Monday, August 14, 2017

Senseless Violins

Man, my playing is bad.

I got in a good practice session today. Did nothing but try to get the bow straight, relax my death grip on the neck, get the right pressure on the stroke, and cross the strings over a scale.

A fascinating thing for me is how much it isn't like learning to ride a bicycle. There isn't a magical moment where you finally get the motion right, and after that it is much easier. The motion is always hard. You are always having to control weird little noises. The bow is always bouncing. You fingers are never perfectly on the desired pitch. Instead of not having to worry about those things, what you gain over the many hours of practice is skill in dealing with all these things as they happen.

So, yeah, the fact that you are consciously having the same problems but doing a better job of hiding them makes you your own worst critic. But I think I have enough background in listening to, mixing, working with musicians to recognize what a certain level of ability entails in the way of cleanliness of articulation, focus of tone, accuracy of pitch, and adherence to tempo.

Writing is an oddly similar task. You will always be aware of where the problems are, and only get better at hiding them from the reader. And there is an equivalent of muscle memory. Over the first years or first 100,000 words or whatever you have to keep stopping to check that you are in the right tense, the consistent POV. You are measuring paragraphs and counting lines so the pacing is consistent and there's a good balance of dialog and description. And, yes, outlining in great detail.

And over the next 100,000 words that stuff becomes basically instinctive. You can still pull it to awareness at any time, and tweak and adjust to meet the needs of the story, but you don't have to step out of the flow in order to make your verbs agree or check the Oxford Commas.

Which is good, because I've gone a little crazy on my current writing.

I'm excited again about writing for publication. The story I'm tinkering on won't take massive research or world-building and I have hopes I can get it done in a year.

But I do want to complete the Tomb Raider/Stargate crossover and put that away, rather than leaving it on a back-burner. So I'm adjusting the outline to let me conclude within the next four chapters (which, at my historical rate of progress, is about four months!)

And I also got re-invested on a simpler piece, "Sam I Am." A fluffy piece, first-person POV through the snarky, profanity-laced voice of a secondary character from the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. The only research I've been doing is looking up titles and directors of documentaries (it is a running gag; Samantha is canonically a documentary film-maker, so I've turned this into her version of the Junior Woodchuck's Guidebook; whatever the plot needs her to know, she conveniently remembers the details from a documentary she saw once.)

This would be so much simpler if I had my strength. Cardiologist is supposed to be contacting me this week. With luck, when he sticks a camera in there he'll find something that we can actually fix. Until then, I'm taking long naps immediately following work and there go all my productive hours....

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Can he swing? Listen, Bud, he's got radioactive blood

Well, not any more. Technetium 99m has a half-life of only six hours, and in any case a biological half-life of about a day.

I should really be logging this stuff. As of my blog entry of the 28th I was feeling full of energy. As of three days ago I've been in a slump again. Not helped by the cardiac and nuclear (well, also cardiac, but using gamma camera imaging) stress tests. Still, I'm dogging it out at work and putting in almost a full shift.

(And I'm going to feel a lot better -- one way or another) when I finally get the test results back.)

After four weeks of emails and phone calls I finally got the parts to repair my U-base. The wrong parts, turns out. But fortunately I'd thought to "throw in" a part I didn't think I needed. Which was of course the actual part at fault. So now I just have to decide whether to put the old pre-amp back in, or modify the bass to fit the new pre-amp, which sounds better and has a built-in tuner.

Hrm. Stated that way, it seems obvious. I just don't have a lot of time to be messing around with modifications. I'm having enough trouble finding time to keep up on my practicing.

Oh, and got offered another show. Lighting design for a new adaptation of Dracula. Even though I've been avoiding taking on any theater design work this year, I'll probably do this one.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Those who do not learn history...

...have an easier time writing a quick novel?

The character Sam Starfall (from the webcomic Freefall) once said, "My lies are more convincing when I don't know what's impossible."

Back when I was hacking out an artwork or two with Poser and Bryce (anyone remember Bryce3d? The textures were legendary. So were the render times) I was a member of a 3d art forum. And the same conversation came up over and over again; a (usually young) artist complaining they didn't want to learn perspective, color theory, the other basics of traditional art. Their stated reason? Because that would negatively impact their ability to bring out their own, unique, vision.

My usual rejoinder is that yes, Outsider Art is a thing, but most of us benefit from learning the rules before we go around breaking them.

But, as I get deeper and deeper into history, archaeology, and the classics, I'm starting to have more sympathy for the "Sam Starfall" school.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Roadie for the Elves

Enough fanfic. I'm ready to get back to a "real" novel.

I had an idea a little while back that got as far as an outline. And that's where it stumbled; the outline revealed I only had half a story. I like the setup, there's some fun ideas, but I don't know how to develop it.

(There's also a research problem. The setup is, baldly, that the Fair Folk are real, a group of refugees cane to the modern world...and they went into folk music. Which is not a new conceit (star example being Emma Bull's The War for the Oaks) but is still a silly fun idea. Trouble is, most people that would tackle this as an idea would know their folk music (particularly Celtic) and know their Irish and other folk tales. I've been exposed to the stuff but I'm only a quarter Irish by birth and a lot less by inclination. This just isn't, for me, writing from experience.)

(Of course my POV character is writing from experience. I could expound endlessly on live sound (like I do in these pages) but in a work of fiction -- urban fantasy adventure fiction with a comic twist -- a little of that goes a long way. )

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Moon Over Buffalo

Another old design.

This time I'm using Shotcut, a freeware video editor. Much nicer than iMovie for this sort of thing. It lacks the ability to do audio ducking or similar, but that's okay -- I would have spliced all the audio together  in Audacity or Reaper anyway, if I wasn't dealing with a bad mic and poor recording conditions anyhow.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


(Diary-entry post deleted in favor of more rambling about writing.)

So, research. I find research fun. Sometimes more fun than doing the book. There's at least two phases of it, and that first phase -- the background and familiarization phase -- is more like what you'd do to unwind than it is like work. That's the part of just looking at a lot of materials -- popular-press and fictionalized are just as good here -- to get a general sense of the material.

It's great because you can do this sort of stuff in the background, immersing yourself in the material while eating, at work, getting ready for bed, etc.

The final -- loosely put -- phase is the least fun, and that's when in the middle of typing up a scene you have to pause and go back over your collated notes and bookmarks and whatever to put in the correct spelling of the Pharaoh's name and the correct dates of her reign.

The latter is one of the reasons why it can be helpful to write up your research; to put together a monograph (or whatever you want to call a distillation of what you've found). Another big reason is that organizing it and writing an essay on it helps you to better grasp and remember it. Which is why students have to write so many of the things).

But what I really wanted to talk about is the pleasures of applying that research.

At the lowest level, there's knowing you are getting the names and dates right. I'm tempted to call this Wikipedia-level stuff, except that Wikipedia has gotten so crazy detailed over the last few years someone needs to step in and fork out a more entry-level approach for the general audience.

Better than this is four-senses stuff. It isn't quite as simple to find out what the colors or the sounds, much less the scents and tastes are (well, depending on what you are researching!) This is stuff that draws a reader into a setting much more than just naming the city.

More work yet -- and more payoff -- is a layer I'd call functionality. I could also call it the place where the nouns live. In your outline framework your character might sheath their weapon or hail a cab or button a shirt. When you've done the research, you know that you don't sheath an axe, the better casual transport option in Bangkok is the Tuk-Tuk, and there's no buttons on a wetsuit.

This isn't about errors, per se. This is about how the minutia of picking up and purchasing, strolling or hiding, or whatever functional things need to be done to get the character through the stages of the plot, unfold differently in different fields, with different tools, in different places. "Buy a burger" is a cheap way of covering, "in scene six the protagonist eats something"; good research will option up the option to have them "Haggle over a kebab at a street stall."

Better than that are the things writer Even S. Connel called "pickled plums." These are the bits that are so specific and yet so illuminating, things that could only have happened in the specific circumstances you are researching about. During one early Arctic expedition, it was so cold out that the moment the diarist (Cherry-Girard, I believe) stuck his head out of the heated tent his outer clothing froze "instantly," trapping his head in a screwed-around position, and he had to struggle through the whole morning like that.

My own pinpoint observation of extreme cold came on a glacier in Alaska when the moisture on my eyelashes froze. It was a quietly alien moment, gently astonishing as so far outside one's usual experience. I even thought I heard faint chimes as the bits of ice rang off each other with each blink (but I was almost certainly imagining that).

As delightful as the plums are, above that is where you are able to resynthesize. In all the other stuff, you are basically regurgitating. You've found a description that said "The color of fried tomatoes" or "a short walk from the pier." The best fun is when you've done enough research where you can come up with your own description from scratch. Where you can apply your own emotional response and parallels from your own experience to approach describing the thing.

And, also, when your understanding of it is so organic you are no longer dropping in the correct nouns and adjectives, but where the entire scene is shaped by the specifics of a thing or task or environment or character.

In short, 180 from the stereotypical "hollywood" approach (aka script first, then distort the real world to fit the existing plot).

Oh, yeah. diary stuff. I'm increasingly excited about composing again, getting in my instrument practice and music theory studies, but I need to set up, before I set up I need to clean, before I clean I need to put the holocron project to bed. This afternoon is about soldering up another set of boards, and I have hopes that I'll be able to keep focus long enough to get some detail painting in as well; two tasks my health woes and work schedule did not permit.

Friday, July 28, 2017

It's good to have coverage


This week I've had four blood draws, two x-rays, an EKG, optometry/ophthalmology exam, an interview with a cardiologist and an emergency tooth extraction.

The last meaning I'm eating soft foods all weekend.

But other than a rotten tooth, I appear to be disgustingly healthy. In celebration of that I even got out to the gym earlier in the week.

Now if they could just figure out where the fatigue is coming from....