Tuesday, December 17, 2013

deviantART Spotlight

The artwork below is copyrighted to ranoartwork. I make no claim to this work as my own.

One of the many things I do to stem writer’s block and keep the creative juices flowing is surfing (insert link) deviantART. Just by checking out the most popular submissions over the last eight hours every couple of days is more than enough to give some flash of insight into a story arc that may be waiting to burst, or un-stall one waiting to carry on. It may not be a full-fledged story, but a component on one I’m currently working on – scenery scenes are spectacular for this. In my own way, I’d like to recognize these artists for truly amazing artwork, be it photography, ink on canvas, or manipulated photons in digital form.

Canaan by Ranoartwork

In doing the research for the upcoming novels in the Ochra Cycle, I'm always on the lookout for good, thematic scene pieces like this one.  In this particular case, it provides a stunning visual for a part of the plot that had thusfar been very vague.  I know I want to "go there," and yet the "there" that I'm referring to was never fully realized; it is much later and not a priority.  That said, this piece nailed the spirit of what I was looking for.

When my eldes daughter first saw Canaan by Ranoartwork, she immediately squeeled "Aladdin!"  Truth be told, this was one of my first thoughts as well, until I started overlaying my story's plot points.  The rendering of the colours and the scale are utterly gorgeous.  It shows a city in the midst of an utterly desolate landscape, a sky with no clouds.  The buildings in the foreground enhance the perspective that this is all part of a larger city.  What we see here is perhpas a central religious site, or a caliph's palace.  The people in the foreground are small, lacking detail and seem to be either observing themarvel of this palace, or heading towards it as if on a  pilgrimage.

In my story's case this is no longer a place of safety and security, not a place for a pilgrimage, certainly not a setting for anything from Alladin.  It is one of the focal points for the overall plot lines, a city far removed from the main setting of the storyline, a city state with a deep undercurrent of something dark and sinister - a trope that could be applied to any epic fantasy!  This piece helps reinforce that imagery for me.  The grandeur of the palace is a symbol of power and dominance, a will to overcome the elements and create something where humanity would otherwise never survive.  There is beauty to be found as well, of course: the architecture, the grandeur, the people and their culture, not all is corrupt and malignant.

I simply find Canaan to be a terribly well executed scenery piece, depicting a foreign culture and architetcure.  It draws you in and makes you want to tell the stories that occur in the back alleys, the politics and trading of favours and goods that make this city equally the cesspool it may be forced to be, as well as the oasis it strives to be.

For anyone interested, here is the link: Ranoartwork's DeviantArt gallery.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Dreaded Synopsis

I find it more than a little ironic that the thought of writing and submitting a full-length fantasy manuscript as something rather normal.  It's expected of a budding author to realize their vision by completing their novel, revising to the best of their abilities and submitting to agents and publishers that will take direct submissions.  I don't begrudge the process, I'll just promote it as a given, something I have little choice over; if they ask me to jump through hoops to get my manuscript published for others to read, who am I to argue with the key master.  These agents are, by virute of their position and influence, the best capable to influence the gate keepers, those publishing houses that are best positioned to action an author's dream - having others read and (hopefully) appreciate their work and ask for more.

I am at the point where I've gone through an exhaustive refresh of my dark/epic fantasy manuscript.  I've done my happy dance and am now looking to market it.  The query letter has been generated and re-edited dozens of times.  A list of agents in the appropriate field has been compiled.  All is set to start launching my letters and hope I can generate some interest in my project.

Or so I thought.

Now I realize I must return to the manuscript in an effort to create another document many if not most agents are requesting with a submission.  The dread synopsis.

Nothing seems more daunting than to try and filter the story elements down to a page or two.  In all honesty, I found the prospect less threatening than filtering my manuscript from a (very) bloated 188k down to the current ~90k.  I also look back at that project with much less trepidation than I do the synopsis.  The process is relatively similar, in that I have to cut out the excess and present the required elements, no less, no more.  I went from 188k to 90k.  I should be able to summarize 90k to 2 pages or so, right?

Here's where I currently am with my synopsis.

Enter the internet and some hefty browsing to research this additional craft: writing the synopsis.  A few websites have certainly assisted in alleviating some of my fears and questions on the process.  I'm still left facing the task of drawing the story down to its core elements and then ensuring the presentation isn't something that turns away an agent.  This unknown, of course, is the ideal scenario for a writer to second-guess himself into a downward spiral from which many simply walk away from their project.  As the expression goes, "You always fail at the tasks you never attempt."

Not one to ever back down from a challenge (something my wife can attest to), I've collected a few websites I found particularly helpful. 




And finally, the Internet Movie Data-Base website.  I know it's a bit of an odd one, but something that seemed to follow with the multitude of sites that offer examples of synopses.  Pick any movie you can think of and you can find a synopsis, which follows many of the examples you will likely find on any website that supports writing them.

I hope these provide anyone in my predicament some measure of comfort and guidance in their endeavours.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Trip to New York City

After much planning and some management of expectations, my wife and I joined two other couples for a long-weekend trip to New York City.  Leaving from two cities, the plan was to meet in NYC on the Thursday afternoon and run through a few pre-planned suppers and shows with ample free time to do some shopping and generally just take in the city.  With all our children staying behind under the supervision of their grandparents, three sets of moms and dads blissfully recalled/relived life prior to becoming parents.

Fog and Delays:  The two other couples were lucky enough to leave and arrive prior to the fog getting really bad.  A spike in the temperature basically fogged in the airports at Newark, La Guardia and JFK, delaying a lot of flights and cancelling many others.  After three abortive attempts to reschedule into later flight (along with everyone else), we finally opted to catch the first flight the next day.  We got the last room in the hotel at the terminal.  After showering and relaxing a bit, we ended up getting drinks at the hotel bar and supper at the restaurant.  Needless to say copious amounts of alcohol finally settled the nerves; we really needed those drinks, at one point both my wife and I nearly pushing one of the American security officials a little too far with our attitude.  Travel Tip:  Call the cancellation service for your airline before you reserve at any hotel.  They can save you a fortune on the room rate, something they can’t or won’t do after you’ve checked into a room.  In our case, we could have saved over $200 on the room.

9/11 Memorial Tour:  We finally made it and hooked up with one couple at Macy’s, which was blissfully empty on Friday.  Collecting at the 9/11 Memorial site for noon, we took the tour.  Being a member of the CF, I can say this was a humbling experience, akin to visiting the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, the memorial at Thiepval or the MeninGate Memorial (Note 1).  The site security is just like entering an airport, something my wife and I were terribly familiar with at this point (bag in tray, empty pockets, remove shoes-belt-watch, display dog tags for scanning).  Once on the sight, memories of that tragedy take on a whole new meaning, particularly when you look up-up-up at the Freedom Tower and imagine two of those crumbling down around you.  Travel Tip:  Definitely pre-register for the walking tour, as you bypass the hundreds of people just looking to get in; prepare for some dagger-like stares as you walk down the express lane.  You also get the survivors’ experience and insight on the events that took place after the impacts.  In our case, we had a woman reduce the majority of our group to tears.  Bring tissue for the Memorial Exhibition – you’re gonna’ need ‘em.

Note 1:  During a Canadian Forces sponsored battlefield tour, I had the honour and the privilege to not only witness but participate in this daily ceremony.

FAO Schwarz:  Honestly and truly, I got nothing.  This place is so over the top of a toy store, yet in a good way.  Take the largest Walmart you can think of, divide in two and place one half on the other to make two storeys, replace **EVERYTHING** with toys and candy, and that may give you an indication of how overwhelming that experience could be.  So close to Christmas, it seemed obvious we should get our children and niece something.  The gargantuan problem was what to get and still have room in our bags for anything more than a toothbrush.

Club 21 / Nutcracker / Campbell’s Apartment:  Only the second time to NYC, we recommended Club 21 to our friends and the experience could not have turned out better.  The ambiance is amazing, the staff incredibly accommodating and easy-going.  Our sommelier was an absolute hit, recommending a few wines off the list we were looking at.  After asking what everyone ordered, he paired us with a white and red that sang with our food.  Travel Tip:  If you are visiting NYC and can meet the dress code, which isn’t anything extraneous, make yourself the time to eat here.

After a great meal and lots of liquor, my wife and I went our own way to see the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet.  Our taxi driver got us to the Lincoln Center exactly three minutes prior to the show.  Once seated, we realized maybe enjoyed a smidge too much liquor; that said, the show was phenomenal!  The production, outfits, the dancing, all of it was top-notch.  Definitely something we will be taking our two girls to go see once they get a bit older.  Travel Tip:  Friday night traffic means long wait times to get a cab, and long drives.  We were lucky not to have to wait for the first scene to end and the lights to dim before we could go in.  By the way, don’t try to take pictures in the Lincoln Center; they politely but firmly remind you of their policy.
After our ballet, we met our friends at Campbell’s Apartment for a final couple of cocktails.  It was later at night on a Friday, so I was not too surprised to see it was well occupied.  We lucked out and got a table up in the balcony overlooking the bar proper, which meant we were both secluded from the throngs and somewhat muffled from the massive decibel output from below.  I tried a couple of single-malts I was looking at, quickly striking one from my 'Buy and Try' list; just not worth buying the bottle.

Last Day:  Our final day was largely relaxed, dropping by Macy’s (Travel Tip:  Macy’s on a Saturday near Christmas is simply foolish, with scenes resembling Black Friday) and then going through the Bryant Park Christmas Market.  We did a walking tour of 5th avenue and the Christmas decorations, the tree at Rockefeller, followed by a nice supper before retiring to the hotel bar for a bit.  Only thing left was packing for out return trip and ensuring the two alarms and wake-up call were set.