Category Archives: Vokhtah

Working out how to get lost… ;)

And no, not that kind of lost, the real kind.

I’m actually very good at getting lost, but until two days ago, I’d never thought about how it happens. Much thinking later, I have a theory!

“Oh, Meeks, you clever thing. Do tell!”

Ok, as you ask so nicely, here goes.

I think our brains are conditioned to see a straight path as the right – i.e. correct – path. When we’re paying attention, we automatically over-ride this conditioning in order to get to our destination. But what happens if we’re distracted and come to a fork in the road?

which way would you go?

I think that when we’re ‘on auto’ – i.e. not paying attention to our surroundings – we are liable to keep following the path that seems more straight.

Of course, there’s also the problem of habit. Have you ever set out in the car for destination ‘X’ and suddenly realised that you were actually heading to destination ‘Y’ because ‘Y’ is where you go every day? -mumble- I have -mumble-

Anyway, the reason I needed to work out how I, and others, get lost is that I needed a realistic way for one of my characters to get into trouble after becoming lost. Me being me, I wasn’t happy with just an insight, I had to go make a map, didn’t I?

The blue path is the ‘correct’ path. The pinky-purple path is still safe, but the red path is the one that leads to disaster:

Map of Needlepoint Eyrie

You can see the two points where the character went haring off on the wrong path. Both appear to be kind of ‘straight’.

Unfortunately all of this is pure speculation. If anyone has any real info. I would really love to hear it. I might even change the map. 😀

cheers,
Meeks


Re-think, re-start, re-do

I don’t post many excerpts from works-in-progress because I know there’s a good chance I’ll change things before the story is finished. But…sometimes I need a kick in the butt to get me going, so this excerpt is more of a goad for me than a post for you. That said, I’d be more than happy to get your feedback.

So here it is, the first chapter of the new book 2 of Vokhtah, The Acolyte of Needlepoint Eyrie. [The bits about Kahti and Death will now become book 3. Or I may get rid of them entirely.]

The Senior felt the sleep take hold but knew the battle was not yet won. A misstep now, and the bubble of compulsion holding the sleep in place would unravel like dew melting in the sun. And then they would have to do it all again…

The thought of having to subdue the Female a second time made the Senior ache with exhaustion, and its tone was harsh as it said, ”Self and Second holding. Junior releasing…gently!”

The young healer’s face puckered with effort, but it lacked the control of the two senior healers, and as it withdrew its hands from the Female’s foot, the fingers of its left hand twitched. The compulsion bucked in response, like an ipti throwing itself at the bars of its cage. The Second immediately tightened its grip on the Female’s hand, but the compulsion continued to lurch from side to side until the Senior corralled its erratic motion.

As soon as the compulsion was steady once more, the Second closed its eyes and released its grip, one finger at a time. Pain leached some of the finesse from its touch, but the surface of the compulsion barely rippled as the last finger withdrew.

And then, only the Senior was left. It stood by the Female’s head, long fingers splayed to either side of her echo chamber, its breathing controlled and steady. It was just as exhausted as the two younger healers, but its touch never faltered as the pressure of its hands slowly eased. Soon, only the tips of its fingers remained in contact with the Female’s skull and then, even that breath of touch faded away.

“Sleep holding,” it said as its hands fell to its sides. The Female would sleep now until they chose to release her.

“Thank Takh!” the Junior whispered as it stared at the powerful red shape draped over the cot. The Second just puddled to the floor, body curled protectively around its damaged hands.

Depleted in mind and body, the Senior was too exhausted to feel much of anything, even relief. They had won, but for how long? The sleep was supposed to be a last resort, not a cure. How long could they keep the Female alive if she would not-

“Senior? Can feeding now?”

The Junior’s plaintive whine broke into the Senior’s thoughts, and anger flared, but it was too tired to rebuke the young healer for its lack of courtesy.

“S’so…but helping Second first.”

A whiff of resentment leaked from the Junior’s cilia, but for once it did not argue. Jerking the Second to its feet, it supported the older healer as they both limped from the chamber. A moment later, the door closed behind them with a weak thud.

Alone at last, the Senior’s upright posture wilted as it finally gave in to exhaustion, and the fear that had been growing since firstlight. Not all Females survived until the birth, and no healer knew why. Physical strength had nothing to do with it, and neither did age. Some simply stopped feeding and faded away as the foetus consumed them from within.

Placing a trembling hand on the Female’s back, the Senior pressed its fingers into the muscle-hard flesh and extended its senses within. The foetal life signs were still strong, but the pregnancy was not very far advanced. The Foetus would need at least another three ti’makh of growth if it was to have any chance of surviving on its own.

There were techniques that might keep the Female alive for that long, but they were taught only to Raised Seniors like itself. If the Second, or Takh forbid, the Junior found out, they would both have to be killed, making the task of keeping the Female alive that much harder. 

Of greater concern, however, was the toll those techniques would take on the Senior itself. Yet what choice was there? If it did not try to keep the Female alive then they were all dead anyway. If she died, the foetus would die with her. After that it would only be a matter of time before her Triad died as well. The Seven had been quite clear on that point. It had not mated the Six out of lust. If it had, it would have killed her outright or allowed her to die of her wounds.

No, The Seven of Five Rocks wanted Needlepoint eyrie and for that, it needed an offspring to hold the eyrie. This offspring…

A dispirited sigh filled the small chamber as the Senior cursed the Seven for its ambition, and the Blue for its promise of hope. For a short time, the Seven’s arrival had seemed like the fulfilment of that promise, but that hope had been false.

should killing Six when having chance!

If it had killed the Six when it had the chance, the thrice-damned Seven would have had no one to mate!

Yet even in the throes of despair, the Senior was too proud to admit defeat. It had come too far, given up too much to meekly accept the dictates of Fate. It would do what had to be done, no matter what the cost. But the others could not, must not know how high the stakes truly were. 

Indulging in one last sigh, the Senior drew on a lifetime of discipline and forced its cilia to straighten. Breathe in. Something would happen. Breathe out. Only the weak allowed themselves to become the playthings of fate!

As one deliberate breath followed the other, the Senior’s body seemed to gain height and strength until every finger-width of flesh radiated confidence and purpose. Head high and eyes imperious, it exited the chamber without a backward glance.

cheers,
Meeks


The Acolyte

I was going to do a cooking post today, but everything fell into place with the graphic I’ve been working on so I couldn’t resist showing you:

The blue background is only temporary as it helps to make the image ‘pop’ much better than a plain white one.

Apart from showing off, I’d also like your feedback on what you think is the ‘feel’ of the image. I’m hoping for something to come through the body language, but as I already know the story, I lack the ability to view it objectively.

So, the red beastie is a Tukti. This is the concept image I finished a while ago:

Happy Tukti

The figure holding the Tukti is the Acolyte. I introduced the Acolyte in the first book:

‘The Female was fast asleep when the steady drip, drip of the timepiece was joined by the scrape of wood across sand.

It was a small sound, as was the gap that appeared between the edge of the door and its frame. The gap was just wide enough to admit two twiggy fingers tipped with blunted claws. The fingers strained at the wood to no avail.

A dull thump sounded from the other side of the door as something heavy hit the sand. Two more fingers appeared and four blunted claws dug into the wood as the fingers jerked at the door. Each jerk widened the gap a little further until persistence finally triumphed, and the opening became wide enough for a small black face to appear.

Everything about that face was small, except for the eyes, which glowed huge and golden in the soft, blue light of the chamber’s single glow-worm.

After darting a timid glance from left to right, the face disappeared only to be replaced a moment later by a small black rump. Over-sized, jet black wings swept the sand as the hunched shape of the small iVokh backed into the chamber, dragging a sloshing leather bota. The water sack was almost as tall as the iVokh itself.

Diminutive by any standard, the healers’ acolyte looked more like an iVokhti than a fully-grown iVokh. In fact, the only parts of its anatomy close to normal size were its wings, and they seemed far too large for its small frame.’

Excerpt from Vokhtah, book 1 of the Suns of Vokhtah

The Acolyte, and the Tukti, have important roles to play in the ongoing story so I’d love your feedback on both of them. Do you get some kind of a feel from the image? Does it tell a ‘story’ or is it just a static image? If you saw this image as part of the cover of a book, would it pique your interest at all?

I know that not many of you are scifi tragics like me, but I’d still love to know what you think.

Many thanks,
Meeks


Getting close…

Still some things to tweak, but the graphic is starting to feel more alive. Night all. 🙂


A work in progress

Getting that hand to look as if it’s actually gripping the Tukti has been hard, and I’m not really happy with it yet. But…it’s getting there.

cheers,
Meeks


Excel 2016 – how to fill a series… backwards

I’ve used Excel for a very long time, but I literally just discovered this neat trick so I’m going to share. 🙂

Ok, to start at the beginning, I started an Excel spreadsheet to create a super accurate timeline of the Vokhtah story. To track the number of days of the timeline, I created a column and ‘filled’ it with a sequence of numbers. Most people know how to do this but I’ll cover it nonetheless:

Step 1 Type in two consecutive numbers and then select both together:

Selecting these two consecutive numbers tells Excel the step order – i.e. 1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 1 = 4 etc. If you typed in 10 followed by 20, Excel would know the step order was 10 + 10 = 20, 20 + 10 = 30, etc.

Once Excel knows the step order, clicking and holding the small square [as shown below] allows you to drag that step order to as many cells as you wish:

In the screenshot above, I dragged the handle down to the 7th cell, filling all the cells with the correct sequence of numbers.

So far so good? Stay with me. This is where it gets exciting. Being able to fill a series of cells with consecutive numbers was perfect for tracking how many days there were in the timeline, but that didn’t help me work out on which calendar day the journey/story began.

To put this as simply as possible, imagine a task takes you 10 days to complete, and you finish it on the last day of March [which has 31 days]. Now imagine if someone asked you which day of the month you started the task. If it’s only a few days you can easily count backwards, but if it’s more than a few days, you might have to drag out a calendar to work it out.

On Vokhtah, there are no months per se. Instead, there are 4 seasons which have an irregular number of days. Book 1 of Vokhtah takes place during the season of Tohoh, which has 100 days. To find out which calendar day the story began, I needed to do a backwards fill. This is how I did it.

  1. Click in a vacant cell.
  2. Look at the top right corner of the Excel toolbar and click the small arrow next to the ‘Fill’ icon:

This will display a small, drop down menu.

  1. Select the ‘UP’ option from the drop down menu.
  2. Now type the last number of your desired fill sequence in the cell.
  3. Next, type the second last number of your desired fill sequence in the next cell up.
  4. Select both cells.
  5. Click-hold-drag the small square box UP to fill the cells from last to first [or any point in between]:

In the example shown above, I only dragged the small square as far as the number 4. In my real spreadsheet I dragged it from 100:

to Tohoh 42 – i.e. the day of the season on which the journey/story began:

I know a lot of writers out there will be shaking their heads right about now. “Use a spreadsheet? No way!”

To be honest, as a pantster, I would never have thought of using a spreadsheet to work out how the story should progress. But once I started writing books in a series, I had to make sure that info. in the first book married up to info in the second and third books. And that’s where Excel comes in because it allows me to outline in reverse.

So there you have it. Outlining in reverse aided by a backwards fill from Excel. It’s been a good day. 🙂

cheers,
Meeks


The Making of a Tukti, (or digital collage with bitmaps and Corel)

In my previous post I showed you the finished Tukti graphic (shown on the left). In this post, I want to show you a few of the techniques I used to create the graphic.

I call this style of making graphics ‘digital collage’, but real digital collage involves taking whole photos, making them very small and then building an over-arching image out of them. Think tiled mosaic. If you zoom in far enough, you can still see each image in its entirety.

My version of digital collage is rather different. I cut snippets of shape and colour and texture out of photos and then build up a multi-layered image out of all those snippets.

To give you some idea of what I mean, these are some of the 40 snippets I used to create the Tukti:

And those bits don’t include the many transparencies I used to blend the colours and textures into an apparently seamless whole. But before I confuse you too much, let me show you what I mean by some of this terminology.

First up, you need to get an idea of the difference between bitmap images [derived from photographs] and vector images [derived from geometry]. The image below is part of the original concept drawing and shows the Tukti eye blown up so you can see the pixels:

Pixels are tiny squares of colour which is how digital devices represent an analogue image – i.e. a photo, drawing or painting. There are literally millions of pixels in an average photo, and the gradations of colour help to create both smooth colour transitions as well as ‘outlines’.

By contrast, vector graphics are all about outlines. You have lines, closed shapes and solid colours like the image below:

The beauty of vector graphics is that images have transparent backgrounds. That means they can be layered, one on top of the other. Bitmaps can’t.

In the example shown below, the two images on the left look as if they have a transparent background, but that’s only because the page is the same colour as the background. When you place the bitmap on top of a darker coloured background, like the image on the right, it becomes obvious that the red circle sits inside a white background.

Luckily, Corel has a couple of ways of creating a hybrid vector image out of a bitmap. The first method uses nodes to draw the outer perimeter of the bitmap into the area of interest, node by node:

If anyone’s interested, I gave a fairly detailed explanation of this technique in a post entitled How to vector a bitmap. This is the technique I’ve used for most my graphics, but for regular shapes there is another way of ‘hiding’ the background of a bitmap:

Using the example of the eye again, you draw a vector circle on top of the eye image [white circle on top of left image above]. Next, you select the circle, hold down the Shift key, and select the eye image so you end up with two objects selected.

The sequence in which you select the objects is important because it tells Corel which object is the ‘do-er’ and which is the ‘do-ee’. In this case, the circle is the ‘do-er’ and the eye image is the ‘do-ee’.

Next we click the Object function and select Intersect from the Shaping menu:

The Intersect function uses the circle to create a duplicate of the image, but only of the bits inside the circle. The new object is still a bitmap, but all the bits outside the circle are hidden.

Hidden but not deleted.

This is important because each ‘snippet’ you create still has the entire bitmap image in it. That means Corel is working with the whole image even though it looks as if it’s only working with a small part of it. That can, and does, chew up computer resources.

Despite the issue of resources, I love this technique for the images it allows me to create. I hope you enjoyed this small insight into my techniques and how vector graphics work. 🙂

cheers,
Meeks


Ta Dah… a Tukti

I don’t have time for the post I’d planned so for now I’ll just show you the Tukti, complete with legs. 🙂

I’ll show more in the next post.

cheers,
Meeks


Progress report

I’ve been doing a lot of graphics lately. It seems to be the only creative activity I can focus on with all the craziness in the world, so here are the latest concept images of the iVokh:

These two images will never grace the cover of a book, but they have clarified a number of simple mechanical issues for me. One of them is that when the primary arms are held up above the head, the legs have to be a little bit apart otherwise there is not enough ‘give’ in the wings.

I would very much like to create an image of the iVokh flying, but I know that will be a major project so instead I’m working on creating a digital ‘collage’ of the Tukti. They’re cute little critters and have an important role to play in the on-going story of Vokhtah.

This is the original concept drawing:

And this is how far I’ve got in translating that concept into a more photo-realistic, 3D image:

Creating something that looks ‘furry’ with vector graphics has been a lot harder than I originally thought. Read…I didn’t think. Anyway, I’m pleased with how the head and body finally turned out, and once I have the legs done, I’ll do a post showing a little bit of the process. As per usual, I create my digital collages with Corel Draw X8.

Hope you’re all having a great weekend,

cheers,
Meeks


Why did I ever think this would be easy?

It took me an age to get the musculature of the Vokh right, but once it was done I assumed that slapping on some wings would be easy. Har de har har….

When working with Corel, I create one half of everything then copy-flip it to the other side. As a result, this image is only half finished. I was going to complete it, but then I realised it was an effective way of showing the muscles themselves instead of just the suggestion of muscles beneath the skin of the wings.

Anyway, I’ve been sweating blood over the damn wings since the Offspring – a real artist – pointed out that this fudge didn’t work:

I had to admit that the Offspring was right, but it left me in a quandary because I couldn’t work out how to do it properly. Then I found this picture of a bat:

Turning the reference pic of the bat upside down gave me an idea of how the skin would ‘pull’, but I forgot that the lighting was upside down too. -facepalm-

To cut a long story short, I have done little else but obsess about this pic for days. Now, at last, I can breathe a sigh of relief and relax, at least until tomorrow. 😀

cheers,
Meeks


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