Thursday, June 29, 2006

Dept of Creepy Coincidences

Thinking about dressing things up around here, maybe putting together a custom template. In the meantime...

Most of you will probably have heard that Jim Baen died last night. David Drake wrote an online obit that is much more eloquent than anything I could say about it. But in searching for more information about what this will mean to Baen Publishing, I happened onto the front page of Jim Baen's Universe. And what did I see?

A notice about Baen's death in the center column, while on the right, there is his editorial for the first issue, titled "Why Die?"

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Shirt, Part Deux

So I had this idea for something I wanted to blog here, but I forgot what it was. In the meantime, instead of Photoshop, I downloaded a free program called The GIMP, which is a Linux project and does a lot of what Photoshop does. I used it to put some finishing touches on my T-shirt design, which I reproduce here:

As you can see, it's much the same, only some edges are cleaner, Digger and the girl now have shadows, and there is text in the upper right where there used to be a big empty space. I still have a lot to learn about the GIMP and about artwork in general, but I'm pretty jazzed at how well this turned out, and now, of course, I have an idea for an even better shirt. I've written the assistant editor at Baen's Universe to see if there is a problem using the Baen's URL and logo on the shirt. If not, those are easily fixed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Shirt

So I got super-inspired over the weekend and, after looking around on-line to find out what it would cost to commission a real comics artist to do a piece for me, decided to buckle down and do it myself. This was really a pain-in-the-ass to do, because I don't have Photoshop, only PhotoDeluxe, which came free with my printer several years ago. It is to Photoshop what MS Works is to MS Word: a sad, pale copy of the real program, dumbed-down for non-artists like myself. Then again, it's an incredibly feature-rich masterpiece compared to the image-processing software that came with my new computer and printer. If I decide to do more of this kind of stuff, however, Photoshop would definitely be worth the investment.

That said, I am really quite pleased with the way it turned out, although I may need to tweak a couple of things. The concept of the T-shirt is that on one side, it says, "...and there, sitting on the roof, holding my burger, is this big, green monkey."
with maybe an "Astromonkeys!" logo or something. And on the other side is this:

So what do you think? I could get these done easily by Cafepress, only their prices are a little high (understandable considering that they're essentially a clothing POD). I might be able to get them made more cheaply locally, if I buy in bulk, but then I have to find a place to store them, and really, how many people are going to want one of these? I think I need to add something on the right to balance the composition, maybe another background figure or something. I'm also not sure if I want the photo background or if I want to go with something more abstract, like an irregular splash of background color. But at least the hardest part is done. If I do go with the photo background, I should probably add in some shadows under the figures, I guess.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Visual History of Digger

I lost the best picture I ever drew of Digger and don't know if I could ever duplicate it. However, while I'm thinking about possible T-shirt designs, I thought it might be interesting to look back at how Digger has evolved visually. This may only be interesting to me, but what the hell, it's late and I want to be silly.

When I first came up with Digger as a Champions game character, I wanted him to be dressed in more-or-less earth tones, given his affinity for dirt. But all brown and green was just crying out for brighter color, so I ended up with this:

The tan pants and brown boots are earthy, while the blue shirt suggests sky, maybe. I just thought the bicolor effect on the shirt looked cool, while I added the fringe to the tops of the moccasin boots both to break up the silhouette and for joke value, since the fringe would rarely survive a battle intact.

I also, though I didn't draw it, imagined him wearing a poncho, a'la Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti Western, whenever he went out in public, to conceal the Drillers.

Almost a year later, I decided Digger was getting a bit tired of his plain ordinary look, and gave him a radical makeover:

You'll notice I'd been watching a lot of anime at that point. I gave him naval dress blue pants with a racing stripe and an original X-Men tunic, partially concealed by a completely non-functional chest armor console. Basically, Digger had a dashboard. I also switched out the boots for a more durable pair with a big buccaneer flap, cut his hair, and grew out his beard. But you'll notice I left the poncho in place. Oh yeah, and I added some decorative fins to the Drillers, just for the hell of it. It's a weird mish-mash of a costume, mainly memorable for not being anything like the previous one.

Several months later, a long-running storyline entered a crisis (right before summer vacation), so I did a special illustration to show Digger at the height of battle.

This was the only time I'd ever seen anybody use a dramatic close-up on a character sheet, but I figured 'what the hell?' (and yes, you'll notice I was still watching a lot of anime). The dashboard is gone, as is the beard. The hair is back to shaggy and wild, the shirt is ripped, and there is a certain air of desperation about him. He's cornered and fighting a losing battle, obviously, but he hasn't given up.

That campaign ended soon after, but I brought Digger back to fight again when I started a new campaign in Oklahoma City. At that time, I debated another new costume concept, but ended up going back to almost classic Digger, combining elements of both costumes to create a new fusion. Oh yeah, the fringe is back, baby!

The description in Hero Go Home, however, is a throwback to the blue-shirt days, with the only new element being the "D" logos on each shoulder, an innovation that was added by PlayCo. I've also lately been thinking more of the Drillers as being elevated away from the arm, like this incomplete sketch from "Astromonkeys!"

I don't really know what's best anymore, except that I know I'm not a huge fan of the "Quake"-style look they gave him in Baen's Universe. So I'm going to take a shot at an illustration over the weekend, see how it works out.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Uijongbu Street Scene

I mentioned a couple of days ago that rereading William Gibson's books made me want to write something possibly taking place in Korea. Mainly, it was Idoru which put this idea in my head, since Idoru mostly takes place in Japan. There's a scene in Idoru where the main character, Laney, goes to a Kafka theme bar, and it reminded me of this:

This was a street in Uijongbu, where I was stationed. Some guys in my unit formed a little band called "Morning Wood." Since they weren't allowed to play on post with a name like that, they got a gig at a little club in town called the R&B Club. That row of windows on the second floor? That's the club. But take a closer look...

Here's a close-up of the R&B sign. Yes, that's a triceratops head sticking out of the wall. There were more in the stairwell and in the club itself. No, I don't know what ceratopsians and R&B have in common, other than the fact that some might argue they're both dinosaurs. Ha. Oh, yeah, and farther back in the picture, look at this...

Yup, that's right, good old American KFC, only this one has a life-size fiberglass statue of the Colonel out front. I've stopped eating at KFC since the last menu reshuffle, which jacked up all the prices while simultaneously dumping some of my favorite menu items, plus the staff at the closest one are just seriously incompetent. But you know what? I'll bet I'd be more likely to give 'em another chance if they had a life-size fiberglass statue of the Colonel out front.

Of course the problem is that if they did that here, it might, might, last a week before it got stolen or vandalized. Damn criminals, vandals, and gang members. They're the reason we can't have cool stuff.

I wanna go back to Korea sometimes.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

About the Car

To answer the question as to the car I bought:

It's a Chevrolet Aveo, aka DaeWoo Kalos, aka Holden Barina, aka Suzuki Swift+, aka Pontiac Wave. Red 5-door hatchback. describes the car's heritage this way:

It began life as a Daewoo product but when GM bought the company the Swift+/Aveo was updated mechanically by Suzuki, given a style refresher by Italy's Giugiaro/ItalDesign, had its development overseen by General Motors engineers in Detroit. A global product if there ever was one!

It's a weird little car. Looks like a compact from a distance, but it's built tall, so when I'm driving it, it feels like I'm driving my mom's van. Base model, not even power windows on it, but it's new, it doesn't leak in the rain, and it gets 30-ish miles to the gallon. I still have the Batmobile, only now I can get it fixed up nicely without worrying how I'm going to get to work to afford the repairs. All in all, I'm pretty happy with. Pics later, maybe, on a day when it's not raining.

I'm playing with TiddlyWiki, having fun, seeing all sorts of possibilities for this simple little tool. I've been wanting a place to collect and analyze all the interconnected threads of Lost. This could do that, maybe. I've been wanting to write an interactive HTML manual for my guys at work; drill down quickly to find exactly the bit you need to know at the moment you need it. This is an incredibly easy way to do that. Writing the Wiki for DiggerWorld is fun, although it strikes me that if I intend to put one of these on-line, I'll actually need to do two: one for my own use, and a non-spoilerish one for other folks to peruse.

But wow, it's easy to learn and fast to use, and the resulting document is flexible and compact, yet complex. I get the feeling that there are huge possibilities here.

Now I just need to get some illustrations done. I have a vision for a T-shirt illustration, but haven't gotten beyond the daydream stage yet. I can draw okay, but I'm out of practice and haven't had the time to devote to it, lately.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Quiet Lately

I've been busy doing random stuff - bought a car, been working nights for a guy on vacation, been rereading Gibson's second novel trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties).

The Gibson stuff is odd. I remembered it as having more plot than it does. There's a lot of character and a lot of texture and backstory, worldbuilding if you will, but the actual plot is pretty light. And a really striking thing is that he has bad guys in the first and third books that are almost identical (supremely skilled killing machines who wear long coats and have deep smile creases down each cheek). Looking at Gibson's author photo on the back of the third book, I wonder if he didn't model both of them off of himself.

Of course, as usually happens with any author I like, reading his books makes me want to write something like it. I've got vague glimmerings of an idea taking place in Korea, but civ, not military this time. And I'm thinking of using TiddlyWiki to develop it and keep track of all the random pieces. I might also use it to keep track of all my World of Digger stuff.

I still haven't started rewriting the novel. As soon as I finish this third Gibson book, I'll reread it and make notes, then either construct the Wiki to try to find deeper connections between pieces or start rewriting scenes. Things I know I need to do include:

  • strengthening point of view
  • stronger, clearer character development
  • research details and insert into text - for instance, one character is a Czech and curses at one point in his native language - right now, the MS just says "Czeching damn!" every time, which is evocative, but not what I actually want him to say
  • Get consistent with stuff I changed my mind about during the draft, like whether Digger's powers work perfectly or not

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chicken or Egg?

So the Mini idea isn't getting any love from anybody I've talked to about it. I think this car is awesome, but other people's reactions, including The Wife, range from amused head-shakes to outright hostility. I'm bummed.

And at the same time, another idea has been rolling around in my head, and I'm wondering if it's time to do something about it. I've currently got the two websites: the Chamber of Secrets over on Geocities, that I haven't updated in over two years, and this blog. I'm wondering if maybe it's time to take the plunge and get my own domain. Put up some writing links, maybe a World of Digger wiki or something, convert the blog to Wordpress or Movable Type and get disciplined about updating it more often and more interestingly, to make it a more attractive destination.

On the one hand, it would work better as a promotional tool, but on the other hand, it would cost a chunk of money, and I don't have the traffic to justify it right now. Hence my Chicken and Egg dilemma.

If I build it, will they come, or do I wait until they're standing in line to take the plunge?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Sublime, Meet Ridiculous

The announcement has gone out all over the place that there's a buying freeze on at Baen's Universe. They've bought an entire year's worth of stories, and still haven't gotten in all the ones they've commissioned. As a result, they've imposed a buying freeze until at least October 1. Which affects me like this:

That leaves the problem of what to do with the stories that were
submitted prior to June 12. What we've decided to do is leave those
stories in the pool for consideration for the second year of the
magazine -- but notify the authors that the delay is likely to be very
long before they receive either an acceptance or a rejection.

This strikes me as rather ironic. "Astromonkeys" took seven hours from submissions to acceptance. A couple of weeks later, the assistant editor said she'd like to see a sequel. I took that as a hint, and seeing as how I'd just written one, I sent it in about a month later. It made its way up to Eric Flint in early December. Now it looks as if it will be close to a year before I get a final decision one way or the other. From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Of course, they say I'm welcome to pull the story at any time. But who else would publish it? Baen's seems like the perfect fit for Digger and his exploits. So I guess I'll let the story sit, but really, it's a bit of a pain. I could really use some writing income to help with this whole "buying a car" tightrope I'm trying to walk.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I've Got a Fever

So I've had this Miata for two years, and yeah, it looks cool, if you can get past the body damage and the sun fade and the flaking clearcoat. But I've been seeing these commercials for Toyota's new Yaris, the 40 MPG Wundercar (mileage like a hybrid, but way cheaper to buy and maintain). So yesterday, I thought I'd go look at one. And on the way out there, I pass another lot, a BMW place with Z3's and Minis. So I stop and see this.

Pretty cool. I take down some information, and I head out to the Toyota place, and they're sold out of Yarises. So I blow that off and go home. But I just can't get that Mini out of my head, so I run some numbers, and I can just barely afford it, or maybe barely not afford it. So I go back at 8:00 p.m. and test drive it.

Oh, it's sweet.

And if you know anything about the cars I've bought in the past (the '68 Mustang, the Fiero, the Scoupe, the Miata), you know that I go for small, quirky, instantly recognizable cars. This is almost a perfect fit for me. But I'm really not sure I can afford it.

So I go online searching for an alternative, and find another dealer in Broken Arrow who's got an almost identical Mini for $2,000 less. I won't know what's wrong with that one till I run the Carfax, if I get that serious.

It's still a lot more than I want to pay every month, but if I stick with the Miata for another year, I'm looking at several hundred dollars in repairs, probably a new set of tires, plus another winter driving a noisy, leaky, finicky prima donna. I like riding with the top down, but I don't do it very often, because I've almost always got some sort of loose paper shuffling around in there. And The Wife would certainly be thrilled that I'm driving something with more than two seats (which is sort of a combined pro/con, there).

And all of this may be a moot point, because I may end up not qualifying for the loan at all, right? By Monday, maybe reality will sink in and I'll just forget the whole thing until I'm in a little better shape financially.

But seriously, just look at this thing. It just looks like it came right out of a sci-fi comic book, doesn't it? It was made for me. Or at least, it'll do until I can get my own Mini Cooper Robot. (The original site is now down, but trust me, it was hella cool, even if it was a hoax)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Conestoga Schedule

I got my schedule for Conestoga. They loaded me up on Saturday: three panels and a reading. And they've got me on a panel called Year in Movies, which, what kind of idiot was I to volunteer for that? I never go to movies anymore. Now I need to go see some movies. So anyway, if anyone's interested, here's the schedule:

Friday 4 p.m.: Year in Movies

Saturday 9 a.m.: New Writer's Panel
Saturday 11 a.m.: Anime: Best & Worst (guess I need to watch some anime, too)
Saturday 2 p.m.: Baen's Universe
Saturday 4 p.m.: Action Adventure Sampler (reading)

Sunday 11 a.m. : Signing

I have no idea why they have me set up with a signing. I have nothing to sign, other than Blue Falcon. I guess I'll bring the few copies I have left and see if anyone wants one. And I need to figure out what to read. It's an action-adventure panel, so I guess "Frame By Frame" is out of the question. IIRC, it's a 15-minutelimit, so I'm not sure whether to read something really short, like "Out of His League," or read a fragment of something longer, like "Astromonkeys" or my current WoTF entry.

Of course, it's still almost two months away, so I have plenty of time to figure it out. And watch movies. And watch anime...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Thumb Twiddling

Trying to enforce some distance between myself and the manuscript. I've been reading lots of blogs by editors and agents (too lazy to post the links here unless someone asks), rereading notes on screenplay structure (which I use in novel writing as well), analyzing my book's structure on a purely mathematical level, and not much else. I've been thinking about reading something new, but I can't decide what. I'm considering "His Majesty's Dragon" by Naomi Novik, or maybe "Kung Fu High School," or "Fight Club," or maybe go totally retro with "Childhood's End," which I've still never read.

In the meantime, I'm just sort of twiddling my thumbs, Googling to see if anyone has posted reactions to Baen's Universe yet (and especially my story, of course), feeling increasing urgency to get the book out the door and in an editor's hands while feeling my enthusiasm for actually working on the book diminish, and basically just waiting, like the kid in the trike in "The Incredibles," for "something amazing, I guess..."

Any questions? Any suggestions?

Friday, June 02, 2006

A Half-Assed Plan

Torn as I am between letting it sit and getting it done, I've come up with a compromise plan. Two weeks. I'm going to let the manuscript cool for two weeks, then launch on a clean-up campaign that I hope to finish by the end of August, and then off to Baen first. I've been told to send to Ace, but I'm going to Baen for two reasons, somewhat related: 1) I sort of owe them because they got the ball rolling on the Digger thing, and 2) they're favorably disposed toward the character already.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about some possible merchandising ideas. Maybe an "Astromonkeys!" T-shirt or something, if I can come up with a good design.