Finding my vision

I’ve been reading a lot about photography lately and something that really hit me was the advice (from many professional photographers) that, in order to become a professional, you have to specialise. At first I resisted because I didn’t want to lock myself into one style or subject. I liked the freedom of creativity and being able to do whatever I wanted. So much about photography fascinates me and I feel that I’ve created great images of lots of different subjects. However, the more I thought about it, the more specialising makes sense. In order to become really good at something, you need to devote a significant amount of time and energy to it. And while photography may seem like a single discipline to be perfected, the techniques required for landscape photography are vastly different to portraiture, which are vastly different to still life and so on. Spreading my time and effort across these varied subjects means that my growth in any one will be that much slower. Also, working without passion means that my work is much less likely to capture the sort of inspired beauty and fascination that I want from it.

That got me thinking because, of course, that immediately eliminates some areas of photography for me. For example, I will never be a wedding photographer because, for me, photography is a little too personal. I want to create and capture my vision, not someone else’s. I’m pretty sure that view wouldn’t sit well with many brides and grooms. Thinking further, I more or less stumbled on what I think I want my photographic focus to be: fine art, with a hint of fantasy. I want to take ‘ordinary’ beautiful scenes, preferably natural ones, and be able to add just a hint of fiction, fantasy and story. That captures everything I love about photography and creativity, from landscapes and weather (you need great settings) to stories and magic and interesting characters.

This will mean that I have to get better at Photoshop and post-processing, so I’ll have to start taking courses this year. I will also have to start developing my costuming and prop-making skills, because sometimes that’s all that would be needed to push a scene towards the fantastic. Luckily, I already really love making those sorts of things.

Steampunk self-portrait
Steampunk self-portrait

This photo is my first conscious pursuit of my vision. I dragged out the costume I made for my steampunk Christmas murder mystery and assembled a few props from around the house. It took quite a long time because I had to keep getting up to run around the table and check the images in the camera–this sort of thing would be much easier with a model. I’m extremely happy with the result, though.

So, a fancy dress party here, a bit of cosplay there, drop it into a beautiful landscape and add a touch of dreamy post-processing and I think I’ve found my vision.

Chasing an ending

2014 ended in an incredibly appropriate way for me…with a storm chase. It was only a few kilometres from home but it still counts. I saw the cumulus towers going up on the horizon, checked the weather radar and warnings and raced off to get a good position to watch it coming.

NYE storm 1

It wasn’t a very big storm, it didn’t get severe-warned and it fizzled pretty quickly.

NYE storm 2

But it still looked impressive and the chase took me back to the endless days driving across the endless plains searching for supercells in the American Midwest.

NYE storm 3

Because that’s what started all this for me. I found my passion for writing and photography and creativity on the plains, looking for storms. The swirling vortexes sucked me in, blew apart my old life and set me on a new path–into a dark forest, lit by lightning.

Steampunk Christmas Murder Mystery

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Lord Abraham Pennington-Smith has once again invited his family and friends to his annual Christmas party aboard the skyship Astral Ranger. Of course, this year might be a little…tense.

There’s a rumour that Lord Abraham is planning on revising his will. And there’s his recent acquisition–the most powerful focusing crystal in the world. And the fact that every one of his guests has a secret might also complicate things. But it’s sure to be a wonderfully festive event…

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My steampunk Christmas murder mystery party went better than I expected. We ended up with 9 players/characters–each with their own backgrounds, motivations, secrets and goals–aboard a drifting, sabotaged airship trying to solve the murder of a wealthy old man. Valuable game items were stolen and traded; secrets were uncovered; people were double-crossed and betrayed; the murderer accidentally fell to her death trying to escape at the end.*

What really surprised and pleased me (aside from everyone having a great time, obviously) was that the twist I tried to put in at the end even worked.

In case you’re wondering, the reason why I’m being so cagey with the details is that, at the end of the night, one of my friends suggested that I should publish the game. That was something that hadn’t occurred to me, despite the amount of work that I put into it. I was just doing it because it was fun.

Now, though, it seems like a great idea and I’ve added it to my list of projects. In some ways I think a game might be easier to finish than a full novel. A lot of the work is already done–I wrote almost 5,000 words just to make it playable. Now I just have to explain the mechanics so that anyone could pick it up and play, set up all the material that needs to be printed in a sensible format and commission an artist to make it look a bit more special.

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The game itself is designed to be very free-form. Players are given a character, some information about what’s happened, their relationship to several other characters and a list of personal goals. The host then reveals the situation and it’s basically up to the players to unroll the story from there. Not all of my characters were interested in finding the murderer; some were actively hindering the investigation and others were just out to create chaos for their own ends. It’s designed so that you could play it with different groups of people and get completely different experiences each time.

Once I’ve got a draft together, I’ll have to run it again (or get someone else to run it) to iron out any issues, sort of like a drafting process. By Christmas time next year, I plan to have a murder mystery game on the market. And that is a sentence I never imagined I would ever utter. It’s as exciting as it is unexpected.

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* In-game, of course. Only fictional characters died.

 

NEW PROJECT!!

I’m starting to realise that my attention span, in relation to creative endeavours, is slightly shorter than that of a sugar-crazed squirrel in a forest full of trail-mix and rabid dogs. I started this blog almost six months ago with an idea for a novel about storm chasing. I spent a bit of time on that and then progressed through a series of photographic projects. Then yoga. Then learning French. Then an idea for a visual novel. Then an idea for an urban fantasy. interspersed all that with a series of trashy romance stories that will only ever be published under a pseudonym, should I ever finish any. And now the next thing…

…wait for it…

…steampunk Christmas decorations.

I know. “WTF?!” doesn’t even begin to cover it. My turkey spirit guide has been hanging around quite a bit lately so something like this was bound to happen. But even I wasn’t expecting the sheer magical insanity of this idea.

And while I was busily cutting gear wheels out of cardboard the other night, I had the idea of a Christmas party to show off all my hard work, create an incentive to finish it all and also to somewhat justify the effort. So now I’m writing a steampunk murder mystery Christmas party for a bunch of friends who were gratifyingly excited by the idea.*

I haven’t quite decided how I feel about this revelation about my creative attention span. Every new idea is fun and exciting and I begin all of them with the intention of finishing. And it’s not like I give up on previous projects when I begin another; they’ve all taken up residence in a clearing at the back of my mind. It’s quite a little community now and every so often one charges out of the brush and grabs my attention and I spend a bit more time working on it…Until the next idea comes along.

The problem is that advancement on any one project is slow in the face of the torrent of new ideas. It makes me feel like I won’t finish anything and I think this is the real root of what I wrote about in my last post. I’m hoping that the extra time I’ll have when I go part-time next month will give me a chance to get ahead of the inspiration stream a little.

In the meantime…

gears

 

*I will post pictures.

Tempus f*#$it!

Lately time has been a major concern of mine. Specifically, the lack of it.

Actually, that’s a lie. I have lots of time. It’s just that, probably for the first time in my life, I have passion. There is so much that I really want to do. Every day I want to be out taking photos and then coming home and spending hours Photoshopping. I want to write and write and write and perhaps even finish one of the 21 stories I have going at the moment (I may have started a few more since I last posted about writing). Not all of them are good or going somewhere, but I need to write them to find out. I want to finish editing the manuscripts that writer friends keep sending me because it’s just so much fun to be able to in some small way assist these great writers. I want to practice yoga until I can do away with my blocks, touch the floor with straight legs and maybe even manage to hold the Half-Moon Pose. I want to read the mounting stack of fascinating photography magazines and books that my family keep giving me. I want to update this blog more than once a month.

Strangely, it feels like all of this has piled up on top of my long work days and I just don’t want to do any of it. Do you know how annoying that is? What kind of messed up freak discovers their passion, delves into it in earnest to make it the focus of their life and then turns all apathetic? That’s not how it’s supposed to work!

Yes, I should be losing interest in my day job because it’s stifling and toxic at the moment.

Yes, I should be getting more and more involved in my creative endeavours because they bring me joy and purpose.

No, I should not be coming home from work, glancing guiltily at my yoga mat, To Read pile, computer and camera, getting all anxious about the amount of stuff to do and spending the evening watching Big Bang Theory re-runs. WTF?!

A writer friend asked me if I wanted to join him in doing NaNoWriMo next month. I almost had a panic attack. It’s taken me a whole week to rev myself up enough to write a 500-word blog post. There’s no way I could manage upwards of 1,500 words a day at the moment.

My journey into the forest must have accidentally turned into a dead-end canyon. Filled with clinging brambles. And probably snakes, too. But with a very comfy couch…

On the other hand, I did spend all Sunday putting together a photo book of pictures from one of my most epic vacations, which has been on my To Do list since 2011. And I did spend ten minutes yesterday halfheartedly flailing around on my yoga mat, which is more than I’ve done in a few weeks and I guess counts for something. And, hey–I just wrote a blog post. So maybe this is just a bit of a block that I have to patiently work my way through.

And there’s only six weeks until I go part-time at work. Maybe that extra day a week will make all the difference.

Je suis un arbre

I’m learning French from a groovy little phone app by Babbel as something to do on the train to and from work. What has really struck me during this study are the differences between French and English. Some of them are only small, but I find them all the more jarring because of how similar these two languages are. It’s fascinating how two closely related cultures can develop such different ways of expressing the same thing.

Take numbers for instance. In English we have “two”, “twelve” and “twenty”. Just a glance shows how they relate to each other. The French, on the other hand, have “deux”, “douze” and “vingt”. Not sure what happened with the “twenty” but it’s a very cool word. And when you get to “eight”, “eighteen” and “eighty” it gets even weirder: “huit”, “dix-huit” and “quatre-vingt”. Translated literally they come out as “eight”, “ten-eight” and “four-twenty”. How fascinating and strange is that? Did someone sit down and say to themselves, ‘We’ve got “six”, “sixteen” and “sixty” but, just to shake things up, let’s go for “eight”, “eighteen” and “four-twenty”‘?

Of course, there are entire books written about the inconsistent madness that is the English language.

So why the post on comparative linguistics? Well, it occurred to me that this sort of knowledge is extremely valuable for sci-fi/fantasy writers, like me. We’re constantly looking for ways to make our non-human characters different and otherworldly. As far as language goes, there are three main approaches:

  1. The standard approach seems to be to drop articles and subject-verb agreement, and mix up tenses and maybe some syntax. As long as the author is consistent and doesn’t go too far, it works well. However, it can become annoying for the audience if they’re dealing with it for an entire novel or movie. At you looking am I, Yoda.
  2. Secondly, and sometimes combined with the first approach, authors sprinkle in some made-up words with just enough phonetic similarity to suggest a complete language. There are lots of examples of this but David Eddings’ Tsurani people in his Magician series were the first to come to my mind.
  3. Or they go completely verca*, like Tolkien, and invent entire incredible, beautiful languages–complete with dialects and scripts–from scratch. But let’s just calm down a little because who realistically has the time for that?

The thing is, writers generally end up with characters sounding like English-speaking foreigners.  If you look at Earth’s languages, there are radical differences that exist even between ones as closely related as French and English. Scale that up to non-human cultures and we should be looking at something a lot less recognisable than Yoda’s speech patterns.

Take trees, for example. At some point, everyone has suspected that trees can talk. Especially that time you were by yourself in the woods and night was falling and the feeling that someone was watching you was too strong to ignore. In one of my current stories, trees are going to be minor characters that somehow have to contribute to the story and interact with the protagonist.

But … should these trees really just talk like slow, old men with deep voices who roll their “r’s” excessively? For starters, they don’t really have the necessary vocal equipment. Sure, I could give my talking trees mouths and faces, larynxes and lungs. But then I’ve just got Tolkien’s Ents–some of the fantasy is gone and the audience is not going to be amazed a second time.

So I let my imagination go verca and came up with a couple of way less human methods of communication:

  • The wind–do trees have to wait for the wind to blow in the right direction to speak to their neighbours? If the prevailing wind is from one direction, a tree might ask its neighbour a question and never get a reply.
  • The shape of their branches and the position of their leaves–their conversations span lifetimes and everything they’ve ever said is written into their very shapes and selves.

Now, instead of a clichéd copyright infringement, I have a couple of fascinating ideas that, when done right, could certainly create a powerful sense of other. Of course, it also creates the problem of how to allow my readers to experience a language so far from human understanding. But getting readers to experience something new is what being a writer is all about.

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“Come closer, little human…”

 

 

*Elvish for “wild”–yes, I am a geek.

Yoga – who knew?

I’ve discovered yoga!

Not in the original sense, of course. Just personally.

Even though I’ve been surrounded by yoga exponents, I resisted it for years. I think that was partly due to plain contrariness and partly because I’ve never enjoyed exercise. For some reason, inflicting pain on myself has never really appealed. Recently though, I’ve started to have some issues with my back. It may have something to do with the fact that my day job involves sitting in front of a computer all day. Then when I come home I break that up by sitting in front of a computer all evening. But that’s for writing so it’s totally different.

My vertebrae don’t seem to appreciate that distinction, though.

Then, for no reason I’ve been able to discern, I decided I’d give in and try yoga.

It’s amazing.

Yoga is the first form of exercise I’ve tried that feels good while you’re doing it. I love it and want to do it every day. Can you believe it? I actually want to do yoga. I look forward to yoga. I get excited about yoga. And it’s exercise! It’s only been a couple of weeks and I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my back, posture and balance. I can already touch my toes (just) with straight legs. This morning I was very excited to be able to do half-moon pose without falling. I probably looked like an unstable Hills Hoist on a windy day during an earthquake but I’ve signed up to online classes and my living room furniture doesn’t secretly judge me. Of course I was never going to go to a gym.

One interesting side effect that I hadn’t anticipated is the increase in creativity. It might be the meditative state encouraged by the practice of yoga. It could also be the stimulation of physical exertion. It might even be the increased blood flow to the head because I haven’t spent this much time upside down since I was five. Whatever it is, I’ve been writing more consistently and with bigger word counts ever since I started yoga.

I think my yoga mat has found a permanent place on my living room floor–right next to my computer.

yoga