Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Noble Art of Pen Spinning

I have a new obsession. After falling down a Youtube rabbit hole of object manipulation videos I discovered a community of people dedicated to perfecting complex tricks of twirling pens between their fingers. It sounds silly, but experienced spinners can deliver seriously hypnotizing performances.

I'm just a baby spinner. I've learned exactly 1.6 tricks. The only one I've mastered so far is called the thumb-around. 

My thumb-around skillz.

The second trick I'm learning is called the charge. It's proved much more difficult. The thumb-around took a few days to learn but, after a month of off-and-on practice, I still haven't completely figured out how to charge.

My charge non-skillz.

Obviously, I have a long way to go. It'll take a quite a while before I get as good as these guys -

Crazy, right? I KNOW. Don't even get me started on Cardistry.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Chill University

Hey, we’re totally stoked that you’ve showed an interest in attending the prestigious Chill University. Here is some basic information to help you in your decision.


Our sorta’ manicured lawns are perfect for kicking the hacky sack around with your bros. Fruit trees provide cool shade and even cooler snacks. All walkways are made of soft, heat-resistant foam, in case you don’t feel like wearing shoes.


We don’t really have Majors or Minors here. That stuff can get way too stressful. Just choose whatever classes sound the sweetest. Even if you feel like taking a different class every day, that’s cool with us. Our courses start at 12 pm sharp-ish and last until whenever you feel like going home. The carpeted rooms are all furnished with suede beanbag chairs that seriously feel like clouds. If you want to take one home, go for it. I mean, I did. 

Lighting in all rooms is set to chill for maximum relaxation. Of course, no classes require heavy books to carry around, and there’s never any homework. Just come in, take it easy, and watch a PowerPoint presentation or a Youtube video or something.

And, hey, if you don’t really feel like attending Chill University, that’s cool, too.

Course List

Intro to Cool Stuff
Maxin’ and Relaxin’ 101
Like, How Do Numbers Work?
Algebro II
Midday Nap
Conflict Resolution (AKA: Chillax, Yo)
Elements of Procrastination
Trashketball and Other Sports
The Art of Couch Sleeping
Microwave Culinary Arts
One-Step Cooking
Spray Cheese: The Ultimate Food
Leaning Back in Chairs
Socks with Sandals
When to Finally Wash Clothes
Public Sleeping
Knowing When to Procrastinate (Always)
Urban Longboarding
Living in Vans (Not the Shoes, Cuz They're Like Way Too Small for That, Unless You're Some Kind of Teeny Tiny Smurf Person, Which Would be CRAAAAZY)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Networking at Conventions

            There are few words in the English language that instill me with as much fear as the word “networking.” I’d sooner fight a bear than approach a stranger cold in the hopes of striking up a friendly conversation. At least, that’s how I used to feel. Recently I’ve begun to get used to it, and maybe even *gasp!* enjoy it.

            I’ve attended the New Orleans Comic Con (and some smaller cons) over the past few years and, each time, I try to kick my networking up a notch. It’s been surprisingly easy. Discussing my interests with a knowledgeable stranger often happens much more smoothly than making small talk with a family member. (Which, I’m sure, speaks to my own issues.)

The crux of networking is having people remember you. You generally want to be friendly, honest, and positive. Below are some specific steps that could help.

1)   Have Questions – If approaching someone after a panel, ask them about something they didn’t have time to cover, or about something you would like them to elaborate on. And don’t just say “How do I make it into the industry?” Be specific. Show genuine interest in the subject instead of just how it can help you.

2)   Have Something to Give Them – [I have much more to say on this subject than is included here. I will cover it more fully in a later blog post.] Business cards are pretty standard, but you can do better. Think flyers and mini-comics. For the next con, I’m writing a one page comic to be printed on cardstock. Bookmarks would also be good. Don’t expect the person to give more than a cursory glance to whatever you hand them, though. Cons are loud and busy. Hopefully they’ll keep what you give them and take a closer look when relaxing in their hotel room, or at home after the con.

3)   Buy Something! – Most people go to cons and do panels because they have something to sell. I always do my best to have extra money for buying comics and novels from the people I’m interested in talking to. Even if it’s not something you would normally buy, get it anyway. It gives you something to talk about with them, lightens their mood, and gets you a cool collection of signed books to bring home. You’ll have a year to read the stuff, and you can bring it up the next time you see them.

4)   Give Them an Out – People are often rushed and tired at cons. Do not monopolize their time. They need a chance to eat and hang out with their friends. If you refuse to shut up, they’ll remember you for the wrong reason. Check if they have a table in the exhibitors’ area and catch up with them later.

5)   Return – Touch base with the person more than once before the con ends. They’re going to see hundreds of faces in the span of just a few days. If they interact with your specific mug more than once, even in a minor way, they’ll be more likely to remember you. Of course, use reasonable judgement. DON’T BE ANNOYING.

6)   Follow Up – Soon after the con, send them a thank you email. Mention how you met and tell them you appreciated their panel and/or any advice they gave you. Keep it short, sweet, and classy. Don’t push any of your own projects on them just yet. You can link to stuff in your signature, though, if you like.

Don’t feel like you need to chat up every single interesting person at the con. Having a half-decent conversation with just a few is good enough. If you’re an introvert like I am, make sure to pace yourself. If you push too hard you’ll end up exhausted and miserable. 

I highly suggest picking up a copy of Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack. I came across it at a thrift store and it’s totally changed my approach to the subject

I hope you find this useful. Remember, if the people you’re trying to connect with are fellow creative types, they’re probably just as introverted as you are.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Scrivener Adventures Part 1

A while back I heard about a panel at a local library called “Technology for Writers” or some such. No more information than that was provided, but it sounded interesting enough, so I went, and I’m very glad that I did. It was given by Steve Beisner, a writer and self-professed tech guy. His presentation touched on different writing programs and on the importance of backing up your data, but focused on Scrivener. I had experimented with the trial version of Scrivener before, but had a problem really cracking the UI and figuring out what it could do. In his presentation, Steve went through it with us. He showed how the program could split a manuscript up into chapters and even scenes, while still keeping everything in one document. It makes large projects much easier to navigate.

The panel came at a perfect time for me. I do write straight-forward one-off stories now and again, but my passion lies in elaborate and expansive shared-universe monstrosities. As you can imagine, it’s been a challenge keeping all that stuff organized using spreadsheets and layers of folders.  Then BOOM there’s this panel where a solution is laid out in front of me. I bought Scrivener that very night after the panel. While I haven’t spent a ton of time in the program yet, it has proved very useful. I can’t imagine going back to switching between Word documents. 

Everything pertaining to a certain universe – completed stories, novel outlines, comic scripts, character information sheets, artwork, reference photos, etc… – has been uploaded into a single Scrivener project. Inside the project, documents themselves can act as folders for other documents in a tiered list. You can apply searchable tags to everything, view multiple documents side by side, and customize the icons for each document. I downloaded a set of space icons and use them to differentiate between my notes on fictional solar systems, planets, and individual moons. Gas giant planets have mini Jupiter icons, habitable worlds have Earth icons, and so on. I’m not exactly sure how useful that will be, but it looks nice and makes me happy.

A big question, though, is how much Scrivener can handle. Could it hold multiple completed novels and an on-going comic series in a single project? Will the program start chugging on me when I have a project containing thousands of pages of text? I hope it’s robust enough to handle those things, but I expect it probably isn’t. It’s designed to be writer’s workstation while working on a single novel. Some writers apparently have a separate Scrivener project for their universe bible, and create other projects for each book. That’s a solution, I guess, but I’ll just be switching between windows all over again. I want EVERYTHING in one place. I’m excited to continue exploring the program further and really test its limits. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Juggling Characters

-This is a re-post of a guest article I wrote for the blog quite a while back.-

Hello, ladies and gents. There are a lot of things that I’ve learned about writing since starting my serial Static Breaker. In this snazzy post I’ll be covering one of those topics just for you: juggling characters.

My series has a single POV character, but he’s usually hanging out with a couple of friends. It can sometimes be challenging to juggle more than two characters together in a scene. Below are some tricks that I’ve found useful.

1)      Give them a reason to be there – Don’t have secondary characters tag along just because. Why should they be in your story if they don’t make it better? Your characters should earn their place. Secondary characters need skills that can help the main character proceed. If they’re just in the background, and don’t contribute, take them out. Don’t make them the star of the show, but give them their own time to shine. Design problems that make them a necessary part of the team.

2)      Give them something to do – Standing still is boring. Your characters shouldn’t be talking heads. Make them a physical part of each scene. Have them interact with the environment. Even if they’re sleeping in the background, you can have them snore and mumble to themselves. Maybe have them roll off of the bed. Simply tagging “he said, she said” over and over gets repetitive real fast. Try something like: Craig kneeled in front of the rusty oven and pulled it open. It creaked loudly. “How long do you think it’s been since someone lived here?”

3)      Give them a voice – Don’t have them all speak the same. Try to make them identifiable just from the way they speak. Get rid of your voice and find theirs. They should all contribute something different to a conversation. Do they have quirks? Favorite phrases? How often do they use contractions? Are they casual? Proper? If something crazy happens, how do they react? Do they use similes a lot? Do they exaggerate?

4)      Give them attitude – Yes-men are boring. Give your supporting characters opinions and emotions of their own. Drama is exciting. Supporting characters can still show dissent. Don’t be afraid to let them argue and even fight. They should also have their own motivation. Why are they doing what they’re doing? Why be there at all?

5)      Give them nuance – One-note characters are boring. If the goofy guy is always the same kind of goofy in every situation, he’s a caricature, not a character. Everyone gets sad and angry at certain times, even if it’s rare. Everyone has their vulnerabilities. Also, humans are especially skilled at holding two conflicting thoughts in their head at once. Show the real breadth of their personality.

By keeping each of these things in mind, your supporting characters will work to reinforce your main characters and bring your story to life. Your readers won’t be confused by who’s who or why they’re there. This isn’t all there is to know about juggling characters, of course, so go explore in your own writing. If you come up with any other tips, let me know.