Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Halfway point

I hadn’t figured on doing National Novel Writing Month again, but I happened to be re-starting my current novel (having scrapped yet another beginning) right around the end of October, and decided that at this point fifty thousand words (which ought to be the halfway point since I'm shooting for a total of 100K) would seem enough of an accomplishment to be worth the trouble even if the result was unsalvageably bad (as my previous two NaNo novels were).  I hit the 50K goal, and while it’s certainly not great writing, at least it’s finally telling the story I wanted to tell.

This time I decided to try something new (for me), and have been writing with a pen in a notebook rather than typing.  Some writers say that using pen and paper improves their thought process, makes the words flow better, produces better-crafted prose, etc., but I’m finding the only noticeable effect has been to slow me down.  I’m still planning to finish this draft on paper, and save the typing for the second draft, but I doubt I’ll be doing this again on any future novels. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

The variable weight of stars

I’ve written before about wanting to reduce my personal library to something rather more manageable in size, with a higher concentration of books I really like.  As much as I love the idea of having a house full of books, it's an idea that loses much of its appeal if they're books I'm probably never going to read again.  And I must admit I’d rather read a favorite book ten times than read five books of marginal interest twice each.

Of course the problem with this is deciding which books to get rid of.  The past few days I’ve been tempted to begin a massive reorganization (and culling) of my books, but most of the ones I’ve already read I’ve sufficiently forgotten that I would need to read them again in order to decide if they were worth keeping.

I’ve started rating the books I read on LibraryThing (with the nominal goal of getting rid of books that I don't rate highly enough), but I’ve already noticed that I tend to second-guess myself if I happen to notice the ratings later.  “Why did I give that book two stars?  It wasn’t that bad,” I’ll say to myself, or, “How could I have given both these books four and a half stars?  This one is much better than that one.”  Apparently I’m still working on my idea of just how much these stars are worth.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Emperor of North America

This is my cover painting for John McNichol's The Emperor of North America, book two of the Young Chesterton Chronicles.  It'll be hitting the shelves this fall, published by Bezalel Books.  For those of you not familiar with the series, it's steampunk alternate-history with authors G.K. Chesterton and H.G. Wells as the main characters.  In book one, The Tripods Attack! (published by Sophia Institute Press), Gil and Herb fought off a Martian invasion, assisted by Father Brown (from Chesterton's mystery stories); the second book has got flying assassins, steam-powered cyborg cowboys, zeppelins, and a flying city (home of Emperor Norton I).

The painting is acrylic on mat board, 13 1/4" x 17 3/8".

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The chapter it took twelve years to write

Way back in January  I said I probably wouldn't post about my novel till I'd finished the first draft.  In a way, it was finished a couple of months ago--at least, in the sense that I won't be working on it anymore.  Though it had its moments, overall the story wasn't working, and rather than soldier on and finish a completely unusable draft, I decided to shelve the story and come back to it someday.

So, after taking some time away from writing to do other stuff (web design, a couple of paintings, that sort of thing), I dragged out my old notes on a story idea that I first started working on at least twelve years ago.  It's always been my favorite among my various plot ideas, but I've been putting it off in the hope that I'd do a better job on it if I waited till I was a better writer.  I've decided, though, that I had this backwards, and that the best way to improve your writing ability is to work on the story you care about the most, and do the best you can.

So I hammered out some problems with the plot, such as what's going on at the very beginning of the story (a point that had always eluded me before), and finished a short, rough first chapter.  There's plenty of stuff to be fixed, but at least it seems to work, and it feels like the right story to be writing.

I just hope the next chapter doesn't take another twelve years....

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A matter of timing

I started re-reading The Hobbit recently, not having read Tolkien since before Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings came out.  Fairly early on in the book Gandalf mentions something that happened "On the twenty-first of April, a hundred years ago last Thursday," and as I read that phrase I thought, "Hang on, wasn't last Thursday actually the twenty-first of April?"

So I checked, and it was.  Then I realized that Bilbo's unexpected party happened on a Wednesday, which meant the book began on a Tuesday, which happened to be the same day of the week (and thus the same day of the year) I started reading it.

Now, I'm not suggesting this means anything in particular, but still, when surprised by an amusing little coincidence of this sort, one tends to feel that one is doing just the right thing, at just the right time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Drawing Exchange

Hm.  I see it's been a while since I posted.  But then, I said I was planning to blog less.

In an effort to get the creative energies flowing better, a friend and I recently began a Drawing Exchange project.  Modeled after the Invention Exchange from MST3K, it simply consists of doing a drawing each week and emailing it to each other.  Right now it's just the two of us, but I wouldn't be surprised if eventually we have a small cadre of artists and weekend sketchers participating. 

The Exchange is still in its infancy; this past week was the first time we tried using an assigned idea (as opposed to the previous draw-whatever-you-want), which was to pose and sketch a Stikfa (since we both have a few standing on our bookshelves and whatnot).

This week's project is to do a copy of the Stikfa sketch, but drawing it as a human figure this time rather than a Stikfa.  We'll see how it goes. 

I'd close with the classic "What do you think, Sirs?" but since the Drawing Exchange was mostly my idea, that puts me more in the Dr. Forrester role.  So instead I shall say:

"Push the button, Frank."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not the end of the world

A month or two ago I heard for the first time that all the planets were going to align on December 21, 2012, and that the resulting tidal forces would unleash disastrous floods and possibly earthquakes. 

This, I thought, sounded rather cool.  Not the floods and earthquakes, of course -- but the idea of a planetary alignment sounded interesting.  There wouldn't actually be any flooding or earthquakes, because the positions of the other planets have nothing to do with that sort of thing (they're too far away to affect our tides).

Wondering which planets were going to be "aligned" (i.e., in conjunction or opposition), I fired up SkyGazer, a planetarium program that came with my college astronomy textbook, and punched in 2012-12-21, and got something of a surprise:  On that date there isn't going to be any sort of alignment at all.

Solar System Live gives this result for Dec. 21, 2012:

Granted, Pluto is going to be nearly at conjunction, but that happens every 367 days and just means it'll be behind the sun. So, not only was the part about global calamity wrong, but the event that was supposed to cause said calamity isn't even going to happen in the first place. 

As far as I can tell from a bit of googling, the entire erroneous alignment story somehow arose from the fact that the Mayan Long Count calendar reaches the end of its cycle on that date, something that (according to Wikipedia) appears to happen roughly every 400 years or so and doesn't actually mean much unless you want to use it as an excuse for a massive Mayan New Year party.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Suburban wildlife

I don't especially like living in the suburbs, but at least it's close enough to the edge of town for a small amount of wildlife to pass through.  I'll occasionally hear (and, more rarely, see) a screech owl in the back yard, and once what I think might have been a great horned owl.  A pair of Cooper's hawks were in the area for a couple of days this week, though I think they may have moved on by now.

Last year I saw a hawk (I don't know what kind it was) trying to catch a squirrel in the back yard.  It dove from a low branch and couldn't get up much speed, so it missed on its first try, and the squirrel seized the opportunity to scamper up a tree trunk.  The hawk flew up into that same tree, perching less than a dozen feet from the squirrel, which hunkered down against the bark.  The hawk extended its wings a few times, clearly trying to work out a way to get around the intervening branches before the squirrel could escape; it started out one way, then stopped and tried another direction, and another, and then it moved to a different branch and made a couple more false starts, and each time the squirrel tensed up to dart around the trunk to safety.  Eventually the hawk gave up and took off without ever making its move; maybe it had already had lunch.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Improving my average

I spent some time this weekend going through the drawers of my flat-file cabinet, pulling out piles of drawings and paintings I did in college, and throwing rather a lot of them away, after wondering why in the world I had kept them this long in the first place.  The vast majority of these were quick sketches from life drawing classes, and thus were never intended as anything more than practice pieces in the first place, but I found a number of rather bad watercolors and finished drawings as well. 

James Gurney mentions this process in Imaginative Realism, saying that each poor painting you destroy "raises your artistic average a tiny notch."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Or all the seas with oysters . . .

My mother's dishwasher, it seems, has been eating teaspoons, in much the same way that clothes dryers allegedly eat socks.  Or at least that's one theory; on the other hand, having noticed that while the number of teaspoons in her silverware drawer seemed to be decreasing, there seem to be more table knives in there than ever, I've been wondering for some time if perhaps the spoons are metamorphosing.

Anyway, I got her a package of allegedly "stainless steel" teaspoons at Meijer.  These went into the dishwasher in perfect condition and came out pitted and streaked with rust.  In order to return them I had to get the package out of the trash can, where I had tossed it on the foolish assumption that something as simple as a spoon could be counted on to work as advertised.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An experiment in blogging

I've decided to start blogging less frequently.

See, every time I write a post, I see that it's been a month or two or three since my last one, so I decide I ought to post more often.  The result seems invariably to be that I in fact blog less, so I'm theorizing that making the opposite decision will lead to opposite results (i.e., I will in fact post more often).  I suppose we'll find out, in a month or so.

It's been about five months since I last posted anything about writing.  That's as it should be, I suppose; a blow-by-blow commentary on my writing process would get dull rather quickly.

Anyway, after a couple more false starts on the new novel I decided my problem was that I had plans for what my characters would be doing in a future story and was trying to accommodate those.  So I dusted off the first chapter of my second attempt, changed all the names, completely disassociated it from the future storyline, and proceeded from there.  I'm now on chapter six, and about a third of the way through the rough draft, and this is probably the last status report I'll post until I reach the end.  Which, at the rate this thing is going, will probably be rather a long time from now.