When I originally sat down to write the 240,000 word novel I then called ELFY, I had no idea that I would need to create a new language in order to best express the story I needed to tell. All I knew, at the time, was that a young male, who was a very short and very, very alienated student of magic, was in terrible trouble. He wasn’t from this universe, you see. But before he could try to find his place in the multiverse, he’d been sent to our version of Earth and to Northern California in particular. He was made captive by a couple of magicians, and if not for the friendship he forged with their daughter Sarah—also ill-used and badly misunderstood—he’d have no allies at all.
Then he tried to go home, and asked his teacher, Roberto the Wise, to help him. (The fact that my young, Elfy hero Bruno was powerful enough to break the barriers between the parallel worlds was completely lost on him, of course. But I digress.)
At this point, I knew I would need some foreign words. Because the Elfys—my magical species, much shorter than any Elf ever created—were a totally different species than any I’d ever seen. Of course they had their own language, much less their own customs and mores…but what was it, and how could I figure it out?
So I went to my husband, Michael (now deceased), and asked him what I needed to do next. (Why did I do this? Michael had more experience as a writer than I did, at the time, and I figured he would have the answer.)
Michael showed me a number of books on early Gaelic. I read these books, as I continued to tell my story, and tried to see if any of those languages would suit.
Of course, none did. (That would’ve been too easy.)
Then, Michael and I looked up a couple of online dictionaries of dead languages, most particularly those with Gaelic roots. In addition, I had a few words that had come to me—Madhrogan and flirb and zcuckfshwl among them—so I knew what I wanted this language to sound like, and a little bit about what it was.
You see, Bilre—the Elfy language—actually means “blather.” That, in and of itself, tells you a little of the Elfy mindset. Which allowed me to think off-center, and maybe sideways…then Michael and I had a breakthrough.
We were able to derive words in a way that both sounded like something that could happen on this Earth, but hadn’t…and we were able to codify it in a mostly logical way.
It helped us that the Elfys—who of course called themselves the Bilre (or the blatherers, if you want to be technical)—use a good deal of loan words. The strongest of mages are used to traveling between the parallel worlds of the Human Realm (our Earth), the Elf Realm (a parallel version of Earth), the Elfy Realm (yet another parallel version of Earth), etc., and as such, these strong mages have picked up all sorts of words and concepts.
And then, we had another breakthrough—what if the Elfys, long ago, had come to our version of Earth because of a terrible war between the Elfs (never call them Elves, as that sounds too much like a swear word for that race’s liking) and the Elfys? And some had settled in Ireland for a time, before going back to their own Realm…what would their language be like, after all that upheaval?
So, after I had completed my first draft of ELFY, I realized we had indeed created a new language. (Though somehow, I didn’t feel like J.R.R. Tolkien, mind you.) It sounded a great deal like Welsh, in certain respects, and like ancient Gaelic supposedly sounded in others. (At this point, who really knows what ancient Gaelic sounds like? Except maybe the Elfys…)
In other words, Michael and I built the Bilre language to sound foreign, exotic, yet also strangely accessible. And once we nailed that down, we decided to put together a working file of words and phrases, and added it to the back of ELFY before sending it out to agents and publishers.
But for years, I couldn’t find anyone interested in ELFY. Some liked the sample chapters, but said it was too long—yet they didn’t know how I could find an effective split-point with the novel, either. Some didn’t get it at all, and especially didn’t get the Bilre language…how anyone couldn’t understand that the Elfys would need to have their own language is beyond me, but perhaps they were looking for a different type of novel altogether.
During this time, my husband Michael died. I didn’t know how I could go on without him…yet I had my work, and his, too, that helped to keep me going.
And eventually, I found Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books. She understood what I was doing, appreciated it, found a way to help me split the book in half (part 1 of the Elfy duology went as AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, while part 2—recently released—is A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE), and allowed me to place the Elfy Lexicon at the end of both novels as she believed readers would appreciate it.
Of course, as my Elfyverse is a growing, living thing, the Elfy Lexicon is not finished. (Hey, I have more novels to write!) But I will not have trouble adding additional words to the Bilre language, because I understand the linguistic principles that guide the Elfys—er, the Bilre people—and as such, that allows me to stay current with whatever language they happen to be speaking today.
One, final thought: I believe the way language is put together is vitally important. The way we use words, the way we understand words, is vital. The way we put words together gives you a window to our culture…and it also gives you a window into the Elfy Realm to see how Elfys put Bilre words together as well.
A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE
Young Adult Urban Fantasy/Mystery/Romance
Young Bruno the Elfy and Sarah, his mostly-human teenage girlfriend, are in deep trouble. Bruno’s Elfy mentor Roberto the Wise is about to be sacrificed by a Dark Elf, and Sarah’s parents have decided to help the Elf rather than the Elfy.
Things look bleak and are getting worse by the minute, but Bruno and Sarah have a number of allies — human, Elfy, and ghosts — that the Dark Elf can’t possibly expect. Can young love, desperation, and great unexpected power win out despite it all?
Bruno took Sarah’s hand and led her back outside. He looked with his mage senses, and felt nothing; no Elfy magic, no Human magic, and as far as he could tell, no Elf magic, Dark or Bright.
He put up a light shield that should help conceal their voices, and decided it was safe enough to talk for a bit.
“Tomorrow is Ba’altinne, Sarah.” Bruno rubbed his fingers through his hair and tried not to look too hard at Sarah. Goddess, she was beautiful. But he had to stay on topic. “That’s your May Day. Tomorrow.” He shook his head and tried not to frown. “How can we get everything together in time to stop Dennis the Dark Elf?”
“I have faith in you,” she said. Her eyes darkened. Bruno felt as if he were falling, before she gently brushed her lips against his.
Barb Caffrey is a writer, editor, musician, and composer. She holds two degrees and is an inveterate and omnivorous reader. Her short fiction is available in Bedlam’s Edge, How Beer Saved the World, First Contact Café, Stars of Darkover, Gifts of Darkover, and the forthcoming Realms of Darkover, while her poetry has been published in the Due North anthology, Joyful Online, Written Word online magazine and the Midwest Literary Review. You can find Barb at Elfyverse.
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