Sunday, September 28, 2014

Between the Pages Sneak Peek: Make Your Own Dreamkeeper Dolls DIY

For a few months I've been collecting miscellaneous doll parts.  And confusing several people.
This is for a project that was interrupted by the apartment fire, and now it’s time to try again.

Originally I wanted to make a custom Tinsel doll that had that ’Mattel’ look.  After shopping around, I realized while attaching a Bratz head to a Barbie body that all of our main Dreamkeeper female cast could be recreated in doll form, given the right parts.  Of these parts, 99% of them were found in thrift stores, on clearance, and eBay.  And I finished Tinsel and Wisp, with Lilith and Namah just needing hair.  But, you know.  Fire.

So we start again.

You will need to paint, sculpt, and use a power drill to complete these projects.

Here’s a brief sample of what’s to come:

I've completed Vi, Wisp, and Vanth visual tutorials that will explain how to transform doll parts into the custom girls of the Dreamkeeper cast.

Please enjoy the following weeks in which I show how these dolls (and more in future blogs) can be created by you! -Liz

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Between the Pages: Gonna Paint Me a Pony, Stick it in a Closet, and Call It ‘Reckless’

But seriously.  Have you ever had such a bad idea that you and your company laugh and laugh, and at the end of the humor you realize it will definitely happen someday?  

Last winter Dave and I were walking through an excellent antique store when I spotted a smallish carved horse in their window display.  And I just laughed and laughed at the outlandish idea of opening a random door in your place, and *bam* there in the back is a carousel horse for no good reason.

I’m so in love with carousels that I have rules and preferences.  And designing a real full-custom carousel horse would be a dream come true.  So naturally, it was going to happen.

I didn’t purchase that one in the store….it just wasn’t right.  Too small, carved, I wanted something ruin-able without disturbing history.  Carousels have a vibrant history.  (And for the record, a Merry-go-Round is strictly horses.)  ’Etsy’ provided an excellent alternative to the real thing.  So I present to you……the horse on a stick.

On a three cone lamp, to be exact.  A perfect base model.  And made of sturdy plastic: no damaging historical craftsmanship here.

It's in a bathtub.  Nothing wrong with that.
I began collecting pieces and fabrics, imagined color schemes, and got to work repainting.  (I have a side occupation. Reckless was personally funded.)
(Not at the BK Lounge.)
And so I was ready to post this how-to blog on Reckless, and the stages of putting a horse like this together, but distractions popped up.

 (This is what progress looks like.)
 (Serious progress.)

 Mission: Success.

 Final resting place:

Then we had the fire.

It’s a relief that us and our lamp weren't responsible for the fire, and for pure humor’s sake I included the horse on the salvage and insurance paperwork, but the pony was gone and that was that.  To be fair, there was far too much in that closet for it to continue existing, such as four paper birds and two Christmas trees.  And if we had been home during the fire, I'd have thrown the horse out a window to "safety".


Apparently the origin of Reckless is a bit more antique then I thought.  It was actually a 1960’s toy called the springer horse, by a company called Wonder.  If you check eBay, you can find a variety of their designs, including mine.  Someone somewhere went through a lot of effort to attach the lamp to the horse and I was lucky enough to find it.  I didn’t have the energy or the same resources to redo Reckless, until spotting this little beauty.

A ‘charger’.  Most wonder horses are pick-up only, but these lovely people were willing to make an exception for just the horse.  I foolishly thought re-creating horse-on-a-stick was possible.

Found a three cone lamp and realized problems.

You can’t just walk into Lowes and use their drill-press.
And you can’t disassemble your lamp thinking the horse will slide right on.
And your battery powered Dremel isn't made to drill through half an inch of plastic.

But if you know someone who is generously awesome and has the right drill tools and you know someone who is patient enough and super awesome to teach you basic electrical re-wiring, then you can make your own carousel horse on a stick, just like Reckless and Charger.

I am extremely careful about not leaving it unattended.

So this is Charger, that horse in the closet.          

Thank you Mom and Dad for being super awesome.
There may be more carousel-ing in the future.
Like maybe a reindeer...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Critiquing Critiquing Story

Story:  Turns out you're doing it wrong.

Everyone is- and what's more, anyone who tries to make a foray into storytelling without having mastery over their efforts merits endless scorn.  

I've had the privilege of sharing advice with some other creators of late, and seen some of the (usually anonymous) criticism being leveled at their work.  It's noteworthy for being intense, superficially sophisticated, and misguided.

Now, there are two kinds of creators out there.  Those who don't give a fig for what other people think, and dismiss all criticism out of hand.

...Those creators tend not to improve.

Then there are those who care about the quality of their work, take pains to make it enjoyable for others, and are receptive to feedback.

These individuals have the most potential as writers, and are also most vulnerable to their efforts being permanently deformed by vindictive critique.

They'll be assured their characters are flat cutouts with no depth or realism.  But if the character reveals another facet, they'll be decried as inconsistent, self-contradictory and arbitrarily written.  A scene, or even as little as a page, will be declared 'nothing' and pointless because there isn't a clear-cut goal being pursued.  If a goal does emerge for the characters, it is declared to be a ham-fisted MacGuffin.  The critiquer will complain that there is no context to support events, that nothing makes sense.  Then they will pounce on the first sign of explanatory exposition- reviling it because they can identify it.  If they find narrative summary, they'll condemn it as a horrendous writing technique- and proceed to complain about the length of scenes where not enough happens to 'justify' them.  A character is a pathetic unrelatable loser- unless they're a too-perfect writers-pet Mary Sue.

  Any fresh writer struggling to internalize criticism like this will not find their efforts improved- they will find themselves paralyzed by second-guessing and fear, afraid that every step will be the wrong step.  

But evaluating reader reactions is critical to learning.  And it's so easy to discount those who like your work- after all, the critics discount them.  They inoculate their judgments from being measured against popularity by declaring the masses to be sycophantic, ignorant, unperceptive.  Your ability to entertain others will only prove the low, pandering quality of your work in their eyes.

So is the most miserable reader by default the most insightful?

Well, no.

And it's helpful to understand why.

First, let's assume these critics are well intentioned.  Those which aren't exist- but what motivates them and why is another can of worms, and entirely beside the point.
But for negative critics who genuinely believe they're providing helpful insights- where are their ideas coming from, and how accurate are they?

I think they exemplify the maxim that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Perhaps they sat through a creative writing course, or came across a book or two on writing and story.

I've consumed over a dozen (and counting), and there's a myriad of different models and definitions competing for what makes a valid story.  Every book claims to have the keys.

There's the 'W' model of plot, the Hero's Journey Monomyth with it's required stages, the Snowflake model of development, the 6 Core Competencies approach, 3-Act structures, 5-Act structures, 7-step structures...

Various story theories will place more importance on one element of fiction or another.

One school of thought holds that thematic armature, or the conveyance of a moral precept, is the highest purpose of story.  Everything else- character, setting, plot- only belongs to the degree it can dramatize and clarify the point.
This means characterization and everything else must be brutally minimized, lest it prove a distraction from the core function of story.  Under this lens, a parable is the ultimate narrative.

Another idea about story maintains its all about character- one character- specifically, about the inner struggle of a protagonist.  Story is really about how external plot events force the main character to resolve an internal obstacle or misperception.   In this model, it's a cardinal sin to have any characters competing for dominance and clouding the issue of who the *real* protagonist is, within which the relevance of the story unfolds.

Yet another concept holds that stories are survival simulations.  This model places primacy on the premise of a story, and the ensuing cause and effect of plot- What ifs.  What if dinosaurs were genetically engineered in a park, and then got loose?  What if terrorists took over Nakatomi Towers and all you had was a service piece and no shoes?  In this model, stories are all about safely gaining the experiences of others, mentally rehearsing various social or survival scenarios, to better prepare one for dealing with life.

Another idea about story is that it provides a voyeuristic, escapist experience.  The purpose here isn't to prepare us for danger- but to expose us to the novel, the profound, the unattainable.  To enjoy things that we otherwise can't.  To provide experiences which, though not otherwise useful, are inherently worthwhile.

So which one is right?

That, I think, is the core that drives much critical nitpicking.  Being right.  There's a certain narcissistic appeal to being correct, supreme, unassailable in justifying one's feelings.   And- within the context of one model or another- these critics can be right and sleep well at night, having sated their needs.  

There's also a temptation for new creators to swoon for one model or another, grasp onto the reassuring grip of Automatic Rightness- and then mash and smash that template down onto their story until it fits.  However awkwardly.

The truth is something which may make disciples of the ivory-tower templates uncomfortable:

They're all right.  And none of them are.

I watched 'The Princess Bride' recently.  By most of the models described above, it's an awful piece of fiction.  Absolutely awful.  The characters are over-the-top cliche' stereotypes, their relationships arbitrarily forced by their roles in the script.  The dialogue stilted.  The plot points contrived, puppet strings clearly visible on all the players.   The over-arching theme trite, banal, driven home with clumsy obviousness.

Yet The Princess Bride is beloved, undeniably entertaining, and gloriously fun.  It's one of those rare films which has transcended generations in its enjoyment and renown.  It deftly captures and charms its audience.

But how can this be when it's 'objectively' bad?

Isn't that the question.

It's something the paint-by-numbers crowd doesn't like to admit when it comes to analyzing and assembling fiction- but there is indeed an x-factor to entertainment that one can't quite put in a box.  Some stories do everything technically right- and flop.

Asking which model's right is like dumping a box of tools at the feet of a sculptor, and demanding to know which utensil is the right one for sculpting.

The answer depends entirely on which one helps the sculptor more accurately bring their vision to life.  That's what these models and templates are, and should be seen as- tools.

And ultimately, a creation isn't about the tools.  It's about what they can convey- from within the heart of the artist, to the eye of the beholder.

Often those who adopt the 'right' way of thinking about story will, over time, perceive little else.  Their own paradigm becomes so engrained that regardless of how beloved or successful a piece of fiction is, they can see only where it falls short.  And will not hesitate to share their pronouncements.    

That's why such pious critique can be perilous for a green creator- the temptation to mash the nearest model onto their work may well destroy what it could have, should have been.

In truth, the most useful feedback you get will not be from know-it-all critiquers.  Even other creators and writers aren't optimal for feedback, as they tend to see how *they* would do it- now how you could.

Your average reader, what they like and dislike, understand or not, is a better ruler for assessing your efforts.  They're not coming to the table with scads of philosophical baggage or circularly refined prejudices- they just want to hear a good story.  Listen to them.  And listen to you.

Now, this shouldn't be taken as license to ignore critique, or forego learning the tools of your trade.  Capturing and keeping the attention of readers is beyond challenging.  You can blithely assemble a story however you like, and an architect can haphazardly nail garbage together and call it a building.  But that doesn't mean people will want to go in it.

Learn the tools of your trade.  Just because some people misuse them doesn't mean they aren't necessary.  And critique is crucial-

The more the better.  When numerous readers independently point out the same flaw, you have certainty about what needs genuine repair.  You'll always learn something from critique- either about your work, or about the person talking to you.

Just remember not to give negativity undue weight.

And have fun- because it shows.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

VANISHED! E-books Adieu

Dreamkeepers E-books are no longer for sale.

Why not?

They were formatted and sold through a company called Graphicly- which earlier this year went bankrupt.

Worse, some customers have told me that when Graphicly vanished so did their purchased e-books.

I can't give refunds for these missing e-books because I didn't actually sell them- Graphicly was the acting retailer.  Even if I wanted to issue payments out of pocket I can't, because Graphicly sort of forgot this little detail where they pay the publishers for their sales.  Like, for the entire last year.

They disappeared with their e-books and a pile of other people's earnings.   Hmm.!quotes/  

But the important thing is:  Some people bought DK books that went poof on them, and that's not fair.  Even if it's not our fault, I want to do what we can to take care of our readers.

So if this happened to you, e-mail me (Dreamkeeperscomic[at] and I'll link you to a free PDF download of your lost book.

We *are* still selling print-resolution PDF files through Lulu.  Downloads are different from e-books.  For one thing, they don't freaking disappear.  They're yours to read, backup, and enjoy, online or off.

Will we offer e-books again sometime?  Almost certainly.  But V4 is my priority now, so I won't be looking into e-books until afterwards.

Personally, I love having a physical book in my hands, turning real pages- I dislike reading off a screen.

What about you?  From a reader standpoint, what are the pros and cons of downloads vs. e-books?  Any formats you hate?  Any you love?  Have any parting thoughts for Graphicly?  Let 'er rip in the comments below!