I Had My First Negative Review

AT AMAZON RECENTLY. It was on The High T Shebang. The reviewer claimed to have read 25% of the book, been unable to discern a plot other than Drummond and Dolly getting it on every whipstitch, and given the book metaphorical flying lessons.

It may shock you to know (you and all the people who are going to tell me, “Don’t respond to critics.”) that that doesn’t bother me. In fact, I expect it. And welcome it.

My issue is I have never been able to get ENOUGH negative feedback on my work. Hell, I have enough trouble getting people to admit they’ve read the stuff, let alone that they didn’t like it. I’m glad for people to hate my stories and tell me with great specificity exactly why. (To use a little Hannity lingo on you, there). How in hell am I supposed to improve if nobody will tell me what I’m doing wrong? Right?

What did sting a little is that the guy complained that what little plot there is to the book is a weak framework on which to hang the porn. I must demur. If he’d read a little more — perhaps as much as 40% total of the book, he’d have found that the sex has a definite purpose and it is very much plot-driven. Oh, well. That’s really kind of tangential to my point. And that is this: Amazon is setting out to try to obviate authors’ using pay-for-reviews to manipulate impressions of a book. Which means my notion of bribing people to give me closely-reasoned negative reviews won’t work any more. So I’m gonna have to resort to the old-fashioned method — beg for them.

So. If you read one of my books and didn’t like it, don’t be shy. Say so. In public. Please.

And, about the sex. Sorry. It’s embedded in the ficton. I’m one of those people who, if somebody’d print it, I’d wear a t-shirt that read, “Oh, John Ringo, Yes!” “Cottontail” is one of my all-time favorite characters in adventure fiction. Once I get to the point where I’m overdriving my own headlights in these stories, I full intend to “borrow” (read:”steal”) from her for a couple of my secondary characters. So, if you don’t like sex, too bad. It ain’t going away.

#PoweredByIndie

IN EMAIL THIS MORNING, the announcement that went out, I’m sure, to all independent authors publishing their work on some Amazon platform — KDP, CreateSpace, Audible — that October is Celebrate Great Writing #PoweredbyIndie Month at Amazon. Indeed, we are — rich and poor, great and small — indie or trad, #PoweredbyIndie.

Vox Scribum

I’M READING THIS BOOK right now. It’s called Ctrl-Alt-Revolt! It’s by Nick Cole. I even bought it, even though I could have gotten it free-to-read with my Prime membership because I think we Human Wave readers have to put our money where our mouths is-are when it comes to telling the social justice whingers to Go. Fuck. Yourself. In giant, flaming letters across the sky. And keep telling them until they’re so embarrassed and ashamed of their stupidity and intransigence that they finally get the message. (And if you’re going to say, “That’ll never happen,” I’m gonna reply, “Well, then they better dig in for a long and unpleasant existence, because we’re not going away.”

The author has a few words for you.

Cover Story

cvr genesis 0116A FEW POSTS AGO I related the process of getting up the cover for The Genesis Undertaking, my forthcoming second novel in the Baby Troll Chronicles. As of that post, I had most of the cover design-as-intended already done and needed only to add an iconic image to help sell the story. Though I would prefer to use a photo-realistic representational illustration for the cover, that’s beyond my current skill set to produce in the time frame I’ve allowed. Nor can I afford to pay for the work of the ten-fingered. So, it will have to wait until I have progressed in my art-making skills to the point where I can do one myself. Some time off, I admit. Here it is in all its glory.

World Building My Ficton: The Baby Troll Chronicles Glossary

KDP AUTHORS HAVE BEEN INFORMED a bit lately that we are being watched for spelling and grammar — this due to the complaint that self-published ebooks comprise a “tsunami of crap” and need to be policed by some uber authority to be taught the error of our ways. My response was and remains that I warn my readers that I make words for a living and that some of them are even original to me. It’s a tradition of long standing going back to Shakespeare — or even Chaucer. I will go further and guarantee that every single word in my novels is correctly spelled — according to my spellcheck dictionary and style sheet.

Some authors — in what is perhaps an excess of prudence — are even preparing lexicons for their fictons for inclusion in their books. Mine takes more space than is reasonable, as one also needs a reference for Dolly’s ad hoc portmanteau words, neologisms, and puns as well as the more standard word lists. Excluding the dollish dictionary, here is the Baby Troll lexicon.

Astarté (God female) — The Akkadian avatar of the Goddess Inana

Antistasis — a mechanism, within a time bubble that permits acceleration of time-dependent processes. Proper use can accelerate aging. Improper use can accelerate aging.

Arcadia — an ancient city in Peloponnese Greece, Arcadia was the host country, its capital city the site of the ancient Olympic Games

Aesclypius (Medical Center) — the teaching hospital attached to (and owned by) East College of the Americas

A330 — Airbus-manufactured jumbo jet

Aphrodite — the Greek Goddess of Love, family, and filial devotion

 

Billilaal — the Pasu analog to the Muslim tradition of harem — the difference being that Trolls are not sexually dimorphic, so the inhabitants of the billilaal are not of specific sex

billilaalu (pl ~a) (Pasu) — an inhabitant of the billilaal or one who could be such, but may enter a vocation other than the traditional attendant of the billilaal

Boeotia the “county” north and west of Attica in Greece

Boeotia, Regiment — a Troll Guard regiment, based in Western Australia, named after the Greek county

Book, Prosper (Man female)– commander of the modern Amazons, descendant of James Book, captain of Gabrielle Francesca East’s yacht, the sloop Bella Donna.

Britten, Terence Hallow (Terry) (Man female) — Director of the Center for X Studies. In essence, President of East College of the Americas, subordinate only to the Board of Regents in the person of its Chairman, the Chancellor, Marduk.

 

Carter (Pasu male)— a Troll Guard trooper

Childe of the East — the leader of the human component of Upothesa. A.k.a. the enterprise. In early days, the office was one of king or tribal chief. In latter days, it is more of a figurehead position, as Upothesa is far too large, diverse, and covert for a single individual to rule or even administer the whole shebang. The Childe of each generation is sought out by the Gods of Olympus, who were the original divine partners in the arrangement. Legend has it they are searching for a qualified candidate. What is not known — and is possibly one of the most closely-held secrets of a super-secret organization — is that they are searching for the current incarnation of a single individual. The Childe has been the same anima from the beginning of the enterprise. Literally the Hero of a Thousand generations. The most successful Childe by all reckoning was Gabrielle Francesca (“Fanny”), the 125th Childe (1838-1863. (q.v.) The Childe was originally designated to be the second youngest offspring of the chosen branch, but that has been honored more in the breach. GFE1, for example, was the fourth youngest among twelve siblings. The term of the Childe’s service is “five and twenty” — twenty-five years, though few have survived, as the job is full of risk. Those who do are showered with wealth by the Gods.

Doll, Xe (artificial Man female)— originally the Xena Dolly, she developed the preference to be referred to by this shortened name. When she made the Leap to human, she adopted Xe Doll as her legal name. It is not revealed early on, but her anima is that of Felicity Warren, GFE1’s lesbian lover.

Drummond, Mitchell Cary (Man male – demigod)– Gabrielle “Dolly” East’s Geppetto and lover. The bastard son of Hephaestus, God of Fire and Industry by a human woman (never named).

East — the English language version of the chosen surname of the descendants of the Dawn Phraetries of the Hellenic colonies in Asia Minor. Human component of Upothesa.

East, Billy “Koro” (the Elder) (Man male) — a ship’s captain and patriarch of the New Zealand Easts (van Oosten). Grandfather to the late 20th-Century generation of that family, including the Childe, Charming Billy.

East, “Charming” Billy (the Younger) (Man male) 128th Childe of the East, New Zealand family.

East, Gabrielle Francesca (”Dolly”) (artificial Man female) — 129th Childe of the East, first artificial person. Inherited anima directly from

East, Gabrielle Francesca (“Fanny”) (Man female) — 125th Childe. Gabrielle Francesca East (Childe 1838-1863) was Childe from age eight to age 33, raised in part in her father’s household on the farm which later became the majority of the East College campus, and in major part in the household of Hephaestus and Aphrodite, who at that time lived in eastern Surrey in England. Their neighbors included Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley in Kent. She was trained up in Hephaestus’s trading business and, by the age of 16, was commanding trading ships and served as factor in many of the business’s stations in foreign ports of call. She was instrumental in moving the headquarters of the company from London to Athens, with its principle trading station in Constantinople. She also participated in the founding of Hong Kong and its lease to the British Empire, (which the founders intended to be perpetual). She retired to Ohio and the family farm with a fortune of several tons of gold, with which she endowed East College, dedicated to the training and education of the children of the East families and their associates and servitors.

East, Semiramis (Semi) (Man female) — older sister of Charming Billy. Drummond’s sometime lover. She is exceedingly attractive and desirable.

Elves, Greater (or High) — Inhabitants of Earth-Analog (called Faerie) in the parallel universe closest to our own. High Elves descend from a common ancestor with most hominids in both universes

Elves, Lesser (or Low) — descendants of a sub-branch. In deep pre-history, a common ancestor of both varieties of Elf accidentally slipped through the gates between the universes and settled on Earth Prime. The same branch on Faerie died out. Low Elves serve in Upothesa as miners and mechanics.

 

Field, Victor (Man male), thaumaturge, teaching assistant to Jonathan Redpath, developer of the Field Test for humanity (High T Affair)

frekun ang — the major body morph type of Pasu, characterized by large size, strength, and relatively aggressive tendencies — the soldiers of the species

Frell (pl ~s) (Pasu) — not-Trolls, aliens, (In general Uptsa Use:)“not us”

Freya — fertility Goddess of the Aesir (Norse) pantheon. Member of the Independent faction among the Gods.

 

Genesis, Project — Aphrodite’s initiative to create original life

Gods, the, Convocation of: any of the adhoc meetings or gatherings of all the Gods of humanity

 

Hephaestus — Greek God of fire and industry, leader of Gods of Olympus subsequent to the death of Zeus in the Twilight of the Gods

Heisenberg Hall — the main classroom building of the Science School of East College.

 

Imp — a minor hominid, created by primitive breeding efforts of the Babylonian Gods.

 

Jo (Little) a Troll Guard trooper (High T Affair)

 

Kentenport a fictional section of an imaginary Auckland, New Zealand. Real name: Devonport

King, Wayne (Man male)– a loose cannon hired to play the role of Internal Affairs to Regiment Arcadia (which has its own Inspector General and Judge Advocate General to perform the IA function.)

 

Llandrew, Rose — a High Elf from the tropic zones of Faerie. She is remarkable in that she has the “racial” characteristics seen in earthly inhabitants of that zone, reinforcing the notion that race is merely a social construct used as a short hand to describe inhabitants of a particular climate zone.

Little Low (Li’h Lo’ah) — a billilaalu Troll Guard trooper, member of Dolly’s squad in basic training

little people — general term of reference which includes diminutive species of hominids associated with Upothesa, such as Brownies, Fairies, et al.

 

Marduk — the King of the Babylonian Gods. Also known in other cultures as Baal Hadad, Beelzebub, et al. Adherents of Yahweh have perverted his Aspect to that of Satan, who is a different, distinct individual God.

Men — humans. Homo sapiens in Upothesa usage. The term is used to refer to both males and females. Where clarification is necessary, young Man females are referred to as girls, older as women. (The same nuances as the difference between mademoiselle and madame in French.) A young married woman will be called a Man woman or a Man wife, whereas an older, still youthful woman might be referred to as a girl. None of the peoples in Upothesa give any credence to politically correct subversions of language.

Meru (Pasu female)– Gunnery Sergeant in Regiment Arcadia. Platoon leader in Troll Action Team Bodicea.

Messengers and Emissaries (M and Ems)

mischief — the collective of Imps

 

New Xenaland — New Zealand in the human-Pasu patois of the X Center

 

Oracle Overwatch (“Oh-oh”) — the system by which select Gods assist the Troll Guard in keeping watch on Upothesa installations, property, and personnel. The Gods attending use the Oracle sense to observe contemporary events. The intent is to foresee threats and risky situations.

 

Pa’a — (Pasu) the spirit. Analogous to the terms atmen

Pasu — the Troll’s word for themselves. This form is singular, plural, and collective, noun and adjective.

Patariki — male siggo to Olivia Wilson (High T Shebang)

Peeka a Troll Guard trooper (High T Shebang)

Petra Alexandra Troll (”Pete”) — junior lieutenant. Platoon leader in Troll Action Team Bodicea

Potidaeia — bronze age Greek village located approximately at contemporary town of Portaria in Central Macedonia, by the Kalkhidiki peninsula.

Project Genesis — Aphrodite’s project to create original life, of which natural Gods are not capable. It began in the mists of prehistory, but one of the early episodes in its history is reported in the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Its progress has been reported in myth and folk tales throughout the ages. Various of the non-Olympian Gods have become jealous of Aphrodite’s efforts and the knowledge she has gained therefrom and have practiced to scotch her.

 

Redpath, Jonathan — a thaumaturge who, early in his life (at age 50) fell under the influence of Aphrodite and Hephaestus and joined the effort to create original life. He was the attendant thaumaturge at the penultimate experiment, which gave birth to the autoclone of Gabrielle Francesca East, the 125th and 129th Childe of the East.

Regents, Board of — the ruling body in trust of the Gabrielle East estate, including East College of the Americas.

 s;

Sails, City of (Auckland, New Zealand)

Sammianth (”Sammy Antha”) a Troll Guard trooper (High T Affair)

STEM the scientific disciplines at East College of the Americas: Science, Thaumaturgy, Engineering, and Mathematics

 

Taharoto(Maori) a made-up word combining two Maori words to make a name which means roughly Westlake. Made in honor of the Westlake Girls School Swimming Team in Auckland, New Zealand. A road near the Upothesa safe house in the North Shore area of Auckland.

tamahine Maori term of endearment: “granddaughter”

ta moko Maori facial tattoos

Tarkasian, Sappho (Man female)– commander of the M and Ems, a friend of Mitchell Drummond at EcoA

Toby

Troll member of the species homo sapiens neanderthalensis — soi disant Pasu

 

Vallee, Kairn (Man female)— the Warrior Doc … a human medic employed at the X Center and frequently tdy’d to duty with the Troll Guard. She is also a major in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve Medical Corps and is frequently called up for high-profile cases (such as overseas (to the Australia viewpoint) air crashes)

van Oosten — the family name of the Easts who resided in the Netherlands and came to view the country as home. Van Oosten family members emigrated to New Zealand in the Seventeenth Century

 

Waitangi Imports — an East company in New Zealand, named after the Treaty of Waitangi, which settled major differences between British settlers and Maori natives.

Ware — a Troll Guard trooper (High T Shebang)

Whare Nui Tupuna — Maori, “ancient ancestral home” — the joking and unofficial name for the East family compound on the Pacific coast of New Zealand’s North Island, near Snell’s Beach in the Rodney district.

Willard — a Troll Guard trooper (High T Shebang)

 

X Center — short version of The Center for X Studies, a research-and-development laboratory complex, founded by the original Gabrielle Francesca East. The secret core of East College of the Americas. Subsumes the School of Thaumaturgy.

Hats Off to Cedar

MY YOUNG FRIEND CEDAR SANDERSON once again shows me up (I’m glad to acknowledge). I keep promising myself that I need to do more to keep up my blogs — posting daily about substantive matters, cleaning up the sites, developing new modes of content display, interlinking my efforts here, there and elsewhere. But Cedar has done something I keep thinking I should do and thus, I hope, prodded me into doing what I’ve known all along I should do.

See, she wrote a short-ish blog post about the Silk Road. It’s a subject that interests her. Well, me, too. And millions of other people. The Asian trade routes carry much of the history of the development of human society and, for writers of spec fic, hold a great deal of lore and wisdom on world-building. At least, that’s why I’ve read so extensively (and, might I add — hungrily) on the region.

Well, that and the heart of Pasu civilization is located in the Kunlun Shan mountains of western China, so it’s of interest to me in my world building for the BabyTroll Chronicles. So, hats off to the girl. Well done!

Covering Your Asterisk

cvr genesis 0116THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION — and I admit it hasn’t been easy here lately — may be aware that I and my cohort are in the final stages of preparing my second novel for publication. The MS is with my alpha, who is promising to get back to me ASAP. She’s not a robot in returning comments and so-forth, but I wouldn’t want her to be. One of the things I prize her for is her very humanity. Waiting is. When waiting is filled, I will move to the next cusp. The cover. I have an advantage, here, and that is that, since this is a series, I have already done a lot of the thinking on this subject. A Baby Troll Chronicles cover looks like so and so and so — only the images and colors change. And, while I wait for feedback, there are a few details I can put through the grinder. Well, I already have. And herewith lies the lesson.

Again, tapping those of you who have been paying attention, if you have been following along, you have seen the cover for my first novel. If you haven’t, there’s a link in the right-hand sidebar where you can see the cover. And, while you’re there, buy the book, why don’t you? And, if you have (it’s been selling at a walk here lately), why haven’t you left a review. Was it that terrible?

That cover was mainly blue and featured a background of linked hexagons, representing the benzine rings of a testosterone molecule, and an iconic image of Dolly shooting her service pistol on the run. (And, as has been noted in other articles on cover design, this is a sell, and not documentation, Dolly’s hair is not shoulder-length and in a ponytail in the story, though she is wearing a cheongsam in a couple of scenes. That the book has sold (at all) amid the noise and the Tsunami of Carp that is Amazon’s e-book sales tells me that the cover typography is not utterly shitful, so, until somebody manages to gen up an absolute formula for same, I think mine is a worthwhile example.

First, fonts: I use two. A commenter was fooled early on about the faces on The High T Shebang, but there are only two: Clarendon and Nuptial Script. I have used two weights and two widths — Heavy and Medium Condensed of the Clarendon. The Nuptial only comes one way, but I have fattened it a bit with strokes the same color as the face. I have been tempted from time to time to play with a variety of faces in the same design, but have almost always ended up with a cleaner, easier-to-read design trusting to variations among a single face or family of faces, rather that entirely other faces.

Second: type elements. There are two, basically, the title and the author’s name. Other elements may be present, but they are nowhere near as important and are to be de-emphasized, if not deprecated entirely. In my case, these are: the slug line which tells this is a book in a series and which it is — this is important in genre fiction, but as I say, not to be emphasized; and the publisher’s colophon (on the left margin midway up). In my case, the main type elements are given more-or-less equal weight. The author’s name is set in a single line in a color which stands out in a condensed face, but almost two inches tall when printed. Having stared at it on the Amazon pages for hours on end over the last two years, I can tell you with some authority that the author’s name is recognizable, readable at small size and low resolution, and, by its presence on this cover alone, should be a household word real soon now.

The title is a bit trickier. It starts out with “The”, which is a nearly invisible word — like “said” — and doesn’t need any emphasis but the spare breath of its being said. The second word is the key word of the novel. In the case of the first, The High T Shebang, the High T referred to a state of High Testosterone, which the lead characters were poisoned with, and which made for the central plot point of the story. This second one, the main character’s creation — or Genesis — as an artificial person, brought to life by the Goddess Aphrodite as the culmination of a millennia-long effort. In both cases — and, as I intend, in all future cases in this series — the third word — a noun — is selected from the list of translations from the Greek Upothesa, which is the name by which its members refer to the secret syndicate of Men and Gods to which the main (and indeed, most) characters belong. In this case, the U noun is Undertaking. The novel does not encompass the entirety of the Genesis Undertaking of Aphrodite’s, (that’s left for two additional novels to fill in), but it details the first twelve hours of life of the creature thus created.

I used a single-word slug for the power word in the title — High T on the first and Genesis on the second, set in Clarendon Heavy and placed in the middle of a hexagonal shield, which echoes the hex grid background. I use a goldenrod yellow (approximately a PMS 137) as a color that will stand out on the Amazon page and read against the background.

And the U noun — Undertaking — is set in Nuptial, in the same goldenrod, with a 1-pixel outline in the same color. All type in this new cover has a black drop shadow approximately 10 pixels down and to the right to enhance contrast with the background.

As has been noted elsewhere, The Chronicles are fantasy — contemporary or urban fantasy — and maybe paranormal romance, so the cover art practically requires an illustration and most effectively a “realistic” image of a human figure, illustrative of the kind of story it is — but not necessarily a scene from the book. The use of an iconic silhouette on The High T Shebang was an error I hope some day to correct, but I felt that drawing a suitable image was beyond my ability-time resources and I couldn’t find stock imagery that suited me, so I fell back on what I could find-slash-make work. On The Genesis Undertaking, I feel like I have a little more room to stretch out and have suitable stock-type images available, so I have a couple of options, one a scene from early on in the book emphasizing the fantastic myth nature of the story and the second, a bit of a spoiler, which portrays a scene from later on in the book which emphasizes the action/adventure aspect of things. More on that later, as I work the concept and have results to show.

But, whichever way I go, you can see that I have left a space below the title where a picture can be montaged or vignetted in.

I did the design in GIMP. The original cover was lain out in a combination of CorelDRAW and Photoshop. But, since I no longer have Photoshop available to me on my home machine and no longer have a work machine, I have had to adapt the .psd file in GIMP. The layering should be somewhat obvious. What is not, perhaps, is that I grew frustrated with the difficulty of setting and scaling type within GIMP, so I took the design as far as I could — layered in GIMP’s native .xcf format then exported a flattened version to .png, which I imported into Inkscape, where the vector capabilities made it easier for me to, first, set and scale type and set fill and outline strokes, and, Second generate a drop shadow (which I did by the expedient of duplicating the type to be shadowed and coloring it black before offsetting it manually right and down by 10 pixels. Then I re-exported to .png for the final image you see above and at right.

Still left to be done, are, of course, the illustration(s) for the front cover, images for the spine and back cover of a trade paper binding Ebacks don’t need back covers or spines, so I’ve never done one. However, I have looked at CreateSpace’s guidelines and see nothing I can’t accomplish there.

When and as those are done, I’ll post what looks newsworthy here.

The Genesis Undertaking

THE GREEK WORD Upothesa translates as meaning, variously, AFFAIR; HYPOTHESIS; ASSUMPTION; BUSINESS; CASE; CONCERN; CAUSE; MATTER; CONJECTURE; PREMISE; PRESUMPTION; SHEBANG; SUPPOSITION; UNDERTAKING. I found it by accident when trying to find the Greek word for business (Epicheirese Anonymos Etairia): (Enterprises, Incorporated).

“Upothesa” is the name applied from 1780-ish onward to the loose syndicate of businessmen and Gods that extends back in history to the late stone age, first in the Balkans, then extending throughout Greece and the Hellenic world, and then globally. It is a core world-building element of my series, the BabyTroll Chronicles.

I have recently (in the last couple of days) finished a final edit on a 15-year-old manuscript of a story now titled The Genesis Undertaking, which relates the events surrounding the first 12 hours of life of the titular character, Baby Troll — Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East — the figurehead of Upothesa, called the Childe of the East.

I have turned the MS over to my Alpha reader. In a short time, I will be seeking Beta readers for the book, which I intend to publish this month (via Draft to Digital, I imagine) in eBack and trade paper.

Watch this space. I will also be expositing the process of developing the cover art.

How Do You Talk About

Research? DOROTHY GRANT (Mrs. Peter — or is he Mr. Dorothy), a force of nature all on her ownsome in the indiepub ‘verse, posts a note on Facebook this evening about research. Hers is all coy and humorous-teasing. Me, I’ve often thought about talking research as an amusing topic all by itself standalone solo kinda thing separate from writing, storytelling, aesthetics, package design and all the rest.

In fact, one purpose of the original BabyTrollBlog was to post notes and discussion of my research, which I consider contains endless fascination for the intellectually curious. That has, to a certain extent fallen by the wayside. Because… hard.

In order to blog about a research topic, I either need to reference and comment on an article on the Web, or I need to write an original article from scratch. The latter being a good deal more work, but also of greater value in this exchange economy. An original article is more likely to provide something of interest and therefor of value to my readers, as well as attract new readers. But the former is easier, low drag so to speak, providing lesser value, but bearing a lower cost of materials to me. And, since the blog is meant to support the writing and not the other way around, perhaps more sensible. Even though, as an artist and therefor a perfectionist, I prefer original content to reference and link. But in terms of my research, the referred articles serve as well.

For example, I have a stored article in Evernote on Istanbul. The story Odalisque is set there during the Crimean War and the city is a locale for many events in the Chronicles. This article is one of many, including several books from which I am gleaning bits of lore to use in building the fictional world of Gabrielle Francesca East the First and Olympia Holdings and Upothesa in the first half of the 19th Century. GFE1’s life and times also draw on a great deal of historical geographic and ethnographic lore from the period. For example, many of GFE’s fictional exploits echo the real life adventures of one Gertrude Bell, sometimes credited as, with Winston Churchill, the creator of the modern Middle East.

I did write a review of a biography of Bell years back on BabyTrollBlog, but how would I find it now, given it was three hosts and two databases ago? Her life and times would provide fodder for endless fascinating discussion. I also draw heavily on the lives of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton and Rudyard Kipling. But I also have read extensively and use material from the writings of Richard Hopkirk on the Great Game. How do I cram all that into blog posts and incite comment thread discussions on the topics?

Well, Alger, I guess you put up blog posts and wait for somebody to mouth off in comments.

Gee, thanks, Dolly.

How Aesthetic Choices are Made

SERENDIPITOUSLY — almost by accident.

Back in the early’70s, when I was about a junior in high school, I was a photo bug. I had saved my pennies from my after-school job cleaning a vet clinic and put Nikkormat FTN camera and a couple of lenses in layaway. It was a dream camera. It took advantage of the truly superior Nikkor optics and Nikon’s Spotmatic metering to come as close to a perfect autoexposure as you could get at the time.

I shot Kodak Tri-X Pan film — a black-and-white 35mm movie film (though the emulsion was available in other formats), rated at ASA 400 (iso 400). I developed my own negatives and “pushed” the film two F-stops to ASA 1600 in development, using a developer called Diafine, along with Kodak’s house brand stop bath and fix. (Sodium Hyposulfate used to “fix” the silver salts in a grain-based “continuous tone” grayscale image. Diafine was magic to us amateurs, because it would develop a Tri-X negative (as well as Ilford, Agfa, or Fuji black-and-white negative films) perfectly, without regard to the speed it was shot at. Never did figure out how it knew. Magic. I truly hope it made its inventor rich.

I was a nerd before the term was invented — I think. I geeked out over photography: I lusted after the next better camera than mine (the legendary Nikon F), more lenses, a perfect darkroom, the Cadillac of enlargers, hard rubber print developing trays, calibrated glass-bulb mercury darkroom thermometers, print dryers, and so-forth. I spent all my pocket money on film and chemicals. I raged to make beautiful photographs. I “specialized” in candid shots of my schoolmates and focused on the pretty girls. I made some truly gorgeous shots — mostly by luck, because I didn’t understand as an artist at a gut level what it was I was doing. That didn’t happen for a very long time.

What I did get fairly good at was snap-shooting — seeing an image in scene and capturing the moment. I could even do it without really thinking. I practiced it as a method for getting candids without spooking my subjects. (For some reason people don’t like having their pictures taken and can get pretty shirty when you try.)

I would lock the mirror up The mirror was part of the through-the-lens magic of the single-lens reflex camera, but, in Nikon cameras, it was like a machine gun. The mirror, in concert with motor driven film magazines is the noise you get in the barrage of a gaggle of Japanese tourists or paparazi looking for the latest upskirt oops of the flavor of the week. A good candid photographer wants to be invisible. So you locked the mirror up. Otherwise, it flopped up, out of the way, in synch with the shutter, temporarily blinding the viewport, so locking it up eliminated the vibration and made it so you couldn’t (didn’t have to) look through the lens at the moment the shot was taken. Thus, the shooter would have to exercise a little Zen discipline and know where the lens was pointed through kinesthetic sense and Kentucky windage.

Then I’d stop the lens down all the way — F16 or F22, making the aperture as small as possible, and set the focus ring on Infinity. The last two adjustments were calculated to bring maximum depth of field to the image, keeping the most possible objects at all distances in focus. You would have made several general scene readings for light and to arrive at a good shutter speed for the environment (generally a 125th of a second would capture enough light to give a clean, contrasty image while being fast enough to freeze most motion). You’d hold the camera in close to your body to brace it and keep it from moving as best you could, and aim the camera by looking out over the barrel of the lens at your scene and trip the shutter or use the timer, which was a lever on the front of the camera and delayed the shutter for 15 seconds. You couldn’t do fine composition this way — you’d have to do that in the printing process in the darkroom. But you’d gather the most imagery you could.

I still do that with digital cameras. Cell phone cameras don’t react fast enough to the controls. And the mini-SLR’s (like the Coolpix L) rely too much on autofocus. (Shooting with autofocus through a car windshield can be an exercise in frustration for a perfectionist — the wrong thing is always out of focus.)

But we’re here about aesthetic choices. Around that time, my step-paternal grandfather moved out from Norwood (home of the GM Assembly Division) to the burbs, where he tended a largish lot (which is still in the family), including a thriving vegetable patch.

One summer, he broke down his roto-tiller to rebuild the engine or some-such. On one family visit to the country, the tiller’s engine was sitting on a sheet of cardboard in the driveway. This was a machine that was, perhaps, thirty years old or older and looked every day of it. It had what Og calls witness marks to beat the band. There was rust and other corrosion (of other metals), flaked and abraded paint, stains from gas and oil ground into the surface of it. The different metals and forming methods — cast, ground, milled, torch cut, etc — made for incredibly complex and beautiful patterns of texture.

I shot about a half-roll of film of the thing and, a week or two later, had some — as I say — gorgeous prints (done on matte paper, if memory serves), one or two as large as 11 x 14, which was a freakin’ poster to me back then. I showed them to my mom, who remarked that she thought I had an eye for industrial photography. It was tantamount to a throwaway line. But it encouraged me. And I ran with it. I started shooting a different aesthetic. Instead of looking for sleek, conventional beauty, I started appreciating textures of corrosion and decay, and various materials, and playing more with light than surfaces — looking for depth and space.

I stopped carrying a Coolpix around a couple of years ago, but I have a Coolpix L310 that I might start taking to work with me, to see what I get different with from my cell phone camera.

WP_20150327_01_04_35_Pro[1]