Hi again, it’s me—Courtney from Syncopated Synonyms. Yes, yes, this does mean that I lost another word war to your tyrannical host really enjoy my role as guest blogger here.

In case you didn’t catch this from the ridiculously long title, I’m here today to discuss trolls. No, not those awesome and slightly disturbing toys from the 90’s, and I’m certainly not talking about internet trolls, because that would be dull and irritating. No, I am talking about honest-to-goodness mythological trolls.

Why, you may be asking yourself, would a writer devote a blog post to trolls? What, you may then ask yourself, makes this writer qualified to write about trolls?

Let me start off by saying I am in no way claiming to be an expert on the subject, all of the information I discuss today has been gathered from varying sources (which have been linked to at the end of this post) and, because this is a mythical topic based off of the folk lores and religions of several countries, no true absolute statements can be made. Except the previous one, apparently.

I am interested in troll mythology because it is the central concept in one of my current works-in-progress, the working title of which is The Monster In My Pocket. You can read more about that project here. And now, to the featured presentation:

***

Trolls come from a primarily Germanic tradition. The major lore comes from Iceland, Norway, and Scandinavia. Originally, the term troll was sort of a catchall for monster of an extremely gross and scary variety. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know…but we’re just building a base of knowledge, not doing extensive academic research—yet) these catchall monsters may sometimes overlap with something called a vaettir which is, as far as I can tell, a nature spirit or a spirit of the dead. Spirit isn’t quite literal here, as these beings were considered quite material.

Later incarnations of the troll myth include Huldra (female) or huldrakarl (male), which are pretty much land-sirens (well, they don’t necessarily sing). There are mountain trolls and forest trolls and, as everybody knows, bridge trolls. Changelings can be troll children (although elves and fairies are probably more associated with the term). Trolls can be enormous or human sized, extraordinarily ugly or extremely beautiful. Most are very, very old. Some are basically animals—they lack even basic intelligence, yet, others are cunning enough to swindle humans out of wealth.

In Norse mythology, trolls are often referred to as Jotun, and they are descendents of the first being—the giant, Ymer, whose body turned into the world. Ymer is also responsible for the race of gods and the humans.

In Part II, we can discuss typical literary depictions of these ambiguous creatures, and attempt to answer the question: why would anybody be crazy enough to make a troll a primary character in one of her books?

 

Until then, peruse these links…

Norse Mythology: www.bergen-guide.com/345.htm

Wikipedia definitions: Huldra, Vaettir, Troll, and Jotun

 

The life of a writer is difficult, risky, and full of a bunch of other unpleasantness.

At least, that seems to be the general consensus. I cannot disagree. In the few years since I confirmed the fact that I wanted to be a writer and jumped off the lovely cliff in pursuit of my destination, I will attest to a certain…departure from what most seem to prioritize. There is no financial security, not even a prayer of real income until a ridiculous amount of time, money, and soul is spent writing something that has both a beginning, an end, and plenty of fiddly middle bits. It is all risk, tons of work, and absolutely zero guarantees.

I’m told that this is supposedly a deterrent for many aspiring writers. I found it to be exactly like the way I’ve always preferred to live my life and in some ways, actually easier. Believe it or not, writing is the cheapest and least risky venture I have ever committed myself to.

Ever heard of the cattle business? Well, that’s the business I’ve been in for the last seventeen or so years and even after a short slowdown in college, here I am, back at it again.

For the last three months and for at least two more, maybe three, all of my money and all that the bank would loan me has been walking around on four hooves. My job is simple: keep all the calves alive, watered, and fed. Sounds easy, right? I guess it does. But it never is.

Wheat calves are a lot like zombies in that a most apt moniker for both is “The Walking Dead.” On a good year, nothing dies. On a bad year, maybe 3-5% expire. This year…let’s just say that I’d kill for a 5% death loss average and zombies are looking downright healthy. I’m considering looking into the zombie business next year. I’ve heard that they don’t get BRD, BVD, pneumonia, bloat, sudden death, or any of the other conditions that I’ve been battling fruitlessly for the last few years since November.

In summary, it looks like six months of work, worry, and risking all my money is going to net me a whopping income of not-enough-to-even-count and that’s the best case scenario. Equally probable is that I will have less money in the bank than I started with just a couple of months ago.

Now perhaps it is clear why I look at the life of a writer, eyes open, and still see a really cushy career. I mean, come on, you can write in any weather, words don’t get pneumonia, and I can eat away at my savings over the course of years, not days. How much easier can you make it?

Now, I must go haul hay, feed hay, doctor some zombies—I mean calves, count them, check the water, haul off a dead one, and hope that the fence is up, the calves are in, alive and fat,…and I better stop now or I won’t get it all done before dark.

Later!

Your multi-talented host has asked (read: demanded, amidst plentiful gloating due to her recent word war victory) me to weigh in on the topic of some seriously sophisticated (read: confusing) punctuation and its use in the world of fiction. You’ve got it, I’m here to talk about colons (:) and semicolons (;).

Now, before I lead you into the maze of splendour that is the colon-family of punctuation, I guess I should provide some creds.

I’m Courtney, Dr. Punctuation to you, from the blog Syncopated Synonyms and, more recently, the extreme book blog Read, Scribble, Revise. My credentials are many and varied, but include an almost-Master’s Thesis (yes, the Dr. in my title is fallacious. Deal with it) in English Literature (all but Thesis, a situation soon to be remedied), and a long-standing, borderline-gluttonous obsession with the written word.

You can get more specific details about my qualifications as a Punctuation Expert here.

Now, onto the featured presentation:

The colon has two basic purposes in life: emphasis and emphasis.

Let me explain. The colon can emphasize by setting something apart: the focal point of the sentence. It can also emphasize by pointing the reader toward something specific in list form: months, names, details.

Of the two punctuation marks (colon and semicolon, just to be clear), the colon is infinitely more usable*. Why? Because it is a punctuation mark that happens in everyday life. It crops up normally in dialogue (which is, by the way, the main place *I* would use a colon in fiction, anyway) and that makes it less obtrusive than the semicolon. Plus, the average joe kinda-sorta knows what the colon does and how to use it. So, in dialogue, it might work. But–as I’m sure you’ll notice if you pay a bit of extra attention to the next conversation you have/overhear–people don’t normally fill their dialogue with lists. So, Dr. Punctuation recommends sparing use only.

Now, outside of dialogue (in which people sometimes but rarely make lists), I’d use the colon even more sparingly. It might seem too didactic to your readers, a glaring attempt on the writer’s part to cram information into the story. Information needs to be incorporated naturally, so that the reader can really feel like s/he exists in the world of the story. This leads me to a general principle of fiction writing:

Rule of Thumb: Elements of Style/Mechanics that interrupt the story and remind the reader that s/he is not in the world of the story are BAD (in that they are working against you, the writer).

Hint: if you want to maintain the informal, natural flow of your story, you might consider using one of my favorite pieces of punctuation–the emdash. The emdash can be substituted for commas, colons, semicolons, and parentheses. It is the image of informal versatility. Because it is informal, it fits eeasily into prose and dialogue. But watch out, obsessive use can visually break up your text, which can ultimately interrupt the flow of the story.

The semicolon is a tough cookie to crumble. It has one, very specific use; it combines two complete sentences that are so connected in meaning that they need to be closer than the period can allow them to get. It’s alot like marriage, in that respect. The comma doesn’t work, because that would be the equivalent of trying to shove two individual, independent people into the same body. The period doesn’t work, because it ignores the connection these two sentences have.

That said, the semicolon is kind of intimidating to writers and readers alike. It doesn’t work very well in dialogue because most people speak in a broken, scattery way. Unless they are speechifying, and even then they tend not to be overly coordinated. So, Dr. Punctuation recommends limiting semicolon use to the prose/narrative portions of your fiction, rather than using it in dialogue.

There is further distinciton to be made herel; while the colon is equally at home in genre and literary fiction (and should be used sparingly in both), the semicolon is definitely a unique and kind of niche bit of punctuation**.

The semicolon is right at home in literary fiction, because it matches the sophistication of the subject matter. And, while it should not be used frequently, it can appear with some regularity in literary fiction.

In genre fiction, however, the semicolon doesn’t have much ground to stand on. It stands out like a tuxedo on the beach. Not that it never has a place inthe genre world, it just probably doesn’t want to leave its BMW and luxury apartment filled with William Faulkner novels.

This has been Dr. Punctuation, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.

*In genre fiction. Remember that this is just my humble opinion before you fly into a howling rage.

**I happen to think that the semicolon is too formal for genre fiction 90% of the time. Again, this is really just my opinion. Maybe you’re writing formal genrre fiction, Maybe you’re reincarnating Miss Marpole. Who am I to judge?

I’m posting this as a reference for a “how to” article I wrote for a friend’s blog. Check is out: The Minutia Of Writing Fight Scenes: Episode 1 | Three Types Of Action

 

Excerpt from Tough Target:

Cass had never stayed out long. Her and few buddies used to practice knocking each other out in order to familiarize themselves with the process—on both sides. Cass had always been hard to put under. It didn’t take long to make sense of the voices.

“Yes sir, we got the girl like you asked. No sir, no trouble at all. Right away, sir, I’ll deliver her personally,” said a man’s voice from the front seat.

Cass listened to the near end of a telephone conversation. It sounded like this wasn’t an accidental kidnapping. Of course, she remembered, the guys in the cafe. They must have been after her all along. She wondered what this was all about. Then she remembered that she was n a reality show and was supposed to be waiting for things to happen. A kidnapping would make sense, a revisit of her past. The more she thought about it, the more sense it made. The guy on the phone even had a hint of a slavic accent. She stifled a snort. Anne was probably in on it too. She’d do that, play a trick on her. Cass relaxed as she decided that she was right. Guess it was a good thing she hadn’t gotten around to shooting these guys back there. She berated herself for being so blind. When she’d heard that gun, she’d forgot about everything but the situation and how to survive it. She’d have to be more careful in the future, she didn’t want to kill any actors.

But they wouldn’t use real guns for the show. She smiled as she realized that hadn’t nearly killed a couple of innocents. Now the fun could begin. Time to put on a show.

She considered her position. She was in the back seat of a car. Her hands were tied and she was gagged, but her feet were still unencumbered. She was slumped across the seat next to Anne, who appeared to be unconscious. Next to Anne was one of the men. The other two were in the front seat. The apparent leader was sitting on the passenger’s side, talking on a cell phone. The car was moving fast, probably on a freeway.

She wondered where they were going. She knew little or nothing about the layout of the area and her normally accurate sense of direction didn’t work so well in an urban setting.

She nearly giggled as she heard more of the phone conversation.

“One more thing, sir. What about the other one? What should I do with her?” A short pause ensued before he finished, “Very well, I’ll have Marco do it, he enjoys that sort of thing. We’ll be back soon.” The man ended the call by closed the cell phone. Then he returned it to a pocket and said,” Marco.”

“Yea, Pete?” said the man in the back seat.

“The boss says we don’t need an extra. We’ll let you out up here and then you take care of it. I’ll have Jimmy come back for you after he drops me off at base. Got it?

“Sure, I got it. No problem.”

Cass pondered the exchange and could not come up with any reasonable interpretation other than that they wanted Anne safely out of the way—and the writer was more than a little melodramatic. The whole situation belonged in some cheap action flick. But she was no one to throw stones, she’d watch it—probably more than once.

She just relaxed, letting her head rest on the soft seat. The ride continued in silence until the driver stopped the car.

“This’ll do, Marco,” said the boss. “Wait until we’re gone and be sure to clean up.”

Cass was expecting the man called Marco to drag Anne out of the car. She was momentarily surprised when he reached for her. She continued to feign unconsciousness while the big man maneuvered her out of the car. He unceremoniously dropped her on the ground several feet away before returning to slam the door closed.

Guess they wanted a one-on-one bit. Cass watched as the car drove away down the street. She quietly rolled around and got her feet under her.  She looked for an escape. The narrow, dead-end alley offered no hope. The only way out was past the man standing in the narrow mouth. That was okay, running away didn’t make for good television.

An inconvenient streetlamp illuminated the opening to the extent that she would never be able to sneak past him convincingly anyway. She could run for it, but he supposedly had a gun and if he could shoot half-decent, her odds were bad. Embracing the need for a more direct approach, she took a few steps back until she was cloaked in the deepest shadow the alley provided. She smiled grimly. It was only one man.

He turned towards her and looked at the spot where she had been.

He twisted his face into an ugly smile as he looked around and said, “Come here, little girly. You can’t hide from me. You’ve got nowhere to go.” He stepped farther into the alley, hands out in front of him, like he was going to catch her.

Cass stood still and watched him advance.

He was taking his time, kicking the profuse garbage that littered the alley. He stumbled a little, his eyes not adjusted to the darkness yet. Ah, the drama.

Cass had been careful to keep one eye completely closed while in the light in order to preserve her night vision. She figured that she could she several feet further than her enemy. She had an edge.

It was not that she needed one, but she was of the opinion that every edge should be taken advantage of. Nothing was too small to swing the odds just a bit more in her favor. That would make a good voice-over or interview clip… She’d have to remember that.

Back in the game, she watched as he foolishly came further into the shadowed alley, calling to her in his thick Boston accent.

“Come on, baby. Come on out.”

She held her breath as he came close and then walked right past her. The way out was clear, but she turned away from the street. Her eyes were bright and a tight smile crossed her face as she silently stepped away from the grimy brick wall at her back.

“Don’t be afraid, little girly, come to papa,” said Marco as he stopped a moment to scan the alley. His vision was improving. He kneaded his hands in anticipation. He paused when Cass came out of the shadows.

Cass quickly hid her confidence behind a timid facade. She wasn’t very good a faking submission, but it only had to work for a moment–and it was nice and dim.

“Come here,” he grunted. Cass raised her arms slowly, in what might be confused with a surrendering gesture. She stopped just of arm’s length. He was reaching out to grab her when she raised her eyes. He hesitated when she met his gaze. Cass attacked.

She threw a ridiculously slow, but pretty kick towards his head, trying to play along with the drama level she’d observed so far. He ducked, and she followed with a double roundhouse. He dodged the first kick, but caught the second. With impressive strength, he threw her against the alley wall.

“You stupid girl. Now I’m mad. I was gonna make it quick.” He shook his head and pulled out the Glock. Cass tried to overcome the instinctive urge to try and kill the man. She kept telling herself it was not a real gun right up until he the bullet tore through her left thigh. Cass looked down, shocked. It must have been a solid core 9mm hot a hollow-point, because it went right on through. It hurt like the dickens, but she could hardly feel it. She was angry and that made her focused, focused like the laser beam mounted on the side of her very own Glock 19, back home in  the safe.

“Now you won’t be trying any of that kung fu crap on me, babe. Let’s have some fun.”

He moved towards her, teeth bared, and a look in his eye that said he wasn’t going to kill her right away. The moment he’d fired that gun, Cass had forgotten all about the show or anything else other than the right here and now. She was no longer playing by any rules.

She’d puled herself up into a sitting position, her back against the grimy brick wall, her hands curled up against her left shoulder. She kept her eyes glued to her target as she waited for him to get close enough. The seconds were eternities as he walked up, then knelt down over her. He reached out with his free hand and felt of her hair. His other hand, still holding the gun, was against the ground, helping to hold him up. It was the end.

Cass’s tied hands moved in unison towards their target, one just an inch behind the other. The edge of her right hand struck the big man’s throat. The other hand followed it, adding the strength of her other arm. A blow that was dangerous with one hand became deadly with two. There was a wet sound as he tried to breathe through his partially crushed trachea.

His jerked back to his feet, hands instinctively grabbing at his neck, trying to ease the pain. Cass was free and the gun was out of play. She stood and set herself against the wall, using it to steady her injured leg long enough to kick with the other. The kick wasn’t pretty, or high, or any of the other things that look good on a television screen. It was only nasty. Cass’s foot nailed him right above the groin.  He took a step back, still searching for air, then he collapsed, no longer capable of standing.

Cass fell down, unable to maintain the balance needed to recover without both legs working. She got her good leg under her and picked up the gun, but there was no need for it. The kick, as intended, had not only knocked the wind from her enemy, but dislodged the cartilage connection of the pelvis, damaging the structural integrity of his body. He was not going anywhere.

Cass put her boot on his right arm and let her other knee fall on his chest, provoking a violent gasp. He continued to moan as she searched his coat and found an extra magazine for the Glock and a switchblade knife. She stuck the mag in her pocket and used the knife to remove the bindings from her wrists.

“Listen here, bub,” said Cass, aiming the gun at a discolored spot of skin between his eyebrows. “Where is my friend? Where’d ya’ll take her?” Her voice was a low growl, unsteady. But her hand was not. “Tell me.”

“D..D..Derchev,” he coughed between ragged breaths.

“Derchev? Is that a man? A place? What are you saying?” Her accent became more pronounced her anger and her fear for her friend grew. “Tell me where those punks took her so’s I can go an’ get her.”

“You..you..cannot…” he gurgled. “..you..just..a..a..little girl.”

“I reckon I am, bub.” Cass grinned, letting her eyes stray from the sights to lock gazes with her prey. “But that never stopped me before.”

Before she could do or say anything else, the man died.

Cass stood up, keeping the gun ready, and listened. There was nothing extra to hear over the standard racket of a city. She started walking towards the street, staring at the darkness.

She had to find Anne. Who knows what they intended to do. Nothing good, for sure. Cass used a word she saves for special occasions and started looking for her cell phone. It was gone, of course. She started walking as fast as she could manage with the bum leg. She had to find her friend before something happened. She would make it right either way.