Aug 31, 2015

A Fairy-tale Weekend

My husband and I went up to Helsinki for the weekend, and it was pretty great. We saw The Magic North exhibition at the Ateneum, which was wonderful. It had lots of fairy-tale paintings and illustrations from around Scandinavia, and some paintings of scenes from the Finnish national epic The Kalevala. I loved it so much that I got this book with the illustrations and analysis of the works. Here's a few pictures from the book:

The näkki, a Finnish water demon that lives in the lakes and drags you down if it can catch you. (Picture by Theodor Kittelsen)

This sculpture by Gustav Vigeland is meant to embody terror. See that Lovercraftian monstrosity twining its tentacles around the poor man?

Definitely go see this if you're in Helsinki. It's only running for a couple more weeks.

We also saw the Beauty and the Beast ballet at the Finnish National Opera. Very beautiful and magical. They're doing The Little Mermaid next, so I'll definitely be getting tickets for that as well.

Kaunotar ja hirviö

(Image source

Oh, and I got a spot of good news on the writing front: my story got accepted for the Frozen Fairy Tales anthology from World Weaver Press! Yay!

I got this necklace to celebrate. Pretty, huh?

All in all, a great weekend. Hope you had a nice one too!

Terribleminds Challenge: Borrowed Characters

Here's this week's Terribleminds challenge. We're using the characters we created last week, and borrowing a character from someone for our story. I'm using Tenaldi, courtesy of Jana Denardo. I hope I didn't screw him up too badly:)

Tenaldi was mixing the Queen’s sleeping draught when the soldiers came; grim-faced and silent, they grabbed him, spilling the precious liquid to the floor and spoiling two days’ work in moments. He gasped and sputtered as they dragged him through Master Palumbo’s workrooms, but it was only in the outer halls that he could make his tongue work again.
“What is it? Where are you taking me?” he said, looking at each of his captors in turn.
But no one answered. Not even Arrigo Sacco, whom he had known for years. The old soldier only frowned and busied himself with opening an ancient oak door with a key the length of his hand.  The door swung open, revealing a cramped, winding staircase. Suddenly Tenaldi realized where he was; he had walked these stairs often at Master Palumbo’s request, delivering poultices or on rare occasions a cup of suicide root tea. His breath stalled and he began to shiver. This was bad. Very, very bad.
They were taking him to the dungeons.

Tenaldi winced as the door swung shut behind him, creaking like a tortured cat.  He thanked the Elder Beings the cell was empty; at least no one was here to witness his shame. Leaning against the dank wall, he racked his brain for anything that could account for his current predicament, but found nothing. He had been a dutiful apprentice to Master Palumbo, he performed any task set to him with utmost care, and he had no enemies to speak of, so why was he here? Thoughts of minor misdeeds swirled around his brain in a hurricane of doubt. Had the cook taken offence when he didn't finish the plate of frog legs in honey? What about the apothecary he had been forced to dismiss from court at Master Palumbo's request? Then a rat that could have swallowed the Queen’s pet canary in one bite crawled out of the moldy straw on the floor, interrupting Tenaldi's useless ruminations. He started, smothering a yelp, and inched away from the rat until his back hit the opposite wall of the cell. Disgusted, Tenaldi pressed his sleeve to his nose and hoped the foul thing would go away, but it didn’t. It settled in the middle of the room and started nibbling on something that looked like a half-decomposed finger. The animal smell of the rat mixed with rotten meat made Tenaldi’s breakfast try to crawl up his throat. He swallowed it back down.
A door creaked at the end of the hall and Tenaldi craned his neck to see who was there. Maybe he’d finally get some answers. Whoever it was, he seemed hesitant to advance. Boots shuffled against stone, then stopped, and the door creaked open.
“Please! Don’t leave!” Tenaldi yelled. Only silence answered him. “Please,” he whispered. The thought of being buried alive, friendless and forgotten, was almost too much for him, and his chest contracted with panic.
There was more shuffling and finally Arrigo appeared. The rat skittered, taking its ghastly prize with it, and Tenaldi approached the bars. They felt warm and oily against his forehead as he leaned against them. Some kind of warding spell, no doubt.
“Uncle Arrigo, what’s this all about? Please, I’ve done nothing. I swear it.” Arrigo wasn’t really his uncle, but Tenaldi thought the honorific would soften his heart and perhaps loosen his lips, but it didn’t work this time.
The guardsman looked as uncomfortable as Tenaldi had ever seen him, even worse than the time he had caught the man in bed with his mother, and glanced both ways before he spoke.
“Queen Azzurra is dead. The chambermaid found her cold in her bed this morning. No sign of a struggle, and the guards outside heard nothing. Her lady-in-waiting said she was perfectly healthy last night. She took the sleeping draught and retired, as usual. Your sleeping draught.”
“But, but--” Tenaldi felt blood rush to his ears.  He had made that potion a hundred times, and he had prepared it as he always did. Or had he?
Arrigo glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. “Shh. Keep it down! You see how it looks, don’t you?”
Tenaldi grasped his hand, heart hammering. ”But you can help me, Uncle? Get Master Palladino, he’ll vouch for me.”
Arrigo looked down. “I’m afraid not. Palladino is far too busy saving his own hide to care if yours gets tanned. You were his apprentice; he’ll get stripped of his rank or worse if the Prince isn’t feeling merciful.”
Tenaldi bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. Arrigo was right. He couldn’t count on any help from Master Palladino. His hands started to shake again as he realized the full implications of this fact. The whole castle thought he had assassinated the Queen, and there was no one he could turn to for help. He was as good as dead.
“When are they coming for me?” he asked, his voice trembling.
Arrigo sniffed and blew his nose loudly. “There, there, lad. I believe you didn’t do it. Prince Frediano wants to question you himself. If you can convince him of your innocence you might still be saved.” He patted Tenaldi’s hand. “I’ll try to get assigned to escort you. If the Prince orders your death, I’ll make it as painless as I can.” With a final pat he released Tenaldi’s hand and left him to contemplate that small mercy.

Time crawled at the pace of a slug. Tenaldi paced the cell, and even when he fell down, exhausted, the nervous energy in his limbs forced him back up again.  He retraced every moment of the last few days, and he was convinced he hadn’t messed up the potion. At this point he could have made it in his sleep.  
An awful thought struck him: maybe someone had set him up. But who? Certainly not Master Palumbo; he had too much to lose. But who else knew? He hadn’t told anyone, not even to brag. It would have been a violation of his vows, and more importantly it would have earned him a sound trashing from Master Palumbo if he was found out. Yet some knew; the chambermaid had seen him deliver the draught, as had the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, and he passed the guards every time he took the vial up to the Queen. But why would they want to poison their mistress?
Tenaldi slumped down, dejected, only to jump up again to resume his pacing. He'd never figure it out before they separated his head from his body; it was hopeless. Tenaldi's neck was clammy with sweat, but he felt deathly cold despite the exercise. Then he stopped as if he had turned to stone on the spot.
There was someone he had told, someone who had been very interested in the slightest detail of his duties and his life.
His lover.

They had met at the tavern a few weeks ago. Tenaldi still got chills when he thought of Orfeo's eyes, like embers and flint. Orfeo carried himself like a soldier, but dressed fashionably in tight hose that revealed his muscular calves and doublets of finest black velvet. Tenaldi had never met anyone like him, and he was flattered when the richly dressed stranger bought him goblets of fine wine and hung onto his every word.
On the third night Orfeo pulled him into a dark alley for a kiss. Things had progressed at a brisk pace from there, and Tenaldi had received two reprimands for missing his lessons, but his time with Orfeo had been worth it. Or so he had thought.
Now that Tenaldi thought about it, Orfeo had evaded most of his questions. He had said he was a retired soldier, travelling to his ancestral home in Alba Pompeia, but nothing more. Tenaldi remembered thinking that Orfeo wasn’t that good a soldier when he saw the multitude of fine scars that crisscrossed his body. And he had seemed far too knowledgeable about poisons when Tenaldi had sneaked him into the Queen’s Garden for a stroll. He had thought it a nobleman’s morbid fixation, but now he wondered.  The deathbell bush had looked a bit worse for wear the next day.
What if Orfeo was behind the Queen’s death? Could he stand to betray him to the guards? Orfeo loved him. Or had that been part of the deception, too? Tenaldi began pacing again.
How could he have been so foolish?

Arrigo managed to support Tenaldi unobtrusively as he threw him on the floor before Prince Frediano, and he even gave Tenaldi's shoulder a reassuring squeeze before he withdrew. Tenaldi shot him a grateful glance and then occupied himself with studying the specks of dirt on the Prince's boots. At least he had managed to walk to the audience hall on his own two feet, even if they felt like they belonged to someone else at the moment.  
“Apprentice Uccello, you may rise.”
Prince Frediano’s voice cut like fine steel blade. Tenaldi looked up. There was no mercy in the Prince’s cold blue eyes.
“Your Majesty, it wasn’t my potion that took your mother’s life, I swear it!”
The Prince’s expression stayed sharp and chilly. “Unfortunately there isn’t any of the draught left, or I would make you drink the rest to prove it, Apprentice.” He fixed his icy gaze on Tenaldi. “Poison is a coward’s weapon; I was a fool to think you would own up to your misdeeds. Do you want to die a coward’s death, Apprentice Uccello?”
Tenaldi hung his head. It seemed best not to answer. The Prince had made up his mind; there was nothing to do but wait for his verdict. For treason he could expect to be drawn and quartered, for murder, disemboweled and buried alive.  He longed for the Queen’s Garden. If only he had a few mouthfuls of the suicide plant, or even a cutting of deathbell root. But he didn’t.
The Prince was droning on about betrayal and murder, but then something he said shocked Tenaldi out of his stupor.
“. . . and I am going to give you a choice: fellroot or the executioner. Will you take the coward’s way out, Apprentice?”
Fellroot. The demon plant. It opened a way for the beings of the otherworld for possession. They would be bound by the Pact to serve the crown until they had devoured their prey. When there was nothing left they would move on, leaving an empty husk to wander the inbetween places until it withered away. It was a fate worse than death, people said. But those people had obviously never faced death by disembowelment.
Tenaldi lifted his gaze. “I choose the fellroot, Your Majesty.”
A man in the robes of the Assassins’ Guild approached Tenaldi, his face hidden behind the traditional mask of plain obsidian, a face of stone, incapable of mercy. He held out a golden platter with a furry red root on it. Hands trembling, Tenaldi picked it up. That’s when he glanced into the assassin’s eyes. Ember and flint flashed back. Orpheo. Their eyes locked, and he didn’t look away.
Holding Orpheo’s gaze, Tenaldi bit into the root.
It tasted of betrayal and death.  


Aug 28, 2015

Laurie R. King and Sherlock Holmes

I confess, I'm a bit of a romantic, and romance isn't something you see a lot of in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. If you, too, have a thing for the Victorian detective, you might like Laurie R. King's Mary Russell books. Most re-imaginings of a classic aren't that successful, but I love these. King really seems to connect with the character, and her protagonist Mary Russell is formidable, to say the least. The series is great until Locked Rooms, but I don't love the newer books as much as the early ones. And they are mainly mysteries, not romance, but that element is present.

King's Holmes owes a lot to Jeremy Brett, and that's the way I like it. Anybody else a Jeremy Brett gal/guy? Or do you all like Cumberbatch?

To those making gagging noises right now, go check out Neil Gaiman's brilliant short story A Study in Emerald. I can pretty much guarantee you'll love it.

Aug 26, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Sherlock Holmes Edition

I've always wondered where Conan Doyle's unsual character names come from. Let's find out!

Sherlock comes from Old English scir "bright" + locc lock of hair. So fair-haired? Hmm. That's kind of disappointing.

What about Mycroft? It's actually a surname deriving from Old English mýðe "mouth of a river" + croft "enclosed field."

The origins of Holmes I kind of guessed. At least in East-Anglia, it's derived from Norse-Viking holmr for "island," but another possibility is the Old English holegn meanin holly woods or holm for holm oak.

Maybe Conan Doyle meant to imply that Holmes is an island?

Okay, okay, I give up.

He probably just thought the names sounded cool... 


Aug 24, 2015

Writerly Dissection of Sherlock Episode "His Last Vow"

I've been re-watching Sherlock, and I got to this episode last night. It's the one where Sherlock goes against the blackmailer Magnussen, if you don't remember. Sherlock is a fantastic show, and this episode was penned by Moffat. I'm a big fan of his writing, especially the early Doctor Who episodes he did. I was fascinated by the structure and thematic layers of this episode, so I thought I'd try to analyze it a bit, see what I could learn from the master.

The whole episode is about the dangers of information/knowledge. Magnussen uses his knowledge to blackmail people. He has the power to ruin lives, and he doesn't hesitate. We also have Sherlock's pretend relationship with Mary's bridesmaid Janine, whom he uses to gain access to Magnussen (she's his secretary). Then there's the big one: Mary's not who she seems. She's been lying to John all this time. Soon we find out that Mycroft is on the wrong side; he sees Magnussen as useful, and has dealt with him before. He doesn't believe Magnussen would go after anyone truly important (like him, for example). A third relationship where trust is broken is between Mycroft and Sherlock, when he drugs Mycroft and steals his secrets.

The Janine/Sherlock thing acts as foreshadowing to the Mary/John revelation, and maybe as a bit of mirroring, too. Janine's relationship with Sherlock ends, of course, and I think most of us feel that Sherlock was wrong to use her and lie to her like that, but it was for the greater good. Does that justify what he did? She loved him, but he didn't love her. What about Mary then? Her reasons for lying are quite different. She loves John and doesn't want to lose him. Does that make her lying more acceptable? And then there's Mycroft. Does he deserve to get drugged because he's on the wrong side? Now Mary and John's lives are on the line (metaphorically speaking). Is Sherlock justified in what he does?

The characterization of Magnussen is also wonderful. I love that he acts inappropriate and doesn't respect anyone's boundaries (peeing in the fireplace, picking out the olive from Sherlock's pasta and wshing his hands in Sherlock's water glass.). This makes him all the more fun to hate and fits with the blackmailer thing. He's physically disgusting as well as on a mental level, and he does it knowingly, to hurt people, because he can. It reveals what kind of man he is.

The Mary shooting Sherlock thing felt weird to me the first time around, but I see that Moffat needed to get Sherlock into his mind palace, both to foreshadow Magnussen's files being only in his mind palace and Moriarty's return. I do like the twist of Sherlock saying that Mary saved his life by shooting him. It's that weird way  of thinking that makes him such an interesting character.

We expect Sherlock to come up with a brilliant way to save the day, and he does, only to be foiled by Magnussen. Then he ends up shooting Magnussen. That was unexpected, at least for me, but it does show how much he cares about John and Mary, so it is in character in the end.

I also liked the subtle touch of Mycroft mentioning the assignment in Eastern Europe and how it would get Sherlock killed, and then the ending of his sending Sherlock to die. They both know it, but John and Mary don't. Great use of dramatic irony.

Then there's the dialogue of the east wind rising, a reference to  Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "His Last Bow," I think. Holmes is referring to the First World War in that one.

In addition to all this structural sophistication and inventive use of "writer tricks," we also get those touching character moments, like Mycroft and Sherlock smoking together, and the hilarious scene with Janine, Sherlock, and John in the beginning.

This is a truly great show. I can't wait to see what happens next!      

Aug 23, 2015

Worldcon 2017 in Helsinki!

Yay! Helsinki will be hosting Worldcon in 2017!!!

Very exciting! I will definitely be attending.

here's the website:

See you there!

Aug 22, 2015

Terribleminds Challenge: Creating Characters

For this week's Terribleminds challenge we're creating characters. They'll be used in next week's challenge. Here's mine:

Meet Xun Jun

My father was an optimist, not a quality often found in Silicate-105 miners; when you expect to die of silicate-lung in your forties, why bother? But he wanted better for my sister Min and me. That’s how he got indebted to Liu Bai, the White Dragon of Zodiac Station.
My father named me Jun. He told me it meant “supreme,” “talented,” and “handsome,” which is funny because I am none of these things. My only talent is twirling the Tsa Lin, the spinning top. I can make the top dance like it’s alive, jump over obstacles, and knock chute-scurries out of the air. A waste of time, Father called it. He wanted me to apply myself to my studies, like Min did. But I always found studying a chore.
Father never shirked from chores. He worked twelve-hour days until the silicate dust rotted his lungs, like it had Mother’s. When Father couldn’t make the payments, Liu Bai was unexpectedly merciful, perhaps because of the fondness he had harbored for my mother. He didn’t cut off Father’s hands, or even his thumbs; he didn’t throw us off the station. Instead, he offered to settle for a different form of payment: my sister or me.
Father chose me.

My Tsa Lin danced for Liu Bai after that, up to the day he threatened to break Min’s arm for defending Widow Hu. That’s when I made the Tsa Lin fly right in his face.

Aug 21, 2015

Intriguing Things

The lines frost forms on an airplane window, like alien pictograms, ordered and angular.

The amber glow of a pallasite meteorite sliced open, olivite crystals, like gems of burnt sugar, floating in their sooty silver matrix.

The heavy harvest moon of August, hanging over a field of golden wheat.

(In honour of Sei Shonagon, I thought I'd try a list of my own.)

Aug 20, 2015

Let's Build Minas Tirith!

Have you seen this?

Apparently a group of Tolkien fans are trying to build a real-life Minas Tirith in the UK using crowdfunding.

That would be so awesome! I'd totally live there.

But not everybody thinks so. Here's the counter-proposal:

Which side will you choose?

Aug 19, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Etymology, Sei Style

I don't know Japanese or Chinese, so I don't feel qualified to go into the etymology of Japanese words, but I'll share this fascinating bit from The Pillow Book and its appendixes.

(147) Things that look ordinary but become extraordinary when written--Strawberries. The dew plant. The prickly water lily. Spiders. Chestnuts. Doctors of literature. Postgraduate students. Acting masters of the Empress Dowager's Palace. The arbutus tree.
People write the name 'knotweed' with characters meaning 'tiger's staff'. A tiger doesn't look like it would need a staff!

And here are the translator's notes:

Many names even for common objects were or could be written with Chinese characters that, when interpreted literally, often produced strange or incomprehensible meanings, as are most of the items here.
1. Strawberry . . . Dew-plant . . . chestnuts: Respectively, overturned tray child; sole of duck's foot grass; barbarian peach. 

Aww! This makes me want to learn Chinese and Japanese!

Aug 18, 2015

In Other News: Supernova and Mothership Zeta

Writerly stuff, here we go . . .

I've got a short story in the upcoming Finnish Supernova anthology, which will be coming out in October. Some of the participating authors will be talking about the book at Lokacon in Jyväskylä on October 17th. Unfortunately I won't be there, but it looks like a fun event.

Oh, and I just got an email that Mothership Zeta has accepted one of my flash fiction pieces for publication, and I'm thrilled!

I could have been doing a number of very respectable, writerly things when this arrived, maybe reading Proust or working on a story, but actually I was reading this article on xoJane:

Yeah. I don't even have a cat. Just an abundance of morbid curiosity.

That's me: a class act all the way.

Aug 17, 2015

Sei Shonagon: The Pillow Book

For those who aren't familiar with The Pillow Book, it's a collection of observations, stories, and lists by Sei Shonagon, a court lady in Heian Japan. I knew going into this that the book didn't have a structure to it, so it didn't bother me, but I can see that this might be a frustrating read if you don't take this into account. I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed reading Sei's stories of court happenings and her sometimes acerbic remarks about those around her, the Empress Consort Teishi, and religious festivals. 

 The tone is mostly light and playful. Even when Empress Teishi fell out of favour with the Emperor and had to leave the court, Sei doesn't mention this. I think it's important to know the historical context, though, and at least for a westerner not familiar with the major poetical works of the day, an annotated version is very helpful. I have the Penguin Classics edition, which was very good about explaining the references and unfamiliar customs. In addition to the annotations, it had a  section in the back with maps, pictures of court clothing, and general info on Heian Japan.

 A Finnish writer Mia Kankimäki wrote a book about her life-changing journey to Japan to find Sei and herself. It's called Asioita, jotka saavat sydämen lyömään nopeammin (Things That Make the Heart Beat Faster), after one of Sei's lists. Kankimäki felt a special kinship with Sei, and suggested that The Pillow Book resembles modern blogs, which is a fascinating idea. Reading The Pillow Book does feel intimate, like Sei is really speaking to you from hundreds of years ago. I think that's part of its charm. Kankimäki's book makes a nice companion piece to The Pillow Book (if you can read Finnish, that is).  

For me, the experience was a bit different. The Pillow Book reminded me of a diary, but more specifically the kind of notebook or journal most writers carry around to write down ideas and snatches of description in. There are incomplete scenes and unfinished stories, like it's a work in progress. The mysterious lists are apparently meant for use in writing poems, which was a very important part of court life and communication. If you read them as they are, they're enchanting, but this knowledge gives them a special significance for writers. 

Here's my current journal. Pretty, huh? It's almost full by now.

I loved this book and will probably return to it many times. Highly recommended, especially for writers.

I'll leave you with Sei's list, the one I mentioned above:

Things that make the heart beat fast

A sparrow with nestlings. Going past a place where tiny children are playing. Lighting some fine incense and then lying down alone to sleep. Looking into a Chinese mirror that's a little clouded. A fine gentleman pulls up in his carriage and sends in some request.
To wash your hair, apply your makeup and put on clothes that are well scented with incense. Even if you're somewhere where no one special will see you, you still feel a heady sense of pleasure inside.
On a night when you're waiting for someone to come, there's a sudden gust of rain and something rattles in the wind, making your heart suddenly beat faster.

Aug 14, 2015

Dartmoor: Wistman's Wood

We had a chance to visit Dartmoor again on our vacation in England a few weeks ago. The moor has a certain sombre feel to it, especially in foggy and rainy weather, and it's easy to imagine a wisthound or two lurking in the mist on days like this. We braved the rainy weather for a hike to Wistman's Wood from Princetown, as we had done the other walk on the abandoned railroad tracks on our last visit.   

It was a two kilometre walk to Two Bridges, where the trail to Wistman's Wood started. 

The beginning of the trail. Doesn't it look like it goes to Faerie?

Wistman's Wood is hundreds of years old. If you've been to Dartmoor you know that a lot of it is open moorland, and the sheep and Dartmoor ponies grazing and the long history of farming in the area have affected its ecology. This old wood probably survived because it's growing in rocky ground unsuitable for farming. 

The mossy trees do feel a bit ghostly, so I wasn't surprised to find out that there were legends about the wood. It is said that when darkness falls the devil's wisthounds hunt unweary travellers and drive them deeper into the woods never to be seen again.

Here's a poem V.I. Phillips wrote about the Wood:

Wistman's Wood

There's eeriness in Wistman's Wood,
Where stealthy shadows slowly creep
About the boles of moaning trees.
There's terror where the foaming stream
Streaks all the gorge with ghostly light,
And creaking willows toss their arms
Naked and lean against the flood.

There's mourning on the bleak hillside,
And grief in sodden cotton grass
Black bogs, and peewits fluttering.
There's mystery in great grim tors
All silent in the sobbing rain
Where in the shade of Windy Post
A whist hound's baying to the moon.

And yet the wailing wind is dear-
A child, untamed, of that great clan
Of ling and gorse and granite grey.
One with the old eternal hills,
One with the tender moorland sky,
One with the ancient loneliness
Where peat fires burned and loved ones lie.
V. I . Phillips

Aug 13, 2015

Far Orbit Apogee Cover Reveal!

Look! Pretty cool, right? You can read more about the reveal at or

And here’s what you’ll find between the covers…

“To Defend and Keep from Harm” by Anna Salonen
“This Story Will Win a Hugo” by James Van Pelt
“Contamination” by Jay Werkheiser
“A Most Exceptional Scholarship” by Nestor Delfino
“Masks” by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks
“Murder at Tranquility Base” by Dave Creek
“The Affairs of Dragons” by Julie Frost
“Culture Shock” by Keven R. Pittsinger
“Lost in Transmutation” by Wendy Sparrow
“N31ghb0rs” by Eric Del Carlo
“Dainty Jane” by Dominic Dulley
“Live by the Ten, Die by the Gun” by Milo James Fowler
“By The Shores of a Martian Sea” by Sam S. Kepfield

Oh my. I'm up first.
It's probably normal to have a small-scale panic attack when your first story gets published?

The anthology is available for pre-order from:

Official page: 




Who Says Doctors Don't Have a Sense of Humor?

So, my friend, the pathologist, just got a new t-shirt that says:

                          I see dead people.
                          (No, really!)

Enough said.

Aug 12, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Arthuriana

This week's theme is words associated with King Arthur and his knights of the round table, 'cause I kind of have that on the brain from my visit to Tintagel.

Let's start with the wizard himself, Merlin. It's funny; according to the Online Etymology dictionary, "merlin" had different origins than "Merlin." Let's start with the common noun. The word "merlin" comes from merilun, shortened form of Old French esmerillon, "merlin, small hawk." But then there's the name, Merlin, the one we're actually interested in. That comes from Old French form of  Welsh Myrddhin, probably from Old Celtic Mori-dunon (mori=sea, dunon=hill), "of the sea-hill."

Fits with that cave at Tintagel, doesn't it?

Speaking of Tintagel, the etymology of the name isn't completely clear. It is probably Norman French rather than of Cornish origin because of the soft 'g,' but if it is Cornish, then Din would mean "fort," and Tagell "throat, constricted." Dun + -tagell would mean "narrow place."

What about Arthur, then? Arthur comes from Medieval Latin Arthurus/Arturus, from Welsh arth "bear," Latin version ursus. Arthur's famous sword, Excalibur, also has an interesting etymology. It comes from Old French Escalibor,  corruption of Caliburn, from Welsh Caledvwlch, a corruption of the legendary Irish sword Caladbolg, meaning "hard-belly." To find out more about Caladbolg, click here.

Moving on to Arthur's legendary castle and court, Camelot comes from Latin Camuladonum, the Roman forerunner of Colcherter. Donum would mean gift, but I can't find out what the Camula part is. Camurus is hooked, bent, and camum is some kind of beer, but we'd probably need to ask someone who speaks Latin. Camula apparently means "woodworm," too, but, somehow I doubt that's it:)

Now to explore a few other key players in the legend: Lancelot is a double-diminutive of Frankish Lanzo, from "land", it later became associated with french lance, meaning "spear" or, indeed, "lance,"
and Guinevere comes from Welsh Gwenhwyvar, "white-cheeked."

Mordred comes from Welsh Medraut, "uncertain." That's about right.

Morgan Le Fay comes from Old Welsh Morgen, "sea-born." Le fay from French la Fée "the fairy." She might also be connected with morgens, which are Welsh or Breton water spirits that drown men. They lure men to death with their own beauty or with glimpses of underwater gardens of buildings of gold or crystal. According to Wikipedia, the drowning of Ys, a city in Brittany, was caused by the king's daughter Dahut, who becomes a sea morgen. In another tale a fisherman adopts an infant morgen only to lose her when she grows up and returns to her parents' underwater palace.

Avalon probably comes from Welsh Ynys Afallon, from ynys "isle" and afal meaning "apple." Magical life-giving or healing apples are ubiquitous in mythology. I wonder if the reader is meant to make this connection, too?

Names have power, don't they? From a world-building point of view this is really fascinating. It matters what you name things, it really does. See the kind of depth the right word can bring?


Aug 11, 2015

Far Orbit Apogee News

We have a release date! Far Orbit Apogee will be available as an ebook and trade paperback on October 13, 2015!

The cover will be revealed on August 13, so stay tuned!

Here's a quote from the press release:

Looking for science-fiction stories like they used to write? Far Orbit Apogee takes all of the fun-to-read adventure, ingenuity, and heroism of mid-century pulp fiction and shapes it for a new generation of readers. Follow the adventures of heroic scientists, lunar detectives, space-dragons, robots, interstellar pirates, gun slingers, and other memorable characters as they wrestle with adversity beyond the borders of our small blue marble. Fun, engaging, pithy, and piquant, we've got it all. 
Featuring stories from Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, Dave Creek, Eric Del Carlo, Dominic Dulley, Nestor Delfino, Milo James Fowler, Julie Frost, Sam S. Kepfield, Keven R. Pittsinger, Wendy Sparrow, Anna Salonen, James Van Pelt, and Jay Werkheiser. 

Sounds fun, huh?