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.

On fostering memories and dreams

Children love this thing.

My son is undoubtedly like the rest of his cohort: brilliant, joyful, above average in every possible way, and a rabid fan of Thomas the Tank Engine, and of Dora the Explorer.

As a result of his near-obsessive preoccupation for all things Thomas, our toddler has accumulated a hoard of  locomotive toys, baubles, and gizmos. He most recently acquired a small, red-trimmed, powder blue backpack with his favorite smiling tank engine plastered across the back. He took some interest in it, but really had no idea what to do with his latest acquisition. Until this morning.

He decided he would go exploring, so I drew a map up with a black ballpoint pen on a sheet of folio paper. I then rolled it up into his backpack and let him discover the parchment. When he found it, his eyes lit up. He ran around the house waving his map in the air, his little feet thumping frenetically on the wooden floor to rush from mother to father and back again to show us his map. I had even taken the time to draw Dora’s little map character on the page, lest there be confusion as to the document’s purpose.

My boy then spent the next hour going from room to room, taking his back pack off, unzipping it, unfolding his map to check it, packing it up again, and heading off to his next destination.

With any luck, this small act will remain with him as a magical moment marking his childhood for the rest of his life.

I guess I’d better start saving up for when he decides to hike out to the Amazon and get some real exploring done.

My son the astronaut (someday?)

My boy loves rocket ships.

One of his favorite activities before bedtime is to run around in circles yelling “Papa, rockay-ship. WHOOSH!” He punctuates the statement by thrusting his arm up into the air and smiling broadly.

We have a set of one-piece pajamas with classic cartoon rocket ships printed all over. The kind with the awesome foot-to-chin zippers that make life so easy. He loses his mind if he sees them lying clean in his closet, because he wants to wear them so badly, whether to go to bed, or simply run around the house in.

He is lunar lunatic. He will diligently point out the moon every time he sees it, day or night. Indeed, he points it out even when it is hidden behind an overcast sky, has fallen below the horizon, or is simply the reflection of a kitchen light in the window.

The excited stream of “Moon! Moon, MOON, MOON, MUH-MOON, papa!” is at once cute and oddly frustrating. Particularly after the fifteenth time it has been babbled in the span of a few heartbeats. However, it highlights the wonder that we should all have when we ponder the nature of the universe. The fact that we have a large, spherical lump of rock spinning close enough over our heads every day that we can make out major features with the naked eye humbles me to this very day.

I can understand why my toddler is fascinated. I have no doubt that like countless others, myself included, the nascent desire to be an astronaut is slowly taking shape in his mind.

The difference is that this generation may actually have a greater opportunity to reach for the stars than any of us have before. With commercial endeavors in asteroid mining and even a proposed Mars colony by 2023 (yes, I know, there are significant technical hurdles to be overcome, but where there’s a will, there’s often a way; never mind the debate on whether it is right to wreck another planet since we can’t handle our own), prospects for such opportunities are looking up.

Maybe my kid will end up being an astronaut after all.

Moonfall

Is that the Moon falling?

Yesterday evening, I took my son for a stroll to the local park. It’s still covered in thick layer of snow and ice, but that doesn’t stop the little one from loving taking the short walk down the hill to vent some energy there. Thanks to the lengthening days, the moon shone brightly in the still-bright sky.

One of his favorite things to do is to push the stroller along. He still isn’t very tall, but  seems to pack some serious strength in his little arms and legs, so he can really get it rolling quickly. He stopped suddenly and looked over his shoulder towards the sky.
“Moon! Tombé (fall!)” He shouted out in a bilingual mix of fevered excitement and mild concern.

With this, he turned his attention back to the stroller and took off at a brisk clip.

Thus began a prolonged stretch of running, stopping, looking at the sky and shouting “Moon! Tombé”  Surprise tinged his voice each time. I imagine he pictured himself running away from the falling Moon as Indiana Jones did from his giant boulder.

Being the great father that I am, I did not disabuse him from this notion. I want to see where his active imagination will take him. Eventually, we made it to the park where he had a grand old time playing in the snow-encrusted slides and tossing (well, carrying them over to my feet) snowballs at his old man. Some time later, it started getting dark and it was time to go home. As we were packing up to leave the park, he looked up to the sky once more and pointed. “Moon, Papa!” He smiled,  laughed, and hopped into his stroller.

I guess he knew the sky wasn’t falling after all.

On toddlers and experimenting with food

My boy has been a fan of sushi since day one. Well, not quite day one, but he’s been eagerly munching down on sushi almost as long as he’s been eating solid food.

Mind you, we stick to the vegetarian or cooked tidbits for him so we can avoid any issues with parasites.

His tastes vary from being a veritable garbage compactor, capable of wolfing down any remotely-organic, and possibly otherwise repugnant material within reach, to princess-like daintiness, so fussy he can eat nothing more than a wafer cracker served on a platinum plate served with a side of Himalayan peach jam carried across the Atlantic on the back of a golden raft pulled by penguins. Bringing home a box of takeout inevitably leads to an excited dance, lots of jumping around, and a constant stream “SUSSI! SUSSI! SUSSI!” joyously blaring through the house.

Tonight, he noticed the bright green glob of grainy goo on the platter for the first time. We typically encourage him to try new things, but when he eagerly pointed to it and announced: “Ça! (That)”, we thought he might actually benefit from a little moderation. Wasabi is definitely an acquired taste, and goodness knows how potent it is to young taste buds. Heavens knows it packs enough of a kick for a grown up, never mind the firestorm it could unleash on sensitive papillae. He insisted on having a taste anyway.

Now, there are few moments in life where one can go about their business and truly regret not having been there to see it. I was up by the sink preparing a cloth with which to clean my boy up when my lovely spouse gave him a healthy dose of the green stuff. This was one of those moments. I wish I was five feet from where I was with a camera. Heck, a whole recording studio with James Cameron filming in 3D would probably have been appropriate for what has been reported to be one of the most memorable facial expressions to be produced by a human being in the past thousand years. And I missed it.

Apparently, it took about two seconds of happy chewing before he noticed something was wrong. Then, a little shudder, a faint but rapid quivering of the eyelids, followed rapidly by a slight flushing of the face. “Thbptbpt!” A quick spit to get rid of the offending condiment. Hands flailed hysterically for two to three seconds. He then frowned, pointed intently at the wad of wasabi waiting patiently on the tray and proclaimed:”Pas ça! (Not that!)” His cute short form for I don’t like that was unmistakable.

The wasabi sting rapidly faded into the background thanks to the timely arrival of a maple cookie for desert. Nothing but smiles and giggles from there on in.

The road to culinary appreciation is paved with failed experiments. Time will tell whether he’ll be back for the green goo of gasping any time soon.

On Toddlers’ Acting Abilities

My toddler, the apple of my eye, is quite an actor. I suspect he may already be in the running for an Academy Award.

The little bugger.

He used to be so good at letting us brush his teeth. Yet, in the past few months, his constant gagging and choking would inevitably lead my wife to frown and look at me pointedly as I dutifully tried to polish his pearly whites. “Be careful! You’re being too rough.” The admonishment soon became a refrain. I even began to feel guilty about my horrendous attempts at maintaining the little one’s oral hygiene.

“Gack! Hack! Cough! Cough! COUGHCOUGHCOUGH!” The wheezing, teary-eyed child squirmed and wriggled furiously.

“Just a little bit more, my boy, and then we’re done. Sit still! Come back here. Turn around. Look up. Look down. Not that far down!”

“Raaarh! Ahak! Blehbptptpttppppth! Waaaaaaah!” The screams resonated painfully in our small bathroom.

I must have earned the torturer of the month merit badge a few times over simply by holding up a tiny yellow and red toothbrush with a pixie-sized dollop of paste adorning its transparent bristles.

Then it happened. I moved the toothbrush to his mouth, but for some strange vagary of fate hesitated.

“Gahaheeek! Cough! Cough! Cou…” Teary eyes slowly widened, and his mouth widened into a beaming smile that shouted “you caught me, papa!”

Indeed.

We both broke out laughing.

I am certain this isn’t the first time I’ve been outsmarted by my boy. It certainly won’t be the last. Maybe I’ll put his skill to good use and toss him into acting school. Or maybe he’ll go for political studies. Such raw talent would make him a brilliant politician.

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!