Jolabokaflod Book Haul

Three or four years ago, Mrs. Zayon at the kids’ school library introduced me to an absurdly-long-worded holiday tradition, which took me at least two years to be able to consistently pronounce correctly(ish). (Before that it was something along the lines of ‘chocoblockoflokken’.) But since it turns out that ‘Jolabokaflod’ translates into ‘Christmas book flood’, that’s actually only one syllable more than in English, so we’ll call it a wash.

Jolabokaflod is the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books and then reading them quietly on Christmas Eve; the books are usually enjoyed with a cup of hot chocolate as well. What’s not to love? In our family, we have a few tweaks to make it ours. Since not everyone likes drinking chocolate (I haven’t completely ruled out the possibility that they were switched at birth), we give chocolate bars along with the books that they can nibble at their leisure. And the chocolate and books are just given, rather than exchanged; my husband and I buy one book and candy per person and hand them out on Christmas Eve. Reading of said books is not necessarily mandatory, but it hasn’t yet not happened.

So counting on the fact that nobody in my family actually reads my blog, I thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peak of this year’s book haul! Not all of the books have quite come in yet, so there’s still the chance of a swapperoo at the last minute, but this is the plan.

For me! (who doesn’t love an excuse to buy yourself a good book?)

Un Rêve de Renard by Minna Sundberg This is the French edition of one of my favorite webcomics ever, A Redtail’s Dream, which is available in its entirety here. (Minna Sundberg is currently working on another comic called Stand Still, Stay Silent, about a scrappy salvage crew in a post-apocalyptic world. Also available online! She’s a wonder!) A Redtail’s Dream is about a young man and his dog trying to put their town back together when a supernatural and super selfish young fox accidentally tosses it in a dreamscape. Oops! I got the French edition so I can practice my sorry excuse for language skills in a story I love and am already familiar with. We’ll see if it helps!

This one is already in hand, so no backup necessary! Hooray!

For darling spouse!

Skin Game by Jim Butcher My husband already loves this series, but he doesn’t have the last couple, so I’m sure he’ll be happy to get his hands on this one. This is the fifteenth novel in the Dresden Files, a series about Chicago-based wizard Harry Dresden—think noir detective books starring a young Merlin in modern day Chicago. Possibly riding a demon T-rex, who knows.

Also in hand, so no backup necessary, but I have one anyway. Because why would I ever not buy more books?

Calvin et Hobbes, Tome 10 by Bill Watterson Hubby also loves Calvin and Hobbes comics and has most of them, so like my book, he’s already familiar with the stories and this is really just an excuse to practice French and have fun doing it. Great crossover interest for the kids, too.

For eldest child!

Amulet, Tome 1: Le Gardien de la Pierre by Kazu Kibuishi Once again, we have a already known and loved graphic novel, but in the French edition. You know the drill by now. This is the first book in an eight book series about a family that accidently gets sucked into a fantastical alternate dimension. A girl must use her great-grandfather’s amulet to protect her family and the new realm that she’s come to love.

Unfortunately, this one isn’t yet in hand. So just in case it doesn’t show up, I’m planning to blitz down to the Barnes and Nobles to collect our backup title:

Flight of the Dragon Kyn by Susan Fletcher The second book in the Dragon Chronicles series, my oldest is head over heels in love with the first book and is itching to get his hands on this one next. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t have it! Oh no, looks like I’ll have to buy it!

For the redhead!

Soeurs Grémillet, Tome 1: Le Rêve de Sarah by Giovanni Di Gregorio Lots of dream books! This is another graphic novel, and one that none of us have read, so this would take a lot of work to imbibe, but it is relatively short and youngish so hopefully manageable. It’s about three sisters trying to untangle a web of family secrets and is heartwarmy and sad and sweet, perfect for my thoughtful little boy.

This one is unfortunately sold out of where I hoped to get it from, so it isn’t looking likely. So in case that doesn’t pan out, we have a backup planned for this dude, too!

The Wonders of Nature by Ben Hoare This was kind of a no-brainer for my curious kid who wants to save the world. A nonfiction reference book with a hundred cool and beautiful things from the natural world, mixed with legends and history, he’d love this one.

For le petit!

La Boîte à Musique, Tome 1: Bienvenue à Pandorient by Gijé Carbone You got it, another French graphic novel. I’m sensing a theme, are you? In this story a girl gets shrunk down and sucked into her late mother’s magical music box. Crazy!

And… also seemingly unavailable. So our backup for our youngest is:

Dogman: Grime and Punishment by Dav Pilkey *sighs* I have succumbed.

And that is it! I’m still holding out hope for some more of those French graphic novels, but it is really truly not the end of the world if they don’t show before Christmas. I’ll just hide them and then happily tuck them into Easter baskets a few months hence. Either way, I’m looking forward to sharing exciting new books with my loved ones.

How about you readers? Any bookish traditions you adhere to? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for more excuses to put more books on our shelves.

And until next week, happy writing (and reading)!

Language Building Basics

A few lines of Peter Pan translated into my main fake language, Arbin.

A few lines of Peter Pan translated into my main fake language, Arbin.

Given the past popularity of Building a Magic System, I’ve been meaning for some time to put together some starting tips for developing a constructed language. Much like magic systems, fictional languages fall pretty firmly within the realm of world building. Furthermore, they can probably also hang out with creation myths, carefully drawn maps of undiscovered continents, and the sad tales of woe involving side characters’ childhood pets, may they rest in peace. These things might be important to the story itself… but usually aren’t. Still, they add another layer of flavor and reality to your world, as well as just being ridiculously fun.

I may as well just come out and admit that I read grammar books for fun. (We’re not gonna talk about how many I own.) And, as previously confessed, I am a world building fiend. So it probably comes as no surprise that I have scraps and bits of several fake languages, a few of which get a line or two in the books, and most of which get no face time at all. Yet I still find myself an incorrigible conlanger.  (Conlang being shorthand for constructed language.)  Therefore, proceed with caution in your linguistic endeavors- you may be setting yourself up for a lifelong addiction.

All languages have some common features, and it helps to look at these even if you plan to create a language from scratch. I’ve broken these features down into four super, super broad topics: sounds, lexicon, grammar, and ideas.  Be sure to think about each of these aspects as you make your language.

Sounds: The first step is to sit down and think about what sounds are possible in this language. (Or if it’s not a spoken language, whatever its medium of communication is- maybe it’s a tasted or smelled language, or a seen language, or some other sense I don’t even have.  Like all things in fantasy, your imagination is the final limit.)  You will need at least two distinct sounds, but will probably end up with a whole lot more.  Maybe you want a language that is beautiful and flowing like Sindarin, or maybe you’d rather it was harsh and guttural like Klingon. The sounds that make up your language are like the cells that make up a body. So think about what sounds can be pronounced in your language (and if you think English sounds are the only sounds possible, please go educate yourself). What sounds can it make that aren’t found in your native language? What sound does it not make? If your speakers are nonhumans, consider the ways that their unique physiology would play into the sounds of their language.

Lexicon: These are the words of the language, built up from the set of possible sounds. (This will end up looking something like your French-English dictionary: pomme = apple; verre = glass; etc.) While building up your lexicon, keep in mind that words often evolve in ‘families’, where words with similar meanings have similar sounds due to a common root word. On the other hand, they often don’t. So have fun with this part! This is probably the easiest part for a casual conlanger to hop into.

(Little sidenote here: you know how English has very different sounding words that mean basically the same thing? Ever wondered why? Check this video out about the evolution of the English language!

Grammar: What are the rules that govern how words, phrases, and sentences are formed? How do the parts of a sentence fit together? How do you indicate past, present, or future? Plural? Gender? How do you form questions or exclamations? Are there formal and informal versions? (Grammar alone could be an entire blog post- or an entire series of pages, actually, like the top two links in the resources below. If you want to create an actual, usable language, you will spend most of the time here in grammar.)  Another thing to keep in mind when creating a grammar is that, if your language is supposed to be a ‘natural’ language within your world, it will be rife with exceptions to the usual rules.  (Think ‘I after E, except after C’ or whatever your favorite grammatical goof-up is.)  If yours is a ‘synthetic’ language (intentionally created, spoken by robots, whatever- divine, supposedly perfect languages would probably also categorize here), it wouldn’t have those sorts of accidents in its rules.

Ideas (not sure what else to call this): What sorts of things do the speakers of this language talk about? Do they have thirty words for different kinds of ice because they live in the arctic? Or do they live in the desert and have no words for ice at all? Do they have senses that humans don’t, and require different words to describe them?  What words do they have that wouldn’t exist in another culture? What idioms have developed due to their unique culture?

So there you have, the absolute bottom level language building intro.  This is all super-duper basic stuff, but if I get into much more detail, this post is going to get absurdly long. (And this is just for a spoken language. If you are interested in creating a written aspect for the language as well, then you’ve got even more work ahead of you. But we’ll save that for another day!)  If you’re interested in more details, I’ve listed some resources below which might be helpful.  Until next time, happy writing!

Other resources:

http://www.zompist.com/kit.html (I found this one as a freshman in high school and life was never the same. If you want to make a language that is as real and complete as possible, this is worth digging through.)

http://www.angelfire.com/scifi2/nyh/how__all.html (Another awesome language building kit that lays it all out there in a clean, understandable manner.)

http://www.vistawide.com/languages/language_statistics.htm (Just interesting stuff. Most isn’t applicable to constructed languages, but some bits, such as the most common sounds, most/least vowels, etc, can fuel cool ideas.)

http://conlang.org/cl101.pdf (Basic info about conlanging, both the culture of it and how to go about it, as well as a pretty good reference section for the super nerdy among us.)