Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon

Doing the impossible is a lot harder than it sounds.

Being a science-fiction or fantasy writer is hard.  Wrestling with the hassle of plot, theme, character, setting, transition, voice, and deeply rooted psycho-sexual subtext is hard enough without having to deal with the added challenge of hanging the threads of your story from the rafters of disbelief in order to satisfy the demands of the genre.  As if these hurdles weren’t high enough, the problem of inspiration when it comes to thinking up a memorable and appropriately science-fictiony or fantastical-without-being-embarrassingly-flamboyant name for characters and exotic lands becomes even more frustrating when writer’s block insists on being a squatter in the house of ideas.

Fortunately, the Internet hosts a series of solutions to this problem in the form of name generators.  Name generators are applications that are programed to combine a number of different elements of vowel sounds, consonant constructions and a slew of other linguistic elements into new configurations that give you just the unearthly quality you need to sound authentic.

One of the first and best experiences I’ve had is with seventhsanctum.com, a website by Steven Savage featuring a particularly robust set of generators.  Not content to focus on names alone, the site enables the visitor to play with a number of different subjects, from character names to planet names, story ideas, character skills and even ideas for when good old cousin Writer’s Block stops in for a few days.

A quick click on Elf Names – described as “Names for both Tolkeinesque elves, Wild Elves, and general fantasy,” – opens up a page that requests the number of names desired (up to 25), a category field offering the choices of High Elves, Wild Elves or Full Names, and a generate button.  A selection of ten High Elf names renders thus:

Aderlusn Hammerfinder
Adsaar Smilefollower
Atagear Firewand
Atleid Lakemaker
Goglaal Prayerstealer
Ilburb Mercyblade
Ilolain Rainvoyager
Lorhaeg Dreamfletcher
Naratg Featherfollower
Otibnadr Hawkbrewer

Somewhere in there is my future pen name.  Or hotel-check-in alias.

           The names don’t always have to be exotic.  Utilizing information from the US Census, seventhsanctum.com’s Quick Name Generator can supply you with garden-variety appellations that can also be frustratingly difficult to come up with without sounding bland. Kristina Scott, Lily Cash, and Stefanie Hatfield would agree – were they real people.

           The site is a blessing for anyone looking for humor or inspiration in writing their story or bringing their role-playing game setting and characters to life.  It was put together with an obvious love for writing and creativity.  Not content to simply kitbash the English language and leave it at that, there are several links to other sites and features meant to aid the artist’s mind in advancing technique and even suggestions as to how to make forays into the world of getting paid to do what you love.

           So the next time you seethe with frustration when you find that somebody else preemptively stole your idea to name the dashing hero Han Solo or Aragorn, head on over to seventhsanctum.com to kick-start your creative slump, and find a doorway into a great community as well.


Of Horny Appliances and Comic Books Well-Done

A few years ago, I had my first exposure to a small-press and comics convention. It is called SPACE, it is held in my hometown and is well-thought of and attended. While it was far from the aesthetic and performance Freak-Show that a typical Sci-Fi Con is, SPACE was,in its smaller and marginally saner way, a touching and determined triumph of independent artistry and spirit.
It takes all sorts, to populate the Earth and to create art. SPACE was full of a strange,arresting and engaging crew of creators,fans and those striving to move from the latter to the former. Some were already accomplished in their artistry,with viable and identifiable oeuvres;others were in the awakening,floundering stages of finding their voice,their line or their milieu.
For most, these weekend gatherings represent not just a venue to showcase wares and services;they act as a wellspring of strength and camaraderie. Art is famously and accurately pursued solo. Mingling with others is usually reserved for the after-product pastimes of networking and selling, begging and whoring. When, whether by passionate choice or practical necessity, one pursuits their artistic path through The Small Press World, that sense of supportive community attains deeper importance.
During that particular weekend, a young woman from Michigan occupied the table across from ours. We were giving away copies of our arts magazine, as part of a wider promotional campaign. She was trying,with a talkative desperation,to interest anyone in her little self-produced comic book. It could, with charity,be classified as the crudest kind of zine–a primitive kitchen table affair,copied on a public machine and held together with staples. The asking price,early on, was fifty cents. Mid-way through,she was giving copies away,
She had, after paying the set-up fee,traveled a few hundred miles for the privilege of handing out,gratis,her artistic products to mostly uninterested strangers. Attendant upon accepting her comic zine was the awkward requirement of hearing a shred or two of her uncomfortably sad life story. Bluntly, all that the 20-something had of value was her art,which was the most awkward subject of all. I still have my copy tucked away in a box somewhere yet consultation is unnecessary:I remember it well.
Her tiny comic told the painfully unfunny story of the sex lives of a group of kitchen appliances ( a toaster,a coffee pot and, I believe, a blender). Further elucidation would be pointless. I initially felt sorry for the sad girl, whose bewildered, loving father had made the trip South with her. Upon deeper reflection, I saw it from a different angle;an angle that has, along with many other varied experiences, including my own,helped to inform and shape my life’s mission.
Creators must,at any cost, however lonely or painful, create. That is what the Michigan girl was doing. Her zine was obviously self-medication as well as self-expression. Yet,instead of crafting her art in secret,and keeping it there,she chose the bold and liberating step of placing it in the world,however fragile the task. Art is art by the very act of creation-slim talent and poor reception make it no less important. Taste, ability and renown wildly vary from one artist to the next;passion and dedication are much more constant.
In contrast to the now-nameless girl, there were many independent artists of acclaim, respectability and esteem in attendance. To the right of us sat a comic book artist of brilliance,originality and, evidently, poor time management skills, as he showed up hours into the affair. No matter. There was a small band of fans waiting for his arrival. Word quickly spread–he was soon mobbed by followers of his very specific artistic cult. The average American would not recognize his name or know of his existence but his rabid readers and,likely,bank balance show a very different story.
A surprising number of artists and writers showing at that edition of SPACE were able to, with hard-wrought freedom, earn their living by brush or pen. They did so in true Small Press fashion,by avidly disseminating their art, and that of others,through old-fashion leg work:by personally attending trade shows and conventions,selling their product on the Internet, and publishing in Indie and self-produced periodicals.
The Michigan girl and the brilliant artist are on opposite ends of the spectrum but they, and many other artists who share the poles or exist somewhere in between the extremes,tread the same road of artistic sovereignty,fulfillment and freedom.