On toddlers and the spontaneous generation of novel vocabulary

Toddlers are an author’s best friend. If you’re ever stuck in a rut and need some help, pay close attention to a kid trying to grapple with the intricacies of learning a spoken language. They will inevitably toss in extra vowels and consonants, clip words short, duplicate sections, or improvise sounds that are more manageable for their developing mind-lip interface.

I think every parent has had the pleasure of being called “Mapa” or “Pama” at some point or other. My boy is fascinated by crocodiles thanks to Dora the Explorer. He trundles around the living room yelling “Crokoli, crokoli!” and roaring his head off. Today, my kid invented a novel mashup of ketchup and mustard. “Kestard, moustchup!” I’m not quite certain why he was going on about condiments, since it wasn’t mealtime, but his little mind was bubbling away trying to figure things out. I keep my ear trained to his vocal experiments, and from time to time can come away with a wonderful nugget that will serve as the setting, character, or event for a future story.

This may not be too useful a feature for non-fiction authors. In fact, such re-interpretations of any language is probably going to lead to deleterious effects on your writing by osmotic transference so having kids is probably not a great career move. Thankfully, mine will doubtless continue to enhance my efforts to produce engaging works of fantasy and science-fiction.

Thanks kiddo!

Prancercise: The WTF of self publishing

I came across Johanna Rohrback’s Prancercise video on youtube yesterday, most likely as did 99,73% of the rest of the Earth’s population. It appears to have surged through the collective consciousness much like the arrival of an alien starship hovering over Washington DC. I am certainly left wondering if aliens have played some horrible joke on us by unleashing the material that will lead humanity in droves to prance around parks and sidewalks, at least for the next 92 seconds that this current fad manages to capture our microscopic attention spans.

I am not going to comment on the value of the workout that Mrs. Rorhback proposes. After participating in high performance sports for more than 25 years, I will simply say that it isn’t something I’d be doing. Neither am I going to comment on the public’s reaction to it. This is being documented far better than I care to in other places.

The cover to the greatest work of PR ever. This week.

I will take a moment to speak about how this phenomenon applies to self-publishing. A quick look at Amazon’s Prancercise page shows that the book is published by Wingspan press, a self-publishing site. I don’t know if the youtube video is part of their marketing campaign or not, but there certainly are a lot of eyeballs glued to it. Over 2,7 million views. Crazy! I’d wager that the author would make more off of a monetized video than any book sales, unless people start buying the book to offer it as a prank gift.

The book reviews on Amazon are worth taking a moment to read as well. There are some very creative reviews. Clearly, they are meant as parodies or designed to poke fun at the book, but many have left me chuckling or even laughing myself to tears.

It will be interesting to see what happens to this book in terms of sales. Maybe I need to take some inspiration from Mrs. Rohrback’s approach and come up with something completely ludicrous to market my book. Hmmm…maybe this is an excuse to do what I’ve always wanted: film plop on some Elf ears, let my hair (what’s left of it) grow way out, and film myself dancing, shooting bows and arrows, and baking cookies or extolling the virtues of lembas bread (once I make my mind up whether I am a Wood Elf, or Keebler Elf) !

Rummaging through old memories – how The Genius Crucible’s cover was born

Nissigoboro and Nala

Nissigoboro and Nala

Many years ago, my parents lived in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I will not go into detail the reasons for which they were there, but suffice to say that my head was filled at a young age with stories of exotic jungles, villages of rugged tribesmen, and exhausting scientific expeditions through some of the world’s most rugged terrain.

My parents took a few memorable pictures. Back in the 70’s, film was expensive and hard to store adequately in the humid jungle. Since they could only carry so much, only a few pictures remain of their treks. My father had turned some into slides that he used during classroom presentations to his students. Thankfully, a few years ago he made the effort to scan those slides. I now have a selection of the images stored for posterity. They are beautiful and open a window of insight on a world that had remained largely untouched by the progress of history. I will share some of these images here from time to time.

The first to make its appearance is a photo of Nissigoboro and his son, Nala. Nala served as my father’s interpreter in the Karimui, a remote district in PNG. They worked together for several years over many expeditions, developing a close friendship. My brother and I were fortunate enough to meet Nala back in the ’80s when we accompanied our father on his last expedition to the island’s jungles.

It was therefore fitting for the pair to figure prominently on the cover of The Genius Crucible, since they are inspirations for some of the book’s major characters. Thanks to the magic of digitization and a little help from photoshop, a forty year old picture became a central component for a science fiction book dealing with many cutting edge artificial intelligence and environmental issues. Does it work? I’ll let you be the judge.

The Genius Crucible (available at Amazon.com)

Follow @GeniusCrucible if you are interested in science, the environment, artificial intelligence, and the disappearance of genius.

Sketching – Nasty Grunt

A nasty grunt.

A nasty grunt.

This charming chap tumbled onto my electronic sketchbook a while ago. The sketch arose as part of a stream of consciousness exercise I was running on a page to help me come up with some ideas for a story. As I doodled on, the concept for my upcoming book took form in my mind. A little cross-disciplinary creativity can work wonders for generating ideas.

When life hands you lemons, make a Dwarf cut banana sandwich. Say what?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Trust me.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Trust me.

I am afflicted by a condition that gives me the hardest time making out what people say if there’s a little background noise or if I can’t see their lips when they speak. I’ve only ever been able to make out the lyrics to a few songs on my own. Most of the time, I need to pull out the printed lyrics to understand what’s going on, or have someone tell me. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the music. Indeed, voices become a rich instrument that I appreciate the same way as a violin, guitar, flute, piano, or drums. I just don’t understand the information carried by those words.

If I am at a crowded function, or at a restaurant, following a conversation can be quite an adventure. I usually make it out okay by playing the angles and lip reading a bit to ensure that I can really make out what is being said. Since such functions are infrequent, the most impacted person by this is my wife. You see, it’s not that I don’t hear the words. It’s that my mind interprets them as sounds, or as entirely different words. It can be frustrating for both of us when she asks for a bag of sugar as I’m heading out the door to the grocery store, only to return with flour. Close enough, right? They both end in a “ower” sound. Yeah. Not really.

There are all kinds of strategies I put into play to mitigate the dirty tricks my ears play on me daily. However, I also keep a notebook handy. Often, the words my mind hears are novel or contain some morsel of information that can spark a new idea for a picture, a story, or a solution for a problem at work. As soon as I mishear the words, I scramble to jot it down lest it evaporates from my ephemeral memory.

Just the other day, I was sitting at the dinner table having dinner with my wife and son when she asked me: “Dwarf cut banana sandwich?”

I looked at her in puzzlement. What on earth did she mean by that? Was she suggesting a dessert for our boy? What is a dwarf cut banana? Is it some kind of cutting technique? Or maybe it’s a dwarf banana that’s chopped up? I really don’t remember buying any small bananas, though. Uh, oh. Did I get that wrong?

It turns out I did. She hadn’t said a single word I had heard the first time. In fact, it was about as far as you can get from Dwarves, cuts, bananas, or sandwiches. “Do you want it in a cup, or in a dish?” she had asked as she contemplated the potential storage vessel for our leftovers.

We both had a good laugh. Me for coming up with such an outrageous concept. She at me, for being a goofball.

It’s not all bad. It gave me something to sketch.

The lesson here is that when life gives you lemons, you make banana sandwiches. Err… Lemonade.

Cover illustration completed. That’s a set!

A snippet from the cover illustration

A snippet from the cover illustration

I am overjoyed! My final illustration, the book’s cover, has just made it in. That completes the illustration work for my book. It is wonderful to see things beginning to take shape. I’m now down to writing the last two chapters before getting into the heavy review and editing.

As much as those stages will be tough work, I’m still a little daunted at the prospect of laying out the book’s 60 or so pages. I am experimenting with iStudio Publisher in the hope that I can have more control than with Pages. The major problem I see so far is that it appears that I will have to insert each text page manually, which is looking like a tedious process. That should motivate me to look for the best way to optimize my workflow.

Writing Tips: Naming Your Characters

Here are some great suggestions for coming up with great names for your characters.

Shannon A Thompson

2 days until the Minutes Before Sunset release! I’m feeling pretty supercalifragilisticexpialidocious about it all 😀 [And definitely not sleeping due to excitement] And I have one more announcement!

Minutes Before Sunset will be available as an e-book through Barnes & Noble and Amazon for $6.99 on May 1st! Please help spread the word :] The first day of sales is often the most important, and I really appreciate everyone who’s helped (and encouraged) me on here, Facebook, and Twitter. 

I’ve also received an author review for Minutes Before Sunset: “An exciting mixture of paranormal, romance, and page-turning action. Can’t wait to see book 2.” – Raymond Vogel, author of Matter of Resistance, a YA Science Fiction novel.

And the first chapter was published in The Corner Club Press yesterday! You can open an online version of it by clicking here. And congrats to the founder, Amber Forbes

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