Tag Archives: hermaphrodites

Vokhtah – cover reveal and an excerpt

First and foremost, the cover!

The blurb on the back cover hasn’t scaled properly, but that’s okay as the image used for the actual print cover will be the right size. The width of the spine will be adjusted as well, once I’ve got the trim size/page count finalised. Other than those small changes, the cover is done. 🙂

Oddly enough, the thing that gave me the most trouble with the cover was the red dwarf sun. Even as a binary, it will never look that big, but I had to take liberties with the size in order to make the image tell a graphical ‘story’. Getting the colour and ‘haze’ to look okay was hard too. Overall though, I am really, really pleased. I wanted something that looked more obviously sci-fi, and I think I got it. I also wanted the figure to be ‘brooding’ without giving too much away. The one thing I will say is that the figure is not wearing a cloak. 😀

And now for that excerpt. I rarely post excerpts because they rarely work well divorced from their context, but…well, I really like this scene. -shrug- To provide a little bit of context, the Yellow is the most powerful Healer in the Guild of Healers, and it’s also one of the bad guys. 🙂

The Yellow

“Forgiveness Honoured,” the young healer said as it skidded to a halt a respectful distance from the Yellow Councillor. “Traders confirming Messenger looking like Blue leaving with last caravan two circuits ago.”

The stocky, powerfully built iVokh standing over by the table continued studying the deep blue gem in its hand for a moment longer before turning to face the young healer.

“And Junior of Needlepoint?”

The question sounded casual, almost to the point of disinterest, however the young healer knew its master too well to ever mistake self-control for indifference.

“Junior being too… mmm…sick to leave with caravan,” it said carefully. “Triad estimating not being fit to travel for five, maybe six more circuits.”

* * *

The Yellow’s expression did not change, however there was a slight jerkiness to its movements as it dropped the gem, and its chain, into a pouch. It pulled the drawstring tight with a vicious snap of its wrists.

It had known the Master’s ridiculous story had to be true from the moment it had seen the Blue’s gem, lying abandoned on the table. But still, it had hoped. Now that hope was gone.

The Blue had made fools of them all by doing the unthinkable, and by now it had a two day head start. However it would soon discover that it was not the only one capable of doing the unexpected.

Turning towards the Master Timekeeper, who stood silently wringing its hands by the wall, the Yellow flicked its fingers in dismissal and waited in stony silence as the Master shuffled out backwards. The fool would have to be given a suitable reward for its incompetence, but for now it could wait; there were more pressing matters to deal with.

Throwing the pouch at the feet of the young healer, the Yellow said, “Taking that to Blue faction and then returning to Traders. Informing Quartermaster that Council needing special escort for Junior. Caravan must leaving at first-light on the morrow.”

“But Honoured—” the young healer began. Its cilia locked shut a moment after the words were out, but of course by then the damage was done.

“S’so?” the Yellow asked, its voice deceptively mild.

“N-nothing, Honoured…”

“Perhaps thinking needing authorisation, mmm?” the Yellow asked, knowing full well that was not what its assistant had been thinking at all.

The young healer blanched, making the finger-length scar beneath its left eye stand out even more. Nevertheless, its shoulders remained straight as it gave a silent nod.

The Yellow narrowed its eyes as it dropped a small yellow shard onto the sand at its feet. Authorisation. And a lesson in humility.

The young healer bent and slowly reached for the gem. The tips of its fingers were just curling around the shard when the Yellow’s foot descended on its hand.

“Being grateful for reminder,” the Yellow said in a genial tone as it ground the healer’s hand into the sand.

* * *

Crouched at the Yellow’s feet, the young healer knew better than to move, or make a sound, however it could not stop the sheen of sweat that suddenly broke out all over its body.

Only after the Yellow finally raised its foot and strode from the cavern, did the young healer release the keen of pain it had been holding back.

As it rose, cradling its bruised fingers against its chest, it spat on the ground where the Yellow’s feet had been. Then it fumbled the gem shard into the tiny bag it wore around its neck, gathered up the pouch and left at a quick trot.

On a different, but related note, you might be interested in this amazing article about Iron Age jewellery:

http://www.blog.poppyporter.co.uk/wordpress/2018/05/08/the-celtic-torc-how-iconic-iron-age-treasure-is-beginning-to-weave-its-magic-into-my-jewellery/

[My thanks to Dawn of Dawn Gill Designs for the link to that amazing article]

Even if you don’t have time to read the whole article, have a look at this:

Electrum torc with ornamented terminals. The torc is made from just over a kilogram of gold mixed with silver. It is made from sixty-four threads. Each thread is 1.9mm wide. Eight threads were twisted together at a time to make 8 separate ropes of metal. These were then twisted around each to make the final torc. The ends of the torc were cast in moulds. The hollow ends were then welded onto the ropes. The terminals are ornamented with embossed ridges, contrasting with areas filled by chased 'basket-work'.

That, my friends, is the Snettisham Great Torc, and it was made about 2000 years ago! Just goes to show what so-called primitive people can achieve. It also confirms that it would be possible for the iVokh, despite their low level of technology, to craft the kind of jewellery I’ve written into the story.

That may sound like nit-picking, but I believe that authenticity in the little things makes the big things easier to believe. And let’s face, I’m asking people to believe in flying, psychopathic aliens that happen to be hermaphrodites! lol I need all the help I can get. 😀

cheers

Meeks


Sometimes I surprise even myself…

Apologies if I’ve been less visible of late, but I’ve started writing again, and that tends to give me tunnel vision. The story I’m writing is the long delayed, next chapter of the Vokhtah saga.

The story of my psychopathic hermaphrodites languished for four years while I wrote Innerscape, but now they’re back, and I’ve had to re-acquaint myself with their world all over again. Part of that process was to do a backwards outline of the original story, and that’s where this post comes in. I’d actually forgotten that I wrote this preface to the Vokhtan to English dictionary:

Due to the radical differences between Vokh and human physiology, this sound guide is an approximation only. Where humans speak by forcing air past their vocal chords and then shape the resultant sound in the mouth, the Vokh and iVokh use their mouths for eating only. Their lungs are located in their wings, and they inhale and exhale through hundreds of small cilia on the leading edges of their wings, by-passing the mouth entirely. Thus the sounds they produce are akin to the multiple sounds produced by a pipe organ. Even pure sounds have a resonance human speakers cannot match.

Adding to the difficulty of accurately representing the Vokhtan language is the native speakers’ habit of deliberately distorting their speech with ‘chords’, in order to convey tone and inflection. Harmonious ‘chords’ – like the major 5th in human music – denote agreement, pleasure, delight etc. Discords, on the other hand, can imply a range of emotions from disbelief to contempt. Yet despite the musical quality of Vokhtan, neither the Vokh nor the iVokh have ever developed the concept of music.

Vokhtan for human speakers is further complicated by the fact that the spoken language also includes an array of scent cues produced in glands at the base of each cilia. These scent cues are aspirated with certain audible sounds to form a combined sound/scent amalgam. For example, in the word ‘Vokh’ the ‘h’ at the end represents both the sound of the aspiration, and the scent denoting respect or admiration, something humans are incapable of reproducing.

Please keep these difficulties in mind when attempting to speak Vokhtan.

lol – I really did spend a lot of time thinking about the Vokh and the iVokh. From 2004 to 2012 to be exact. There was so much to discover about them. I mean, they all have sharp claws, right, even the much smaller, less aggressive iVokh. But sharp, pointed claws tend to get in the way when you’re not killing something, so how were the iVokh supposed to craft anything?

The ladies reading this post will immediately recognize the problem of nails that stick out half an inch past the end of your fingers. So how did the iVokh manage? By doing what we do, of course. They squared off the tips of their claws. But wait…how would they have cut their claws? Clearly they would need tools of some kind. Not scissors, no, but something like a small nail file perhaps. Except that nail files don’t grow on bushes. The iVokh would need Smiths to make the nail files, and the Smiths would need metal of some sort…

And so it went. Every idea came with its own baggage of pre-requisites, and each day of writing revealed some new discovery. It was an exciting time, but that was then. Now, I have to relearn all these tiny, yet important details so I don’t make any horrible mistakes, like saying that one iVokh punched another.

The iVokh certainly fight, but not with a clenched fist. Why? Two physiological reasons:

  1. Even with their claws blunted, striking with a clenched fist would drive the claws into their own palms, and
  2. Both iVokh and Vokh hands are quite weak in comparison to the rest of their bodies. They do have opposable thumbs, but they only have two fingers, and those fingers are long and spindly. A punch would probably break the whole hand.

And these are the little things that I have to learn all over again. If anyone’s interested, I’ve been trying to do a graphic of the hand. Still very much a work-in-progress, but here it is:

cheers

Meeks

 


Arnie – my hero!

I know it’s probably not wise to admit to really liking big Arnie’s movies but, what the hell, I do! I’m not blind to the challenges he faced in the acting department though. Nonetheless I do admire the fact that he was smart enough to play to his strengths rather than trying to be something he was not.

Let’s face it, could anyone else have played the Terminator better? I think not. Some would say that his success as the Terminator was thanks to clever casting but I prefer to think that Arnie knew his limitations and was not too proud to admit to them.

There are all sorts of deep and meaningful things I could say about playing to your strengths and knowing your limitations but this is a personal blog so I’m just going to say that I learned about some of my limitations over the weekend and I’m not going to boo-hoo about them anymore.

As a writer I know that I am never going to give Shakespeare anything to worry about and I’m pretty sure I won’t be bumping anyone off the bestseller lists either. But. That was never my intention. I wanted to tell a story, a long story, in a way that hadn’t been done before. I still do.

Right from the beginning I knew my approach was risky because stories about aliens and alien planets are usually told from the perspective of a human observer. That human perspective makes the aliens accessible. It also gives the author some very powerful tools to work with.

I chose to tell my story in a different way and so I have had to find different tools to work with. Some work, some don’t but I have decided to stick with some of my choices.

One choice that will probably cause readers a lot of angst is my dialogue.

‘“Apologizing for disturbing important work,” the Messenger said without any trace of sarcasm.’

In normal dialogue this would read as “I apologize for disturbing your important work”.

That is how we, as humans, would say it but the Messenger is not human. It is humanoid but the differences are more than just cosmetic. For starters my humanoid aliens are true hermaphrodites, meaning that they can take on either the female or male reproductive roles. Which role a particular alien takes depends on who wins the mating battle. The winner takes the male role while the loser takes the female role. The consequences to the loser include an almost 100% chance of bearing an offspring. And the consequences of that can be dire.

This kind of biology directly affects the language as well as the behaviour of my aliens. When ‘he’ and ‘she’ have such personal and private connotations ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ take on a different meaning and context as well.

Still on the theme of biology, these aliens do not have vocal chords or lungs as we know them. Their mouths are solely for feeding. Communication occurs via the cilia which are like the pipes of an old pipe organ. Thus even the most ordinary of speech involves harmonies and discords which are understood as giving tone and inflection to what is said.

Last but not least, the cilia are connected to scent producing glands which reveal the emotions the speaker is feeling. Most adults can control these tell-tale scents but in order to do so they have to try and ‘distance’ themselves from those emotions. This need for distance and control is again reflected in the grammar and phrasing of their speech patterns.

Then there is the question of courtesy. In a strongly hierarchical society courtesy can be a question of life or death. Drawing attention to oneself is neither courteous nor wise and how you refer to someone else can be even more critical.

There is precedent for this extreme courtesy amongst many terran languages as well. The two that I’m most familiar with – French and Hungarian – both have completely separate pronouns and verb forms for saying ‘you’ to a superior or ‘you’ to an equal. [For those interested they are ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ in French and ‘te’ and ‘ön’ in Hungarian. From wiki : ‘Here “you”,[in Hungarian} the second person, is grammatically addressed in the third person.’].

The language of Vokhtan solves this dilemma by removing pronouns from the language almost completely[except for ‘it’ and swear words]. In Vokhtan the word ‘you’ is considered so offensive that it is only ever used as a profanity. So if I, as a human said to the Messenger from the earlier example “Can you direct me to the waste pit?” I would probably be killed on the spot. Vokhtah really isn’t a great tourist destination.

For all of these reasons I made a decision to be true to the biology and culture of my characters in all ways, including dialogue. I’ll be honest, if I could think of a way of making the dialogue easier for readers to understand without losing the biology I would but it’s just not possible. Like it or not the Vokh and the iVokh are real to me now and I can no longer remake them into a more convenient form. So like Arnie, I’m going to play to my strengths and pray like crazy that my future readers will forgive me for making them work so hard!

I wish I could post a picture of what my aliens look like but my artist-in-residence is not happy with the original concept art so my hands are tied. When the Daughter speaks I yank on my forelock and slink away. After all, how many artists are prepared to work for nothing more than a roast dinner?

I know it’s only been a couple of days but I’ve missed you guys and it’s good to be back. 🙂


Endings and epiphanies

I write The Book every day so I guess a bit of tunnel-vision is to be expected but even so, suddenly realising that the first draft of book 2 was almost done took me by surprise. That was yesterday and by day’s end it was done. I am now officially miserable, which may explain why I had my earth shattering epiphany today.

Before I explain about the epiphany I should say a few words about The End. For me, the process of  writing a novel is made up of many layers : there’s all the research [fun], then there are all the false starts [not so fun but necessary] and then there is the utter joy of beginning to see the story unfold.

I don’t outline per se. The false starts I mentioned are the closest I get to outlining. They are like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle set out on the dining room table without a reference picture to tell you what it is that you’re trying to achieve. And then, one day I start to see patterns emerging from those pieces. When enough of those patterns fall into place the journey of discovery begins. This is when I start to tell myself the story. No, this is when I start to live the story. The people and places in the story become so real to me that, while it lasts, I really don’t want to be anywhere else… especially not in the kitchen cooking dinner, or driving down to the bank. As an aside I had to physically go to the bank a few days ago. It’s only 5 minutes from home and I could drive there with my eyes closed yet I was so caught up in my own head space that I went right past the bank… twice. Talk about being on autopilot.

So you see for me the storytelling phase is a great deal like being in love – it consumes me. And then it ends. The characters are still there, the world is still there but I’m no longer a part of either. They now have a life of their own and I go back to being just me. They will still need me for the heavy lifting and cleaning, I may even have to sterilize my scalpel and do some judicious surgery but all of that is just ‘work’. Playtime is over. Hence the misery.

Adding to my woes is the knowledge that once the grunt work is finished I will have to start doing something that truly terrifies me – I will have to publish.

Now I know that for many writers publishing is the end game, it is the holy grail, it is the whole point of writing.  And I do share the desire to be read, really I do. But. The closest I’ve ever come to personally getting something published was a few years ago when I finished a step-by-step ‘How to use internet banking’ guide for customers of bank XX. The bank did not commission this guide. It was something I decided to do after helping many of my clients learn how to use their net banking facility. These clients were baby boomers who were just starting to realise that they were missing out on the whole personal computing revolution. And I have to say that back then most banks had atrocious user interfaces. Anyway…. I sent copies of my guide out to every publisher I could find in Australia. Three showed some interest. One actually looked into the viability of such a guide and all turned me down [partly because the banks showed no interest]. So I know how hard it is to get publishers to bite. And going through all that heartache again scares me. In some ways I think I would rather have a root canal done without anaesthetic.

And then at the start of this year [2012] I discovered that self-publishing was no longer just vanity publishing. Could this be my way out? I began to research and learned that self-publishing is no easier than traditional publishing because it requires the author to become a publicist, marketing guru and saleswoman all in one. Nonetheless, as I stumbled on more and more truly great indie authors who could not get published the traditional way, the idea began to take root.

Today my friends that idea blossomed. I was in the bathroom, a place where I do some of my best thinking, when I started thinking about what I would put on the back of my book – the blurb if you will.  These are the key words that popped into my head : aliens, psychopaths, hermaphrodites, murder, castration and rape as mating.

Gott in himmel! What publisher in his or her right mind would publish something like that? Just last week I was reading about an author who was knocked back for having a dwarf and the mere mention of porn in his novel. I’ve gone gender bender with a vengeance and I expect to be greeted with open arms? In a science fiction market that is already as dead as the dodo…

I tried to tell myself that I had only been true to the biology and that these were aliens after all – weren’t aliens meant to be different? I knew though. I had fallen off my donkey and seen the burning bush and there was no going back. If Vokhtah was ever to see the light of day then there was only one path I could take – Indie or bust.

Oddly enough this epiphany, as painful as it was, has made me feel better. At least now I know where I’m going. How long it takes me to get there is another story entirely but I’m in no rush. I still have a lot of work to do and who knows, maybe by the time I’m ready to step off that cliff the world of publishing will have changed for the better.

And maybe, just maybe the world of readers will be ready to look through the eyes of an alien. I live in hope.

cheers

Meeks [aka acflory]

 

 


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