One Thing Done (For Now.) The Article Has Been Submitted!

I’ve just submitted my article for review. What a great feeling! I have no doubt that if it is picked up, there will be a great deal more work to do, but for now I feel content that I have done my part to advance the state of the world by one little step. For now, though, I will sit back, enjoy the peace for a night before getting stuck right into the thick again to keep moving my other projects forward. As you’ll recall, there was a kids book with a bunch of unsavory orks that I had to relegate to a dark corner of my office for the past several months.

No rest for the wicked!

 

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On expanding your toddler’s vocabulary – You know you got it right when…

Monstres: A great kids’ book.

A few weeks ago, we bought a gorgeously-illustrated story for our toddler. Monstres from Édition Nathan is a wonderful story of a little boy embarking on a quest to find the ingredients needed to brew a potion to heal an ailing dragon. Since it’s a kid’s book, I won’t go on any longer since I’ve already covered a significant portion of the plot as it stands.

It caught my wife’s eye at the book store and I have to admit that I think I spend more time taking in the brilliant illustrations than my son does — and he looks at it a lot. The book depicts a wide menagerie of fantasy monsters in a cartoony style reminiscent of what a Pixar movie would look like in 2D. It has been a great opportunity to plant the seed of wonder in my boy’s mind.

Yesterday, I managed to get him to babble on about dinosaurs, trolls, ogres, krakens, dragons, and skeletons (not all depicted in the book, but what the heck, it’s always good to get some value added for bedtime stories.) Today we started working on goblin. Not bad considering he still has a while to go before he makes it to three years of age.

The best part about it all is that though the book tries to create some dramatic tension by making some of the monsters adversaries, others are allies. Best of all, a little kid can overcome the mightiest of mythical beasts. My wife and I aren’t presenting any of these creatures as something to be afraid of, so there have been no issues with nightmares, and hopefully it will prime him to be receptive to diversity as he grows up. It incidentally blends in with the general concept of the book I’m in the process of writing, so it is nice to see the concept pop up elsewhere.

If I end up writing about my son the basket case at some point down the line, or decides that wearing elf ears to work is an acceptable fashion choice, I guess you’ll be able to point to this as a potential cause. Sheesh, parents can never win!

Sketching – Nasty Grunt

A nasty grunt.

A nasty grunt.

This charming chap tumbled onto my electronic sketchbook a while ago. The sketch arose as part of a stream of consciousness exercise I was running on a page to help me come up with some ideas for a story. As I doodled on, the concept for my upcoming book took form in my mind. A little cross-disciplinary creativity can work wonders for generating ideas.

Keeping perspective – when orks fight

The young reader’s short novel I am working on right now is progressing nicely. I manage to get a a little writing in every day. This helps me keep my momentum up while letting ideas simmer and brew in the back of my mind for the next day’s typing. I rattled out the lines below as part of last night’s writing. They are still an early draft, but I am quite pleased with the pacing and growing tension.

“If I had a moment to think about it, I would have one last forlorn thought for my axe. Instead, I scoop up Grork’s sturdy steel shield as I dash past it. It was forged by the finest Steel Ork smiths of Krimlork. It isn’t pretty to look at, but is almost as tough as basilisk scale. It is also heavy, which is perfect for what I have to do next. I brace my shoulder firmly against it and duck my head low. Another step carries me into the creature’s side.

The impact rattles my tusks. It is like I have charged into the very mountain wall beyond the tent. After what feels like an eternity later, I hear the creature grunt from our collision, and we begin tumbling to the ground. Our trajectory takes us over my father’s cot. I briefly catch a look of complete surprise in his eyes as he glimpses both of us sailing over his bed space.

We land in a heap. I try to roll to my feet, but I get tripped up in my father’s things. The creature is much quicker than I am despite its enormous bulk. It springs upright and grabs a hold of my chest with a massive paw. It is also apparently much stronger than I. I struggle in vain as its vice-like grip begins to crush my throat and ribs. It rears its other mighty hand back, its fist clenched and ready to cave in my head. Despite the infamous thickness of our skulls, I suspect this beast will have no more difficulty squashing me into a pulp than it would a grape.”

I’ve always been one to see things from outside the box, so when I decided I’d write a fantasy-themed book, I approached things from a different direction. There are tons of stories out there that relate the epic accomplishments of the likes of dwarven, elvish, and human adventurers. I haven’t really found anything about the world as seen by orks. This is my attempt to populate that space, and generate a new set of adventures.

Writing a story is an endurance event

Persistence pays off, even for Orks.

There’s still a lot of work that has to get done, but as the illustrations roll in, and I close in on my draft’s last few chapters, I get a sense that persistence will pay off.

I plan to keep posting excerpts on a periodic basis. If you have any thoughts or comments, please let me know. I will incorporate any helpful feedback, making it a stronger, more legible offering.

Finding inspiration for my illustrated book – It’s a process

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

When I set out to write my book, I had in mind a short picture book for kids to flip through and enjoy a fantasy encyclopedia of sorts. It was to have a dual purpose by providing sufficiently detailed illustrations to allow adults to flip through the pages and enjoy a rich visual story, perhaps drawing them back to time when life was simpler and they could take the time to let their minds wander through their imaginations.

My first step was to collate the various notes I’ve scribbled on notepads, notebooks, napkins, recorded in word processors, and other indescribable media over the years to pry out some useful ideas. A healthy dose of goofy imagery courtesy of the doodles I generate so that I can keep my ephemeral attention focused during long meetings helped crystallize a concept in my mind. I then mashed all of these together into a rough outline hitting the key characters I wanted to talk about in the story.

I had started collating some of my notes in a Word file many years ago, but had since migrated my computer to an Apple system. I’d never obtained Word for the Mac, since I had been using Apple’s “Pages” software for my shorter work projects. It’s a nice program, but does not handle large texts with numerous illustrations very well. At least, the version I bought back in 2007 with my computer does not like them at all. It isn’t very good at organizing information, either. I therefore searched the internet for a resource that would help me bring order to the chaos of my notes and help me visualize my story’s structure. I happened upon “Scrivener” a short while ago, and I must say that I am thankful for the way in which it allows me to coerce my information from a shapeless mass into a structured, if nascent, text.

I then built little blurbs for each of these characters and generated an art brief that I would be able to provide an illustrator to share my vision and inspire his or her work. These came together in the form of a project work description that I placed on Freelancer. I was surprised by the level of interest that the diverse community of artists that resides there showed for my project. In particular, a few artists rose above the crowd and became active participants in my writing efforts by coaching me through the Freelancer process and their perspectives on the nature of the work I was asking. In particular, Kenneth “Canifu”, and JJ Zhang were extremely helpful. I am humbled by their talent and their generous sharing of information. In the end, I settled with Art Corod because of the original vision he proposed and his inexhaustible enthusiasm. I may discuss my Freelancer experience and lessons learned in a later post.

After a short process of nailing down the visual style and going over specific project requirements, we set off on our grand adventure. The great thing about writing this book is that I am keeping my child in mind as the primary reader. Even though he probably won’t be able to fully appreciate it for several more years, I show him Art’s preliminary work and ask him which he prefers. As it turns out, a toddler can be pretty opinionated. This particular one appears to have a certain sense of aesthetics which is useful to the book’s art direction as well.

Somewhere along the way, my wife looked at the text I’d put together so far and asked: “Is that it?”

I could have immediately felt crestfallen, but instead sought her insight. She correctly pointed out that a young reader in the range I was designing this book for would be seeking more than fifteen to twenty pages of a fantasy hinterland’s wilderness observer’s guide. They would be seeking a story. At about the same time we were having this discussion, my illustrator sent me a wonderful landscape. You can see a small crop of the image at the top of this post

Although the image was unfinished, the amount of detail was astounding. Within its lines, a wealth of potential adventures played out. A light bulb lit so brightly in my mind that my brain is still sunburned. I was going to use the illustrations that Art was providing me as the inspiration for each of the book’s chapters. Just as I had provided the visual artist with just enough of an impulse to generate these rich images, the illustrations were going to serve as the catalyst for my stories.

Our collaboration has now become even closer, as both writer and illustrator rely on each other to develop the next story thread. As I receive an image, I quickly hammer out the corresponding chapter and feed it back to Art so that he can see where the story is going. This helps him come up with new ideas with which to populate his images, which in turn inspire the details to subsequent chapters. The main plot line will be unlikely to change much, but the detail that makes a story live and breathe will get richer with each passing illustration.

I am looking forward to the next image!

On managing information flow in the social age

Although I’ve been using the internet to answer deep questions since before it ran on a graphic user interface, I’m only a recent adopter of social media. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on Facebook for what the young ‘uns would consider “like, forever dude” or whatever the appropriate contemporary expression would be. I’ve even had my Twitter account for a while. However, other than sharing pokes and funny cat images, I haven’t done much in the way of exploring the potential that is represented in all the world’s punctual information flow which is now available at my fingertips.

Now that I’ve had some first hand experience with the challenges involved with getting one’s word out there (WARNING SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY FATHER’S BOOK THE GENIUS CRUCIBLE: http://www.amazon.ca/The-Genius-Crucible-ebook/dp/B00AQ8WKQ8), and have spent some time reading the advice of other authors, I am becoming aware of social media’s power to vehicle messages of importance. The general consensus is that time judiciously spent on the likes of Twitter and Facebook are an investment that will pay off in terms of exposure. In the case of The Genius Crucible, we came at it late in the game. The Twitter profile is growing, and has some great discussions with fascinating people, but I remain unconvinced of its effect on the book itself.

I’ve therefore rolled these lessons into my latest outing, my personal profile, so that I may experiment and see what really does make social media tick. I’ve come across profiles that claim to have attracted dozens to hundreds of followers by the end of their first week by selecting and aggressively pursuing a niche. Strangely, many of these niches involve “get rich fast and easy” printed in ginormous letters across the screen, or spend their effort debating the latest pet fur style for random Hollywood celebrity X. I’ve always had a wide range of interests, and there is no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I will ever get into celebrity gossip, so I forge my own path at the potential cost of millions of adulating fans and followers. Oh well.

Before I carry on too much further and lose my train of thought, I believe it is appropriate to share this wonderful and yet creepy site I’ve just stumbled across: http://www.gowhunk.com/cnut/ . If you ever wonder whether anyone can hear what you shout across the digital ether, this is proof if I’ve ever seen it. It’s certainly a variation on a Twitter search, but presented in a much more manageable manner, especially if the default search query is changed manually in the browser address bar. Used for good, this can be invaluable. Used for ill, as semi-humourously suggested by the title, I believe it can lead to significant negative consequences. However, enough on that, back to the whole point of this entry.

So what is my main lesson so far? Manage information overload! I’ve found that it can become incredibly time consuming to follow up on conversations, manage blog entries, finding new and noteworthy things to Tweet or blog about. Even with the extremely limited following I have so far, I can easily get sucked into rabbit holes that keep me from doing the essential thing that all of this activity is about in the first place: writing.

I wish I had a solution to offer so far. It would be easy to advise you, dear reader, that you should only spend a certain amount of well-defined time per day working the social networks while dedicating the rest to working the story. However, in a world where everyone considers information that is hours old as ancient, there is a steady pressure to keep a watchful eye on current events. Current events as in seconds old. The days when a news bulletin could talk only about what happened in the day, or Heaven forbid a weekly recap appear to be rapidly receding into the distance. Again, I must be ancient. With the constant torrent of social information carving its way through the digital realm, it is true that an invaluable pearl could be missed if it is not caught as it falls from someone’s enlightened mind, buried in the flow of re-tweeted goat screams, hilarious as they may be.

What also boggles my mind are those with profiles who are following not tens, not hundreds, but thousands of people. I cannot imagine how they pick anything out of the flow. By the time their eyes have settled on a message, there could have been another hundred come in. By the time they are done reading it, who knows? How do they do it? Do they have a team of ghost tweeters there to keep the image up?

All of this to say that I welcome your comments with ideas as how to best manage these powerful tools. As I get more insight, I will expand the article to serve as a resource to all.

In the meantime, back to writing a picture book for kids!