One Year Later

Well, it’s been a whole year since I started this journey and I haven’t faltered or looked back yet. Hooray! I’ve kept up my blog posts (averaging 2.5 a month, which I’m really happy with). I’ve posted relatively regularly to my 500px gallery and my instagram (nathan_chester). I’ve written a lot, but still not finished anything, which bugs me. I’ve done some courses in photography and Photoshop that have really improved my skills.

All in all, it’s been a successful year though without any dramatic advancement. I’ve left the stifling and total security of my house and crossed the backyard, but I haven’t yet ventured very far under the eaves of the wild, creative forest. I am inching closer and that’s the goal for the next year–to be more adventurous, more dedicated and invest more of myself into this journey.

I’ve posted the photo below as an expression of how far I’ve come and as a promise to my future. I almost didn’t get this shot because I was standing safely on the beach, clicking away. When that egret landed in the water, I didn’t think twice about slogging through 100 metres of thick, slippery, above-the-ankles tidal mud to get close enough for the photo. A year ago, I probably wouldn’t even have taken a chance and headed to the coast for the possibility of a sunset like that. The future is bright (but with good contrast and properly exposed highlights).

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Sneaky universe

Turns out the universe is sneakier than I thought. I’ve been feeling very un-creative lately. I’ve been worrying that I haven’t been writing enough, that I haven’t been photographing enough, that I haven’t been blogging enough. I’ve felt like I was wasting my days off from my day job because I haven’t followed through with my plan to devote them solely to creative endeavours. Instead they’ve been filled with dentist appointments and grocery shopping and other mundanities.

And then the universe started sending me messages–little moments of synchronicity that have become impossible to ignore. More and more of my friends seem to be reaching turning points in their lives. Everybody seems to be discovering that where they are now is not where they want to be and, in order to get where they want to be, they need to make scary decisions. The theme coming out of hours of deep and meaningfuls is that in order to get what you want, you have to take a risk and jump in wholeheartedly. You have to believe that you have the ability and determination to pull off your dreams. I started this process last year. However, it’s becoming clear that I haven’t quite managed to follow through. Going part-time at work was a big step for me, but I haven’t done enough with the time. I think the universe is onto me.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the number of inspirationals about following your dreams in my Facebook feed seems to have doubled in the last couple of weeks.

And then there are those stupid gambling ads on TV that keep yelling at me to back myself. Even Masterchef the other night (I swear I wasn’t watching it and just flicked over in the ads) was going on about how I am the only one that can make my dreams come true and that if I don’t actually do anything, I’ll forever be just a dreamer.

So I was going to write a blog post about how I was failing at writing and failing at photography and failing at being the change I need in my life. But as I was doing it, I started to come up with a list of all the things I’d been doing instead of being creative. And I realised I’d made a mistake.

A couple of weeks ago I did two of half-day courses in Photoshop and started going back over old photos to see if I could improve them. Turns out I could…

I also started a document of random, incomplete story ideas the other day. So I’ve actually been doing a couple of hundred words of writing every day even though it’s not on one specific project.

And on top of that, I made up some Valkyrie wings for a fitness model friend for her next comp. image1   So it turns out that I’m a bit more on track than I thought. Instead of the horrible I-Haven’t-Done-Enough motivation I had at the start of this post, I’ve got more of an I-Can-Do-This motivation. It’s amazing how much more motivating that is. Thank you universe. I need to go write something.

Clouds but no storm

I think I’ve worked out why my storm chasing novel has stalled. It’s bugged me for ages because I’ve got all the characters and an outline of all the things I want to happen to them but when I sit down to write it I become disengaged really quickly and struggle to put anything down on paper.

And now I know what it is: in all my planning I’ve somehow managed to leave out all the character arcs. I’ve got all the outside events plotted out in a way that should rise to a very exciting climax but I don’t have any notes on how these events will affect my characters internally…you know…that really important part of a story that actually engages the reader.

Whoops.

Minor oversight there. Especially since from the start I’ve wanted to make this a character-driven story.

This is probably something that’s generally been missing from all my writing up to now. I tend to get so caught up in creating new and amazing worlds and exciting and terrifying events that I forget that all the emotion is still just inside my head. Not that it’s completely absent or anything. I just need to put a whole lot more work into bringing out my characters’ internal journeys to make my stories resonate better on a human level.

This means that I’m going to have to go back and write histories and life stories for all my storm chasing characters and fill in all the stuff that readers of the story won’t ever see but that I need in order to bring the internal worlds of my characters to life. Only then will my actual story be able to take off. Or, in meteorological terms, the atmosphere has enough moisture and wind shear for a severe storm, but the convectional lift is missing and the clouds just aren’t getting enough punch.

It’s surprising how much writing this story feels like trying to lift a couple of tons of air. The end result will be amazing, though.

Plenty of nice clouds but not enough for a storm.
Plenty of nice clouds but not enough for a storm.

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.

Novelties

Well, it’s happened again. Work on my storm chasing novel started to slow. I’m still in the planning and development stage. I’m spending longer planning this one than any of my earlier work because I really want to create strong, realistic characters. But I was enjoying it, plodding along. Then work happened. And a few social things. And then the biggest calamity…

Turkey strike_tonemapped

Yes, the Portentous Turkey struck again.

I was walking to the train station to go meet a writer friend (Matthew Karabache) for drinks, looked up and there was the Turkey in the middle of the road. At the time I just thought, ‘Hey! That’s hilarious!’, whipped out my phone and took a photo.

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN SOMETHING WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!

Because while drinking and talking, Matt happened to mention visual novels. I’d never heard of them before but a visual novel is sort of a cross between a computer game and those old Choose Your Own Adventure novels. The reader becomes the main character and as they read, they make choices that influence the story. They can choose to build relationships with some characters and ignore others and generally make the story as they go. All against artwork featuring the settings and characters. Each time you read one, you can make it come out differently. And, unlike the Choose Your Own Adventure books, they can and should have detailed plots and complex characters.

Isn’t that just the most exciting thing ever?! I can combine my fiction and photography into ONE EPIC MEDIUM!

DAMN YOU, PORTENTOUS TURKEY SPIRIT GUIDE!

It’s impossible for me to resist a new idea like this!

So the storm chasing novel is on hold while I explore this new medium and attempt to adapt an earlier novel idea into a visual novel.

Up close and personal

Discovery is always exciting, even if someone has already discovered what you’ve found. It’s the personal reaction to discovery that makes meaning and leaves a lasting impact, even if it’s not something ‘new’. Recently, I discovered how much better and more interesting photos can be if you get just a little closer and crop just a little more. Now, that’s not exactly a technique that will put me up there with Ansel Adams, and neither is it something that’s going to take the internet by storm because lots of people already know it. For me, though, it was an amazing revelation and it was thrilling to know that I finally truly understood what all those photography books were going on about.

Of course, some people will be wondering why I’m even excited enough about this to write a blog post. I’d compare it to visiting the Grand Canyon. You can look at all the photos you want, but until you go there for the first time and discover it for yourself, you’ll never have that amazing opening of mind and soul. Imagine the moment where you step reverentially and open-mouthed up to the canyon rim and stare into the endless gulfs of air and stone. What if someone had said to you right then, “Whatevs, it’s–like–totally been discovered before”? Would that really lessen your amazement? Personally, I would have just pushed them over the edge and continued my silent veneration.

Grand Canyon

So in the spirit of joyful discovery of the not-new, here is the story of how I finally understood the importance of getting up close and personal in photography.

I recently inherited a little plant after a house move. For ages this plant had been living in a beer glass stolen from a pub by some long-lost housemate. Now that I’m all mature and sophisticated and stuff, I decided to fancy it up a bit and use it as a centrepiece for my dining table. A friend was interested in what I’d done so I took a photo:

Overall, not very exciting, but the way the colours from the painting on the wall reflected in the right side of the tray caught my eye. I instantly knew there was an interesting photo there – I just had to get it. So I got a bit closer:

Zoom 2

That shot still wasn’t there so I changed angles and got a bit closer:

Zoom 3

That shot had the right shapes but it still wasn’t quite right. Thinking about it, I realised it was the colours that caught my attention, so I cropped as much of the blank silver out as I could and turned up the saturation and ended up with this:

Abstract

What started out as a bland photo of a plant on a dining table ended up as a fascinating abstract with strong lines and a hint of animal print. Plus, I finally understand for myself the importance of taking the time to get right up close to capture the best image.