Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bad taste & personal battles

Sometimes I wonder if I have bad taste. 

It feels wrong to admit that I don't like hero-characters, or ones that display the 'good' of society. Self-absorbed characters are brighter, bolder, and far more interesting. I'm usually drawn to the side characters (of books or tv shows) instead of the main characters. I like the odd, quirky books and tv shows that can't seem to find an audience

Not to mention my wardrobe consists almost entirely of funny t-shirts, jerseys/hoodies, baseball caps, sneakers and jeans.

...and I frequently wonder if that is going to impact my ability to write anything that will appeal to a larger crowd (aka, someone other than me will enjoy it).

I know they say to write what you love, but is that enough? What if my taste in books/characters/writing/entertainment is inherently flawed?

I'm not wallowing in self-loathing or anything. I don't need reassurance, or confirmation...

I have a remarkable amount of pride in what I have created and what I want to create in the future, but this is one of the fears I battle with on-and-off.

The silver-lining is that I worry about this problem more than I worry about my dyslexia. Sure, I have my days when I can't string together a coherent sentence. The new Blogger word-verification has just about destroyed my ability to comment on other people's blogs, 'cause, y'know, it wasn't damaging enough to my self-confidence before to continually 'fail' at proving I'm human, so let's add a second word and make both of them nearly unreadable!

(yeah, I'm a little bitter)

I've proven to myself that I can overcome my disability, but is it possible to overcome bad taste?

I was talking about Project #2 (Simon's Oath) with one of my beloved writing-group members, and she asked me what I liked about the story. One of the first things that sprung to mind is the fact that there's not a Hollywood happy ending. But it's a satisfying ending, at least in my opinion.

Those of you who volunteered to read/critique my synopsis for this story a while back should understand, and those of you who have read the entire story, in one or more of its various incarnations, should also get what I mean.

I wanted a realistic ending. Consequences for Simon's actions. The understanding that Faith isn't magically going to become normal. That the madam, twisted as she is, is still Faith's mother.

There's no Disney-esque-group-hug at the end, a standing ovation, victory over a defeated enemy, or a drawn-out passionate kiss.

And I don't think I ever want to write a story like that. I don't think I even could write story in which everything turns out all-right in the end 'cause the good guys have triumphed over the bad guys.

I wonder... do I write anti-climactic stories?

Part of the reason I'm asking myself this is because of Project #5. It's about the least 'me' story I've ever written. It's more plot/action-based (an actual quest!) than character-based, there's romance (sortof), and the ending I have in mind is... well, less 'me' again. It's really quite straightforward. The characters are more human/civilized than feral.

...and I find myself floundering. It's hard to get into this head of this character who is so... good, so upright and selfless. So... heroic, in a way.

Yuck, I feel dirty.

But I also wonder, in this 'less-me' story, am I searching beyond my usual story-fare because I'm not satisfied anyone will like what I do, or am I simply expanding my repetoir into new and unexplored areas?

Is it fear, or is it confidence that I can go in a new direction?

Honestly, I have no idea, but this has been occupying a large portion of my mental facilities as of late.

What do you guys think? Do you usually bond with main characters, or side-characters? What kind of characters do you write? Are some kinds easier than others? What kind of endings do you write? What endings do you prefer when you read? Are they the same kind?

And by the way, a fresh, home-brew pinot-noir goes amazingly well with a grilled-cheese sandwich and beet pickles ;)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Irredeemable characters

Since I was sick last week, I ended up re-watching 'Firefly' to stave off the crippling effects of boredom.

A few weeks ago, I re-watched both seasons of 'Dead Like Me'.

I'd have to say, I have quite the thing for irredeemable characters. Ones who know they could change but choose not to. Where you have to bribe (or threaten) to get them to do the right thing. Characters like this often have shallow relationships with the people around them, plenty of bravado, and usually a healthy (or overblown) dose of self-esteem.

And, like Cap'n Jack Sparrow from 'Pirates of the Caribbean', truly, it's better when they don't redeem themselves in the end.

Let's start with 'Firefly', since I'm assuming that show is better known than 'Dead Like Me'.*

Can you guess my favourite characters?

No contest. I love Jayne and Badger.

Jayne's a hired gun on the Serenity crew with (slightly) more brains than morals and Badger's a small-time criminal boss/middleman on Persephone. And I nearly kill myself laughing every time one of them shows up. The dialogue for these two is just so perfect. Especially how Badger mis-uses words. I totally wish he had more screen time in the series. I think he's only in two or three episodes, but Jayne... oh, Jayne. He's awesome. My favourite part about this character is that he's clear about the fact he'd betray anyone of the crew... if the price was right.

The first time I watched this series, honestly, I couldn't care less about Mal, Inara, River & Simon, or the other characters. I was only watching 'Firefly' for the moment Jayne finally betrayed the rest of the crew.

What's that famous line about writing... the whole, if there's a gun in scene 1, it better go off by the end of scene 3... or something like that?

And Jayne didn't disappoint. It's my favourite episode out of the series.

For the character Mason, from 'Dead Like Me', the actor who played him said (in an interview/extra in the season 2 dvds) that he worked with the writers because he didn't want Mason to ever evolve. Mason is a British grim reaper who died during the '60's by drilling a hole in his head (with a power drill) to try to attain a permanent high. I'm happy to say that... at the end of the second season, he hadn't evolved since his death. One of my favourite episodes is when he steals the tips from Kiffany (the waitress at the restaurant they regularly meet at) and she bans him from coming in. Even though he is eventually forgiven, it's clear that he didn't really learn anything.

Have you ever written a morally bankrupt character? Was it difficult, or did you love the freedom of it? I'm going to assume there's a hefty portion of people out there who have seen the 'Firefly' series... what do you think of Jayne? Who's your favourite character from the show, and why? Did you also find that character to be the most interesting?

...and if any of you have seen 'Dead Like Me', I'd love to hear your thoughts on Mason :)

*Incidentally, some of the actors in these two shows have ties to each other and to another favourite tv show of mine, Wonderfalls.

The character of Inara, from 'Firefly', was originally supposed to be played by Rebecca Gayheart, who was the grim reaper Betty, in 'Dead Like Me'

Jewel Staite (a Canadian actor who grew up... about 20 minutes from where I grew up), who plays Kaylee on 'Firefly', also played Heidi Gotts (the cheating wife of the love interest, Eric) on 'Wonderfalls'. She was also in one episode of 'Dead Like Me', second season, as a goth girl who hooks up with Mason in a music store.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I've been tagged Catherine Stine.

Thankfully there's no hits, burns, push-ups or noogies.

What is there instead?

The Tag rules:

You must post the rules.
Answer the questions and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
Tag 11 people and link to them.
Let them know you’ve tagged them.

Catherine's Questions:

1. What was your favorite novel you read in 2011?
That's a hard one. I read... 60+ books last year on my Kindle and a ton of *real* books as well. Hmmm. I'm going to choose 'Plain Kate', by Erin Bow or 'the Night Circus', by Erin Morgenstern

2. Your favorite all-time book? (Can be any genre or age level)
Wow, okay, that's even harder. After staring at my bookshelves for 17 minutes, I can't choose one. I'll come back to this. Alright. I shuffled my five favourite books with my eyes closed and picked one. 'The Solitaire Mystery', by Jostein Gaarder is the winner.

3. What book character would you like to party with?
Depends on the kind of party :) I choose the Golux from 'The Thirteen Clocks', by James Thurber. We'd have some wacky times...

4. Do you ever watch TV to study plot format? If so, which show?
Not really. I like watching them for facial expressions, body language, the music/soundtrack, and other strange things. Or simply 'cause a character makes me laugh or I like the sounds of an actor's voice :) I tend to not overanalyze when I'm watching/reading for entertainment, but I think about them later and draw out bits and pieces of useful information.

5. Where was the strangest source you ever got a plot idea from?
A sentence that a drunk girl once spoke at a party. Okay, that isn't strange in itself... but I kinda twisted it into something else and then it exploded into a hurricane of converging ideas.

6. Funniest character in a novel? Why?
The gun in 'Red Robe', by Jon Courtnay Grimwood. 'Cause a talking, sentient gun who swears is damn funny :)

7. Which actor/actress would you want to play the lead in your novel?
Let me get back to you when I figure out if my character is male or female...

Just kidding. Sorry, I really can't answer this question.

Honestly, maybe it's because I grew up in an extremely multi-cultural city, but I don't like how stereo-types come out due to descriptions. I'd rather my characters be imagined as whatever race the reader wants them to be. I may picture a character as Indian or Korean in my head, but I think it's more important to show characters as real people rather than wrapping them in an exterior layer which categorizes them.

But I can say, in all the stories listed on my site that I'm working on... only 3 of the main/secondary characters are clearly 'caucasian', and 2 of those are in Project #1, which has a really large/varied cast. Usually I don't put in much visual description, except when it's important to the plot, like Faith's appearance in Project #2.

So, if I can't even pin down a particular race, there's no way I could possibly decide on a specific 'face'.

8. Most sympathetic fictional villain?
Dracula. I love that through the entire book, no character ever tries to sympathies/reason with him. They simply label him as a monster (which I'm not arguing, he is, and that's awesome), but at the time when Dracula was written, they still judged people from other cultures as monsters and sought to destroy them with the same level of dedicated arrogance. Whenever a story (historic or fictional) is shown from a completely one-sided view... I always get deadly curious about what the other side would say. I've always been a bit of a devils-advocate.

9. Do you prefer fantasy, sci-fi, realistic fiction or a blend. Why?
To read, realistic fiction for sure, often with a touch of oddness thrown in. Magical realism, I think that's what it's called... To write? Probably the same, but more fantastical. I'm not really into magic, but I like strange, unexplainable situations and I love creating cultures/etc. But I like realistic, broken characters.

10. What place and time would most inspire you to write an historical fiction?
I'd love to write a historical fiction about a part of the world where that hasn't ever been done. Like the Philippines, Borneo, Iceland, Madagascar or somewhere. Anywhere non-Western-centric with a heap of their own unique myths/etc.

11. Finish this YA dialog line: “I’ve never told a friend this before, but…”
"...seriously, that dress really makes your ass look fat."

And thanks for this award, too!

So now I have to tag 11 people! ...and I'll pass on the award, too. 

I've never actually done this before, so I ask your forgiveness in advance :)

I'm going to use my amazing powers of deduction (ok, my amazing powers of laziness, hey, this is the weekend) and tag my 11 newest followers who have not already been tagged and who have linked websites on their profiles:

Angie, Lydia Kang & Green Monkey all get bonus points for having dyslexic friendly websites! (no word verification) THANKS! I love you guys for not giving me a migraine when I'm trying to comment on your posts ;)

Now for the questions:

1. What's your favourite letter of the alphabet and why? (you're not limited to the English alphabet)

2. What's the most disgusting/odd combination of food you've ever eaten?

3. Favourite word?

4. If you had to get a tattoo, what would it be and why? If you already have one, use that as your answer.

5. What fictional character is most like you and why? Could be personality or appearance, from a book, movie, graphic novel, whatever.

6. The bitchy blonde female character -> love? hate? overdone? (bonus points for including your favourite blonde joke)

7. Do you usually write characters who are the same gender as you are? Ever tried the opposite?

8. If you could swap places with a character and live in their fictional world/universe for a day, which would you choose?

9. What's your favourite fairy-tale/myth/folk-tale/fable/nursery-rhyme, and would you ever write a re-telling of it?

10. If you could turn your significant other into an animal for one day, what animal would you choose and why?

11. Does Pluto deserve to be re-instated as a planet?

EDIT: If anyone else wants to play/answer the questions, go ahead! Just include the link, or answer directly in the comment section :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Earlier this week, I read this post.

We are often our own worst critics. It's a role we fall into, sometimes for bad reasons, but also sometimes for good reasons, like realizing our effort just isn't good enough yet.

It's much harder to take the role of your own best supporter. To slap both hands against your cheeks, blow out a big breath of air, stand up and get ready to take another hit in the stomach. To still believe that things will get better, that the world will change, that dreams come true and that, deep down, people are good.

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

I read Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas when I was a kid and the poem has always stayed with me.

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Them's fightin' words. Even as a kid, I recognized that.

There are times in everyone's life when, it doesn't matter who's around you or what they say or do, you have to be the one to stand up and believe.

When even that seems too hard, just concentrate on standing. On getting your feet under you, one muscle twitch at a time.

I'm not necessarily talking about writing, it could be anything. From a stutter of self-doubt to the smothering listlessness of true depression.

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

This line doesn't necessarily have to be talking about death. It can be any negativity that brings you down and makes you want to give up.

Life is tough, but it also provides you with the chance to meet other people, to gain new wisdom, new hope and a rush of fresh adrenaline to get you upright again when you need to be. Even if you're meeting that person through the lines of a poem they wrote long before you were born.

So tell me your fightin' words.

What helps you fight gravity when you're flat on your face and feeling so tired that you don't ever want to get up again? Were they words that someone gave you as a gift, or did you find them on your own (like I did) when I wasn't even looking for them?

Incidentally, my favourite line of that poem is: "Wild men who caught and sung the sun in flight"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

A week of painting

Okay, it was really only three days and it was more information/technical details and separating/cleaning/sorting a box with about 300 brushes* than it was actual painting.

But I promised you guys some pictures...

So, what did I learn?

How to use my kiln. Well, how to use it for simple things. Apparently you can use it for way more than I thought you could.

I also got a lesson in grinding paint and mixing it. There are, like, about a dozen different kinds of oil you can use... it boggles my brain. And even a way to combine it with a water-base material instead of oil so it's less toxic.

A lesson in mixing raised paste and enamel. A lesson in painting with gold, the different kinds of gold and which need to be burnished afterwards.

A lesson on lustres.

A lesson in how to use a pen to write/draw with gold or paint.

...and an ongoing reminder of the highly toxic nature of this particular kind of art. Apparently arsenic is the medium mixed with gold (when you paint with it in this state, it looks like a dark greenish-black -> the darker it is, the higher quality of gold). You burnish it with a fibreglass brush (so don't breath, don't touch it with your bare hands, don't let the dust get anywhere or go down the sink). Some of the other ingredients are tin oxide, turpentine, alcohol, there is lead in some paints, so you can only use those paints on decorative objects (not plates/cups/etc), and you can use hydrochloric acid to remove paint that has been fired on.

Also, when the kiln is on, you need really good airflow and an air purifier because all those toxic things (and the oils) get burned off.

And a lesson in cost. One tiny 1/2 oz container of ruby lustre is about $65. A container of gold about the same size is around $500. Brushes can cost up to a couple hundred dollars each (depending what kind).

After all that, are you surprised I actually had time to paint anything?

I did a pair of mugs. First thing I did was wash them good with hot water and soap, then rubbed them down with alcohol. After that, I used a .01 Micron pen to draw a basic design. With a tiny paintbrush, I then filled in the shapes (to mask them) with an interesting glue-y product called red resist. When that dried, I dripped tiny drops of honey-thick lustre (blue, green & amber) onto the mugs, and with an eye-dropper, put turpentine on and rubbed with my finger to mix them. Then I held/turned the mugs and let the lustre run every which way to create interesting patterns.

When the lustre was dry, I peeled off the red resist and fired them.
So, here's one mug with the first layer of lustres fired on (green, blue and amber). You can see the white bird shape from where I masked the porcelain with red resist.
 After the mugs were cool enough to touch, I re-masked the birds with red resist and then masked other parts of the mugs where I wanted to keep the original soft lustre colours. The lustres come out with a sheen like gasoline, so it's a little difficult to see all the funky patterns in these photos. Like, on the left mug, what looks like an inverted 'Y' is actually just a reflection of light. I also got a practical lesson on using hydrochloric acid at this point because a bit of lustre got inside both mugs and was accidentally fired on. So, with a Q-tip, I carefully cleaned it off before the second firing.
 Here's a shot of the backs after the second layer of lustres were fired on. See how much richer/deeper the colours get? On the right mug, you can also see the lighter bamboo-shapes, which are parts that I masked off (see previous picture, right mug). This time I also used a darker green instead of the lighter green to give that added dimension.
 Here's a bird/bamboo I painted on using the water-base mixture technique instead of oil. I fought with the oil-mixed paint, open-medium (meaning it won't dry, ever) for about four solid hours and was getting frustrated because it was my last day there and I wanted to fire these before leaving. That was when my teacher said, "Oh! You can also mix it with a water-base ingredient!" The problem was, I only had time for one fire (about 3 hours total, 'cause the kiln just had a couple pieces in it) and the oil-mixed paint wasn't giving me the strong colours I wanted (normally you paint several layers, firing between each layer), nor was it allowing for the free-style brush strokes that I like to use. I like to see the texture within the brush strokes. The water-base mix worked very well for that, and the paint dried (you still can't touch it directly though, or it'll leave fingerprints) but it made it easier to work with. I ended up painting all four birds, and the bamboo they're sitting on, in about an hour and a half -> and that includes me wiping them off completely and re-starting at least a dozen times.
You can see after it has been fired (for the third time), the paint is darker in colour and is now shiny, but you can still see the texture. I have always loved Chinese ink-brush painting (or Japanese Sumi-e painting) because of the strong, confident strokes (there is no room for error) and I thought something like that might go well with the freeness of the lustres.

It's been so long since I've painted on porcelain and it's such an alien medium (especially trying to paint on a rounded surface), so I am happy with this first attempt, but honestly, I'm not sure if I like or hate the end result. I think if I had stuck with the lighter-coloured lustres (and not used dark green on the second round), I would have been a bit happier.
 Here's one last shot of the two together. If your eyes are sharp, you'll see that the mug on the right has not actually been fired a third time 'cause the paint (birds) looks matte. I might add touches of gold to both, like around the rim, and fire them, but that one on the right definitely needs to be fired to set the paint. If I let it sit out too long, hair and dust will attach to the paint and wreck the final product when it's fired.

Here's the picture I used as inspiration for the birds/poses on the first mug, then I just kind of switched everything up with different poses but kept the same colour scheme so they're a matched set.
And that's my artist signature on the bottom :) My three initials, actually. I've been using that for almost 9 years. Before that, I used a Egyptian hieroglyph to mark all my stuff. See, in school, everyone had a near-identical set of tools, so everyone marked theirs with masking tape and their name or initials. Since there were four other people with my initials, I started using symbols instead, but quickly got tired of the hieroglyph since it was complicated. I like this one 'cause it s my actual initials, but it's super quick/fast to do, easily recognizable, and you can make it with nearly any kind of brush, pen, pencil or tool. I even created two slightly different stamps for when I was making my own pottery.

If I ever got published, I'd probably sign books that way too. I'm lazy that way ;) Well actually my handwriting is unreadable (even to me) so my actual signature just looks like an ugly scribble. It's not even consistent.

Ah, I just noticed. On the bottom of the mug, you can also see I didn't clean off all the lustre properly. I'll probably take care of that with hydrochloric acid, but because the bottom rim is unglazed, I'm not sure how well it'll take it off.

A small job for another day :)

...and that's what I did last week. How about you guys? What were you up to?

* Because my grandmother has had a long and varied artistic history, there were everything from watercolour brushes, ones for acrylic painting, oil painting, porcelain dolls, chinese brushes, etc. all mixed in with the brushes for porcelain painting. I ended up throwing out more than half the brushes and 'donating' a large handful of watercolour brushes to my teacher for her grandkids to use since she generously put up with me for three straight days :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The wonders of youtube research

For this next scene... I stopped about half a dozen times while I was writing it to look up and watch a number of youtube videos on skinning animals. I also had to look up information on bear weight/size/etc to make the scene play out in a logical manner.

It also occurred to me how amazing we have it as writers with an unlimited research facility available to us with a few clicks on the keyboard.

We live in awesome times.

I know this scene needs to be fleshed out (no pun intended), but my first-drafts usually have too little information rather than too much. It's during the second-draft that I end up with heavy pages of description when I'm trying to fill in what's missing and end up overshooting what's necessary. Third pass is for trimming it down.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I love my writing group

The local writing group I'm a part of always tends to fall away during NaNo and we try to get it going again in the new year.

As a change of pace, this year we met at a cafe instead of someone's house and tried doing a write-in for the first time. I wrote this scene January 7th in downtown Victoria in an unheated cafe (where our fingers were locking up from the cold) tossing back hot tea and coffee and catching up on all we'd missed over the previous couple of months.

It was awesome.

It was also when my main character finally got a name... 'cause I literally couldn't finish writing the sentence until there was a name. It was also the moment I realized what awful thing Issabel had done to land them all in trouble in the first place, and when I first noticed there was a romantic relationship hovering threateningly in the distance...

Yup. Total pantser. The words just showed up on the page and I went, "Oh wow, really? That's what happened?" Before I wrote the scene, I didn't know what Issa did or why... and even when I finished, I knew why she did it... I just couldn't understand why what she did will get her what she wants. Which is the reason this scene ends the way it does. See, I'm not actually trying to hold back information and throw cryptic lines out there to entice the reader further... most of the time, it's just the fact that I have no idea what happens next.

I was joking with one of my CP's that it's like someone has handed me a single sock and said, "work out how the mate for this will save the world." So, here I am with a sock in my hand, I know the purpose is to save the world, I just have no idea how to connect the two things.

Ah, pantsing... always an adventure :) Somewhere deep in the folds of my brain, I know where this is going... my conscious mind just hasn't been filled in yet ;) It's on a needs-to-know basis.

Anyway, this scene means a lot to me, short as it is ;) As you can see, meeting for about 4 hours didn't do much for my word-count, but we had a lot of fun together, and I was able to bounce my thoughts of that dreaded romantic relationship against some friends who, certainly did roll their eyes, but listened and earnestly gave me their opinions.

The only change that has been made to this scene is part about Mica, the dog. Originally he had gone with them to cut the herd and wandered off after that, but after writing a few more scenes, I realized that wouldn't have been possible, so had to go back to this scene, and to 2 scenes previous to throw in a mention that he wasn't around.

Last scene was here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A quick homage

Since I'm painting this week (I'm in Chilliwack today actually!) I thought I'd post a few pictures of my grandmother's work, 'cause I know I'm going to be thinking of her a lot this week while I re-learn the basics.

Oh, and I just realized I'm gone over Valentines Day... sorry, hubby! I swear it isn't 'cause I don't love you ;)

 My grandmother didn't only paint porcelain. This is my favourite oil painting of hers. It's hard to tell from the photograph, but there are layers of texture in the darkness. I think the canvas is around 3' x 2'.
 This is (obviously) a porcelain plate. I like this one because it isn't the usual soft, traditional style. It's bold and brightly coloured, which appeals to my own personal aesthetics. This particular piece was probably fired at least four times, but it could be as many as seven or eight.
 This portrait is painted on just a normal tile you could get at home Depot. She painted a number of children in traditional dress from different cultures. She loved to travel as much as she loved to paint.
This picture needs a bit of explanation. You can see the three pieces in the foreground (there is raised enamel on them as well as they are all trimmed in 24 carat gold on the handles, lip and the frames around the pictures), but there is also a portrait on the wall behind them... AND they are actually placed on a large glass case which holds four carolling dolls (which unfortunately I don't have a picture for). There's a switch on the wall your flip and music comes on, lights come on, and a couple of the dolls lift/lower small candles. The largest doll stands at nearly 3' tall and all the clothes were also hand made.

Okay! On Wednesday you get the next scene of Project #5!

Friday, February 10, 2012

An exciting week planned out

I had a bit of a rough week (sickness/etc), hence the later-than-usual post this morning, but I have AWESOME plans for next week!

Many of you know that my grandmother passed away in October, and about a month ago, I drove the truck over to Vancouver (on the ferry of course, since the truck isn't a sea-worthy vehicle in itself... though that would be awesome) and spent three days packing up all her porcelain painting supplies. No one else wanted them besides me, so I got everything, including three different sized kilns.

The boxes filled every square inch of my Ford F150... extended truck bed + all interior space.

And next week, I'm headed back to the mainland to spent three days painting with one of my grandmother's painting-buddies!

Porcelain painting is literally a dying art, and that's mostly because a 'young' china painter means you're only in your 60's. It's a very traditional art form, the style is pretty old, floaty with lots of delicate flowers and things, plus it is the hardest kind of painting you can do, because the medium itself is finicky. There's a real trick in even mixing the powdered paint to a proper consistency, paint doesn't behave on porcelain the way it behaves on canvas or paper. If you don't have enough paint on your brush, or try to paint over another brushstroke, you'll actually remove the paint already on there. There's also no such thing as white paint -> you have to remove paint deliberately, with a brush or another tool.

I think, in terms of how you use the medium, it would be most closely related to chinese ink brush painting. You have to have confidence in your brush strokes because mistakes can't easily be fixed. Often you have to wipe everything off and start all over again, which is why porcelain painting is usually done in thin layers which are fired before another layer is added on top. But when it's fired, it's there forever.

Since I haven't actually painted on porcelain in a few years... I have a lot to re-learn. If my teacher deems me worthy, I also may get a lesson in painting with 24 carat gold, raised enamel and lustres -> all of which are very expensive... so I don't want to waste the materials I have inherited.

I'm going to prepare a few posts to go up while I'm gone because I doubt I'll have internet access next week (more Project #5). If, after three days of painting, I end up with anything not hideously embarrassing, I'll post some pictures the following week.

There is also a National Porcelain Painters of Canada convention in Ottawa the first week in May, which I think I'm going to sign up for.

So those are my exciting, far-reaching plans :)

How about you? Any non-writing challenges going on? How about a new hobby?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rolling over and playing dead

No person is good at everything and it's natural to get frustrated when it feels like you're spinning your wheels while someone else is zooming ahead at Mach 7.

And boy, have I had my moments of wheel-spinning...

Last week when I posted a first-draft scene from Project #5, two commenters (sue & Yvie) were awesome and nailed me on a line that, (as Yvie brilliantly noted):

"I think I like the components of it, but something else about it is catching me."

The line in question was:

When he didn’t come, we set off alone under a sky bright with star trails.

Lines like this frustrate me because the components that make up the description are correct, the image in my mind of what I want to convey is incredibly sharp, yet the execution is flawed in a way where it's not an easy fix.

One of the major problems I have, both in reading and writing, is how my brain scrambles words up in strange ways. That scrambling is also the reason I nearly failed math and French in high-school.

It's a dyslexic thing, I totally get that.

And often this works incredibly well 'cause the way I describe something can be unusual and vivid. Description is actually one of the things I am pretty confident about, probably because I hold so much information in my head in a visual way. For example, math/numbers work like Lego in my mind, unique physical items that snap together to create something larger. They are tangible, not abstract. This is awesome when you're working with lower math... terrible when you start getting into calculus/algebra.

Writing is like very much like playing Tetris. Words have all kinds of shapes. When they are fit together properly, they create solid lines, when put together poorly, they leave ugly gaps. When I write, I pay close attention to how the words look on the page and, with a single glance (too quick to read content), I can usually tell if something is well written or not.

Being dyslexic has its advantages. I have way better spacial skills that most people. I can usually replicate something (like an action or a series of instructions) that I have only seen once. I can also take things apart mentally and put them back together in a different, more efficient way.

It's why I don't outline or make lists. I've trained my brain to remember things differently than *normal*. But ask me to tell you my phone number... and I'm going to have to pull out my phone and double check the sequence. And yes, this is embarrassing every time.

Sometimes I get so frustrated at my own shortcomings that I just want to roll over onto my back and play dead until someone pats me on the head and gives me a cookie.

...a sky bright with star trails. I know exactly what this looks like, but there's a glitch in my attempt to translate that image into a single, precise line of description.

Yes, I am confident in my ability to write description, but it's also the area which needs the most scrutiny and I rely heavily on my CP's because to my eyes, that line looks 100% correct.

Perhaps it's like being colour-blind. If your eye can't distinguish red from green, you're going to have to rely on someone else to tell you when your pants don't match your shirt.

So thank you, sue, Yvie, my long-suffering CP's (you know who you are) and everyone else who is nice enough to point out when my sentences look like red polka-dots mashed together with green plaid.

Now I need a cookie :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Brown M&M: the QA candy of choice

There's a famous (true) story of how David Lee Roth, the singer of Van Halen, would ask for a bowl of M&Ms to be placed in his dressing room before every concert, and would flip out if he walked in and found a single brown M&M in the bowl.

Some people talk about how he had an ego the size of a small planet, but this wasn't about his ego, it was about quality control.

This odd stipulation was smack dab in the middle of Van Halen's extremely long and precise contract which specified weight requirements for equipment, necessary wattage, number and spacing for all the plugs, etc. Van Halen was one of the first bands to have crazy technical setups/shows, their equipment took nine 18 wheeler trucks to haul everything when the usual standard for a band was about three, so you can appreciate that stages built to hold 1/3 of the weight and support 1/3 of the electricity were going to have problems if Van Halen showed up.

For example: in this particular case, the staging actually sunk through the floor and caused $80,000 worth of damage to the building.

The brown M&M clause was to check and see if the technical specifications of the contract had been carefully read and followed. Without fail, if the band saw any brown M&Ms in their dressing room, there were major problems with the setup, so as soon as they looked at the bowl, they knew whether everything had to be re-checked and re-done before a show.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

The first few pages of your book are no different than that bowl of M&Ms.

I read six books this week. In most cases, all the things I liked and didn't like about those books were clearly evident on the first page or within the first chapter.

I think it's a very good exercise for any writer to consider what they like about books they read, but also carefully pay attention to, and consider, things they do not like.

I've fallen prey to this myself. I have unconsciously replicated things I don't like in other stories in my own writing. I don't know why, perhaps it's simply the case of being familiar with the commonly used tropes, so the story direction naturally flows in that direction unless it is consciously diverted onto a new path.

Probably this is more common for pantsers who happily follow the current instead of mapping out all the waterfalls, rapids and jagged rocks before diving in. I honestly don't know.

Any plotters care to weigh in? Do you have this problem?

It's hard to spot the problems within your own writing, so I think it's really valuable to read critically while you're reading for pleasure. And yes, I think this is possible. Whenever my attention starts to lag or I begin to skim, I pause, briefly, and ask myself why, but it doesn't ruin my enjoyment of the story.

Sometimes it's stupid little things like character tags... seriously, two books I read (not this week) had characters 'sighing' up to five times in a single page. And not just one character, like a personal quirk... it was all the characters.

Or one book I did read this week used very easy-to-read language... then suddenly on one page were the words 'essay', 'ablutions' and 'husband' (the verb, not the noun). Don't get me wrong, it's not like I was stumped by the meaning of these words, but it was jarring to have all three of them show up together in such close quarters, and two were actually within the same paragraph. Other than that one page, this book wasn't taxing the reading level of a normal fourteen or fifteen-year-old (the target market).

I've also discovered that certain types of description send my eyes skimming. In particular, descriptions of quick actions where the language is incredibly exact, so it seems to draw out the movement longer than physically possible... like cheesy-Matrix-esque-slow-motion. This shows up often in fighting scenes, which is probably one of the key reasons I've never taken well to the fantasy genre, but until I started reading critically, I could never pinpoint why my eyes would glaze over the moment swords or magic came onto the scene.

Then there are the larger plot-affecting-problems. For me, love triangles are usually a speed-through-the-rest-of-the-book-then-instantly-forget-I-ever-read-it kind of thing. My oldest and dearest friend (we've know each other nearly 20 years) eats them up. For those kinds of books, it's usually pretty clear in the first chapter that the primary problem is choosing between the sweet-boy-next-door and the sexy-dangerous-new-boy.

Yet all of these things I have been guilty of in some form or another.

For example, what is mysteriously rearing its ugly head in Project #5? Yup, a sort-of-love-triangle. But because I know the specifics/tropes that personally annoy me, I am avoiding them like the tupperware container you find in the back of the fridge which seems to be growing a new form of life...

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different result.

Knowledge and awareness are two key elements of change.

If I know the over-used elements that bore me to tears and have me counting the word 'sigh' instead of following the storyline, I'm more likely to avoid regurgitating those same elements. If I'm aware of my own writer-quirks/problems before I start tapping madly on the keyboard, there's a higher chance my first-drafts will be cleaner of those kind of unwanted errors that I would otherwise have to hunt and destroy later.

Just like the brown M&M clause, if the contract is read carefully and all the technical details have been checked off, everything is good to go.

I don't want an agent seeing a handful of brown M&Ms in my first five pages and cancelling the show before it even begins because they suspect there are major problems.

Do you?

Friday, February 3, 2012

The imagination at work

As a 'pantser', I never plan in advance. I just let things happen and see where it takes me.

This next scene was certainly the case. Well, it started in the previous scene with Komil saying the deer were shedding. Up until this point, I had been sticking closer with Inuit mythology/lifestyle, but because I had also been reading myths from Norway, Siberia, etc, suddenly deer appeared in this story. In Siberia today, there are still nomadic communities that own herds of reindeer and believe they have a symbiotic partnership: the deer grant the people the right to eat them and use their fur/etc in exchange for protection from predators on their migration routes.

Yes, I did grew up next-door to several farms, but they were small ones. 10-20 acres. One did raise meat cattle, but it was essentially just a 10 acre fence- in treed area for them to roam around. Not enough cattle to even bother tagging or branding. The only time I was ever on a farm that actually tagged cattle was during the year I lived in Alberta, and those were all microchip tags, no branding.

I wrote this scene with no real knowledge, just my imagination. I have pushed through herds of closely-penned cattle/sheep/etc before and know they're so used to other cattle/sheep shoving into them, that they really don't care if you're there unless you start behaving strangely or shouting or something. They're pretty low-stress animals as long as you're confident, and I figure deer, since they're also a herd-animal, would be similarly minded.

None of the cultural information in here was pre-planned either. I knew the basic idea of where they lived, how food would work, all the big-picture kind of stuff necessary to live... and then just started writing. I think what I find most interesting about folklore/etc is that the land/animals/etc pretty much is where stories and culture begin. Desert dwelling people will see the world in a completely different way than jungle dwelling people, or sea-faring people.

Which is why I always start with the land and let it influence the stories/cultures that could come from it. I ask, what sort of creatures live here? How does weather influence the ability to harvest food? What kinds of arts would they have and technologies they would rely on? If I lived in this world, with these available resources, based on all my knowledge and experience, how would I survive? What would I be concerned about? What would I do to improve my circumstances?

If I claimed one, true, innate *skill*, it would be my ability to deconstruct things, whether it be a physical object, or simply an idea. I think this is why I was able to hide the fact I'm dyslexic throughout my entire schooling-life. I can take things apart, re-arrange all the parts, then put it all back together in a more efficient way.

So, knowing I have no personal experience with branding/etc, is this situation believable? It's simply referencing what I do know against what would be logical (based on the technology level, culture, etc) and splicing it into a fictional world. Ah, and keep in mind, I have studied indigenous cultures quite extensively :)

If it's not believable, what information do you need to make it so?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Signs of the coming apocalypse

So, Project #5 has the beginnings of an actual romantic relationship.

Brrrrrrr... writing that line gave me the shudders.

But even though the sub-plot is there, lurking unnaturally in the distance like a mushroom cloud of doom, I'm not sure how it's going to play out. There's a scene I haven't yet written... one that happens right after Issa is taken away by the monsters, which will drastically change the relationship between the sisters and Komil. I've bounced a few idea off my writing group, but (like usual) I'm just going to keep writing and see how it plays out.

But before I get into this new scene... I want to ask a question.

Do you guys like reading along as I write my first-drafts? Or do you prefer other kinds of posts?

I'm not sure, 'cause often very few people comment when I do post first-draft material (like when the husband and I were in New York for a week). I am posting these scenes 'cause I'm curious about what you think, what you like, what problems you see, where you'd like more (or less) information, etc. I'm grateful anytime someone points out a place/way I can improve.

Anyways, I'd appreciate your thoughts. Maybe you'd just like to read parts of a different story?

Since it's been about a week, the last bite of Project #5 is here.