Tuesday, November 18, 2014
At my first writer’s conference (ACFW, Dallas, 2007), I met with Andy Meisenheimer, then acquisitions editor for Zondervan, to discuss a manuscript. The occasion held a number of personal firsts: among other things, my first conference, my first meeting with an editor, and my first foray into writing science fiction. (Four years later, the book was published as The Story in the Stars, the first in the Gateway to Gannah series.)
By God’s grace, I wasn’t particularly nervous. Considering the experience an educational field trip, I felt no pressure to achieve any specific goal but to learn and enjoy myself. Since I had no expectations, I was surprised that when I explained my story’s premise to Andy, he showed real interest and asked pertinent questions, nodding at my answers as if intrigued. (Possibly he was just being nice, because he seems to be that kind of guy.)
One of the questions had to do with the languages in my story world. “A lot of writers try creating a language, such as Tolkien did with the elvish language, for instance. But it usually doesn’t hold together logically like a real language does. Do your characters speak another language? And if they do, how did you create it?” When I told him the Gannahan language was ancient Hebrew, his eyes widened and he grinned. “Cool!”
When I first began to sketch out this new world, I thought about God creating our world, and how it all started with a garden. That inspired me to give the planet a garden-related name – but Eden was already taken. What about the word for “garden” itself? I got out my Strong’s Concordance and found the Hebrew word is gannah. Sounded like a good name for a planet. And so it began.
Though the people of Gannah speak a language that’s very much like Hebrew, I don’t; the best I can do is name things based on Hebrew words I find in the concordance. For instance: the colorful forest in the opening scene, in which the foliage is blue, yellow, and red as well as green, is the Ayin Forest, based on the Hebrew word for color. The ruling family’s name is Atarah, which means crown; the Gannahan weapon of choice is called a lahab, meaning blade. But because my knowledge of the language is so limited, I use only a word here and there; I don’t put them together in sentences or write songs or poems, as Tolkien did with the elvish language.
How about the Karkar? (The which? The Karkar. They’re the people from a different planet, and ancient enemies of Gannah.) The Karkar words, what few of them I use, come purely from my warped imagination. And they’re fun. Listen while a character contemplates his job as a researcher on a medical starship: “The assignments were challenging but satisfying, and when he pillowed his head at dimlights, he felt as content as a luglit with a bellyful of well-aged zikzak.
Which brings me to another kind of word I had to create: names for inventions and concepts that don’t currently exist in our world, or are so different as to be unrecognizable. These names, I tried to make self-explanatory. Dimlights in that last example, for instance, refers to the fact that on a starship, there is no night and day, so the lights are dimmed during the hours that would be night if they were on a planet. Instead of a refrigerator, they have a chill cabinet, and rather than a microwave, they warm food in a quickheater. What we might call a snowmobile, Gannahans call a motorsled. On the space station, you’ll find no bellboys to carry your luggage to your room, but a baggage bot. (“Bot” being short for robot.) My favorite gadget is the floor bot. As you might guess, that’s the one that scrubs your floors to a cheery shine while you’re out having fun on your motorsled.
If you’d like to learn more, come visit Gannah; even people who usually avoid space travel enjoy their time there. You might even find a souvenir to bring home.
The first two of the four books in the series are currently available in both print and e-book versions. Book #1, The Story in the Stars (2012 ACFW Carol Award Finalist in Speculative Fiction) on Amazon and Barnes & Noble; Book #2, Words in the Wind on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.