Social distancing

Hi all, I haven’t written or drawn anything in a while. Not just not sharing here, I mean I haven’t done anything at all. Why? Too much opportunity.

Yes, that’s right, too much opportunity.

When dealing with people on a regular basis I get into a rhythm. I don’t naturally interact with people; I need constant practice to ensure I’m doing it “right” – or at least relative to what most people do. In a way, it’s like practicing a sport. If I’m hitting the batting cages or playing a baseball game every day I get pretty good at hitting… but if I take a few days off my swing is off, too. If I take a month off, it takes a while (and a lot of practice) to get my groove back.

For me, it’s the same with people. As an Aspie I find recognizing the little things, the nonverbal communication (more than half of communication, it turns out), to be difficult. Not impossible, mind you; although I do miss a lot I don’t miss everything. But to catch enough of it and figure out what a conversation buddy means other than the literal meaning of their words I have to do so using a rubric of sorts. What most of you do naturally, subconsciously, I have to do according to a plan, consciously.

Imagine a conversation in which, for everything you say, you have to replay the sentences in your head to make sure you acted in the same manner you intended for the meaning of your concept. Imagine having to consciously notice if someone’s making eye contact, if someone’s getting fidgety or bored, focusing on that while listening to the other person talk to you. It ain’t easy; it’s like trying to count one stack of things while someone else is counting their own stack out loud. It reminds me of a comedic bit where one person is counting money to pay another.

One, two, three… say, how many fingers do you have?
Six, seven, eight… how many eggs in a dozen?
Thirteen, fourteen…

(What’s this got to do with writing and art? I’m getting there.)

I’ve been socially isolated from my peers, my students, and the general public – everyone but my immediate family – for more than two months now. My family understands I have an odd communication style and they adjust… but then, when I get in a Zoom meeting with people, I find I’ve forgotten how to communicate with people who don’t know that. I make a lot of gaffes. But Zoom meetings only take an hour or two a week; it’s hardly communication practice.

And that brings me to writing and drawing. The stress of having to deal with people every day is pretty bad. It’s a lot of work to keep up “social appearances,” so after a day of dealing with people I want to unwind – and my art (drawing and writing) is that method of unwinding. Now that I don’t have to deal with people I have all the time I want to dedicate to writing or drawing… but my incentive to do so, to escape people, is gone. I’m already escaping people by social isolation.

An awkward analogy is eating ice cream. Everyone wants to be alone, and/or eat ice cream, once in a while. But if I am alone or eating ice cream all the time it’s not good for me.

The converse analogy is a good workout. It’s hard, and sometimes we don’t like it – but the alternative is worse. It may feel good to skip a workout once in a while, but to do so for weeks on end… isn’t good.

I am stunned to read myself writing this, but… I kind of miss people. It’s time to come back from the enforced vacation.




I did a couple of intense drawing lessons recently and discovered (or rather, rediscovered) I’m doing a couple of things really wrong… and a couple right.
First, I’m doing too much detail (that’s always been a problem). Plus I’ve been, for the most part, concentrating on a single object rather than seeing the whole picture I want to draw. These are things that come with practice, so I’m not overly concerned with them as more practice will make me better at it.
(Side note: I still worry that I suck. I don’t think that will ever leave completely. Several artists I respect have those same feelings at times.)
An example is that I tend to draw from one direction, typically top-down or left-to-right as if I were a dot matrix printer (if you’re old enough to remember them) or a scanner. The end result is that the scale of the parts of the drawing changes as I move down or across the page, and I find things have “moved” within the drawing relative to the corporeal thing I’m drawing. They’re not moving; I’ve failed to give myself boundaries for the shapes, positive and negative, I need to make. No boundaries, things don’t stay where they belong.
If I can break the bad habits from the second paragraph I think I’ll see more than slow, incremental improvement. And that’s typical of how I learn physical things: painfully slowly in the beginning until I get my bearings, then a seeming leap forward which is something of an illusion. It’s how I learned to drive, bowl, play baseball, carpentry… anything that needs translating from the intellect to the hands and feet.
Now to get logical about it… the reason is that I learn various parts of the overall skill when I learn them. In the beginning, that means a bunch of unconnected bits of knowledge, but as these get closer and I pick up nodes of connectivity, suddenly a bunch of those bits connect into something cohesive and… I GET IT NOW! Well, I don’t get it all, but I do get enough so there is a big leap forward in ability.
I believe I’m nearing one of those points. It may not show up for a while, but it is coming. I can feel it, Dave.
(Pardon the 2001 reference… LOL.)

Drawing progress

OK, so… the last drawing I posted was last November, and those were just doodles. In some ways, I’ve come along a bit. As I’m my own worst critic I keep seeing the mistakes. The biggest, but perhaps the easiest, to fix is that my line weighting is poor; I’m still pretty heavy-handed. The intent of this picture was two-fold.
1) Show enough detail to be interesting but not so much it becomes little more than a smudge (too much detail is a major fault I’m trying to shake).
2) Produce at least some sort of feeling of depth. Most of my drawings are pretty flat.
On the left is a photograph I took after I finished the drawing; on the right is a picture that took me four drawing sessions of 30-60 minutes each between showing kids how to build gingerbread houses. It’s totally free-hand, no guidelines or anything (which, in hindsight, might have helped). You can see where I decided to stop; I’m also working on viewing angle. The drawing won’t match exactly; some of that is people (the ropes moved from day to day) and some are my own errors in lining things up right (I have gotten better at that).
Therefore, some positives here. I want to stress I am not displeased; progress has been made (I think). Comments are welcome.
Gingerbread lane drawing

Gingerbread lane drawing between teaching sessions


Do-Over and The Dragon Core: Progress

In prior posts (over a year old now) I wrote about my mental process for developing the story for my magnum opus Do-Over that started with a story called The Dragon Core. The project is now three books.

  • The Dragon Core is an FSF story of a modern nuclear physicist with autism spectrum disorder named JD. As he nears 70, his life revolves around working out a method for efficiently generating electricity from fusion; otherwise he’s friendless, he’s out of touch with his family, and (to put it in his words) “I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to live either.” His most recent experiment goes awry and he’s transported to another world. In that world, he’s twenty years old again, but most of his knowledge is useless. The new world is an Early Iron Age, feudal society. During the book, he fights dragons and demons, falls in love, and finds a place in his new world.
  • One and One Make One is a continuation of The Dragon Core, but it’s a slice-of-life story which more finely details JD’s relationships. The first chapter shows his wedding to Mya, the woman he fell in love with. They adopt a child whom JD recognizes as also having ASD. She’s ten but has a savant-level understanding of mathematics (think Rain Man).  He and Mya have two children of their own. Mya dies of a simple infection JD tries to cure but fails; her death happens when the children are 12, 9, and 7. He blames himself. The second half of the book deals with the adjustments JD has to make to balance all of this out.
  • One Last Time (Is It Really You?), Book 3, has JD remarried, but his joy is shortlived when an invading army threatens to take over his adopted country. JD is captured and imprisoned by the general of that army, Alden, and forced to watch his wife married off (Alden, like Henry VIII, cannot conceive a male heir). When she fails to produce a boy, the general has her killed and forces JD’s daughter into the same arrangement. This throws JD into a deep depression of the same type he suffered in the beginning of Do-Over. Sometime after that, JD’s son Garo (now a general himself) is captured by the invading army and thrown into the same cell. JD, now much older and gray-bearded, doesn’t recognize his own son. Garo doesn’t recognize JD either until he makes an off-hand comment as to why Alden can’t conceive (“The men carry the Y chromosome”). Garo has never heard anyone use scientific jargon other than his father, so the old man must be JD. Garo convinces him to fight back. Some loose ends are wrapped up in the epilogue.

Book One is completed (with some minor changes still needed). Book Two is mostly written (some tweaks needed), and Book Three is half-written. I’m still learning to draw, though, so it will be a while before anyone can read it.

The work has several pieces.

  1. The script itself.
  2. Thumbnail sketches and storyboards that could be read as the comic.
  3. “Historical” documents and character biographies.
  4. Several spreadsheets, mostly dealing with the calendar, the dates/days of major events in the story, and a cross-reference of relationships between the main characters.
  5. Test drawings of backgrounds and the main characters. Nearly all of these are quick pencil studies, although I am working on actual drawings suitable for public consumption (i.e., properly inked and the guidelines erased).

In a typical work of fiction, an author will have #1 (as the prose), #3, and #4. A comic should have all of these elements. In this case, I’ve discovered the following.

  • The relationship between the script and the thumbnails is critical. By quick-drawing the panels I can see where the script works and where it doesn’t. A specific example might be “JD walks to the window, throws it open, and yells to the person below.” That cannot be in one panel; a comic panel can only hold a single moment in time. In this situation, I have choices, not all equally good.
    • I can have three panels: JD walking, JD opening the window, and JD yelling.
    • I can skip the walking and have JD in two panels, one opening the window and one yelling.
    • I can have JD yelling out of the window; we don’t need to see him open it.
    • If I see JD as having to fight the window to get it open and yelling at himself in anger before yelling out the window, I can’t skip opening the window; that becomes an integral part of the action I want to show.

In each of those cases, the thumbnail sketches show me what works best. Then I can take that back to the script and update it.

Also, the amount of dialog in each panel has to not only be appropriate for the scene but fit in the panel without obscuring important background. I have to figure out what his dialog is and where I can put the speech bubbles. Thumbnailing does that for me, but it can also show me where I can’t put it, and if I can’t fit it I have to edit the dialog in the script (make another panel, drop a line, add a line, write the line differently, and so on).

  • Character biographies help me remember how someone will react to another, or to a particular situation, how I draw them, whose side they’re going to take in an argument, how they dress, what they know or don’t know, and many other aspects to make each character be a person you can know, not just a cipher or “Friend #2.” Again, there’s feedback into the script and, thus, second-hand into the thumbnails.
  • The “historical documents” help me keep track of major events. Why is Kenny the one being told to kill JD? Is it hazing, is Kenny the youngest, is he the person who hasn’t killed anyone yet? Answers to those questions help inform me as to what happens next.
  • The calendars are critical to telling me when events happen. For example, after writing several of JD’s exploits and experiences everything seemed to follow in a natural course… but when I cross-referenced those experiences to the calendar I noticed there was only two days’ time between one incident and another that should have taken weeks to develop. What if the end of Chapter 5 has JD sent off on a seven-week mission by the village headman and he returns at the end of Chapter 6? Seven weeks have to occur during Chapter 6 – no more and no less. I can’t have a process that takes “months” happen solely in Chapter 6, can I? If the dragon’s energy takes several months to change JD’s friend Ruko from a regular guy into a terrifying demon, I can’t do that between Chapters 35 and 36 if, during the same chapters, I have JD and Mya have only two dates. That would be incongruous.

So you get the idea. This project, which I thought I could get off the ground in a year (from September 2015, when I first thought of it, to July of 2016), is still in development over three years later – and I still can’t draw well enough to do it! If I could draw well enough I thought I’d have enough material to start it and work on the other books over time. Turns out that was wrong.

I had a couple of people read the script. Thank all that is holy for beta readers. They spotted some situations that wouldn’t work and, worse, told me they couldn’t care about the main character; he wasn’t believable. And they were right! I took their suggestions and made some major changes to the first third of the script as well as his character bio. He may still not be at everyone’s level, but I have a plan for him and I’m sticking to it. The character himself wasn’t a bad character; rather, it was how I wrote him that didn’t work. I think I fixed it…

On the plus side, everyone who’s read it says Mya, Ruko, the wolf demons, and the dragon are well-developed and interesting characters; it was only JD who was problematic.  Based on their comments I realized I’d put too much of myself into JD – and putting your actual self into your fiction rarely works. Imagine writing a biography of yourself (using someone else’s name but keeping the other details the same) and having everyone who reads it tell you the person is boring and uninteresting… brrr!

I’ve written many things since then, from short-shorts to novel-length books, and I’ve learned a lot about the craft I didn’t know when I started Do-Over. When I start to churn this out it’ll be good… I promise.



National Novel Writing Month (NaNo WriMo)

I managed to win NaNo this year – on the last day, around 10:45 PM. I got out 50,132 words despite a lot of extra responsibilities this year.

The book itself is good. The current draft is short but I know what goes where and where I need to build more than I have. The story is good, I think. Here’s a synopsis.

The setting is Earth about 1,000 years in the future after a civil war in the US that expands into a nuclear war in the early 2020s. It includes North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, and ISIS (all attacked by the US), and Israel (acting nominally as a US ally but mostly fighting the Arab nations for survival).

After the wars, the US has split into the Republic of Texas (RoT) and the United Coastal States (UCS) that exist in an uneasy truce. The RoT is a quasi-religious, right-wing nation while the UCS is a social democracy. All of Europe, with the exception of Russia but including an eastern extension into Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Mongolia), has merged into the European Union and adopted the Scandinavian model of social democracy. The other countries have changed to differing degrees but do not enter the book; the focus is primarily the RoT and the UCS.

Nuclear fallout has caused some changes in the DNA of certain people (e.g., the Ferals). In addition, the isolation of the British Isles for several hundred years by an uninhabitable area creates an island ecology. The surviving humans are smaller (about 4 feet tall) and are called Gnomes by outsiders; they consider themselves British.

Dannell is a Hunter – a specialized equivalent to what we’d call a bounty hunter. Part of his job is killing Ferals, humans that have degenerated into non-sentient, albeit still almost as smart as, normal humans; they are quite violent (cf chimpanzees). Dannell is assigned to give a Journeyman Hunter exam to a Gnome female, Ellie. Dannell is against the idea at first, because his mother was killed by Gnomes…

For a while, Dannell and Ellie do double duty: their Hunter work and lobbying the government for equal rights for Gnomes, as in the States there is prejudice against them. A public movement blossoms out of this, but there is still some prejudice against Others, even in the liberal States.

While on a mission Ellie tells Dannell she’s pregnant, and they agree this will be her last mission, at least until the child is old enough to be trained. Near the end of the mission, they receive a directive to eliminate a small group of Ferals that have been raiding outposts near the northwestern borders of the UCS. Ellie is killed and Dannell severely injured. He vows revenge on the group of Ferals that did it, but when he searches the area for clues he discovers the “Ferals” weren’t feral after all…

The book explores a number of topics, including Dannell’s discoveries of human nature, the dangers of fear-based government, and prejudice.


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!