can have a flush toilet if you explain it’s one of those classical Roman-style hydrolic flush toilets instead of a Crapper toilet.

IS IT REALLY RESEARCH WHEN…

So, what, exactly, am I doing here?  I’m trying to write my way around the real-world-specific phrase or (apparent) anacronism that I actually want to use.  So, where is the actual research in this?

Well, despite making a quick check to find that lemons could theoretically grow in some of the environs I pictured my characters living in (for those who read the book, not in the heavily forested areas or cultivated farmlands or mountainous regions or river deltas on the mainland, but on the Borden Isles), I scrapped the “lemons into lemonade” phrase and moved on.

But I’ve run into other cases where I needed to spend some time in research to figure out how to work my way around the issues.  In The Kitsune Stratagem, for example, I had several incidents where I had a technology or a measurement I needed to describe that was named after an all-too-recognizeable real-world location.  There was no Greece or Rome in this book, but I needed to figure out how to describe things that were analogous to Greek Fire and Roman roads.

I thought Greek Fire would be complicated, but it was easy enough.  You can describe it as “liquid fire” and add in the rough approximation for a (theoretical) recipe and people should be able to figure out what you’re talking about.

I figured Roman roads would be easy, but they proved more difficult to portray accurately.  Outside of their longevity, I had to figure out what distinguished them from your average, ordinary newly-built cobblestone road.

I had books in my library on Roman roads and architecture.  No Wikipedia research on this one (well, mostly none; I found several references to Roman concrete, which was described as being different (and in many cases better) than modern concrete, but I found nothing on why it was so unique.  I went to Wikipedia for that)

There were several types of Roman roads, but I picked one of the more durable to portray.  Part of what made them different was the complex and deeper-than-average foundation, and part of it was the drainage system built into the roads.  Those things helped the roads to last, but in looking into them I found some information out that wound up solving another story issue for me.

One thing I learned, though, was that they built various types of outposts every twenty (Roman) miles along these roads, and more complex  outposts every hundred (Roman) miles.  I hadn’t known about these outposts when I started the story, but it was the perfect setting for a confrontation I hadn’t fully fleshed out yet.

These roads involved elements that needed further research.  The foundation used Roman concrete (I wound up learning a lot about Roman concrete in my research; I used some of it, but none of it wound up in the roads).  Distances — should I use modern measurements when explaining the locations of these outposts or some other measurement?  If fictional, how do I portray what those measurements mean?  If modern, do I convert from Roman miles to modern miles for accuracy’s sake.

Heck, how long would a mile be for my books?  A Roman mile, it turns out, is four thousand eight hundred fifty one modern feet long (or five thousand Roman feet long).  Modern miles include the nautical mile (at least six thousand feet long; the exact number depends on whether you are using the mile to figure speed (Knots), read a map, or use a radar) and the U.S.\International mile (five thousand two hundred eighty feet).

I don’t remember, exactly, what I settled on (I could re-read my own book to find out… or maybe one of this blog’s readers could read that same book and remind me.  And yes, this is a shameless plug; sorry about that).  I do remember I did such things as measure one of my own paces to start my own system that I could convert measurements to (my own pace was about two and a half feet; that became my “closest equivalent to a yard” measurement in the new measurement system; one third of that would be a measurement that would be the closest equiv. of a foot, and so forth (dividing by the foot equiv. by ten for the inch equiv, and multiplying the yard equiv. by two thousand for the mile equiv.).

Research, after all, is not just reading and relaying the information in the book; while you need to read up on topics, too, sometimes your “research” is experimental, or experience-based.  In “In Treachery Forged,” I had a character go through a natural cave system.  In my high school and college days, I was part of an Explorer Post (I’m not sure if they even exist, any more, but back then they were a young adult, co-ed version of the Boy Scouts.  Well, officially.  Our post wasn’t exactly as formal as most Boy Scouts units; the anime or R-rated movie nights weren’t exactly in character with your standard Boy Scouts organization).  This Explorer Post went “caving” (spelunking) in natural caves about once a year or so.  When it came time to write that scene, I had a lot of experience-based knowledge to draw upon.

CONCLUSION

I’ll be honest; I had a lot more to talk about for this blog.  I had computer problems this week, though, and my time to work on it was severely cut.  My points were made, I think, but I had more examples I wanted to use.  Maybe I’ll revisit this topic, some day, when my laptop is actually working.

The computer issue should be fixed this week, but it might cut into my blog writing time.  Because of this, I may not manage a full length post again next week, but we’ll see.  Regular posting should resume Sunday after next, regardless of these laptop issues.

(Heh… maybe the next “weird research” post should be on things other than writing topics that need to be researched for your book… things like “how the heck do I fix my laptop this time?”)

Weird Things I’ve Had To Research: Cryptids (Part 2/?)

As a reminder, this is the second part for my Weird Things I’ve Had To Research series.  You can find my series introduction, which will include a (growing) table of contents, here.

INTRODUCTION

As I said in my last research post, In Treachery Forged‘s first draft was finished a long, long time before I published it.  I probably should have worked on the sequel, in all that time (In Forgery Divided would have been out months ago, if I had, instead of with the editor as it is now), but I was trying to sell it to a trade publisher.  While I worked out an outline for the entire series, I wasn’t sure I wanted to put the time into writing additional books if I never could sell it.  (Then self-publishing became practical, and I finally cottoned on to the practical side of self-publishing, and now…)

During many of those years, however, it was sitting in various agents’ and publishers’ slush piles — it was in one particular publishing house’s slush pile for over four years — and I was trying hard to figure out how to get a publisher to take it.  I went to local conventions whenever an editor, agent, or publishing head was going to attend, hoping to glean some trick that would help me get noticed.  I was also reading blogs belonging to publishers, agents, other writers, etc., always looking for new information.  Sadly, most of what I heard was the same recycled stuff, over and over and over again.

But over the course of one year, at three different conventions and on a few agents and authors blogs, I heard the following sentiment (maybe not in exact words, but something pretty close):

“If I see pull one more manuscript from the slush pile featuring Elves or Dwarves or Dragons, I’m going to throw it across the room in frustration!”

Now, this puzzled me.  Outside of a few licensed properties and Tolkien, I wasn’t all that familiar with this deluge of books featuring Elves and Dwarves and Dragons.  I’m not saying they didn’t exist, but these same editors, agents, publishers, etc. seemed to have no problem taking on manuscripts featuring certain mythological creatures that seemed far, far more played out to me (*cough*VAMPIRES!*cough*).  What was wrong with the trope creatures and races of the Western-style fantasy genre appearing in fantasy genre novels?

But whatever.  Agents, publishers, and editors didn’t seem to want Elves and Dwarves and Dragons, and the book I was trying to peddle had all three.  Most of the other fantasy novels I had planned, in the Law of Swords series or elsewhere, also included Elves and Dwarves and Dragons.  Hm….

Idea:  Why not take one one of my Western-style fantasy plots, but replace the Elves and Dwarves and Dragons with creatures from other mythologies?

Problem:  While I knew a couple creatures that might fit into the plotline I had in mind, I wasn’t that familiar with them.  You might think “these are mythological creatures, so it doesn’t matter what you say about them,” but look at the criticism Stephanie Meyer gets for her sparkling vampires in Twilight — that doesn’t mean you need to get every detail right, but you probably should be familiar, at a minimum, with the basics of the myths behind these creatures, at least, or you risk annoying a lot of people.  I had to delve into the research.

I only needed a few animals for my bestiary, to make the book work, but I wanted more than just a “few.”  In that quest, I read up on hundreds of mythological creatures, most of which never made it in.  Some of the ones which didn’t are merely “didn’t yet,” though, and others have sparked ideas for other stories.  This was a lesson that even when you know what you’re looking for you can get a lot of misses in with your hits, but that can still be a good thing.

To start my research, I went off to Wikipedia.  Now, I reiterate that Wikipedia is actually a very poor source for research (although sometimes it gives you enough information for certain purposes).  It can be a good jumping off point, however, if the topic is too controversial.  And it is a wonderful source of lists.  Thanks to Wikipedia, I could create my new bestiary by pulling from the lists:  Extinct animals, Mythological (now called Legendary) Creatures, and Cryptids.

I skimmed most of the articles (it took days just to do this much with all of them, but this was the heavy research period).  I bookmarked a number to consider for potential roles in the book, set aside one I had already decided on using, and discarded a bunch for being either too common (anything related to vampires or zombies, basically) or too ordinary (I can’t remember which one it was, but there was one that broke down to “it’s a meat-eating cow!  A cannibal cow!  Run!”  Er, yeah).

But for most of them, I had to do a lot of reading, even just on wikipedia, to figure out what made these mythological (or not-so-mythological, in the case of a few of them) creatures theoretically tick.

I will say that the Kitsune, especially, I tried to fit with the myth most in terms of tangible characteristics… but not necessarily in attitude and character.  I tried hard to make sense of some things.

For example, they were said to always have a ball (or jewel) called a “tama.”  If this tama was taken from them, they would panic, and give anything to get it back.  In the myths, they claimed these tama would do nothing for humans, just for Kitsune.  But what the tama did for a kitsune, there was no explanation (well, none that I could find; I am hobbled by not being able to read the original Japanese myths, and have to make do with someone else’s translations).

Kitsune were known as tricksters with the magic of illusions and several other, similar traits… but I saw no evidence of this whenever they approached someone who had taken their tama, even though I could concoct a myriad of ways for them to retrieve their tama if they did use these powers.  Well… it isn’t explicitly stated, but doesn’t it make sense that these tama would be the “power source” (or focus, or whatever — similar to magic wands in Harry Potter, in my view) for the Kitsune’s illusory magic?

I’m not going to reveal everything about what factors were research and what were logicked or made up about the major players in my book — the Kitsune, the Wulver, the Haltija, the Bunyips, etc. — because, well, that would spoil a lot of the fun in it.  In fact, beyond what I’ve already stated, I’m not going to mention them at all.  Instead, this is going to focus on a sampling of the cryptids I did research: Why I chose them, what I learned about them, and why I ultimately didn’t include them in the story.

EXTINCT ANIMALS

If Elves, Dwarves, and Dragons are considered “cliché,” I figured horses, chickens, oxen, and so forth must be as well.  They appear in so many books, you know?

Okay, so I didn’t get rid of ALL the horses, chickens, oxen, and so forth, but I figured I should expand my fictional world’s selection of livestock beyond these “cliché” animals.  I figured most mythological creatures would be a little too strange for human domestication, but perhaps I could find a set of extinct animals instead.

The first extinct animal I considered were Moas.  Now, I didn’t really think I needed to do much research on moas — after all, they showed up in a lot of Discovery Channel shows on extinct animals as the prey species all those extinct post-dinosaur preditors ate.  We’re talking a 300-500 lb. flightless bird, here.  Basically, a giant kiwi (or ostrich, or tinamou…).  I could include them in the story as part of the setting — someone might be a moa farmer; domesticated moa for food, moa drawing carts, moa being hooked up to plows, etc.  The most common “background” animal in the game was there, waiting for me, without a single bit of research required.

Then someone reminded me of Final Fantasy, and the video game creature the Chocobo.

Well, as I didn’t want my fantasy world to too closely resemble one of the most recognizable video game series in the history of video games, I scrapped those ideas.  I may have left an artifact or two of my original plans (I can’t remember for sure if any of the Moa survived the purge from my manuscript), but I couldn’t use them quite as prolifically as I had planned.

But horses, oxen, cows, and so forth are boring (at least as boring as Elves, Dwarves, and Dragons, right?), so I went looking for something else.

I considered Dire Wolves (too Game of Thrones), Mylodons (interesting, but no opportunity to include them), Camelops (too indistinquishable from camels), and Aurouchs (those almost made it in, but I instead used a different critter).  Really, my scouting of extinct species wound up being something of a bust.

I may have, however, solved a bit of a family mystery… but that leads us into our next category of critters.

CRYPTIDS

A cryptid can be many things — a creature that is, as Wikipedia describes it, a creature that has been suggested to exist, but has not yet been scientifically documented.

This can mean creatures of myth and folklore that there might be some sort of real-life basis for, or creatures that have been declared extinct that are rumored to still exist.

My mother used to teach English in Kanazawa, Japan.  While she lived in a city, there was the occasional bit of wildlife wandering the streets.  One night, my mother recalls, she literally walked right into the middle of a pack of Japanese red wolves.  She was understandably shocked, but they didn’t bother her and she was able to walk through them without any issues.

Problem:  This breed of wolf supposedly went extinct in 1904.  It was the 1960s.

They are, however, a cryptid:  There were sightings of these wolves for decades after they “went extinct,” but there wasn’t any scientific documentation of them.  Now, it’s been over fifty years; even if they were still alive back then, so if there were a few lingering packs of this breed of wolf still alive back then they probably are all gone now.  However, finding that these wolves were cryptids (or rather, that she wasn’t the only person who sighted them after they were declared extinct) makes the  idea that they really weren’t extinct more realistic than the thought she walked through a pack of ghost wolves.

And it wouldn’t be the first time a supposed cryptid was found to be real.  Witness the Okapi:  A sort of cross between a giraffe and a zebra.  It was believed to be pure folklore, but one man spent fourty years trying to convince the world it existed.  Not only did it exist, it was a common animal, with large herds to be found throughout Africa.  The end result became the poster child for those who feel cryptozoology is more science than psuedoscience.  (Literally; the Okapi was adopted as the symbol of the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology).

The problem is that cryptids aren’t all extinct animals that might still be around, or common creatures we just have a hard time believing exist until confronted by whole live specimens.  Cryptozoology is a fringe science, at best, because too many cryptozoologist (especially amateurs) are little more than the stereotypical Bigfoot Hunter — chasing a myth in the least scientific way imaginable.  The discipline hasn’t had a real success since a name for it was derived.

But, that bit about cryptozoology aside, there are quite a few creatures that fit into the category of Cryptid that are good material for fiction — even cryptids which are known hoaxes.

If I were writing a Terry Pratchetesque Light Fantasy, I might consider including something like a Wild Haggis into the story… but that wasn’t what I was going for.  I did, however, have an interest in adding Jackelopes to my plans.

Well, researching Jackalopes turned up quite a few critters I’d never heard of (or only heard brief mentions of), before — Wolpertingers, Rasselbocks, Skvaders, Al-mi’raj, and any number of horned rabbits.  Most of these are derived from taxidermic hoaxes, and a few may have been the result of a viral disease, but it didn’t matter:  I had a whole set of related creatures I could use for populating my fictional world.  I could make some of them domesticated breeds, some wild, some of different sizes or shapes….

I did a lot of research into the myths of horned rabbits.  They actually made it into the book… but while I had done hours of research on them, I think they contributed little more than a paragraph or two to the story.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was the Amarok (which I would, forever after, mistakenly type as Aramok.  My dyslexia strikes again.  I think we eventually got them all corrected to the proper spelling, but I’m not sure).  I read the Wikipedia article and never followed up on my research.  I planned to include it, but only as part of a throwaway scene.  Yet, because it fit in so well with something I needed doing involving a Kitsune character (Kitsune, I had learned, were afraid of dogs and wolves; a giant wolf was the perfect creature to play upon a Kitsune’s worst fear) I wound up featuring the Aramok in an inciting background incident — far more of an appearance than the brief mention of the various horned rabbits I’d spent hours researching.

I think I did just about the right amount of research on some creatures I wound up using, but while they might appear on lists of cryptids, I think they’d be better discussed in the final category I was drawing from for my bestiary:  Creatures from Myth and Legend.

MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURES

Humanity has come up with a lot of mythological creatures in the millennia upon millennia of human history.  Some of these turn out to really exist (though their mythological properties may not be quite what the myths claim), like the Hoan Kiem Turtle of Vietnamese myth.  Others are possibly misinterpretations of other critters, like oarfish being mistaken as sea monsters.  Some are fairly believeable and realistic, like the Poukai, which may be a cultural memory of the extinct Haast’s Eagle.

Many of them, though, are pretty hard to believe.  I mean, suppose you heard about a creature that was a water spirit, greatly dreaded by the locals.  It is described as a giant starfish with a “dog-like face, a crocodile-like head, dark fur, a horse’s tail, flippers, walrus-like tusks, and a duck-like bill.”  A supposed corpse of this creature was measured as “eleven paces long and four paces in breadth.”  Would you believe such a thing might exist?

But that is the Bunyip.  A creature of aboriginal Australian folklore, the Bunyip never appears described in the same way twice… but it inspires fear and terror.  Every account claimed they were a large monster, preferred living near rivers or wetlands, territorial, deadly, and fiercely protective of their young… but their physical appearance changed with every person who spoke of them.

Not much to go on, is it?  But hey — sometimes ambiguity can help you.  Suppose the reason all bunyips are described differently is that they’re shapeshifters?  Suddenly, you’ve got something.  Keep them very deadly, maybe add a story-specific power or two, and hey — you’ve got a creature that can be a deadly danger for your characters.

And in another “good for the story, but I can’t find much there,” I had the haltija.  Known by about a dozen different names (including Vaki, which I used in the book), they are a sort of “guardian spirit” from myths of Finnish origin.  They come in a lot of varieties (distinguished, in the book, as different breeds of vaki), but most are small, playful brownie-like creatures with powers related to the element they are guarding; until you get them mad.  Then… well, it depends.

There are a lot of mythical creatures, however, who simply don’t work in the kind of fantasy story I like to write… and I’m not just talking the hundreds of variations on vampires, zombies, and werewolves out there.  I mean, I was looking for intelligent humanoid creatures of myth, but I couldn’t figure out what I’d do with angry humans who could run fast despite backwards feet (the Abarimon), or headless men like the Blemmyes.  I needed beasts of burden, but a camel with the head of a donkey (the allocamelus) is just boring.  And while I wanted background animals, how the heck would you use a fairy hedgehog?  (Don’t answer that — I think I’ve got an idea.  But it wouldn’t have worked in this book).

I did, however, find a number of creatures I could use… but I didn’t need to do much research on them once I found them (basically, all I had to do was confirm that they were myths and not fiction.  Wait a second, here… um… confirm that Wikipedia hadn’t come up with these myths on its own?  That there was some actual myth behind these myths?  Okay, that works):  Firebreathing chickens (basan), donkey-sized “unicorns” that would work as beasts of burden (abada), venemous crocodile-shark hybrids (wani), and more could add a lot to my world without requiring huge amounts of research (or large amounts of description).

But for some of these creatures, I had to dig deeper.

DEEPER RESEARCH

At a certain point, I figured I had enough critters to fill out a bestiary.  It was time to start the more intensive research.

For major races (substituted for the Elves and Dwarves) I had Kitsune, Wulvers, and Haltija.  To replace the great beasts (Dragons and the like) I had the Amarok and the Bunyip.  And for color and background, I’d decided upon moas (whose role was later diminished), aurochs (whose role was taken by the abadas), abadas, wani, basan, and various horned bunnies I’d bring together under the general term “jackalope.”  And I figured I could include real-life critters like normal chickens, rabbits, cows, pigs, birds, and fish, no matter how cliché these creatures might be.

Time to start writing!  Or not.  I may have already spent several days just reading the Wikipedia articles, by this point, but I hadn’t done any intensive research.  My first stop was to the library… again, or not.  The local public library has a lot of reference material, certainly, but most of what I would need to confirm or get additional details on these critters just wasn’t there.  I had some books with Kitsune myths in my private library, but our collection on mythology focused more on the Greco-Roman tradition than anything else I was looking for, just like the public library.

For most of those lesser critters, I didn’t need to do much research.  Once I confirmed at least one other source (whether it said the same specifics about them as Wikipedia or not) mentioned the amarok, wani, basan, abada, moa, and aurochs I figured I had enough material for them.  Bunyips, well, I glanced around enough to know that no two sources agreed, so there’s nothing “definitive” on the subject; the wikipedia entry would be enough for them, too.

The haltija proved to be a real challenge.  Clearly, they were popular Finnish myths (often associated with Christmas, strangely enough), and I found a number of references to them on the internet, but most were in Finnish (which Google translate isn’t very good with, though the results were sometimes hilarious) and those that weren’t provided very little actual information on what they were.  I did find, somewhere (the link has been broken for a couple years, now; the site went down in the middle of writing the book), a list of what the various breeds of vaki were called.  I had roughly the same information on Wikipedia (it has since been edited out, but it used to be here; you might still be able to find it if you dig into that article’s history far enough), but it was good confirmation.

I copied the list into my notes, thankfully, so at least I had the right names to distinguish them.  The rest of the information on them I needed for my story I had to piece together with, say, a single line of description in one place and a brief paragraph in another.  It was a lot of work, but in the end I put it all together.  And probably used nothing that wasn’t in one of the two Wikipedia articles… (though this was a lesson in saving notes and not just references; I cannot remember the various types of vaki off the top of my head, and I can no longer find the list online, but I still have it in my notes).

Wulvers were another problem.  The only thing I could find on them was a single, short paragraph on Wikipedia.  They were perfect for what I had in mind for my story, though.  In desperation, I checked out Wikipedia’s sources.  I found a reference to a single book — a 1932 book on Shetland Traditional Lore by Jessie Saxby.

A quick trip to bookfinder.com later (bookfinder, by the way, is my favorite tool for finding specific out-of-print titles for purchase.  Not very useful for browsing, but that’s what a used bookstore is for) and I bought the book.  It wasn’t much help — I found that the Wikipedia article was basically a copy of everything that was in the book — but, again, it confirmed that this was not something someone put up on Wikipedia as a joke.  It made it a little more clear that the wulvers were actually just one wulver, singular, in the “traditional lore,” which meant having a whole race of the creatures might be a bit much…

But then, I’ve seen stories where phoenices (phoenixes?  It’s not supposed to even have a plural, so I’m not sure which would be correct) were a relatively common type of magical bird, and the myths usually agree that there was only one.  I went ahead and used the wulvers anyway.

Jackalopes are easy to find material on, and I had  a ton of books (both “myth” and, in the form of manga and anime, “fiction”) on Kitsune.

Now my research was done, and it was time to write.  Well, my research on mythological creatures was done, anyway….

THE END RESULT

Well, you can see my final interpretations of these creatures in the book.

I do plan on sequels.  If I can ever justify taking the time to write it (hint: Buy the book if you want more!) I’ll probably use a few more “rejected” creatures, which will mean more research.  And, to keep all those editors and agents and publishers happy, even though I’m self-publishing, I won’t ever use an Elf or Dwarf or Dragon in these books (at least, none of these by their more recognizeable names and varieties).

That said, my book with the Elves and Dwarves and Dragons has done pretty well, so I think I’ll keep them around in my other works.  Cliché or not, they work.

Weird Things I’ve Had To Research: Underwear?! (Part 1/?)

As a reminder, this is the first part for my Weird Things I’ve Had To Research series.  You can find my series introduction, which will include a (growing) table of contents, here.

INTRODUCTION

When I started my writing career, I figured that the hardest things I’d have to research would be biggies:  The distance between stars (actually, with the right software, that’s pretty easy), ancient methods of creating steel (surprisingly, this (a) hasn’t come up and (b) I actually caught a nice tutorial on early Japanese methods for creating steel on TV just the other day, if I ever do) Eastern Philosophy vs. Western Philosophy, that kind of thing.

Philosophy, it turns out, has never really come up… but it’s a bit surprising what has.

I chose to start this series with “underwear” because, well, it’s funny.  However, this “research project” was the first time I realized that it was the little things, the things I didn’t think about, that could take the most time.

Now, what I mean by underwear, specifically, is that I was researching pre-elastic styles and forms of underwear.  I was writing a scene, in In Treachery Forged, where my characters were stripping down in order to swim across a river.  This was a mixed species, mixed gender group, and I realized I had no idea what they’d have on under their armor — or what they would be exposing to each other.

Now, while I might not know off the top of my head just what you call the various pieces of underwear a knight would wear underneath his steel plate armor, I know that these items are covered in books like The Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons and A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times, both of which were on my shelves.

The problem:  Even though that technology is available in the In Treachery Forged universe, few — if any — of the characters use steel plate armor.  The magic system I employ makes steel plate armor very cheap, but very flawed, so it isn’t very popular.  Just about every character in this scene was wearing something different.  And the type of underwear you wore under your steel plate armor wasn’t necessarily the type you would wear under other types of armor, or under what we would call western-style clothing, or under what might be considered eastern-style clothing.

I’m going to insert a read more tag, here (something I have yet to do in any of my blog entries so far) because the next section contains spoilers, and my version of WordPress doesn’t have a spoiler tag feature.  If you’re reading this through and don’t want spoilers, don’t click the read more option.  (If you don’t have the read more option and still don’t want spoilers, stop reading now)

Continue reading Weird Things I’ve Had To Research: Underwear?! (Part 1/?)

Weird Things I’ve Had To Research (Part 0/?)

When I completed the Self-Publishing Roundtable series, my plan was to go straight into another set of weekly articles just to keep the momentum going.  Unfortunately, because I’ve been so busy with the edits, I had to set the first article of this new series aside, half-written, to go back and fix those.  I’ll be working to finish that article this week before going back to the edits, and hopefully those won’t take too long and I’ll be able to get something else out for the next Sunday.

The topic of this new series (as you might expect from the title):  Research.  In this case, I’m going to a series of anecdotes about my experiences in research.  While I will discuss my research process, to some extent (at least, in as much as there is a process; my research techniques aren’t quite that… uh, formal), my primary goal is to talk about the things I wasn’t expecting to need to research.

Basically, I’m talking about the moments where you go “I want my characters to do simple chore X.  Wait a minute… do I know how they do simple chore X with that level of technology?  Is it even possible back then?  Uh oh….”  And why, sometimes, you go through hours of research, figure out exactly what you need to know, and then don’t use it after all.

Now, writers say “I’m sure I’m on a watch list somewhere for all the weird things I’ve had to research.”  I’m sure I’m on a watch list somewhere for all the weird things I’ve had to research, too, but I’m not going to talk about those things here (heh).

The first article, for example, is going to be about underwear.  No, seriously.  (And not the ‘sexy’ kind, for the most part; I mean the non-elastic kind.  Because you just might need to know what your adventurer is wearing under his armor when he goes for a swim…)

This article will be the index of all the articles in this series, and will be updated every time I add a new entry in the series.  Unlike the last series, this one has no particular set number of articles.  Also, I’ll probably intersperse articles from this series with other series, follow-up articles, and maybe an actual new book release announcement or two.  So stay tuned!

SERIES INDEX:
  1. Pre-Elastic Underwear:  Let’s Go Swimming!  (Or not)
  2. Filling Fantasy Worlds With Strange Myths And Stranger Cryptids
  3. Making Lemons Out of Lemonade
  4. Thoughts on Constructed Languages
  5. Falling Down the Youtube Hole
  6. TBA…