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.

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I Think About Time A Lot

THOUGH YOU WOULDN’T KNOW IT from what I write. I could never write a time travel story, though, because I have too hard a time with the possibility.

In order to accept time travel, one must accept one or the other possible models of time — one as a continuum — without discrete ticks of the cosmic clock. Or of time as a series of discrete, quantum events, with ticks of the cosmic clock analogous in time to a Euclidean point in space — defining a discrete and unique locus with no dimension.

If time is a continuum, you could never land anywhen for certain, because there never is a discrete quantum moment which can be defined as any when, which would require a certain conservation of events. Every branching of events — every time a particle goes one direction rather than another, a new universe is created in which that probability eventuated. Things get too messy and probabilities end up merging when they’re too close to each other, which sort of obviates the quantum nature of things.

The notion of the conservation of events is, to the best of my knowledge, original to me. It means that the probability of any given event or sequence of events is directly proportional to the number of individual beings or objects (in the case of objects, to their mass and in the case of beings to the influence they have on still other beings) affected by the event. And that, with events above a certain moment — probability weighting — the number of subsidiary events which must be altered or prevented grows ever larger, the greater the probability. In other words, it does no good to go back and kill Hitler in order to prevent the Holocaust or World War II — some other figure will rise to take his place. But you may be able to save the life of his loyal Alsatian shepherd dog from death in the bunker in April 1945, if you can find just the right combination of events to tip the odds in her favor — killing any number of historical figures won’t do it.

This combination also works “sideways,” as you may call it — for the creation and meeting of parallel worlds or universes. Of course, there are an infinite number of possible branchings for any given either-or choice, all the way from the subatomic level up to the movement of civilizations or people’s lives. But each branching of a quark’s path does not create or fail to create a whole civilization or that civilization’s end in a war. Branchings between what might be considered discrete world lines are usually caused by historic cusps — whether this king or that one is the one whose kingdom is the first to develop agriculture, animal husbandry, the domestication of cats, the brewing of beer, with all the civilizational changes that follow in train with those choices. Like that public TV series, Connections. And world lines with similar sequences of probability branchings made will tend to cluster around the moment of those probabilities, conserving events of greater moment across world lines and possibly several lines at once. So there will be several lines in which the Irish discovered America, but the Vikings were the first to plant settlers there among the Indians, while the Spanish were the first successful colonists. In others, it will be the Dutch, the Italians, the Portuguese and the English, in still others, the Chinese — coming from the West — colonize the Americas long before the Irish set out westward in their coracles. The variations among these, such as are found in alternate history fiction cause similar world branchings, but tend to cluster around key events of greater relative moment.

This is the model I use in building the world of the Baby Troll Chronicles. I would love to hear from y’all with your thoughts on the matter.

Just Want to Make Sure Y’all

KNOW THIS: I’M BLOGGING AGAIN. Well, I intend to. So, if you’ve fallen out of the habit of checking in here, because I haven’t been posting a lot for … a long time, you can fall back in.

Or add this blog’s feed to those you follow, with some assurance that there will be frequent, albeit maybe not terribly regular, content to read.

Oddly Enough, I Write Long

IT’S VERY HARD, IF NOT impossible for me to write short. Which is why I type myself as a novelist — a specialist in a long form. In fact, a longer form — an epic series, which is what the Baby Troll Chronicles are.

When I first set out to blog, I thought to establish two weblog sites — one, called BabyTrollBlog, which was to be the working journal of my writing on the Chronicles, and a second, called A Jaundiced Eye, which was to contain my rantings about politics.

In the decade-and-a-half since, my online presence has morphed — as has not everyone’s? — into Pinterest boards, Facebook posts and comments, and … not very much blogging.

But the desire, the need for the outlet has not diminished. Instead, what has taken place is ALL of my writing has suffered (to the point where none of the Dolly stories have moved very forward), and what I do write daily is distilled down to bilious spews on Facebook.

But my inability to write short has stifled me further. I never finish a thought, let alone edit one into coherence. Like tonight. I want to go to bed. I’m dog tired and sore and need to get moving in the morning. It will take me hours to get down the spare notions that have popped into my mind in recent hours. And, yet, I know I will not have the time to make them so. I need to change. Maybe disciplining myself to write it down, cut it short as time allows — or demands — is the answer. And, who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to fly. Maybe I might along the way down learn to express complex thoughts with greater brevity.

Maybe I can hope to post her more frequently, given the resolve to write something — anything — every day, without regard to subject matter. Maybe it will get easier for me to write short.

Call for Readviewers

HAD A REVIEWER RETURN The High T Shebang unread. The objection: the sex. Apparently, there are adults uninterested or even put off by graphic sex scenes in novels. Who knew? It’s a thing, I’m told. But, hey, you take something previously known only to a small-ish circle of fans and give it to a wider audience, you gotta make allowances for differing tastes. When earlier drafts and versions of the Apocrypha appeared on fan fiction Web sites, the stories were accompanied by a disclaimer — usually in a left sidebar it went something like this:

Since this is written by a fan of a TV show which bears a strong sexual subtext and is written for fans of that show — fans who are more-than-ordinarily interested in sex (and who isn’t interested in sex?*), there is a more-than-ordinary amount of sex — both maintext and subtext — even graphic and explicit sex. But never gratuitous.

Please God, never gratuitous.

(*I got my answer.)

Apparently, some people find any amount of sex gratuitous and will avoid books like the plague which have sex in them. Color me surprised. I expected to be dinged for the sex in The High T Shebang, but never to find it a total drug on sales. Well. Apparently, I was wrong. And no matter how many people find Dolly charming and her adventures (out of the bedroom) of interest, only about 100 people in the whole world found them so enough to overcome the sex.

Go figure.

So. This fall, perhaps in time for a second anniversary special edition, I will be releasing a new edition, re-written to tone down the sex. Considerably.

Enjoy.

Shouldn’t Talk About Un-published

HELL, UNWRITTEN stories, but I was just listening to this tune and realized — I think I’ve come to this realization before, that it’s entirely apposite to the stories.

In Geppetto’s Log (Ten-fifteen years old, only seen by critters on OWW, never finished, but a complete story nonetheless.), Drummond (not yet Dolly’s lover), falls in love with Witchlet — a new Thaumismus Doctor on his Executive Action Team at HeyAye. It happens somewhat like you’re supposed to imagine it happened in the song. So, here. Enjoy this. Wish for me to get to and finish Geppetto’s Log

This is Disgusting

AS OF JUST NOW the word count on The Origin Protocols is 49,427 — sneaking up on a notional halfway point. (I say, “notional,” because I suspect, with how things are shaking out, 100,000 words may be optimistic and I may end up needing 120K or 150K to fill in the outline.

But that’s good news. Progress of a sorts.

No, what’s bugging me — disgusting me with myself — is my rate of progress. Stephen King says if you can only turn one novel every five years, you have a problem with your work ethic. Implying you’re not a writer, you’re a wannabe. I’ve been working on this novel since the last one was published. And, since I have an exact date for that (10/23/13), I also have no way of dodging the implications. In a year-and-a-half (roughly speaking), I have barely managed to crank out 50,000 words — a month’s writing goal by NaNoWriMo.

I tell you that to tell you this. A while back, following some advice in a blog post by Rachel Aaron, I started tracking my word rate for every writing session. Since I started, back in October, I have logged nine sessions (which is, in itself, disgusting — I should be writing every day and I know it), and have peaked (twice) at around 2,500 words per hour, albeit not for a sustained period. Which means that, over the same time, having added about 5,500 words to this novel, I’ve done about two hours’ work. As I say, disgusting. Depressing.

Even so, I should have done better. I get a clear shot every other Saturday, with no obligations to anything or anyone other than the craft or my readers. Each one, assuming I work four-to-six hours at a stretch (which seems nigh on impossible to me), affords me the opportunity to advance the ball 10,000 or so words down the field. IOW, I should be able to finish this fucker in ten weeks and haven’t.

Disgusting.

It Happens in the Deeps of the Evening

WHEN I’M DOZING on the couch, the TV half-heard intrudes on my half-dreams. Something jars me awake. I reach for the nearest Moleskine — they’re scattered all over the house, each with a G2 pen clipped to its cover. And I start writing notes. I don’t dare work on actual text this way — my stories would lose all cohesion. The best I can do is maintain the notes, trying to ensure that the last thing in any notebook is the most recent work in that location. Dates become irrelevant. Unless I enter them in a central location — such as the Evernote base — they’ll become an inchoate mass, no better than random thoughts. My task as a writer is to bring order to all this. To make a sensible story. As somebody-you’d-know put it, the difference between fact and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.

Yeah. Right.