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CHAT: Conlang and Writers

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Saturday, March 13, 1999, 1:54
Mathew Willoughby wrote:

> Sally Caves wrote: > > > There you are, Matthew! I'd forgotten your name. Another fiction > > writer on the list! what is the extent of your language cobbling? > > How extensively do you incorporate it in your fiction? > > > > Sally > > > > > > Hi Sally, > > Well, given that I sometimes go by my first name (Syd) and sometimes > by my middle name (Mathew) I can understand the confusion : ) > > Well, while I was writing my first novel (The Argo) the languages of > three different cultures sort of began to take shape on their own. I > have no formal background in linguistics but I find it a fascinating > field > so I'm trying to learn more about it. > > It all started because many of the main characters in The Argo would > never use English colloquialisms in everyday speech (since most of > them have never even heard of English) so I have them > cussing and using proverbs from their native tongues. In my actual > fiction, the conlangs are pretty much restricted to a few phrases > peppered in the dialogue, names of people and places and technical > terminology.
I know a lot of writers who do this, but who don't take the time toinvent the rest of the language. I sat on a panel at Albacon with Tim Smith, and a fantasy writer whose name I've completely forgotten even though I got her card and everything, and while we talked about conlanging, she sat there and knitted and said "well, you don't invent every article of clothing in your fantasy wardrobe down to the buttons, so why, as a writer, should you have to invent the language?" Well, I'm paraphrasing her pretty freely, but that was the gist of it. I'm curious to get a response from another writer who actually DOES invent the language down to the buttons. I think you have a good answer here.
> When I started teaching myself Latin I began to understand how much > language shapes our world-view and our basic assumptions. In order to > write about characters from cultures completely different form ours, I > found > that developing their langauge helped me to understand (and thus better > express in my narrative) what makes those cultures unique.
Well, I tried to say something along these lines, but she couldn't beconvinced. Fake it; it's the narrative that counts, and that sells the book, she said. I'm interested in the market, not the morphology. Again, a pretty free paraphrase!
> My notes on Alevain are pretty old but, after discovering this list, I > felt it > would be worthwhile to update them and put them in html format. I'll > probably be doing the same with my other conlangs.
I could only manage one! If the Teonim have neighbors, their languagewill have to be pretty superficial. I'm persistent when it comes to sticking with one beloved conlang.
> The Argo wound up being pretty long, so I'm not sure if it will get > published > with appendices for each of my 3 concultures. Sooo, readers may be > directed to my website for complete glossaries and notes. Then again, > the > entire novel may wind up being published on my website anyway.
I have yet to publish a novel. I have one in "circulation," so to speak, butmy writing is so slipstream that agents and editors don't know what to do with it.
> A tutorial in Alevain is at: > > > > Chapter 1 of "The Argo" is online at: > > > > Alevain and its speakers, The Vayeum (AKA, Feii > in Latine) don't make an appearance until the second > part of the novel. There will probably be future novels, > however, that deal primarily with Vay protagonists and > with the Alevain culture.
Thank you, Matthew; I'll go check these out! What and how much haveyou published? I threw away my SFWA ballot as soon as I got it today, so frustrated have I been with the market, my inability to write because of my "day job," my always finding and getting stories accepted at little markets that blow up in your face-- like TERRA INCOGNITA!!!! What the hell is going on with that? Where's my promised publication? What happened to Jan Berend? Did he melt into oblivion? I'll keep the "forthcoming" notice up on my webpage until I hear definitively that he has pulled a Rob Killheffer and gotten himself and his little magazine into more debt than he can bail out. In the meantime, it behoves him to answer the worried queries of his writers!!!
> I was skimming through your pages on Teonaht the day before > last. I've barely scratched the surface yet though. I'm impressed > with the conlang.
Thanks! There's more to come. Most of it is written down onyellowed pieces of paper that I've collected over the years. I have a complete grammar I circulated but which is mostly obsolete now as I've been refining and webbing this effort.
> I visualize it in a sort of surreal modern fantasy > type setting. Am I on track? Is Teonaht featured in much of your > fiction?
You're on one of the right tracks! If I could combine _Dark City_,_Metropolis_, and _The Wizard of Oz_, then I might get something of the flavor of Tsorelai Mundya. There is an artist whose surreal paintings are popular on postcards, and she paints pictures of clown- like people floating or dreaming through colorful, baroque cities. The Teonim are a peculiar people who live in both the future and the past; they have a long history of contact with us throughout the ages, but in a parallel universe; they have their own accounts, for instance, of Alexander's conquests, of Jesus's brothers and sisters, of Hildegard of Bingen's accomplishments, of Pope Joan, of Galileo's secret contacts, of Renee Descartes' automata, of Hitler's atrocities, and so forth. But they also have memories of a future that doesn't involve us. Contact with them can be confusing. I really like steam-punk by the way. But this has developed over decades, Matthew: when I started out with the Teonim, they were cat people. Then they became humans who worshipped cats, and who had cat-like features. I reduced these, but kept the twenty-four fingers and toes, the changeable eye color, etc. Otherwise, they had a fairly conventional fantasy world peopled with strange animals, delicate architecture, windbells, spirits and clairvoyence... the usual fantasy stuff. Lots of medieval situations. They only started getting cynical and modern the more I moved professionally away from learned articles about Old English and towards film studies and science fiction. (I'm an associate professor of English living under another name in a city a few of you, who've become my friends, know).The fiction that I've published to date has all been contemporary fantasy, magic realism, or science fiction, and hasn't involved the Teonim. But I've written scores of unpublished stories about Teonaht type things, but have never attempted to treat them seriously until now. I'm involved in a book that I've gotten about a fourth of the way through in which I tell the story of an ordinary woman's contact with them. I have a completed novel that I wrote (ugh!!!) for Pocket Books Star Trek, I blush to say, that I want to de-Trek and turn, eventually, into a story about the Teonaht. But you know. I'm in charge of the graduation ceremony this year and have done nothing in the way of artistry or even much learning. Except the IAFA conference. Speaking of which, maybe you'd like to take my Lunatic Survey!
> P.S. I LOVE the winged cat logo (so does Emmy, my feline > companion, who has come to help humanity or to control it... > oh no, sorry, that's the Taelons 8-)
That's an old one! Rampant Volant Cat on a Field of Gules. Couldn't get the gules. Sally Caves