Saturday, January 17, 2009

Captcha 2: In Which The Adventure Commences or Huzzah! The Creative Process Revealed!



So I ran across a sketchbook that had some of my earliest adult attempts at drawing dinosaurs in it -- that's where yesterday's pictures came from. It's interesting to see the differences in the way I worked then as opposed to the way I work now. While these may not have to much credibility I kinda like them as drawings...

Here's a Gorgosaurus libratus, originally published in Prehistoric Times magazine.


So when I got home yesterday I went right up to my computer, opened up a word document, then stared at the screen until the surface of my eyes were dry and sticky. Then I went and read Cracked for a while.

Then I went downstairs and screamed at the missus that my imagination was failing me and I watched an episode of Mythbusters. (I adore Mythbusters.)

Then I thought about the way I'd totally blown off my last big project announcement and then sank into a slough of despond. So I girded my loins (which means I put on my sweatpants) and went upstairs and pointed a gun at my imagination and said, "Dance, you son of a bitch. Fucking dance!"

(I don't know about y'all but this is the single key moment in any creative project -- the point where your imagination has to either put up or shut up.)

At which point I started writing a scene with a pure collector and a bodysnatcher sharing a drink. Not a scene I was particularly enthusiastic about but it started me thinking. Their conversation suggested that there was some kind of gang war brewing among the pure collectors. What if the bodysnatcher had to dispose of a body? This setting seems kind of generic. What could liven it up?

So then I remembered some notes I have tucked away for a story called The Hangman's Bride which had a setting I thought of as Oz noir.

Hmmm. Oz noir...

And then I had a sequence flash through my head, a little mental cinema of von Frankenstein looking at one of his failed experiments and wondering what the hell to do with it, passing it to the bodysnatcher who he'd purchased the parts from, and then when the bodysnatcher's cart is surrounded by an angry mob the body in the back of the cart gets up...

Now in Frankenstein you can take body parts, fasten them together and bring them to life. In Oz, you can take various inanimate objects, fasten them together, and bring them to life.

Hmmmm. Now we've got something to work with. And the chapter flowed naturally from there. While I was writing, any time I had a concept I wanted to use a Captcha name for I just plugged in a stand-in word and when I was done writing I went to my list and picked out the words I really wanted to use and then did a cut-and-replace in Word.

Then I took the words I'd used in the chapter and organized them into a little glossary and wrote in a few definitions -- and in some cases the definitions went beyond what was in the chapter, giving me more material to work with. Just to give you a taste, here's the glossary thus far.

Characters:

Coccho – A bodysnatcher’s animated coach; garrulous, philosophical, good-natured. A fool.

Fashu – An ancient sage, a master of the obvious, the father of clich├ęs. Currently long-dead, rumored to be a eunuch.

Flograt – A Sopshno bodysnatcher. Cruel and unethical, but service oriented and fond of his family. A villain but not a fool.

Letelie – A mad scientist/witch of high family, beautiful, crazy, aristocratic. A Mismot. Occasionally troubled by the fact that her will is not manifest in the natural order of things.

Patorti – Letelie’s childhood doll, now brought to life. A pretty porcelain face, a stained sack of a body, and more on her mind than she cares to discuss. Laboratory assistant, personal servant, confidant – no one knows Letelie better and no one has less reason to love her.

Settings:

Captcha – The island empire in which this story takes place. It is divided into four smaller kingdoms.
Galhoua – The green kingdom.
Mismot – The purple kingdom, Letelie’s home.
Sopshno – The yellow kingdom, where Flograt’s people came from.
Tuding – The blue kingdom.

Ovento – The ruby city, the capital of Captcha. A scarlet bubble of aristocratic blood surrounded by a broad scab of slums. A grim town but you can party there.


Creatures:

Mislin – A form of small bipedal vermin. Fond of shorts with suspenders and gloves; bad conversationalists due to squeaky voices and squeakier intellects.

Zolypin – Urban hunters, specializing in sewers and alleyways. The use echolocation to find their pray and prefer to kill it slowly, over a period of days. The techniques they use to keep their victims alive during torture have contributed greatly to the medical traditions of Captcha.

Now this glossary is already asking questions and making suggestions. What are the ethnic characteristics of each of the four kingdoms -- what are they actually like and how do they regard each other? What is the geography of Captcha -- is it naturalistic or does it have that Oz-like whimsical or surrealistic quality?

And we've used all the primary collors and two of the secondary colors here. That leaves orange left over. What to do with the color orange?

And it's pretty clear that we have some talking animals going on and they are not regarded as part of the citizenry here. The book Wicked by Gregory Maguire covered a lot of this territory and did it quite well -- but that was a literary work and this is balls-out pulp. Have to keep Wicked in mind as I work so as to avoid walking Maguire's side of the street.

But now I have a first chapter and a rolling story.

A few more thoughts on how this is going to work. I'll try and write a chapter a day and blog on anything of interest that comes up in the process. I'll be running this through the writer's group as I go -- since I'm putting it into the public eye at least one revision seems reasonable.

Starting next Friday I'll post chapters twice a week, once on Mondays and once on Fridays. Once the book is complete I'll make it available as a print-on-demand book while continuing to serialize it. I'll also make it available as an E-book, with free postings of each chapter being serialized and a for-pay version of the whole shebang.

This is, as I said, an experiment. This isn't my glowing literary pinnacle -- this is me testing the waters of commercial fiction.

Still, I think it's gonna be fun.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Uncalled-For Opinions Of Some Stupid Bassosaurs and The Start Of The CAPTCHA Novel



Shut up, Bassosaurs! Nobody's listening to you! Just shut up!

Okay, among other things, yesterday I finished off the first stage in a stupid project that is going to do nothing but waste time and bring me heartbreak and drive away any potential audience I might have.

That's right, folks! It's time to start the CAPTCHA fantasy novel, the chee-Z novel-with-a-map-and-glossary (in my imagination it has one of those yellow DAW books spines) based on the words from those identification thingies that you have to fill out when you post comments. You know what's depressing? I may well wind up using them as a resource for made-up words in the future -- some of these are pretty convincing, as though they'd been lifted from Lord Dunsany or Clarke Ashton Smith. Check it out!

1) Adeshe
2) Adompab
3) Alingons
4) Almist
5) Allist
6) Amatblet
7) Bachnes
8) Bactrin
9) Bessu
10) Bicinap
11) Cargot
12) Cemitica
13) Cheeneup
14) Cituriat
15) Coccho
16) Crupin
17) Cuperae
18) Delde
19) Difyints
20) Disompe
21) Enteaked
22) Epeedayo
23) Estrefi
24) Exteri
25) Fashu
26) Fatel
27) Fiesones
28) Finqg
29) Firommu
30) Flardsh
31) Foloim
32) Flediton
33) Flograt
34) Galhoua
35) Gatonve
36) Gencelp
37) Guinos
38) Heedne
39) Helmiss
40) Hymonufn
41) Icapolog
42) Imbed
43) Imetedle
44) Inding
45) Ingla
46) Ingnannj
47) Ingthest
48) Itionon
49) Joloper
50) Klumm
51) Lazut
52) Lesesth
53) Letelie
54) Luterise
55) Maling
56) Mandsol
57) Mintsten
58) Mislin
59) Mismot
60) Misrete
61) Mumscaks
62) Nhaffh
63) Noman
64) Noolem
65) Ovelogia
66) Ovento
67) Pacarwa
68) Patorti
69) Pedurth
70) Plepiloa
71) Plogu
72) Poter
73) Prout
74) Provapl
75) Pulas
76) Repilsio
77) Ressic
78) Rubhewou
79) Rupence
80) Schipt
81) Sheougne
82) Slitigia
83) Sopshno
84) Slyer
85) Stousime
86) Syncon
87) Tottion
88) Tudings
89) Ukoflen
90) Unchia
91) Unciru
92) Undonart
93) Unsynea
94) Vastrega
95) Vatsal
96) Vithroot
97) Voody
98) Wationso
99) Winglys
100) Woregis

So here's how it's going to work. I'm gonna crank out chapters off the top of my head -- no real worldbuilding, no plotting or character development -- and post them as I finish them. I'll be using a pseudonym as a means of saying, "Hey, this is just a hoot."

I'll post chapter headings here with a link to the full chapters on another website -- and any comments you care to make will be taken into account and used for inspiration for the next chapter. If you're looking at these words and you come up with a good definition for one, post it and maybe I'll use it. If you think I need some giant robots tell me and maybe I'll toss in a fistful of mecha. Any ideas for characters, plot twists, world development, etch. are more than welcome.

When I hit fifty thousand words I'll start tying the whole thing up -- and when it's done, I'll put together a print-on-demand edition just for shits and giggles. If it worked for Raymond Chandler and Chester Himes it'll work for me, or at least it'll work for someone as good as Raymond Chandler or Chester Himes.

Why am I doing this? Because I'm waiting to hear back from readers on my novel and I don't have a fiction project and it's driving me nuts? Yeah, I guess. Because I want to demystify the process of creating a novel and blow out some of the artistic preciousness that I've built up while learning how to write? Hey, that sounds like a great idea. Because Glendon told me this was a ticket to internet notoriety? That would be it.

Over and out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hmm. I seem to be functioning again.


I'm taking a break from my usual art policy to give you an image that may be of some interest. I took this object from my wallet, where I've been keeping it as a souvenir of my idiocy.

A year or so I was taking an art class that had a few mentally ill people in it, one of whom was full-blown delusional. Poor bastard had some nasty father issues and a belief that microchips were going to solve every problem the world had to offer. He did lots of Utopian planning and diagrams and was sadly sweet.

Anyway, as is frequently the case he wound up taking a shine to me. (I don't know how often I've wondered what it is about me that attracts criminals, lunatics, children, junkies, animals, and eccentrics -- and why it doesn't attract women.) So one day he pulls something out of his pocket.

"Take this, brother. May it serve you well," he said and put it in my hand.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Acid," he said.

Question: You are in a public place and a stone fucking crazy man -- someone you know and you know is really, really nuts -- hands you something and tells you it's acid. What do you do?

Answer: Pop it right into your mouth without even looking at it. Thankfully, it wasn't a hit of acid. It was half of a plastic frog. What was going through my mind at that moment? I didn't want to disappoint my friend by rejecting his gift.

As soon as I get enough money, I'm hiring an oaf wrangler to keep me from doing that kind of shit.

So I did line edits on three stories for Swill today, including one crime story in the classic noir tradition, one knotty, gnarly character portrait, and one by our first... Look, I'm not going to say real writer. That ain't fair to anyone.

But the first writer whose books I've purchased and have on my shelves has contributed a story to Swill and it is hi-larious, just fat packed with L*A*F*F*S. At least if you're as misanthropic as I am.

There is a real pleasure for me in doing line edits; this gave me the extra thrill of fucking with the prose of someone I read for pleasure. (Note to all: I edit with a heavy hand and the understanding that I'm just giving the author something to consider when doing that last rewrite.) Thank you, Mr. John Shirley.

(And while I'm plugging, Mr. David Byron, who as you may recall has taken a couple of my stories, has asked me to alert you to his new publication, New Voices In Horror Volume One. I don't know much about it but the essay on writing for the web that he's posted at the link is well worth your attention.)

Anyway, I've got a batch of beans and a pot roast cooked, I finished what's hopefully the final version of my business card exterior, I got caught up on some of my shamefully-late emails...

So, why weeks of nothing and then function again? This is a serious issue for me. How do I get myself to work? Was it killing those rats the other night? Do I need animal sacrifice to bring myself fully to life?

Sad fact of the matter is that I'm not a self-starter. I need deadlines, encouragement, both serious challenges and the option of blowing everything off if I find myself swept away by some grand creative impulse. I need juuuuuust the right amount of pressure. School, Swill, the writer's group -- hey, these days requests from stray editors -- all help me stay in that zone of functionality.

I wasn't overtly miserable during my break but it really bugs me to have free time and no volition to fill it with. Of course the fact that the end of the semester coincided with the concurrent ending of two major projects wasn't exactly optimum. The fact that it happened in midwinter did me no favors. I should crank up the SAD lamp the missus got me, he said. I should eat breakfast and take vitamins.

But most of all, I should get to work.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Return To The Fray and The Shame Of The Closeted Geek

The draftsmanship is weak but I like the mood in this one... Man, I'd love to do more life drawing.


School starts again today. Thank god. (I guess that's the difference between an atheist and an agnostic -- the agnostic might be taking someone's name in vain.) I've got Modern Color today -- this class might be dumped if it cramps my style when I get back into the novel. I signed on because the teacher asked me to -- one of those things where the class is just starting out and he needed some butts in chairs so it wouldn't get canceled.

I might stick it out, though. It's going to be a mix of theory and practice using both digital and traditional media and it sounds interesting, if vague. I can hardly wait to see the syllabus.

My other two classes are going to be Art Marketing and Portfolio Management and Photography. I've barely used a camera -- I don't event take snapshots -- but when I started incorporating photography into my last set of... Jesus, what do I call them, anyway? Prints? Illustrations? Images? Anyway, they changed the way I work and now I need to get some real skills -- half the time I can't even get the damned camera to work.

And as for art marketing, hey. I want some money.

I'm also going to start a club, much against my best judgment. Why start a club? Well, I want to start cartooning. And I can't find any cartooning classes at school. And if I'm left to my own devices I'll never quite get around to doing anything. When I started writing seriously I joined a writer's group; it helped a whole lot. In fact, there's no other single factor that has been more significant in my growth as a writer.

So I want to get something similar going for cartooning.

But you know what that's gonna mean? Hanging out with people who are into comic books and anime.

Shameful confession time here, folks. I don't hang out with people who are, uh. Geeks. I can pass as a non-geek right now -- well, yeah, I'm into comics but they're just part of my whole art thing, and I'm all about mining the seam between pop culture and fine culture and I can talk about politics and history and blah blah blah and in general seem like a fairly convincing adult.

But I feel as if I'm straddling a very fine line and one little shove would push me over and then I'd be spending all my time talking about Bill Mantlo and Rumiko Takahashi and the fucking Skrulls.

And so on to the infinite power. I'm gonna try and class it up a little by calling it a Narrative Art Club but hey. I can call Roxie-the-dog a Miniature Clydesdale but she ain't gonna pull no beer wagon. It is going to be a geekfest. I will be deliberately socializing with people who know who Jack Kirby was -- and who care about who inked him.

Yeah, I'm a pretentious elitist bastard but the whole thing is making me very, very nervous. You ever see that movie Freaks? If you have, you know what I'm talking about.

It's like they're out there, waiting for me in the shadows. I can smell the pulp of their comics; I can hear the rattle of their polyhedral dice. There are science fiction paperbacks. There is Monty Python.

"Gabba-gabba we accept you we accept you one of us!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Crawling From The Wreckage Just To Think About My Critical Stance.


Got a story edited this morning. Got some writer's group business taken care of -- we've got a new candidate coming up. Now I'm writing a blog post for the first time in what seems like...

Holy shit, it has been a while, hasn't it? Gah. Blargh. Stupid winter break. Once the pressure to produce came off me I collapsed like a deflating balloon -- phthphthphthphth. Like it or not I need a structured environment to function properly. I'd probably thrive in the military or prison.

Damnit.

Anyway, one of the things that threw me off was my last piece of criticism. I re-read it a couple of days after it had been posted and I couldn't help but think that it was the work of a dick. Alternating between snideness and ass-kissing and pompous judgment... Oh, man, it left a bad taste in my mouth -- but at the end I felt like I'd delivered a defensible response to the work. I couldn't challenge what I'd said, just the way I'd said it.

Which is much the way it went back when I did a crit piece on Jurassic Fight Club. I lay out my opinion, then after I've posted it I want to moderate my tone.

I dunno. It makes me wonder what and why I'm doing these critical pieces.

Well, this is the best answer I've been able to come up with.

The real reason I'm doing this is in order to sharpen my critical faculties so I can bring them to bear on my own work. By systematically examining the strengths and weaknesses of works of art -- low or high, pop or fine -- that have had an effect on me I can trace their influences, see how they work, and in general learn from them.

Because of this my approach has its roots in the critical groups I've participated in. I like to start by examining strengths, then look for weak areas. It seems to me that very few works of art that have any scope of ambition are truly perfect and as a creator it's important for me to see how things could be improved.

And that's where my frustration with my critical essays comes in. Look, I think my take on Journal of a Sad Hermaphrodite was a reasonable one -- but I've just finished my first readable draft of a novel. DeLarrabeiti published fifteen novels. I've read widely but DeLarrabeiti demonstrates clearly in JSH that he's a genuine scholar of literature. Who the hell am I to criticize what he's done? I felt the same way when I got some feedback from an animator who worked on Jurassic Fight Club -- who the hell am I to denigrate other people's work?

And I think that's the key -- to avoid denigration. To avoid pomposity. I think that I have worthwhile things to say -- but I ain't an authority, even though I have a knack for sounding like one.

So I'm thinking that even though I prefer to keep my writing on the site as light and trouble-free as I can make it I may have to do rewrites on my critical pieces. They involve the work of other people; it doesn't seem unreasonable for me to show creators whose work I admire and seek to learn from that much respect.

Damnit.