Monday Muse: The Joys of Vernacular

This is about worldbuilding. It’s not a comment on language or the ever-evolving nature of slang, though I could absolutely write about that. And maybe I will. Because that’s a fun subject, and I could talk about how the shifting expectations of readers in particular have caused language to change. But I don’t want to.

Today, I want to complain about trash collection centers.

Oh, yeah. That’s what we’re talking about today. Trash collection centers.

In the world of Talentless, the Mages have the ability to transfigure (dropping the Harry Potter reference in because it’s 20 today!) objects, so that’s what they do with their trash. As soon as things are worn, broken, less-than-new, the Mages send the object in question to one of their transfiguration centers (I think their power is… uh… Amethyst) in order to have it changed into something else. It’s at once really wasteful and environmentally friendly since a lot of things aren’t exactly new but they’re also invited to get rid of anything that isn’t absolutely pristine.

What matters here is… what do we call these places? Transfiguration Centers? Sure. But not just trash gets transfigured. A lot of things do, and these are specifically places where things that have been thrown out are changed into other things. Trash Transfiguration Centers. Like… Recycling Centers. But in Utterra, where they have magic, there would probably be different nomenclature. This invites a few questions:

  1. What is the official name for the Amethyst power? Transfiguration? Transmutation? Transmogrification (which, for those of you familiar with Hedy’s story, is what the process in The Lost City is called)? An official government building is going to have something official. The Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, etc. Knowing what the official power is called will help us form an official name.
  2. What is the informal nickname by which the citizenry knows the building? No one I know uses the formal name for anything government-related. We say DMV and USPS. The White House wasn’t called that until the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, who felt Executive Mansion was too formal for an office that was meant to represent the people. Even if the formal name is Refuse Collection and Transfiguration Centers, what would the people call it? The Mages wouldn’t like the word trash. They’re not throwing things away so something like Waste Management wouldn’t work. Trans Centers… well, even if it worked in-world, it has certain implications in our world, so something like that is out.

Basically, coming up with nomenclature is a matter of understanding your world and what the people within it think of themselves. We might just shorten Refuse Collection and Transfiguration Centers into R-CAT Centers, or even RCT Centers. Or we’d say something like Recycling Centers because that’s basically what we have now, without the magical aspect. R-CAT also gives me flashbacks to school testing… and not good ones. Furthermore, RCAT or RCT implies a society that is matter-of-fact about the way they translate formal nomenclature to informal; it even has mild science-fiction implications. The Mages of Utterra name their magics and center their entire identity around color. People with law enforcement abilities are Blues (it used to be White, but… it got a bit too on-the-nose calling the largely repressive presence of law enforcement the Whites. Yes, Blue is just as obvious, but whatever), animal husbandry is Brown, Red is healing, etc. The less common magics get jewel-tone names like Amethyst and Sapphire. So this is a society that isn’t going to just use initials even if they’re not going to always say Refuse Collection and Transfiguration Centers. “Send it off to the Amethysts,” might be a phrase they would say. Or maybe they call them Reconstruction Centers, which can be shortened to Reconstruction, as in, “Take it down to Reconstruction.”

Now. This might be what the Mages themselves call their R-CAT Centers (which is officially what I will call them in my head), but what about the people across the Wall? The Talentless. The people who see the Mages throwing away things that would be considered a treasure among their people. A people who have to patch and reuse old items until they literally fall apart, at which point they’re cobbled together into something new. Is Reconstruction the right term for them, or would they have something reflecting their more… tenuous relationship with the Mages of Utterra? A suggested Trash-mutation when we were talking about this, and I think that sounded like what Emmett might call them. So maybe the Talentless refer to them as Trash-mutation centers, said somewhat ironically because the Talentless wouldn’t consider pretty much anything in an R-CAT center trash. As far as they’re concerned, most everything the Talentless throw away just needs a spit shine. So maybe they call the Amethysts the Shiners. Nothing too fancy because these aren’t a people with access to higher education (or, in the case of most of them, a basic education), but definitely full of the disdain that the average citizen of the Encampment has for the way the Mages run their life.

What does all of this mean? It means I used this blog to figure out what to call R-CAT centers. But, on the larger scale, it’s an example of how good worldbuilding works. You can’t just pick a name and go with it. Things have to make sense within the context of the world you’ve created. Just because we’d call the DMV the DMV doesn’t mean the Mages would. (They’d probably call them Transport.) And names are powerful. They reflect not only what something is but the way people think about language, naming, and the relationship they have with something. R-CAT centers represent an everyday reality to the Mages. It makes sense to them to send something even slightly damaged off to Reconstruction. It’s no big deal to them to acquire a new anything because of their magic. To the Talentless, however, who might have been using the same pair of child’s shoes for forty years, it’s evidence of the wastefulness, conspicuous consumption, and disregard of the people of Utterra. And naming needs to reflect that.

That’s it for me today! I’ll be back on Friday with… um… OK, no. It won’t be Bleak House. I needed to take a break from that. But it’ll be something.



Shakespeare Saturday: Food!

Hey, y’all! Sorry this is a bit late. I went searching for a way to link to this podcast, and then I ended up reading a bunch of articles, and it all became a huge mess. At least as far as getting this post up on time is concerned.

It’s a bit of a cliche, but I definitely lose myself in online research. If I find something I’m interested in, I’ll keep clicking links until I realize I’ve been sitting there for six hours, reading nonstop. It’ll be a miracle if I don’t end up needing reading glasses in the next few years. It’d be better if I didn’t have a face that looks funny in glasses, but… meh. If I need them to read, I need them.

Anyway. I have a fascination with historical food. I can’t sew, it’s too hot to wear armor (I plan on doing an experiment to see if I can steam vegetables inside a suit of armor), my artwork looks like a kindergartener’s macaroni piece (and, let’s face it, those are always awful to anyone who isn’t that kid’s parent), and while I think I’d make a pretty decent carpenter or blacksmith… I don’t have the money for those. So I play around with food. I have to feed myself anyway, right? And historical food is fun. (My family has started buying me historical cookbooks. I have several Medieval/Renaissance from different areas, Ancient Rome, Colonial America, Regency and Victorian England, Moorish, etc.)

I also really love the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast presented by the Folger Shakespeare Library, so when I heard them talking about Shakespeare’s food, I knew I had to share it with you guys! Because… well… obviously!

So, check it out here and enjoy! Also, if you’re a podcast and/or a Shakespeare person like me, you should see about becoming a regular listener!

Also also, there’s a chance I’ll be stowing away on my family’s trip up to D.C. in August (why August? Well, mom’s a teacher, it’s summer, and D.C. in August isn’t any worse than FL in August), and if I do manage to sneak in, I’m going to make sure to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library in person (and, you know, the American History Museum). I’m tempted to pull a From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and just live inside the museum for a while.

OK… maybe I shouldn’t have announced that ahead of time.



Boozy Books: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Happy Friday, my nerd cactus friends! Today’s book pairing is for a book which I technically haven’t finished yet, but with less than 100 pages left I thought, “ah, to hell with it”. I may not be done reading Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, but I’m decidedly in love with her writing as well as her main character. And the best part is that this is not the kind of book I generally pick up, so I was pleasantly surprised to be hooked within the first few pages. 

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk centers on the sassiest old broad I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (so to speak) as she walks her way through New York City on New Year’s Eve 1984. Lillian Boxfish is an 84 – actually 85 – year old firecracker with a penchant for flamboyant fashion and a resume that includes poet as well as the highest paid advertising woman in the 1930s. The book isn’t particularly plot heavy as it leaps between the present amd Lillian’s recollections of her life. The result is the portrait of a woman looking back at her triumphs and regrets, built by the years of hard work and determination that set her apart from rivals, friends, and lovers. Her way of thinking and her ability to express herself make her incredibly charming and loveable despite hints of cynicism and loneliness. She is a character so well developed you’d think she was real…

In a way, I guess, Lillian Boxfish is real. Her story is based very loosely on the life of Margaret Fishback who, herself, was the highest paid ad woman in the 30s. But as per the author’s note, there is very little of her life reflected in the pages of the novel. It merely provided the inspiration.

Anyway, let’s get to drinking, shall we? Lillian Boxfish lived through the prohibition and later became an alcoholic, but as the old, reflective woman we see srolling through NY she is selective and restrictive about her alcohol intake. We first see her drink a Negroni and I’m all about it because – to the best of my knowledge – we’ve not done any pairings with Negronis. So go on and make yourself a Negroni, readers! All you need is some Campari, sweet vermouth, gin, and an orange twist for garnish. Delicious!

Happy reading!


Monday Muse: Apparently, Today is Tuesday

I can’t really say I didn’t know that. Being an avid player of the Twitter hashtag games, I’m always aware what day it is. (OK, how sad is it that I use writing games to keep track of the days of the week? I need hobbies.) But I wasn’t prepared to write a post yesterday and then I realized it wasn’t my turn anyway, and I set aside the blog with a sigh of relief and turned to Lucky. Since he’s talking to me again.

It’s a huge relief that he has decided to grace me with his presence. He was being a big butt and refusing to acknowledge me for a while. I think he was upset I wrote a bit of a breakdown into the outline (he doesn’t like to admit he’s anything but the Sass King). Then I reminded him of what happens after the breakdown, and he was even more upset because he goes into a bad ass moment without being at all prepared.

Why are all of my male characters so obsessed with having their appearance be exact? Lucky and Zeke would never stop talking fashion, and even Abraham likes to keep his mustache nice and proper. Meanwhile, my girls are like, “Who the fuck cares? I’ve got shit to do!” Except Mia. She uses appearance as a weapon. Then again, so does Zeke. Lucky is just vain.

Anyway. I guess there really isn’t a point to this. I’m good at not having a point, aren’t I? I just wanted to tell you that we hadn’t forgotten you, and I’m happy to have my character back. He’s happy with me again. I’ve promised him that the badass moment I just mentioned would be ridiculously badass. And that he is perfectly capable of changing his appearance without taking someone else’s face.

He forgets that sometimes. We’re still early in the story.

Hope the writing goes apace for everyone! Or, if not writing, whatever endeavor you have chosen to pursue!


Shakespeare Saturday: Julius Caesar has ALWAYS been Political 

Hello, friends! Welcome to Shakespeare Saturday. I actually had two pretty fun articles stashed for today, but current news required our attention. Quickly! To the nerd mobile!

By now, you’re probably aware of the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the park production of Julius Caesar. You may also have heard that both Delta and Bank of America have withdrawn funding of the company as a direct result of this particular interpretation (which features a Caesar with an uncanny resemblance to a certain Cheeto-colored blowhard). 

“Oh, the horror!” Said a bunch of people who don’t remotely understand the play, the message, or the appeal of Shakespeare. Yeah, the main character calls up a comparison to Drumpf. So? Let us not forget that in 2012 the Guthrie staged a production of Julius Caesar featuring a Caesar modeled after Barack Obama. There was no loss of corporate sponsorship there. Where was the uproar?

Listen, the choice makes perfect sense given the nature of the play, the turbulent divide the country is currently experiencing, and the completely relevant themes that make Shakespeare’s work feel new despite it’s advanced age. The Public’s choice to modernize the look and feel of the play only serves to highlight issues – once faced by Rome – that are now being reincarnated in our own democracy.

I personally don’t see the choice as being “in bad taste”. One might argue that it is, in fact, a bit on the nose. But it is an effective way of honoring that old adage… Art happens when you hold up a mirror for the world to see its flaws. And what better way to know you’ve succeeded than to see people get irrationally defensive.

Thanks for tuning in to my little rant. I’ll see you all on Monday with, perhaps, more on this topic. Or maybe something completely different.



Boozy Books: Dickens Has Eaten My Soul

Help me.

Seriously. Please help me.

It’s been two weeks and I’m only on page 200 of Bleak House. I read every day for at least an hour (give or take), but I’m only on page 200. Of 5 million. Charles Dickens just isn’t a fast read. In fact, I’d say he’s the slowest read I’ve ever had… in the world of fiction. (Hobbes Leviathan, that aptly named megalith, is the slowest read I’ve ever had ever, though that might have been because I was reading it for class and had to write a paper on its specific impact on the American Government–hint: we’re seeing it now.) At first, I had to get over the fact that it’s written in present tense, which I do not like. Then I breezed through the Esther bits because I love her. And then back to the present tense omniscient.

It’s slow. Also, there’s so much bloat, at least to the eye of a modern reader. Even the eye of a reader used to reading the classics. Obviously, this is because Dickens was paid by the word (or was it page… word, right?) and man wanted to get paid. But it does mean occasionally delving into a character or a little moment that really has no bearing whatsoever on the story. Which is fine because that’s just part of the Dickens experience, but it does mean I’m only 200 pages in.

And I’m not even reading the side book I picked up. (I’m usually reading at least two books at once, for the record. Something heavier like Dickens and something lighter, usually fantasy.) I have devoted my entire attention to Dickens. OK… and research. Lots of research. And my daily perusal of The New York Times.

I read a lot. But I don’t have anything to pair for you…

Well. I guess I can recommend gin. I’m researching the 1920s right now, so… gin. But maybe not from the bathtub, guys. That shit killed people. Actually, in some cases, local governments purposely poisoned people in an attempt to show how bad alcohol is. But that’s not what my story is about.

Or, if you’d like, I’m also delving into Shakespeare again for Horatio, so you can break out the ale or the small beer. Whichever.

Just pray for me. I may never finish this book…


Wait. No. Moby Dick. It was Moby Dick that was the slowest. So slow, I threw it at the wall after fifty pages and Sparknotes it instead.

Monday Muse: My Weirdness

I have a weird brain.

OK, I think most of us do. After all, our brains are entirely unique to us as individuals; no one else is the same, so there can’t really be a brain that isn’t weird. We can be weird in the same way and call it ‘normal’, but it’s just a collection of weird we’ve decided is the usual sort of weird, and is therefore the norm. Or none of that made sense and I have just proven to you how ridiculous I really am.

I have a tendency to overthink things. Introspection isn’t simply my middle name, it’s the language of my creation. I want to know why things are. But only to a certain extent. Which is weird, I guess. I genuinely want an answer. It’s not the pondering I like; it’s the chance to come to a conclusion that I find satisfactory. Conclusions around which I can build my identity. I am very careful about coming to conclusions because I know that changing them means a rebuilding of myself. A restructuring of my world. That being said, new facts are new facts; I can’t ignore them just because they aren’t what I want them to be.

It is with this in mind that I dug into my… just not being into Station Eleven, the book A paired on Friday and which she lent to me some time ago because she really enjoyed it and we, in general, have very similar tastes. I have tried several times to read it because there have definitely been times a book was hard for me to get into that I ended up adoring when I finally finished it. (Same with television. As I write this, I’m wearing a Bob’s Burgers shirt. It took me four tries to get into the show, and I am now one of its most fervent disciples.) But… I can’t get into this one. And, being the person I am, I wanted to know why.

See… thing is, on the surface, it seems like the perfect book for me. A wandering theater troupe maintaining cultural identity following a cataclysm through, in essence, Shakespeare? Many storylines all coming together? It seemed like it would be a quick read for me; the kind of thing I pick up and then finish a day later having not slept or remembered to shower. And I wanted to like it. I wanted to be able to talk to A about it and use its structure as an example of how we wanted to structure Talentless.

But I couldn’t.

And I really couldn’t figure out why. Until it hit me:

With only a few exceptions, I do not like modern literary fiction. On the whole, in the main, by and large, and with the aforementioned few exceptions, I have never finished a literary novel that wasn’t written prior to the 1950s. And even then, the only exceptions are F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway (himself a HUGE outlier for reasons I’ll discuss later). And those I have finished and enjoyed have an element of fantasy in them or are more accurately called historical fiction.

Why is this? I don’t know. I should, on paper, like them. I just went on (check out Saturday’s post) about the rhythm I like in stories. I’m not one for the sparse, staccato, fast-paced style that propels people forward without giving them a chance to settle into a scene and breathe. For the most part, I do not like thrillers or “action-packed” stories (you know the kind I mean). I like beautiful language. I like when it’s obvious the writer chose every single word with care, or if they didn’t, wrote in a way that makes it clear they are simply a person of great erudition. If a writer can make me turn to a dictionary even once, they automatically go on my list of writers I want to read again. (This is why Hemingway is such an outlier for me.)

But I do not like modern literary fiction. Including literary genre fiction (which sounds like it’s an oxymoron, but it isn’t– Station Eleven is, technically, sci-fi, but it belongs in the fiction section, not the SFF, and the way it’s written places it firmly in the literary category). And the only reason I could come up with was… I didn’t like the way it is written. (Also, I don’t really like science-fiction, either. I know… I’m so picky.) Because, while I’ve never been interested in the kind of literary fiction that’s about small down families with dark secrets (and its ilk), Station Eleven is not that. So…


I’m reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House right now. Arguably, it’s denser. It’s got less… genre in it than Station Eleven. It’s got loving descriptions of houses and London and people, which is normally the stuff I skip (I’m a dialogue girl at heart). But I forgive it, and I even enjoy it. In Station Eleven, my eye skipped over it. If I had to read about flowers or whatever one more time, I was going to throw the book at the wall (which, since it’s not my book, I didn’t have the luxury of doing). Somehow, to me, Dickens (even though he was literally writing as many words as possible so he would get paid more) was clearer, more direct, and more evocative than anything in Station Eleven. Where the descriptions in Bleak House seemed necessary, they felt more like a chance to show off how good the writing is in Station Eleven.

But whyWHY is that the case? What is the difference between what Dickens is doing, or Austen, or George Eliot (OK, maybe not Eliot, who’s a better writer than pretty much any of us will ever be) and what Mandel (the writer of Station Eleven) is doing? I know why I prefer fantasy–that’s a plot thing, as I find fantasy far more engrossing than general fiction–but why is it that the things I love in classical literature are the things that turn me off of modern literary fiction? And, for that matter, why is it that Lord of the Rings doesn’t bother me? Yes it’s fantasy, but Tolkien spends what feels like 20 chapters describing a ring. Why is it I can barely handle four or five paragraphs about the weather and landscape in a modern novel, but I can breeze through Tolkien like it’s light poolside reading?

I don’t know. Perception, I guess. My weird brain telling me they’re different. Maybe it’s the way the writers of the classics (and look at what my absolute favorite “classical” writers have in common: they’re all British, so maybe that means something) combine their words. Maybe it’s the historical factor, since I’m always going to like something if everyone involved is long dead than if they’re still living (in another few years, I’ll suddenly find myself really into WW2 in a way I never was before). I don’t know.

But I’m kind of upset that I didn’t like the book my Bestie recommended. And I’m upset that I can’t figure out why.

Do you think the fact that my favorite fantasy author (Neil Gaiman) is also British? Or that the author of my favorite book in the last couple of years (Daniel O’Malley, who wrote The Rook) is Australian? Maybe I just really don’t like American and Canadian authors as much.

Who knows.

Which bothers me.


Shakespeare Saturday: Algorithms!

OK. I’m a huge nerd. I freely cop to this. Nerd Cactus is a very appropriate moniker for our endeavor, obviously. So when there’s a chance for me to combine my love of words, sounds, and algorithms (as long as I don’t have to write them), I get excited. Understanding the science, for lack of a better word, of why language works sometimes and not others is a genuinely fascinating endeavor. I’m convinced that the reason I’m having a hard time finding books to read is that the rhythm of modern writing is too quick, too staccato for my tastes. I like sentences that have room to breathe, or at least those that take their time.

I like legato. A lot of what’s coming out today is quick, meant to move the eye and the mind and keep the pages turning. Edge-of-your-seat writing for edge-of-your-seat stories. But I don’t like to sit at the edge of my seat; it’s uncomfortable, and I can’t sprawl there. The reason I love my couch so much is I can sink into it, legs crossed and cushions enveloping me. I like to read the same way.

Algorithms, guys! There’s a science to the way words work, to the way sounds come together to form stories. Poetry and music are not far off. Rap and poetry and Shakespeare are not that different from one another. So…

I lost the transition there. Just check this out! See what I mean! It’s fun. And it’s Shakespeare-adjacent, so it counts!