My Life This July: In Which America and I Have Birthdays and I Acquire Many Books

My word, it’s the last Saturday of the month already. (Actually, the last Friday as I’m typing this, but you know. . . .) This month has been rather a whirlwind, but I find they’re all like that these days. In fact, it’s hard to think of a time when they weren’t. It would have to be before my memory.

Anyway . . . with that little ramble behind us, let’s get on with today’s post! On the last Saturday of each month, I post a little (long) blurb about my life this month, some notable things I did, etc. Probably the most notable thing that happened to me this month was that I became a year older than I was last year. (In simpler words, I had a birthday, so I’m nineteen now.) And the country I live in decided, as usual, to promptly follow up with its own birthday. (Read: My birthday is July 3rd. Independence Day is July 4th. People are always shooting off fireworks on my birthday for some reason.) America is now 240, a good bit older than I am and a nice round number to celebrate. I’m excited to be around for the 250th in ten years!

For those of you wondering, I had a nice time on my birthday. Chocolate cake and beloved family members help with that. (I cannot, however, say whether America had a nice time on its birthday. Sorry.)

Books also helped with my having a nice time on my birthday, or, more generally, the week of my birthday. I received Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland as a gift, which I initially thought was pleasant, because I read Weiland’s blog (Helping Writers Become Authors) devoutly; her writing advice has really helped me, and I wanted to read one of her books. Six days later, I put the book down and proceeded to rant and rave about it to my best friend. (Look for my review next month! But while you’re waiting, go start reading Dreamlander right now.)

It’s such a good book!


Near the end of the week, my library held its annual book sale, with hardcovers for $1 and paperbacks for $.50. There were many great deals. I picked up Isaac Asimov’s Nemesis and The Rest of the Robots to contribute to my current sci-fi kick (and Nemesis is a beautiful hardback, too!), a thriller called First Daughter by Eric van Lustbader which looked like it fell into the same genre as the Grisham and Clancy books I’ve taken up lately, and a sleek translation of Beowulf with English and Old English on facing pages. That should be interesting when I get around to tackling it. For nonfiction, I grabbed an encyclopedia of cacti, a volume called Power Unseen: How Microbes Rule the World, and a forty-year-old title on The Biology of Flowering, to complement the old textbooks that have been lying around free outside my lab.

I’m reading Nemesis right now.


Speaking of the lab, in general updates, I have continued enjoying my summer research. I did another DNA extraction last week, and have been raising up little seaweeds in culture plates. I can’t believe my fellowship will be over in a couple weeks, and a couple weeks after that, I start classes again. . . .

Another general update pertains to my book Windsong (which I guess is the official title since I can’t think of a better one). I was gifted Scrivener for my birthday, and promptly (ignoring much of the ages-long tutorial) copied Windsong into this fancy new software and started organizing. (When I say “promptly,” I mean it took me three weeks to copy and paste all the scenes.) Now, I’ve finally starting kicking into gear on my editing, which means I may have this draft finished before the fall semester starts! (Actually, knowing me, I probably won’t, but it’s worth a shot.)

And that’s the major points of my month!

How was your month? What did you do? Did you acquire any books? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? Did you have a birthday this month? If you’re American, how did you celebrate the Fourth of July? Tell me in the comments!

What’s in a Name? How Linguistics Helps Your Story World–Guest Post by Brennan D.K. Corrigan

Good morning, friends! Anna here. July is a fifth-Saturday month, and you know what that means: an extra-special Fifth Saturday Post here on The Story Scientist. Today, I have a guest post by my good friend, author and conlanger (if you don’t know what that means, read on to find out) Brennan D.K. Corrigan. Enjoy!

Asengae! Num Perènen Koringgan noth, neh num jaenoryu Anno rinaafal naysiÿenafe (iÿenafe anaysa ja) vana šathu. Rikunind šef hato ngeleoval!

            Hello! I am Brennan Corrigan, and I am writing this article for my friend Anna as her conlanger (creator of languages). Many thanks to her for this honor!

What is written and translated above is in the Toriqayse language, which I created for the serial Nations of Tiynalta. Linguistics has been a passion of mine for six years, and in that time I have studied Spanish, Latin, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Quechua, Esperanto, Korean, Klingon, Na’vi, and Trigedasleng. My novel, Winter’s Corruption, features several of my constructed languages. I am also the conlanger for Anna’s novels.

As much as I love language, and as much as I would love to see an immense, full-grammar, thousand-word-dictionary conlang in every speculative fiction work, I have to respect that this isn’t always possible or necessary. Many people only need some suitably foreign-sounding names to differentiate aliens and elves from the average Joe. But what makes a language sound foreign? Just as importantly, what makes that foreignness consistent and realistic? It comes down to three principles of linguistics. What you need to know are phonology, phonotactics, and Romanization.

Phonology: What sounds are you using?

Every language has a unique set of sounds that sets it apart from any other. Certainly, common sounds overlap between languages, but others are more specific, giving that language a special auditory “flavor.”

Adding and subtracting sounds from your English inventory is a good way to make a foreign phonology. English lacks any front rounded vowels, but German does have two, written as ü and ö. Welsh has several consonants that are foreign to English, such as the alveolar lateral fricative, written as ll, and a trilled r. Removing English consonants is just as important as adding foreign ones. English’s th sounds, as in thin and this, are extremely rare in other languages, which is why many foreign accents change them to z or s. Without having practiced them for their whole lives, foreigners easily mispronounce them.

How, though, to choose which sounds should stay or go? As it turns out, linguists have been very careful to classify every sound that the human mouth can make into a handy chart, the International Phonetic Alphabet. Every consonant and vowel has a neat little place on the table, which describes how exactly your mouth pronounces it. (These descriptions are the names used above to describe ü, ö, and ll. Don’t worry about them immediately; that will come as you get familiar with the table.) The easiest realistic way to add or subtract consonants is to take out particular rows or columns, for example, the voiced plosives, or the labial consonants. (N.B.: In natural languages, the voiced consonants hardly ever occur unless their unvoiced partners are also there.) With vowels, I go for a small number (5-6) that are far away from each other on the table, so no two get confused with each other. The table may look very foreign to begin with, but type “IPA for English” (or any other language) into Google and some nice pronunciation guides will come up.

Phonotactics: Where are you using that sound?

Every language has rules that govern where sounds can appear inside syllables. English would never have names like Nguyen (Vietnamese), Mbanta (Igbo), or Tsuda (Japanese), because English doesn’t allow those consonants or consonant clusters to be at the beginning of a syllable. However, any of those clusters could come at the end of an English syllable. Play around with the beginnings and endings of your syllables, and find clusters that you like that aren’t native to English. Or, go the other way: Restrict the creation of syllables so that English’s clusters aren’t possible in your language.

Romanization: How do you spell it?

The big difference for conlangs between written and spoken media is the fact that in writing, every word has to be seen and spelled out. Thus, I take time to make sure my spellings look really, really cool… but not without some restrictions.

First, your spellings should be regular. Each sound should be spelled the same way everywhere, because if your readers do end up trying to pronounce your names, you should be kind to them. English’s radical and unpredictable spellings are the product of thousands of years of history, and unless you want to map out every historical spelling change for your fictional world, go easy on the reader.

Second, be careful with accent marks. I love the exotic look of them as much as the next conlanger, but they must have purpose. Otherwise, they’re just a fancy-looking distraction. Do some research into accent marks that you think look cool, in order to learn why they’re there.

As with accent marks, research digraphs or trigraphs that you think will make an aesthetic impact on your work. I personally love the Welsh and Old English systems for representing consonants. I learned about them so recently that they have yet to be added to any new conlang, but soon they will be!

Conclusion: Have Fun With It!

 Conlanging is a big, amazing pool of linguistics fun madness obsession general nerdery stuff, and this article is only the very shallow end. Okay, maybe more of an ocean. There are big syntax whales down there somewhere. Whatever it is, I hope this introduction has given you a good starting point. Ašetyuves tilariy na! (Good travels!)

Thank you so much, Brennan, for posting here today! Well, readers, what do you think? Have you ever invented names, or even a full-blown language? Do you think you might in the future? Do you have any questions for Brennan? (If so, I will relay them to him and try to get them answered as soon as possible for you!) Tell me (and Brennan, haha, he’ll probably be watching this) in the comments!

Beautiful People July 2016

Good morning, folks! It’s a new month (sort of–is it the 20th already?), which means it must be time for a new Beautiful People.

So what is Beautiful People? It is a link-up hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. Each month, they post ten questions to help us writers get to know our characters better. If you want to get involved, just click on one of their links and find their latest Beautiful People post!

Now it’s on to the questions! This month’s character is Kela from my book Windsong. You can learn more about Windsong here if you’d like.

Kela (when he gets a little older)--face, hair color, hair length:
Kela: runaway fisherman’s apprentice, age 15. (So this is him when he gets a bit older. . . .)

1. Do they want to get married and/or have children? Why or why not?

Kela would like to get married and have children someday. He loves children, and having gone through several crushes, he really desires the love of a woman. (He has a few self-esteem problems, though, and doesn’t quite believe any woman would love him at this point.)

2. What is their weapon of choice? (It doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical weapon.)

Kela wouldn’t really fight in battle with anything, physical or not. He’s more the type to hide around a corner and cringe every time he hears clashing swords. He does have a major weapon for annoying people, though: talking. He will yammer on forever if you let him, and when he’s not talking, he’s humming random tunes, which really gets on some people’s nerves.

3. What’s the nicest thing they’ve ever done for someone else, and why did they do it?

Hmm. Well, he once took some fish from his own dinner to feed a little boy who was begging at the door, because the boy was starving and Kela felt sorry for him (knowing a bit about what it’s like to starve).

4. Have they ever been physically violent with someone, and what instigated it?

Kela cannot remember any time he was ever violent with someone. He gets beaten by his master sometimes, so he really doesn’t like violence.

5. Are they a rule-follower or a rebel?

This is a difficult one. Kela is a bit of both. He tries to follow the rules as much as possible most of the time (for fear of being punished), but when he finally gets sick enough of being beaten randomly, he breaks all the rules by running away from his master.

6. Are they organized or messy?

Kela doesn’t own many things to be organized or messy with, but if he did own stuff, he would definitely just throw it all over the floor and not clean up after himself.

7. What makes them feel loved, and who was the last person to make them feel that way?

His love language is probably physical touch, though he also likes receiving gifts. Probably, the last people to make him feel this way were his parents, before he was kidnapped at the age of three.

8. What do they eat for breakfast?

You know, I was researching medieval breakfast one day and found out that there was no such thing. Hence, no one in Raianor really eats breakfast, including Kela.

9. Have they ever lost someone close to them? What happened?

In a sense, he has, since he was kidnapped from his parents when he was three. (He does not know this; all he knows is that he has no parents and doesn’t know why.)

10. What’s their treat of choice? (Or, if not food, how else do they reward themselves?)

Kela loves to play the fiddle for dances at festivals. Music is his release, and later his passion. He likes to go off by himself and sing as loud as he can, somewhere where he knows he won’t get caught. Apart from that, he also likes swimming in the sea near his village. He does these things whenever he gets a chance.

So that’s Kela! What did you think of him? Did you do Beautiful People this month, or if not yet, are you planning to? (If so, put your link in the comments–I’d love to read it!) Do you have a music-loving character, too? Tell me in the comments!

What I’m Reading: Winter’s Corruption by Brennan D.K. Corrigan

When Ben Taylor witnesses a murder during his vacation on another planet, he is thrust into a vicious game of hide-and-seek among rebels and criminals. Now, Ben must decide whether to involve himself in another world’s troubles and change his life forever.

Hello there! I have been very busy, but as my friend Brennan D.K. Corrigan is guest posting on linguistics in fiction next week (hooray for fifth Saturdays!), I thought I might review his debut novel this week. Winter’s Corruption is an independently published YA sci-fi/fantasy tale which you can read more about here: Okay. On to the review!

(Full disclaimer: I served as a beta reader for this novel before it was published. I shall try to review as objectively as possible.)

The Story: Sixteen-year-old Ben Taylor, from the only American family that knows about the interplanetary Daalronnan Alliance, witnesses a murder, picks up a blue device, and bam! runs off through the wilderness and straight into the freedom-fighting organization Sildial on the planet Andaros. Sildial is trying to stave off the flood of organized crime from other planets that has overwhelmed their country. When Ben’s friend Seren decides to stay with Sildial rather than return to her unwelcoming home planet, Ben decides to stay and help Andaros, too.

I really enjoyed this story. Ben’s adventures, first in the wilderness and then with Sildial, kept me engaged beginning to end. The plotting was somewhat lacking in the later part of the book (I felt that the real climax came too early, so that the events at the climax mark lacked oomph), but overall, it was a really good story.

The Characters: I really enjoyed many of the characters. Ben, Seren, Celer, Vuri, Javrel . . . okay, pretty much all the characters. 😉 They’re well-rounded, interesting, and fun to read about. My favorite was probably Vuri; I loved her depth and the way her backstory played into her character arc. Plus she’s kick-butt, which is cool.

I would also like to point out here how compelling one of the antagonists was. Kalar, leader of Sildial, has realistic motivations that cause real trouble for Ben and friends later on. I enjoyed reading about him.

The Writing: There are some spots of beautiful prose in this book. More numerous, unfortunately, are point-of-view issues, telling words, and some errors in spelling and punctuation. It is unfortunate that these are so numerous, as the story is so enjoyable.

The worldbuilding, however, is fantastic. Brennan put Andaros together with minute attention to detail: culture, history, and especially language. The frequently inserted bits of spoken Voleric really bring the reader into the fact that this is an alien world. I also enjoyed the unorthodox use of magic in a science-fiction world, with the political strife it causes as well. I particularly liked the concept of Messengers, intelligent magical beings created from cloth who can fly among the stars at great speeds. I thought the world was really original and well-crafted. I can’t wait to see where the second book goes!

Overall: Winter’s Corruption had an enjoyable story, great characters, and a beautifully crafted storyworld, with the regrettable detractions of some writing and plotting errors. Overall, it’s definitely worth a read!

Tell me what you think! Have you read Winter’s Corruption? Do you think you’ll give it a try? Are you excited for next week’s guest post? Share in the comments!

On Certain Heavenly Bodies in Our Solar System

Think about this for a minute: What is a planet?


This is what I got when I searched Google. Simple, right? A planet is anything orbiting a star, like our sun. That includes all of these:

But wait just a minute. Wasn’t there a big deal a few years back about Pluto not being a planet anymore? What was all that about? And if a planet is anything orbiting the sun, what about that asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter? Instead of eight planets (or nine, depending on whether you include Pluto or not), are there really a thousand or a million? And are there any more “real” planets out there?

Great questions! I’m glad you asked. Let’s get started, shall we?

Pluto was discovered in 1930, and for the next seventy-six years, it enjoyed the distinction of being the ninth planet in our solar system. In 2006, though, it was stripped of its status as “planet” and reassigned to the new category “dwarf planet,” which, believe it or not, is not the same thing. So why did poor Pluto suddenly become a dwarf planet?

Pluto: planet or not?

The answer to that question, my friends, lies in the Kuiper Belt, a band of “objects” (including comets and dwarf planets like Pluto) out past Neptune, in Pluto’s vicinity. In fact, Pluto is listed on the NASA website as “King of the Kuiper Belt.”

Scientists have discovered many other small “planets” similar to (some maybe bigger than) Pluto in the Kuiper Belt, as well as in the asteroid belt, and the International Astronomical Union decided it needed a new classification for these worlds. Hence, the dwarf planet was born.

The IAU, you see, has three criteria that a space object must meet before it can be called a planet. First, it must be round (which Pluto is). Secondly, it has to orbit the sun (which Pluto does). And third, it must be massive enough to dominate its orbit, that is, clear it of space debris. This is where Pluto fails. It doesn’t even quite dominate its primary moon, Charon; NASA considers them a binary system. Hence, Pluto is a dwarf planet, no longer the smallest of the planets. Various other Kuiper Belt objects, as well as Ceres in the asteroid belt, join Pluto in this designation.

Ceres, one of Pluto’s fellow dwarf planets.

So there are only eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. But might there be another real planet out there? The answer is, well, maybe. Scientists have never actually seen it, but they have noticed that six Kuiper Belt objects are all orbiting along the same path, suggesting that a planet five to twenty times Earth’s size is out there dominating its orbit. Several research teams are busy investigating to find out whether Planet Nine, as it’s called, actually exists. Some are trying to zero in on its location, based on the aligned orbits of Kuiper Belt objects. Others are trying to catch a glimpse of Planet Nine itself, based on the conjecture that its atmosphere might contain highly reflective gases.

So there you have it! Everyone has a different definition of the word “planet.” The International Astronomical Union says Pluto is not a planet, since it doesn’t dominate its orbit quite right. There just might, though, be another proper planet out beyond Pluto. We shall see as the research goes on.

If you’re interested in reading more about Pluto and Planet Nine, here are my sources!

What do you think? Should Pluto and the other dwarf planets be considered planets or not? Are you interested in astronomy? Tell me in the comments!

Book Quote 5: Dealing with Dragons

“Well,” said the frog, “what are you going to do about it?”

“Marrying Therandil? I don’t know. I’ve tried talking to my parents, but they won’t listen, and neither will Therandil.”

“I didn’t ask what you’d said about it,” the frog snapped. “I asked what you’re going to do. Nine times out of ten, talking is a way of avoiding doing things.”

I was given the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede years ago, and I still love them. I pick them back up whenever I want a short, light fantasy read. This quote comes from the first chapter of book one, Dealing with Dragons. Here, Princess Cimorene, our protagonist, is talking to a frog about the prince she doesn’t want to marry. (Yes, it’s a bit of a fairy-tale story, too.)

So let’s analyze! What can we learn from this quote?

1. It’s amusing. This is the first thing I think of when reading this quote. It makes the reader chuckle as well as think. If you think about it, a very effective way to portray the theme of a book (if it fits the story, of course) is to wrap it in humor. People like to laugh, right? One theme of Dealing with Dragons could be doing something to change your life if you don’t like the way it’s going right now, so this quote works as a good early introduction to the theme.

2. Do we need to know the frog’s name? Looking at this quote, something else jumped out at me. The frog is an important character, in that he prompts Cimorene to go take action to change her lot instead of just talking about it, but he doesn’t show up in the rest of the book. So, do we really need to know his name (or if he has a name or not)? Not really. He’s just onstage, as it were, for a page or two. We don’t have to put a lot of work into short-lived side characters, just enough to make them feel realistic (earlier in the conversation, Cimorene asks if the frog is an enchanted prince, and he says no, but he’s met a few and picked up a few things). The frog here is a great example of that.

What do you think? Did this quote make you laugh? Have you read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles? Do you like them? If you haven’t read them, do you think you’ll give them a try? Tell me in the comments!