What’s In A Name?

Alien Talking“So you come from the planet Dirt?”

That’s one of the questions the aliens ask Adam Cain, the main character of The Human Chronicles Saga, when they learn he comes from a planet called ‘Earth.’ Just as the auto-correct on your phone tends to screw up what you’re typing, the alien translation device in this instance saw the word ‘earth’ as dirt, soil, ground, etc. You can see how this could happen.

Which is the subject of this post: Lack of context when communicating with aliens. Which is something I do all the time (communicate with aliens). What about you?

Yes, to others, we’ve named our home world dirt. Simple, basic and to the point; however, I have to admit we were NOT very creative with the name. Sure, Gia, Terra and a few others may sound more exotic, but that’s only to modern English-speaking ears. In Latin, Terra is Earth. So the impression a name conveys is often in the eye — and the ear — of the beholder. Still, why not Solar-3 … or even Fantasia?

And a little off subject, I have another gripe: The common house Fly. We went and named something a FLY! We take an insect with a couple of wings that buzzes around in the air … and we call it a ‘fly.’ Well, duh! So using this logic, a fish should be called a ‘swim,’ a cheetah a ‘run,’ and a grasshopper a ‘jump.’ C’mon, people, we can do better than this! The aliens are expecting a little more creativity out of us.

I mention the above because as a science fiction writer, I get to have fun with things like this. In my stories, I often examine some of the absurdities of language and how outsiders (aliens) would interpret certain words and phrases we take for granted. For instance, the common word ‘bullshit,’ when translated literally has absolutely no correlation to the colloquial use of the phrase. In my books, this really throws the aliens for a loop, especially since we Humans tend to use the word quite often. And not to be too vulgar, but one of my Human characters responds to some new information he’s just received by saying, “No shit?” Just let that roll around in your brain for a moment, with you in the place of the alien. This is really fun stuff for an author!

And I can also bring this subject back down to Earth — literally. As an English-speaking American from California, I’ve often wondered what goes through  the minds of my Spanish-speaking friends when they hear or read words such as Los Gatos — which is the name of a city in Northern California. Do they see this as The Cats, as in “I’m going to The Cats today to visit some friends?” Here’s another: Buena Vista (Beautiful View). Or Vista del Lago (Lake View). They each sound much more exotic in Spanish than they do in translation, and there are literally tens of thousands of other examples, in all languages.

So one person’s dirt is another’s home planet. It all depends on your point of view.

How we communicate with alien races, and how our common objects and points-of-reference can vary, is a big part of my stories, and something which I hope makes them more interesting  — and humorous — to read. I wish more sci-fi writers took these things into account. Common references such as these tend to Humanize the story.

And a few other quick notes.

I always capitalize ‘Human’ in my books, just as you capitalize Vulcans, Klingons and Martians. Why shouldn’t we also received the prestige of a capital letter? Also, some of my alien species are named for the planets they come from (Juireans, Sileans), yet in many cases they have names other than a variation of their planet-of-origin. For instance, one of the main enemies of the Humans are the Kracori … who just happen to come from the planet Elision. I would re-think this if we went around calling ourselves Earthlings, but we don’t. So there.

This reveals some of the crazy thought process that goes into creating my fictional worlds….

T.R. (Tom) Harris

Some Come Easier Than Others….

ApexCover5Book Seven of The Human Chronicles Saga is coming along nicely. It should be completed by November 23-25 and then sent off for editing and proofreading.

The issue I’m having now is with the title.

It has evolved from Starlight Falls to A Galaxy to Conquer … and now to The Apex Predator. Since the story revolves around mankind being the supermen in the galaxy — and therefore the greatest predator around — the new (or proposed) title seems appropriate and strong. I’ve put together a mockup of the cover, and I really like it. Any comments would be welcome, of course.

Since the final book in the series is already plotted and planned for release in late January, the title of A Galaxy to Conquer appears to fit that one better. That cover will probably be kept and used for that book. But for now, I’m adding The Apex Predator to my inventory of cover art.

Acquiring a Taste for Elephant

eating elephantSo I start a blog so I can keep my fans informed about my life as an author, as well as give tips to aspiring writers young and old.

But then I get bogged down eating elephants.

Yes, writing a novel is not something that can be done over a weekend, or even a week or two. Sometimes it takes months to finish the darn elephant, even taking one bite at a time. Elephants are big … and so are novels. That’s probably the reason most people who aspire to write books (estimated at 73% of the population) never do. It’s a daunting task.

Through the six books I’ve completed, I’ve found that starting the next book/elephant is the hardest part. Not because I don’t have the idea, or the story bores me, or any other such excuse. It’s simply because I know what a major undertaking it is. Once you commit to a book, it NEEDS to become all-consuming, otherwise you’ll never finish. (Or it will take you a Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle to complete. That’s eleven years if you didn’t already know.)

To help cut the elephant in the room down to size, some authors outline meticulously so they will know what each bite will consist of. Others just jump right in and start munching away. I’m kind of in the middle. I have a pretty good idea where the story’s headed, but mainly I let the characters lead me through the details.

Yet one of the most-important things I’ve learned is that you need to give yourself a lot of little victories throughout the writing process. What I mean by this is that you need to be aware of your progress as you go along, encouraged each day that you are getting ever-closer to your goal. Otherwise you’ll start believing that the task is just too big to complete.

For the most part, I accomplish this by writing most of the book out of sequence. Just as a movie is filmed as a series of out-of-sequence scenes and then edited together at the end, I take certain parts of the book that I already have worked out in my mind and just blast through these in quick order. Even though I may have to do extensive editing at the end to make everything mesh, at least I keep knocking out bite after bite of the elephant, eventually scaling the thing down the size of a small calf.

Here’s an example … sort of.

Suppose you have three main characters all doing different things throughout the book. I may write the complete story of one of the characters, even though in the finished the book we’ll be jumping back and forth between what each character is doing. If I find what this person is doing the most interesting at the time, then I write about that person. At other times, I may have a barroom fight outlined in my mind, even though it doesn’t happen for another 100 pages. But I’ll sit down and write it, and next thing you know, another 5,000 words have been chopped off the elephant. It sure beats having writer’s block. (A lot of writer’s block is a result of not knowing what comes next. Screw that! Write what you already know comes next, even if it’s the last scene in the book. Most people already have THAT worked out before they even write the first word.)

The key is to always be completing some part of the book, be it a scene, an important dialog or a chapter. Let’s face it, if you have 75% of a difficult task already done, the remaining 25% is all on the downhill slide. This remaining quarter may be the hardest part to figure out, but now we’re talking about only 25,000 words instead of 100,000. And the impetus is there to solve whatever plot issues you may be having. The book is almost done and the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

You will be amazed at how slowly a book begins … but how quickly it can get done once you reach this 75%/25% point. So if that’s the case, then get the 75% of the book done as quickly as possible. The rest will come naturally at the end.

The moral of the story is don’t get bogged down with writing in sequence. Write what you already have worked out. After all, these are usually the parts of the book that interest YOU the most. You might as well keep yourself interested in the story as you go along, because you’re going to be sitting at this dinner table for a very long time.

Now … back to work.

Write-on, my friends!

T.R. (Tom) Harris  

Title change for the next Adam Cain novel

Starlight Falls just wasn’t doing it for me, so I’ve changed the title of Book 2 of Part 2 of the Chronicles to: A Galaxy to Conquer.

Since the story does Galaxy Cover60deal with the collapse of the Expansion and the Kracori attack on Earth, everything is up for grabs throughout the galaxy, and everyone is out for their piece of the pie.

I’ve put together a tentative cover. If anyone has any opinions or suggestion, let me know.

(By the way, this cover mock-up still has the Fotolia watermarks on the artwork. Rest assured, these will not be in the final version!)