Monday, June 29, 2015

Eighth Edit: No Longer Facepalming Into Unconsciousness

The video below pretty much embodies how I felt about Doleful Creatures after I closed the 7th revision and started on the 8th:

Yes, there was plenty of discouragement to go around. So much so, I almost decided to obey the instructions I offered myself on my chapter analysis when I got to Chapter 38:

“Maybe I should just chuck the book and get my free time back . . . “

When I go close to that point in the 8th revision, I decided it was time to put the book away for a while. I didn’t really have much time to dedicate to editing anyway, and with the despair settling in, it was clear I needed some distance once again.

I picked it up again today, and now this is how I’m feeling:

There’s still plenty of work I have to do to get this 8th revision done – but I’m past the despair and back into the hope. There are still redeeming qualities in Doleful Creatures that I need to persue.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Has the Fridge Broken Down?

Dawned on me today that it's been about five months since I last posted any of my kids' artwork on my kids' art blog.

I have mixed feelings about that.

First, yes, I should keep posting. I have a lot of art that I haven't posted yet.

At the same time, not much of it is recent. I've got a lot of stuff they did when they were younger, but as they've gotten older, the type of art they do has changed. They still do lots of creative things -- just not on easily-accessed bits of paper that I can scan into the computer.

They've built several TARDIS models in Minecraft. I'm sure there's ways to do screen captures. But who's got the time to learn? I should -- because it's their art now. So there's a goal for the next few months.

Our daughter is creating a lot of stuff with loom bands. But she gives most of it away before I can get the camera out, and the dogs typically find and chew up the rest. They're such art critics, those two weenie dogs.

And she's done things like this, to design a logo for t-shirts they'll wear at camp this summer:

So the art blog may be on hiatus for a little while longer. I'm so sorry

I may also combine blogs, posting an occasional bit of art here, rather than on a separate blog. Oh, we bloggers have such trials to deal with . . . 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fun With Flags -- and Book Cover Design

Earlier this week – because I had the time – I watched a TED talk featuring Roman Mars, where he discusses flag design, of all things.

He goes through the basics of what makes for good flag design, and what makes for a crappy flag. And he points out something pretty interesting: If a flag is well-designed, you’ll see it or elements of it everywhere. Thus the ubiquity of, say, American flag-themed items. Or Confederate flag-themed items. He focuses on the flag for the City of Chicago, and then goes on to discuss the five principles of vexillography, the art of flag design:

  1. Keep it simple. A flag should be so simple a child can draw it from memory
  2. Use meaningful symbolism: A flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes
  3. Use 2-3 basic colors: Limit the number of colors on a flag to three, colors which contrast well and come from the standard color set.
  4. No lettering or seals. Never use writing of any kind, or an organization’s seal
  5. Be distinctive or be related. Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

What most amateur flag designers forget, Roman says, is that most people see flags from a distance, roughly at a size that appears to be one inch tall by 1 ½ inches wide. Thus lettering, seals and such disappear into the muck and become unreadable.

I’m beginning to think these principles can be applied to book cover design.

And I’m not just blowing smoke. I spend a lot of time at and, both operated by Nathan Shumate, a Utah-based artist and writer. Gleaning from his blogs, I believe flag design and book cover design have quite a bit in common, particularly the need to be easily identifiable in a small size – the ubiquitous thumbnail all booksellers use to peddle our wares.

So here are my revised principles for book cover design:

  1. Keep it simple. A book cover should be so simple a child can draw it from memory. In this case, maybe not necessarily all the detail, but enough that a person looking from the drawing to the cover could say, yeah, that drawing is based on that cover.
  2. Use meaningful symbolism: A book cover’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes. Shumate and Company are constantly saying “Your blurb says X but your cover says Y.” They should both say the same thing.
  3. Color and texture: Color and texture transmit content and genre, and also attract eyeballs looking for something similar to what’s already been read.
  4. Legible lettering. Obviously, books are going to have text on the cover, there’s no way around that. But any text should be legible both at full size and in thumbnail, and fit the genre of the book.
  5. Be distinctive or be related. Avoid duplicating other covers, but use similarities to show connections.

I’m open to having these principles tweaked. I know I have a lot to learn about cover design (see my previous attempts here). But I’m hoping some thinking and tinkering will help me, as Fezzik does, sniff the good meat from the rotted.

The Cover of Iapetus?

Not that I'm done with Doleful Creatures, but I did decide after I saw this NASA photo of three of Saturn's moons in crescent that I'd take another stab at a cover for The Hermit of Iapetus, next on the list of books for revision.

Yes, you see only two here (Titan, the biggun, and Mimas, the little one). Rhea is out of shot here. I've got a lot to learn about cover design, but at least it's a start.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

[No] Fun [at all] With Flags

Take a look at this and what do you see?

I see a problem. I didn’t even want to download this image onto my computer so I could put it on my blog, lest those tracking my activities online take my downloading as a sign that I’m a Nazi.

And now I’ve gone a step further and displayed it on my blog. I must certainly be a Nazi.

I’m not. And I really want to alter that flag as it appears in this entry so it says “I am not a Nazi” across it so I can’t be accused of being, well, a Nazi.

This flag is a potent symbol of hatred, intimidation, murder, and misery. My dad saw it flying over his native Netherlands during World War II and rejoiced when it finally disappeared. Members of his family hid Jews from the Nazis – one even stole a German bicycle but buried it until after the war because he was afraid if he were seen with it, he’d be killed. Seeing that Nazi swastika flag everywhere quickly meant knowing there were bad, bad guys about. I know full well what it means.
And I know in other contexts, the swastika – taken out of the red flag with the white circle and the 45-degree twist context – is a good luck symbol for many across the world. I hope those who see it as a symbol of good luck recognize that in other contexts, it is NOT a symbol of good luck, but of something far more sinister.

Just to be clear: In the context seen here, it ain’t here for good luck.

So take a look at this and what do you see?

I’ve got to admit, I was also hesitant to download this image onto my computer, and to display it here. Because it’s as potent a symbol of hatred and fear as is the Nazi swastika flag.

Yes, it is. Don’t bring up heritage, or southern pride. The context flag-wavers wish to place this flag in where it is harmless is as nonexistent as the context for the swastika is broad.

This was Gen. Lee’s battle flag. The battle flag of Virginia during the Civil War. The battle flag of the Army of Tennessee. Flown by armies, generals, states and a nation that divided itself from another because it wanted to keep its slaves.

It’s been adopted by the KKK and other groups whose sole existence is based on racial hate. It was designed by William Tappan Thompson, who had not-so-nice things to say about non-white people.

When you have residents of your city, your state, who recognize the symbol for what it is, it’s time to take it down. It’s not a question of local history, or states’ rights. It’s an issue of the state maintaining a symbol of institutionalized racism. Getting rid of the flag won’t make racism go away, but it’s a step in the right direction.

This flag does not belong anywhere but in textbooks and museums – certainly not on display at the South Carolina statehouse, nor on the state flag of Mississippi, before or after the shootings in Charleston. It’s a symbol of hate, fear, and intimidation folks, not pride or heritage. Take it down.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Blue Backpack

Thanks to Jeff Fullmer for the photo

This past weekend, I pulled my old blue external frame backpack out of its corner in the garage, thought about dusting it off and then figured, eh, as we're hiking along it'll get dusted off naturally as it picks up a new dusty patina.

That's me there, with the farmer tan and the International Atomic Energy Agency ball cap. I still don't do ball caps, just thought I'd better have one for the hike we took with the scouts this weekend. I have a much better hat, but I was too excited about getting my backpack out to think about it.

Last time I had that backpack out it was for a hike up to Upper Palisades Lake with Michelle the summer we got married. I hauled a rather large dome tent up to the lake where we got drenched by a torrential downpour all night and then hiked out without even lighting a fire because the whole world was wet.

Prior to that, the backpack went on many scouting adventures when I was an actual scout. Island Park Scout Camp and Treasure Mountain Scout Camp. Lake Leigh and various other spots from Lava Hot Springs to random spots in the Targhee and Caribou national forests.

I half hoped I'd find some long-forgotten scout memory going through its various pouches and pockets, but the only thing I found was a camo wallet holding an ID for my oldest son -- he used the backpack for Cedar Badge last year.

But as we hiked along the trail along Big Elk Creek, memories came back. First, the fact that the backpack does not have a belt and I could not find the old leather belt I used as an improvisation, so it hung heavily on my shoulders unless I walked with my hands balled up in the small of may back to transfer the weight from my shoulders to my hips.

Then there were the sticky zippers, particularly on that one pocket that just won't zip any more.

I thought as I walked that I really need a new backpack, one along the lines of the internal-frame jobbies the others had. I still think that.

But other memories came back. Seeing that backpack leaned up against the wall of a wall tent at Island Park, with my scout shirt draped over it to keep it from wrinkling. They called me the tidy scout. And then the pockets where I put the little bits of leather I worked on in handicraft, the arrow points and bear claws I earned for doing what I don't even remember now -- knots were involved at one point -- and the medal I earned hiking Table Rock, pinned to the backpack for the trip home.

I'm older now. I'm probably more stubborn -- I couldn't complain about my backpack hurting my back because I didn't want to start my scouts down the path of complaint. And as we walked along, I remembered that feeling you get when you're at your destination and you feel like you're about a thousand pounds lighter when you got your backpack off. Maybe, I thought, that's just part of being a young kid, but, no, I did feel about a thousand pounds lighter.

So I may get a new backpack. But that old one won't go away. And maybe I can pass it on to one of my sons so they can build memories around it and then, when they're scoutmaster, feel that same feeling when they arrive at their destination and feel a thousand pounds lighter when they take it off.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Boys in the Boat

There are, in this world, two basic types of people.

Type A sings along when Goofy sings “The World Owes Me A Living.” Lind of like this guy who got two masters degrees from Columbia then defaulted on his student loans because, hey, the system’s corrupt, man. They can be hard-working, clever, industrious in their own right, but confuse themselves when they believe cheating on a cheating system puts them on higher ethical and moral ground.

(While I might sympathize with the plight of many students today who are paying a lot more for school than I did, I also need to point out that both my wife and I earned masters’ degrees from a state college in 2009 and 2012, respectively, without taking out a dime in student loans.) Also, we both worked our way through our undergraduate degrees, and I’m the only one who took out a student loan, for a whopping $1,500.)

Type B is Joe Rantz and many of the members of the University of Washington varsity rowing crew that won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics. None of them were rich, and they all worked hard to put themselves through school during the Great Depression so they could stay in school. They went on to successful careers, with only one of them not earning a degree.

Yes, you might say. Different times, when there were wartime jobs available after they graduated. Well, if you want a war to boost employment, there are politicians who’ll help you do that. And if you want a Great Depression, there are politicians who’ll help you with that, too.

The Boys in the Boat, obviously, is about those Type B people: Hard workers who were willing to do any work (Rantz himself harvested cedar wood, helped to build the Grand Coulee Dam, and lived like a pauper in the basement of the Y in order to go to school). Mister Ivy League would be hard-pressed to compete with him in my book, and not just on physical prowess. Rantz knew how to work and how to work in an unfair system, and did all this while pursuing his dreams of working with a team that could win regattas and Olympic gold medals.

I nearly stopped reading the book after the first chapter, as author Daniel James Brown seemed to be grabbing at straws to emphasize the time period the book is set in. However, once I grew used to his “I gotta drop a reference to the Great Depression or the 1930s into the book” style, I kept on going.

Brown shines when he describes the crew’s gold medal run. I actually almost missed my bus this morning because it came as I was reading about the race and I did not want to stop even though I knew who won. Thankfully I got on the bus and was able to finish.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Kill Your Darlings -- Slowly

As I contemplate Round 8 of editing Doleful Creatures, I realize there's yet another subplot in the book that has got to go. I can see clearly it's interfering with the story, not adding to it - yet I can see in my mind certain elements of it that can be repurposed.

So part of Revision 8 will include cutting this subplot.

The thing is, though, as I think about cutting  this subplot I realize it eliminates most of  Doleful Creatures' original plot.

Is that bad? Does that mean the original plot of the book is bad? Does it mean I've wasted a lot of time writing this book, since at Rev. 9, it's essentially a new book?

No. No. And no.

I'm killing my darlings. I'm just a,bit slower at it than most.

As I thought about it, I realized it all sounded familiar to me. Then it came: The allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, as found in Jacob Chapter 5.

To sum up: The lord of a vineyard of olive trees does a lot of fertilizing, digging, and grafting to preserve the roots of his olive trees, while at the same time working to ensure he gets good fruit for all his labors. He discovers at one point, however, that branches grafted into the roots of his favorite tree are producing bad fruit, and have to be culled in order to preserve the roots and to save the good fruit the tree once bore.

And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard and the servant went down into the vineyard; and they came to the tree whose natural branches had been broken off, and the wild branches had been grafted in; and behold all sorts of fruit did cumber the tree. 

And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard did taste of the fruit, every sort according to its number. And the Lord of the vineyard said: Behold, this long time have we nourished this tree, and I have laid up unto myself against the season much fruit.
But behold, this time it hath brought forth much fruit, and there is none of it which is good. And behold, there are all kinds of bad fruit; and it profiteth me nothing, notwithstanding all our labor; and now it grieveth me that I should lose this tree.

And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?

And the servant said unto his master: Behold, because thou didst graft in the branches of the wild olive tree they have nourished the roots, that they are alive and they have not perished; wherefore thou beholdest that they are yet good.
And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: The tree profiteth me nothing, and the roots thereof profit me nothing so long as it shall bring forth evil fruit.

Nevertheless, I know that the roots are good, and for mine own purpose I have preserved them; and because of their much strength they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit.

But behold, the wild branches have grown and have overrun the roots thereof; and because that the wild branches have overcome the roots thereof it hath brought forth much evil fruit; and because that it hath brought forth so much evil fruit thou beholdest that it beginneth to perish; and it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, except we should do something for it to preserve it.

That's what editing is: Removing the bad from the good, transplanting in the good, and sometimes culling what's been transplanted because it's threatening to overpower the roots. And sometimes the removal is painful because you remember the good fruit the roots or the branches once produced, and you fear that the tree itself is no good and should be dug up and cast into the fire. But there's always something that keeps you going back, remembering that good fruit, and thinking, "There's still something I can do with this tree to bring back that good fruit."

Revision 8 will continue that pruning, and I'm excited for it.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

I'm Gonna Call Rev. 7 Done, but the Book Ain't Done Yet

Elation over finishing Revision 7 to Doleful Creatures is now over, and reality is setting in. And reality is seriously telling me that while I'm closer to getting the book ready for queries and publishing, it's not ready yet.

I'm trying not to feel too depressed about it, but at the same time, I did add quite a bit to the story this time around and it still has some rough edges. Some from before (a lot less, though) and some that I've introduced in this revision.

So, folks, what do I do? Do I send it to beta readers, knowing full well they'll likely tell me some of the same things they've said before? Do I revise one more time before sending it out? Guess I'm a little frustrated.

But I move forward. I'm starting another chapter analysis -- that helped quite a bit last time -- and so far, things are looking better. Not perfect, but better. I'll take that. On to Round 8 I go . . . 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Not Much Left to Do

The end of the seventh revision to Doleful Creatures is close. Here’s what I have left to do: 

  • Establish through the Man in the Rock that when the Lady and her shadow reunite underground, she is bound there for a thousand years and cannot harm anyone who lives – or intends to live – in the world after the setting of the sun on the sixth day.
  • Establish that the multicolored bird seen in the cave and out of it is the embodiment of He Who Marks the Sparrow’s Fall, and that he is proud of what Jarrod and Aloysius accomplish.
  • I’ve got to have a scene with the Sparrow-Minder, and another scene with the Man in the Rock doing his thing, as explained above. Maybe another 1,000 words, and I’m done.

Done to start again. Aloysius, Magda, and Chylus developed as characters in this go-around. Jarrod, not so much. I’ve got a few things in store for him as I go through it for the eighth time, but this time around I won’t have to do a major reconstruction as I did on the seventh. At least that is my great hope.

Then after that, it’s to the beta readers again. I think I’ll see if I can get my daughter to read it this time around, just to see what she thinks and where she might identify things that need to be fixed. She’s thirteen and an avid anthropomorphic fantasy reader, so hopefully I’ll find something with which to hit her hot button. Or if I don’t, hopefully she’ll give me an idea of what needs to be fixed.