Castles Put Me in the Mood

to write. And no, not vampire ghost time-travel romances; that’s a little too weird, even for me, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think I could write romance of any sort because it feels too implausible for my brain to handle.

Elves mucking through a swamp killing undead, THAT I can suspend disbelief for, but the elf and human prince being driven together by circumstance and, despite not getting along initially, falling madly in love with each other? SPOILER ALERT: No. That’s not going to happen.

But being forced by circumstances (inconvenient animated corpses) to spend some time in the human prince’s BEAUTIFUL ancient castle, built in the foothills of a dramatic mountain range and overlooking the empire’s windswept mesas? Why yes, let’s!

I should have titled this post “Looking at Pictures of Castles…” because I haven’t actually been in many castles.

I’ve been in large (and sometimes weird) houses, like Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, PA, a 44-room mansion made entirely of concrete.

Fonthill Castle

Have you ever had a dream that you were in an inexplicably odd structure, with staircases of various sizes, nooks in unexpected places, and mismatched tile and windows, disorienting wall angles, and columns placed irregularly (yes, in front of the fireplace), and you woke up from this dream and told someone, “Hey, I had this crazy dream that I was in this weird house!”? Except then you remembered, no, that was that museum in Bucks County… That’s Fonthill Castle. Trippy and inspiring.

Fonthill Castle – check out that column in the middle of the room

This part’s a bit much.

I’ve also been in large (and not so weird) houses, like Thomas Edison’s Glenmont, which hasn’t made its way into any of my writings, but has influenced how I picture large older homes (that entryway!)

Glenmont with awnings

That light fixture that look like opalescent bug eggs, though…

What are those even??

I went to the Prado in Madrid*, which is probably the most castle-like building I’ve ever been in, but that was about 11 years ago, and there was so much art to study, that I was a bit overwhelmed.

Museo del Prado

I remember a sparse white hallway of windows, which was definitely in Spain and may have been in the Prado… I’d like to go back, let my brain refresh my memories, but if I ever make it back to Europe, I think I’ll head for Scotland or France (there are plenty of castles there!)

And I do so want to go on my dream castle tour of Germany. Someday, maybe.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a vague image of a castle in my mind, something like Olite Castle in Spain (at least the newer wing of my imaginary castle, which has been expanded over the centuries, because I can never just make this easy on myself).

Olite Castle

What would be GREAT would be if someone published easy-to-read floor plans of beautiful old castles so I could figure out how long, realistically, it would take for my characters to walk from their rooms to the hidden passage, down into the old dungeon, and back. That would be tremendously helpful.

I suppose I’ll just have to add Spain to my castle tour. Which I will go on. When I have money, hahahahahahahahaha.

For now, I’ll let Google inspire me. 😉

*Remember that scene in She’s All That, when the mean artsy girl says to Laney, “Sav and I, we toured the Prado over break,” and other mean artsy girl Savannah so helpfully interjects, “That’s in Spain,” because plebe Laney wouldn’t know, would she? And then the mean, rich art girls suggest she kill herself for artistic immortality? That was dark.

Not all mean girls wear pink.

Worldbuilding – Language

Someday, after I meet my life goal of becoming tri-lingual (haha), I’m going to create a full language for a fantasy world of my own creation.

That day is not today.

But I’m writing a novel about a woman who walks through a portal (oops) into a fantasy world where the people don’t conveniently speak English, and while I usually only reference the fantasy language speech without writing it as dialogue, sometimes I need a word or a phrase here and there. The story is told in first person, so naturally, my main character would start to pick up on a word or two, or at least hear and be able to make out the sounds, and I want my readers to experience that with her.

Which means I have to make up fantasy language vocabulary, at the least, and maybe a few phrases. I’m about five chapters in, and so far, I’ve only created words for “tree” and “mountain”; “sorry” is still in brackets. I have to find the right apologetic sounds (although “apologize” is one of the least apologetic-sounding words in English!). And I’ll definitely need “hello,” “goodbye,” “yes” and “no.”

The funny thing is, I actually did this once, in my purple-people-who-live-in-trees story, which I love, but isn’t quite working for me right now. I’d like to return to it in ten or twenty years, look it over and realize, “I know exactly how to do this now!” That means I shouldn’t accidentally self-plagiarize and use any of the same words.

The good news is that the MC will learn to communicate with the people there – assisted by magic, but also through study of the language. And, she’s an ESL teacher (hey, they said “write what you know,” so I’m writing what I know), so you know she’s gotta geek out about this new language and thus narrate all about it. I can see it now – I’m gonna have to hold her back (you know how those verbose characters can be – they wanna talk about what they wanna talk about, and you just have to reel ’em in sometimes and tell them that that is not where the story’s going, so can it).

There are, of course, different ways of including fantasy languages in writing, some of which are detailed here. Even if I don’t go the full-language route (probably won’t), this language-creation kit looks like a handy way to brush up on my morphology and syntax (all that stuff I knew way back in college, lol).

Ultimately, my main will speak their language more-or-less fluently (thank you, magic), so I can write most interactions in English with the understanding that they’re actually speaking this other language (whatever I call it – Turadrynian? Well, that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?). But as long as she’s learning, I’ll need words and phrases that don’t sound completely stupid. Or, maybe they can – some words do sound funny! Like “cow.” Usually, when you say “cow,” you just say it, and think of a large black-and-white or brown quadruped and/or hamburgers But when you say it over and over, you brain kinda disassociates the sound and the meaning. Go on. Say it: cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow cow…

Weird, right? You’re suddenly so aware of the movement of the muscles involved in making all these sounds. [This is why learning to pronounce a new language can be hard – you have to train your mouth and lip muscles to move in ways they’re not accustomed to. It’s like learning to dance, or doing Tai Chi.]

Speaking of sounds, I need to make some decisions about the sounds and sound combinations in this language (I’ve only made one so far, which makes it difficult for the fantasy people to pronounce the MC’s name – June. It’s one syllable – it shouldn’t be that hard! But in their language, the consonant + oo sound + n sound never ends a word – there’s always another syllable, even just a vowel (kind of the opposite of Japanese in that way). So, it’s not that they can’t pronounce her name, it’s just feels and sounds weird to them. They have to retrain their mouths and not second-guess themselves, like their brains are telling them to do (Are you sure that’s right? That can’t be right). People do this ALL THE TIME, which is why you hear “Chipol-tay” instead of “Chipot-lay”. Sound it out, folks. It’s on the commercial.

Anyway, she gets renamed (don’t do this to people if you can avoid it, which means don’t do this to people), which I think is relevant to the story, anyway. Whatever, it happens, and she likes the name, and it becomes (to her) her warrior name. See, it coincidentally happens after a fight in which she’s able to save herself from bandits (thanks to luck and pepper-spray), so it coincides with the start of her transformation into a total bad-ass.

And I’m the writer, so I can do what I want. But don’t rename people. Just embrace the awkwardness and keep trying to make those sounds and put them in the right order. You can do it! Believe in yourself!

Okay, now that that’s been said, I have to go do the things that pay for my stuff. Maybe by next time, I’ll have a few more words figured out – maybe even a phrase if I’m a good little writer-bee!


So I was whining to my former roommate on Facebook about something or the other (challenges of writing a novel, probably) and she, blessed being that she is, decided to make my life infinitely better and recommended I read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

I’m only 23% of the way through the first book, and it turns out there are six books in this series, which means my free time (ha) is spoken for for the next several months, especially since I just happened to get sucked in as the TV version is being filmed.

Frankly, I wasn’t entirely sure I would like this story based on one particular detail: a married woman from 1945 marries another guy in 1743 (after disappearing from 1945). It sounded like a sad kind of wish-fulfillment: a woman wants the vampire and the werewolf, but she can’t have both in real life, so she writes a novel with a premise that excuses her indecision.

Outlander does not seem to be that at all. Granted, I haven’t gotten to the second marriage in the book yet, but it was handled very well with believable conflict by the superb Caitriona Balfe (the actress who plays Claire, the sort-of-accidental bigamist) and the screenwriters, who should probably write the scripts for all books-turned-TV-shows for the rest of forever. Watching the 8 TV episodes released so far and then returning to the book for the author’s original conception of the story and more details has been so fun, and neither book nor TV adaptation has disappointed.

Grossed me out occasionally, but not disappointed. When Starz says TV-MA, they mean it. It isn’t all entrails all the time, but, well, let me just say that I am impressed with the make-up/prosthetics artists and magic-TV-people, because that really did look like a ripped-up muscle, and ew, let’s not talk about it further.

I could not have been an army nurse like the protagonist, Claire B. Randall. Phew, no sir.

I cannot fathom the amount of research it must have taken to write a novel set largely in the 18th century told from the perspective of a war field-hospital nurse. I research when I feel like it, and when I don’t, I make stuff up (in fantastical worlds, I can kind of do what I want). I honestly feel like I’m learning when I read Outlander (I hope it’s more than a feeling), which may be why I don’t feel too silly reading a love triangle tale featuring a Highlander hottie (here I’m reminded of the spoof novel-cover painting from The Guild featuring Wil “Shut Up, Wesley” Wheaton and Felicia Day). You would never see that on any edition of Outlander because although there is some romance (quite a bit to come, if the TV show is any indication), there’s an actual story in a world that doesn’t merely exist to allow a woman to have an affair. In a way, Outlander reminds me of The Historian (with fewer historical documents and quotes-within-quotes, which are perfectly fine, of course) because there is so much (but never too much) going on.

So, we’ll see if I become one of those people who finally saves up enough money for the dream Scotland vacation, not because her ancestors lived there, but because she just HAS to see the castle where this amazing story was set – if I do become that annoyingly fan-girly, please smack me.

We’ll also see if I later come back and edit the previous sentence.

Teaching Reflection

As another semester comes to a close, I feel I should reflect on my teaching, and how I’ve grown (assuming I have). Reflecting is a good thing, especially when you need to feel like you’re doing something important while ignoring the pile of ungraded essays on the dining room table

The difficulty, of course, is accurately assessing one’s own effectiveness. Well, maybe I’ll just start by seeing if I can actually remember what I did, or if my brain refuses (it’s tired, poor little brain).

Mean Teacher

I actually had to be a bit of a mean teacher this semester. One reason I like teaching adults is that they generally pay for their own classes and therefore feel motivated to show up. Also, they tend to be fairly mature. I had a few students, however, who bucked the trend. I understand the need to nap (it’s like, my favorite thing some days), but if I’m going plan out a bunch of activities and present information that will help you, I want you awake! How are you going to learn if you don’t participate??

The first few times I noticed a snoozing student, I asked a neighbor to tap the student’s shoulder. That was usually enough. Sometimes I was a bit more vocal: “Are you with us, [redacted]?” I definitely called on students who were less than conscious (or, even worse, on their phones AGAIN and NOT using them as dictionaries!)

What was that I wrote previously about not talking about any of my students? Well, there were SO MANY who did this, there is no way this post could be seen as singling anyone out. And I really do feel a certain level of compassion for students who are not only mentally tired, but probably emotionally tired – traveling overseas to learn and function in a new language and culture is taxing!

But sometimes enough is enough and you bang on the table, saying, “Hey, wake up!”

Does this make me a mean teacher? One of the ladies at my mother’s salon says it makes me a good teacher, because it shows I care about their learning. I think I’ll go with that.

Passive-Aggressive Teacher

I’m usually rather direct (see above), if gentle in my phrasing. But sometimes I just don’t want to have to say things, even though I know they should be addressed.

I was probably at my most passive-aggressive this semester on the day we were discussing the use of the word “ignore” in a piece of writing. The author stated that her treatment by her peers was worse than being ignored – it was like she didn’t even exist to them. To make sure my students grasped the nuance, I asked them what “ignore” means. One student suggested “neglect,” which was good because neglect means not to care for properly, or not to pay attention to. “Ignore means you know something or someone is there,” I told them. “You just don’t pay any attention to it. Kind of like when I see you texting on your phones, but I choose not to say anything about it. That’s me ignoring it because I have better things to do.”

That was on the last day before the final. I had previously asked students not to be on their phones unless they were using them as dictionaries. I also had to ask a student to take out an ear bud… but it was back the next week. So, by the end of this class, I turned into passive-aggressive teacher. At least it was just that once (as far as I remember, anyway).

Good Teacher?

I had a few students approach me after the final and tell me they learned a lot in my class. That was pretty awesome. It makes me feel better about the mini MLA-style lectures I gave. I hate lecturing, but sometimes students just need to hear info and see examples. That’s how I justified it, anyway. And we did spend quite a bit of time discussing in partners, small groups, and as a whole class. So, maybe it wasn’t the boring little lectures that helped them, but hey, something worked. And I think everyone did improve in their ability to express themselves in English, in writing and speaking, and that’s why they’re there, after all. I hope that as they move on, either in our program, or at other schools/in other phases of life, that they take something useful from my classes with them (although it’s probably not going to be MLA-style citations).

Okay seriously, I need to finish grading their papers now.

Writers vs. Editors?


Writing has been a hobby since I could write; editing followed soon after. Honestly, I love editing both my and other’s work. It isn’t as if I like finding errors, it’s that I usually* can’t help it. The part I love is the fixing, the pruning and sprucing. I’ve read that many writers hate the editing process, which I feel is a shame, but not too much of one because…

*I don’t trust anyone to edit his/her work fully, including myself. I can make my work much better, especially if I set it aside for a day or a week or a year, and look at it with fresh eyes, applying new knowledge and more developed writing skills. That doesn’t meant I don’t want someone else to edit my work. Not just anyone, of course, but certainly someone who isn’t me. Why?

1) It is nearly impossible for a writer to catch all of his/her mistakes in a lengthy document (say, a 200-page novel); and

2) Writing for people other than oneself necessitates feedback from other perspectives.

Don’t believe me about number one? Okay. Let’s talk about brains.

Brains do funny things. Every time you could have sworn you put the waffles in the shopping cart, or explained in extreme detail how to get from point A to point B but couldn’t remember the name of a street in your own neighborhood, or couldn’t get “Carry on My Wayward Son”** out of your head, that was your brain being weird. Or maybe it was just being itself and who am I to judge? Whatever – brains are weird.

Case in point: Let’s travel back in time to 1992. It was Crazy Sock Day, and my teacher had just asked me to tell her what was wrong with a sentence in a paragraph I had written. I told her I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.

“Okay, read that sentence out loud,” she said, pointing to the middle of the paragraph. I read it out loud and shrugged; there wasn’t anything wrong with it.

She smiled, and said,

“Don’t read what you THINK it says – read what it says.” I gave her a “you incomprehensibly weird adult” look but read it again. Nothing wrong.

“Read it more slowly,” she said. Fine. I read it very slowly, and,

“Oh.” I had accidentally left out a word. I could have sworn it was there, each time I’d read it!

What had happened, she explained, was that I was “reading” what I thought I had written, not what I had actually written.

This has happened more than a few times over the years, although I’ve noticed that it’s less likely to occur the more time has passed between writing and reviewing. Of course, there isn’t always time to wait and forget what you [think that you] wrote. You can get around this by being really really careful, which can work, or by bringing in some wonderfully nit-picky person who doesn’t have what you intended to write in her head.

Number two deals more with content and style than the absolutes of grammar and punctuation. If I had a million dollars, part of it would go to pay an excellent editor to tell me things like, “Your audience knows that already. Trust me, 87% of this hypothetical group of future readers have figured it out by now. The others aren’t in fifth grade yet.” I would pay more to have the editor tell me these things in Old San Juan. In Spanish, which, as a rich person, I would have learned because I took classes and practiced with Rosetta Stone and a private tutor (because we second-language teachers need to stick together!).

My dream editor would also be on call to help me write conclusions to blog posts.

**At least it’s not “Call Me Maybe.” Aww, dangit.

All the Things – Including Teaching ESL to Adult Learners

I would love to write more about my writing, but if I’m not writing at the moment (or daydreaming about a story while taking a walk), chances are, I’m not thinking too deeply about it. This may or may not be a problem, but it’s my reality. I keep my brain very busy, out of preference (it doesn’t like being bored) and necessity – I have a job that requires a lot of thinking.

As a teacher, I’m hesitant to talk about my work online (What if my students read my blog? Why am I writing about this when I’m “supposed” to be writing about writing??).

The first isn’t really a problem – my students are all adults, and I would never write about any of them specifically. As for the second, well, that’s a limitation I imposed on myself. Maybe it’s silly. A writer is many things, and not only because we need to pay for food and shoes and sometimes puppy-related items. Sheesh, if all I did was write, I would have nothing to write about! I need to do things not-directly related to writing in order to give my brain space to work with the jumble of thoughts that somehow congeal into coherent stories; but I can’t do things that take up too much “brain space” or no writing will happen. Teaching, I think, will give me space/time to FINISHADANGNOVEL, but it is a challenging profession, especially when you’re new at it .

ANYWAY, did I mention I teach ESL? It’s AWESOME. Every day I teach, I interact with people from various countries, such as China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, Argentina, Taiwan, Chile, South Korea and Turkey (and this is not a complete list of all the countries-of-origin of the students I’ve taught since I began teaching ESL – wow, that was an awkwardly-worded sentence… but you know what I mean, right?).

Like I said, this is AWESOME. I get to interact with people who are basically on international linguistic adventures and help them along their ways. If this were a game, and they were player characters, I’d be like an NPC that helps them level up (yeah, don’t think of this as “homework” – it’s a QUEST). The only differences are I’m sentient and I go home at the end of the day (to try to write – or actually to write).

Now, if we view this from the “World of Audrey” perspective, in which I’m a player character on a mission – well, missions – I am leveling up so much right now in various categories (work-personal life balance, lesson planning, cooking, etc), some of which are, honestly, a little overdue (I used the oven yesterday to bake a piece of tilapia and was pleasantly surprised when it came out REALLY GOOD).

The best part is that I now have a field. No longer am I the little English major who only picked English because she likes to write but has no idea what she wants to do professionally, other than write, which, you know, is hard to make money at usually, or maybe go into publishing, which is hard if you don’t know anyone in publishing, according to the one person I ever met who works in publishing. Indeed not. I teach English as a second language to adult learners at a university.

Sorry (not sorry) for bragblogging, but isn’t that one of the coolest things ever? It may not rank with world peace, but I think it’s somewhere around playing tree rings like records and little chocolate shavings that melt on your tongue. I have a career now, like an actual adult – not that you NEED a career to be a real adult, but it’s one of many helpful indicators – and it feels so much better to say “I’m an ESL teacher” than “I work in customer service, taking calls to an 800 number, at a job so far from home I have no time or energy for hobbies.” Dang, 2007 – I do not miss you. Honestly, I don’t really remember much of you… I was tired.

Also, it makes my educational debt feel worth it, which, in this modern world of “everyone has to go to college whether or not it’s really useful for them, given their individual talents and inclinations, and here’s a bunch of loan money, and oh, what a coincidence that college tuition is rising so much,” feels like an accomplishment itself. (Can a feeling be an accomplishment? Hmm, sometimes. I think, so, anyway.) At any rate, it makes me feel okay about not having a talent for or inclination toward plumbing, or something similarly useful, practical and in-demand – because I’m useful. And, as there is a demand for work in this field, it’s also practical. Dang. A creative day-dreamer has a useful, in-demand job, that she acquired partly thanks to her practical, if expensive and still not-yet-paid-for, master’s degree.


Next step, full-time employment! <(;o_o;)>

What can I say? Life is one big, webby quest chain.

Writing Multiple Novels at Once

Sometimes it’s hard not to. You get hit upside the head with a great idea, but you know, if you ignore it, it’ll drift away. You’ll look back in a week or a month and it’ll be gone. So you think, I’m just going to jot down some ideas so I don’t forget this amazing idea. Then I’ll get back to my main novel. And then notes turn into paragraphs, and you throw in some dialogue, some description, and before you know it, you’re writing five novels simultaneously. (At least five.)

The problem with this isn’t just how far it pushes back already-fuzzy completion dates. The biggest problem, I find, is that it makes it hard to really live in your worlds, get to know your characters, and write them authentically.

But can it be done? Good Lord, I hope so.

In fact, according to author Stephanie Morrill, doing so is a must. She says she was shocked how often her publisher asked her to work on multiple stories at once:

“As I was finishing up my first draft of Out with the In Crowd (Skylar Hoyt book number two), my editor sent me my edits for Me, Just Different (Skylar Hoyt book number one) so even thought I was really in the writing groove, I had to pause to do my edits. And when I was working on So Over It (Skylar Hoyt book number three), I had to pause to read through proofs of Me, Just Different, content edits for Out with the In Crowd, plus put together a proposal for a new book that my agent wanted to see before she sent it on to my editor.”

So I suppose by not sticking with one novel through completion, I’m developing a useful skill. And yet, Ms. Morrill also believes that it is worth focusing on just one book, if your goal is getting published:

“in my book-flitting days, I wrote based on my whims. Even though I now must work on multiple projects at a time, my whims don’t come into play. There was value in learning how to write something other than what I felt like writing.”

Hmm. Maybe I can narrow it down to three.