The Dwarvenaut

Things lately have been super busy and more than a little crazy. One of the things I’ve found that brings me back to myself again and again is gaming. I have loved playing Dungeons and Dragons for a long time. I’ve also loved to see what people do with their miniatures. I’ve personally got a bunch of the old Grenadier miniatures box sets along with a big stack of others. Carrying lead is always fun when you move… it’s even heavier than the books!

I’ve painted my minis, used them for games, created maps and maps and adventures… but I’ve always had these massive, grand visions of what the game could be with a little extra visualization. How wide is the corridor really when you compare it to the mini?

Dwarven Forge has been that answer for somewhere around 20 years now. I just watched a film about Stefan Pokorny, the founder of that company, called The Dwarvenaut. I’m glad I watched the film. IF you’re a fan of miniatures and the passion that goes along with this wonderful game you should hop onto Netflix and check it out. It’s a good look behind the scenes of the company and their third Kickstarter campaign. I’m glad I got to see the passion behind this company. It certainly gives me a lot more perspective on what they offer and what’s behind the cost of the sets. I plan to dig into these and see if I can add them to my game.

Check out the trailer here:

Get Out

Writing is a solitary business. You and your chosen method of applying words to paper (virtual or otherwise). It can be difficult, draining and many other words that don’t have very positive connotations. There is something you can do that is a tremendous help.

You can get out.

Yes, get up and move. Stretch in the way that makes that spot between your shoulder blades grind and sort of pop. Focus beyond the meager couple of feet between you and your screen and walk out the door.

I tell you this because an “adventure” doesn’t have to be a big deal. You probably won’t travel through the mines of Moria, nor are you likely to slip into London below. You might however find that one street you hadn’t noticed before. It’s turned at just such an angle that the noise from the busy streets at either end of the block doesn’t carry to the middle. There are concrete stoops with unusual plants. Delicate fairy lights dangle in a miniature garden between two houses just before you see a sign for a shop you never knew was there. It could be better lit, but something about it draws you in anyway. Just a trio of steps off the street, with the jingle of dainty bells and suddenly you’re very far away.

It could be anywhere. Down the street, across town or into that restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. You’ll be shocked at just how much little differences can make when you’ve been stuck in the same place for too long. My travels this evening were fruitful. I netted a free book at an author appearance, learned of a particular author I may need to cyber-stalk and came home with at least 3 new story ideas.

Get out. There’s a world out there filled with interesting new places and people. When you’ve had enough, rush back to your key board and finish that story. I think you’ll find a little adventure might just be exactly what you need.

A little mystery…

I truly enjoy that there are so many things to discover still in the world. The world needs a little mystery to keep things going. There are things that are OK being a mystery. Solving the mystery actually takes away that special something that draws you in.

I recently heard about the Voynich manuscript. It’s fascinating if you haven’t heard about it. Imagine a book written hundreds of years ago that still survives today. More than the fact that it still survives, imagine that nobody can read it. That’s right – it’s some kind of code or language that nobody can figure out. There are dozens of images and notations. There are multi-page fold outs and super vibrant colors… and nobody has any idea what it all means. The name even comes from the book dealer that rediscovered it in 1912 because nobody is certain who actually wrote it.

The book has been tested, chronicled, studied and discussed. Scholars, scientists and cryptographers have all attempted to figure it out to no avail. They’ve decided it’s not a hoax. The chemical mix of the inks are right for the time. The parchment has been tested and dated, showing it was created around the year 1420. That’s right, we’re coming up on 600 years and nobody has figured it out.

Kind of cool, right?

When I said there are some things that are acceptable as a mystery? This is one of those times. Would it be valuable to history if we figured out what it all said? Maybe. Would lose something in my mind if we cracked the code and figured out it was a big fat book on medicinal plants? You bet. It’s likely to be something like that really, but it’s better to leave it wrapped up in mystery. Doesn’t it sound better if we can say that John Dee has been associated with it? It could have been referenced by alchemists or coded to keep rival magicians from stealing secret recipes? Was it sold to Emperor Rudolf II in Prague? Where did it go between 1600 and 1912? The mystery is what draws you in.

It’s actually available for download now. Somebody has created a PDF version of it (pretty large download). It’s a fun thing to check out. You can find it here.

I suspect that with more access, a worldwide viewing audience and multiple modern tools the code will be cracked. Somebody has already claimed to have a start on it (here). I’m hoping it’s still a mystery, it’s far more interesting that way.

voynich_manuscript

Writer’s Fuel

Being sick doesn’t have a lot of advantages, it’s mostly terrible with a strong amount of wishing to get better. One of the things being sick can do for you is give you fuel for your writing.

I couldn’t say if it was the self administered ‘cough medicine’ I had before bed combined with vapor rub fumes or not, but last night landed in a very weird place. That was terrible for getting some sleep and the rest needed to get better, but it was really great as writer’s fuel.

My dreams (nightmares?) took place in an expanded haunted house combination version of the place I grew up in Maine and my grandmother’s house. An old house with hidden storage under the eaves between closets where the walls didn’t get constructed all the way to the roof. I was hearing something that I couldn’t define, like I kept trying to tune in a fading radio station that was saying something important or something sinister and I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. The whole thing would fade when I got closer to being awake and then pick up just as I was really drifting off. Hazy, woozy and scrambling forward without being able to make any progress. I don’t really remember the details but the feeling was queasy and panicked. Not a great combination for rest, but just the sort of thing to put one in the right frame of mind for writing something moody.

What sort of fuel do you use for your writing?

Sick

War and Art

Being part of the military is an intense experience. Despite the time I served being less than 4 years in total, and never in an active combat zone, the things I witnessed and the things I did have affected me in ways that have lasted more than twenty years. I have some sad and some funny anecdotes from the various exercises, training missions and trips over seas. These stories go along with a handful of items, the artifacts and photos of that time in my life. These things bring memories and emotions along with them each time they come out of storage.

Memories when attached to pictures and small objects have a startling clarity. Even with clarity and a deep imagination, I fail to grasp the depth and connection of what the soldiers who served as part of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops from WWII have when they look at their art.
I am behind the times catching up with the documentary showing the amazing work these artists, these engineers, these soldiers did under the undiluted pressure of the Nazi war machine. Knowing the load of stuff any soldier is asked to carry these true artists were also certain to have pen or pencil and paper with them too. Sketching the war, but also crafting an amazing deception.

If you are an artist and you think from time to time, “I just can’t work under these conditions” or “well, this would be a better picture if I had the right tools” you should definitely take a peek at these inspirational artists. Imagine this quote, “…we were sleeping in hedgerows and foxholes, but nothing kept us away from going someplace to do a watercolor…” They certainly worked under conditions most artists wouldn’t. Being a soldier and being an artist are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

Take the opportunity to catch the film The Ghost Army, I highly recommend it.

Other Links:

PBS

The Atlantic

Death, Dying and Deep Feelings of Doubt

This was originally published in Watch the Skies – should you be interested you can find it here: Watch The Skies

I’m not good at sharing feelings. I’m not good at it in person, I’m particularly bad at it when writing it down. I don’t jump on Facebrick and load up an episode for the public to see. I don’t Tweet it or Instagram it or even post it to the Pretend Blog. I do spend a lot of time wondering if that means I’m not meant to be an author. Authors are meant to be expressive, to have words and share words showing others part of the human condition. I haven’t been able to do that. I’m private about the most sensitive parts of my life. I still have the old fashioned belief that some things are not for public consumption. I have also found that my train of thought is frequently on such a distant track that I fear others won’t relate to what I’m thinking at all.
A clear and recent example of an author sharing his emotions and the whole process of a difficult struggle is Jay Lake. I didn’t know Jay, but I know a number of people that did know him. I was actually invited to go to a dinner and meet him some time ago. I missed that opportunity and now there won’t be any more dinners with him. I am moved by the writing he shared on his battle with cancer and more so by the response of others to what he wrote. His honesty about the ugly parts of the battle draws people out. He could share all this with his words.
More recently another larger than life member of fandom and also an excellent author also passed away. CJ Henderson was a man I had met. I can’t say that I really knew him. I own a number of his works. I had the occasional chance to chat with him, but being a full time raconteur he spent most of the time I was around him chatting with my wife and her girlfriend, convincing them the stories he wove were worthy of parting with their hard won cash. He was always entertaining. His death hit my circle of friends quite hard. As I write, less than a week after his passing, the ripples are still flowing outward from him. The words of others flow.
Something I suspect only a few folks know was that in between these two events death strode into my personal life. My mother’s brother Sid died, unexpectedly, right before Father’s day weekend. I left very early that Saturday morning and drove to Georgetown (north of Boston) to be with my family. Unlike the men listed above, this was an immediate connection. I’d known my uncle all of my life. He’d always been, and I had never given thought to when the time would come when he simply wouldn’t be. I can’t say I knew him as well as some, but we’d recently spent time chatting over things by e-mail. We talked a little of publishing and submissions and what made comics funny. Our communication was a work in progress but now it’s done. It’s over and there’s not going to be any more. It’s a struggle to deal with that thought. I’ve been amazingly fortunate in my family to have avoided more than one or two folks passing away in the past twenty years. I’m leaving that statement, despite the gnawing in my gut that’s telling the superstitious portion of my brain I shouldn’t tempt death or fate or whatever. It’s sad when a creative spark goes out and it’s difficult to deal with that feeling.
That Father’s Day weekend with my family highlighted just how much people live in their own little set of connections and don’t look to the world or even to other people beyond their immediate circle. That is in no way meant to be a disparaging remark toward anyone, merely an observation. My schedule was completely dumped, work shifted, child care rearranged and travel plans fixed. I put more than one thousand miles on my car in a three day span. Emotions were raw. Work needed to be done. Cleaning up, cleaning out and summarizing a life. It was an intense span. At the end of it? The world kept spinning. Other people’s summer vacation plans went on ahead, fireworks displays and cookouts still happened. At the end of it? It was my job to jump back into the stream and keep swimming along.
Now, after a great deal of stress has washed along I find myself wondering if I should have been writing this all down as I went. Should I have been making notes or posting updates or writing anything while this was going on? I wanted to mention Jay Lake’s cancer blog months ago. I appreciate that he wrote what he did. I meant to say something about the excellent celebration that happened at Balticon for CJ and his wife. It was good to see a storyteller still getting words out there for others… and yet I didn’t. I kept my words, my stories, my pictures inside and didn’t get anything on a page. I didn’t share my fun or my frustrations, the anger or the deep sadness. I neglected the ability to push the disgust and weariness out into words that might help or move or amuse others. I neglected that creativity.
I don’t know an author or artist that doesn’t have that little part of them wondering if what they do is really good enough. My doubts linger and float nearby. They gather and join each other. Doubt has become a pair of ankle weights as I swim along in life. A function of getting older? Perhaps. More likely it relates to the passing of the talented men I’ve talked about here. The flow of things putting those sparks out. My uncle wasn’t known in the science fiction community, nor was he a published author. He was a talented photographer, sculptor and cartoonist. He was genuinely creative and finished some amazing work. In the end, it didn’t go anywhere. That hit some kind of nerve inside me. Doubt soaked up all the depression, frustration and heartbreak adding more and more weight.
So here I am, writing it all down. It’s important for me, but I hope that others will be able to read this and know shared experiences are out there. Getting words onto a page helps. It’s expression, and it’s creativity. It’s catharsis. This is the first thing I’ve really written in weeks. It’s not a passing post on social media, it’s a line to help others that might be out there feeling like they’re going to get washed away and their creativity drowned. I’m so glad I got the chance to see, to feel the creative works of those recently passed. Those works will remain when their creators have gone. There are more words, more works of art, more creative expressions coming from me. I hope others will find a way to express themselves too. Don’t wait, don’t doubt, create.

Music and Inspiration

I have no musical talent at all. None. I’m terrible and I know it.

I DO however really enjoy listening to music. I’ve got a range of music in my collection, with just about every genre showing up. If you’re wondering, yes there is rap – some of Eminem’s work is tremendously amusing. I love to listen. I am particularly fond of highly produced pieces – and not live music. Many folks prefer live music, I’d rather listen to the disc.

One composer I particularly enjoy is Eric Whitacre. If you don’t know his work, I hope you go and check it out. Look up his TED talk series and start back at the first or second one. I am always inspired by that – and I’ve watched that talk a dozen times now at least. Here are a couple of links I wanted to share in the hope that you’d be inspired as well.

TED talk: http://www.toptubepicks.com/videos/eric-whitacre-ted-talk/

More: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/trending-now/composer-makes-video-combining-5-900-singers-one-165502054.html?vp=1