Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Wednesday Promo- Keena Kincaid

‘It’s All Greek to Me’

If some strange collision of the space-time continuum and a parallel universe popped my hero into my living room, I would (sadly) not understand a word he said.

Alain might—after looking past my startled expression and seeing my pasty skin and blue eyes—assume I’m Scottish and offer up the Gaelic version of “What the hell?” Although it’s just as likely he’d blurt the question in Medieval Norman French as my Scottish ancestors got to Scotland by way of the Norman Conquest.

Either way, the best I could offer would be a frantic, “je ne comprends pas.”

And though I have no worries (hopes?) that Alain will show up in my living room, I still agonized over how much “period” language to put in my medieval romance ART OF LOVE. Well, I agonize over it in all my books, but this one was particularly tough. He’s a Norman pretending to be a Scotsman pretending to be a scholar in Paris while spying for the English king. Whew. I needed to make sure my readers understood him without needing a dictionary and yet I wanted him to sound authentic (whatever that is for a Norman pretending to be a Scotsman pretending to be a scholar…).

Getting the language right has been a worry of mine since I read a regency novel where the author used Cant phrases for her Cockney characters. Unfortunately, every time she used a phrase, she stepped out of the story to explain it. The authenticity she’d struggled to bring to the story was lost because of the need to define those words.

As usual, I’ve probably over-thought this, but I can’t help but wonder where the line is between too little and too much? Do certs, forsooth and besew add charm to the story or do they just slow the reader down? While I would never put the words it’s, OK or ain’t in my 12th century hero’s mouth, is saying “a chirm” rather than “a cacophony” going too far even if four hundred years stand between my character and the latter word?

Eventually, I came up with a two-fold solution that I think (hope) works:
1. Narrative: I sacrificed authenticity for readability. After all, how many people want to read Beowulf in its original form even though it’s a fabulous story? Instead, I season the narrative with ancient words and phrases that are self-explanatory or still around, and go on. Fortunately, it’s surprising how many of Old English and medieval words we still use. For example, spew has meant “to vomit” since the 9th century. Who knew?

2. Dialogue: This is where I play. Because dialogue is based on character—i.e. class, education, ethnic background, etc.— I let myself have fun putting words in my characters’ mouths, but I make sure to explain to define the phrase as part of subsequent dialogue rather than in stand alone sentences.

For example, in ART OF LOVE, both Abigail (my heroine) and Alain are very well educated, so their speech is salted with quotes, foreign phrases and references to historical authors. Even more fun, Alain hides his true identity. So while he speaks with a perfect Parisian accent most of the time, when he’s tired, drunk or angry his words take on a Scottish lilt or he speaks in Gaelic. Here’s a sample:
Gingerly handling the fragile script, she unrolled it and read the opening line: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres… Her heart skittered in excitement. She didn’t know this work. “Qu’est-ce que ce?”

“What is what?”

Abigail twisted around and held up the parchment. “This. I—”

In a blink Alain was at her side, palm out.

She recoiled. “What?”

“Do you have any idea how rare and fragile that is?”

“I am not ignorant.” She handed the parchment to him, although her mind itched to read it from beginning to end.

As soon as his hand closed over the parchment, the flare of anger in his eyes dimmed. Muttering more rolling words she didn’t understand, he returned the scroll to the shelf as if he tucked a newborn into bed. When satisfied it was secure, he glanced at her. “It says all of Gaul is divided into three parts.”

“I know the words. I have read since I was four. I do not recognize the work.”

“And you know everything that has been written?”

“I know everything that I have read.”

I assume all writers have had this same struggle—i.e. dialogue in a gritty crime novel should sound like the streets, but gang slang is likely lost on most readers—but I don’t know this for sure. How deep into language do you, as a writer, go? Where do you draw the line between flavoring the story and ruining it? More importantly, for you readers out there, how deep do you want us authors to go?

About Art of Love
Abigail d'Alene has been sinfully in love with learning all her life. Now a widow, she has the means and freedom to indulge in her passion. Pretending to be Abelard, a fifteen-year-old boy from an outlying village, she heads to the Latin Quarter of Paris and the abbey schools that will one day change the world.

Shocked by her ineptitude at masquerading as a boy, Alain of Huntly Woods takes the young “Abelard” under his protection until she recovers her sense and goes home. But her audacity, intelligence and refusal to compromise spark enough friction between them to burn through his cold logic and carefully laid plans. In Paris as a spy for Henry II, Alain has sold his soul to the Angevin devil in exchange for the king's promise of an heiress, land and power.

As his good intentions bring him unexpected passion, he struggles to find a way to have it all. Then he discovers Abigail's uncle, confessor to King Louis VII of France, plots against the English king, and Alain must choose between protecting his king or the woman he loves beyond all reason.

ART OF LOVE is available in both print and e-book formats from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon and other booksellers. ISBN: 1-60154-381-6. To read an excerpt, go to:

About the author
Keena Kincaid is author of ANAM CARA and ART OF LOVE from The Wild Rose Press. Her only house rule is no talking before she’s had her first cup of coffee. You can learn more about the book and its author at, as well as MySpace, FaceBook and Twitter. You can find her books at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon Art of Love and Anam Cara and other booksellers.


Helen Hardt said...

Keena, that cover for Art of Love is amazing! The story sounds wonderful, as well. I wish you much success!


Susan Macatee said...

Love the excerpt, Keena! I think handling language in an historical can be tricky. After all, you don't want the characters to sound modern, yet you don't want to take them out of the story with too many foreign phrases and unreadable dialect. I think just sprinkling in a few phrases in dialogue and using words in different order in sentences--my stories are set during the American Civil War and I have a few Irish immigrant characters, one of these is the heroine of my second book--it can give just a flavor of the language without spoiling the story for the reader.

Hope for tons of sales for your story!

Jody said...

This is an interesting delimna for the writer: being true to their character but yet mindful of the reader. I thinks some languages such as Irish lend themselfs to simply embracing the syntax or word order for the reader to place them in time and place. For me though I have trouble with Scottish romances, what I call the "kinna/dinna" books. It seems too easy for a writer to fall into the use of such words to invoke a Scottish feel to their book, especially when most of the books are set in the historical highlands which was Scottish Gaelic and not Scots, of which is of the "kinna/dinna" variety. The Scottish lilt or brouge is found in Scots ( the language of the lowlander/borderer) and not the highland. I think often using a dialect is an easy way for authors to create a time/place when it should only be one element, other elements being a description of the location thorugh site and smell, as well as the actions of the character for that time period. As it many of the authors I speak with are often told by their editors to tone that dialect down, less is more. The feeling convey is that readers want less of it, not sure I believe this but it seems to suppor the dumbing down of the reading public. Good luck with your sales, the story sounds interesting.

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Helen. Rae Monet did the cover, and I think it's fabulous, too. She does such beautiful covers!

Keena Kincaid said...

Thanks for the well wishes, Susan. I've always heard that Paris doesn't sell. I'm anxious to know if that's true or not. :)

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Jody. Thanks for your comments. I'm not sure if less is truly more either, but I think many readers read for entertainment and don't want anything to pull them out of the story.

Now that Kindle offers a built-in dictionary, I wonder if we writers will get away with using more obscure words in the future. :-)

Deb Larson said...

You bring up a great point! How much is too much? I favor a light touch. In my historicals, 1800's Kentucky - I try not to dwell too much on drawls - only occasionally and try to be consistent within that scope. As much as I admire Mark Twain - it's truly difficult to read Huck Finn with all the dialects he uses. The flavor of it works best for me.
I love your cover! And wish you much fun and success as you promote your book.
DL Larson

Emma Lai said...

Love the cover art and excerpt! Great advice on dialogue.

Hanna Rhys Barnes said...

Keena, I pretty much came to the same conclusion that you did. I keep my narrative light on older words, so the reader doesn't get bogged down trying to understand. But I am very careful about the words that come out of my characters' mouths. When I'm on about round four of layering, my copy of Brohaugh's English through The Ages is right by my side.


Mary Ricksen said...

I too just love your cover.
Great excerpt and I wish you the very best of luck.
Just how much language to use is a real hard one. Too much and you lose something.
I wish you lots of sales and many great reviews.

elaine cantrell said...

I think if you get the flavor of the period that is all the vast majority of readers want, but finding the balance between too much and not enough can be tricky.