Friday, December 30, 2011

Hugo Cabret and Automatons


I brought the twins to see Hugo. The movie was as wonderful as the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, about a boy in the 1930's living in the clockworks at a Paris train station. I can't remember when I've said that. It's different because the book had pages and pages of amazing drawings mixed with the narration. But they both have a place.


We didn't see it in 3D, but there was still that feel of movement through the train station and the clockworks. I think 3D glasses would have been inconvenient, actually, because I had tears in my eyes so often. It's such a bittersweet story.

The other nice thing about the story in film form- you get to see some original footage of the old old films such as A Trip to the Moon. I've watched it on YouTube, but something about seeing it on the big screen made it magical.

My girls and I were discussing if this was a fantasy or realistic story. Though it feels magical and quite steampunk, it's realistic, if you can imagine a boy living alone in a train station caring for clocks to be a reasonable situation. I do. :) Maybe there's a bit of magical realism in it. A new genre perhaps? "Steampunk Magical Realism."

I remember after I read the book, I searched out information about automatons. I'd like to share a cool video of one with you.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, blogger friends. :)
I began a Christmas short story but I probably won't have time to finish it in time for Christmas. No matter. Have a wonderful Christmas, or a happy Hanukkah. If that's your celebration, you've already begun and I hope it's a pleasant one! :)


Nativity

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santa is Here... in a Velomobile?

In spite of it being so close to Christmas I've gotten some writing done, do to the fact that I spazzed my back out in an ill-timed redecorating project. We had new flooring put in (something that looks not entirely unlike hardwood), which caused the walls to look horrid. So, I repainted several rooms.

So, I spend a couple of days sitting in bed, holding homeschooling classes there with the twins and writing.

I also finally got around to framing my niece's Syzygy artwork. I used the top one for the physical book. The middle one for the ebook, and the bottom one from my Twitter account.


Of course you'd think I'd have a lot of help from my trusty husband at a time like this and I did. He was kind enough to work on his human powered velomobile and ride it around. Whew! Glad I didn't have that job. Here he is in it. It's called a Mango. To me, it looks like a pedal car for grown men. Three wheels?  Weren't we all so thrilled when we went from a trike to a bicycle? I think he's reverting, but what to I know about aerodynamics, weight to power ratio, or whatever...?


 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Have You Ever Seen Your Character in the Flesh?

Sometimes I spot people--actors or ordinary people--who look like my characters. Sometimes I try to draw them, but I'm not an artist. My niece, Jasmine, an amazing artist, did an adorable depiction of Bea, from my urban fantasy Syzygy, for the cover art.



Now, my characters from Syzygy, are coming alive in a new way.

A few weeks ago I posted about a lady who created a Machimima, a short animated fan film, for Carol Kean's novel, Left on Stonehaven. She's now making one for Syzygy. She posted an update on her progress at her Machinima blog.

First gazing at my character, Finn, was like giving birth! Okay, not quite, but it was an oh-wow-I-can't-believe-it! experience to see him "fleshed out." Not having any sons, maybe the young males are more my babies than the females. I don't know. I recently watched that interview between J.K. Rowling and Dan Radcliffe and she said how moved she was when they chose Dan for the part of Harry Potter because she didn't have a son yet.

Sorry, I'm wandering off on a tangent.

Here's one of the pictures of Finn. To see more, you'll just have to visit Rhonda's Machinima Site.  You'll even get to see one weird picture of the skin process which reminds me of that stretched skin character from Doctor Who, Cassandra.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NaNo Loser, Snakes, and a Shoe Shelf

I'm not winning NaNoWriMo this year. But, my floors are clean. I'd only hoped to finish my current work in progress, so really, I'd only needed about 30k words. But, alas, it's not to be.

You zip along and zip along only to discover that a portion of what you've written is only fit to line the snake cage. Oh goody, now I'll get blog hits from googlers searching for snake cage lining. Well, FYI, there appears to be pine shavings in the bottom of ours. (Random Helpful Hint 42)
James the snake eating a mouse

They're not our snakes. We're borrowing them from my nephew so my girls can learn all things corn snake-ish, such as, it costs over $8 to buy three mice once a week to feed them. No wonder dear nephew was so eager to let us foster them.

But back to NaNo. I began with a bang, neglecting housework, proper meals, even nearly forgetting to pay a bill or two, like a good NaNo'er should, but I couldn't keep it up. Today, in a fit of writer's block, I scrubbed the floors and put together a small shoe rack for the hall.
You can tell we live in California- flip flops at the end of November. :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Elevator Pitch: Your Thanksgiving Homework

Quick- in 50 words or less, tell me what your novel is about.

Can you do it?

When you're living your daily life you're probably thinking about your novel all the time, but if you're like me, you don't always have a quick way to describe it.

Somebody at a party says, "I heard you're writing a novel. What's it about?"

You stuff a handful of chips in your mouth and start inching away, thinking, Who told you that? I want them eaten by zombies.

But we need to have something ready. They call this our "elevator pitch." It's the pitch that's short enough to present to somebody in an elevator. You could also call it the, "quick-before-her-eyes-glaze-over pitch."

Give the essence without character names or place names. Tell me the gist as if you were a squeeing fan of this novel.

I'll quickly do the three novels that happen to be on my table right now and I promise I won't cheat.

An orphan learns he can do magic and must save the world from an evil wizard by keeping him from getting a magic rock.

~Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

It's about the thirteenth sister in the Twelve Dancing Princesses and she has to solve the mystery and break the enchantment on her sisters.

~The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler

A guy learns his best friend's an alien and the world is getting blown up and he has to leave. He travels the galaxy and learns that mice are hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings.

~The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Okay, all of those need improvement, but you get the gist. 

So, your assignment, if you're a NaNo'ing American, is to write an elevator pitch for your NaNoWriMo novel, memorize it, and utter it at some point on Thanksgiving, preferably before everyone is in an overfed stupor.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Roper Steam Cycle and Why I'm Normal

I have super news. I'm normal. When I sprang the news on my husband yesterday, he expressed disbelief.

"No you're not."

Well you, dear readers, will believe me when I tell you I'm normal. I found out yesterday when I read this.


I've been wild about old motorcycles for a heap of years. Long ago I wrote a series of stories about a girl who rides a 1922 Banshee, a cool looking bike made for a limited time by a guy who later went on to work for Triumph.
1922 Banshee

But the Banshee wasn't steam powered. When I began my WIP Twelve Keys, I had an excuse to research steam powered motor bikes. Before yesterday already had most of the very pictures shown in the Roper article in my computer for my own reference. I also have sketches I've done of them, because that's what I do while brainstorming--draw my characters, though I'm a lousy artist.

When I saw that the Roper Steam Cycle was going to be auctioned off, my first thought was, "Can I have it?" My second was, "Wow, other people want it! I'm not weird."

When this word "Steampunk" came into my vocabulary, I was thrilled and amused. Don't you love when things you enjoy become popular? Steampunk marries cool clockwork and steam powered gadgets with science fiction and fantasy. But it's not new. And writers adding steampunk elements to their stories will benefit not only from reading Jules Verne, but from learning engine history and development, (and checking out in real life or YouTube some of these guys who actually have running steam engine cars and motorcycles.)

If this post was interesting, you may also enjoy this one.

By the way, this is one of the bikes my husband rides. And he thinks I'm not normal? I guess he should know. ;)
My husband on his recumbent human powered vehicle

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mental Health Help for My Character

Not my character as in me, but as in--for a character in my work in progess. Laura Diamond over at Lucid Dreamer answered my question about the loner character in my fantasy story, Twelve Keys. It helped me sort him out.

Laura's a psychiatrist and a writer. Her blog posts are always super interesting, but I especially enjoy her Mental Health Mondays. So, go check out her blog! :)

photo by Stan Shebs
*image source embedded in image caption.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

42 Random Writer's Block Cures: Great for NaNoWriMo Participants

If you're stuck in your NaNo novel, pick a number from one to 42 and choose a random plot turn or other device thingy to get you unblocked. I can't guarantee they'll make your writing better, but they'll keep your fingers moving.

(edited on 11/24/11 to add: I found this random number generator to help you pick a number. It even allows you to set it for any upper and lower limit.)

1- Your characters meet a random dog. They try to read the tag, but it keeps wiggling away.

2- Something explodes in the sky above them.

3- Your main character sits down and contemplates how he/she's divided. He/she really wants that main goal, but must have to give up something to get it. Go deep with this one. Put soul into the scene, not explosions. I believe it was Orson Scott Card who once wrote that thought is action.

4- A character smells something strange. Describe it in detail.

5- A character goes blind.

6- Something explodes.

7- Somebody spills something. How do they feel about it? How do others react?

8-A character tastes something new. Describe it in detail.

9-They find a dead animal.

10-Put music in your story- somebody sings or an instrument.

11-Your character realizes she/he lost a favorite necklace or pocketwatch.

12- He/she sits down to read and finds parallels in the story with his own life.

13- Write from another point of view. Just try it and see. Even if it's not in the final novel, it's eye-opening for you.

14- Your character prays.

15- Somebody gets drunk. What are the ramifications?

16- A man in a hat and umbrella is watching your characters from afar. Just put it in, even if it seems out of place. Trust me on this. :)

17- Somebody thinks your character lied when they haven't.

18- Look to your right, left and center. Write down three things you see. Now write a scene involving those objects. No cheating. If they can't possibly be in your novel, somebody can imagine/remember them.

19- Compose a poem about your character or novel. (I actually did this and one of my characters sings the song in the novel.)

20- A baby monkey riding backwards on a pig go by. How do your characters feel about it?

21- Write a chapter with no dialogue.

22- Your character must go shopping for bread.

23- Somebody suspects they're pregnant. How does everyone respond?

24- A large dog is hiding behind a house.

25- Somebody finds a gun in a drawer.

26- It rains. Does your character like rain? Describe the experience in detail.

27- The most unlikely character in the novel dances.

28- Write a chapter with only dialogue.

29- Write a chapter that begins- "I've lost my suspenders."

30- The weather unexpectedly changes and your characters are unprepared.

31- Write the closing scene to your novel if you haven't already. Do it now even though you haven't written the rest. You'll know where you're headed and you can always modify it later.

32- Hundreds of butterflies are suddenly flocking toward your characters. What now?

33- Write a gambling scene.

34- Open a scene with the words, "The stench was unbearable."

35- Write a journal entry or letter written by your character- main character or any character you're trying to get to know.

36- Give the villain, or some unsympathetic character, a stomachache and have to curl up in the fetal position for a while.

37- There's a car crash, steambike crash, space vehicle, or horse and carriage crash (depending on your genre).

38- Somebody says, "Hasn't this all happened before?" Everyone looks at him and he says, "Never mind. Déjà vu." Dumb, but it's a NaNoWriMo filler until you think of the right dialogue.

39- They find a dead kitten. The toughest guy cries.

40- Somebody makes a Shakespeare reference and after that, eerily the story starts to take on the shape of Macbeth.  

41- A new character is introduced. He/she resembles your real life first grade teacher.

42- The TARDIS appears, Doctor Who steps out, and ...


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Machinima

Machinima is a basically the use of games such as The Sims to create animated films. It's a fascinating art form, which I realize won't appeal to everyone. I've never played Sims. Heck, the most advanced game I've played is Tetris, so it's a mystery to me how they pull off this Machinima stuff, but I hear it's complicated.

Two super creative ladies are responsible for a piece of art that may interest you. The novel is Left on Stonehaven by Carol Kean. It is, as yet, unpublished. The Machinima based on the novel was created by a rather humble yet brilliant lady who goes by the moniker DoLittleSayMuch. She's got a cool site as well as a YouTubepage.

The Machinima captures the gritty raw aspects of Carol's novel. To read the Machinima's description, go to the YouTube page but you can access the Machinima from either of DoLittleSayMuch's sites.

Just to warn you, the machinima contains adult themes, so don't watch while your little ones are present. Be sure to have the sound turned on. There's music and dialogue. It has the elements of both a story-ish film and a music video.

I was blown away. The story is gripping, as I suspected it would be, knowing what a talented writer Carol is. Technically, the film is amazing. I happen to know, this was a huge labor of love for the machinima film artist. She did a brilliant job bringing the characters to life and interpreting the story into a new form.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo for Young Writers and Homeschooling Parents

Today's the first day of NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month. I've done it twice before. I've succeeded once. Well, I succeeded in writing a very poor zombie novel with flat characters.

This year, sitting in my chocolate induced daze, I resist the urge to tackle NaNo again, especially since I'm about half to two quarters the way through my WIP. But after some coaxing from my niece, I'm giving in. I'll approach NaNo as NaNoPoint5.  That is, I'll use it to complete my half-finished novel.

Enough droning about my project, I'm here to encourage you and your kids too. Unless you are an under 21, in which case, you're a kid to me. (Insert obnoxious toothy grin.) Did you know that NaNo has a kid section? Yeppers!  Here's that link. As a homeschooling mom, I get to call the time I ignore my kids while doing my own writing, "Homeschooling Time," and let them work on their own stories. Is that the best scam or what?

So, brew your poison--coffee, oolong, or some newfangled beverage with a cryptic name, dip your hand into the kid's candy stash, and start your NaNo flop... I mean masterpiece.
rainbow coffee

Friday, October 21, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Usernames, Passwords, and Planning Oh My!

It's that time of year again. Oh yes, you guessed it. It's time to rattle your peanut sized brain and try to remember your username and password for NaNoWriMo- National Novel Writing Month November 2011! Yay!
Composing that bestseller

Or perhaps this will be your first year and you're still trying to pick a name: Bestseller Bess, Paperback Writer, or Inescapable Grief.

Unless you're the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-trousers type and you select such things (like blog names) as the form is open on your desktop while you're on the phone with your mother, your gaze darting around the kitchen. It lands upon the spice rack.

"How about dry mustard?"

"Dry mustard?"

"What are you making?"

"A blog."

...silence

"Mom, are you still there?"

Remember, your NaNoWriMo user name will be with you every November for the next 742 years. So, for instance, if you name yourself after the main character of your parody fantasy novel, Barry Hotter, and then toss that manuscript into the shredder, hoping never to be reminded of that flop, you may be sorry come next year.

Take it from me, Zombie Girl (cringe) choose wisely.

Okay, so now you've picked your name and password. The password was easy because you only have one or two you use for just about everything and you wrote them down on that bit of paper you keep in your desk drawer because who-the-heck cares about security, right?

What will you write? I'm sure you've got a brilliant novel in mind, or you wouldn't have bothered reading this far on a NaNo blog post. The real question is- will you outline before beginning or go with the flow? I suggest something in between. My literary hat simply flipped with glee when I learned about Dan Wells' 7 point story structure. You can read what I wrote about that here and watch the first of his videos on the topic.

Were I doing NaNo this year, I'd take my vision and map it out the using the 7 point structure, which leaves a lot of flexibility. But you may be an outliner and if that's the case, do it. I wish I were, but if I try to outline, I become distracted by the urge to yank out my eyelashes with a pair of tongs.
Could you meet your NaNo goal using a quill and ink?

But I'm not doing NaNo this year. I'm not. No no no no no.... 

Well, maybe.

 *Image sources embedded in image captions.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Page 99 Challenge

The page ninety-nine test is supposed to tell a reader if a book is worth reading or not. I think it's a bit random, but it's an interesting method. A while back I did the 99 test on my fantasy work in progress, Twelve Keys. However, I hadn't written enough to present you with page 99, so, I did the next best thing. I gave you page forty-two.

I now have about 156 pages written. Today I can show you my current page 99. I'm sure it'll change, with revising and all that.

Without further ado, here is 99- of Twelve Keys


***
"If we had a winged engine, we could cross the eastern mountains. We would see if the land was normal on the other side," Poppy prattled. "Rick? Rick, are you listening?"
He'd halted at a bend in the path to look down into a gully. "You can't cross the mountains."
"But we'd have a flying--"
"Even on the back of a giant polka-dotted eagle."
"Is there such a bird?"
"No." Below, Rick saw three little kids playing in a creek. They were covered from head to foot in mud and green muck. But what interested him was that the creek had a wide, low concrete weir built across it--from the Modern times. He wondered what else in the vicinity might still be standing.
He felt Poppy slip from Currito's back, and watched her step to the edge and look down.
"Rick, look. Children. Let's go talk to them."
The water level was low and the creek wasn't flowing. On one side of the weir the creek was little more than thick mud and some trampled vegetation. On the other, it was a scum-covered pool. Rick could already smell the stagnant stink.
"Naw. We'll move on."
One of the kids mounted the weir and waved. "Climb down."
Poppy looked up at Rick. "Check the watch."

 ***Lnks to image sources embedded in images themselves.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Character Study: The Sacrificing Mother

One of the most kick-tail hero/heroine types is the sacrificing parent. I'll focus on mothers today. Mothers like, Ellen Ripley (Aliens), Lilly Potter (Harry Potter), Sarah Conner (Terminator). Film and literature are littered with them. I'll mainly discuss two- Ellen Ripley and Lily Potter.
From The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Why do we admire these characters as heroes? What qualities do they exhibit? Bravery, love, fierce loyalty, the ability to focus on somebody other than themselves. All qualities we hope to possess. Qualities we hope we'd find within ourselves when faced with terrifying dangers- be that alien attacks, Voldemort, or the threat of machines taking over the world.
from "Aliens"
Okay, that's fantasy. Let's take it to a realistic level. How about earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, or war? All of these situations can bring out your character's inner heroine.

Or perhaps a more personal tragedy like a car wreck, job loss, illness, or other crisis. Maybe those aren't as glamorous as flicking wands with Deatheaters, but they can be just as taxing.

I think heroes, such as the sacrificial mother, kicking serious booty to protect her child (or another's child, as is in the case in "Aliens") stirs our own inner hero and helps us feel more prepared to take on challenges. I don't know about you, but when I'm thinking about somebody else, I'm less worried about my own tail and can think more about getting the job done.
Let's look at each of these women:

Ripley (Aliens) has fifteen minutes to save a little girl, nickname Newt, before the space station explodes. The thing is, she has no real reason to believe the girl is alive. You see, they just saw the little girl fall down some... thing-- an air shaft I guess it was, and the aliens take her. Ripley goes to the ship and gets weapons to fight the aliens and rescue Newt all by herself.

She risks her own life for whom? A little girl she recently met and who probably already has an alien gestating inside her wee little body. And we love Ripley for it!

Lilly Potter (Harry Potter) is standing in the bedroom at their home in Godric's Hollow. She hears her husband get avada kedavra-ed and then Voldemort bursts into the room. There's no chance she can stand against old Voldipoo, but she'll try. She stands between the dark lord and her baby and pleads for his life.
From "Harry Potter"

Was it worth is?

Ripley lives and, miraculously, the little girl was able to be rescued. Though she dies in the next film. However, knowing that, doesn't make her heroics any less beautiful. We're petrified along with Ripley as she stands there holding Newt amid the alien pod egg things. Not for a heartbeat do we wish she'd left the girl behind. So, yeah, it was worth it.

Lilly Potter dies and Harry survives. Nobody says, "Foolish lady. She should have stepped aside, saved herself, and run off with Snape, living happily ever after." Not even the Snape-Lilly shippers say that! Lilly's lauded as a loving mommy hero. Heck yeah, that sacrifice was worth it.

In both of these stories, we cheer for the sacrificial mommies and fear/hate the bad guy monster types.

I focused on action scenes in science fiction/fantasy, but in some books and movies, the protagonist faces realistic obstacles, such as poverty or domestic abuse. But she's just as much of a hero when she selflessly puts her child first.

P.S. Have you ever noticed how Ripley's line to the alien queen, "Get away from her, you bitch!" is reminiscent of Molly's Weasley's line to Bellatrix, "Not my daughter, you bitch!"?  Just an observation. Sorry about the language. ;-)
Ripley and Molly - as they give their famous lines ;)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pacing, Characters, and an Excuse to Talk About C.S. Lewis

I was listening to Writing Excuses, one of my favorite writing podcasts, and they were discussing the Hollywood Formula with their guest, Lou Anders. In this case, "formula" doesn't have a bad connotation. It's about how to pack maximum emotional value into a two-hour film.

I think for a novelist's purpose, one of the values in this podcast episode is learning about pacing. They discussed a two-hour film as a 120 page script. They break it down into three acts of 30 pages, 60 pages, and 30 pages. But percentagewise you can figure out the acts in your own novel page numbering.

One third into act one is your protagonist's fateful decision. That's when the character decides to take the quest or not.

So, I took a gander at C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew (because it was handy on my shelf), did some calculations and found that the fateful decision should come (in my copy) on page 16. This is just before Polly takes hold of one of Uncle Andrew's magical rings and gets swooped off to the "wood between the worlds." I think that Digory, and not Poppy, is supposed to be the protagonist and he hasn't followed her quite yet, but pretty close.
Wood Between The Worlds made of clay (by my kids)
Just after the third act is supposed to come the low point. It doesn't. I think it's much further on. On 176 (in my copy) the witch tempts Diggory in the garden. Of course, you could argue the low point is before that, when Aslan show's his disappointment, and this scene between Diggory and the witch is part of the final battle.
Magician's Nephew

Anywhoo, it's interesting to examine pacing through the lens of this formula. I also looked at my WIP with this formula in mind and I think it'll help me plan out the ending.

This podcast episode also touches on the three main characters in a film: protagonist, antagonist (not always the bad guy!), and the relationship character (doesn't mean somebody the protagonist has a romantic relationship with). I won't go into it because I can't explain it better than they do. I encourage you to listen because, if you're like me, you'll look at character relationships in a new way.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Digital Comics Addiction

Oh please don't call them comics. Say it with me-- graphic novels.* I'm 41, for crying out loud! So what if I sometimes enjoy my artwork and literature all wrapped into one package?

Sure, a good fourteenth century Simone Martini flips my hat, like this comic strip... ehm, I mean painting, depicting an infant falling from its cradle and being healed by Saint Augustine.
A Child fallen out his cradle healed by Blessed Augustine
I think it's the word "comic" that doesn't work here, because the story depicted isn't humorous. Many illustrated stories (illustrated novels, graphic novels, cartoon strips) aren't humorous. And in case you didn't know, loads of them don't contain super heroes. But so what if they do? Everybody needs the occasional super hero and humor is necessary for survival. Isn't it? Well, I thought so.

Is a serious story loftier than a tragedy? Tell most people you're reading Chaucer and they'll nod approvingly without realizing he's full of base humor. Tell me what's sophisticated about "The Miller's Tale" in which somebody farts out the widow. 
comic version of Chaucer's Miller's Tale

Don't mistake me, I have great affection for Chaucer, particularly in the original Middle English. I had this professor in college who spoke it so beautifully. Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote... Sigh...

But I digress. Digital Comics. Yum! Over at Dark Horse (home of Hellboy, B.P.R.D., The Goon, Conan, and others) they got me sampling freebies. The next thing I knew, I bought one. See, I didn't think I'd like reading a comic on the computer, but it's super dynamic. As I press my arrow key, I'm tossed into close-ups, then on to the next panel, into the next close up. I think if I wasn't used to reading comics, this might make for a good tutorial on how to read them- you know, to help you figure out which panel or word bubble to read next?

from "Abe Sapien: The Drowning 1" (the real thing is easy to see because if fills up your screen)
As I said, it's a dynamic experience, having the pictures move into frame like that. Plus they're cheaper to buy in digital form. I'll always love to hold an actual comic... I mean graphic novel, in my hands, but the digital experience is super fun and you can buy more of them for the same money.

*Notes on the terms-
Illustrated novels have few pictures- maybe one per page or even one per chapter. I fluidly interchange the terms graphic novel and comic book and some people will pop me in the nose for that. Many will call a little magazine style, a "comic book" and a bound up book with a collection of comics, a "graphic novel." Some are very particular about terms. This guy on Youtube explains how the experts feel on the issue. 

 ~Links to image sources embedded in image captions.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Star Trek Quiz as Writer's Block Remedy

Instead of confronting my writer's block, I ignored it and took a Star Trek quiz. I learned that I'm expendable. By doing so, I discovered my time is not expendable and I should have worked in the garden, washed the kitchen floor, or worked on another piece of writing instead of taking a silly quiz that most likely filled my computer with "cookies" that I can't even eat! LOL

I must say that I'm bummed that I'm least like Worf. I would like to be a Klingon.

Your results:
You are An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
95%
Chekov
75%
Beverly Crusher
65%
Deanna Troi
65%
Uhura
55%
Mr. Scott
50%
Jean-Luc Picard
50%
James T. Kirk (Captain)
45%
Will Riker
45%
Data
40%
Geordi LaForge
40%
Spock
37%
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
35%
Mr. Sulu
25%
Worf
25%
Since your accomplishments are seldom noticed,
and you are rarely thought of, you are expendable.
That doesn't mean your job isn't important but if you
were in Star Trek you would be killed off in the first
episode you appeared in.


Click here to take the "Which Star Trek character am I?" quiz...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Units of Length and Time in Fantasy

sun dial
Hours, and miles, and parsecs, oh my! How does a writer deal with time and distance terms in a fantasy or science fiction story? It's something to think about while world building.

My own WIP is set on Earth, but it's a fantastic enough scenario that I don't want to always use conventional units of measure, such as yards and feet. I decided to explore the alternatives and came up with phrases like "stride length," "hand span," and "and arrow shot away."

Looking at historic terms for measurement can be helpful, whether you use them as is, or modify them for your fantasy world. This article of old-timey measurement may be of help. Did you know the old Spanish unit, vara, appeared on many U.S. land deeds? The exact length varied from place to place, but in California it was set at a little over 33 inches.

If you invent units or use ones wholly unfamiliar to readers, you may want to give them a clue as to what they mean or mentioning measurements will serve no value.
 
To remain vague may work to your advantage, as in, "The Orange Duke's castle was a day's ride away." Use words such as- dawn, dusk, twilight, sunset. Better yet, describe- "Our shadows were lengthening as rode across the desert." Of size- "about as big as a squirrel," or "an acorn size __ ."

lengthening shadows

For non-earth stories: Do you have a 24 hour rotation to your planet? If there are two suns, are they always in the sky at the same time? (Research binary star systems.) Does each sun have a name? Do you have four distinct seasons. More? Fewer? How will you give the reader a feel for that? "It was the season of phacelia, when the purple blooms carpet the landscape, a welcome sight after fifteen months of snow. But I shouldn't complain. Winter was short that year." (Dumb, tossed-together example, but you get the point.)

Remember, as a science fiction writer, you must know more about your planet's astronomy, geology, etc. than the reader. He/she doesn't need or want science and history lessons. They want a story and to get a feel for your world.

twin star system

* links to image sources linked in image captions






Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gadgets and Gizmos in Your Stories

How many gadgets and gizmos do you have in your novels and short stories? If you write science fiction or steampunk, my guess is--quite a few. Still, even if you write say, mystery or historical fiction, you might enjoy including a funky techno doodad, as long as it's in line with your era/genre.

While researching I stumbled upon this article by Rob Temple, called "10 Historic Gadget Flops." Brilliantly researched, the article features some real loser inventions, such as the machine invented in 1927 that takes x-rays to determine a person's shoe size. But for writers, these flops are inspirational gems.

You could write a horror story featuring "The Finger Stretcher." It sounds like a torture device, but it isn't.

Or maybe the dirigible pilot in your steampunk story wears something based on the 1920's wrist watch navigator system which holds itty-bitty maps.

Hat Tipper


My favorite gadget in the article is the hat tipper. I don't know how or if I'll include it (or something similar) in my WIP, but if I can't see one in person, I sure would like to see it in a book. Then again, maybe I'll invent a hat taker-offer for certain young men I know who won't remove their hats at the table. Hmm...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens and a Challenge for You


Cowboys and Aliens worked for me. I mean absolutely. I went because it is so my genre(s). My wip (work in progress) is a combo science fiction/western/fantasy. If they'd given Jake (Daniel Craig) a magical creature for a companion, I'd have been in geeky mash-up heaven.

You should probably see the film before you read this blog because I don't want to spoil the story for you. So go see it. I'll wait....

I think what worked so well was the ordinary coupled with the unexpected. (Did you see the movie yet? Well quit reading now if you don't want spoilers!!!) They made out like the aliens were like the cowboys... well, they were actually bandits, but I guess saying cowboys sounds catchier. In one early scene, from far away you see the lights of torches and then horseback riders holding torches come into view. Soon after, there's a similar shot of lights in the distance, but this string of lights is a little too high to be riders.

Sure enough, they're a fleet of space ships. And guess what! They start lassoing everybody they can. Yep. Just like cowboys to cattle. Ha! Funny-scary-brilliant. Okay, so maybe they ought to have more superior technology than that, but it was unexpected--mixing the mundane with the strange and it worked for me.

And guess why the aliens were here. Go on guess! Gold. :-)

So, here's your challenge for the week. Write something where you mix the ordinary with the unexpected. Maybe create a bit of comedy in your story. Or an interesting first line for your novel. Perhaps you'll come up with a weird concept for a flash fiction piece.

Also see my review at "Catholic Once Again."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hats in Your Stories

1904 Hat Man

Because my last hat blog still gets hits each day, I'm doing another one. Hats are a popular topic. Many young people wear them today, so you can put your modern teenage protagonist in a fedora and a reader won't be surprised.

If you're writing a historical novel, do a bit of research, making sure a particular hat is in fashion and which gender is currently wearing it.

Also, ask yourself why your character wears his/her hat. Do they need protection from sun, rain, or the blows of falling fruit? Is the hat a symbol of rank or status? Is it improper to leave the house without a hat? Must they remove it indoors, at the table, or before urinating on cats? Does your character think they look cute, cool, or beautiful in their hat? Science Fiction and fantasy writers, you too can consider these types of questions as you world build.

Not only can a hat tell much about a character, it can be a good prop in a scene as a character takes it off, smoothes the brim, or pulls a an alien rabbit-like creature from it at parties.

Let's look at some hats, shall we?
Bowlers

A bowler (also called a derby or coke hat), was a popular hat in the Old West in America. That's "the hat that won the west," according to author Lucius Beebe. Surprise you? It suprised me!

A porkpie hat has a flat topped short crown with a indentation all the way around. It was originally a women's hat and gets its name from looking like a pork pie. In Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows we read about an unnamed wizard wearing one at the wedding reception. "Charlie, Hagrid, and a squat wizard in a purple porkpie hat were singing 'Odo the Hero' in a corner."
Buster Keaton in Porkpie hat
Boaters are similar to porkpie hats, but have no crease. One example of these are the straw ones worn by barber shop quartets. Those are mentioned in Harry Potter too. In the Philosopher's Stone it's said that Smelting boys wear them with their school uniforms.


Dudley Dursley in his boater hat


The fedora was invented in the 1880's and today there are variations on this hat style. For writing purposes, it's probably fine to simply put your character in a fedora and let the reader imagine what she or he will. If you like, give it a color or tell us if it's wide or short brimmed. Though some, particularly in the U.K., a short brimmed fedora is called a trilby.

Now some people consider a trilby to be a different hat entirely. It has a short brim, shorter crown than a fedora, and the brim turns up in the back.

Trilby

And just for fun, because I found this picture, here's Harry Truman's panama hat. It's made of straw, leather, and fiber.
Panama Hat Made for Harry Truman


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Deathly Hallows part 2, Magical Knitting, and a lot about Neville


Yes Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 was all it could be and more. I think it stayed truer to the novel than any of the other movies. It was moving- both fast moving and emotionally moving. I walked out of there satisfied and anticipating when I could see it again!

There were differences between the movie and the book, to be sure. And I will pick at them, but I still LOVE it!

Snape

No idea why they put Snape and Voldemort in a boathouse instead of the shrieking shack for the death scene, but whatever. It worked. Though I think Snape needed more memory "tears." In the book one got the impression they were just oozing out of him- his ears and eyes.

I do know why they "shipped" (to use a fan fiction term) Luna and Neville. You know that wasn't in the books, don't you? And the nineteen years later epilogue clearly shows they don't end up together. However, it is a common pairing among fans.  A wizarding band, The Remus Lupins, even sing a song on the theme.

Neville

I got mixed reactions about the Luna/Neville pairing when I spoke to various friends who saw the movie and are great fans of the books. Some were happy and thought they always were meant to be together. One said there were hints in the books that Neville and Luna like each other. Others thought it was wrong to go against canon whether you thought they should be a couple or not. That sort of thing should be left to fan fiction. One woman I talked to, (and agreed with) said it was clear from the books that Neville didn't really like Luna at all and that they are all wrong for each other.

What do you think?

I know, I'm rambling on about a tiny detail.

They left out a bunch of background on Helena Ravenclaw. It was an interesting backstory, but it didn't matter much that it was cut. "The Prince's Tale" chapter was beautifully done. I'd have liked to see it longer and more of the details from the book, but again, not all of that was needed to move the main story forward.

I cried when Sirius, Remus, and Harry's parents appeared. Profoundly moving. The scene where Harry's walking through the great hall past the hurt and dead friends- amazingly sad.

Why did the Malfoys leave? I mean, I know their motive, but that wasn't in the book. They're supposed to be sitting in the great hall at the end. Oh well. No biggie.

Hey, Harry's supposed to repair his old wand with the Elder Wand. They forgot to do that! And he's supposed to put the Elder Wand back into Dumbledore's tomb. We don't see that in the book, but he says he's going to. He doesn't break it! Oh well, it's more final that way. But he should have repaired his old wand.
Elder Wand

Okay, other details I won't go into. I'll live with them.

And of course everyone cheered when Neville killed the snake. Everybody loves Neville. He's like the unsung hero. My niece told me J.K. Rowling should rewrite the Harry Potter series from Neville's perspective. Ha! I'd totally read it. :)

Hey, I loved how everyone cheered for Molly when she yelled at and then killed Bellatrix. Cool how Molly's the only one allowed to use naughty words. :) 

Moral of the story- Don't mess with a knitting mother's kids or you'll get your butt kicked.

Speaking of knitting- Lion Brand Yarn has some magical Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows inspired patters for the Molly Weasley in you.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Random Uprising- Exclusive (and nifty) Interview & News about Their Santa Barbara Show!

Today you're in for a treat. I've interviewed Larry Cazenave and Brian Underwood, the guys of The Random Uprising, an independent band in the San Francisco Bay area. I find it fascinating how these two put together such an amazing album, Mutiny on the Mayflower, all by themselves without a lot of cash. They call themselves a garage band, but nothing sounding this good ever came out of my garage.

Take a peek into their creative process, learn about the nifty cover, and find out what inspires these two musicians. But you will not learn why Larry calls Brian, "Floyd". That, apparently, is a story for another time.  Be sure to watch the video of the guys playing, which is located at the bottom of this post.

If you're in the Santa Barbara California area- be sure to see The Random Uprising in August. Details at the end of the inteview!!!

So, you guys are The Random Uprising. Tell me about the name:

BRIAN:  Basically, we opened up the newspaper, scattered it all over the backyard and threw lawn darts until we hit on a combination of words that we thought represented us well.  It was a moment of divine intervention…and when we found the title there was no way for us to move beyond it without being struck down by lightening or being swallowed up into the abyss.

The Random Uprising "Mutiny on the Mayflower"

Great CD artwork. Who design it the art cover?
BRIAN:  The idea for the artwork was driven by the album title…which in itself was something completely arbitrary.  Essentially we were looking to come up with an example of a ‘random uprising’ and a Mutiny on the Mayflower gave us both a good laugh. Larry and I tossed around a few ideas for artwork and I kept coming back to this image of the Mayflower with some graffiti.  Initial sketches had images of pilgrims hanging over the side in the act of anarchy but this didn’t transfer as well as I had hoped so I went for just the Mayflower on the sea turning away from the coast of the America’s with just a hint of graffiti.

How long have you two played together, and how much time did it take you to write this album?

LARRY: We started playing in December 2010, and we just got on a roll. I started sending songs to Floyd and he would come up with the lyrics and melodies right away. We wrote and recorded the album in 4-5 months, and have since started working on some new material for our next one.

BRIAN:  What is really cool is that by the time we sat down to record the vocals for the album, we had only really gotten together to jam maybe 3 or 4 times. 

Where did you record this CD?

LARRY: As a first album, we decided to record, mix and master everything at home with limited means. I recorded many of my own solo work this way before, using just a small digital 4 track, and throwing the recorded tracks onto Garage Band [A software application] for editing, mixing, and mastering. We're never going to get a million dollars recording studio sound that way, but giving our means, I think it turned out pretty good. All together, we just spent $450 to make the cd... that and a few hundred hours of work. The thought process was also to be able to offer people a quality CD they can buy at home from our website for the price of a Starbucks coffee, or buy at a show for the price of a beer: $5

BRIAN:  I think all of Larry’s blood, sweat and tears are evident in the album.  He squeezed more out of Garage Band than Apple ever thought it was capable of.
Ha! Even the CD is decorated. :)
Do you write the lyrics or music first, when composing a song?

LARRY: For this 1st album, we wrote most of the music first, then added lyrics. It's always been the way I've done it in my solo days. I first came to Floyd with the "Tiny Dancer" music I think which he liked and quickly came up with a great melody and lyrics. Floyd did write the music for "The Devil Looks Back" and "Playing Pretend" so he can answer for those. But for the other 13 songs, it was music first that i wrote.

BRIAN: With "Devil "I wrote the music first but with "Playing Pretend" the lyrics and music grew together as I sat down behind the guitar one evening.  With the other songs on the album it was amazing to sit back and essentially have 13 different sonic scenes for me to create a lyrical world for.  While I enjoy creating music, the best part for me is putting together lyrics that we feel really fit and fall into the theme and feel of each song.  Ultimately it falls into just riding out the inspiration and seeing where it takes you.

Did you guys have any major arguments about this project?

LARRY: Floyd and I have been on the same page since day one. To this day, if I suggest an idea, he will have thought of it at the same time. It's pretty crazy. The only other person I share that kind of "know what I'm thinking before I tell you" is my sister who've I've know for 30 years. Because I had experience making CDs, I took the lead on writing the music but always made sure Floyd had an equal say in all the decisions. We're in this for the long haul.

BRIAN:  I believe we’ve agreed to wait until we’ve gone double-platinum and had ten songs sit in the top ten on billboard’s singles chart for 6 straight months before we decide to start arguing. To Larry’s point, it has been cool to sit in my own little brain-world and think about an idea and suddenly receive an email or call from Larry sharing virtually the same idea.  I feel extremely fortunate to work in a forum that allows for open dialogue and the ability to explore ideas to see where they take us and I think it’s important to never mistake how passion manifests itself.

What inspires you to write a song? You just sit down and make yourself write, or does it just come to you when you're in the shower?

LARRY: Well I think it's different for Floyd and I. Perhaps he takes a more lyrical approach to writing the song. I play around on the guitar or piano, and when I find something I like, I grow that idea, and start building. You don't know really where you're going when you write music, but you eventually get there. The process and sometimes struggle of writing a full song is in itself the most rewarding part. You sit back and listen to the finished song after all the hard work and long hours, and that's the best feeling of accomplishment I've experienced. Then you just want to do it again.

BRIAN: For me, it’s my environment.  A phrase I hear on BART, or the sound a car makes when it slams on its brakes can sometimes trigger a flood of ideas to spill forth between my ears.  Larry’s music is a huge component of that and while a few songs (Oh to Be You, Finding our Way) took a bit longer to find the right words, some songs (Silhouette, Just Curious, Indian Trail, Live Ahead) basically wrote themselves and were written after listening to the music only once.

BART Station
What's the last concert (not your own) that you each went to?

LARRY: I don't go to nearly enough. The last one I really enjoyed was a Django Rheinhardt tribute band that played here in San Francisco called "The Hot Club de San Francisco". They were quite good.

S.F. Bay Bridge
BRIAN:  That’s a tough one and like Larry, I definitely don’t see as much live music as I’d like.  My wife, Cecily, dialed me in on the Strawberry Music festival which takes place in Camp Mather on Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends.  Going to this 3 to 4 day festival essentially fills my cup for a good 6 to 8 months as I listen to amazing bluegrass, folk, country and rock musicians doing their thing.  On the flip-side, I’m stoked to be going to see Soundgarden and The Mars Volta in Tahoe on July 20th.

What are you listening to right now?

LARRY: Derek Trucks, sick slide guitar player. Some old live GNR right now, Zeppelin always, Dereck and the Dominos, Django Rheinhardt always.

BRIAN:  I love the story-tellers.  Guy Clark is a god to me, as is John Prine, Willie Nelson and Tom Waits.  It’s funny because I tend to remember the worlds they’ve created less so than the words in their songs. But it’s the singers with the dynamic range and emotion that really draw my ear to a record – Larry’s got me back listening to Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin, but I’ve also been listening to Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder for some spiritual inspiration.  Cedric Bixler-Zavala (The Mars Volta) and Jeff Buckley are always on the play list and I also really like Ray LaMontagne’s voice on God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise. 

Which musicians inspire you?

LARRY: I tend to keep going back to old blues, gypsy jazz, Zeppelin, gospel... and my French roots (Cabrel, Goldman, Brassens)

BRIAN:  I think all of the musicians I am listening to inspire me in some way or another.  Right now I’m listening to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain – an amazing reminder for me that you don’t always have to tell a story with words.  For the most part though, I’m going to take the easy way out on this one and say that I find inspiration in just about anything.  You sit at an open mic and listen to someone poor their heart out, sharing the end product of hundreds of hours of practice …how can I not be inspired by this.  Conversely, walk through the Tenderloin, give change to someone who needs it, or share a conversation with someone who’s dialoguing with three or four spirits that can’t be seen…this is inspiring as well and there is music in the common experience of that moment and all its seemingly scattered yet orchestrated parts.

guitars

Okay, I have to ask because I'm stupidly curious. Do either of you just listen to your own music for pleasure, like, put it on your iPod or stereo as you would any other music? Or do you think of that as music you make and not music you yourselves listen to?

LARRY: When you write a lot of music, you're constantly listening to your songs over and over again as you're building them, especially when you make a CD. I listened to all the tracks many many times. It's listening for pleasure the first few times when you finish (sense of accomplishment) but since we've finished the CD 6 weeks ago, I haven't been able to put it on. I rather move on to new material, and practice the old songs for live which will sound different then the CD.

BRIAN:  I’m really proud of what we’ve created and do still listen to parts of it occasionally – less so for enjoyment and more so to revisit the phrasing or approach to certain melodies.  I think I become too attached to the music we created to listen to it in the same manner as I would listen to another musician’s music.  Listening through the album you remember the multiple takes, the long days, the work you put into the effort to bring it to completion and I haven’t been able to find a way to listen to the music as a stranger would.  I’m ready to start working on new music and our next album. 



If you had to pick a particular song from "Mutiny on the Mayflower" that epitomizes the entire collection, which song would it be and why?

LARRY: I think we tried to offer variety on this album, have songs that sound different from one another, so that's difficult. For me if I had to pick one it would be "Live Ahead", love Floyd's vocals and lyrics on there, and the way the music came out, you got a good beat on there with some rock, and Spanish influence.

BRIAN: Like Larry, I really like how "Live Ahead" came out. But, I think that "Tiny Dancer" may be most indicative of what we can and will do. You have the Fall version which was the first song we worked together and musically is still very true to our initial approach with the song. But the Winter version was a late addition as we explored our ability to bring more emotion to the music. 

You guys are performing soon. Tell us about that.

LARRY: We're doing a live show down in Santa Barbara the weekend of August 6th at our friend Sean's wine shop called Vino Divino. Probably will be a very casual atmosphere. It's only fitting we play our first show there since Sean is the one who introduced Floyd and I. We are rehearsing now for that show with most of the material from the first CD and 2 or 3 new songs.

That show is Saturday, August 6th, 2011
"The Random Uprising" will be performing an hour acoustic set from 6pm-7pm!
Vino Divino: 2012 De La Vina Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
(805) 682-7484


Here is the web site of Vino Divino in Santa Barbara. From their site you can get to their Facebook and Twitter.

Here's the web site of The Random Uprising where you can buy the digital album, Mutiny on the Mayflower for only five bucks. Take a listen to the song and read the lyrics. Mighty cool!  

Here are Larry and Brian playing "Tiny Dancer".



*Links to sources of photos not my own, embedded in photo captions.
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