Friday, January 14, 2011

Historical Fiction Names

Way back when, I complained about how fantasy (and sci-fi) writers have it easy--they can usually just make up a name. Of course, fantasy folks are the type of people who are making up whole worlds, which I stink at, so it's not really like I want to BE a fantasy writer (sci-fi, maybe), but I do envy their ability to go with whatever name suits them (never mind I'd be no good at coming up with good names anyway). And of course, people who write in modern times can use whatever normal name they want, or abnormal if they want.

Not historical fiction people, who don't even have a cool way of saying what they write in a short manner (I vote his-fic or hi-five). If they're like me, and I think most are, they're chained to what names were used in their time period, and if they're especially picky, what nations were using said names.

Thank goodness for Names Through the Ages by Teresa Norman. With this tool, I've been able to put the Historical Accuracy Demons to rest. I don't have to find it another book from the same time period (good luck with THAT) or worry that it might be wrong even if I think it sounds okay. This book has several lists of names--English, French, Welsh, and at least one I'm forgetting--in several different time periods. The lists are prefaced with a brief explanation about what was going on in that country at that time, including why names were changing, if they were.

I love this book (here's an Amazon link), because it doesn't look as suspicious as some of the things that come up online when you search for stuff like that. It also has alternate spellings of the name, if you have fantasy leanings and kind of want the name to look, well, not normal. Surprisingly, I don't OWN that book, mostly because I'm cheap. I do happen to recommend it everywhere, though, so that ought to make up for it! I usually double-check meaning on because sometimes they disagree, and babynames will tell me the origin of the name, which is nice. (When you get to the 13th century, the Saxon and Norman names have all muddled together, and the list for that century in England doesn't specify which is which). Actually, when trying to be very specific about origin, I try punching in a name to as many search engines as I can, just to be sure. As in the complaining post I linked to, sometimes they'll all disagree and that's annoying...

Now, what to do when you've run OUT of names is something I haven't encountered, but have felt like I have. All of the male names I LIKE from my list in history are pretty much already used, so I really do express great joy when I find out that I need a new female name. There are already duplicates from my (bad) fantasy and my (better) hi-five, and I don't want even MORE duplicates between the books in what is becoming my Sherwood series.

Speaking of Sherwood, there's a whole 'nother monster one must deal with when writing Robin Hood retellings...I should compose some thoughts about that!


P.S. I'm not so sure about how this Operation: You thing is going to work out...I might end up with not enough material! I'll keep trying, though. I'm beginning to construct a page on historical fiction (and Robin Hood) resources.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Operation: You

So, I've mentioned already to have been reading about how to write a good blog on Rachelle Gardner's blog. She actually had a guest blogger in for some of it, though a lot of the advice actually comes from reading her follower's comments on a post where she asked: "what makes you dislike a blog?" and "what makes you like a blog?"

Main negative aspects where:
-Length (uh-oh)
-Formatting (white text on black, too much "busyness" in sidebars)
-Infrequency in posting
-Big chunks of unedited writing (oh dear...)
-And, in general, blogs not being helpful.

People seem to like funny, helpful, and frequent bloggers with unique voices (surprise, surprise--that's the kind of blog I like, too!).

This matches up perfectly with the more specific advice about being there to serve you readers--not the other way around. This makes sense.

Of course, this is probably really boring to you, and self-centered, since mainly I'm talking out loud about how I could possibly make this blog better. That's a bit of a paradox, don't you think?

Since I don't consider myself very funny (it's my characters who tend to be that), I'm going to have to focus on being helpful if I want to improve this blog. I think I already have a tendency towards encouragement (I think writers are one of the most encouragement-needy groups on the planet), which I shall try to keep up.

Then, I think I should drag myself a little bit back to what I thought I was going to do when I started this blog. Not just indulging in Robin Hoodness, but mainly pointing to resources I've found helpful considering the genre I'm in (historical fiction as broad, 12-13th century as narrower, and Robin Hood retellings as even more so!). It's not a normal one, but surely there are others out there that can benefit from the useful things I've found!

Also, there is this consistency thing. Consistency, consistency. I can make all sorts of promises now, because my college classes haven't started yet. When they do, however...well, I'm going to aim for at least 3 posts a week. 5 if I'm super-inspired or being lazy with schoolwork. (Gee, me?)

So, I haven't hit 400 yet, so I'd better wrap up if I want to begin practicing in anti-long-winded-ness.

Also, if any of you have suggestions, feel free to pop in! I really am trying to improve my blogging. If I'm going to do this, I might as well do it well, don't you think?


Saturday, January 8, 2011


I don't typically like blogs that post videos over and over again, so I'll try not to make a habit of this. But, as it is, every time I listen to this song, I feel renewed. Our God is an awesome God--let's sing to him!

Sing, sing, sing by Chris Tomlin

Friday, January 7, 2011

Strong and Courageous

I know I've brought this up several times. It always comes back to this verse:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

-Joshua 1:9, NKJV
This has become one of the verses that is always ringing in my head these days, the other being: "Today is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

It's this one, though that leaves me convicted and more guilty. Most of the time, I am not strong and courageous (or of good courage). Oftentimes, when I put my opinion forward in social interaction of some kind, my heart starts pounding. I don't know why. Probably I just care too much what other people think of me.

Then, when I feel overwhelmed in school, do I tackle it head on? Sometimes, but usually I waste some time first. I can't remember which blog I mentioned this in ages ago, but I remember sarcastically saying: yeah, like that helps! I have an essay due this Sunday that I feel entirely NOT ready to write. So, last night, I spent over an hour on the computer, when all I really could justify was about 10 minutes. I avoid violin practice when I don't feel ready for a lesson, and become less ready by doing so. When I have something pressing, sometimes I just sit down with the schoolwork that least needs to be done just to get away from it. I take breaks. I hide.

This all seems so pathetic when I look at the characters I admire, and ironically the characters I create. Last night, I read a little bit of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I ran into this passage:
[Reepicheep] was a good [chess] player, and when he remembered what he was doing he usually won. But every now and then Lucy won because the Mouse did something quite ridiculous like sending a knight into the danger of a queen and castle combined. This happened because he had momentarily forgotten it was a game of chess and was thinking of a real battle and making the knight do what he would certainly have done in its place.

-The Storm and What Came of It
I thought this pretty much summed up Reep. I used to love him, and then I went through a period where I really disliked him, because he displayed some of the same traits, funnily enough, as Robin Hood. Throughout Dawn Treader, he speaks of adventure, and honor, and always wants to DO something glorious. He's fearless, which in general makes him a touch arrogant too. But he's bold and courageous. In fact, the whole Dawn Treader crew is. They got out where no one has (and come back) and they investigate every island they come to. They know there's a possibility of falling off of the end of the world, and they go anyway. In the chapter I quoted above, they decide to go on instead of back, even though they're running low on stores. It's remarkable. I've always loved this book: maybe that's part of the reason why.

Then of course there's Robin Hood, who has arrogance issues too, admittedly, but often goes adventure-seeking just because he wants to, and walks right into the arms of the enemy more than once. Granted, he always has help that pulls him out. Except. He dies at the end. In helping the poor and oppressed and thwarting the people that want to stop him, he makes enemies, and he dies for it.

And it wouldn't be fair not to mention the Doctor. Granted, HE is unquestionably brilliant and has a few nifty tools now and again to help in his fight against evil. But you know what? He doesn't HAVE to do anything that he does. He has a time-travel ship, for heavens sake. Most of the time, he could just hop into it and leave. He could, but he doesn't. He always chooses to fight when most people wouldn't. It doesn't always work out like he would want, either. He loses people, and its devastating. I think Rose sums it up best:
It was a better life. And I don't mean all the traveling, seeing aliens and spaceships and things, that don't matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know, he showed you too. You don't just give up. You don't just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no! You have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away!

-Doctor Who, "The Parting of the Ways"
Even this secular, atheist show KNOWS there's something honorable in courage. This post is already lengthy, so I won't indulge in describing my own characters too long. I'll just mention the most recent one I've written about: Gervais.

In Chapter 1, he's returning from several MONTHS spent on his own, searching for information about his past (to describe it in the most dry way possible). In this chapter, he finds that the family he loves has been kicked out of their home, and he has no idea if they're dead or alive. So, he asks multiple people questions (something I'd HATE to do), evades capture, goes and asks MORE questions the next day, has plans to talk to feared and hated soldiers, goes on little food in the dead of winter--and this is only the beginning. Everything is going to get much, much harder. And mostly, Gervais is going to be able to keep going, even when he has no hope left. That's why I like him.

So, this has turned into a long post where I describe characters I admire. If only I could be like them. I'm sure many of us have that longing. I imagine that's a lot of why we read books and watch movies and TV shows. There's something we admire about the characters. I mean, if you're going to KEEP reading and KEEP watching, over and over, it's not just the plot. The plot's a one-time deal. The meaning and the characters are what keep you coming.

I am commanded to be strong and courageous. I'm folding underneath the first week back at school, and my college classes haven't started yet. Mom says the only way I'm going to be able to do this semester is if I don't ever stop. I can't get overwhelmed and freeze. If I do, I'm dead (figuratively). Lord, help me be strong and of good courage! I can't do this without you.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

I really don't like synopses

Especially the way they're pluralized. Synopses? Ick. Anyway, I've been saying for awhile now that I really ought to have a synopsis of Gervais's story, currently titled Worthless. Here is my first attempt, which I will probably trash. The problem I'm having is trying to tell enough without giving it all awhile, and also finding a way to weave my themes into the whole thing, instead of just popping up randomly at the end.

Anyhow, though, it's about time you were told at least a rough explanation of what I'm up to...

Gervais returns to Nottingham from a fruitless search to find his home devastated and his adopted family hiding in the woods. When his friend and adopted brother, Edwin, is captured, he promises Edwin’s sister that he will find and rescue him if it is at all possible. The hunt gets off to a poor start when a mysterious and violent girl insists on helping him, Edwin’s sister insists on coming along, and a Jewish woman gets tangled up in their affairs.

But that is only the beginning. Finding their way across a terrified England, derived of her churches, in the dead of winter is both treacherous and sometimes deadly. It becomes evident that they are being followed, and that whoever has Edwin sees the whole chase as a game. Can Gervais convince a despairing girl of her worth and a searching woman of Christ’s love when he is beginning to doubt it himself? Or will he sink and step down when what he loves best is taken away from him?


Work in progress. 2,445 words and counting!


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Have an Audience

Why do writers write?

We can say what we like: for God, for enjoyment, to get better, for myself...and also have the dreams: publishing, money, fans, contests, acknowledgment...

But what do we really want? We want to be read. We want someone to read our words, and like them. We may not always admit to our dreams of the lines of fans and publishing (I know I didn't), but those dreams actually stem from something very simple: a longing for an audience.

My friends and people who have read every post in this blog are probably well aware of my struggle over the last year, especially expressed in the posts Soli Deo Gloria and 115.

I realized yesterday specfically that I already have an audience. I've had flashes of this thought before, but I hadn't really pondered it until yesterday. Forest of Lies has been on the contest showcase page for well over a year: I still get PMs from people who read it. They're often new to the forum and have just figured out that Nairam is the person with a claim to that lopsided but heartfelt book. Every time I found out some other person has read my book, I get a little jump in my stomach. It's frightening. It's exhilerating. I'm not sure how wide my swath is right now, and for humility's sake I'll try not to think about that too much. I would guess around 50, though. That's mindboggling to me.

Last night, I posted the first 8 pages of my newest work, because another thing about writers is that they are very insecure and self-berating. I wanted to make sure I was on a the right track. This morning, that rough draft has been downloaded 9 times, and two people commented almost instantly last night.

I don't say this to brag, exactly. I'm mentioning it because it made me realize, that whatever happens in the world of contests and publishing and agents, God has given me an audience already. Even I have no idea how many people have read my work, how many people may have been touched. When I made the boast all those months ago that all I wanted was to touch one person's life, I rapidly discovered something: I can never know. I don't know if I've changed someone's life. Maybe the only life that will truly change through it all is mine. But who knows--maybe I've encouraged one person in some element of their life. I don't know, and it's likely we'll never meet.

And that's okay.

Last night, I realized something. My God is awesome. And His plan is way better than mine.

Imagine that.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Howard Pyle & Chapter 1

I received Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire for Christmas, and I have been reading snatches of it at night before I go to bed (along with Lewis's Dawn Treader). Last night I finished out the prologue, which has a Little John-Robin Hood scene eerily similar to the 1938 Warner Bros. rendition. I hadn't remember this, but it was pretty funny to read. As an example:

"My head hums like a swarm of bees." - 1938

"By this and by that, my head hummeth like a hive of bees on a hot June day." - Howard Pyle

Also, Pyle's describes Little John as "whistling" at one point, which as all Robin Hood fans should know, he does so in 1938. I must say, though: Pyle's Little John has a bigger temper!

And now, a sneak peak into Gervais's book...I think this excerpt is all before I started resorting to "to be" verbs, but maybe not. Anyhow, it's rough so try to ignore them if you're OYAN born and bred.
The man spat the word between tangled gray whiskers, careful not to make eye contact with me. Instead, he looked at something just beyond my head.
I licked my lips, shielding my face against the setting sun with one hand. “Locksley,” I said again.
His gaze withdrew even further, eyes darting.
“Look, you’re going that direction, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes...” He rubbed the reins in his hand. “Got any money?”
“No,” I lied. Not for wagon rides anyway.
“Then forget it. I wouldn’t go within a mile of that place.” He tugged his hood closer about his ears and snapped his old mare. She lurched off, the empty wagon clattering over the frozen road.
I watched him go, anger a welcome warmth in the coming darkness. The chill wind snagged again at my hood, blowing it off. I yanked it back over my hair and hunched my shoulders.
I’ve gotten this far. I can make it the rest of the way.
I felt my way forward, more used to the slippery potholes and treacherous ruts than any person had a right to be. A dark shadow crept across my down-turned vision, and I looked up.
A church with a small bell tower glared at me across its shriveled lawn, as if it wanted to blame me for the boards nailed across the door.
I found myself fancying what kind of animals would have burrowed in there somehow, seeking warmth from the cruel winter winds. I stopped, wondering if I could somehow break in. I could reach Locksley tomorrow easily enough, and wouldn’t have to worry about coming after dark and having half a dozen arrows pointed my way.
“How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know, several months. I’ll be back before it gets too cold.”

The conversation echoed in my mind. Who knew it could get so cold in November? I forced my feet forward again, giving one last glance to the silent bell tower.
England was so quiet without her bells.

Monday, January 3, 2011


I think I got a great vacation just when I needed it this year. I haven't felt as pumped or confident about school and life as I do right now. Probably it's a bit unreasonable, but I'm sure I'll steady out when the college classes hit me again. Maybe I should try not to, though. We're supposed to be "bold and courageous." Most of the time I don't feel bold and courageous. I write about people with determination and courage, and I bet part of me writing about them is wishing I could be more like that, and wishing that my life could mean as much as theirs does. The fact is, though, that it does. Mine may be in the "boring" century of the 21st, but there's still things that need to be done, and God has a plan for my life.

So that's rambling a bit! And now a bit more.

I've written a couple of pages in Gervais's story, and need to get a synopsis pulled together so I can explain what the story's about shortly and effectively. I guess that's something I need to get done pretty soon, because I keep saying that! It's gone all right so far. I'm just praying that this story goes where it's supposed to, or if I'm supposed to write something else, it shows itself with clarity and drive.

In a less writerly update, I found out a couple of days ago that the junior college classes don't start until the 19th. This made me very happy, to say the least. I'm taking Chemistry and Italian II out there, and I need to finish Biology first. It would also be good if I got going a little faster on my British history. I'm going to try to hit the ground running, and then I pretty much need to stay running. My personality, though, is to stop dead when I get overwhelmed. This of course doesn't help. I'm praying that I can push through the overwhelmed moments and keep going in spite of them. Frankly I think that's the only way I'll survive this semester. Next year's going to be a breeze.

Now more writerly, and definitely something I think historical fiction writers can identify with. I have finally gotten my hands on a historically accurate dress pattern. I'm VERY excited, though the direction are a little confusing, what with being French AND English. All the information is there, but it's as little hard to get through. I'm not really a seamstress, and will probably enlist the help of my Granny in June (since that's the only time I'll be able to get away from here). I got the pattern from this place. It's this one, the biggest picture of the four, which is the 1150 noblewoman. Verrrry exciting.

Also, planning for the 2011 OYAN Summer Workshop has already begun with schemes with boarders, mostly of Doctor Who nature. I just hope I have a book. I think I'll be leading a critique group, and it'll look pretty bad if I don't have any new material! Dragging Forest of Lies in again would feel pretty silly.

So, there's some random snippets. I plan on sitting down and making some goals for this year/this semester sometime today, and I might share them tomorrow if that's not too cliche for blogs right now! We'll see.

Today is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

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