Tag Archive | Book 2

Wildings: The Companion to Sparkers!

The time has come…to stop being coy about Book 2! So, here goes: My second book is entitled Wildings  and is due out November 1st. It’s a companion (not a sequel) to Sparkers, and it begins five years after the events of the first book. The main character is Rivka Kadmiel, a wealthy magician girl from the city of Atsan. At the beginning of the book, she moves to Ashara, the city where Sparkers is set. Here’s my publisher’s description:

Rivka is one of the magical elite and the daughter of an important ambassador. But she harbors a deep secret: She once had a twin brother, Arik. When Arik failed to develop his own magical abilities, the government declared him a wilding, removed him from his home, placed him with non-magical adoptive parents, and forbade him any contact with his birth family. Now it is as if he never existed at all.

But Rivka refuses to forget her twin brother. Even though she knows she could lose everything—her father, her friends, even her freedom—she sets out to find Arik. She has nothing to go on except her still-new magical powers and her love for her brother. Can that possibly be enough to bring them together again, when all of society believes they belong apart? 

Several characters from Sparkers appear in Wildings. In particular, Marah’s brother Caleb plays a bigger role than he did in the first book.

Wildings is now on Goodreads. I don’t have a cover yet, but I’m looking forward to sharing it with you when I do!

Linguist Problems

Last Friday, I turned in my latest draft of Book 2. It’s been sent to copyediting! I promise I’ll tell you something more substantive about Book 2 one of these days.

In revising the manuscript, I was occasionally distracted by particular sentences that caught my attention for linguistic reasons. There was little reason for me to dwell on these sentences from a writing perspective, but my linguist’s brain would latch onto them and wonder. Now you get to see what sorts of things I get hung up on (and you can offer your judgments and/or ridiculous sentences too!).

First up is this sentence:

Their gazes never lingered on each other.

Somewhere between Drafts 2 and 4, it struck me that this sentence was ungrammatical. It violates Condition A of Binding Theory, which says that anaphors must be locally bound. What does that mean? Anaphors include reflexives (like himself) and reciprocals (like each other). For an anaphor to be locally bound, it must have an antecedent (the thing it is co-indexed with, or refers back to) that is sufficiently close to it, where sufficient closeness is defined in technical linguistic terms. To give a quick example, Will likes himself is good, but *Will thinks Lyra likes himself, where himself is meant to refer to Will, is bad because Will is somehow too far away to serve as the antecedent of himself.

What does this have to do with the sentence from my manuscript? First, the meaning this sentence is supposed to have is something like:

A’s gaze never lingered on B, and B’s gaze never lingered on A.

That is, the things the gazes are not lingering on are people, not gazes. In other words, the anaphor each other refers back to they (the people), not their gazes. The intended antecedent of each other is they. For this to be grammatical, then, they must locally bind each other (in order to satisfy Condition A). But it can’t.

To show why, I’m going to pretend I haven’t forgotten most of my syntax and draw a tree.

If you don’t already know X-Bar Theory, this tree probably doesn’t make much sense to you. The point is this: While the whole chunk their gazes is able to bind each other over under the T’, the pronoun they cannot do so (if you really want to know why, it’s because they doesn’t c-command each other, while their gazes does). Consequently, my sentence cannot mean what I want it to mean. Not technically. It can only mean:

A’s gaze never lingered on B’s gaze, and B’s gaze never lingered on A’s gaze.

And maybe this is fine. Gazes can linger on other gazes as well as on people, right? Why not?

If the technical discussion did nothing for you, consider my sentence with some words swapped out for others:

Their dogs never bit each other.

This sentence must mean A’s dog never bit B’s dog, and B’s dog never bit A’s dog. It cannot mean A’s dog never bit B, and B’s dog never bit A. It can’t be about two well-behaved dogs who never bit each other’s humans. Do you agree? Similarly, in Their gazes never lingered on each other, each other cannot refer to two people, it can only refer to the gazes.

Okay, so that’s what the principles of grammar say, but really, is it that hard to get my intended reading? I don’t think it is, which is why it took me so long to notice this sentence was probably ungrammatical. Gazes, unlike dogs, are not sentient, so we accept that each other refers back to people rather than to gazes. Semantics are powerful enough to get around what the syntax is telling us. I’m curious to see whether the copy editor flags this sentence.

Next up is this exchange:

“These remind me of our cook’s cinnamon buns,” says Hilah. 

“Are hers as good as ours?” I tease.

I later changed the second line of dialogue to avoid the problem I’m about to get into. Here’s why this sentence gave me pause: I meant ours to mean our cook’s cinnamon buns (the ones the girls are eating in this scene), but one day I realized it only meant our cinnamon buns. Rivka (“I”) is comparing the two cooks’ cinnamon buns, but the sentence doesn’t quite mean that. The issue is that our cook’s cinnamon buns has two possessive morphemes in it (compare Rivka‘s cook‘s cinnamon buns). This is obscured because in English we + ‘s = our. For ours in the dialogue above to mean our cook’s cinnamon buns, it also needs to have two possessive morphemes and look something like ours’s.

That got me wondering whether English allows the stacking of ‘s. I’m still not sure what the answer is. I think it is worse to stack them when they both have to be pronounced as ‘s, as in Eleanor’s’s. However, when ‘s combines with pronouns, it goes away, making stacked possessive morphemes sound better, as in mine’s.

I posed the question about stacking ‘s on Facebook, and my creative linguist friends delivered. Chris offered the following, quite good-sounding example:

Your laptop is older than mine, but mine’s battery doesn’t last as long.

Erik offered this one:

Speaking of political views, a certain friend of mine’s are off the wall.

(Side note: I think this above example sounds better because ‘s isn’t just attaching to mine, it’s attaching to a certain friend of mine.)

Then Michael got more daring:

Speaking of books, a friend of mine’s’s pages are falling out.

And then he went off the deep end:

Speaking of books whose pages are higher quality, a friend of mine’s’s’s quality is amazing.

That’s it for morphosyntax, but there are a couple of other places in my manuscript that made me stop and think about language:

With trembling hands, I open the drawer at my waist and find myself in the right part of the alphabet. But when I find the place where Kadmiel should be, there is nothing.


He moves his hand in a series of shapes while Caleb looks on, amused but also pleased. The string of signs seems too long, though.

“Is that Elisha?” I say.

“Oh. Yes. But I learned [redacted] too.” He shows me. “And I guess Rivka would be…” He starts my name, using the signs from the middle of his own…

(For context, the above excerpt is about fingerspelling names in sign language.)

So, here’s the thing: both these scenes involve the alphabet. But what alphabet? In the world of the novel, nobody is speaking English. Their spoken (as opposed to signed) language is Ashari. So when Rivka finds herself in the right part of the alphabet to find Kadmiel, where is that? It shouldn’t be the English alphabet, but in fact the way I wrote the scene sort of assumes this. I envision the drawer at Rivka’s waist to be a middle drawer of a file cabinet, and K is roughly in the middle of the English alphabet. Should it have been the Hebrew alphabet1? Kadmiel begins with ק qof, which is toward the end of the alphabet, so in that case Rivka ought to have been opening a drawer at her feet. But in fact, the Ashari alphabet can have whatever order I want it to. I just haven’t invented it.

In the second scene, the characters are fingerspelling. But as I wrote the parts about a name looking too long and two names sharing certain signs/letters, I started to wonder about alphabets again. What does this fingerspelling alphabet look like? Does it have signs for consonants and vowels, like American Sign Language, or does it omit signs for (at least some) vowels, the way I believe both Hebrew and Israeli Sign Language do? I managed to write this scene while remaining agnostic on this question, but I did make sure that the statements the characters make meshed with a fingerspelling system based more on Hebrew than on English.

1. I’ve written about my naming choices here and here.

Thrift Shop Fiddle

So, I hate shopping. My whole family is allergic. Consequently, it is an unusual day that sees me entering a store to buy anything other than groceries or perhaps books. However, I also covet musical instruments. And so a week or so ago, when a couple of violin cases appeared in the window of one of the National Council of Jewish Women thrift shops in my neighborhood, I noticed.

I’ve kind of wanted a violin for a long time. In orchestra class, I’d always ask my violinist and violist friends to let me play their instruments. Toward the end of high school, a friend of mine lent me her violin for a summer so I could really figure out how to play. And then at the end of my senior year of college, a friend from Folk Dance Club lent me her violin for that strange in between period after classes had ended but before graduation, and another folk dance friend and I wandered the dormitory playing “The Wren” on penny whistle and fiddle, respectively.

In fact, it was because of Folk Dance Club that my interest in acquiring a violin intensified. I discovered oodles of jigs and reels I wanted to play, and though I could play some of them on the cello, there’s less scope for fiddling on the cello than there is on the violin (Natalie Haas notwithstanding). But I knew I wasn’t going to pursue the violin seriously enough to make it worth going out and buying an actual good instrument, so I just waited and learned to play lots of tunes on cello.

Fast forward to those violin cases in the Council thrift shop window. It immediately occurred to me this might be my chance to get hold of a violin cheaply. On the other hand, I barely had enough time to practice cello anymore, so why was I considering picking up another musical instrument? In the end, I couldn’t resist stopping in the thrift store. I tried not to get my hopes up, telling myself the cases might be just that, empty cases. Who donated violins to thrift shops? (On the other hand, there was also a grand piano in this thrift shop, and last fall I saw a Mason & Hamlin pump organ in the Goodwill down the street.)

I squeezed into the space between the jewelry case and a belt rack and picked up the violin cases. They felt too light to have anything inside, but when I unzipped them, there they were, the violins. One was missing the G string, and the other was missing both the D and A strings, but neither was broken. I tightened and loosened the bows, twisted the fine tuners, examined the pegs, plucked the strings, and peered through the F-holes. I’m decidedly lacking in expertise, but the instruments didn’t strike me as pieces of junk. So I decided to buy the three-stringed violin. As I was discussing the price with a clerk, a small group gathered, apparently impressed that I was buying a violin in a thrift shop. A woman even started to ask me for advice as she considered buying the two-stringed violin for her fifteen-year-old daughter.

I took my new violin home. The next day, I carefully tuned its three strings, applied some Magic rosin to the bow, and gave it a whirl. Turns out I’m kind of rusty. The neighbors are probably thinking, Oh, no, the resident of #8 has another stringed instrument now? And this one she can’t even play? I sawed out “Wachet auf” and “Finlandia,” but it’ll probably take some time (and a new string) before I work my way up to “Curvy Road to Corinth.” 


My new three-stringed fiddle

If I am an amateur cellist, I am a dilettante violinist. I don’t aspire to play Bach partitas. In Sparkers, though, Marah plays the violin, not the cello. Why? I’m not really sure. I think I pictured her tromping all over the city with her instrument, and I couldn’t really see her lugging a cello around. But in Book 2, which I’m currently revising, the main character is exactly like me. She’s a cellist by training, but she likes to mess around on her brother’s violin too. So putting myself in her shoes can be my excuse for spending time playing my new violin. Now, how many years will it take me to acquire a nyckelharpa?

What I’ve Been Up To

Baking, apparently.


Apple crisp


Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (next batch needs more oatmeal)

Also, I turned in my master’s thesis a week and a half ago! I’ll probably make a few tweaks, and I may or may not be adding in one more statistical analysis, but… it’s more or less done. Which means I can rededicate myself to the revision of Book 2! I’d abandoned it for a bit, but now I’m back into it and wishing I could spend every minute on it. (Alas, I can’t quite. I still have an experiment to propose on perceptual compensation for intrinsic pitch in English and Yoruba vowels…)

All About Bach

Last Saturday, I attended the UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s fall concert. A friend of mine from high school who now also goes to grad school in Los Angeles came with me. The theme of the concert was “All About Bach.” It was, in fact, an all J.S. Bach program, except that Johann Kuhnau (Bach’s predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig) and Johann Christoph Bach (a cousin of Bach’s) had a cameo apiece.

The concert was held in the rotunda of the Powell Library, a beautiful building I don’t visit nearly often enough because it’s the undergraduate library (the graduate research library, meanwhile, is architecturally uninspiring). There’s pretty brickwork and mosaics and owls carved into the balustrades of the staircases.

I listen to a lot of Baroque music, especially these days (listening to Part I of Handel’s Messiah on repeat is sure to get me through the last grueling weeks of the term, right?), but it’s so much better to hear it performed live. It renews my enthusiasm for familiar pieces. Everyone in the ensemble was performing on period instruments, and at the intermission we were invited to go up and look at them. The Baroque cellos were beautifully crafted: one of them seemed to have a Templar cross inlaid in the black wood of the fingerboard, and the other’s scroll was carved into a lion’s head. And all the string players had Baroque bows.

Something I learned at the concert was that Bach wrote a secular cantata about a father and his coffee-crazed daughter. We were treated to the daughter’s ode to coffee (“Ah! how sweet coffee tastes! / Lovelier than a thousand kisses”), and even if I couldn’t relate, it was amusing (and featured a dazzling flute part!).

The ensemble performed some perennial favorites, including the second movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, the third movement of the double violin concerto in D minor, and the entire Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. The piece by Johann Christoph Bach was entirely new to me, though (so was the composer, for that matter). It was a “death aria” entitled “Mit Weinen hebt sich’s an” (“It begins with weeping”). The text is basically about how every stage of life is miserable. Seriously, looking over the English translation in the program notes, I thought it had the makings of a shape note text: “Old age approaches, the sorrowful years, / that holds no pleasure” (cf. “And if to eighty we arrive, / We’d rather sigh and groan than live” from “Exit” in The Sacred Harp). I expected there to be a turning point at the end, something along the lines of Weeping, weeping, weeping…But! Jesus/heaven! but there isn’t really. I guess that part was assumed by the German Lutherans singing and hearing this piece. All that said, the music is gorgeous.

In other news, I just turned in the first draft of Book 2 to my editor. It took me about eight and a half months to write it and do one hasty revision of it. I have never written a book that fast in my life. Now I’m experiencing manuscript withdrawal. It’s probably for the best, since now I can devote myself wholly to end-of-term projects, but I miss my manuscript…