Things Writers Say

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 10:20 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)

"I could just take tomorrow and do clown research."

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Grossm√ľnster translates as "great minster", which is pretty close to saying "big church". "Cathedral" conveys the level of grandeur and sheer size that I want my readers to get, so that's the word I should use.

Except that the Grossm√ľnster was a major site in the Protestant Reformation.

And for all its colloquial usage, a cathedral is technically the seat of a bishop, and therefore Catholic.

"Ex-cathedral" really doesn't flow, and anyway it sounds like the Pope making an infallible statement about architecture.

So, do I get to say "the Grossm√ľnster cathedral", or not?

These are the things that writers fret over....

Fashion Statement

Thursday, February 21st, 2013 06:17 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
There must be a word for that... and one of you probably knows it.

I need a word for a particular type of shoe. This would be a shoe that goes with an afternoon tea frock, worn by a character my alpha reader describes as "looks like Jessica Fletcher, fights like Emma Peel." It absolutely must be a shoe proper to the circumstances (afternoon tea in a private home, on the good china); it need not, and indeed should not, be a shoe subject to the vagaries of High Fashion. Stylish, yes; "fashionable", no.

This word, should you provide it, will be used in the following context: She bent to pull the mask from his face; he made to struggle a bit at that, but her []-clad heel on his sternum convinced him otherwise.

lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
So, I'm sitting down to do a bit of better-word-bracket removal. One of the first brackets to be removed is [Aubuson], which I needed to check was in fact the word I wanted. Since I remembered it from either Allingham or Sayers (or both), one of the search terms was quite naturally "aubuson peter wimsey". Which led to a quote in a Wikipedia article, which made mention of The Wimsey Papers, which I've not read, which led me unfortunately to a dead link, which led me to a search in turn for a still-active copy, which led me to Wimsey-fic, which led me to what do you mean it's been an hour, I've only looked up one word!

Incidentally, for those who are curious, it's "Aubusson", yes that was the type of carpet I wanted, and there are rough but legible scans of The Wimsey Papers here.

This is why I turn the wifi off when I'm writing.


Tuesday, December 27th, 2011 11:41 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I seem to be 0 for 2 on the spy-writing lately. The short story I decided to work on while waiting for the dust to settle from the implosion of my novel-in-progress involves location X and plot device D. Apparently whatever made me think D was readily available in X, I was hallucinating. Relocating the story to where D is common isn't consistent with the characters, and there doesn't seem to be a way to get D into X that's consistent with reality.

The odds of the next project being SF are going up....
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
It is a lovely day outside, in a string of lovely fall days that's expected to last well into next week.

I am blowing off planning to wrap up the current day-job project later today. However, as I am showing no signs of higher ambition than to sit blob-like at the computer anyway (instead of going outside to play hooky like a sensible person), I am researching whether the Hotel Rossli has light fixtures in the ceilings of its rooms. Because yes, it is actually Relevant To The Plot.

Nobody takes pictures of hotel room ceilings, y'know?

404 Findings

Thursday, July 21st, 2011 12:45 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Apropos of nothing (though weirdly relevant to my last post), this has to be one of the best 404 pages ever.

And now, back to figuring out how long it takes to get from Ghazni to Peshawar on horseback....

Research, bah.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 03:11 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I am getting quite fed up with doing research for the current novel. There are all sorts of reasons for this, but far from least among them is that a good two-thirds of the sites I'm hitting are in German. It is not improving my attitude to know that the information I need is probably right there, in abundant quantities, if only I remembered anything from my two years of college Deutsch. Or indeed had learnt it properly in the first place.

I'd be tempted to chuck the whole project and go do something else, except that the next novel currently in the line-up is set in... Russia. And I'm still struggling to carve the Cyrillic alphabet into my neurons, let alone usable vocabulary.

I wanna go back to writing science fiction, where when I need a setting I can just make stuff up.
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
A friend of mine is struggling with getting started on the research for her story, so I thought I would describe a typical research session for my own work. I may regret pulling back the curtain like this; part of good writing is making it sound like you know what you're talking about even when you don't. But here goes:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So I sat down to Google the name of one of my characters. And sure enough, I'm going to have to change it, because I inadvertently named him after a fairly well-known terrorist. (This is why I do a Google-check on names: my brain is far better at storing random bits of data than it is at cataloging and cross-referencing them.)

I know my character is Arabic, but that's a pretty wide field. I start by skimming a couple of articles about the guy with the same name; maybe I'll find a good tip. There's a brief mention of Yemen. Hmm, I've been wondering about Yemen for a while; it frequently turns up when I'm reading about other things, but never more than a brief mention. (Well, prior to about a week ago, anyway. Apparently I'm trendy.) That silence is starting to seem significant. I know nothing about Yemen, so I start with the Wikipedia article about it. Hmm, struggling economy, civil unrest, repressive government -- sounds perfect for my character's backstory. Yemen owns a bunch of islands in the Red Sea... what does a lousy domestic economy and a bunch of islands on a major trade route spell? That's right -- pirates! Excellent! The Hadhrami people, one of the many ethnic sub-groups in Yemen, have a long sea-faring tradition and were known for being traders with India and SE Asia -- which can be a perfectly legitimate business, but can also be a polite way to say pirates! And what's a black-market information broker but a modern-day pirate in a business suit?

So my character is now a Hadhrami from Yemen (and is probably of the opinion that Yemen is a fine place to be from).

Total time-on-task thus far: maybe 3 hours, including writing email, dealing with cats, and all the usual interruptions.

Now comes the tedious part: Finding a big enough list of Hadhrami names that I can pick something I like the sound of. Unfortunately, the usual name sites aren't specific enough for my purposes. Ordinarily I'd look for something like a local phone directory, but this is one case in which primary sources are of no help; I don't read Arabic at all. Hmm, Googling "Yemen" brought up the BBC country profile; I like the BBC, so clickey-clickey. At the bottom of the Beeb page there are links to Yemen news sources, including the English-language Yemen Times. Clickity. Browse, browse... hey, search function! Search on Hadhrami. Read a lot of articles.... Back to the Beeb, and the link for the Yemen Observer. More articles.... Google "Yemen Hadhradi names", more articles.... A lot of interesting stuff about the ethnic/cultural group in general, but very few individual's names. And a real shortage of "ordinary folks" specifically identified as Hadhrami. (I don't know the culture well enough to reliably tell Hadhrami names from other Yemeni names, and I'd rather name my character after someone a little more obscure than the head of the Yemen Socialist Party.)

Finally get a clue and Google "Hadrami Yemen merchants". (Wikipedia aside, "Hadrami" seems to be the most common spelling.) They're a trading people, after all. Along with a lot of the same general articles, get an article that interviews Hadrami restaurant owners in Malaysia and mentions several common family names. From the Yemen Times, oddly enough. (While I don't ordinarily think much of man-on-the-street inserts in news articles, they're just the ticket for name-picking.) And an article mentioning various officials in other countries who are of Hadrami descent. And a couple more Wikipedia entries with names and name lists.

Total additional time: Maybe 2 hours? Lots of cat-playing and misc. web-surfing interspersed.

And that's enough to be going on with. Honestly, it's not all that vital that I get a specifically Hadrami name; plot-wise, it doesn't matter where this character is from (he's not operating on his home turf in the story, and he's not a POV character), and I probably won't even specify that he's Hadrami. All this backstory is just for me. Obviously it would be good to have the name vetted by someone who knows more of the source culture than I do before going to publication (the ultimate goal with this story), but for internal purposes, as long as I get a believably Arabic name, I'm golden.

Some useful URLs:

And then, having done a simple search and replace, I of course discover that the replacement name I've chosen has a very different sound in context of the text (it seemed similar in isolation), and it totally messes up the flow. So back to the research sources (this is why you keep a list of the best sites!) for a second-choice name. Sigh.

On the other hand, it gives me an excuse to request from the library a certain very interesting-sounding book that keeps getting linked from various sites (just in case it has something better). In my world, that's a bonus. So now I'm reading Hadrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean 1750s-1960s, which would otherwise have been a digression from the work I really need to be doing -- but I need to name this character, don't I? So it's not procrastination, it's research!




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