Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Using what you don't know you know

A while ago this video was all over the Internet: 3D Printed House.

OK, it's a very small house. And it's the Russians, so it could be a Potemkin house, or they could be cheating in some other ways: maybe the printer only ran for 24 hours but they're not mentioning that it stopped every fifteen minutes for teams of plumbers and electricians. But it's also... the future.

And I wasn't ready for it. Here I've got one book in a series finished (AWAKENING) and I'm a quarter into the book that happens before that one (INSURGENTS) and I was only giving my 24th-century colonists the ability to print slabs of wall-like stuff that had to be hinged together. That's what you get for not keeping up with technology! Ok, not a vital part of either story, quick revision, now they've got building printers.

Now reading a tad more diligently, I came across a story about a 3D printed RPG. My son-in-law commented that that required them to print steel...

Mental headslap. Of course they can print steel. Even I, with nothing but a jewelry kiln and some basic modeling tools, can make steel shapes! The technology's been there for years. All you need is a base of tiny steel particles in a moldable binder and some way to heat the shape at the right time/temperatures to (a) burn off the binder and (b) sinter the steel. OK, there are a few other issues, but that's the basic idea.

It started with precious metal clay, you see, which gave jewelers fine silver or gold in just such a binder. That's been around for what, 20 years? And after that came copper clay and bronze clay and steel clay. Any of those "clay" bases can be thinned to make "ink" just by diluting them.

So... my guerillas in INSURGENTS have just stolen a printer that makes solar-chargeable blasters. And the steel "ink" to put in it. They may have melted their first couple of attempts (Hey: I know a LOT about failures with this material) but they are now figuring it out with the help of an antique jewelry-making book. I feel it's a happy combination of using what I know combined with what I just found out about.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Speed bumps

Nothing gets writers arguing faster than discussing optimal writing speed. (Well, ok... also contracts, advances, royalties, publicity, the future of indie, POV... what can I say? We like to bicker; it's so much easier than actually writing.)

When I'm avoiding work by browsing the Internet, I can find dogmatic statements concerning just about any writing speed you want to name. They range from "You're not a REAL writer unless you produce umpteen thousand words a day like ME," to, "Anyone who produces more than one book a year is shallow, careless, and just cranking out words mechanically."

I'd like to propose a new standard.

(1) Anyone who averages fewer words a day than I do is just a hobbyist who will never amount to anything.

(2) Anyone who averages more words a day than I do is just a hack writer who will never amount to anything.

There! Something we can all agree on.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Being Wen Redmond

That's just wish-fulfillment, of course. What I'm actually doing is imitating Wen Redmond. I recently bought her Digital Fiber Art. I've admired her work for years but hadn't realized how much she uses Photoshop to get her wonderful, colorful, complicated, layered images. Immediately I wanted to fool around with some of my own pictures in Photoshop to see if I could get similar effects.

After fooling around with Photoshop-generated backgrounds, I decided it took less time to make a colorful collage and scan it than it did to mess around in Photoshop trying to make one part of the background look like painted lace, another like torn paper, etc. I made a couple of quick and dirty collages using spray adhesive and my copious collection of paper and fabric scraps.

This is a snapshot I took in New England, of a deserted house under bare trees.

Next I applied the Stamp filter to get a strong black and white image.

I cropped the picture so that the large tree on the right was the dominant image, overlaid it on the pink collage using Multiply blending mode, and cropped again.

This weathered door was another snapshot taken in New England.

Because I wanted to keep the peeling-paint texture of the door, this time I didn't run it through any filters; I just overlaid it on the yellow collage. What? In overlay mode, what else?

I like the subtle, mystical effect of the overlay blending mode here - the door seems to be floating in space. Cutting away the image on either side of the door and inserting a contrasting layer made the floating effect even stronger. This cut's not perfect, but good enough for experimental purposes; if I decide to print this one onto fabric, I'll select the sides very carefully before doing anything else, and try out filling them with different colors and textures. I'm thinking a dark, cloudy sky might look good here.

And finally, here's a snapshot of a jali in Udaipur, layered in Multiply mode over two layers of the yellow collage (one rotated 180 degreea) and the top collage blended in Difference mode.

Nothing so great here, but with a bit more fooling around I think I might come up with something that would be interesting to print on fabric and then to embroider/bead/quilt.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Reaching a tipping point

I have to write a certain number of words before a book really 'comes alive,' for me. Part of it is getting to know my main characters better; part of it may simply be that it takes a while to persuade my brain that it really does have to turn itself on and generate a certain number of words every day.

It seems that I reached that point on INSURGENTS yesterday, at 9000 words. Today's 1,000 words were effortless; I could see and hear what was going on in the chapter, and all I had to do was type at top speed trying to get it all down. I love it when this starts to happen, not only because writing is no longer hard work, but also because writing in this mode seems to smooth out something in my brain. I become a nicer person, kind to children and small animals and actually willing to cook for the First Reader. I shouldn't be surprised if this actually alters something in my brain chemistry, generating endorphins like exercise or playing chamber music.

This shift is also why I had to have a sitter when the children were small. I'm really not safe to watch over small children in this mode, because I stop hearing and seeing what's going on in the outside world.

There's a temptation to go on and shoot for 2,000 or 3,000 or more words. I've done that in the past, when faced with deadlines, and it really doesn't work out very well for me. I can push it for maybe a week, but then I pay the price with several days of staring at the air and feeling like a total idiot whose brains have just been scooped out with a spoon. It seems my personal story-generating mechanism works at a rate of 1,000 words/day and that's that; if I speed up one week, I stop altogether the next week, so I'm not really that far ahead. And before anybody says, "But look at John Ringo," I would like to point out that I don't have the use of John Ringo's brain and his inexhaustible, high-speed story generator.

In any case - Hallelujah! Good Friday has been very good to me.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mass-produced protests

The morning after Trump's missile strike on Syria, there were already anti-war protestors in the streets. I'm not necessarily in disagreement with their point - I certainly don't believe any good can come out of our entanglement with that particular mess - but I do think they're rushing to conclusions. (The First Reader and I disagree here. He thinks 59 Tomahawks amount to a declaration of war; I think the message is more, "If you use chemical weapons, we will make you sorry." We'll all have to wait and see, I guess.)

But I am impressed by the speed and professionalism of these protests. Look at the picture. How did they get professionally printed signs less than twenty-four hours after the event they're protesting? That requires some serious organization to get the posters printed and distributed. (It's not just this one picture; there are plenty more, revealing a wide variety and distribution of posters.)

The fact of protests doesn't trouble me. The evidence of an unidentified organization behind the protests, just waiting for an event that can be protested, with the money and power to create very professional signs on a moment's notice and then distribute them across the country? That does trouble me. I'd really, really like to know where those signs came from.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Washing garbage

I hate it when I have to throw written words away. Hate, hate, hate it. I try to get it generally right the first time, and if that doesn't happen, I'd rather delete a passage when revising the complete first draft, by which time I have forgotten just how much work it was to write that scene the first time.

Sometimes, though, there's no reasonable alternative. I've been struggling with the first three chapters of INSURGENTS (working title). At first I thought it was just the pain of starting to write again after several weeks off; when I start a new book I always mope around the house for the first few days complaining that I've forgotten how hard it is to write. So I didn't immediately recognize the Second Law of Writing, which is that if you are agonizing and struggling to write a scene there is probably something wrong with it. After all, these opening chapters did everything I wanted them to: show a rebel raid on an outpost, bring my two main characters together, set up that they're going to have to stay together for some time whether they like it or not, and create a new problem for the rebels arising from the raid.

The only problem was that it wasn't believable. The outpost was seriously undermanned for no reason, my secondary character had no good reason for being there, the ruse that made the raid possible wouldn't work, even if it did the raid would only succeed if the invaders did a whole slew of stupid things... Well, I fixed this and explained that; asked my First Reader to take a look at it; he pointed out some new problems; while he was reading I noticed some other problems.

Then I realized that I was putting patches on top of patches to save a structure that was unsound in the beginning.

That's when you're "washing garbage." When, no matter how much you change words and dialog and insert explanatory background, you're still working with a fundamentally flawed idea. And it's still going to smell like dead fish and coffee grounds no matter how often you wash it.

So, this weekend, eleven thousand words went into the recycling bin and I spent most of my time reading books on guerrilla warfare and IED's in the hope of shaking a new idea loose. (If anyone's interested, the book I found most useful was The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War and the least useful was Mao's Guerrilla Warfare.

Now, I hope, I've got an entirely new surface plot with the same deep plot (those things I wanted to accomplish in the opening chapters) underlying it.

Let's see how hard it is to write this version.