Sunday, July 01, 2018

Checking In

I'm going to keep the blog on hiatus for a while longer -- probably until August or thereabouts -- but with all the recent personal drama I thought I should check in and let you all know I'm okay. My eyes are still working great. I have a lot of family stuff going on at the moment, and work is also keeping me very busy.

The rest you know because you're also dealing with the evil and dark out there. I wish I knew what to tell you. All I can suggest is that however you can, be kind to yourself and those you love. Be the light.

As creative therapy I've been taking a couple of hours each night to work on the Zen Garden/Demon Quilt project. As you can see in the pic it's slowly progressing. Still looks like Minecraft, but there you go. I hope to have it finished by the time I start posting again.

Have a good summer, and see you once I sort out everything.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Ducking Out



I have a deadline to meet, and Tropical Storm Alberto to deal with, so I'm going to unplug for a bit. See you once things settle down.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Multiversing

No matter how skilled you are, building a new universe in any genre is challenging. I've relied heavily on history, sciences and the arts to inspire mine. Music used to be my first jumping-off point, but since I've become hearing impaired that's one I had to let go. Once I get hearing aids that hopefully stop all music from sounding like white noise to me, that may change. Until then I have to draw on other sources of inspiration.

History and its mysteries always rev my imagination's engine. I just finished watching Ken Burns' The Civil War on DVD (I highly recommend for any history buff). I invested when I heard PBS put out a 25th anniversary edition. I loved the documentary series when it first debuted, so I was just revisiting an old favorite. I didn't expect to get flooded with new ideas for an upcoming project (not, as it happens, about the Civil War).

The ideas came anyway. What happens in a conflict where both sides believe God is on their side, and they see their reasons and causes as completely righteous, and the enemy's as deplorable? What motivates people to choose their side? What are the consequences when all the players are fighting for their world's survival -- and it's the same world? What happens when a third party enters the conflict with their own, different motivations and concerns -- also for the same world?

Building essentially three universes in this project, which is also a continuation of an already-established universe with many other sides, factions and conflicts, is when I shift into multiversing. To do that, I have to maintain a strong core universe that doesn't change, which is the hub. Think of it as the center of a spiderweb. That's what you build on, the world and the rules that always remain intact. Your hub can be anything: the city, country, planet, time period, whatever, but it should be able to serve as the foundation for anything you build on it.

As an example, let's imagine multiversing during the Civil War. You have North and South, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and Jefferson Davis. You know the war lasts for four years. You have two armies: the Union and the Confederacy. You know Succession was the official reason for starting the war, and ending slavery was the finishing of it. That's your hub.

All of the elements of the Civil War make great inspiration for multiversing. You can tell stories from the POV of any player, as long as you remain true to your hub (as in, Robert E. Lee doesn't defect to the Union in year two, unless you're writing Alternate History, in which case you can do whatever you like, as long as you carry the change through the entire conflict.) You can introduce all manner of conflicts behind the scenes of the battles, as long as the battles remain the same. You can even offer different, plausible spins on what did happen during the war, such as why Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine to fix bayonets and carry out a simultaneous frontal and flanking maneuver when their ammunition was running low at Gettysburg. For his heroism Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Some years later one of Chamberlain's subordinates claimed that he never issued that order. So let's imagine that guy was telling the truth. So, who did give the order? Why? What happened to him? Why did they cover it up by saying Chamberlain gave the order? Answering those questions builds a new universe atop the hub.

Now extend the same logic to other, significant events during the battles. What if one of the commanders of the Union army was a Confederate sympathizer? You can tailor your universes to your genre, too. Mystery writers, what if he was being blackmailed? Paranormal writers, what if he was a vampire, a werewolf, or a seer? Romance writers, what if he was in love with a female Confederate spy? Or a runaway slave who had just been captured by the other side? The possibilities are literally endless.

One final bit of advice: the more universes you layer atop a hub world, the more details you have to carry over into the next installment. So create a universe bible or running timeline to keep track of the details that have to stay true. If in the first universe you make all the soldiers carry silver bayonets to kill werewolf opponents, for example, then silver bayonets have to become standard equipment in every successive universe you build on the same hub. What changes has to be carried through, so consider carefully what you want to alter. If you have Robert E. Lee defect to the Union halfway through the war, then obviously he's not going to lead the Confederacy into any more battles. Unless they send him back to work as a Union spy. See, there's always a way to top a universe with another one.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Quilt Update

In my One Thing post I showed you a pile of fabric that scared me; here's the pieced quilt top I made out of it. I cut all of the pieces on an 18" cutting mat and sewed it freehand on my Singer. I faced the demon and stitched it into submission. It took me almost a week.

And it's lovely, and fulfilling, and looks a lot like Minecraft, am I right? Yeah, that was my first thought, too. Oh well.

I make one big quilt every year, and this will definitely be that. It's huge. At one point I had the whole thing in my lap while adding the last rows because it's too large for my work table, and I was almost buried in fabric. I still worried the whole time I was stitching, but the making of a quilt brings on this calming determination in me that let me get through the nervous jitters.

There's always good and bad in every project. Like too many light- and medium-gray spaces in this, despite my adding some prints. Some of my piecing is off-kilter, for which I have to blame my inability to cut fabric straight. When you're trying to cut a 27-1/2" rectangle on an 18" mat, things get crooked. I also had to fudge some seams. But that's okay. I'm planning to do a little embroidery work in the big blank areas. My piecing is always a little skewed, and my seams are never perfectly matched. I still love all the green, and the fish, wood and stone panels make me very happy. It's not too far from the quilt I saw in my head.

I'm proud of myself for trying. I won't let this quilt go until it's finished, even if it ends up looking like an advertisement for Minecraft, because that's how stubborn I am.

I'm not afraid of this quilt anymore. It actually made me laugh when I spread the finished top out for the first time, and saw nothing but Minecraft. My daughter loves that game, as it happens. And it's funny that it resembles it. If it still does when I finished quilting and binding it, so be it.

I'll enjoy the process. I'll finish what I've started. And I will learn from this quilt, just as I have all the others I've made.

No one can give you creative freedom; you have to pursue it. Fear and doubt will try to stop you from attaining your goals, always. We don't want what we do to end up being a bad joke. But sometimes it does anyway. Nothing ventured etc.

I'll keep you all updated as I continue to work on it, and let you see the end results.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Whatcha Reading

I haven't had much time lately for pleasure reading, but I have knocked out a couple of books by two of my favorite authors this month.

The first is Someone to Care by Mary Balogh, the newest novel in her Westcott series. This one tells the story of Viola Kingsley, the former Countess of Riverdale, who is the mother of many of the characters in the series. Throughout the saga Viola has been the most interesting character to me, as she was the primary victim of her dead husband's bigamy. The revelation of that in the first book instantly made all her kids illegitimate, took away all their titles, ruined their futures, destroyed her and her family's standing among the ton, etc. If anyone should be beyond pissed by the lying bastard's duplicity, it's Viola.

She's managed to hold onto her dignity, but finally breaks at the very beginning of this story and takes off, leaving her troubled family behind to finally get some alone time. I sent up a silent cheer, chapter one. Lord, what this woman has been through in the other books. Soon temporarily stranded at an inn in the middle of nowhere, Viola meets Marcel Lamarr, a cynical and dedicated womanizer who tempted and tried to seduce her two decades ago (she was married and told him to go away, and he went.) As you might guess the flame's still there, but this time Viola has no wedding ring or legit reason to resist it.

I won't spoil things by getting into the nuts and bolts, but it's already my favorite book of the series. I rarely use the term star-crossed lovers to refer to characters, but oy, Viola and Marc are definitely that. It also features older protagonists, which as an older real person I appreciate. Romance in later years is usually more interesting than the young stuff. The first chance at love in what is only very loosely a second chance at love plot is fun, too. There's lots of emotional turmoil, and in that regard I think it's some of her best writing. Highly recommend.

I had to read Heartless by Anne Stuart on the Kindle my guy got for me for free by redeeming some gift points so I could read another, Kindle-only title by Anne Stuart. Actually the only reason I will ever use a Kindle is for Anne Stuart, which should illustrate how devoted I am to her books. Anyone else and I wait for the paperback or read something else.

Heartless is an indy-published continuation of the author's very wicked House of Rohan series. It tells the story of two very damaged characters from those books, Brandon Rohan and Emma Cadbury, whom you might remember as secondaries from the cast of Shameless. They've both been through hell, so it's nice to see them get the chance to heal each other. You don't need to read the other books to follow their story, but you'll want to read them after you do. After I finished Heartless I got out the other four Rohan books and reread them just so I could revisit the old stories.

The House of Rohan series is not for everyone, especially readers who don't want sex in their romances. I do, but I mainly read Anne Stuart for the characters and the impossible situations she puts them in. She's the master of dark romantic conflict. Also, I like the dark aspects -- it's a nice change to see a terribly flawed protag who generally isn't the stuff of heroes. I get tired of the ones who seem to do nothing but suck up to the heroine. The sweet, loving perfect dude never appears in this author's work, and most definitely not in this series.

So whatcha reading? Let us know in comments.

Friday, May 18, 2018

One Thing

This pile of fabric looks harmless enough, right? Not when I look at it. It's the makings of a quilt I've wanted to create for about a year now, ever since I came across a pattern called Zen Garden. It's not a complicated pattern -- I'd say confident beginner level -- and it requires only skills I already possess to put together. I've practically memorized the pattern by reading it a couple hundred times. I worked it out in my head, and then on paper, and did the math involved and whatnot. Not a problem.

Only the more I looked at it, the more it became a problem. It's not what I thought of as a Zen garden. It was a boxy bunch of plain blocky rocks with a couple squares of color. What I really wanted to do was tweak the pattern, use more color and alter some of the design and fabric choices. I wanted weathered wood in my garden. More green, too, I love green. The fabrics would have to be very specific to what I saw in my head. I'd have to swap out two of the piecing steps and reinterpret the gray fabrics. I came up with major plans for the hand quilting, too -- hundreds of circles, like ripples on the still surface of a pool, instead of the recommended straight line work.

I couldn't leave well enough alone. Everyone else might be happy enough to follow the pattern faithfully; I wanted to take it in different directions. Story of my creative life, really. Where people see instructions, I see the gardens of possibilities just beyond them. And that scares me, and often I put it off because I think on some level I want to be like other people. Or I'm not as brave as I think. Or maybe I envy people who can follow a pattern without a problem. Sometimes I just procrastinate. Other times I end up paralyzed by doubt.

After going through another bout of temporary blindness and being robbed this year I'm tired of being scared of the things I want to do. How long have I got left to do them, anyway? So I've finally gathered the fabric and and started cutting. I've another day or two of that, and then I'll begin piecing.

Now, that little bitch of doubt in my head is already sneering that I've used too much green -- and she thinks it's acid green, not the spring green I see. Also, just FYI, she says the quilt will be a disaster because I suck at cutting precisely with my arthritic hands. Doubt thinks instead I should work on the other kit quilt I bought (and follow the damn directions.)

I don't care what Doubt thinks. If it's more acid than spring green, great. If it ends up crookedly pieced because I cut badly, fine. I'm doing one thing that scares me because I want it more than I want to be scared of it. I'm making this quilt the way I see it in my head. I'm not sewing this quilt for Doubt. I'm creating my vision. I'm doing this for me.

Now apply that to writing, scuplting, painting -- anything creative thing you want to do -- and do it. That's my message today. Do the one thing that scares you, in the exact way you want to do it, because only you can -- and you aren't immortal.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Epiphanies

Aside from getting through a couple of disastrous months, I've been working on refining my writing process. My primary motivation for messing with my methods was to boost my productivity, but I've also clung to some old-school habits that really belong in the bottom of a tar pit, such as sticking strictly to paper for everything but composition.

It's tough to let go of putting everything on paper, and I have seventy-one books' worth of rough draft/edited/final manuscripts, novel notebooks and research materials in my closets to prove it. I love every towering pile of my paper stuff, too, and I will keep some of it for posterity, if only to amuse future generations. But even a dinosaur like me has to admit that keeping electronic files instead of printing out everything is faster, cheaper and more efficient. When I learned a good friend has gone entirely electronic, I decided to do the same. Much, much easier.

Going all-digital led to another epiphany. Since nearly losing eight years of my writing in a computer disaster I've been religious about backing up everything I write to multiple hard drives, CDs, memory sticks and anywhere else I could put it -- daily, and sometimes hourly. Backing up is great at first. Then you begin to accumulate backed up stuff. I now have a lovely collection of about 684 memory sticks, a million CDs, and countless obsolete towers that I'm afraid to erase because I haven't had time to look through every file to assure I did back up all of those. After twenty years as a pro my back-ups are mountainous, and last year Irma really had me worried about what would happen to them if we did lose the house to some disaster.

The solution was pretty easy: backing up the entirety to a secure offsite file storage service. For about a hundred bucks a year everything I've ever written now remains backed up in secured storage, away from my house, and accessible only by those I trust. I've also made one master copy that I keep in another place that shall remain nameless. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, the writing will survive me in my books. But now if my house burns down or gets leveled by a hurricane, I won't lose twenty years of backups.

Another major change I've made to my process is changing when and how I work. Over time I've gradually migrated from being a night writer to an early morning writer. I'd do other things in the morning, too, which sometimes ate into my writing time or distracted me. Now the first thing I do after I wake up and soak my head in a vat of tea is write my daily scheduled quota. I use the Pomodoro Timer to remind me to get up and stretch regularly, and to have breakfast and lunch breaks, but other than that I don't stop writing until I hit quota. The big bonus is that when I am done writing, I have the rest of the day to do whatever I want.

Being an empty nester now it's easier for me to devote mornings and early afternoons to the work. There was also an immediate benefit I didn't count on: without the distractions and multi-tasking I started writing faster and cleaner. Because I'm no longer scattering my household tasks in with my writing I get my chores done quicker and better, too.

Finally (and mainly because my guy retired last month) I made one new, not-to-be-broken rule about my work time. If my home office door is open, anyone can interrupt me at any time. If it's closed, anyone can interrupt me only if there's a major emergency. Major as in the house is about to burn down, there's a burglar on the premises, an asteroid is close to hitting the planet, etc. I leave my door open most of the time, but if I'm in the middle of something that needs all my attention, then I close it for an hour or two. So far my guy has been great about respecting this one rule, too. As I'm now our sole source of unfixed income, and he's home to actually see everything I do all day, he understands my busy schedule better. I think he's realized at last that I do have a real job, and I need to have the time/space/focus to do it well.

Have you had any epiphanies lately that have improved what you do at home or work? Let us know in comments.