Writing the Novel: Small Insanities

Lap desk: Check.

Laptop: Check.

Logitech trackball: Check. (Does Apple think all Mac users have only one finger on their mouse hand? Or just that we’re not bright enough to use two or three…AND a thumb?)

Story plan for the night: Oh, big-ass check.

Last night I wrote for two hours and got less than a thousand words. But some of that time I spend reverse translating an English phrase into Latin, and then translating the Latin into a Minoan cryptograph.


Now, granted, my Latin is me plus an English-to-Latin translator, a decent knowledge of Spanish, a smattering of French, radar blips of Italian and Portuguese. So my English to Latin is suspect until I get someone Latin-competent to check my work for me. –

And no one has translated Minoan, but some significant work has been done on the Linear A syllabylary—some sounds are known, some are inferred back from Linear B.

And the rest is what writers like to refer to as elbow room. There’s a LOT of elbow room where the Minoans are concerned.

In any case, signed copy of one of my books to the first person who can translate the cryptogram. You have to give both the Latin and the English. ๐Ÿ˜€ (You have one enormous advantage over the heroine of the story, in that you know the cryptogram is transliterated Latin. All she has is a vase with Minoan symbols on it.)

NOTE ADDED LATER: The signed book thing is not open to Think Sideways grad students, since you guys have the Dreaming the Dead notebook, in which I actually give the English translation.

Yes, this is a small insanity. But it develops the character of The Coat Guy. (He doesn’t have a name yet.)

And tonight, while messing about with the protagonist’s relationship, I also begin laying the groundwork for the eventual arrival of the Bansidhe. (Also a characterization of a character not yet named.)

1500 words if I don’t wipe out first.


Added MUCH later:

Yup. Screwed up the cryptogram by one syllable. And though I thought what I’d done was something that could be said in Latin, I may be wrong, so have corrected the poetic voice out of the cryptogram for now, and have taken a more straightforward approach.


Here’s the corrected version.

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24 responses to “Writing the Novel: Small Insanities”

  1. Jason Avatar

    Hey Liz B!

    Good translation, too! I like the use of the comparatives. I’m not a hundred percent sure on using aut… aut that way, but it seems to make sense.

    I guess either of our translations would work well for Holly’s purposes. Seems to be a matter of exactly what the context is. Mine is (I think) a little pithier, like a fragment quoted out of a larger writing or inscribed somewhere. Yours is more grammatically full and elegant. It’s nice to have options!

  2. Holly Avatar

    Ieva — Awesome. I wonder all the time about coming up with names that translate into profanity in other languages. Now I’ve managed to nearly hit one with a 3000-year-old deader-than-dead language.

    I LOVE my job.

  3. Holly Avatar

    Crystal, Jamie D, Grafton, Jason, and Liz B—I got essential help from each of you in figuring this thing out, and I’d like to mention you in the acknowledgments for the book.

    Twitter me @hollylisle with the name you’d like to appear in the acks.

    And Jason—pretty sure I have one or two mass market paperback DOWs still on my shelf. I’ll get one out to you. (I don’t have any of the trades left except for my personal copies.)

    And I may need some more Latin help in the future. Not sure how much…but some.

  4. Liz B Avatar
    Liz B

    OK, I think this is it. Vir aut probior aut dignior morte non est. There is not a man more virtuous or more deserving of death. And in Latin, aut … aut can be used to explicitly introduce two (or more) logically exclusive alternatives, which seems perfect in this case.

  5. Liz B Avatar
    Liz B

    Wait. Scratch that. brb. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Liz B Avatar
    Liz B

    For your original, โ€œNo better man, nor more deserving of death,โ€ I think: “Vir nec probior, nec dignior morte.”

    probior is the comparative adj. of probus: good, honest, upright. You could also do it with straight up “virtuous”: “Vir nec virtute praeditior …”

  7. Jamie D. Avatar

    Well congrats, Jason.

    And thanks again Holly – I found a couple great web sites working on the translations last night, that will undoubtedly be good references for later works.

    (*stupid day job – grumble*)

  8. Jason Avatar

    … and no sooner do I hit “post” than I notice a mistake. I forgot that “vir” is 2nd declension and not 3rd, so it should be “virorum” and not “virum.”

  9. Jason Avatar

    Well it just so happens that I know a bit of Latin… (read: “Yes! All those years of Latin classes are FINALLY paying off!”) I’m a bit rusty, but I think what you want would be something like:

    “Optimus virum, et dignus mortis.” (You can also make the last word “morte,” since “dignus” can work with the ablative case as well. Er, sorry, my Latin geek is showing!)

    That’s assuming you’re talking about one man. If you’re talking about multiple people, or one woman, the grammar changes slightly.

    There’s also a couple other ways to phrase it, depending on what you think sounds best (or to get shades of meaning). You could, for example, replace “optimus” with “nobilissimus” (noblest), “primus” (first, foremost), or “speciosissimus” (handsomest, best-looking). You could also replace the last part (I think) with “et merens mortem.” I’m not sure how “natural” that is, and my gut tells me that using “dignus” (an adjective) would be the more likely way of saying it. Also, “dignus” gramatically parallels “optimus” in that they’re both adjectives, and is more like something you’d see in poetry for that reason.

    Speaking of poetry, I’m tempted to try to make the line scan metrically… but I’d have to brush up on a few things first. And I suspect this will work just fine for your needs anyway!

    As for the book, first I have to say “WOO!” Second, anything would be great, but I’ve especially been meaning to start your Secret Texts series, so if you have a copy of Diplomacy of Wolves lying around, I’d love it!

    Email me or DM me on twitter (@jramboz) and I’ll send you my address. Also, feel free to ask any time you have any Latin questions. I may not know the answer, but I can at least point you in the right direction.


  10. Grafton Avatar

    I was almost there lol.

  11. Holly Avatar

    Jason—That’s my Latin.

    Apparently stuff doesn’t work backwards from the latinate languages quite as well as I’d hoped, though, because what I was wanting to say was, “The best of men, and deserving of death.”

    The first version, which crashed for all three of you, was supposed to be “No better man, nor more deserving of death,” which I like better, and which fits better, but which may not be possible.

    It’s supposed to be a bit of a conundrum—it works into the worldbuilding and themes of Dreaming the Dead.

    But you win the book. The only thing I have in volume right now is the hardcover of The Ruby Key, but I have at least a handful of copies of a lot of the rest of what I’ve written, so if there’s something in particular you’d like, let me know and I’ll sign it and send it out.

    Could you suggest how I could say what I actually want to say in Latin?

  12. Jason Avatar

    Mmm, more spammy comments from me.

    I assumed “merito” was improperly declined. I forgot it can also be an adverb meaning “deservedly” or “rightly.”

  13. Jason Avatar

    One note I forgot to add: the stickiest part seems to be what to do with pa-ru-ri-mu-sa. I played with it for a while to get “plurimus.” Could also be something else, most like a verb ending in -mus, “We… [something].”

  14. Jason Avatar

    Well just spent some time with the revised cryptogram, and here’s what I’ve got:

    te-re-sa wi-ra qa-da pa-ru-ri-mu[?]-sa me-ri-to mo[?]-ri-ta-ri-ta-sa

    Or, I think:

    Teres vir quod plurimus merito moritaritas[?]

    Taking some… liberties… with the grammar, that would mean, roughly:

    Many smooth men who deserve death[? to die?]

    Am I anywhere close?

  15. Holly Avatar

    God, I love my readers.

    Crystal, Grafton, Jamie—You’re SCREAMINGLY close.

    Grafton, in one of your translations, you’re off by only two words, and from your translations, I have clearly screwed up the Latin in one place, because from your translations I am saying something I don’t mean. I have also, I suspect, blown one syllable in my cryptogram. I’m checking my source material now, because all three of you made the same translation on those two spots. Conclusion—I screwed up, not you. Look for the corrected cryptogram in just a bit.

  16. Grafton Avatar

    I have one last guess.

    nullus teres vir neque nec maiestas mereo novicius
    An accomplished hero is no better than an inexperienced slave.
    (Although I think what I posted above is right.)

  17. Ieva Avatar

    You’ll have a lot of fun selling this to Russian-savvy people with dirty minds (like me), since the first word looks amazingly like HUY, which in turn is pronounced amazingly like Russian obscenity for penis (I’m not looking at the second character of the word. I’m not looking. Or at least I’m not giggling. I’m not *that* immature, I swear).

    Just thought you should know. *evil grin*

  18. Grafton Avatar

    I found something else lol.

    nullus teres vir neque nec magis mereo novicius
    An accomplished hero is no more deserving than an inexperienced slave.

  19. Grafton Avatar

    nurusa teresa wira neqe neka majesa merito noritaritasa

    nullus teres vir neque nec magis mereo notarius
    An accomplished hero is no more deserving than a scrivener.

    nullus teres vir neque nec magis mereo novitas/novitius
    An accomplished hero is no more deserving than a novice.

  20. Jamie D. Avatar

    Here’s my guess…though I’m not sure of the last word either:

    Latin: Noros teres vir neque nec magis merito noritaritas.

    English: To know a polished man is worthless, and not more deserving of notice.

  21. Crystal Avatar

    Okay, must go to bed. This is as far as I got (and I guess if someone else piggybacks on any of my ideas to get it right, maybe they’ll send me a picture of the autographed book ;)):

    Latin โ€” Noros teresa vir neque nec maiesa merito noritaritas.
    English โ€” It’s useless to know an elegant man and not to know one worthy of greatness.

    I know that’s all kinds of off, but that’s where I am at the point where I need to go to sleep Or Else. So there it is.

    The last word is seriously tripping me up, but I’m sure if I had kept up on my Latin lessons I would have no problem with it. That’s what I get for dropping Latin over Arabic because writing in funky script seemed easier than memorizing declensions and conjugations. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    The derailed Dreamweaver assignment will just have to wait until tomorrow…

  22. Jamie D. Avatar

    Ugh…I have three words, I think…great challenge! Back to work…

  23. Crystal Avatar

    So … close … argh. If only I had kept up with my college Latin…

    I’m close enough for it to almost make sense, but not close enough to be there. Do I go to bed at a time sensible for the soul-eating office job, or do I keep going?

    Probably option B, at least for a bit.

  24. Brian Avatar

    “Employees must wash hands after sacrifices.” ๐Ÿ™‚

    Online english-to-latin:
    “Utor must wash manuum secundum vitualamen.” lol

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