I Got Nothing Today. Sorry. So Instead, You Can Look At My Wood.

I tried to write some snappy essays for you last night, came up dry.  I have a lot of good ideas, but my essay-writin’ segment of the brain is conking out to the point where I don’t feel like making good arguments in a sloppy way.
So here!  Have some more woodworking!
My wife surprised me for my birthday, proving she is the best wife in the world by buying me the thing I wanted most: reproduction Ms. Pac-Man cabinet art.  Ms. Pac-Man is the game of my childhood, and a bonding experience with my father: every time we get together, we find some way to go head-to-head, devouring dots.  So I’d been thinking about how to make my cabinet look like a Ms. Pac-Man machine, and lo!  She had done the research to find me the art!
There’s just one problem, though:
The art doesn’t fit.
*sad trombone*
Some have asked, “Why don’t you just cut the art to fit?” And my answer is, “Why don’t you chop up the Mona Lisa to fit in a smaller frame?” This is classic art, man, and I’m not going to resize it. That would bug me. No, instead I’ll just have to make a new, reproduction Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinet at some point down the line.
In the meantime, Erin and I did the final touches before the coat of paint:
It looks like an actual piece of furniture now, which still amazes us. We wander outside to look at it in a happy daze, unable to believe that we did this. Which is bizarre, this idea that we formed something from tools and raw materials, but here’s the proof. It’s done. We can put things in it. So strange!
The painting is what I’m excited about. I’m told that once you paint it, it becomes an arcade cabinet, and that I can see: right now, it’s all patched wood and beams, but when it gets a coat of glossy black, it becomes a single object, and that will be exciting as fuck. I’ll probably do that on Sunday, as I have some delightful Angie-company visiting this weekend.
The great thing is that after this, I know what project I’m doing next. Gini and I have always wanted a Secret Passage in the basement. So we shall make one, hiding a door with swinging bookcases. This is going to involve me being good enough to make normal bookcases – which, let’s be honest, we can never get enough of – and then eventually making a heavily customized one. That’s a project that’ll take probably a year of time to get good at, since it’ll involve making at least seven bookcases before we’re done.
But hey. I’ve got time and wood on my hands.

Building An Arcade Cabinet: About Halfway Through

So this Sunday, as Erin’s Father’s Day present to me, my daughter and I started making an arcade cabinet.  Which is intimidating; we had set up all the tools, but now we actually had to use them.
Our first issue was tracing the diagram on the board, which involved about an hour of careful measuring, and then cutting it out using our freshly-purchased jigsaw:
We made several errors, but the biggest one was that frankly, never trust the blade that comes with the jigsaw. It was a tiny thing that left a very lopsided cut as we cut through the board on the lowest, slowest setting – which we thought was my poor skill. Once we got a better blade at Lowes, one that was recommended by another book, we discovered that hey, Erin’s a natural at this! Wait! Now I’m a natural! It worked!
When that was all done, we completed the day with triumph:
But I was bored and restless, since Gini wasn’t back and I didn’t feel like going out for a run – so instead, I sat down for another two hours in the workshop and made the base and monitor shelf.
The next night, Gini helped me screw in the bases and shelves:
Here was where I made the other major error: in trying to rush the shelf placement so as not to hurt Gini’s back (she was holding the monitor shelf at an awkward, disc-snapping angle), I rushed it and now the shelf’s a little tilted. We’ll fix that in-cabinet, but it just proves that really, you should take your time.
And last night, I had an absolute panic attack. I went shopping for food, and while getting some Omega-3 healthy eggs, I looked at the chocolate chip cookie dough. And I realized: I couldn’t have that. Ever. No more would I just have a bad evening where I could tank up on cookie dough, or Entenmann’s chocolate cake, or just Ben and Jerry’s… whole worlds of food closed off to me. And then I thought of my job’s schedule-tightening where I’m no longer free to switch my hours around, and this just all seemed so overwhelming, all the things I couldn’t do any more, and…
…wham. Panic attack.
I didn’t know what to do, aside from crying and holding Gini, so… I went out into the garage to work some more on the cabinet. And you know what? It worked. I can’t think of anything else when I’m in the workshop; I have to concentrate on something external and concrete, and if I fail to pay attention, it all collapses. So I lost myself in a good ninety minutes of drilling, cutting, and sawing, and in the end I had about half of the cabinet complete:
That’s about twelve hours worth of work right there, for a distinctly amateur woodworker. And there’s tons of tiny flaws, but I won’t tell you about them, because you probably won’t notice them when all is said and done. Like any good craftsman, I’m learning and fixing as I go, and when it’s done it’ll look impressive to you, even as I see the hundreds of errors I could have done better.
But as a hobby, it’s a good one. It’s not like writing, where I have to go inside my head, and if I’m in a jangled or depressive mood, everything gets worse. This is physical labor, the kind that forces you to not really have emotions or side thoughts or anything, a sort of focused meditation that helps. I may develop a need for this, and I can easily see that happening; a kind of therapy.
And it’s a kind of love. When you start a woodshop, there’s tons of bills as you go and get more wood, this new drill bit, these new clamps. Gini is quietly overlooking the bills piling up at Lowes, because she knows how awesome this is.
And in the end… I’ll have a cabinet. Maybe a little off-kilter in some ways, but way better than no cabinet at all. And that’s good.

A Mid-Level Class In Story Structure: The First Five Paragraphs

One of the things I try to do when discussing writing is to create “intermediate” story advice.  Because there’s a lot of beginner’s advice out there – “Show, don’t tell!” “Have a snappy opening line!” – but not a lot that tells you how to get from A to B.
Today, I wrote what I think is one of my best essays on writing, because I wrote 350 words to a short story… and then show you, paragraph by paragraph, what I’m trying to do.  The first are tricky things, because you need to balance so much – an snappy opening, introducing the theme, introducing the character, introducing the conflict, introducing the setting so it doesn’t feel white-roomed, introducing the speculative element (if it’s sci-fi), and so on.
Last night, I wrote a servicable start to a story.  It’s not great – 6 out of 10 is what I’d rate it, barely passable – but I break that down to show you all the moving parts, everything I’m trying to accomplish that’s necessary.  This is why stories are so hard; you have so many things you need to get across right away, and in many cases the distinction between a bad story beginning and a good one is knowing which elements to prioritize in the opening sentence, and which ones you can delay for a short period of time (but had better get to in the next two ‘grafs or you’re doomed).
I did that, and pretty well.  Unfortunately, I’m doing it for the Clarion Write-A-Thon, so if you want to see it, I can’t give it to you for free.  But I am very proud of it, and I’m pretty sure that essay is worth the $5 alone to any aspiring writer, let alone the reams of stuff I’ll be analyzing over the next six weeks.  So if you have the money and are interested in such things, donate at least $5 (more never hurts, as it’s for a good cause) and then email me with your LJ user name so I can add you to the community.
Ah, Clarion.  It taught me a lot.  Hopefully I can pay that forward.
(This’ll be the last I mention the Write-A-Thon for a day or two – I just was quite content with this particular entry.)

How Do I Come Up With My Ideas? I Dissect My Process For Clarion.

Today’s essay in my Clarion blog-a-thon rush deals with ideas.  As in, “Hey, you’re a writer, where do you get your ideas?”  And so the Clarion Echo entry (where I’m live-blogging my writing and my writing process, entry only $5 for six weeks’ worth of stories) starts like this:
I have a deadline I’m running up against: the Drabblecast, a well thought-of podcast, had commissioned me to write a short piece for their Lovecraft tribute month.  I came up with a great story entitled The Cultist’s Son… but The Cultist’s Son turned out to be black.  I mean jet-black.  As in, the scene where the baby starves to death is maybe the second- or third-worst thing in it.  And I said, “So did you feel comfortable publishing an NC-17 tale?”
They were not, though they liked it a lot.  So I have to write a new Lovecraft-inspired story in the next two weeks, which will give me time for another revision or two.
Which means you get to see how I come up with ideas.
There’s a couple of problems with me writing a Lovecraft tribute, however:

  • I’ve written too many Lovecraft riffs alreadyRiding Atlas is clear, dead-eyed Lovecraft.  As Below, So Above is a monstery take on mystery of worshipping a God.  The Sound of Gears is King Lovecraft, but Lovecraft still.  Dead Prophecies, Suicide Notes, Written By An Alien Mind, hell, even Under the Thumb of the Brain Patrol are all Lovecraft-inspired… And that’s not even counting my pure Lovecraft “Cthulhu is Rising” tale Shadow Transit, due out in Buzzy Mag at the beginning of July.  So I’ve mined that vein a lot, maybe too much.
  • It has to be R-rated at best.  As noted, I’d be better off shooting for PG-13.
  • It needs to read well.  It’s for an audio production, so I need to ensure it works as a spoken-word piece.
  • It needs to be short, 3-4,000 words.  That’s a little short for my comfort zone.

So after The Cultist’s Son hit the skids – and it was a great idea, even if the execution was too raw for the target market – I needed to think up what my next move was.  So I started pulling up various Lovecraft stories, trying to figure out what about him appealed to me
…after that, you can see how I break down the various ideas I have, where I’m searching for my inspiration.  If you wanna know how I separate “an idea” from “a story,” then this is where I show you.  And as mentioned, you can see it for a mere $5 donation, to a very good cause.

What It Would Really Take To Genderflip A Character

Today’s stunning gender flip is Mr. Lawrence Croft, the Tomb Raider himself.  You can see him merrily having his half-naked videogame adventures here:
Lawrence Croft, Tomb Raider
The problem is that while people are investing a lot of time gender-flipping characters to show, say, how ridiculous Batman looks if presented through a girl’s fantasy lens or various male comic characters presented contorted into female poses, that never quite gets across the effect.
Because you show this to your average dudebro, and he barks a laugh.  “That’s hysterical!” he says, and moves on.  And for this to be a true equivalence, you’d have to engineer a culture where he laughs, and moves on, and then realizes that everyone else – in fact, the majority of people he knows – sees nothing at all wrong with this. When he laughs, his friends would have to give him that sideways stare that says, “What’s funny?”
In fact, he’d determine a vast majority of them are for this look.  Actively.  They admire it, and are disappointed that he does not have it.  This ludicrous pose and too-perfect body was precisely what people expected him to be.  The possession of this body would, in fact, be more important than anything else he’d ever done.  If he became the editor of a major magazine or the Secretary of State, people would still weigh in on his body – whether he was too unattractive, what kind of suits was he wearing.  People would fuse their compliments of his performance and his looks effortlessly, so he’d be a smart-looking senior executive, as if to explain that really, a large part of your success is how you look.
But no!  It gets worse!  Because while you’d be pressured to dress like this silly, useless guy all the time – showing up at a club in a popped collar and khakis would have the whole crowd groaning, telling you that you didn’t come dressed to party – if any part of your body failed to meet this standard, you would have let everyone down.  There’d be guys sniggering at your flabby abs, and now that you’ve displayed your ass – as everyone had specifically requested – now its cellulite would be up for grabs.
Your failure to be attractive for them, to fall short of Lawrence Croft, would be treated as a personal failure.  It’s not that they have ridiculous expectations, it’s that you’re not good enough.  This guy on-screen, this candy-physiqued dude that you thought was a joke, is in fact what you’re supposed to aspire to.
And here’s the harshest truth: he’s the best choice.  Out of all the other men in movies and videogames – you know, the ones who swoon helplessly into womens’ arms, standing by placidly while the women choose their own destinies in a hail of gunfire – this guy is comparatively awesome.  At least this guy’s not a prince in a castle waiting to be rescued, he’s out climbing things and shooting them.  He looks stupid, but at least he chooses his own destiny.
Until, you know, all these people who think Lawrence isn’t quite cut enough, or naked enough, get ahold of the franchise and determine that, like every other man in videogames, he’s not really capable of being adventurous until he gets neutered.  It’s a dark and gritty world, my friends, and just like Theon Greyjoy, you can’t have a male hero really motivated until he’s experienced the loss of his testicles and gone on a mad search for revenge against the women who cut them off.  Your only true path to independence lies in being snipped, because otherwise why the hell would a guy be so ready to have adventures?  He must be damaged.
(And you know, a lot of guys are damaged.  You know a ton of guys who had their testicles, well, maybe not torn off, but threatened or severely yanked by women on dates.  Whenever people try to report this, you’re usually seen as overreacting.  Women just do that to balls.  You can’t just let them touch your balls and then not expect them to try to remove them!)
Eventually an outcry from some men – who are largely seen to be overreacting, but whatever, we’ll humor those humorless guys – causes this storyline to be, er, cut off, but you still realize that there’s a lot of guys out there who seem to think that the only way you can possibly be interesting is to either inseminate a woman (and then often die before birth), or to have your insemination rights violated.
That.  That’s a true genderflipping.  And while a few pictures may cause some heads to turn, it can never ever get across the full idea of why those gender flips are important.