rydain: (Yes Man)
This year is primarily marked with work (which I'd prefer to leave summarized as A Lot But Satisfying and Relatively Non-Apeshit Compared to Past Deployments), fitness (highlights - getting a 4-pack for the first time in my life, biking around town a lot, getting back into powerlifting and finally squatting my own weight again without hurting myself), and stuff I made. It's been a pretty good one so far. So here's the stuff.

I broke my 2-year art hiatus with an '80s Miami gangster interpretation of Dynasty Warriors. Cao Cao - the boss. Xiahou Dun - the right hand man. Xiahou Yuan - the straight shooter. Cao Ren - the conflicted idealist. Or, what happens when I mainline New Wave for the 3 months it took to draw this. It was totally worth the effort, as I leveled up a buttload in the process. I'm happiest with my improved nuance in anatomy and clothing, and my new way of drawing hair.

Our Brotherhood )

Here's my con report from the 6th year of Intervention, a relaxed and down to earth convention for independent content creators, which also happens to be the brainchild of one of my best friends ever. This year I learned more about voice acting - and even got to act alongside Terry Molloy, a.k.a. Dr. Who's Davros. We also had breakfast together. Yeah, pretty awesomesauce.

My coworker Brian loves terribad movies. He insisted I watch R.O.T.O.R., a cheesetastic Robocop ripoff. It was so surprisingly hilarious, I had to write a review.
rydain: Vault Boy Winking (Vault Boy Winking)
Half a year between entries once again. Shock and awe for anyone who knows me.

Cliff's Notes of life in G-funk Land (and website updates) -

Dynasty Warriors 5 is still my favorite in the series. I wrote this retrospective love letter to celebrate its 10-year anniversary.

Here's another fond look back on Milon's Secret Castle, a childhood favorite game that the internets love to hate. I may suck at most modern games because minimal depth perception and sense of direction and fast twitch aiming skills, but I beat this supposed impossibility when I was ten. It took me four months, but yay?

I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road because my friends were going, and it looked like reasonable fun. I ended up head over heels in love with its insane craft and adrenalin. Fury Road knows exactly what a straightforward action flick should be and blows it out of the water with surprising nuance and restraint - and also happens to be feminist. Review here.

I'm making arts again, woo hoo. I seem to have improved via osmosis of following pro illustrators while my visual brain was in torpor. I'm working on a 4-character piece and taking my time finishing it to the best of my ability, but it is entering the Zeno's Paradox of its final phase.

We entered the current console generation with a PS4. What finally kicked me over the edge? Fallout 4. Of course I had to get the Pip-Boy edition because I can use more crap in my house when it pertains to one of the very few game series that continues to build on its excellence. I must write my comprehensive review of Fallout: New Vegas - which is probably the best game I ever played, bugs notwithstanding - as I get hyped for the November release. I also foresee myself coming down with a convenient multi-day cold at that time - or just scheduling time off because work is awesome like that.

Speaking of work, the tl;dr version is that this year has focused on a career-defining system switchover and deployment, and I have built - and continue to build - some seriously beautiful, modular, and flexible shit in ColdFusion. I'm not terribly fond of the language - just let me at the underlying Java without all the quirks and "helpful" conveniences that don't do what I want half the time. But Coldbox is a wonderful framework, and I love that I had time to learn and apply it. I PUT ON MY ROBE AND WIZARD HAT
rydain: Vault Boy Winking (Vault Boy Winking)
The last time I posted a journal entry, I was in the middle of recounting my November 2013 trip to China. Then came the polar vortex and a longstanding torpor through which I ground onward and eventually got reinspired.

I made a good amount of novel progress, partly fueled by some excellent critique from [livejournal.com profile] quufer. I got addicted to Instagram, bookmarked an absurd quantity of Nanjing photos, and picked up some mutual followers from around the world. I rebooted my personal website as a one-stop shop for the best of my artwork and article-suited ramblings. I reviewed a few local haunted attractions and conventions and brain dumped some advice on writing.

And I finally finished the writeup of China, which you can read here. Please do. It really was a great trip.
rydain: Mario bouncing in Kuribo's Shoe (Kuribo's Shoe)
I got the job. Not just a job. The job. The high end programming position I applied to at Penn State, whose listing sought a driven and creative problem solver. The one with an interview I prepared for by mainlining '80s tunes in the Kern Building lobby beforehand, and in which I shed my suit jacket and flexed for a room full of staffers in response to an inquiry about my hobbies. It's a position within a department seeking to grow and develop its information technology division. It's my closest approximation to tenure. Said department has lots of other women, who I had a blast interviewing with. You bet your ass I'm stoked.

I can still walk to work. My office space seems quiet and private. I get a deep tuition discount and a boatload of vacation - that trip to China is A-OK with the management and won't put me in time off debt for the next century or so. I do have to dress business casual - a culture shock to someone raised in the jeans and snarky T-shirt world of web development and research engineering - but I have plenty of comfortable options, and I can use a wardrobe refresh anyhow. It's a good reason to kick me back into the Cleaning Out Clothes for Goodwill Project I started a couple of weeks ago.

I've been a lazy vacation bum. I had a full week where my best defense against doldrums was room escape and tile swap puzzle games. I also had breakfast with [livejournal.com profile] penm_rx3, who has a creative writing minor and a planned cross-country move. Which gave me a nice novel-related goal of finishing my first act to send them for some hardcore critique. I do appreciate the honest feedback from my friends who share my tastes and understand what I'm going for, but I need that detailed impression of themes and threads and pacing and prose. I understand that such requires money for the hours of work and experience involved. So if I can help my friends build their bank account and shore up Act 1 as a solid prototype for the rest of my structure, style, and tone - ayyyyyyup. It's moving in steady steps, with previously yet undetermined character chemistry falling neatly into place. I had reached my limits for how much I could plan ahead, so focusing on early content is just what I need right now.

Dynasty Warriors costume DLC is at its best when it involves absurd and/or modern themes. The Wei jobs exemplify this. Zhang He is a literal assclown, and Cai Wenji and Jia Xu are also in the circus because they are a popular fandom ship because matchy matchy let's pair up the new characters together I understand why people like it but I don't feel it at all. There's a lot of assorted military business, Xiahou Yuan is a crime scene investigator (who would totally be eating on the job to prove he isn't disgusted by anything) and Cao Ren is one of those technical rescue team guys. I have a perfect reference photo for him going after someone's cat stuck on a roof, but I've been more about words words words and there goes that damn artistic performance anxiety again. Although for once I've drawn something I don't facepalm at the flaws in two months later. Go figure. I'll get over it. And I do have plenty of in person reference for felines.
rydain: (Lu Meng in the Mist)
The involuntary sabbatical continues. My first job prospect went to someone else, but I had a fantastic interview for a different one. There's more out there, and I continue to seek. Something will eventually come up Milhouse. At least I'm happily entrenched in Hobby Land in the meantime.

I'm loving the start of Mad Men. Period-relevant conflicts! Retro-flavored production! Entertaining, believable dialog! Characters amusing me even when their knuckles are dragging a groove in the ash-strewn floor! Hopefully it holds up - unlike The Sopranos, which lost me in the morass of Season 4 by shoving major conflicts in the background in favor of wallowing in pettiness and secondhand embarrassment. Wire fans, imagine Season 2 revolving around Ziggy, Valchek, and that fucking window, and maybe bothering to mention a major drug investigation once or twice.

I finished a new illustration, a month-long culmination of last year's improvement and then some. I broke some serious mental blocks with regard to fabric and hair, those dreaded flowing surfaces that I struggled to understand. I tend to do well with solid geometric constructions like heads and armor pieces. In an illustrated style, fabric and hair have to be felt out based on some understanding of their flow. I started to get it last year, but I wanted to learn the nicely variegated locks I envied in other people's art. With this, I found a style of my own to refine.

Ah-Meng of Wu - Lu Meng and Lu Su's surly study hour )

Dynasty Warriors 8 came out last month, so I was camping the live streams from Japan. It looks a good step above the disappointment of 7, with better battlefields, a fully decloned cast, and something for every character entertainment value with some prayer of approaching my reigning personal Jesus of DW5. While waiting for the English localization, I've been making up my own stupid captions. As well as terrible submissions for Facebook Warriors - the ideal home for all my languishing jokes.

Lu Meng's slacker pyromania backfires, pun naturally intended )

Xiahou Yuan demonstrates the hazards of borrowed leather )

With my art bender out of the way, I'm gearing up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April. I like to line up a bunch of detailed scene concepts and get into prose mode to have at them, and Camp is nice for this because it allows user-specifiable goals. Word count is not an ideal metric for me, but I can deal by assigning reasonable targets to each scene and picking my total accordingly. At the very least, I hope to do 10,000 words. If I really go on a tear, I might finish Acts 1 and 2 - the first third of the novel. The rest of my outline is trickling in and not nearly as built out. But it has gone from a giant question mark to anticipation of developing conflicts, and the new material should give rise to more inspirational specifics.
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
My final word tally: 17,000 and change. Which doesn't include the leaps I made in planning, both in substance (notes, detailed brainstorming) and getting the best ever handle on my writing process. As I mentioned, just forging onward doesn't work well for the narrative I'm going for. Instead I need a somewhat iterative combination of the following:

  • Decide on the overall development of a plot or character arc - main points, where it might lead afterward, implications, thematic aspects, etc.

  • Consider how to show it in scenes. Sketch scenes in as much detail as you need. If I'm lucky, they jump into my head all at once. Otherwise, I need to hammer at them by brainstorming about the intended feel, finer points of content, and dialog hooks - which help me conceptualize tone and character chemistry, even if I don't use them all as originally conceived. If I'm struggling with an opener or ending, I brainstorm it separately, and perhaps alter or redo the scene to fit.

  • Save every dialog snippet and scene idea that comes to mind, even if you don't have an intended home for it. If you're ever stuck, go through the list for inspiration.

  • Lay out your scenes and notes on events that haven't yet been sketched out thusly. Is the pacing too rushed? Think about what other conflicts are going on - whether strongly pertinent to a main plot thread, tangential, or worth including to reinforce a theme, add depth and nuance, etc. Is the pacing too bogged down? Think about what could be cut or compressed - for instance, development might be better incorporated as exposition instead of shown in a scene. (Though you might not want to get too cut-happy before your rough draft is even done. If in doubt, make a scene and deal with the streamlining afterward.)

  • When you have a compelling scene concept, write it out. This is where the Just Write Crap concept can help. Sometimes your first whack at prose will fall flat on its ass, but you can't improve it if you're afraid to try in the first place.


My outline has begun to split itself into acts separated by time, which is helping me organize those main points and build out the requisite subplots around them. There's the initial challenge, the delicious optimism, swimming in the proverbial money pit, and subsequent danger and resolution. Act 1 is mostly planned into scenes, Act 2 is getting there, the last act is vague but has a known general outcome, and the rest is main points that need to be nestled among that subplotty awesomesauce. And this provides some metric of rough draft progress far more meaningful than raw word count, even if I don't yet know how many scenes I'll need. At least I feel like I'm going somewhere substantial and sustainable.
rydain: (Lu Meng in the Mist)
The word count of my NaNoWriMo revision is around 15,500. Today's goal is double that. I'm cruising toward a C-C-COMBO BREAKER of my past four wins - and enjoying my best NaNo experience to date.

I sketch scenes if I'm blanking on them. I reread previous sections to weave in development I'll need later. I took a day off to plan a strong foundation for a subplot that had remained vague. I'm putting out 500-1000 well-founded words a day on a draft that I can continue into December and beyond instead of gutting for revamp after the post-NaNo crash and burnout. I can dial back the writing emphasis while still making steady progress. I haven't touched art in a month, and damn do I miss it.

I still write the crap that NaNo encourages me to, as it's important to move forward instead of nitpicking over polish best saved for a future revision. Yet the crap in question is a reasonable first draft stepping stone - ineffective delivery of sound concepts, not concepts doomed to fail. Last year, I Leeroyed up a Jenga tower to fill in the outlining I had neither the time nor knowledge to develop properly. This produced a fair amount of repurposable good stuff on the fly, but plenty of structural garbage. I didn't see any sense in repeating the experience for the sake of a perfect NaNo record - infinitely less meaningful to me than writing the best novel I can and reinforcing the sustainable habits required to carry it through to completion.

Seven years ago, NaNo gave me a fun and frenetic kick out of a lengthy writing torpor. I loved the thrill of going from a bare story concept to Holy Shit, I Wrote All That? "That" ended up like watching someone else play an adverb-heavy video game, but it was an enjoyable idea farm to inspire a better story and a start on getting back into a once beloved hobby. The breakneck pace has lost its luster, but the joy of November remains. NaNo is still an encouraging communal time to write, regardless of personal goals and working style.
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
Sandy came. Sandy went. Sandy largely passed us over. The spousal unit went out in the gusting wind to redirect our rather ineffective downspout away from the house, then resumed playing video games. I spent most of yesterday with the Suspended Piano of Dreaded Impending Power Outage hanging over my head, and I was convinced I would jinx it by going out to the gym, microwaving food, and taking a shower. Turns out the storm blew a bunch of energy elsewhere and veered below us instead of hammering Happy Valley as we had expected. We were damn lucky, and I feel for those that weren't.

My art inspiration has gone on hiatus, and creativity has been slow this month in general. It seems that my brain wants to wipe its slate clean for That Very Special Time of Year.

Again.



My months of planning have given me a much stronger footing. But I still have outlining left to do, a subplot whose details remain frustratingly out of reach. I can't finish that to my ideal standards in two days. There's a certain amount of process that can't be rushed, and that needs to percolate and iteratively refine itself over time. But I do have enough solidified to bang out plenty of useful scenes and perhaps extrapolate some reasonable ideas for the rest. This year, I should make my word count with structurally sound material, a much better wheat-to-chaff ratio, and no emergency Russian gangster crossover antics - although I haven't ruled out the possibility of another such outtake for the lulz. I haven't done squat for [community profile] cottoncandy_bingo either, so perhaps there's some double duty writing to be had there.

I'm trying to make myself brainstorm, or at least pick up the reference books I had been saving for a power outage. My brain is pulling a Hoagie and giving me a major case of the Don't Wannas. It will come around. It always does.
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
This year has been a strange one for personal sense of accomplishment. I'm trudging up my own mountain, head down, one foot after another. The sense of motion is there, but the scale just doesn't seem to register until I turn and look back on the valley below.

Art


Four years ago, I was scouring Dynasty Warriors fan sites and desperately wishing that I could draw. I was decent in high school, but severely out of practice at capturing any sort of likeness. The learning curve of my favorite characters seemed damned near vertical. I bought a Wacom tablet and a face anatomy book, and I struggled for months to make sense of poses and loosen up my stiff lines. After some more slow and painful progress, I put the hobby aside in favor of writing. Then came this year, a lightbulb of Getting It, and an avalanche of improvement. I don't like looking at my old work any more, and I've shoved my first cringeworthy finished piece into the deviantArt storage locker forever and ever, amen. But that's one small price to pay for being able to draw my choice of fan service in a timely and ever better manner. Case in point -

A Victory For Strategy - Cao Ren & Lu Meng playing strip weiqi - loincloth ahoy! )

I even colored it, which is a total WUT for me. Check the deviantArt submission for more on the technique used. I also plan to make a tutorial out of the hair at some near future point. Which is epic for me, as I used to fear hair and phone it in like whoa. If I can help one other person understand how to build it up and feel its form, I'll be happy.

Writing


Last summer, I got way into inFamous over Fourth of July weekend. I was simultaneously engrossed by its grungy, kinetic atmosphere and frustrated to high hell over its clownish back story and binary sense of morality. The sci-fi plot device had that wondrous air of handwaved plausibility until we found out that the Big Bad was really me who had traveled time for the future of mankind. The moral decisions boiled down to saving a schoolbus of puppies vs. trollface.jpg. At least the gameplay was hella fun, and it all kicked off this nebulous itch to write Something Really Big and Energetic and Way the Fuck More Nuanced. That collided with my other longstanding itch to make some form of full-blown adaptation of Cao Cao and pals being badass. Arise, my novel, was born.

That blasted thing is a monster. It went from speculative alternate future to modern day real world. It mutated and writhed out of my grasp as I researched and poked at it. I rushed my planning to be able to bang out enough draft to finish NaNoWriMo 2011. And then kicked myself, repeatedly, as I acquired the references I had lacked the time to discover.

My fast tracked research had given me a cursory sense of life in Nanjing, Chinese garment factory operations, business conventions, and the mentalities of counterfeiters. A stronger sense of the above cannot be rushed, and it slowly filtered in as I continued to read a wide variety of reference books and articles, from the specifically relevant to more general societal discourse. Some of my concepts turned out to be inapplicable. Even the better ones had seemed to be floating without context in that dreaded plastic sitcom realm, the Uncanny Valley of veracity. Somewhat quoth the raven - nevermore, yo. My notes are more nuanced, my foundation far more solid. Some subplots continue to frustrate me, and I need to remind myself to look well beyond that. At this time last year, I had shiny starry eyes for the setting and little else to go on. Is this progress? Oh hell yes I win.

I still find myself holding back from writing a single line of prose. NaNo may have put up a good fight last year, but I came out standing - and I'm itching for another round.
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
I spent the past three weeks on a new illustration, building up lines and torturing myself with the sort of fussy detail that has a way of bringing out every form irregularity and perspective fail. I finally enjoyed drawing hair, and I'm beginning to learn the ways of fabric. Both are cut from the same cloth, so to speak - flowing surfaces with volume that my brain just didn't seem to get for the longest time.

Also on deviantArt as usual. Pose was adapted from a photo reference.

Just a Dance - Cai Wenji x Cao Ren )

I want to color this. I tried for a long evening and set it aside, frustrated by my inability to choose flats in the sweet spot between dull bleh and oversaturated clown barf. At least Pennywise seemed to have been snacking on a cohesive set of Crayolas, so I figured it was a reasonable first try. Then I got to wondering why I was trying to choose flats to begin with, as I never seemed to get along with that process on any other prior failed attempt to color my work. The uniform fields of color look weird and trip me up. Instead, why not paint as I had drawn - built up and relaxed into, just as I'd done with traditional media in high school?

Inspired by this faux watercolor tutorial, I gave it another go. Damn, what an improvement. Slowly deepening washes just look right to me, and those stupidly saturated colors mellow into desirable brightness when layered in patient steps. I need some study practice before returning to the piece, but I should be able to finish it true to my nebulous vision.

While my conscious effort was focused on art, the rest of my brain was chewing away on my novel. The missing gist of plot came in one fell swoop, and I now have a solid high-level concept for the full story. I'm working on the next level of detailed planning for each subplot and conflict. Some specifics have changed or gone back up in the air, but I have a better handle on the more important aspects - thematic or plot purposes served, fundamental character motivations that drove the original ideas. The anti-counterfeiting investigation went from a giant question mark to quite the light bulb, not requiring any real stupidity on the part of a cautious supply line. Accidents happen, patterns can be seen with enough comprehensive surveillance, and fake bags aren't going to be guarded with the same extreme care as fake cigarettes. One bum link, no matter how temporary, can expose the chain just enough to be latched onto. What happens from there is a series of snapshots, further questions to answer, and a resolution satisfying enough that the rest will surely fall into line.
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
After two months of practicing anatomy on shirtless men, my brain craves words and stuff. I really should do small sketches and whatnot to keep myself fresh. I admit to having a serious motivation problem when I'm not studying for a specific piece.

I'm poking at some Mass Effect 3 ending fanfic. The mood is a cross between the Guardian Legend introduction and Nine Inch Nails' A Warm Place. Incongruous as that sounds, it works in my head, and I'm sure it will work once my notes congeal into actual prose. Said notes largely consist of disjointed snippets of conversation, scenery, and internal exposition. Say hello to pretty much my entire writing process.

Sometimes lightning strikes and I see a full scene all at once: the gist of conversation and expository balance, the intended mood, relevant plot development, any deeper symbolism or allegory that happens to belong there. More often, my inspiration comes piecemeal. I know what development I need, but I have no compelling idea on how to sell it. Or I have conversations and scenery floating around with no place to go. To plan the FIRST DRAFT FOR REALS THIS TIME of Arise, I have the following set up in Scrivener:

  • Basic list of shit going on: actions, character frustrations, primary circumstances driving the conflict. This keeps track of cause and effect propagation and helps ensure that it all makes sense at its most fundamental level.

  • Any scene ideas I can come up with, from specifics to development that eventually needs to be put somewhere. These are roughly ordered at best. A bunch are repurposed from the better fruits of my NaNoWriMo draft.

  • List of unanswered questions and relevant rambling. This includes research topics and undecided motivations and plot points.


To rebuild my foundation, I refined my basic plausible conflicts to strongly evoke the setting. Gao Feng Tao took over his uncle's handbag factory, but I didn't know the circumstances. Further research turned up the perfect solution - Tao stole the chops. In China, business and financial authority is conferred via stamps that are difficult to forge and respected as official word regardless of whoever is using them. It's a wonderfully specific detail, and it poofed into my head with a dramatic confrontation scene. Bonus!

As you may gather by my constant rambling about the brilliance of the show, I took yet more cues from The Wire. I found more court cases and business news to inspire tidbits of character back story. I rethought conflicts to arise from basic problems, such as supply chain price increases and the cutthroat competition inherent in the trucking industry. I got a better handle on understanding my characters' mentality of copying and skimming as fair game - it's just business and all. At around 60% sketched, my revised plot already feels closer to the natural result of an ecosystem than it did in the NaNo stage.

I'm almost ready to dig into Rough Draft 1.0. (NaNo was 0.1a.) I have enough scene specifics to work on, lots of promising rough prose to polish, and placeholders for undecided development including lead-in needed for the final act. There's enough to do that won't be invalidated by further research and planning. Chums up let's do this! (Again.)
rydain: (Lu Meng in the Mist)
I did this Manga Studio drawing with the reasonably successful aim of loosening up my style and improving the realism of my facial features. My hair remains stylized, but I like it that way. Pen doodling is the shit when you have an undo button.

Cao Ren in Pen )

I'm back to planning Arise, my modern day legend of Cao Cao. The NaNoWriMo draft got me some great scenes and broad strokes of subplots. Its general concepts are sound, but the motivations and conflicts need to be sharpened and finalized before the next draft. This involves a plot brainstorming file and a list of questions and sticking points. Some fundamentals of the story appear in my head as fuzzy and dreamlike - believable at viewing distance, but as yet hollow. I need to bring them into focus with full confidence in what lies beneath the surface. Rough drafting can flesh that out to some satisfactory initial extent, but NaNoWriMo taught me the limits of writing on the fly. Prose and conversation can and should be banged out - scene ideas can be explored and set aside if needed. Threads can be sparked with a rough idea, as in when I sent my main man to mahjong and wound up with a segue into his real estate endeavors. Yet their full realization requires more thought than I'm in the mood to bullshit without structure in mind.

On the subject of fiction, you may recall that I overhauled Tempered Will for hopeful inclusion in a wuxia fiction anthology. Said anthology fell through, but I got this lovely comment in response.

Thanks for your submission. It's a good story, from someone who obviously knows the subject. Have you submitted it to any magazines? I think it would do well.

I just might take him up on that suggestion.

August 2015

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