Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Spinning the Gears

Most nights, I lie in my bed and thoughts flood my mind. Picture a gear driven engine that won't shut off--that's my head. I'm usually tired, but I don't drift into a silent, beautiful sleep. No, everything from broken lawn sprinklers, current projects, my children's school to past conversations and failures race through my mind like a parade of regret and fear.

Boo-hoo, right? It's gone on for long enough that I've tried to turn this phenomenon into something good, especially when I'm working on a book. Instead of letting my brain dictate the topic, I'll run through a specific part of a story and try to play out multiple scenarios and outcomes. My semi-conscious brain operates like a sort of computer program that uses a complex algorithm to predict all possible points of conflict and conclusion. That isn't to say that every outcome is worth sharing...

Most times, this never leads to any sort of cohesive revision. Usually, that weird self-doubt virus takes over (the same one that makes me relive that one time in fourth grade when I cussed at the lunch lady) and starts to plant questions, like "Do you actually believe anyone will read this?" or "Can you not see how offensive this is?"

Why do it? Well, that semi-conscious review, despite the self-loathing, makes me very familiar with the intricacies of the work, sometimes exposing minor flaws in the logic, dialogue or goals of my stories. I might not find the best plot resolution in those sleepy moments, but I might find that my current direction for resolving the protagonist's journey isn't quite right. Or I might expose a character's bias that isn't quite believable.

No matter what happens, I've never abandoned sleep, jumping out of bed to start anew on a project right away. This is where a pad and pen on the nightstand are a good idea, because it never fails--if I haven't written it down, I never remember the specifics the next day. Without a written prompt, the next day I may recall, "There was something that I was going to change..."

You may not want to gum up your late night routines prior to sleeping (and really, I wouldn't recommend it unless you're already a member of the Spinning Gear Sleep Club), but do you ever review your stories when you're away from the keyboard? How do you do it? Drop me a comment and share your experiences.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Garage Props--Silicon Mold Making

Every so often, I'm going to go off topic and show you some of the "maker" stuff I do. I have a Tumblr account that I use to show off my prop replica making, and some of my more successful YouTube videos have been me showing how these techniques are put into play.

Today I'll show you a video about how to make silicon molds. I'm molding up an aluminum piece that I use for making a replica of a Bat-a-rang from a video game called Arkham Asylum.

The next step involves making a resin copy of the piece. I'll post that up next week sometime.

Just for fun, here is the finished product. (The piece I'm working on is the little disc on the top of the replica)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Out of the Office...

Even hardened writers, makers, hackers and bloggers need a little time off, and so we find The-Creative-Spark on a little break. This trip, I get to double up--vacation and celebration. Twenty years married to my high-school sweet heart. 

I'm hard at work, trying to defeat the evil Emperor Zurg, but I'll be back at it next week. 

Until then, how's this for your Creative Spark--what are you going to do with all your free time now that the children are back in school? My mind just exploded with possibilities!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Everyone Else Is Doing It

Many of you may have heard the "news"--Google is now defining the word "literally" as it is improperly used in the show "Parks & Recreation." The Rob Lowe character over-uses the word in a manner which truly should mean "figuratively," and it is written this way for comedic effect, but it has been picked up by enough users to change the definition, at least so far as Google is concerned.

I majored in Speech Language Pathology (BS, 1998, Brigham Young University) and studied the pragmatic approach to language usage as part of one class. One of the phenomenon noted during my time there was the schwa-ing of the English language--the concept that all vowels ultimately will be pronounced with a generic "uh" sound (say the word "the" as "thuh", not "thee" and you'll know what I mean). There was some controversy over it, but I felt that if the pronunciation was being used by the populace in day-to-day conversation, then there was no stopping it. It is what it is.

But this "literally" thing really chaps my pale, freckled hide.

It is one thing for a word's pronunciation to evolve, it is another thing to completely disregard the correct definition of a word. No one can look up to the noon sky on a clear, calm day and make the argument that the blue sky is actually green. One could not hold a key and call it a lock. An apple is not an orange.

The prevalence of misuse, pragmatic or not, can not justify a fundamental shift in a word's meaning. I don't care how many Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook posts misuse it, there must be a line drawn against the dumbing down of our culture.

Maybe I've just had enough vague posturing by a society that wants to hand out trophies to soccer players and first year employees for meritorious effort without having achieved anything of merit. Maybe I've had it with social change just for the sake of change. But to hear this news, literally the day after California signs into law the ability for any male or female student to participate, toilet, or shower in any gender specific team or facility of their choosing, (and how many 15 year old boys tried to get into the girl's locker room today using this very statute?) maybe I just feel like common sense is dying.

And what seemed to be a slow death now seems to be a rapid race into a concrete pillar. Figuratively.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Talented Artists from Tokyo In Tulsa

Photo Courtesy of

If these illustrations don't give you a creative kick in the pants, I don't know what will!

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I visited Tokyo In Tulsa this past weekend. Since I wasn't interested in meeting any of the multitude of anime voice actors that were offering autographs, I decided to walk around and visit with some of the artists that impressed me. Here are eleven of them, and in no particular order. Except for the Firefly pic. Anything that is Firefly deserves to be front and center!
Please take some time to click the links I've provided and examine these talented artists works.

And tell a friend! This is how we indepenent artists and writers get the word out!


Creative Spark:

 You are visiting Japan for vacation, and your guide/translator doesn't show up at the previously agreed upon meeting place. How do you go about making the most of your vacation without your guide?


(Where possible, I have listed the artists real name, but it is a common practice to have a pen name.)
Kevin Yan, aka yanimator

Dana Wilson

Diana Acevedo
(Lots of Regular Show buttons!)

Jeff aka Dream Gear Studios
(He had some AWESOME pencil rendered sketches you should see)

Crack Kittens
(A team of artists, they had an entire series of these Avenger prints--so very cool!)

Alice Chan

Jinny Liang aka Nayuki-Chan

Kyouya's Kritters

Stefany Belisle of La Blaque Rose

Dorothy T. Rose
John aka Ladre

Silver No Miko

Sweet Sheep Studio

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tokyo In Tulsa Wrap Up (Anime Con in OK)



Tokyo In Tulsa is a HUGE anime convention in Tulsa, OK. What's a convention? It is a fan gathering, really. Vendors selling everything from clothing, toys, candy, comics, movies (you name it) occupy a huge space. Panel rooms are filled with lectures and guest speakers on the subjects being celebrated at the convention. Artists and authors fill the hallways with tables. And attendees flood the aisles in their favorite t-shirts or costumes. (Comic book and sci fi fans call it "costuming". Anime fans call it "cosplay") In fact, the costume contests are usually the biggest draw of these fan conventions. You've probably seen the coverage of Comic Con in San Diego each summer--it's the largest of its kind.

So I'm a little late on the whole anime thing. I totally loved Japanese animation back in the 80's and 90's, stuff like G-Force, Ghost in the Shell.


But I really don't like anime. I've tried it, but I don't really "get" it. More on that later. That said, I had nothing going on this past weekend when T in T was in town, so I figured I'd make the drive and check it out. I'm glad I did.


Fans are fans. In the past, I'd held a bit of resentment against the fast rise that anime enjoyed in the US...there are anime-kids at every con whether it is comics, movie or sci-fi related. But with a little bit of interaction, I found that most folks are cool and just wanted to celebrate their shared fandom. While there are outliers in every genre that ruin it for everyone (yaoi and hentai in anime, the comic book guys that criticize the nerd-girls as "fake", drunk jocks) we all have more in common than otherwise.
So while I didn't recognize 99% of the costumes at the anime con, I did recognize their passion.

Sadly, there are other connections. No matter what con you visit, you'll always have a few moments where you'll think to yourself, "What is that awful smell?" and then understand that it is body odor. Horrible, terrible body odor. It's probably just a human condition, but it seems very prevalant at fan conventions.
Not quite so bad, but still annoying, is the fake British accent. Thanks for nothing, Game of Thrones.
I met a lot of great artists and makers that had incredible pieces of original art that I want to share with you. I'll post their works and links up later this week.

Since there are no convention rules about who can show up and who can't, there were members of the 501st, JediOKC, Mando Mercs, Tulsa Fan Force and Star Trek worlds at the anime con. Despite their spotted pasts, no fights broke out and everyone had a good time. And if they could get along, then I should at least try to understand anime.
For me, that understanding came on a trip to Epcot Center. In the "Japan" part of the park, there was a great display about the history of anime and it gave me some context as to why I didn't "get" most of the content I'd seen. Alot of the genre is based on Japanese mythology and history, stuff like the shape-changers and animals. If one understands that, then the cartoons make more sense. I had no real experience with the cultural significance of these symbols and characters, and a very small exhibit shed light on my ignorance. See? With just a little effort, confusing sub-cultures can become much less so!

Stay tuned for links and art from some of the vendors I met!

Creative Spark

Describe the weirdest costume you've ever seen a character in a movie or at a conventioin wear.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The World's Next Great Writers--Introducing Eva F.

In June and August of 2013, I had the pleasure of teaching a Creative Writing Course for Elementary Students at the Edmond location of the Metro Library System. Amy Thomas, the children’s librarian, felt that this was an age group ready to absorb a more advanced approach on writing, and boy, was she right!

Meeting four times over those two months, the students were diverse in age and background but all shared one thing–a common love of reading and writing.

I promised the students that if they would take the time to write a story, I would share it with the world, so here we go. Each story will appear as it was sent to me–no editorial changes or additions.
Our first story comes from Eva F.  Enjoy!
But first...

Creative Spark

Explain how to best operate a kitchen appliance to someone that has never seen it, or electricity.

My Time with the Volcano People
 By Eva F.
Once, on a family vacation to Hawaii, our cruise liner ran aground onto a deserted island when the captain lost control of the ship in a storm.  Thankfully, the radio was still working.  Hungry and tired of listening to the static of the radio, I wandered away from the group while picking coconuts.  Suddenly, the ground gave way under my feet and I fell into a lava tube.  Unable to climb out, I crawled for what seemed like hours through the lava tube into a volcanic crater.  As I leaped over rocks gasping for fresh air, I heard the echo of drums. Looking to my right I saw the volcano people.  They were made of stone and breathed fire.  I was very amazed.  Unexpectedly, a huge wooden ball knocked them over like nine pins but they sprang back up, unhurt.  Later that day I learned that it meant the volcano was going to erupt, which explained why they whisked me into a stone cave and put a giant rock in front of it.  Out of nowhere, the cloud people attacked, riding on the backs of the blue alien crater monkeys, hurling lightning bolts and hail at the volcano people.  So many giant crater monkeys filled the sky that they blocked out the moon where they lived.  The fight stretched far into the night.  The volcano people released giant scorpions, who loved to devour crater monkey meat.  The scorpions ferociously attacked them and quickly killed them off.  Finally, the cloud people retreated.  We had won!  There was a great celebration by the volcano people.  Exhausted by the excitement and tension of the day, I fell into a deep sleep.  In the morning the volcano people led me to within sight of my family, who I had been with before I got lost.  Soon a rescue boat came and we sailed on it the rest of the way to Hawaii.  All everyone could talk about was the horrific storm of the night before.


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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Worthless Input

Part of promoting a book involves book awards. Depending on how you've published, you may have many options for entering these awards. Your publisher may enter the book into the contest and front the fees, or an independent author may have to seek out opportunities and cover the expenses for the entry as part of the cost of marketing. 

These awards can help with exposure, even if the title doesn't win. Sometimes, the awards will provide a review of the book that will attract future readers. 

And then there are the judging/reviews that I get.

I just received feedback from a Book of the Year Award that I'd entered at the beginning of the year. I received high marks for cover, editorial, and content--overall I was pleased--though I didn't win in this particular contest. So I was looking forward to the comments by the professionals that read and ranked my book. At least this way I might be able to learn why my story didn't rank higher, and the cost of entering might be offset with some professional input. But instead I get:

Judge 1: "Probably would have helped to have read the first one." (My title was a sequel). That was it. Nothing more.

Judge 2: "Loved the cover of the book." This judge's ranking averaged to a 9.5 out of 10 in all areas, but offered nothing more as to what the story made them feel or think.

And my favorite: "Really appreciated the justified right margins as it made the fluency much better." What? This judge wasn't assigned to judge the cover and interior formatting, but rather was a story judge. 

Mostly worthless. I will not be supporting this contest in the future, and not because I'm sour that I didn't place as a finalist or winner. Rather, I'm not confident that the criteria or persons involved in the process of selecting winners are at all meaningful. 

Have you ever placed your story into the hands of another author, friend and family member and had them offer completely odd feedback? It truly highlights the value of a competent critique partner. Let me know about your experiences with reviews and contests. I would love to share your valuable input.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Inertia: A Double Edged-Word

I looked into my Netflix account the other day. Since they've added instant streaming, I've used their DVD delivery system about five times. A streaming-only account costs something like $10 a month, but I've been paying the full $29.99. Why? Because I'd have to take the effort of sitting down at the computer, log onto the site, and click a button. What a rut! If I weren't so lazy, I would take out a calculator and add up how much money I've been contributing to Netflix that I could have been using to build up my "new flat screen tv" fund. But the calculator is downstairs, in a drawer...

When I am on a roll, it is humbling to see what I can do. The right inspiration will drive to me shift my priorities so as to allow nothing to stand in my way of reaching my goal (new story with all the fun it involves--time lines, character biographies, plot structure, theme, etc.; or, a new prop piece and all the research for accurate measurements, materials needed, paint). I can spend ten hours a day if I feel the right spark.

What is your inertia today? Feeling like a rolling stone? Or the Rock of Gibraltar? What do you do to overcome (or continue with) creative inertia? Let me know--your ideas could inspire a fellow writer.


Creative Spark

You are sitting at your computer. There is a knock at the door, but when you answer, there is only an unmarked box. You didn't order anything, but you pick up the box, open it up, and...