Category Archives: Ars Artia Gratis

They Say You Shouldn’t

FALL IN LOVE WITH your writing. That you should be willing to kill your children. All of that. Nevertheless, I think this might be one of the best scenes I’ve ever written that doesn’t come to a conclusion.

And, to paraphrase River Song: Spoilers, sweetie.

Post Graduate Housing, North Campus, East College, February 15, 1998

Xena

“What’s this, Babe?” Xe asked, a rectangle of white paper — a photo print — in her hand.

“Where’d you get that?” Rowan demanded, all defensive and bristling.

“It was in that drawer you told me to use.”

“Oh.” The big climb-down. “Sorry. I must have missed it when I was cleaning.”

“So who is that?” She in the photo was incredibly beautiful in an exotic way. Gypsy? Very romantic, nevertheless, with raven hair in ringlets and deep, dark, soulful, anime eyes.

“Morgan.”

“Wassa Morgan?” Xe wasn’t confrontational, just curious. She could tell instantly from the Elf princess’s reaction that she might as well have shouted a deadly insult and thrown down a chain mail gauntlet. “I’m sorry,” she blurted in a burst of sudden contrition. “Forget I asked.”

Rowan sighed. “No. I’m sorry. You should know. Morgan was my roommate when we were both getting our doctorates at the Thaum. I stayed to do post-doc work here; she went to work at Hephaestus Industries, taking a place on the Executive Action team — the Nine Walkers.”

“That was Mitchell Drummond’s bunch,” Xe realized out loud.

“Yes,” Rowan said. It was hard to imagine a word that could be freighted with as much weltschmertz and agony of the heart that wasn’t no. But Rowan didn’t cry. Only looked like she might. Quite a concession for the normally stone-faced Elf royal.

Light dawned in the dark dolly’s mind. “She was your girlfriend.”

“And I hers.”

“She was killed.”

“In Athens. By Astarté.” Rowan’s eyes remained hooded. She would not meet Xe’s gaze, no matter how sympathetic and loving.

“So you owe Gabrielle…”

“After a fashion.” Which might have been the only thing that had held her back from a full-on physical assault of Redpath and Drummond on being told that the Genesis undertaking had been officially unsanctioned work and she was unlikely to get course credit for her work on it — that the newly-born of the project, Gabrielle East had somehow managed to catch the Goddess Astarté in a distracted moment and take off her head with a Japanese sword. Even so, Rowan had left the mark of her hand on Redpath’s cheek. Xe hadn’t been there at that precise moment — only later that night — but she’d heard about it, nearly in real time. Albeit from sources less-than-reliable. She and Rowan were among a very select handful of folks who knew that the Gabrielle dolly had survived the night of her Genesis and was hunted by the Babylonian God Marduk. Wherever she was, she had yet to be found, (it had only been two days, after all), but were she to reappear on campus, it would be the death of her, for sure.

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Callsign Baby Troll

A SNIPPET FROM the current work in progress to exposit the origin of Dolly’s nickname, Baby Troll.

Callsign: Baby Troll

The Gabrielle Dolly

When she and Aphrodite first arrived in Camp Meander via teleport, in September of ’97, the recruit company had been already a week into its training cycle. The dolly had, therefor, considerable catching up to do. She imagined and was subsequently told that there had been much debate as to whether it was wise to put her in such a position. It was seen by some as setting her up for failure. But Aphrodite was antsy and wanted her charge embarked on some activity — and meaningful activity at that; make-work was unacceptable. She asserted that the dolly would suffer far greater developmental damage from inactivity than from any possible failure. Further, she claimed, the dolly would not fail in any case.

An assessment with which the dolly was rather in greater agreement before she embarked on her training than she would be later on.

Until she got caught up, the dolly was subject to much harsh, no-nonsense treatment at the hands of the instructors, as she was always the last in her platoon at everything. Not only was she inexperienced and playing catchup, she was also smaller, lighter, and weaker than her platoon mates. Each new obstacle, each new task was to her a greater challenge than it would ever be to her comrades — even the billilaala, who were more her size.

It started the first day as she fell in on the parade ground with the rest and ended up at the wrong end of her rank. To be fair, they’d told her to line up according to height. Since everybody was taller than she, she figured it was mox nix — she’d always be the shortest and it made no never-mind which end she was on. She picked an end at random and took her position there. It was, however, a lapse which could not fail to attract the eye and ire of the lead instructor — Gunnery Sergeant Meru, a reputed martinet born in the Patkar Hills of Northern Burma and emigrant to the Canadian Rockies.

“What have we here?” the towering frekun ang said as she approached the dolly’s position at the wrong end of the rank. “Is this a baby Troll?”

Later, they would have better discipline, but it was early days, still, and the platoon had yet to learn better than to laugh.

“You lot think that’s funny, do you?” Meru asked in her very best parade ground voice. “Let’s see how funny you find it after a morning on the Main Loop. By squads. Double-time… HARCH!”

The Main Loop was a fifty-mile track that circumscribed most of the base. It was not paved. It was not level. It was cleared on occasion when NCOs thought some recruit unit needed to work on its brush-clearing skills. But otherwise, it was left alone, and the vegetation overgrew it with wild abandon. It was poorly marked. Passage through the woods just there was colloquially known as bush-whacking. It was held as an article of faith by all recruits that some alleged portions of the Loop existed only in the collective imaginations of the junior training NCOs, who accompanied trainee units on the route — and woe betide you if you mistook the trail. They might even send you back to start over. Independent Study, it was called.

For having been the cause of the platoon’s having to run the Loop — nobody ever walked the whole thing — the dolly caught holy Hell. She also earned a nickname from the experience. Nicknames were uncomfortable things to earn in Basic in the Troll Guard, so the instructors generally tried to find one for everybody — to spread the misery around evenly and find appropriate radio callsigns for everyone. The dolly’s was, from that day forth, Baby Troll. She’d be forever trying to live it down — until she learned to make it a badge of honor and accept it as her callsign. It’s worth noting that, once she’d made that accommodation with reality — as the Americans put it, once she’d embraced the suck — she was generally treated with greater respect.

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Staring at the Walls

Mural at Katharina’s Cafe-Konditorei, 8th & Washington, Newport, in progress at post time. (Click to embiggen.)

WE SET OUT WITH A specific collection of goals — places we wanted to photograph on this trip: the new Edie Harper on the American Building, the new image of Rosemary Clooney (?) at Liberty & Pleasant Street, Central Fairmount School, and so-on.

As usual, our tendency to follow our noses once we got started sidetracked us almost immediately. Leaving the Bob Evans in Newport Shopping Center, where we had breakfast, Toni wanted to stop at a McDonald’s to get a cup of Diet Coke to sip on over the afternoon. I knew that there was a McDonald’s a block or two further out Monmouth street, so we headed there. Sitting in the drive-by lane, I was struck by the shape of a tree looming over the houses opposite.


It stands curbside between two houses on Linden Road which runs between Newport and Southgate, a gorgeous little neighborhood of funky craftsman houses mixed with early Victorian brick.

Rolling north on Monmouth, Toni spotted something and requested a detour. I don’t recall the exact sight that drew us aside, but we soon ended up circling (four or five times) the same blocks between Saratoga, Washington, Sixth and Ninth, with an occasional jog over to Monmouth. Along the way, the mural seen in my rearview mirror (above) caught my eye and we ended up circling blocks to get to within snapping distance of that.

Of course there are a lot of pix taken I’m not putting up here. I have plans for them, though. Toni has put up a bunch of what she took (including better shots of the mural above) on Facebook, so, if you’re her FB friend, you can check those out.

One of the cooler things that Cincinnati does is permit this group of artsy types, called Art Works, to paint murals on walls — buildings, retaining walls, you-name-it — to beautify the city. It’s been going on in one form or another since the ’70s, when the effort was called Urban Walls and there were a half-dozen of them all over downtown. Now there are hundreds, scattered over the whole city and in other cities as well. (There are a couple in Newport, for example.)

One of our famous families here, immigrants from a town upriver on the Kentucky side, are the Clooneys. Rosemary, Nick, and George. I’m pretty sure that this mural is meant to represent Rosemary, who was an icon in local TV and radio in the forties and fifties. It’s on the side of a building of railroad flats at the corner of Pleasant and Liberty Streets in the world-famous Over the Rhine.

Oh, and we did finally manage to get to one area I had as a goal for the day — Fairmount. The city is building out a project called the Lick Run Greenway between Queen City and Westwood avenues from State/Beekman out almost to Wyoming where it comes north down from Price Hill. I had noticed in Lyft trips through the area that there was rapid demolition being done and that, if the picturesque scenes were to be captured before they’re all gone, we’d have to get out there toot sweet. It’s not an area I suspect anybody is nostalgic about. For as long as I can remember, it’s been a low-rent dump, blighted, benighted, and all that, which is why the city is tearing it down and building a monument to the politicians spending our tax dollars on it. No doubt, it will be pretty.

There are a few gems being lost in the process. The old St. Francis Hospital, (featured a week or so ago on this blog), being one. Another is a bit of a surprise, nestled on a hillside alongside vertiginous White Street — Central Fairmount School. Which, as far as I know, is to be abandoned or torn down, unlike many of its contemporaries elsewhere in the city.

Reservoir Wall, Eden Park, 8-19-17

SOME FORTY-ODD years ago, the Park Board blew out the south wall of the reservoir in Eden Park and built a new reflecting pool atop it, providing the park’s users with a bilevel play field. In the time since, the upper level has been used mostly for quotidian recreation — frisbee throws, dog chases, et al and fairs and festivals, while the lower level is used a a baseball diamond, basketball court, and so-forth, while the top of the wall itself is used as a place for romantic walks and imaginary lovers’ leaps. (Never heard of the last, but it could be done.).

(Click to embiggen.)

I’ve always thought this to be a subject best treated in grayscale, thus the utterly desaturated tones.

Observation 006 – 08-13-17

Observatory with Clouds

A BRIEF DEPARTURE from my Cloud Observatory department, the Cincinnati Observatory — atop Mt. Lookout on Cincinnati’s East Side — with dramatic clouds. (Image composited in Photoshop.)

Extra Texture

THIS ONE CAUGHT MY EYE while I was on a ride with passenger. And, for the first time ever, I circled back around after I dropped her off and went to where I could get the shot.

The building is in the South Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati, right by Walnut Hills and Corryville, at the corner of Union Street and Reading Road. I took the shot from my car while standing on Bowman Terrace, a block away. Minimal color processing in Photoshop.

(Click to embiggen.)

Katmunda

LADY JANE GREY named after the famous pretender queen of England, played by Helena Bonham Carter in the BBC Production of the same name.

(Click to embiggen.)

This image was taken under low-light conditions at under 18 inches with my Nokia Lumia 1020 camera phone and processed using Google’s Nik Collection, Color Efex Pro4, in Photoshop. Saved from flattened .psd to .jpg with maximum image quality selected.

How We Spent Our Sunday

AS IS BECOMING A CUSTOM here of late, Toni and I set out in the short bus for an afternoon of picture shooting. Well. No. We didn’t set out to do that. We were going to go to breakfast and then check out this urban ruins location Toni had read about in one of our local free news sheets. It was to be a one-shot, not an entire afternoon. The site is a compound of abandoned Victorian (pre-Civil War) houses, called Alexander Circle in Tower Park, in the Northern Kentucky suburb of Fort Thomas.

On the way there, we passed an interesting-looking cemetery in the city of Southgate, next door to Fort Thomas.

“Could we go in there?” Toni asked.

I allowed as how I’d never seen it posted no trespassing, so we probably could. “Want to on the way back?” I asked.

“If we come back by here,” Toni said. And I mumbled something about how that could be arranged.

Alexander Circle proved all that was promised. It’s the kind of place that makes your mouth water and your fingers itch for the pen to sign the papers. Nothing we could afford, mind, but much one could want. The houses are all huge and, as the sign notes, basically the officers’ quarters for the Fort. They’ve been abandoned since — I imagine — the Fort was decommissioned and are in sad condition, barely on the cusp of condemnation, and deeply in need of some TLC. There’s a sign posted that it’s U.S. Government property and trespassing is verboten. (Which, I imagine, no matter the town’s manifest patriotism, must stick in the craws of the community-oriented folks of Fort Thomas). But we managed to circumnavigate the circle, even if we couldn’t get into the actual street itself.

Then, on the way back, I returned north on Alexandria Pike to Evergreen Cemetery, no doubt familiar to all those who know the general area. The cemetery stands on some 250 hilly acres in the city of Southgate, Kentucky, a hop, skip, and a roll from the I-471 exit to US 27. You glide through the wide, wrought iron, double gates and enter a gentler time.

A time in which Rust may not have slept, but from which it surely entered into eternal rest. We took dozens of pictures each, strolling around the grounds, stopping for interesting sights and views. I’m sure that you’ll be seeing many of them from each of us, here and on Facebook, in times to come.

An afterword: I have complained a good bit lately about the inadequacies of my cell phone’s camera (Samsung Galaxy 6s). While I cannot afford to buy a real camera at the moment, I will be making plans to obtain one in the near-ish future. Meantime, I’ve bitten the bullet and charged up my late, lamented Nokia Lumia, in order to use its absolutely brilliant camera. We will see in the next whenever how much better I can do using it per preference. Watch this space.

Pro tip: Word Press will throw an error if you try to upload a media file while it is still open for editing in Photoshop. Word up.

Oot and Aboot

THE IDA STREET Bridge planters. Ida Street is one of the main streets of the Cincinnati neighborhood, Mt. Adams — a 600-700-foot-tall hill looming over the downtown area and the river. It’s a trendy, yuppified bohemian enclave (my mother once likened it to Greenwich Village), with inflated property values and no parking on its narrow, twisting streets. The bridge is an Art Deco arch which forms an elegant backdrop for views of the west side of The Hill (as Mt. Adams is known to the locals) from down in the basin. These planters caught my eye when I was traveling through. Saturday, I was up there again and had a moment to stop on the bridge and snap a few shots.

Click to embiggen.

Gorgeous Light

ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON Cell phone camera demonstrates its inadequacies. Not that I couldn’t have gotten what I saw using it, but that I couldn’t get it in a snapshot.

Taking time to set up a shot and work the meter to get the desired exposure is not something that’s easy to do when one is behind the wheel.

The Cincinnati Club at Fourth and Broadway. Layered in Photoshop and foreground and sky separated to allow for exposure adjustment.

The Cloud Observatory: Observation 005, 03-05-17

Works in Progress Update

JUST A QUICK NOTE to keep everybody up-to-date. #ThisIsThePlaceILovedHerMemoir is still in-progress, albeit stalled. As I said to J, although I know what’s next, I don’t feel moved to continue just now. I’m back to the first of the story-a-week challenge, the first of what I’m calling “The Further Adventures” of Dolly and Drummond. It’s been almost three weeks since I started it and It’s far from finished. I have two other starts, (including the HashTag and a third in an entirely other ficton). Progress being made in fits and starts on all. Also: working still on The Origin Protocols. No significant wordage down recently on anything. A lot of staring at blank and half-blank screens and — air quotes — “thinking”.

It’s Dolly’s Birthday!!!

EVEN WHEN I THINK about it in advance and plan for it, I tend to forget this central fact about my ficton: Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East made The Leap from a free-floating anima to a fully-integrated soul inhabiting a human body — in short, she was born — today 19 years ago, February 14, 1998.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote this novel, detailing the first twelve hours of Dolly’s life.

Check it out. Buy it, if you are so moved. Enjoy it. I am certain you will.

Happy Valentine’s Day. As Niel Finn of Crowded House put it: I don’t pretend to know what you want, but I offer love.

Artful Living Announcement

I HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMNT to make — for all of you following along at home. I have two new stories starting up. One is a science fiction story that I’m trying to make unique and special, given it’s about an old-ish topic. The other is a literary memoir — which may prove the kiss of death for it — but I’m strongly moved by recent currents in my lifestream.

The Origin Protocols (Baby Troll Chronicles, Book Three) is still in process.

That’s all I had to say.

On Process

THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION will have noticed that I am building in my Pinterest profile a series of boards full of pins containing reference images of stock decorative elements. The main board (the oldest one) is called Art Lessons. One of the more recent boards is Art Elements:

Many of the elements I’ve pinned there are oriented toward the design of ceramic tiles, about which I know a little (very little), having designed one.

In the fall of 2003, Sting’s Sacred Love album was released. And shortly thereafter, preparations began for a tour in support of the record. When long time Sting associate and tour manager Billy Francis contacted me to begin design work on the passes for the tour, he told me that Sting had played with a lot of diverse influences from around the world and wanted, as a theme, some Islamic influences. I immediately thought (though I didn’t say it then) of the line from Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat”: By the blue-tiled wall near the market stalls/There’s a hidden door she leads you to./’These days,’ she says, ‘I feel my life/Just like a river running through/The Year of the Cat. The key point there being the “blue-tiled” bit. Moroccan tiles are famously blue. And intricate. And of wonderful workmanship. I don’t remember which one of us zeroed in on the ceramic tile design, but whoever it was, that became one of my focuses.

First, I found an image to be used as a reference. The image I found was perfect. It represented perfectly the tile I felt we were looking for. The only problem, as I remember it, was that the image was a photograph taken at an angle and the design wasn’t perfectly square and true, which meant, if I followed it exactly, my design would be all wibberty-jobberty. Not on. So I had to use it literally as a reference and NOT as a pattern. I had to figure out the size and proportions and the intervals, angles, and repeats geometrically. It wasn’t hard, but it was tedious.

Somewhere along in the process, I received in FedEx a DVD of photographs of Sting. The images were from a photographer (who works with Sting a lot) and had been heavily processed for use in the CD packaging for the Sacred Love album. Billy and I talked through ideas for the various pictures — this one to be used for the satin passes, that one for laminates, the third for signage and so-forth. We’ll do some post processing on one of them for the second leg and specials. (That may not have been the run of the actual conversations, but that’s how the process generally worked.) In the lot was a picture of Sting, barefoot, sitting on the floor with his back against a wall. The wall was in heavy shadow (The picture may appear in the CD package — I don’t recall.) I conceived the idea — harkening back to the “Year of the Cat” quote, of making a wall out of the tiles I was building — tilting them in perspective — and masking the figure of Sting to “float” above them so it looked like the wall he was leaning against was made of these beautiful Moroccan tiles of blue, white, and gold. Similar treatments in monochrome for the satin passes. (At the time we were still printing satin passes offset, not digitally, and so couldn’t print full-color except at great cost. Laminates were digital and so full-color, as well as being higher-value, so worthwhile doing something special (more on that in a bit).)

I worked the eventual pattern of the tile in CorelDRAW — giving myself the leeway to work the geometry in a vector application, which provided greater sharpness and precision to the design. Then I saved it out to Illustrator format which could be exchanged with Photoshop, where I had the ability to overlay color and lighting effects.

A fully-realized copy of the design, called startile with grout.

Although the image looks natural — and does more so in a smaller format and in perspective — it is wholly artificial. The geometric patterns are flat black-and-white. Each has an added color overlay and various shadowing and embossing or debossing to add the third dimension The white border is the “grout” to ensure that, in a step-and-repeat wallpaper pattern, there is a space between the tiles.

And, the “finished” product. Well, not completely. This is the base art, without type — which is added in CorelDRAW just before making up for printing. And I faked it. This isn’t the “real” image, but one I reproduced from memory. And, on the top-level laminate, issued to the inner circle of band, crew, staff, and management, the Sting logo script was stamped in gold leaf. I wish I could show the process of masking the image of Sting, and adding the shadow, but I no longer have access to those images, as they are the property of my former employer. Although, if you do a Google image search on Sting Sacred Love laminate, you’ll see a lot of other designs I did for this tour and other ones. (I never got the Sacred Love laminates onto my Pinterest board and, for some reason I can’t fathom, Otto has stopped displaying passes on their Web site. (CB: If you read this, can you shed some light on that?)

“I Still Cry In the Night” — How I Torpedoed My Career

AND THREW AWAY THE DREAM JOB OF A LIFETIME in two or three keystrokes. It was really that simple.

Lawyers and others who deal in confidences place these mouse-type disclaimers at the bottoms of their emails (one assumes by default) to the effect of “This is privileged communication. If you’re reading it and not the intended addressee, stop, and discard the email. Notify the sender.” And such-like. Over the years, I had thought maybe we at Otto should have such a disclaimer on our stuff, but never did anything about it. It probably wouldn’t have helped me in my terminal situation, but I might have had at worst one leg to stand on, instead of having them both cut out from under me.

In the middle of a work week last December, I was, among my other tasks and duties, engaged in an exchange of emails with a person who was very thoroughly playing the asshole. They were jerking my chain and generally revealing themselves to be someone with whom I would never have a comfortable relationship. There have been others like that down the years. You meet lots of them in life … But this person was an unique specimen of the breed.

Watching a documentary on Netflix over the weekend: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Running Down a Dream, I found myself nodding in agreement with Benmont Tench (at least I think he was the one who said this), relating of a time he found himself disillusioned with the music business — how sleazy it is and how many slimey and corrupt, individuals — how many malignant narcissists — there are in it… and then allowing that he came to the realization that most business, indeed most of life, is like that and the music business is hardly unique in that way.

Well, moving along, I was begging to be relieved of the burden of dealing with this particular individual. But it’s matter of policy (one I myself can lay claim to, as a matter of fact) that we didn’t say, “No.” That there was always a way we would try to meet a prospective customer’s needs or demands, no matter how unreasonable they might seem. And, as it had been my prospecting efforts which had brought this person to light, I was kinda stuck with them. Nevertheless, I bitched. And there were sympathetic ears in the office for me to bitch to, as it was agreed that, good customer service aside, this person was pushing the outside of the envelope.

One morning, I found a message from them in my InBox. It was insulting in the extreme, full-on unearned condescension and a good deal of malign spew. I probably would have been justified in simply ignoring it. And, if I had, you probably would not be reading this sad tale. I forwarded it to one of those sympathetic ears with a note asserting that it was not our place as a business to tell a customer not to behave like that, but…

At least, I thought I did.

Turned out that, instead of hitting Alt-W to forward the message, I must have hit Alt-R to reply, because it seems my little mini rant, couched in terms virtually guaranteed to inflame your garden variety malignant narcissist, was actually sent to the person in question. I called a spade a spade, making no bones about it, albeit laying out said calling in a way that was not truly actionable. I didn’t say, “You, (sir or madam) are a douchebag,” I said, “It’s not our place to tell people not to behave like a douchebag.” Nevertheless, they threatened to sue if I weren’t fired. I’m at all not certain how libel can be shown to be the case in a private communication, but … whatever. My defense, pretty lame as it was was that I had not intended the message for the individual, but for my coworker, and, in my view, they had improperly intercepted a privileged communication. But I was quickly persuaded that wouldn’t fly. Although the matter clearly was not actionable, the mere bringing of a suit and the cost of defending it could prove ruinous, so, I had to — so to speak — lean in and take one for the team.

Of course, it would have been nice if my employers had said, “Scroom. You’ve been a loyal employee for 35 years and nobody dictates our personnel policy — NO BODY.” But it’s business and they didn’t. In fact, they couldn’t get me out the door fast enough.

None of which is the point of this plaint. After a tearful goodbye to my work wife, I cleared out my desk, changed what passwords I reasonably could, and handed over the rest, and rode the elevator down and out of the world that had been my life for 35 years, spanning five decades, three cities in two states, my marriage, and all the rest.

Last fall, a video crew from Kentucky Educational Television had been shooting in the loft and, in a conversational moment, I asserted to the producer/reporter that “Most of what’s on the walls here (framed passes and RIAA platinum disc awards) is mine.” In the course of my exit, my work wife repeated that back to me. I hadn’t even realized she’d heard me. How could 35 years of a life simply be thrown on the scrap heap like that? I still cry in the night.

Tonight I lay awake, thinking about it — running over the sound track of the aforementioned documentary in my mind — and wondered how many, of all the hundreds and thousands of people I’ve met and worked with over the years even know I’m gone? How many, when they find out, will even care? Will any of them miss me — miss the things I did for them? Over the years, I’ve tried to teach the front line folk that their job is first and foremost to be the customer’s advocate. Will that ethos survive in a bottom-line kind of atmosphere?

I think, in the intervening months, I’ve heard from two of my former clients: one the touring director for a top country act, the other the tour manager for a Mexican folk singer. Both I have known since the early eighties. I’m still active on LinkedIn and Facebook. You’d think SOMEbody would write or call to ask, “What happened to you?” But: crickets. I sometimes wonder if the person who got me fired (Do they know they ruined my life?) is glad of their kill and wears my figurative scalp on their belt with pride.

I guess it’s true, what Orwell said. In a time of universal deceit, truth-telling may be seen as a revolutionary (or criminal) act. Be careful who you tell the truth to. They may not like hearing it.

As the Weather Toughens Up

AND, INDEED, THEY ARE evacuating Gatlinburg due to fires we hope a rain storm juiced by a hurricane in the Gulf might lay down enough precipitation to abate the fires some, I am once again thinking about art and possibly revamping the cover styles for the Baby Troll Chronicles series.

Bearing in mind that a cover design has to sell the book, not describe it, I find myself drawn to 19th Century advertising posters designed and illustrated by Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha, whom I have typed as the heart and soul of the Art Nouveau movement. I’m a major fan of art nouveau for the romantic feel of it and the crafsmanship that it requires — unlike the BS poseur-ism of modern and post modern — scorn quotes — “art.” That plus that I, being lazy, can essentially “steal” (in Picasso’s terms) virtually whole designs and yet score points for a practical level of “originality”. The image at right could be a romanticized rendition of Drummond and Dolly in hot-and-heavy clinch all while ticking each and every box to sell the book.

It’s right down the line with how, over my career at Otto, I would teach myself a particular style of commercial art — Peter Max, Punk rock album cover, San Francisco Art Nouveau, what-have-you — and rip off its jargon and vernacular for my projects. Of course, your ordinary backstage pass project doesn’t call for or allow the kind of depth and extent that a real ripoff requires, so the touch has to be light, and actually, barely recognizable as being such. (Sort of qualifies as Heinlein’s filing off the serial numbers.)

For these book covers, I’m going to study and appropriate art nouveau — and, along the way, generate a large amount of collateral. I’ll be starting in two places at once — first, the general layout and framing techniques and, second, the fine-detail illustration techniques and motifs. The finish will be the main figures to fill the frames, showing the characters. Then we’ll throw type over the top: our title and credits. Each title — by the time we’re done with this first lot, there’ll be three — will be covered in 3 formats, hardback, trade paperback, and eback. We may not be able to publish hard cover with the resources available to indies right now. But someday — one hopes someday soon — we will. No sense in doing all the work now only to have to do it all over down the road. Have it ready now and, when the opportunity knocks, you’ll be ready.

I only started the raw layout sketches today, so it’ll be a slow-ish process. But I’ll be posting every day or two with progress reports. I hope.

In My Early Teens, Despite Never Having Been…

OUT TO SEA, OR EVEN out on water in anything more substantial than a car ferry, I designed a sailboat. Which, to my delight, my nautically-inclined leatherneck uncle pronounced a fair-looking craft. He even thought it would float.

In world building my ficton for the Baby Troll Chronicles, I’ve included in my back story a character who is partly attached to the modern stories of the adventures of Gabrielle “Dolly” East, her karmic predecessor, Gabrielle Francesca East, called the most successful Childe of the East in the long history of Upothesa, who held that office from 1838 to 1863 and founded East College of the Americas, which is the main venue for most of the stories.

During her tenure, GFE1, as I call her for short, served for a time as the chief factor of the commercial enterprises of the Greek God Hephaestus — Olympia Trading, Ltd. As such, she was required to travel the world at some length (indeed, spending all of her 20s at sea, participating in such various historical events as the founding of Hong Kong and the Crimean War). Her vehicle for these travels is an iconic sailing vessel, which I have early on typed as a sloop and christened Bella Donna (Italian, meaning Beautiful Lady). The choice of sloop seemed appropriate at first, as it could be crewed by a small complement, but would be seaworthy for long voyages, given opportunities and resources for resupply.

Here recently, I’ve been exercising my love of sailing ships and conning them across the open water by gathering images of tall ships on a Pinterest board I’ve called Tall Ships, Blue Water. Along with that, I’ve been reading about sailing vessels — renewing my acquaintance with the types. And I’ve come to think that the sloop is not so much the appropriate type for Bella Donna, the first Gabrielle Francesca’s yacht and have settled, perhaps, on a schooner, such as The Lady Washington (left below) or The Pride of Baltimore (right), although a three-masted, ketch-rigged, fore-and-aft, topsail schooner would fit the bill completely, which takes us into the realm more of a brig or a brigantine.

As I take up my pencil and pens to re-up my drafting chops, I find myself eager to try drawing a sailing vessel of some type, albeit not one so complex and sophisticated as those above. Wish me success, please.

For some reason, the embed code for the pins of the ship images above is problematic. If you can’t see the thumbnails and want to see the full images, click on the box(es) to be taken to the Pinterest board in question. There’s a wealth of reading on the subject at Wikipedia, and, being as the subject is not one where opinions are as heated as, say, whether or not Hillary Clinton is a double-damned dirty traitor or Donald Trump is a money-grubbing parvenu, most of the articles may be trusted as relatively accurate.

Bryce-ing Weather and the Art Thing

BEHIND THE SCENES HERE AT Casa d’Alger, it’s been a busy summer. Mostly because of me hustling to earn some money, but also because of me working to improve my art. And recover lost skills. Just wanted to surface for a minute, here, and post a couple of examples of what I’ve been doing. This is a rendering from Bryce.

first_render_160924

Bryce, for the uninitiated is an application that’s about 20 years old or so. It was developed by Kai Krause of Kai’s Power Tools fame and is made to build landscapes and scenes of places — like gardens and yards and houses, and suchlike. It sees a lot of use in game development and fantasy illustration. And book covers, which is why I’m using it. I used to use it extensively at Otto, but have fallen out of practice. Here’s a design I did for the Moody Blues back around the turn of the millennium using Bryce and a couple of other apps — Raydream Designer and Photoshop for the most part. In the way things develop, it’s a fairly crude illustration. I can conceive far more sophisticated images, now, but this, in its day was fairly complex and hard to do.

My intention, here, is to work toward several possible interior and exterior scenes that might be candidates for cover art, with the addition of character figures inserted in post. But, there being many a slip twixt cup and lip, things may change between now and then. We’ll see.

Print That Out And I’ll Chop It

IN A DISCUSSION AMONG WRITERS and fans on another blog, the notion of a chop — a stamp or seal used to sign and sanctify a document — for authors, the idea being to allow said author to sign more autographs and/or books in a shorter period of time.

Reading the various comments, it came to mind that I have used the concept in the past myself — signing work with a winged capital “A”, as can be seen in this frame from my orphaned comic strip, Jazzcat.

And that I might want to play with the notion of trying it again — to update the idea from forty years ago to the 21st Century. An image I had seen recently — an illustration by an asian woman, the provenance of which I can’t recall any more — put me in mind of a certain style of sig or logo that is, indeed, derivative of Chinese chop seals. examples of which can be seen on this Pinterest board (which I am now following). Designs like those seen can be rendered onto a custom made rubber stamp or, at greater expense, a formal chop-type seal. I do not have the facility with either the Chinese language or the system of writing to design my own of either, though, sometime in the future, given an improved pecuniary circumstance, if I can form a favorite aphorism to thus encode, I might have one made for myself. Meantimes, I tried my hand at a sort of a roundeyes version of the idea.

chop_malger_base_160628If you google “artists’ signatures”, you’ll find page after page of images of things like the Chinese chops and seals. And, in a lot of cases, the designs take advantage of the resemblance of geometric primitives — circles, squares, triangles, etc — to some arcane alphabet. I decided to take that as a jumping off point, using my initials — MPA — as the input filter. The result, as you can see, looks like the back of an envelope — which is kind of meta, if you think about it.

The image I’ve been carrying in my mind is, as best I can remember it, in two colors — black and red, with the design and characters reversed out to the (white) paper color. So I played with the basic logo to make several variations, but not wanting to get too far from something that, in the absence of a stamp or seal, could be drawn with a few quick strokes of a pen. The results below. (Click to embiggen.)

chop_malger_1_variations_160628.

Of course, given a Photoshop install (which I don’t have at the moment — the subscription for PSCC being beyond my reach*), one could readily spin off a wide variation with textures, embossing, shadows, glows, and lens flare, though you’d want to keep it simple. Either you can use a rubber stamp — which you can get custom-made for a reasonable fee — or you want to draw the chop by hand. If you get to the point where you have to use a 4-color, die-cut sticker, the idea of simplifying the autograph process has just jumped the shark.

*Though, it could be made possible were person or persons among the readership here moved to make contributions to the as-yet-ongoing GoFundMe campaign (button at right). Such would also serve the purpose of kick-starting my freelance art business, which is, at this moment (see posts below), stillborn.

Artsy Fartsy Living

SO I’M SITTING HERE THINKING Photography’s an art, innit? Right?

There was a big controversy about that back when I was a boy photographer back in the ’60s. They said, “Anybody can TAKE a picture.” (Implying, of course, that there’s not much art in that.)

Of course, as the true photographers knew all along, you don’t so much TAKE a picture, as you MAKE a picture. Even were it possible to capture a scene exactly as it is in a given instant, the next instant, it will change — subtly or in gross. And, in photographing the scene, you influence its appearance, as well as the quantum existence of its constituents.

Plus, a photograph prevents you from actually knowing a given scene. There’s the NCIS example, when di Nozzo explained to Kate why they still sketch crime scenes. Others, I’m certain, abound. Even I knew all that back then. It concludeth to say that there is more artifice in a photograph than not.

In my HS days, though, my specialty was candid portraits. Even on the yearbook staff, it was an acknowledged specialty. And I took my text from Henri Cartier-Bresson**, who was famous for his fly-on-the-wall mode of getting images. I even carried a black camera, as inspired by HC-B.

(And, funnily enough, I look up at the camera hanging by its strap off the baker’s rack I use for a desk and — sure enough — I’m still carrying a black Nikon.)

And the shots of mine that made it into the book(s) the years I was on the staff were candid. Though I suspect I wasn’t all that unobtrusive. Sitting in a high school classroom, ignoring the teacher, snapping away, shooting endless rolls of Tri-X, candid shots of self-conscious teenagers: hard to avoid being noticed. And being a 6-foot-plus hulk, (albeit pretty skinny back then), dressed in dark colors, with that big old camera stuck up to my eye all the time.

malger selfie 160422earnie_in_window_lightBut that’s still my style, making candid portraits of the world around me. Nowadays with digital cameras — in the phone, yet (What’ll they think of next!?), it’s easier to capture what you see, though sometimes, it’s still a tough job to get what you see in the frame. Even in a mirror. Not gonna state it as a rule, but it does seem to me as though you can’t get a camera in a position to where you can photograph yourself as you see you in a mirror. The perspective is always wrong — the shapes of objects are distorted subtly. Here, I was looking at the image in the mirror, but the image is looking at the screen on the phone, thus lidding the eyes, it being impossible to look two directions at once.

Serendipity plays a pivotal role in instantaneous art — that is art over which the artist has only when-to-push-the-button control over when to freeze the motion that is an inevitable component of any scene — even the stillest of still lives. In the fast-moving art of candid photography, even the most carefully-framed shot will reveal the unexpected — which can often be seen as a bonus.

serendipity_illustration_btb_160424jane looks upFor example: in the images to the right, the top shot is the intended frame. I was trying to get a picture of Loki. Jane just photobombed me. But Loki moved too fast for the shutter to “freeze” him in action, thus making him too blurry for a normally acceptable shot. (I say normally, because I’ve had blurry shots turn out cool enough to use for some purpose, but it’s not common.) But The image of Jane, when framed and cropped correctly, is of interest. So it is treated so and saved as one of “my” pictures.

**The link goes to a Wikipedia article about Henri Cartier-Bresson. For the love of God, if you have the slightest interest in art or fine-art photography, go and read the article. Follow the links. Buy the books — especially Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment.

Yet Another Art-a-Day Post

TWO WEEKS LATER. In fact, it’s been so long, with the interim so eventful, I barely recall the subject matter alluded to in the March 29 post. However, today, I have a different subject to relate to you.

Part of my take — right or wrong — on this exercise is that we participants ought to present current works IN PROGRESS. A sort of a semi-formalized What I Did Today. Being a procrastinator, I’m going to lag that a bit. But I think I have an excuse. I was up until 3AM fighting with the machinery and software to transfer photos from my phone to my computer. (If anybody knows a transfer utility superior to Air Droid, please enlighten me. For me, it keeps losing the WiFi connection and failing of transfer. The photo set for today’s post totals out at 43MB. I’ve no idea why, even at WiFi speeds, that should take long enough to time out.) So my post TODAY is about what I did YESTERDAY. For what I did TODAY, tune in TOMORROW. (Or maybe later, depending on how well I can keep to this schedule. Past performance being a reliable indicator of future results. (Or however that goes.))

20160412_171354Swennyway. What I did yesterday was build a shelf. For my wife Toni (whose birthday was Monday, BTW) to go on the exposed brick chimney above her desk in the Study at Casa d’Alger. So, as a spoiler, here’s what it looks like, now finished. Process shots next. (Click to embiggen. Click all the little pictures if you want to see them bigger.)

The whole thing stems from when Toni started collecting things VW. Well, no, I suspect it goes back to the eighties when we collected Lladro porcelain figurines. We have a large stock of cats, flappers … I think there’s a ship under sail in there. Birds, bunnies, rocks, ashtrays (not so many of those since both of us quit smoking). Tux, the Linux penguin. A rubber duckie. Mugs and mugs full of pencils and markers. And, here lately, Toni’s been developing quite the garageful of bugs and buses. And neat, framed art — photos and prints.

It’s started to get a bit crowded over there. So Toni started looking for corbels. I was picturing a pair of nice acanthus leaves, or an owl or a gargoyle. But she ended up with some nice, Shaker-esque brackets. Seven inches tall by five deep. With dadoes cut top and back and screw eyes mounted in the dadoes.

Left Corbel20160412_174719Meantime, let us consider the field. As you can see in the pic above (and the left and right ends, herewith), there is casing molding either side of the brick, covering the seam between the brick and the drywall. Og and I selected this and the dentil molding that runs around the ceiling line of the whole room (or will once it’s done). It’s triple-fluted, so the placement of the corbels is critical. It would have been nicer if they had been the same width as the molding, but you do with what you have. The downside of this is that it becomes obvious that the two pieces — the molding board and the corbel — were not made to go together. If they had, either there would be a table cut into the molding to bed the corbel or the flutes would have been stopped short of the corbel’s position. However, simply mounting the corbel on the molding, with the flutes continuing under it doesn’t look THAT bad. And the upside is that there is a well-centered trough in which to position the mounting screw, which makes the mounting easier.

Before mounting the corbels, I set a six-foot level across the space and drew a line on the moldings to serve as a guide to everything. Then I measured the corbels to make sure I was setting the screws in the right place to position the tops level to each other and the base line. Good thing I did that. On one, the keyhole for the mounting screw was centered 1316” down on the other, the drop was 1¾”. I also noticed to my chagrin that the manufacturer had neglected to include a bracket for the shelf in the top dado. Seemed a rather dumb design decision to me, but, hey — they’re selling, so it must work for them. I’ll never buy another anything from that manufacturer and I doubt they’ll miss me.

Having marked the drops, I set the screws and drove them in with the drill, leaving the heads proud (and testing with the brackets periodically, adjusting with a hand screwdriver). I take a moment to note here that the idiot teenager who designed these things specified flat head screws, rather than the application appropriate round or pan head (with or without washer).

20160412_165438Then the action moved outside with a collection of tools and a six-foot number one grade white pine one by six bought previously. I cut it to length. (Love my Diablo blade — a quick spritz of WD40 on the running blade helps fora cleaner cut and helps keep the blade clean.) 57 inches was our rough measurement to determine needed stock, but the actual length turned out to be 56¾”

20160412_165555Once cut to length, I wanted to chamfer the top edges on three sides (not the side against the wall. My router is a Bosch 2¼ HP beast that weighs a ton but is suprisingly easy to handle and quite nimble on the wood. It handles like a dream when its running. The spinning motor has enough mass to have a gyroscope effect, making the thing tend to want to stay steady. I pulled it out of storage for this project and was surprised when I opened the case to find that I’d put it away with the chamfer bit already locked up and height adjusted to a cut depth appropriate for a ¾” board. It was the work of a couple of minutes to finish the edges.

We’d agreed not to put any kind of sealant or finish on the shelf because of Ditto. Birds don’t take well to the volatile organic compounds that are outgassed from paints and varnishes, not to mention solvents, so you don’t use them in areas where birds are — or even nearby. (And that includes deodorizers.) So the final step in building this shelf was to sand it smooth and clean — free of blemishes and splinters. Not too hard, since I’d started out with white wood to begin with. I put a quarter-sheet of 320 grit sandpaper in my Bosch orbital pad sander — another power tool that’s a dream to use — and smoothed the face and edges, softening the corners as I went. I spotted and smoothed one place where the router had chattered a bit and missed another one. I bet nobody else will ever see it.

Next time, a pretty jewel of a piece.

The Artfully Living Post: 3/29/16

THE EAGLE SHITS TODAY by which I mean, Amazon royalty payments to authors who have elected to receive via direct deposit will drop today — according to what Amazon has sent out. My take: big whoop. If only my books were selling better, I might muster more enthusiasm. Still and all, I must be grateful for every fan. To do otherwise is declasse.

And, one should also keep in mind that the reason we are here on this mission is with the hope that, by enhancing my illustrating skills, I might improve the interesting-ness (is so a word) of my covers and improve my sales. So. To our muttons. (Add media.)

20160328_181957 As the school-days poem goes, I meant to do my work today. I spent a good deal of time gathering links to matter relevant and illustrations of principles great and small, but ran out of time (and energy) before I got to actually putting pencil to paper to draw the intended art for today. (Remember? We’re posting a work a day? That one.)

But… When I pulled out my pad of drawing bristol, I found the bit of visual doggerel at right tucked in behind the cover. It is a beginning exercise from a drawing lesson I never completed. For my usual reason — impatience. And therein lieth a lesson. I have little patience to wait (or work) for results. I want to achieve what I see in my mind’s eye right away. So, because so much comes so easily to me that I’ve come to expect it, it is harder for me than it ought to be to learn some subjects that require that I apply myself diligently. The exercise at hand is one that requires long practice and rigid control. Because the artist needs to lay down line after line after line of graphite so closely and evenly spaced that the resulting field appears to be a continuous swatch of a single color — or shade of gray. And, I think you can tell from the drawing of Ms. Easton in yesterday’s post I have little patience for finicky details. And when you say it like that, I think to myself that I really ought to grow up and buckle down to work instead of wanting it all RIGHT NOW. I do that a lot — have to remind myself to adult. Adultin’s hard doncha know. The technique is called the 5 Pencil Method and is espoused by Darrel Tank. You could do worse. If your results are a tenth of what Tank achieves, you’ll do well.

Tomorrow — I won’t promised, because I’ve learned better than to make promises I may not keep — or the next post, anyway, I do promise to get onto the choice of a face shape for a character under design. See you then.

Arting Livefully

MY YOUNGER FRIEND, CEDAR is undertaking to post a piece of art — no matter how trivial-seeming — every day for a year. I have seized on this notion as being a way to boot myself in the butt and get some serious time in on the drawing board.

I have just recently set up a work space in a corner of the office at Casa d’Alger — catty-corner from the bird’s cage, though not out of earshot of him when he gets all wound up (he’s self-winding) and starts in on the ear-splitting shrieks. The intent is that, now having a place to work, I will take advantage of any opportunity. But, I have found over my career in the field that opportunity never fails to take advantage of the opportunity to slip away, so that opportunity must be paired with a requirement for work to be done in order to permit progress. So the formula for self-employement needs to look something like this: opportunity to work plus work to be done over a deadline equals project. Having a project implies explicitly (or, as Dolly would put it: explies) the will to work or the desire.

The situation is far from ideal, so my perfectionism (the cynical or snarktastic individual will call it OCD) will niggle at me until I get the object of my desire

…A five-foot drawing table from Ikea on a tilt-and-height-adjustable trestle base. It’s not expensive for what it is, but I have no money right now and no income (but I do have a method for accepting donations — click the Go Fund Me link at right — hint-hint), so even the $150 for that table (most pro-level drawing tables run in the $500 range) is out of reach.

My present table is a piece of 1/2″ cheap-assed Chinese “hardwood” ply with a 1×2 stretcher glued to the bottom and clamped into the jaws of a Black&Decker Workmate. If you’re not used to working on a drawing table, this may not hit you right off, but those who have will get it immediately: the biggest drawback to this arrangement is that the work surface is flat. Level. Like a table.

And, that it’s not dedicated solely to arting means that I’ll have to take it down when I want to use the Workmate for something else — like building a shelf for SWMBO, which is coming up this week.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand — making excuses. (Sorry if your head got whipped around by that sudden change in direction, but there have been hints.)

I’m going to try the same thing: post a piece of art every day. I hope not to be so long-winded every time as I have been here. As my goal — the project, which is necessary to the demand for work-to-be-done, is to improve the covers of the Dolly stories (again, sorry for the sudden tangent) — my first task, or sub-project, is to devise a character design of Dolly. Which means drawing — first with pencil, then in pen and ink, with color following on — of a human face and figure, from the skin out. I will be following self-assigned lessons.

My preferred text, Giovanni Civardi’s Complete Guide to Drawing has a whole section on drawing the human figure, heads and faces, hands, and so-forth, but is primarily aimed at classical fine art technique, and what I’m after is a more modern, comic style (comic book, manga, anime), so I will be drawing (pun intended) lessons from elsewhere. For the last year or so, I have been gathering images and articles from around the Web to a Pinterest Board, called Art Lessons There are around 700 pins on the board right now, and I am constantly adding more on an ongoing basis, so you may imagine that most of them are not relevant to the topic at hand. Nor are the lessons on “how to draw” (although Civardi’s does touch on technique), as it’s assumed that the student will already have a modicum of eye-hand coordination to make him able to draw what he sees. (There, though, the main trick is in the seeing — I know you’re tired of hearing that, but until you “get” it, it’s going to keep being repeated. And then you’ll get it and start preaching it yourself.)

And, now, to the nut of things. I can imaging that those of you who have been following along at home are scratching your little wooden heads and asking: “This guy claims to have been a professional for an entire career; why is he starting with the basics?” Good question. Here’s a dirty little secret: commercial artists don’t do much art. That is, to say, that what an artist does is art by definition, and therefor, what commercial artists do is to be considered art, but what we-they-I do/did wasn’t what a lot of people consider art. That is, to say, I didn’t really draw or paint on a daily basis and have never made any sculpture. And, truth be told, very few of the images I used in my designs were of my own original creation. And, I suspect, that, up to a certain level, this is universally true of all production commercial designers. We manipulate images and do so according to accepted design standards, and to technical specifications, but there’s only so much “art” (pron: “aht”) in it.

sheena_easton_drawingWhat art there is is more like this: a picture of the Scottish singer, Sheena Easton. It is essentially a tracing (it could be a copy, I don’t really remember) from a photograph. In processing terms, it would have been a CMYK separation from a printed piece (a CD longbox), which would have to be scanned in what was then known as a “copydot and rescreen” process in order to be actually used, but which would have potentially added several thousand dollars to the product cost. So, if memory serves, we never used the photograph, but only logos and type to produce the work for the tour. So the image is “orphaned.” It is work product and the image it references was never used by us.

And, as the drawing — not the scan, which is fresh today — is from sometime around 1990 (Wikipedia says the album — What Comes Naturally — was released in 1991, which sounds about right.) Which makes it a quarter-century old, and could be the last time I drew an image with my own hand, as Otto was in the process of going digital for art and prepress even then, so the rest of my output from then to last December was done on a computer. Which means that I haven’t drawn in twenty-five or so years. And, like any motor skill, drawing ability can deteriorate over time if not used. So, if I want to make the illustrations for my own covers, and not be held captive by the availability and price of others, and be permitted the liberty of making any image I can imagine and execute, and not having to rely on modifying stock photos, I need to be able to draw the human figure.

That’s why.

Word Press is reporting over 1200 words so far, so I’m going to cut this short and continue tomorrow. I intend my first efforts to be the exploration of the shapes of female faces. There are a whole bunch of charts of heads of manga/anime/comic characters in the Art Lessons boards. If you want to read ahead (that’s how you spot the ambitious ones), feel free. Until then, then.

The Cloud Observatory: Observation 004/0316

Playing with a processing module of Google’s Nik Collection.

CloudObs_afxp2_160326

My take on this after one session is that the user would be better served were it unified with an over-arching interface. (In fairness, it’s intended to be used with a parent application, such as Photoshop.)

Rattling the Tin Cup

THE GO FUND ME campaign is still on all donations eagerly solicited and gratefully accepted.

You can get to where you can donate (by PayPal, if that’s how you roll) by clicking the button at right.

Or, you can buy one of my books (at Amazon, of course), and get something tangible for your money. Trust me, you’ll enjoy them.

And I should say some good words about the kind and generous people who have gotten us this far. Thank you SO MUCH.

A Sunday Funny

Follow Mark Philip Alger’s board Jazzcat on Pinterest.

Back in my 20s — in the late’70s — I did a fair stick of line drawing with a pencil, and inking with felt-tipped pens. This was before I was making a living at commercial art and had my own set of rapidographs, which I do, now — ultrasonic cleaner and ever’thinn.

Above is a Pinterest board carrying the individual panels of a strip I did. The title of the strip is Jazzcat. It’s about — surprisingly — a cat who loves jazz. She has (from her perspective) the misfortune of belonging to a heavy metal rock guitarist, whom she calls Axe Murderer.

I lost interest in the project because I realized (then) that I didn’t have a notion of how to continue to develop scripts. How do I follow this template and make regular period witticisms on the themes stated in these three strips? Now, I think I could plot it, if I could draw it. And there’s the rub — drawing the thing. Even here, between panels 1 and 2 of Strip2, you can see the inconsistency in Jazz’s face. Readers might not be bothered by it, but it would bug the fuck out of me.

And that’s why I need to work on my drawing chops.

In a New Line of Business

SO OF COURSE being made redundant at the old gig is saddening and all that, but still and all, it frees up time and energy for creative pursuits not chasing somebody else’s dime. And having 35 years of experience at something, even if it’s not what they wanted you to have experience at does tend to indicate that you might be good — or even passable — at it… maybe even good enough to get paid to do it.

The bottom line is, once we get all sorted out, we’re going to be hanging out a shingle with “Will Desine fer Food” on it. So, as you go through life, when you encounter design work that may be done by a freelancer, do be so good as to keep us in mind. I can assure prospective customers of this: given clear parameters, I will quote a price up front, I will honor that price so long as the job remains unchanged, and my rates will start out cheap — by comparison with the market.

If you anticipate a need, bookmark this link: Dreamflower Works, which is my company name (dba only, not yet incorporated or LLC’d). As time allows, there will be a portfolio of sorts up there. For now, you can see my work in the gallery pages on Otto’s site. For as long as they allow that.

Can’t block the signal, Mal

ROY EDROSO is a closed-minded, bigoted left-wing extremist tool.

Pass it on.

Like Candy

These badges were praised by all and sundry and so popular that, we were told, the band were giving them away “like candy.” Lagniappes during a Mardi Gras parade. We did a replacement order and redesign, which — shown here — became our favorite design of the year.

Apologies to All

INCLUDING READER Random Lurker (We’ll call him Randy.), who commented on the bewbage, for not having posted in a frakkin’ week.Sorry ’bout that, Chief. And more bewbage later. And, yeah, I know the rules: “Never apologize; never explain.” But it just felt like the right lede. I do more of that that I probably should admit to — going on gut instinct.

Anyway, through a creative use of paid holidays, I have managed to stretch my vacation to the end of the year, starting Monday just passed. And then for another week into 2014, using days from next year’s vacation days (I did the same at the beginning of this year, so it kind of rolls over.) All-in-all three weeks of free time, with the exception of family visits on Christmas Day.

My intentions were threefold (and still are, to the extent that life rolls have messed with my momentum). I want to write substantial wordage on Discovery — the working title of the current novel. I want to get started on a regimen of yoga and develop the habit of exercising daily. And I want to start working to get my drawing chops back. I had, in fact, hoped to have reports of developments on all three fronts — and can report that I have written 5,000 new words — but life has conspired to fuck my shit up.

Kris Rusch calls these little bobbles in the event continuum Life Rolls. I can’t argue. Life does roll — right over you. But I can’t help snarking back — life doesn’t so much roll as it sucks. But I’ve had a few minor life rolls in the last few days.

Last Thursday evening, I was fixing dinner. Chicken and Spanish Rice. On this occasion, I had discovered a package of white mushrooms in the produce drawer and figured that, since they were almost two weeks old, they probably ought to get cooked before they started to spore. I washed theme, breaking the stems off the caps and running the stems down the disposal. I cut up the caps and was sauteeing them in butter when I noticed that the water had not gone down in the sink. No panic. This has happened before. I got the plunger and wanked the drain with it.

Wanked?

Yeah, Dolly. Ever seen somebody plunge a sink drain?

…Oh! Wanked. I see.

Anyway, no joy. the water went back-and-forth between the plain drain and the disposal, but none of it went down.

Then I noticed my feet were wet. “Why is there water on the floor, coming out of the base cabinet?” I asked myself. “Where could the water be coming from?

As it turned out, it was coming out of the bottom of the disposal.

Oh.

Shit.

Did I ever tell you how much I HATE working on the plumbing under the sink?

I just didn’t feel like messing with it on a school night. So, I sent an email to Toni (who was on an away gig) that the kitchen sink was non-operational and went to bed. Friday, went to work, had an amazing day. (Why do customers always call with last-minute projects right when you’re trying to get out of the place for vacation?). Friday evening, I had leftover chicken and Spanish rice. Washed my dishes in the bathroom sink, but resolved not to trust it and re-wash them all once the kitchen sink was fixed. Toni wondered if that was sane, but once she saw the situation for herself, ratified my decision.

Some quick research on the Innertubez informed me that water leaking from the bottom of the disposal means the disposal’s main seal has blown. I should take it out and take it to the nearest service center (which is clear the other side of the county). In-Sink-Er-Ator verified this on their site, so I felt pretty confident I had the straight poop. (Remember: they can’t put anything on the Internet if it’s not true.) Meanwhile, Home Depot told me a new one would cost $80.00. What do you think the service center would charge to replace a main seal? Add in gas and time and. No brainer. Get a new one. Did. Put it in. Didn’t fix the no-drainee problem.

Tried various flavors of chemical drain cleaners. Couldn’t find a microbial variety at Home Depot, which I suspect would have worked just fine. Advise from the Internet (verified, of course), was that the next step is to snake the drain.

Oh, joy.

Now, I had a snake already. But it was one of those long-straight ones that you attach to your drill, pull the trigger, and it twists into a pretty plumber’s braid. So, back to Home Depot (one more visit and it’s a project), to get a better snake. One with a reel and a crank handle.

SO. The video instructions for the snake show a guy standing at a kitchen sink. His narration leads me to believe that he was dealing with a single drain that went straight down to the trap and then straight across to the wall. How convenient. But not in this house you don’t.

Here, you have a different situation. One side of the double-bowl sink is the disposal. Even I know better than to put a snake down a disposal. the other side, the drain goes down to where it meets the cross connection that would have been the join if there were NOT a disposal on the right. Then there’s an elbow onto a straight shot…

No. That’s not right.

Oh, I don’t know.

Then it all goes back to meet the laundry drain. But somehow, this all goes down to a last horizontal run that joins with a brass compression fitting to the side drain that services then across and down to the trap, then to the side line that serves this side of the house. That last run is where I want to insert my snake into the line. It’s about two inches above the floor of the cabinet and way at the back. NOT someplace you can get to standing up. Or even in a comfortable crouch.

I could have used a creeper just about then.

Swewnneyway, I spent a good portion of Sunday afternoon spinning away at that snake, lying on my back, with my hands over my head in awkward positions. (It would have been fine if my elbows bent the other way. As it was: pain.) The lip of the cabinet was sharp and hard, so I grabbed a bunch of throw rugs to build up a support for my shoulders. It worked, sort of. After a lot of shifting around, I finally found a position I could stand and cranked the snake out to its full length (25′) and brought it back. Cranking five or ten minutes, then breaking for five or ten… or fifteen… or twenty.

Aside from a few stray strands of… don’t ask… there was no sign on the snake of any serious blockage. But, when I put the drain back together (Yay! for threaded, hand-tighten PVC connections.), damned if it didn’t run free. But that managed to blow two days’ free time, and thus no bloggage.

Then, Wednesday morning, I woke up with a cough. Last couple of days, it have been just a thrill to be me.

At the moment, I’m still under the weather, but feeling better than since Wednesday. Here’s hoping this cold-flu-whatever continues to improve.

When Black Friday Comes

I’LL BE ON THAT HILL… well, no. Not really. I’ll probably be right here at this desk, pounding out more adventures for Dolly. But you, you good American consume-a-holic, you, you’ll be out there spending yourself into oblivion to support the economy and make Obama look good in the government’s phoney baloney numbers.

And, since I’m a greedy capitalist type, and have a product on the market (to wit, my book), I have a dog in this fight, so to speak. You see, my book is on special for Black Friday.

It’s set up on what Amazon calls a Countdown Deal. The price is dropped by some staggering amount on the first day. (Or hour, or whatever.) Then, over a given period of time, it goes back up by increments until it’s back at “regular” price.

Ours starts at Five AM PST today and runs through… well. That would be telling.

So here’s your chance to get in at the beginning. Get the first edition of my first novel. You can say you read Alger before Alger was cool. Come on! You know I’m gonna be cool some day!

cvr hi-t shebang1013

Some New Pinterest Stuff

SOME NEAT STUFF I GET TO DO at my day job.

You can click through to the entire board, (new stuff added regularly) by clicking the link at the bottom of each widget.

And We’re Moving On

WHILE THERE WILL BE promotional work to be done, and — down the road, when the KDP Select enrollment has played out — a paper edition, I’m pretty much done with The High T Shebang. Now, it belongs to the reader and I move on to the next one.

The working title is vague. At the moment, it’s Discovery and I’m thinking of it as a sort of an origin issue. (To use the comic book jargon.) Except that it won’t be the only one. I’ll have several over the years, I’m sure.

This one picks up Dolly’s tale the morning after her Genesis and carries through, more-or-less chronologically, to Cally’s Genesis, passing along the way Dolly’s training in the Troll Guard at Camp Meander and the start of her relationship with Drummond as her being a Real Grrl. And those are the last spoilers you’ll get out of me.

I’m also intending to seriously buckle down and get my drawing chops back. I have a pencil. I have paper. I have a scanner. I have drawn in the past. I will draw again in the future.

It. Is. Up.

I DON’T FEEL SO much like a poseur any more — talking a good game while not actually delivering. But, after 50 years of trying, I’ve finally published my first novel and it’s up for sale at Amazon. And, if you go and buy it by clicking the link at right, you help defray the costs of operating this site at no additional cost to you.

Everyone around Gabrielle Francesca East — Dolly to her friends — has an agenda. Mitchell Drummond, her lover, guardian, and Geppetto wants to wrap her up in bubble wrap and protect her from the world. Dolly just wants him to make her forget her name by making hot, monkey love with her. Her family resent Dolly’s fortune: a fortune they assert is rightfully theirs. Dolly? She just wants to shop. Half the Gods want to control her; the other half want her dead; Dolly just wants to party with her friends.

When clones of blonde, Hollywood starlets — probably from the same lab that made Dolly’s body — start showing up halfway around the world, Drummond and Dolly set out at the head of the Troll Action Team to find out what’s behind the clones. The answer will send shock waves through the whole shebang.

Growing out of a long series of email exchanges on The Center for Xena Studies, a Xena: Warrior Princess mailing list, The High T Shebang is the first volume of the long-awaited epic, the Dolly Apocrypha. See where it all began.

Truth in advertising disclaimer: Violence. Explicit and graphic sexual dialog and situations. Adults only. Parental discretion strongly advised. Not for children or young teens.

Coming in 2014, The Baby Troll Chronicles continue.

Also. Some time ago, I promised that anyone who became a member of my old blog site would get a free copy of my ebook. About a thousand responded. While this is a different book, I feel it incumbent upon me to honor that promise. As soon as I can figure out how to do it, if you are among that thousand-or-so, you will be receiving an email detailing how to get a copy.

Wronging Rights

IF YOU’RE NOT IN THE letters industry, you may be unaware of a local tempest-in-a-teapot that popped up here recently. Seems a bunch of seamy books, self-published, for the most part, but not exclusively, have been removed from public view — the aggregator claims temporarily, but with no assurance of the length of the temp involved. (Irish indie author David Gaughran posts.)

Much… well, some as been made of the contention that there is no right to free speech in the UK. Not true. The right exists, the state has merely chosen not to recognize it. We in the United States have what purports to be a constitutional guarantee, which guarantees seem by and large to be honored more in the breach. However, I contend, the defense of it does not go far enough.

You hear this all the time. I suspect the most frequent assertion of the mistake notions about rights comes from the political Right which says “There’s no right to abortion in the Constitution,” with the follow-on claim it therefor doesn’t exist. While I agree that abortion is, on balance, reprehensible — possibly even murder, albeit without a clear legal definition, not much more can be made of it — a right to access the procedure does exist. It must. At the same time, it must be made clear that the right to access a medical procedure (provided one possesses the wherewithal to compensate the providers) does not guarantee that said providers are obligated to — so to speak — provide it, whether compensated or not. “We don’t serve your kind in here,” is well within the most simple and primitive rights of the individual to assert and enforce. That some find it unaesthetic or inconvenient notwithstanding.

The right to freedom speech, expression, the press is free-standing and pre-exists any state. All a state can do is recognize or infringe upon it. And all an individual can do is recognize or infringe upon it.

And that last is where the crowd that says, “Private entities’ infringing upon freedom of speech is not censorship.” Bullshit. It most certainly is. And, it might be seen, such behavior from private individuals or corporations is MORE reprehensible than it may be from governments, as there never was any contemplation of granting private entities any let over the free expression of individuals. The right is free-standing and absolute. It inheres to the individual human being. NO actor may infringe. The right shall not be infringed — under law. (In a lawless state, an individual may do anything he can get away with; that’s the difference between anarchism and libertarianism. The latter acknowledges the possibility of a need for a state, however skeletal and minimal.)

The Constitution limits the state. As the 800lb gorilla of politics, the state must needs be set about with limits. It has too great a potential to damage fragile liberty. But that is not to say that the rights of the individual are not enforceable against infringing individuals or corporation.

Now, granted, there are private property rights and rights of free association — not to mention rights of commercial liberty — in possible conflict in the situation alluded to at the beginning of this post. A merchant has every right to choose what merchandise to stock. However, an entity — such as Amazon — which puts itself forward as the landlord (so to speak) of an open marketplace may be seen as operating a kind of a public accommodation. And, whatever your take on that principle, it is a recognized legal principle of our structure of civil rights.

Where we go from there, I do not know — or haven’t formed an opinion, yet — but it seems clear to me that Smiths, Kobo, Amazon, and the rest are engaged in censorship, are not blameless, and owe it to their suppliers, their customers, and the nation of Man at large to create a structure that meets the needs of everyone, even-handedly, not forcing offending materials on an unwilling public, nor allowing its access by the unprepared young, nor infringing on the freedom of expression of the authors using their marketplaces.

And most certainly, no one should respect the complaints of those who assert the right to infringe upon the rights of individuals for the sake of offense or convenience. Those deserve nothing but our collective (and individual) scorn.

If Any of Them Respond

cvr hi-t shebang1013THE HIGH T SHEBANG WILL BE going to the betas over the next couple of days and, one hopes, on sale next week. Wish us luck.

Update: in my fog of fatigue after mindight, I uploaded the wrong cover file. Oops. Fixed, now.

So… I Got Squirrelled Yesterday

cvr hi-t sm 0913BY AN INTERESTING post and discussion of Human Wave self-and-mutual promotion over at Sarah Hoyt’s blog (not to mention grocery shopping, which seems to take it out of me more than it should), so I didn’t get nearly all the work done on re-drafting Chapter 3 of The High T Affair, but I’m real close, now.

In the meantime, I had a few bored minutes near the end of the day and I opened up the cover art, which I’ve been staring at on and off for the requisite days, in Photoshop and messed around with a few things at the margin — mostly adding a muzzle flash to Dolly’s gun and putting the old map of the East family demesne in the background. The whole overall still looks to action-adventury and cartoony to me, and not enough dark-and-gritty urban science fantasy-y. But, as I review each characteristic, I don’t see an alternative that moves in that direction. So — to quote Pooh — bother.

The question cropped up in the above-alluded-to discussion, “Why is this work Human Wave?” Good question, and more than a little bothersome. But, here goes.

First off, the lead character in the Baby Troll Chronicles, the eponymous Baby Troll (a.k.a., Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East) is an anarchist. She doesn’t think so — she may be the most relentlessly apolitical character you’ll ever meet. But she is. As I describe her (in the perspective of her lover, Mitchell Cary Drummond), she is a teleological chaos machine. But she also resents anything or anyone who gets in her way, which makes her a natural anarchist, even if she wouldn’t respond to the description. So, while not a libertarian per se, she acts in a manner that reflects a core belief in the supremacy of the individual human mind.

She gets that in large part from Drummond. While she is the reincarnation of the Hero of a Thousand Generations, in this lifetime, her early development was greatly influenced not only by Drummond himself, but by his influences. In her time as a dolly (whence comes her nickname), she was confined largely to Drummond’s Over the Rhine loft in Cincinnati and limited for her input to Drummond’s cable subscription and his library, which took up an entire floor of his building. She had to struggle to deal with books that, in many cases, were larger than she, but there were so many of them. And, from Adam Smith to Ayn Rand, Lysander Spooner to Murray Rothbard, she steeped in the philosophers of liberty.

And put her own spin on it.

And Drummond is a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian. Agonizes over it. Goes overboard in his respect for individual autonomy to the point he wonders whether he has the right to urge Dolly to get medical treatment.

And the larger situation. Upothesa, the vast, global conspiracy to which both owe fealty of a sorts is a supra-national un-governed organization. Involved in commerce, it almost inevitably engages in smuggling, albeit never of arms, drugs, or humans. Being supra-national and pre-existing all nations, it has little respect for government and goes its own way on the “Do what you like, just don’t let the policeman on the corner see you doing it” principle.

Upothesa started back in the Stone Age as a partnership between Gods and a family of Men. Since the Twilight of the Gods, which began with Zarathustra and continues to this day, the Gods themselves have diminished and Men have become greater. At the time in which Dolly and Drummond swim in these waters, great changes in the power structures of Upothesa portend. I can’t say much without spoilage, but the Trolls — traditionally very xenophobic — have begun to admit select members of other hominid species into their secret worlds. Gods are increasingly withdrawing from the daily affairs of Upothesa. There is a great conflict brewing between Trolls and Elves. And the very edifice of Upothesa is threatened. All of which means that mankind — if it can sieze the day — faces a future fraught with possibility.

The very definition of the Human Wave.

Not that I intended it. When I began writing the Dolly stories fourteen years ago this winter, the Human Wave wasn’t even a glimmer in Sarah Hoyt’s eyes, though in retrospect, it would seem to be inevitable. But, then, historical moments almost always do. But, as I think on it and work through the issues of getting the stories on the page and screen, it seems a natural fit. Mankind is shedding its gods and marching toward a future in which we must stand alone, masters of our own destiny. That’s Human Wave. That’s why the Baby Troll Chronicles are Human Wave.

This Business Will Chew You Up and Spit You Out

IF IT WERE ABOUT THE MUSIC, these guys would still be a band, touring, and making records. But it’s not, and more’s the pity. There’s a good deal more business than music in the music business. Some might say it’s best that way. Only the strong survive. The problem is that the wrong strengths are selected for. The talent, sensitivity, creativity, ability, and heart get abraded away until all you get are the ones who can stand that, or have only that which can withstand all the bullshit you have to go through just to work at your art.

I love this song. Of all the numbers on their eponymous album, it’s the one that can make me cry, singing along with Natasha: …When going home feels like movin’ on. But the rest show an abundance of talent, sensitivity, creative ability, and heart on the part of everyone in the band. Watching their concert footage makes you understand how much joy they took from playing music together.

It was their misfortune to get caught up in a time of transition, in a foreign country, held hostage to corporate maneuverings, and so ground down that, I would suspect, the tax that the business side levies against the creative side just got to be too much. I’ve seen it happen a brazilian times over my forty-plus years in the music business. You have to be tough to make it in this business we call show — not even to the top: just to make it to where you can earn a living at it can take all you’ve got.

Of course, things are better, now. For one, it’s becoming possible for musicians of independent spirit to make a living without a major label contract. Not easy, mind, but possible. In fact, the members of Bering Strait are building careers, together and separately, either as independent artists or on boutique labels, courtesy of the Internet and the indie music scene.

Which bodes well, I think, for all manner of artists. The future seems bright with promise for artists and those who would partake of the art, the music, the cinema, the literature. In the future, we may look back on this as a watershed moment when everything changed in ways we couldn’t anticipate beforehand, but saw as nearly inevitable afterwards.

Ohmigod

I JUST CHANGED the entire first quarter of my novel. In one of those Disney moves. You know, where the painbrush waves across the screen like a magic wand and — hey! presto! — the scene changes from winter to spring in a waterfall of paint colors. The challenge is to make all the changes in two chapters. OK. Not a quarter. A Twelfth. But still… By next Sunday.

Think I can do it?

And, yes, it should improve things immensely. First Reader agrees it should be an improvement in pacing, if nothing else.

How I Spent My End-of-Summer Vacation

cvr hi-t 0813SO I TOOK A COUPLE of extra days off to extend the three-day weekend to five. Days, that is. My intent was to, by the end of the weekend, have a copy of my ebook edition of The High T Affair that I could send to beta readers, and to have made contact with all those who have volunteered or been roped into volunteering to beta-read this thing. (Apparently, none of them read BTB on a holiday weekend or they haven’t taken the hint, because none of them have gotten in touch with me.)

Well, just after bedtime on Tuesday (before going back to work at the Patch Factory on Wednesday), I have a nearly-perfect conversion (sans table-of-contents and with an extra scene separator) to show around. Yay, me.

So, the first lesson here is to never give up until you win. Because you will always — ALWAYS — lose until you win. So, if you give up before you win, guess what? You lose. And that, my dear readers, may just be the canonical definition of a loser: someone who gives up before they win.

Take me, for example. At dinnertime, I was in the depths of despair. I had been beaten by a primitive (open source, yet) word processor. But then, I remembered that word processors leave tons of cruft in their files. (Most programs do. Modern, well-made programs clean up after themselves when they save. Progams made by teenage wonks don’t. Let that be a lesson for you. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs may have been heroes to their mothers, but they were teenaged wonks and couldn’t code for shit.

The second — and final for this post — lesson is to NEVER, NEVER, NEVER involve Microsoft Word or any Word emulator in a production workflow in which consistent results are needed time and again. There’s a reason why pro graphics houses WILL NOT accept ANY input from Microsoft — and that includes their mis-named (dis-named, as in disinformation?) MS Publisher. And that is, if your livelihood depends on it, Word will let you down every. Single. Time. Now, in my case, it was Open Office, but the principle holds, whether it’s Word, Word Perfect, Atlantis, Open Office or Sigil or any of the myriad other out there whic MAY be used to provide input to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. They embrace fundamentally flawed premises. And why on earth the engineers at Amazon decided to depend on — or to permit or accept dependence on — Microsoft products for what is essentially a graphic-arts process is beyond me. As we say about Stupid Engineer Tricks day after day at the Patch Factory, “Why would you want to do that?”

As for me, I’ve somehow gotten my clock adjusted to Vacation Time and I have to get up early as all fuck in the morning. Say, “Good night,” Gracie.

Good night, Gracie.

So What’s Been Going On

cvr hi-t sm 0913IN THE WORLD since I’ve been gone?

You were gone?

Ha! Ha! Very funny. No. BSN. I spent all day Friday and Saturday combing through the final edit of The High T Affair and setting named styles for EVERY. SINGLE. CHARACTER. (Including spaces.) (Especially spaces.)

I have this to conclude: Word processors are aggravating as hell. They never get it right. You tell them to do something and they get it wrong. You tell them to do something the same way twice in a row and you get two different results. The rituals required to get ANY results are arcane and inconsistent. Asking for consistency is asking for the blood to go back in the moon. The documentation sucks. For example: In Open Office (version 4) — TRY to find a list of what all the special characters mean. Just TRY.

And then, output. Why are supposedly modern word processors STILL using a brute-force, inline-style driven approach to rolling HTML? Why are they still rolling HTML 2.x? WHY ARE THEY STILL USING UPPERCASE TAGS?

On the other hand, I have gotten a fairly clean and elegant build in both MOBI and ePub of the book. A few minor tweaks (which Murphy tells me will take all day TODAY) and I should have something to send to betas.

Oh! And I’ve changed the cover. Not final, but a radical departure from where I was before. I need to write post or posts about THAT. Don’t know when I’ll be able to find the time.

Looks like pub date will be pushed back a week.

Not to Be

A ONE BOOK WRITER Kris Rusch writes on the difference between getting published and making a career at writing. In aid that… With the publication of my first novel perhaps a week or so away, I am mindful of the keystone requirement — the next book.

Even as I’m trying to wrangle beta readers and get the cover together for The High T Affair, I am in the background processes of setting up the next one: pouring the first draft into Scrivener; considering whether to meld another story line into this one; wincing at the terribly juvenile plot, characterization, dialog, etc. of the first draft.

I’m also looking two, three, four books down the road, trying to chivvy the ideas into line, playing the long-story-arc game.

How’s your career planning going?

Interesting to note that writing buddy, Jaime Lee Moyer’s first novel, Delia’s Shadow is set for release September 17, but has been available for pre-order on Amazon for several months. We met on the OWW thirteen years ago. (Before, I should note, it was the OWW, back when Mr. Redley (Del Rey Books) was the sponsor.) Who beat whom to book publication? (And does it matter?) I have a copy of the MS for the third book in her trilogy. I’ve read earlier drafts and am excited to see the final thing. Back in the workshop days, I compared her voice to Zenna Henderson. I still get the gentle warmth, but now it’s uniquely Jaime’s. The genre is paranormal fantasy with a soupcon of San Francisco history. Recommended.

Apropos of Very Nearly Nothing at All

OK, WELL, OG POSTED a thing about BLACK Magic Marker, which brought this to mind.

It’s National Go Topless Day!

bouncybouncyAND DA DOLL plans to participate. Photo from last year’s event. In observance of the day, I stole a scene from Alger’s latest work, The High T Affair, which is due out in probably two weeks, now, it looks like.

By the way, he’s still looking for beta readers.

Minoan Tits

“You dirty old man!” Olivia stage-whispered at him, slapping him on the shoulder while giggling and simultaneously trying to keep the blanket pulled tight around herself with only one hand.
“That’s me,” Drummond said as drolly as he could manage. “The old original cradle robber. Anyway, I’d wager it’s a high standard.”

“Eh?”

“Canadian not you are?” He grinned at her. “Your tits. If the rest is anything to judge by, I’d say they set a high standard. Might even be Minoan tits.”

“OK, now. What? In all. The Hells of Santa Ana. Are you talkin’ ’bout?”

“OK. Well. I can’t claim credit for this. I just heard it somewhere, but… You know those murals they discovered in the palace at Knossos — the capital of the Minoan Empire? (Which the Gods in Upothesa can tell you was the source of the Atlantis myth.) All those ladies of the court wearing their bosom-baring fashions?”

She nodded. “Sure as eggs, all of them heifers have fine knockers. Almost like somebody’s husband or daddy paid the painter to… improve on the subject.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Or the painters had a particular type.”

“Yeah. Minoan tits. So how…?”

“Well, you know, I’m sure, that there are those who want for it to be considered decent — or, at any rate, legal — for women to go topless in places not the beach or their bedrooms.”

He looked sidelong at her, one eyebrow raised.”

She pursed her lips. “I most certainly do. And I’d be in favor of it, too.”

“Because,” he said. “It would make you look good, you with your world-class, weapons-grade rack. Is I wrong, or is I right?”

“You is not wrong. Or so I hear.” She gave him a wicked grin. “I bet we could find us a linen closet and you an’ me could play doctor, ‘n’ I could prove it to you.”

Drummond grinned back at her. “Get thee behind me.”

“So what’s this-all got to do with prehistoric porn on palace walls?”

“I figure that, if they did make it legal for women to go topless, some bunch of fools with more power than sense would try to legislate on the basis of aesthetics. After all, it’s a matter of keepin’ our city beautiful. Can’t have big ol’ saggy hooters with wrinkly skin, hangin’ down to the lady’s knees out there for God and everybody to see…” Drummond realized he was unconsciously adopting Olivia’s Texas twang and, with an effort, stopped. “So… a particularly fine pair would be judged street-legal, or…”

Olivia gave a sharp bark of laughter. “Minoan tits! I love it!”

So, whip off those tops ladies. Particularly you young ‘uns with… Yes, with Minoan tits.

Late On the Deadline for the Cover

I KNOW, I KNOW! I’m working furiously away on the edits. I promised to get the latest round to Jaime. She’s just turned in the last book of her trilogy and has about a minute, thirty to pay attention to Dolly — her goddaughter — so I have to hustle. That’s OK. I’d have to hustle even if I didn’t have to make Jaime’s window of availability. I have to keep grinding away if I’m to have a hope in hopscotch of making a September 1 on-sale date.

Why do projects always come down to the last minute?

Maybe because you schedule them that way? Why can’t you go on sale September 2? Or October 1?

Dunno. Maybe when I get this thing on-sale, I’ll have a free second to think about it. Meantime, here’s a whole flock of free ice cream that’s been backed up in the queue for a little while.

Points for Music


IS A COOL CONCEPT although, I have to say the exchange rate sucks. But, WTF: it’s free stuff.

Got three albums by K.T. Tunstall with the most recent batch. Nice writing music. She now has five albums out, with the release of the latest Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon. That’s enough of a body of work to get a handle on whether there’s the promise of a true career of worth, or the artist — however talented — is a flash in the tin pan.

And I gotta say, “Good on Katie.” She should have a long career. And the new colletion not only fulfills the promise of the earlier work, but demonstrates a growing depth and maturity. We should get a lot of enjoyment from this young lady’s work over a — deo volente — long and fruitful career.

The Eyes Follow You

I intended this post to appear last week, but got caught up in the failure of my home machine to perform up to spec. Accordingly, this appears a half-week late. The alert from Outlook advising of the cover deadline has already popped up. The deadline is this coming Friday. I shan’t assume I’m going to miss it just yet. Rather, I intend to make a heroic effort to meet the deadline despite the setbacks. ‘Cause that’s what pros do. In the meantime, some other ideas have cropped up which, given sufficient time, may prove superior to the one working here at this moment. Stay tuned.

thumb_dolly_eyes_originalIN THE PREVIOUS POST of this series, we finally got around to working on the image itself. In the meantime, I have been playing with the image. My purpose in this play has been to learn about the image and what I can and cannot do with it. Also in the previous post, I mentioned that I cheated, having shown you, faithful readers, the modified version of a photo, but planning to use the original. Here’s the original.

The aim in this exploration is to find the way of least effort to my end vision or some variation of it. I have broken the bits of the image into its components. So far, most of the work has centered on the model’s eyes. First, I need to “float” the eyes independent of the rest of the face.

This is not because I want to — as I might in other circumstances — resize or reposition the eyes. Rather, what I want to do is uncouple the eyes from the face so that I can minipulate the face without greatly influencing the eyes. My aim is to be able to paint the model’s freckles against a white background, which, in essence, floats only the eyes and the freckles on the white ground.

In my experimental exploration, I have determined that the tint values of the freckles and the skin tones are too close together and too light for me to be able to magic wand select them. I could paint a selection mask, and may do that eventually, but really what I need to do is trace or rotoscope the freckles and thus do away with the rest of the face. While doing that, I want to preserve the eyes. So I have to float them.

So now I have to figure out how to cut the pieces apart and yet put them back together seamlessly. Unfortunately, the image doesn’t come with little dotted lines along which to cut. So I have to make my own. The process is simple in conception, if tedious in execution. You simply duplicate the image and remove everything NOT of the piece you want. The trick here is to do this as little as you can get away with, but also to preserve your options to go back to an earlier version.

pal_layrs_1Fortunately, Photoshop has mechanisms which permit the user to do just that. First, never work directly on your original image. There are two layers of this. First, preserve the original as a separate file. Second, make liberal use of Photoshop’s Undo and History features. Finally, if you have the experience to do so, watch the results of your work closely and be ready to step backward through recent work. At right, you can see the state of my layers palette at one step of the way. I suspect I’ll make many more layers as I go, but these are about the elements I anticipate working with at the moment.

I also anticipate that there will be two places where I’ll have to do intensive pixel-editing-slash-painting. Those are isolating the eyes — particularly masking the eyelashes — and picking out the freckles from the skin. Below at right, you can see the model’s right eye. The image I’m after is the eye and the upper lid, more-or-less as draw by the model’s eyeliner. The tricky part is, in order for the image to look natural, I have to pick up the eyelashes, too, which means I have to mask them, hair-by-hair.

scr_eye_rightAnd I have, as a matter of fact, just made a decision, which requires me stepping back. I had started taking the fold of the upper lid as my edge. Then I decided I wanted to cut it tighter, getting only the actual stroke of the eyeliner. And then I saw the result and changed my mind again. So, now, I have to start over. A couple of hours lost, but the whole of the work is saved from my indecision.

So the new direction established, I duplicated the original layer, merged the floating eyeballs layer down to it, then deleted the background except close in around the eyes and started masking off around the eyes and the eyelashes.

Next, once the eyes are floated, we start in on the freckles.

This post is part of a series of posts on the subject of books covers, directly primarily at self-published and independently-published authors seeking to design their own covers. It is in the category “Covers” and can be seen with all of the other posts in that category by clicking on the link in the right sidebar. The sophistication of that display page will improve as time goes on. The next post in the series will appear here within a couple of days.

Dead-eye-line

IN THE LAST post, you met Dolly’s eyes. Now I get to work to develop this basic image into a book cover illustration. I open the original JPEG file, downloaded from Dreamstime, in Photoshop and immediately resave it under a new name eyes.psd. This is a PhotoShop Document, which uses pack bits (lossless) compression and supports layers with variable-transparency and various built-in blending effects. I will be using these tools to alter the image to suit my needs.

Warning: icky sex talk. If that squicks you, skip the next paragraph.

The original idea is to focus on Dolly’s eyes, looking up in love at Drummond (whom we do not see) at the moment he penetrates her while they are making love. It is an expression most men will know and most women have assumed — whether or not either is sincere, though in this case, I think Dolly is. It is a wide-eye expression, almost one of surprise, with the eyes turned up, as the man is usually looming over the woman at this moment. (Both of them in the horizontal position.)

OK. It’s safe to come back, now.

The image is to focus on and isolate the woman’s eyes, even stylize them a bit, and render them in what’s called a high-key image on a white background. I figured that I would have to have a source image to modify by painting in a pixel editor. I don’t draw well enough to satisfy my perfectionism and don’t-have-slash-can’t-work-with a model. So I did the stock search described in the previous post.

And came up with something somewhat different. But close enough. I think I can modify this image in Photoshop (perhaps with an assist from a 3D app — modo or Poser — to get the eyeballs themselves JUST right, but we’ll see). But the really interesting part is the torn paper frame and the silver paper background. It intrigues and offers new directions. I may abandon both, but I will proceed in a fashion that permits me to do either ad lib and only once I have seen both images and chosen between them.

It is experience and practice which allows me to A) do this, 2) see that it can be done and 3) how to do it so as to preserve my options to the end and D) — perhaps most importantly, that it’s desirable to do so. I’ll refer back to this a lot. I’ll call this concept preserving my options.

So there are two basic options — work with a very high-key image on white (I’ll show you what that means in a bit) — or with the background, either as it exists, or with an entirely different look. No, that’s not three. That’s One and Two, with a possible Two-B. The reason to think of the either-or should become clear down the road.

The first thing to do, then, is to save under a new name, which I’ve done. Then the next is to prepare the image to be worked over. In order to do that, I’m going to establish my frame and pull the thing apart into layers.

Experience teaches me that, if you don’t start out establishing two factors at the very beginning, they will devour you in the end. The first, as we say at the Patch Factory, the most important specification, is the deadline: when do you need it.

Weren’t expecting that, were you?

I’m not surprised. Even experienced, sophisticated, and knowledgeable people come acropper of this problem. But time is a key factor in any creative project. How much time there is to do the job determines each choice made in a binary fashion — yes or no, do it or not — and most fundamentally at every step of the way.

In this case, the goal is to have an ebook on sale in the KDP Select program by September First. Now, there are a lot of stumbling blocks, not least of which is that the text may not be ready. BUT… if it is ready and the cover is not, then the cover is holding up the release, whereas if the opposite is true, well, nothing to do but push the deadline back, but that decision is being taken for the right reason — that the product itself is not ready, and not that the packaging needs work. Remember that; it’s key. The book is the thing. The cover is packaging and of secondary importance UNTIL it becomes the deciding factor in a sale. In any case, the cover cannot be permitted to drive or drag on the on-sale date.

(Aside: A friend who is trad-pubbed did just that — she and her agent forced her publisher to change the cover. The publisher pushed her book back a whole year. Not in retaliation, mind. It’s just that that was the first available slot.)

Now, the way to establish deadlines and schedule is to find a delivery date and work your way backwards until you get to now, at the start of the job. It is (as I write this) the Second of August, so I have twenty-nine days. I need to lead my on-sale date by an as-yet-unknown period. Dean Smith asserts he can have a book up in minutes. (Fifteen, if memory serves.) That assumes, I imagine, that you already have your account set up at Amazon and know what you’re doing in clicking the “Publish” button. But it doesn’t seem as though the lead time should be more than a day or two at most. I know that I can do the work necessary to producing this cover art in under two weeks. My editor claims that he can have the MS back to me with notes and edits in two weeks. That seems to indicate a timeline that has the final prep of the work happening between the Fifteenth and Thirtieth of the month. Shouldn’t be stressful.

So the deadline (checks the calendar) is the Sixteenth. Mark it on the calendar and set a reminder five days prior. We probably won’t need the reminder, since this project will be pretty much our sole focus this month, but you should never rely on that kind of stuff. Always be disciplined and organized about your work and you’ll avoid that overwhelmed, too-much-to-do feeling.

OK. That’s the deadline. But you’ll remember, I said there were two factors. The other may be more obvious, but, again, you’d be surprised by how many putative pros get this wrong.

In — scorn quotes — “fine” art, you can wing it. You can frame your image or object ad hoc as you go along, as the mood moves you. The canvas can be any size, and the image wherever and whatever size you plunk it down. In commercial art, however, what you’re doing, first and foremost, has to serve a purpose. And, in most cases, it also has to be made — usually by someone else. The image has to be producible in a medium that costs thousands of dollars to throw the on switch on. And, all the digital cheerleaders notwithstanding (I kid you not) digital costs the same to operate whether you’re printing something or not. Digital printing costs pennies per copy. The cost per widget only adds up when you have multiple copies per widget. The prep cost, far from being two thirds of the cost of a printed project old-school, is ninety-to-ninety-five percent of the cost new school.

This means you have to get it right, and you have to get it right the first time. Your trim size has to be right, as do the bleeds and margins, and the creep allowed for in folding signatures, and… and … Or the job comes out — in technical terms — fucked up.

Now, here again, we’re having to push against some unknown factors. Of course, there is no size for an ebook. Every ereader and ebook format assumes a different screen size. So what size is the cover? I’m going to side-step that for the moment and assume I’m going to eventually do a paper edition and will want to use this image for the cover of that. And, at CreateSpace (and from other sources) I see that the most common advice seems to be to think in terms of a 6″ x 9″ layout. No problem. I can deal with that. So my trim size is putatively 6″ wide and 9″ high. That makes my bleed size 6.25″ wide and 9.25″ high.

(A bleed, for the uninitiated, being 1/8″ of an inch margin OUTSIDE the trim. And, if one side bleeds, then a bleed image — even if it’s just blank white — must be provided and accounted for on all four sides in the engineering of any job.)

But my image is square. Ish. That means I need to either crop it or add image to make it taller. But before I do that, I realize that, because I have (at this stage, pretending we haven’t already played with the type) no idea how much space the type will take up, I need the ability to “float” the image in the frame, I need to separate the image from the background and make it a layer. In Photoshop, I do this by finding the layers palette and double-clicking on the layer. I get an option to rename the former Background Layer as Layer 0, which I accept. The layer the image is on (the only one in the file so far) thus becomes Layer 0, a floatable layer, which I can work on independently of the other layers in the document (as they come into being). It can also be blended with other areas, depending on the relative modes selected. For now, it is in Normal mode, which makes it the effective background.

OK, now. If you’re following along at home, or have a really good grasp of what’s going on, you may have noticed that, once we get the image settled in with right and left bleeds indicated, that the margin to the corners of the model’s eyes is only a quarter of an inch. Which is acceptable, but it worries me. I don’t know HOW much time I’ve wasted over the years faking in image to meet an acceptable margin and/or bleed because the important image was JUST that much too big for the live area, had to be shrunk to fit, and left insufficient, as I say, margin or bleed. Now, what I could do would be to fake in bleed left and right now, at the outset. But instead, I’m going to cheat.

Well, I’ve already cheated.

Remember that I told you I’d bought three images? Ever wonder why? Well, it’s because THIS one is not the original This has been modified by the photographer with the addition of the torn paper frame. It indicates what his vision was in making the original photo, but it’s not the thing itself.

That is an image of the model’s face, full width, from about the bridge of her nose to just below her hairline (which is how I could tell fersher she’s a redhead), with her hands held up flat either side of her face like she’s shading her eyes against oblique light.

This is valuable because there is more image in the width, but also in the height, either of which can prove useful in my repurposing of the image. Also, even though it probably won’t change my crop, that there is additional image to the sides can potentially save me a lot of trouble.

What I want to do is use the original, but treat it in some ways like the modified image. In order to do that, I need to drop the original down on the modded pic and match the two of them pixel-for-pixel in size and position. Since I really want to work with the original — always work with the original if you can — I drop the mod onto it. And realize that, in pixel dimensions, the mod is smaller than the original. This is good, because it means I’ll be able to work at an even higher resolution than I had originally thought, and at this stage of the game, I’m hoarding resolution like a gamer hoarding strength points. The final piece will be resolved more coarsely, but for the moment, it’s like speed or gasoline: it is life itself.

I slide the transparency of the mod to 50% and stretch it to match the original. (I use the corners of the eyes as guides.) As I do so, I discover that the mod was stretched anamorphically (differently in x and y axes). The delta is slight — perhaps three or four pixels over several thousand, but noticeable when overlaying as I am. I finally get the two to match and resize the final piece to fit the frame (greedily retaining the extra bleed just in case).

At this point, I can de-couple the process from the modified image and work exclusively on the original, saving the mod only for reference. Next time, we inspect the image even more closely.

This post is part of a series of posts on the subject of books covers, directly primarily at self-published and independently-published authors seeking to design their own covers. It is in the category “Covers” and can be seen with all of the other posts in that category by clicking on the link in the right sidebar. The sophistication of that display page will improve as time goes on. The next post in the series will appear here within a couple of days.