Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I Knew This Would Come Back To Haunt Me

When you’re not published and you are writing a book, you don’t always think about the possible long term repercussions of what you type. When I originally penned the Riyria Revelations I never expected it to be published; I never expected anyone to read it. Every once in a while I would get lost in a conceit-filled dream where I hit it big and had a massive and rabid fan-following where long after I was dead, people would write spinoffs, and there would be movies and tv shows and Broadway plays (can’t you just see Royce and Hadrian singing and dancing?) and additional stories set in the world of Elan, but always, the original six books would be considered the canon, and anything in them sacred. It was at times like this that I would pause over a name I had just made up and think, maybe I should put more thought into this. Then I would realize I was just full of myself—what were the odds—and just left it. I mean the name was good enough. It looked pretty on the page. It looked like the kind of name the character ought to have. Did it really matter that even I didn’t know how to pronounce it?

The thing is, when I read, I often come across names of people and places I can’t or don’t bother working out the sound for. I’m usually wrong anyway. I pronounced Aragorn, Aragon and still do. And Sauron will always be Saron in my head. Instead when I read I merely register the odd, hard to pronounce words visually and move on. I assumed others often did this as well. Even if they didn’t, it wasn’t likely to matter, as the books would never escape the black hole of my bedroom where I toiled away in silent Sisyphean despair.

I was wrong.

The books were published. People read them. And while I thought I was going to skate by on this issue, I received a phone call this week from the company creating the audio version of the books. You guessed it. He wanted to know how to pronounce a long list of words.

Nathan Lowell had already done an audio podcast of The Crown Conspiracy, but there were not as many names in that one. Now Theft of Swords is being produced, and there are a lot more twisted, mangled words to deal with—including some lines of elvish. In a review of my books, someone commented about my use of the elvish language, “He’s no Tolkien.” In case you don’t know Tolkien was a professor of linguistics, taught Old and Middle English, worked for the Oxford English Dictionary, and created new languages for fun. I, on the other hand, had trouble spelling “evil.” So I think it is fair to say the reviewer got it right in that criticism. So it was with great consternation that I awaited the phone call.

They had sent me a long list of words they wanted me to pronounce for them. Most were easy. I mean, I know how to say Arista (Ah-wrist-ta) even though many people pronounce this (Air-wrist-a.) And even some of the stranger ones like Percepliquis and Gilarabrywn, trip off my tongue daintily as I’ve spoken them a thousand times. But there are some that I stared at wondering, what the heck is that? Is that even in my book? I called them on one, but no, it was in there and I stared at it wondering what I had been thinking when I wrote that.

I was wondering the same thing when I came to, Dioylion. This was the author of a rare scroll. A one-off name, never to be used again. But I do know what I was thinking. I was shooting for a vaguely ancient Greek sounding name like Aeschylus, Diogenes or Pythagoras, something educated and ancient. I never thought I, or anyone else, would need to know how to pronounce it. As I said, you just don’t think of that when you’re sitting at a cardboard folding table in a corner of your bedroom staring out the window at neighborhood kids playing kick ball in the cul-de-sac and you need a name to fill a slot in this waste-of-time you have the self-involved arrogance to call a book.

But there I was staring at this list of monsters I had created, on the phone with David who was using some sort of magical short-hand to take the sounds coming out of my mouth and record the way I said them.

Sometimes I would cheat: “How would you say it?” I asked sounding all, I’m testing you, dude.   
He would read it and I would reply. “Ah yes, that’s it exactly!”

Still, I felt like I was being grilled by a police interrogator. “Give us a name! Is it Ni-fron or Neye-fron? And is it Lye-um, Lem, Lee-um, Lime, Leem? I was actually stumped by the simple looking word Liem. It is actually a misspelling of Liam, as in my head I hear it as Lee-um. To be honest I don’t see how Liam can be pronounced Lee-um anyway. Personally I think it should be spelled: Leeim or Leeum. Why I didn’t do that, I don’t know.

Sensing my panic, David assured me that, “Hey, it’s fantasy. You can pronounce it anyway you like.”

I liked David.

Then I got to the line of elvish that looked like I just mashed my palm on the keyboard. I didn’t, but still. I took a pass on that one, and granted carte blanche to the narrator on however he wanted to handle that—because I’m not Tolkien.

When I was done, I was satisfied with my performance. I got most of the answers right.

So for those of you who were wondering, yes there will be an audio version of the series. The books will be narrated by actor and artist, Tim Gerard Reynolds, an Irishmen (this will please my mother) who will lend a little Celtic favor to the books. I haven’t actually met, or spoken with Tim, but on his Facebook page he writes:

I'm soon set to record Michael J. Sullivan's "Theft of Swords," Volume one of the Riryia Revelations. These fantasy novels have been years in the making, and with their intricate and satisfying plots, they are also remarkably, and refreshingly funny too. Looking forward to it!

So, I like him already.

The only ETA I have on when the audio books will be available is—soon. Given that Tim hasn’t started recording, even that might be a bit optimistic. I’ll let you know.


  1. I've been accused of not being Tolkien in reviews, myself. Just makes me laugh.

  2. I like the second paragraph. When I outlined my steampunk fantasy trilogy, I took into account that fantasy names are recognized and not pronounced in a lot of cases. I do the exact same thing when I am reading hard to pronounce names. The Wheel of Time series is horrible for this.

    Anyway, the characters names in my novels do not start with the same letter. I even keep the names of cities separate as well. Eventually names end up starting with the same letter, but I don't think anyone will confuse Angela with Aldervale, but I keep it to an absolute minimum.

  3. What a lot of headache we fantasy lovers are doomed to! Every other genre can have as many Tom's and Suzy's as they like, but fatasy writer's must create an entriely new naming strategy for every world!
    Seems unfair when you think about it.
    Oh, well. Glad to hear you carried it of well!
    Thanks for the laugh today!

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