Emergent properties, of a sort

As my drawing skill progresses – slowly, sometimes staggering, but always the general movement is forward – I’ve found there are things I can’t visualize.  It’s not that I never will, but I haven’t trained my brain to do that yet. Fortunately, I’ve been building rulesets to accommodate problems my entire life, this is only one more example.

The basic problem is this: for large inanimate objects such as trees and buildings, and a small subset of small inanimate objects, I’ve learned (in some way) how to draw these objects from various points of view and in perspective. I’m not good at it yet but there is some perception of depth and you can understand what I’m trying to convey.

But with many small objects and animals (including people) – well, I haven’t learned to do that yet. I can draw an animal at a 90-degree angle (profile or straight on) but I can’t draw from, say, looking up as a child might see a parent or looking down as a parent might see a child. I’ve been able to get around that by having models of people to give me a hard object to move around and look at from various angles. (In case you’re interested, I’m using the Body Kun and Body Chan figures.) I use items around the house for other things.

But animals are another matter. They don’t stand still long enough. Yes, there are reference images galore on Google, but trying to find the right pose can be time-consuming… and if I’m drawing something that doesn’t exist except in my head, I can’t find the pose I’m looking for anyway.

So I hit on a solution: sculpting. Clay is pretty cheap and I’m fairly good at model-making, so I’ve started practicing making clay figures of the things in my head. Scary, man! Seriously, I’ll make, say, a dragon head. Once that’s done, I can rotate it to see how to draw it from any angle.

I didn’t start out drawing to become a sculptor – but it led in that direction. Sometimes the paths we follow cannot be predicted.


Building a Dragon, Part Two

Last week’s sketches were of an amulet and a couple of stick-figure dragons to show how it moves. The amulet is the dragon’s dormant stage, highly resistant to heat, pressure, and anything else short of a neutron star or black hole.

These two sketches are different, active poses. They’re rough sketches, not intended to be close to the final product (I’m not even going to ink them); I’m trying to draw what I want to see.

Remember, it’s a space dragon, not meant to land anywhere but to travel empty space. There are three nostrils; not 100% sure why I did that, I’ll think of something. The horns and dorsal spines burn with fire when the dragon’s fed; if the fire goes out it needs to eat. The arms and tail flange capture bits of planets and stellar material (plasma, mostly).

Rough sketches of my dragon

(Very) rough sketches for my dragon.


Building a dragon, Part One

So I’m sitting in the lab waiting to give a sample for blood work. It’s gonna be a long wait and I realize, “Hey, why sit and do nothing? You need to design the dragon and its ‘dormancy’ amulet for Do-Over. Go next door and buy a cheap sketchbook and pen.” It’s not on the Inktober official list – I could call it “mysterious”. Nah – I’ve already done that one. Never mind – but it’s work I needed to do. Keep in mind these are concept drawings, like an outline for a story, not meant to be finished product.

Dragon early character study - plan, not drawings


Inktober a week underway

OK, so this is my first Inktober. I posted the first week’s worth of drawings today; check the Media link. EDIT: I added the pictures to the blog entry.

The drawings aren’t great, but…

  • no pencils to ink over, these are straight ink drawings, and
  • they show some improvement over previous drawings.

I still have work to do, quite a lot actually; nevertheless, I’m getting stuff out there for people to view (and critique if they wish), which is a huge step for me. Overcoming the fear is even more important than drawing well.

Thanks for checking them out!


Potential stumbling block: quoting song lyrics

(Note: this originally appeared, in a shorter and slightly different form, in one of my Facebook posts in a private group. I’ve also asked this as a question in LinkedIn; I received the same answer there as I did from the copyright attorney.)

Are you writing something with published song lyrics in it? Guess what: if the song was written after 1923, you have to pay to use the lyrics. Copyright laws on songs aren’t different from literature laws, but the music industry is more prone to lawsuits than the literature industry.

You can (usually) use a line or two from a written work if you cite it as “quote (author, title of work, date)”, but you can’t us a song lyric without paid permission except under fair use, which is generally limited to parody, review, critique, or something similar.

So if I want my protagonist to sing even one line from Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song” I have to either write, “JD sings Jim Croce’s I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song to Mya”, or fork over some cash to the Croce estate (or whoever owns the copyright to that song). I only want two lines, not the whole bloody song…

I need to do this. One of the books I’m writing has a protagonist with autism; he’s non-verbal and communicates by writing notes or singing. Most of the time I can obliquely reference the song (e.g., he sang something about a watchtower, a joker, and a thief) or directly by title (e.g., “Oh, that’s Behind Blue Eyes by The Who”), but when a critical emotional state comes along and he wants to express himself in a very specific way (see the previous paragraph)… he CAN’T because I can’t quote a song. That’s annoying.

I asked for legal advice and that’s the response I got, along with a few names of agencies that would help me get in touch with whoever owns the lyric copyright so I can pay them. At US$30 – US$50 per use (or more!), it adds up.

Or I can write my own songs. I have taken this tack at times, but in some cases (such as the Croce song) the existing written word fits both the situation and the character I’ve written. There are people like that in the real world, so it fits the character’s personality and sets the mood properly. To make the character credible I have to write him as if he were a real person – and real people quote songs they know.

So here’s how I’m doing it. In an author note at the bottom of the page, I have the following. “If you want the full emotional experience of this page, pull out a legally-acquired copy of Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song” and play it while you read this.” I’ve been assured that’s legal. Kinda loses something that way, though….

Here’s an article on BookBaby regarding this situation: How To Legally Quote Song Lyrics In Books. Also, read the GalleyCat article linked in the BookBaby blog; that article quotes a copyright attorney.

I’m not complaining that I have to cite the work of others; I want to give credit where it’s due. My complaint is that I can’t cite, I have to pay a substantial fee. What’s special about putting a poem to music that makes it different from a non-accompanied poem?

To summarize, the advice I was given as to how to use song lyrics in fiction falls into these categories. These are also laid out in the blog entry, the Galleycat article, and comments on those articles and in the LinkedIn discussion I started.

  • Don’t use published song lyrics.
  • Write your own songs.
  • Reference songs by title. Titles are not covered by copyright law.
  • Reference songs obliquely.

Lost in the discussion of “lost diagnosis”

Think about this carefully as you read it; know anyone fitting these descriptions? Maybe not – we get better at hiding it over time.

Chavisory's Notebook

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner, and I couldn’t help being reminded of that line as I read the recent article “Compulsions, anxiety replace autism in some children,” from Spectrum magazine.

An estimated 9 percent of children with autism achieve a so-called ‘optimal outcome.’ But nearly all of these children years later develop related conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, the new study suggests.

“The majority of the group with a past history of autism are vulnerable to developing other psychiatric disorders,” says lead investigator Nahit Motavalli Mukaddes, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Istanbul Institute of Child Psychiatry in Turkey.

So let’s get something straight right off the bat.

There is—so far as has ever been revealed—no such thing as a “past history of autism.”

If children who lose a diagnosis are socially compensating to…

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Staying on task with Habitica

To say I have difficulty staying on task is a bit of an understatement. I get bored or distracted easily and, by the end of the day, I often find I haven’t done half the things I wanted to do that day. There’s a perfectly good reason for that: ADHD.

The name, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is misleading. People with ADHD do not have an attention deficit; rather, it’s an overload of attention. We are aware of many things going on around us most people aren’t paying attention to – and those things cry out, “Look at me!” For example, where most people can screen out distractions, I see and hear lots of things around me they miss. In the words of the titular character of the TV show Archer, I have “total situational awareness”.

It has advantages, of course. I’m rarely surprised. I can carry on multiple conversations at once. I never get lost. I can avoid difficult situations because I see them coming sooner. It’s not all wine and roses, though.

The hyperfocus that comes with ADHD is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives me a way to complete tasks quickly. If the task is interesting and challenging enough, I can work on it for hours where most people would run out of steam in an hour or two. On the other hand, once it kicks in it is very difficult to get out of, distractions bother me more than they should (I find a ringing telephone especially annoying during these times), and working 12 – 14 hours on a task leaves no time for anything else – like eating, staying hydrated, and moving around.

I’ve tried numerous methods to combat this: list-making, setting alarms, pocket calendars, planners, Post-Its… the list is nearly endless, and most of them don’t work for very long. One thing that has helped a lot is a website called Habitica.

Habitica, formerly HabitRPG, is a role-playing game that rewards you for completing tasks. You create tasks for yourself in one or more of three categories: Habits, Daily Tasks, and To-Dos. You can plan as much or as little as you like, and it’s free to join. Like any role-playing game, completing tasks rewards you with gold, equipment, and experience. Joining a party lets you go on quests, another incentive to complete your goals and help others in your party complete theirs. Plus, you’re rewarded for “streaks” of completing daily tasks; reaching a streak of 21 consecutive days is a great motivation for doing a daily task.

But it’s more than just a planner and habit-builder; it’s a highly social program. Like any role-playing game, there are guilds to join. Some of the guilds are simply for fun; many, though, bring people together for specific purposes. I belong to several guilds specific to my needs. One of them is an artist’s guild; another is a guild of people with ADHD. Each guild provides challenges to help you meet your goals or make new ones, and a forum to share your experiences with other people. The guilds provide a place to feel like you’re not alone, a feeling of belonging, which is important.

One more thing. Habitica is open-source and encourages members to help make it more fun and useful. There are several ways to contribute, such as writing, music, pixel art, helping other players and, of course, coding. Contributing to Habitica earns you titles (ways to improve your experience even more) and tags for your user ID.

I recommend Habitica for anyone who’s looking to make building new habits and helping plan your day fun. Check it out at Habitica.com. If you do, look me up; I’m Dan O’Dea.