Thursday, June 8, 2023

Mucha Carah

I'm having a helluva lot of fun with MidJourney these days, despite all the grumblings against it. It's just too much fun to see my written words bloom into images, to see my characters and settings interpreted in dozens of different ways. 

This is MJ's take on Carah, the heroine of books 3, 4, and 5 of the Falcons Saga -- if artists Alphonse Mucha and Julie Bell collaborated. The first was done with MJ's version 4, the last two are version 5. Of course, v4 can't get the hands right. I've had very little success with birds' wings either. Hands and wings, as common as they must be in source imagery, are a mystery to this ai. I do find it interesting, however, that despite my prompt not once including the word "book," the ai insisted that a sorceress would be holding a book. Every single image, except the last one, featured a book.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Summit In Sight

Image from Unsplash

So I haven't detailed much progress on Blackbird in a long time, mainly because writing this draft has felt like climbing an interminable mountain. Is it ever going to end???

Even my husband and my mother, who are my biggest supporters, have been asking, "Are you ever going to finish it?" To which I invariably give them a look that is the non-finger version of flipping them the bird. If I were a snarkier sort, I might invite them to kindly sit in my chair for a few days and finish the damn thing themselves. But I'm not. So I wrote on.

On a good day, I don't really love writing a rough draft. And as far as Blackbird goes, the writing has been slow and difficult. Probably because the historical genre is so new to me and demands a certain level of accuracy and knowledge that can't be invented as with fantasy. It has been ... uncomfortable ... like squeezing into a spandex suit.

And my greatest fear for this story is that it will bulge in all the wrong places.

BUT! After slogging on step by step, scene by scene, the end of the climb is within sight. I hope to conclude Draft 1 by the end of June. Then I can begin the part of the process that excites me. Cutting the fat, bulging up the scrawny bits, and otherwise administering the necessary plastic surgery that turns this ugly child into a supermodel.

Well, I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Is the Nile REALLY 1000 Miles Long?

 I have no idea. But Amelia Edwards claimed it was nearly that in her travelogue A Thousand Miles Up the Nile. Published in the 1870s, this firsthand account of traveling the Nile by dahabiyah tops the list of irreplaceable research material that I'm devouring while writing my historical novel. 

I finally thought to add it to my Goodreads bookshelf. The review I posted there is as follows: 

A Thousand Miles Up the NileA Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Along with Lady Duff-Gordon's published letters, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile has my go-to source for setting details (and shocking imperialist attitudes) when researching for my historical novel, which takes place two years before this book was published. My copy is dogeared, marked up, highlighted, and tagged with stickies. And when I traveled the Nile myself in 2021, Edwards' descriptions kept whirling through my head: in the rural parts of Egypt, much remains the same, and it was a trip back in time. To see the same things she described in the 1870s was breathtaking. I can't imagine what I would have done without this priceless firsthand account.

Even if I hadn't needed the book for research, Edwards' prose is magnetic, her insights both timeless and marked by her era, a fascinating read.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

 A very brief review. Just a quick reaction, really, that I posted at Goodreads. As follows:

Bellman & BlackBellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. Several weeks have gone by since I finished it, but I cannot stop thinking about it. The rooks are haunting me -- in a good way. The story is an epic character study of a deeply flawed man, interwoven with mythology (no spoilers). The prose is poetic, the wisdom profound and moving. The only complaint I had was that, in the first half of the book, there is little setting detail. I'm a sucker for immersive settings, and this narration was slim in that regard, until the last half. The longer I read, however, I realized that had Setterfield included richer setting details throughout the novel, the thing would've been needlessly long. The two settings that matter, the mill and the funerary goods emporium, are painted in thorough detail. And so everything fall into place and the author's choices make sense.

(view spoiler)

This is a story I will read again in a few years. 

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Blackout Poetry

Blackout poetry is not poetry you write when the power goes out. I guess you could, BUT! Blackout poetry is the surprising results you get when you take a piece of text from elsewhere, carefully select a few of the words on the page, and black out everything else, leaving a startling new message. In honor of National Poetry Month, I took a random page from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (which is in the public domain) and ran it through the Blackout Poetry Maker, here: BLACKOUT POETRY MAKER 


 If I were to reformat these words, I might make them look like this: 

night, my retreat
of anguish-- 
wild, broken 
objects ranging 
through cold stars 
and bare trees-- 
of universal stillness

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Shiny New Editions

Slowly but surely, I'm re-releasing several of my publications with new covers and, in some cases, revised text.

I decided to start at the beginning. Way back in 2011, I published my story "Fire Eater" on Amazon as a sort of test run to learn the formatting ropes before I went through the grueling process of preparing a novel series for publication.

So today, I completed the cover art and interior edits (very minor) for this dark fantasy novelette, in the hopes that snappier art will entice more readers to download the story. It received positive reviews, of which I am very proud.

So, just as a record, and an example of how critical cover art is to attracting readers, I'm going to share the old cover and the new. The comparison is laughable.

Old Cover. BLECH!
New Cover. YAY! (Love that 3D affect in the pupil!)

Next up, I'll slap new digs on Sanjen's story, the novella A Nocturne in Red. Later in the year, I hope to do the same for the entire Falcons Saga, with hefty revisions for Book 1.

Download "Fire Eater" for Kindle HERE.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

National Poetry Month: The Clerihew

I have learned something new about poetry, which isn't hard because poetry is such a huge, broad, varied topic. New things keep falling out between the lines, and shimmer, bedazzling.

The Clerihew (who knew?) is "a whimsical, four-line biographical poem of a type invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The first line is the name of the poem's subject, usually a famous person, and the remainder puts the subject in an absurd light or reveals something unknown or spurious about the subject. The rhyme scheme is AABB, and the rhymes are often forced." (Wikipedia)

So I gave this form a go in honor of National Poetry Month, and this is the cute thing I came up with:

Not earth-shattering poetry, but fun. The rhyme scheme is ABBA, too, but it's lucky it ended up rhyming at all, given my lack of a knack for it (nailed that internal rhyme!). But most importantly, I learned something, which is always a win. I do admit, however, I have a crush on that silly ol' bear.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Microfiction: One Last Toast

Microfiction used to scare me to death. How can someone encapsulate and entire story in so few words??? But giving it a try, I learned how many words are NOT needed to convey an idea.

This miniature sci-fi piece was written for LegendFire's 100 Weekly Contest. 100 words, no more, no less. Prompt words: light, stable, bar. First published in LF's Compendium, 2021. 

(Click image to enlarge and read more easily.)

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

MidJourney: Banned Words & Creepy Images

 To follow up on my previous post about MidJourney:

I'm learning the ins and outs of the AI's language. Sometimes I have no idea what the commands mean that I'm using but they produce fabulous results. And just because some words are banned from the AI's engine doesn't mean it won't produce some seriously disturbing stuff.

Lately, I'm considering writing a short story involving the Native American legend of the wendigo, a monster that personifies insatiable hunger and greed. So I plugged Ojibwe teach/scholar Basil H. Johnston's description of the the wendigo into the MidJourney's prompt window:

The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash-gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody ... Unclean and suffering from suppuration of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.

"Flesh" and "bloody" are banned words, so I removed them, but the AI accepted the rest and returned the following creepy results:

Whew, is that fun or what?

I found it interesting that most of the images had horns. I had to specify "--no horns" or "horns ::-2" for the latter image to pop. After researching the wendigo a bit I learned that later interpretations, after Europeans brought their own legends from the Old World, horns started showing up in descriptions of the monster. Why is any scholar's guess. And I'm sure there are some fairly good guesses out there.

Hmm, now to go enjoy ... lunch.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Mega Distraction: MidJourney

I have discovered MidJourney, the AI art generator. One of my favorite hobbies is to use GIMP to create imagery -- or try to. MJ makes the process a joy because I never know what I'm gonna get. And I get to PAINT WITH WORDS! I went through my 25 freebie generations in two days. By that time I was hooked, so I subscribed. 

Once I studied up on tutorials and learned the commands, I started generating ideas for book covers. The goal is to release new editions of past works on multiple platforms instead of just on Amazon Kindle. After several terrible results, MJ finally got what I was talking about and produced a glowing white lute for Sanjen's stories, and a dramatic battle ground with standing stones for the Falcons Saga, and a stylized image of a woman in the Sahara for my WIP.

But my prompts are definitely pushing MJ's limits. It has a real problem with birds. I want it to create images of falcons, right? "Falcons" is prominent in the prompt, but MJ is giving me hawks, eagles, birds with hawk bodies and pigeon heads, birds with funky-shaped talons, sometimes with three feet, or two feet with six twisty toes, sometimes a bird with one wing, or a bird with one gorgeous wing and one weird half-wing. It's been hilarious and frustrating. An otherwise gorgeous usable image will be ruined by one bizarre detail like this.

The latest fiasco (and most bizarre yet) was a gorgeous elven castle surrounded by fantastical trees (I was trying to get MJ to create Avidan Wood for a new cover for Blood of the Falcon), and the otherwise gorgeous image was ruined when MJ decided to put big block letters right in the middle of picture! This caused me to think it referenced someone else's promo image elsewhere on the web and arranged random letters in the same place. (see below)

No, no, no, you silly AI.

Point is, trying to create the perfect cover image by choosing the right words has been a glorious challenge, and I haven't written much on my WIP in the past week. Plus, now I've got a new LegendFire contest to work on, so MJ will have to go on the back burner.

Here are some of the bizarre results MJ gave me:

Why the nonsense letters in the middle, MJ??? This was perfect!

What is up with the bird on the left? Creepy eye and an irradiated left talon... tsk tsk.

Yet another attempt at bird anatomy. The falcon on the left is perfect, but for that weird right foot. While the bird on the right is somehow aloft with only half wing, and again with the random funky feet. I think there's an extra disembodied foot there somewhere...

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Microfiction: Wendigo, A Report

Heavy wet snow is coming down by the bucketful. My cats, Jet and Inigo Montoya, are going stircrazy chasing each other from one end of the house to the other, and I'm supposed to get some work done. Between the cats and gazing out the window, I stand about a 40% chance of meeting my word count quota today.

Before I get started, I figured I better procrastinate a little more and blog a bit. The following work of microfiction is an appropriate post for a snowy day. Posted it on Mastodon yesterday and apparently ruined someone's lunch.

100 words, no more, no less. Prompt: "avalanche."

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Microfiction: Moonrise

 This was one of my favorite micro-stories I wrote for LegendFire's weekly 100 Word Contest. One hundred words, no more, no less. It appeared in the 2022 issue of The Compendium. The prompt was "reunion."

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

I'm Reading: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Title: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Classic Lit

What do you think of it?

It's interesting to read the last thing Dickens was writing when he died. I can definitely tell it's not as polished as Great Expectations. Apparently it will end on a big cliffhanger because it's actually unfinished. So readers get to see something of his creative process, and I keep wondering what he would have changed if he had lived a while longer. 

I'm only 15% into the ebook, and I haven't figured out what the 'mystery' is or will be. Edwin Drood, a 20-ish year old, has made a brief appearance while Dickens introduces the growing cast of characters. I'm starting to get a clue that his beloved uncle is planning something underhanded toward him. Like murder? (I refuse to research it and find out. I despise spoilers.)

Recommend it?

Not really. Maybe I'll change my mind on that score later? It's rough reading given the antiquated slang and long convoluted sentences. And, as I mentioned, the lack of polish. Dickens' prose is usually very graceful, but this work had not yet reached that finished quality. I decided to read this novel in a hurry (bought a cheap copy and the .99 cent ebook versions) so I could read the modern novel Drood by Dan Simmons

Supposedly "Drood" was the last word Dickens spoke on his deathbed. I imagine this was because the dedicated author in him was distraught that he must finish writing the novel and never would. But apparently Simmons turns this haunting word into an epic supernatural thing (or something), which sounds fun to read. Can't wait to find out.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Microfiction: Pristine

Every week, LegendFire holds a 100 Words Contest for its members. It's one of our most popular activities. It encourages spontaneous creativity and very tight writing. The idea of posting my entries didn't occur to me until I saw works of microfiction popping up on Mastodon. The identities of the authors entering the contest isn't a secret, so I won't be violating any rules by posting my humble offerings.

To help me protect copyrights (I can't imagine anyone wanting to steal these, but the world is full of jerks doing inexplicable things), I'll put each story on a free-to-use image from Unsplash.

Last week's prompt was "pristine." I totally went overboard with it. Not my best writing, but the competition was fun, nonetheless.