Sunday, October 31, 2010

Amy's Leaf

This photograph adequately sums of the frustration of my fall.

I've been waiting and waiting for the explosion of color that we typically have this time of year and I've been disappointed. That's not to say that it hasn't been beautiful, because it has in its own way, but from a photographic standpoint the colors just weren't very vivid. It's almost as if most of the foliage just fell off while it was still green.

Instead of a landscape teeming with bright oranges, reds and yellows I've found myself shooting at a world that only has splashes of color. During a bridal portrait shoot this afternoon that Bethany conducted I was walking along the lake trail at Douthat and noticed that most of the leaves had fallen. Then I noticed that most of the leaves were brown or very dully colored. We stopped at a bench in front of the water fall at the lake and I noticed that of all the leaves at my feet, there was only one that had any real color to it. I stared at it for a long moment and then took the photo without disturbing anything.

Last year we had an abundance of color amid a wet and almost constantly raining autumn. It was great and it eventually led to a heavier than usual winter. This year the colors have been as sparse as the rain and I've found myself searching in different places for the splashes of color that I've been wanting to add to my collection.

But then again, I should be thankful for what color we have in the world. After everything that's happened this week I've gained a little more perspective on life than I once had. I know a girl who would have loved to have been able to see another autumn, but this one was her last. It was the message her mom imparted to me at the family visitation.

"If there's something you want to do in life, Josh, then do it. Don't make excuses not to. Don't put it off. Just do it. That was the only thing Amy regretted, the things she didn't do and won't get to do."

Heavy words that were driven home by the poignancy of the moment. Amy's life was cut short by disease that she fought with everything she had but couldn't beat. She'll never get to finish her degree, have children and do a thousand other things that I'm sure she wanted to do. Perhaps most heartbreakingly, she won't get to grow old with her husband.

When I die I hope that I can do so after a long life lived to its fullest. So as much as I wanted as vivid a fall as last year's, I think I'm just going to appreciate this one and the fact that, most likely and God willing, I'll be able to get up in the morning to enjoy another day with my wife.

So today (I'm writing this as Saturday turns to Sunday) when Bethany has another shoot and I walk along the same trail and see this leaf, I'm going to remember Amy, tell my wife I love her and be thankful for what I have.

I'd like to think that Amy would be happy knowing that I took that away from visiting with her family in the days after her passing.

I still wish the outcome could have been different...

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Little Pick Me Up

I had an interesting, if somewhat vain experience today.

During the trek back down from Roaring Run falls last week I lost a foot off my tripod. It has a screw missing that tightens the clamp that holds the foot and I just keep forgetting to replace the screw. On the other hand, I usually remember to keep up with the feet of my tripod. Last week I didn't, but by fortunate happenstance a member of the camera club went back on the trail just the other day looking for his lost cell phone and came away with my foot.

So I went by the Fire & Light Gallery to retrieve it (where I also picked up a set of nice handmade coat hangers) and decided that I'd stop by the Clifton Forge Public Library on my way home to peruse the shelves. I have a Kindle, as I'm sure I've mentioned on this blog in the past, so going to the library has become a little like shopping in a bookstore for me now. Most stores don't care for the Kindle because it's an Amazon only product. Barnes & Noble has their own e-reader, the Nook, but I like the Kindle better and therefore I can't take the Kindle into a B&N and download books from Amazon and not the B&N online store.

So I go to the store and take notes on what books I want to buy. Or I just go to the library and look around. I was walking down a general fiction aisle at the library and I stumbled across my own two novels setting on the shelf. My novels. My name was on them. And they were on the shelf that was one of my favorites when I was kid, where I found Star Trek and Star Wars novels and later fantasy novels that introduced me to entire new worlds.

And my books were on those same shelves.

It's been a hard week and a long and busy month. I needed that little pick me up and didn't even realize it. I needed to see those books on that shelf and remember why I started writing in the first place.

I'd better be getting back to it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blowing My Own Horn

This may be something of a record week for me. Three blog posts and three photographs. Not a bad bit of work if I do say so myself. (And I do. In the words of one Chiefie O'Rourke, if you don't blow your own horn, who will?)

This is the third keeper from my Roaring Run trip and, unlike the others, not something I've shot before. In fact, if you look closely, you'll see that this is the bottom of the cascade in yesterday's blog post. I really enjoy the shape of the water sliding down the rocks. I've never seen a stream move quite like that before. Notice how it sort of swings out, back in and then curves back out again? I think that's pretty neat. I'm also a fan of how the water almost (but not quite) seems to be an afterthought in the photograph. I wish that the sun had made a bigger impression in the photograph, but I think that having it there is a nice touch. Oh, an if you'll look closely in the foliage on the right, I'm fairly certain that's Gavin Dressler standing in my photograph.

In looking at everything I've shot recently I'm discovering that I much prefer to take a vertical photograph as opposed to a horizontal one. I'm not sure why, particularly since most of my photojournalism training involved shooting horizontally as a pretty standard practice and then cropping vertical later in post processing if I wanted to. It definitely lends itself well to shooting streams and waterfalls, so I think I'll keep the habit for now.

I may yet pull out one or two others from Sunday's trip, but these three were definitely the highlights for me. I only took about 20 photographs and I've culled the three I've shown you as the best.  The photograph below was taken by Jeff Bartley (who has an aversion to being in these photographs) who volunteered to take the group photo of everyone that went on the outing. This isn't all the members of the Alleghany Camera Club by far and there were even a couple more people who showed up after the photograph was taken. Chuck Almarez passed this along to everyone after the outing, so I thought I'd post it here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Then & Now

I've shot quite a bit up at Roaring Run, particularly in autumn, and I always seem to come up with something new. Sometimes I'll even revisit an old favorite and see it in a different light.

This is another one of my keepers from Sunday's Roaring Run trip. I took a photo last year from almost the same position but at a completely different angle. The water was higher last year, taking away a lot of the gentle rolling you see in this image. There was also a great deal more color in the forest then as opposed to now.

The assignment for Sunday was capturing motion and light. Usually I use a really dark Neutral Density filter (about 9 stops worth) and take a three minute or so exposure. I was traveling in a pack Sunday and didn't have a great deal of time to spend on each photo like I normally would. So instead I shot with my 28mm wide angle lens and 50mm macro and closed the lens all the way down, lowered my ISO and used a polarizer to bring out the colors and give me another couple of stops of darkness.

Using the polarizer instead of the other filter gave me an entirely different image of the water. Sure, it wasn't as silky smooth as the others, but look at the image above. The water has a nice blue tint to it (mostly due to the fading light) and a great deal of flowing motion that may have been smoothed over in a longer exposure. I especially love the fact that the water fills up the entire bottom portion of the photograph before flowing to the left and then away from the camera.

Oh, and just for comparison, below you'll find the image I shot around the same time last year. See the difference?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Camera Club Outing

Sunday afternoon was the inaugural outing of the Alleghany Camera Club. Since Saturday saw Bethany, Sarah and I shooting what should be the last wedding of the fall season, it was a great opportunity to go out and take a few nature photographs (which is the type of photography I love to do anyway).

About a dozen people, give or take a couple, showed up and hiked the 0.6 mile trail up to the top of Roaring Run. I came away with three really good shots that I'm pleased with and a fourth that I'm still mulling over. The assignment was Capturing Light & Motion, so the challenge was to show the motion of the water without leaving out the fall colors (fading as they are).

This photo was taken about halfway up the creek at the third bridge that spans Roaring Run Creek. I took a similar picture last fall and the only fall color I had then was a vivid yellow. This year the colors aren't quite as vibrant but they are still very pretty. 

What I like most about this photograph is the stump that's laying in the creek. I'm shooting from a low angle, so the tree stump looks much more massive than it really is. The stump was full of character, so much so that I actually stopped on the way back down the creek and spent another five minutes just looking at it and wondering how I could capture it's character. It really was a pretty big stump, I'd say every bit of three to four feet across the bottom. 

I looked at that stump in the fading light of day for a long moment as I made my way back down. It made me think of an older time, almost prehistoric, when trees and animals were much greater in size than they are today. Ever seen The Land Before Time cartoon where the leaf falls down and lands on the head of the Apatosaurus and covers his entire head? Or see the fossils of the dragonflies that had a wingspan of six feet? This tree stump laying calmly in the creek reminded me of those this, as if this once mighty giant tree belonged to an older time.

I didn't realize it figured so prominently into this shot until I made it back home and put it up on the monitor for processing. I'm glad that I took it now, because I think I captured the character of that old stump as it appeared to me then. That may be one of the more successful images I've ever made.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Meetings

If ever there was a fall day, it's this one. The sun is shining and it's a little warm, but there's a stiff breeze blowing that holds the first whispers of winter. Every couple of minutes I hear it whistle outside my window, accompanied by the skittering of leaves as they're strewn haphazardly across the world.

It was on a day like this when I first met Drizzt Do'Urden.

Those of you who read fantasy are no doubt familiar with the dark elf who turned his back on a life of evil and instead dedicated himself to the light. R.A. Salvatore created him back in the late 80s, I believe, and gave us one of fantasy's most popular heroes.

I discovered Drizzt during my freshman year of college. Over the summer Devan had introduced me to epic fantasy in the form of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. Coupled with Tolkien's masterpieces, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it was enough to spark my interest in a world of reading that I hadn't really explored.

I remember buying my first Drizzt book, The Legacy of the Drow at Waldenbooks in Tanglewood Mall. It was an omnibus edition that held four books and it seemed like a bargain at $20. The illustration on the cover was badly done, but I looked past that long enough to try it out. Salvatore's world was unlike anything I'd ever read before and a bit confusing at first, but I found myself hooked inside of a dozen pages.

I don't usually find a great deal of depth in Salvatore's novels. They tend to deliver hard hitting, rollicking fantasy adventures laced with heavier themes that may or may not be picked up at the reader's leisure. His characters are vibrant and fun, particularly his dwarves. And let me tell you that no one writes dwarves like Salvatore.

His dwarves are hard drinking, hard living, hard fighting heroes that are comic just because they're so over the top. These guys are the friends you want to have because there is no doubting where you stand with them. They are what they are and they revel in it.

Bethany and I had our first date after Christmas that year. There was a movie out that I wanted to see, The Last Samurai and it was playing only in one theater in Roanoke. We made it over there in time to take a detour by the mall to stop at Waldenbooks to pick up The Cleric Quintet, another omnibus of five books set in Drizzt's world. I had a little money saved, enough to take her out to the movies and to purchase a new book. I'm willing to bet that Bethany doesn't remember buying that book, but I do. (And before you chime in about the lack of romance inherent in taking a date to the bookstore, I can also tell you what she wore, what theater we were in and where we sat. So there.)

Salvatore has been a heavy part of my fall reading since that year. It seems almost a tradition now that he publishes a new novel, somehow related to Drizzt, ever October. It was the next year that The Hunter's Blades trilogy came out and I found myself once more traveling down an autumn road with Drizzt with the wind at our backs, scimitar in hand, daring any enemy that had the nerve to challenge us.

It was great to see that Salvatore published another Drizzt tale again this fall. It was even better to realize that my forays into The Wheel of Time, and A Song Of Ice and Fire had caused me to miss a Drizzt novel. So now I have to play a little catch up and see if I can make it to the newest novel before October ends.

And a day like today is perfect for reading.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Story In The Choice

In my quest to be come a successful novelist (and by successful I mean at a level where penning works of fiction is all that I do for a living) I've devoted a great deal of time and effort over the years to studying the works of others. Mostly I've been looking at how good authors build story lines and deal with character development. Sometimes I also look at the root of a story, at what the author's trying to say and how that message has affected his writing.

The great thing about the written word, and novels in particular, is that every now and then you come across a gem of a line that really strikes to the core of what the tale is about. I found one such line in my reading last night. The joy of reading on my Kindle is that I can now mark these gems and come back to them later. This one goes a little something like this:
"You know as well as I, Jean-Luc, that in times of crisis, difficult choices have to be made by good people willing to take on the burden, even if means damning themselves in the process."
You may guess that it comes from a Star Trek novel and while those novels tend to be written strictly for entertainment purposes there does tend to be a great deal of philosophical meandering hidden in them. Regardless of the source, I believe that this statement is meandering in the direction of attempting to define the role of heroes in literature from a writer's perspective.

Over the course of the past two years I've really been making an effort to look at my own writing and compare it truthfully and honestly with others that I've studied. One thing I've learned, and that this quotation brings to mind, is that it's not so much the act that makes the character heroic, but the choice.

After all, isn't the choice to serve one side or the other all that separates the heroes from the villains? There is no drama in knowing that your hero is going to save the day. Sure, we all suspect that he will. Who out there really thinks that, when presented the choice, that the main character is going to choose the darkness over the light and turn out to be a bad guy anyway?

I believe that the drama in every hero and heroic action is in the sacrifice the hero chooses to make. The decision to act heroically shouldn't be easily made, I think. It should be something that comes with a heavy price, with obvious and hidden consequences that the character should have to deal with.

In my career I've written epic fantasy and literary fiction and now I'm trying my hand at young adult fantasy and a mystery novel. To me, there is just something appealing about the fate of the world coming down to a choice that one man doesn't want to make. There's also something appealing about one man changing the fate of nations just because he's trying follow the demands of his conscience and for no other reason but the fact that he can sleep at night.

But in all the novels I've read, I've learned that the heroes I most admire and whose stories I'm interested in face choices like this. They don't want to be heroes. They don't ask to be heroes, but for whatever reason they choose to be heroes

In that choice, and in whatever sacrifice it demands, lies the story.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Best Soup I've Made Yet

Last night I made the best homemade chicken noodle soup I've made yet.

The recipe came from my sister in law, Heather, though I can't confess to know where she picked it up from. I've put it on here in the past, but last night I decided to do something just a shade different. Ever see how those chefs on The Food Network take a healthy pinch of kosher salt and sprinkle it in their dishes? Well I did that before I boiled the chicken. was perfection in a pot. The salt really sharpened the flavor of the chicken broth and had a great influence on the noodles.

I spent most of the day running errands in Roanoke. I was flying solo, which is a pretty rare event, so I spent a couple of quality hours in the bookstores perusing the shelves. I came home with a wedding photography book for Bethany as an early anniversary present that looks pretty interesting (which means I'll probably be reading it too).

Speaking of wedding photography, we're on the last week of our October wedding crush. We've successfully shot three weddings so far this month and we have a wedding in Vinton that promises to be very photogenic. So much so that we're bringing in a friend to add to the shoot and so we can train someone as a back up in case one of us ever gets sick or just wants to take a break from it.

Sunday I'll be leading the first outing of the Alleghany Camera Club at Roaring Run beginning at 4 p.m. The weather looks promising and I'm hoping we'll have a little more color to enjoy by then. I'm hoping to be able to snag a few outdoor photographs to place in the "Needs Processed" pile to shake things up a bit.

Judging by our shooting schedule we'll be polishing off the last of the fall portrait sessions by the sixth of November. Bethany and I are planning to take a little vacation the following week (to where exactly we haven't decided) and after than I'm hoping that I'll be able to settle back in and spend some quality time on my writing projects and perhaps even pick up another tune or two on the guitar.

I'm definitely hoping to get some more reading done as well. I've stumbled into a pretty rich vein of fall books. My current read is a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel called Hollow Men that is so intense that it almost feels like watching an episode. After that I'm thinking I'll get to James Patterson's Kiss The Girls, his second Alex Cross mystery novel, and then Dragons of the Hourglass Mage by long time favorites Weis & Hickman to round out the fall.

And by then it'll be time for all the holiday food....

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Loss For Words

I'm a writer. That means a lot of things, but it means I have a pretty heavy relationship with the written word. Sometimes it's long term and serious. Sometimes it's just flirty and fun and sometimes it's not something you ever admit to in public. At any level, the written word is a pretty solid part of the foundation of my life. I can't imagine my world without it.

So you can imagine my surprise when the written word fails.

The best writers look at the world and try to make sense out of it. You may not believe it, but at heart that's what any writer worth his ink is doing. Every hero is somehow a self portrait, every plot rooted somewhere in the rich soil of life. I guarantee you everyone, at some point in their lives, has written something that moved someone to tears or made someone's heart explode from happiness. The written word is a powerful, moving force in our lives, no matter how far past paper and ink technology takes us.

But sometimes the words just don't work. Sometimes there's just not any words that really mean a damn thing because life is just too large to condense into syllables. Sometimes you just can't make sense of it because there is no sense to be found.

I can hear my Mom fussing at me now, telling me that you just have to accept that that's the way it is sometimes. Where's your faith? Life isn't fair and not everyone gets a good deal, so don't worry so much about what you can't understand and treasure the good that you've enjoyed.

It's a good thought, one I can appreciate and even learn from. I still wish I could find the words that make sense of it all, the words that comfort and bring peace.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Two-Nighter & Pork Chops

The Green Mile was a two-nighter. In all honesty, it probably would have been an epic one night stand had I felt up to it. If you haven't read The Green Mile yet, go find a copy. I polished it off in basically two really long sittings. The story is excellent, the narration perfect and the premise is enough to provoke some pretty heavy heavy thoughts, all of which is a requirement to meet my "Must Read Standards."

I felt like Stephen King explained himself just enough to satisfy the reader and yet managed to leave enough mystery to leave the reader with a few tantalizing unanswered questions. I've only read three of his novels to date, but there's no doubt in my mind that he is a master storyteller. He may not crank out something at this level with every novel, but The Green Mile certainly stands out above the rest of his works in my mind.

I mentioned in a previous post that we were planning to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving last Sunday at The Student Knitter's house. We did and dinner was excellent (not that I expected any less. They really know how to cook). And, like any cool host, they sent us home with gifts: green peppers and jalapeƱos out of their garden. They have a problem that most people would like to have. Their garden just won't stop growing, even this late in the year.

Not one to allow good, garden fresh produce go to waste I tried out a new recipe tonight. Paula Deen had an episode about grilling last week and one of the things she grilled was pork chops topped with green peppers and pineapples. It looked delicious and I stored that away in my head to give it a try. Since I had some fresh peppers I served it up tonight.

I don't have a link for the recipe, but it's really pretty simple. Take whatever pork chops you want to use, place a thick slice of pepper and pineapple on each chop and wrap them individually in aluminum foil. I left mine on the grill for 20 minutes and they were cooked to perfection. You should salt and pepper the pork before cooking, something that I forgot to do. The pineapple flavor is pretty subtle and the peppers taste great. Granted, it wasn't the best thing I've ever grilled, but it's worth making a second time around.

It's about time to wrap this up since Ghost Hunters is about to come on SyFy. I have a few hundred wedding photos left to get through and I'm hoping to knock off a few of them right now. Tomorrow I'll be visiting my grandparents for their 71st wedding anniversary and then getting back the grind on Friday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Premature Review & An Invitation

I found my fall read.

Monday morning I blogged about how I hadn't yet found that exciting fall read to fill my free hours. I went to work, put in a few hours and started rereading a Star Trek novel. I sat that aside and on a whim picked up Stephen King's The Green Mile.


It's been quite a while since I've read a book that's kept me up all night and The Green Mile came pretty close to succeeding. I'm not really a Stephen King fan, though I've said all along that he's one of the best essayists around. If you don't believe me, check out this essay on the finale of Harry Potter and the series as a whole.

But I digress.

I have a close group of friends that read and I value their literary opinions highly. To a man, they've recommended The Green Mile. I put it off for a long time and I'm regretting having put it off for so long. I don't know what it is about this tale that's pulled me in. It's almost...homespun in a way. I get the feeling that I'm dipping in to something slightly surreal, something otherworldly when I read The Green Mile. The narration is down home simple, told from the first person perspective of the chief prison guard of the Depression Era death row known as the Green Mile.

Paul (the narrator) reminds me just a little of the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Remember how in the beginning the Mariner reaches out and grabs the wedding party and holds them spellbound as he relates his tale? I've been under his spell since late Monday evening. I've reeled off nearly 300 pages since then. It's gripping, at times gruesome as it unabashedly wallows in the macabre...yet there's something more here that I haven't seen yet.

I haven't finished, so if you comment, please don't spoil anything for me just yet. I've been carrying the book around with me everywhere I've went today, trying to sneak in a few pages when no one was looking between tasks. With any luck I'll be blogging about the end within a day.

Switching Gears

How's that for a smooth transition? Hey, at least I warned you.

The photo above is from one of my absolute favorite shooting locations: Roaring Run. It was one of the last I took last year and I though it fitting to post tonight since my thoughts have been taking me back along that stream these past few days.

On October 24th I'll be leading a photo outing for the Alleghany Camera Club to that very site. I've been asked to make some notes and a very brief, but helpful (I hope) presentation on capturing motion and light. We're going to meet at Fire & Light Gallery at 3 p.m., leave by 3:15 and be on the trail by 4 p.m. If the weather cooperates we should have some pretty sweet diffuse light coupled with an array of fall colors, a perfect recipe for great photographs if there ever was one.

This photo comes from about the halfway point of the hike. The stream takes a hard bend to the left (as you're walking upstream) and the trail breaks away to a higher vantage point for a hundred feet or so. To get this photo I actually jumped off the trail and crawled down the edge of the river. I put the feet of the tripod in the water by the bank and took about a 3 minute exposure to capture this image. There are a thousand different ways to shoot a moving stream, but one of my go to methods is to get right down in the water and shoot upstream.

If you're interested in attending, please do. You can comment here on this blog or e-mail me at I'll be happy to reply with directions or an e-mailed copy of the notes once I work them up.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Looking For The Next Read

I love fall. Just thinking about it brings about the scent of crisp, cool air laden with the rich aroma of falling leaves and the first chill, pure hint of winter. Leaves crunch under food. The days become shorter and grayer. Publishers start cranking out new reads.

Ok. Admittedly that last part may be something that only I notice. It is true, however. There is usually a big push push before summer that's highly publicized. Publishers try to capitalize on the idea of the summer reading list and the perfect beach read. The same thing happens in the fall of the year, only to less fanfare.

My reading tends to move in cycles. Usually in the summer time I have a fairly long series to see me through the dog days. I spent one summer in the world of the Sword of Truth. Another summer in the core of the DragonLance world and my most recent summer aboard the HMS Surprise with Captain Jack Aubrey. 

In the fall I tend to look toward the new releases to satisfy my fall reads. Last year David Liss kept me entertained while Paolini didn't quite deliver the action packed sequel I was looking for. The pickings were slim last fall, though I'm not sure why. Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson did offer up the first of the final three books of The Wheel of Time, but I've been holding back a bit on those so I can savor the ending of a series I've been following since I was a freshman at college.

I've mentioned my latest trend of reading mystery novels, but frankly I'm at a loss in this genre. I've picked up a few and have been let down so far. They're so over the top dramatic that it's hard to take for long stretches at a time. The detectives all come off has too hard boiled, or as if they're trying to be. The suspense and the drama is done with a heavy hand that bludgeons the reader instead of a soft hand that gently allows the elements to build without notice until they've reached the boiling point. I've read the Castle novels, which are a lot of fun, and I've dipped back in to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot again (let's face it, the Brits know how to spin a darn good mystery yarn).

What it all boils down to is I'm looking for my next good read. My to read shelf has certainly dwindled and I'm just not in the mood for what's left. Perhaps it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt since most of what is left are the second and third books in a various series. I want something solid, something satisfying and thought provoking. Length isn't an issue. In fact, the longer the better. Any suggestions?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Some Of My Best Thinking

I do some of my best thinking when I'm not thinking. It's true. That may sound a little counter intuitive, but let's face it...I lead a rugged life of adventure and non stop hilarity that would entertain millions of people if anyone ever wanted to make a sitcom of my life.

But I digress.

As I was saying, I do some of my best thinking when I'm not really thinking about what I need to be thinking about. Take yesterday for example. I was all over the place, from Covington to Lewisburg chasing down some drafting work while putting in some part time hours at the old job. Somewhere along the line, when I wasn't completely paying attention to what I should have been paying attention to, I figured out my character.

You see, I wasn't kidding when I said I wanted to write a murder mystery. I really did write them when I was a kid. I didn't understand near enough about the genre or life in general to pull it off with any degree of realism, but I did try to model my would be detectives on the classics...Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes, the guy that Bill Cosby played on The Cosby Mysteries...

I've learned in my writing that to really write a character well, you have to understand that character. That's why Sam in The Crownless King is more or less a fictional me. That's also why Crownless is some of my best work to date. In revisiting the idea of creating a fictional detective I've been considering his back story as a way to really get inside his head without making him another fictional me. (By the way, is that something authors do a great deal of? I wonder how many famous characters are just fictionalized versions of their creator, who's living vicariously through them.)

And out of the blue it hit me. I've already written the back story. I just had to apply it. You see, when I was in high school I had this idea for the ending of a novel. I could see it all in my head. When I was a freshman at DSLCC, I put it down on paper (in John Barnes' World History class. I do my best work when I'm not supposed to be doing it.) I took it home, typed it up, edited a half a dozen times, and created a dozen pages of something that I've been proud to have written for six or seven years now.

But it was the ending to a novel that I had no idea where it started. There have been some vague rumblings, but nothing definite ever came to life. Now, however, it has become the back story of fiction's newest detective. I'm going to apply it and then see where writing new adventures with this detective takes the old story. If I can ever hash out the beginning of that novel, it will be a prequel to the new stuff I write. Who knows? Maybe I'll strike gold and write a bestseller that gets turned into a movie.

Then I can play the main character in the movie.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Allergic Refraction

I have found these days that the only real writing I'm accomplishing is this blog. It surprises me, because not only have I been attempting to write every day I've been attempting to work on the Druid project with Devan.

But you know what? I'm pragmatic, I'll roll with it. Photography is taking on a pretty big role in my life at the moment and I'm just going to take the time to deal with that so that it settles back in to the routine of my creative life. I've mentioned that we have a full October, but to give you a glimpse into that I will tell you know that I've already processed approximately 1,100 photographs this week. I have just about as many more to hopefully get finished before Saturday.

In my last post I mentioned the first meeting of the Alleghany Camera Club. It was a success and there's another meeting set for October 28. Not only that, but there is an outing scheduled for one of my favorite shooting locations, Roaring Run, and it's my job to see to the organization of it. I don't know just what's involved yet, but I think I'll have the opportunity to find out tomorrow when I meet with Chuck Almarez. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

I should mention that on the list of things I'm looking forward to is Canadian Thanksgiving. We have a good friend, Sarah, (The Student Knitter) who just happens to be Canadian. So of course she celebrates Canadian Thanksgiving, which is earlier than the American version of the holiday. Which is cool because, in effect, we get to attend two Thanksgiving dinners. It was a pretty relaxed dinner party and we're looking forward to more of the same on Sunday. 

Last year I was introduced to cribbage, a pretty cool card game that took me a couple of hands to figure out and that I've probably forgotten how to play in the year that followed. I was also introduced to Bubbles & Squeak, a dish that I doubt I would've tried otherwise. This year I've heard there is going to be a Butternut Squash Risotto. I've never had that and it sounds pretty good. The cooking at Sarah's house tends toward the excellent and varied and I'm looking forward to trying something new.

In the past week I've managed to gain a better understanding of my job situation. That's been a weight off my shoulders that I didn't realize was as heavy as it was. Dealing with that has made me feel much better about a lot of things, including life in general. I've a lot to look forward to in the days ahead.

Since it's fall and I haven't shot anything new outdoors, I'm offering up the above photo as a place holder. I shot it in the months before my marriage nearly two years ago. It's rag weed pinned up against a wall by a sheet of glass that's reflecting the image of the woods behind my grandpa's house. I've named it Allergic Refraction and I even entered it in the Fall Festival Art Show the year that I took it. It didn't place (I've never placed in any photo competition) but it did receive a great deal of positive feedback. It's one of the few prints of my own work that I have up in our house.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dreaming of Sleep

I have never really been an insomniac, but every now and then I just can't make myself drift off to sleep the way I'd like to. When I was employed full time I could be asleep nearly as soon as my head hit the pillow. It was a skill developed over the years by cramming all the activities that I actually wanted to do into the late evening hours before resting up to spend the better part of my day doing all the work related activities that I had to do.

Having not been employed on any regular basis since February, my sleep schedule has become pretty varied. I've been able to spend long nights reading, playing video games or scratching away at a notebook by a dim light as Bethany slept soundly beside me. Tonight is one of those nights that I just can't make myself get to sleep.

I finally rolled out of bed just before 1 a.m. and decided I would do a little writing. Nothing too serious, just a little meandering on a murder mystery idea I've had bouncing around in various forms since high school. I've tapping away at it for the last 35 minutes (and by the way, we finally broke down and purchased a new Microsoft ergonomic keyboard. Not one of the fancy ones that has the keyboard broken into two segments, but one of the comfortable, gently curbed black ones that are an absolute joy to type on.) and I just realized that everything I've written is bad. Painfully bad. So bad that I hit the close button immediately and declined to save any of the few hundred words I'd cranked out.'s not a night for writing. Except I'm going to blog. About nothing in general, really. It's almost quiet enough in the house at 1:30 in the morning to hear the gentle pitter-patter of the drizzling rain outside. Tomorrow is supposed to be cold and rainy and even though the rest of the week is supposed to be dry I'm hoping that these cool temperatures will shock the leaves into turning colors.

After a busy week and weekend of shooting, Bethany and I easily have a couple thousand photos to sort through and process with another wedding looming on the horizon for Saturday. I've set myself the goal of finishing the three portrait sessions and at least my half of the wedding by Friday. If we don't stay ahead of this  we'll be buried under a digital mountain by the end of the month.

Speaking of endings, I finished Patrick O'Brian's The Wine Dark Sea almost two hours ago, book #17 in his Aubrey-Marturin series. I really am going to miss this series when I've read it all. There are 20 full novels and one that was left incomplete upon O'Brian's death a few years ago. There are some books that I wish I could read for the first time again and without exception every book in that series has been like that. The next two books, The Commodore and The Yellow Admiral are in the mail at the cost of a penny a piece, thanks to the wonders of Amazon.

Until they get here I'm going to delve in to Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's The Wheel of Darkness. It's had resoundingly bad review from my trust literary circle so far, but it's the next in the Pendergast series and I'm bound to read it if I want to get any further along. The good news is that Preston and Child have just the right touch of the macabre to make for the perfect October read.

And since it's October I may pull Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree off the shelf. It's a classic kid's book that my seventh grade teacher read to us in the fall of that year. It stuck with me for so long that I finally chased down a copy of it last year after Halloween and it deserves another appreciative read, much like The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, a perennial favorite. I don't know how many times I've read that little yellow paged novel, but that Newbury Award winning puzzle mystery has never gotten old.

And it's now almost 2 a.m. Think I'm going to give this sleep thing another try.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The First Meeting of the Alleghany Camera Club

Last night was the second meeting, but first official, of the Alleghany Camera Club. It was a very enjoyable experience. Everyone was supposed to bring in their favorite picture and tell why and how they took it. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed hearing everyone's stories. 

Since I've already posted the photo I used at the meeting last night I'm posting this one. This photo is the first bird picture that I took with my 75-300mm lens about seven years ago. It was taken in Patrick's backyard before I even really knew what I was doing and I ended up with a photo that I've kept for this long. I was digging through some old files to find some sports photos for a portfolio for a job interview when I found the digital file for this one. I thought I'd lost the file and was very happy to add that to my collection of processed work.

The meeting was held at Chuck Almarez's Fire & Light Gallery in downtown Clifton Forge, a gallery that I'm happy to say I've worked at a bit. Chuck has let me freelance shoot a lot over the past few years and I'm looking forward to helping him again next week. His KidPix Photography business has been shooting area sports teams for years and it's pretty cool to get to help out with that on occasion.

It looks like our next meeting is going to be October 28 and we'll also have the opportunity to participate in a tour of The Roanoke Times and hear a presentation from the head of the paper's photography department a week before that. It all sounds pretty interesting.

It's the first weekend in October and the beginning of our crush of weddings. We'll be shooting the Persinger-Walton wedding tomorrow. It's an outdoor wedding, so that takes some of the stress of lighting away. The reception looks like it's going to be fun and it's going to have my favorite ham rolls from the A&B Bakery, so I'm good to go.