Category Archives: Vokhtah

Inching towards an audiobook

There, I’ve said it! At some point in the not-so-distant future, I’m going to try my hand, or voice, on an audiobook, and this 3 minute video is my first attempt at ‘acting out’ a scene:

I’ll probably cringe with embarrassment tomorrow, but for now I’m kind of proud of my first attempt, especially as it was miles harder than I thought it would be. Narrating something à la Sir David Attenborough is one thing, trying to make a story come to life is another thing entirely. It has been an immensely valuable learning experience though.

You know how we’re told to read our writing out loud to help with the editing? Well, acting it out loud exposes the shortcomings of the prose even more! I actually had to change what I’d written to give the scene enough oomph.

See if you can pick the differences. 😀 This is the ‘original’ :

“The Senior had just reached the alcove again when it finally saw the obvious: only the Triad, and the Acolyte, knew who had actually done what. And that meant the truth could be told. Only the roles needed to be re-imagined, leaving itself as the conscientious healer who stayed by the Female’s side until the other returned!
The truth, but not the truth. It was perfect, or almost so. The Second already knew about the threat from the Seven, so it would see why the truth could not be told, plus the lie was close enough to the truth for it to carry off the deception without giving everything away. Which left only the two younger iVokh to worry about.
In its weakened state, the Junior might not even remember the rescue, but if it did, casting it as the hero would mesh with how it saw itself. Plus it already disliked the Acolyte, so that would fit quite nicely, leaving only the Acolyte itself.
The young iVokh would not like being blamed for the Junior’s faults, but it was intelligent and ambitious. If it were told about the Seven’s ultimatum, it would see itself as being both important and trusted. That would appeal to its ambition, and it would feel proud to be trusted with such a vital task…
…ki, not task, mission…
If the Acolyte could be made to believe the fate of the Triad depended on its intelligence and resourcefulness, it would not betray them, at least not to the Voice…
…but afterward?…
Being no stranger to ambition itself, the Senior had no doubt that the young iVokh would try to profit from its knowledge at some point, but as it had no intention of allowing any of them to return to the Settlement, it was not particularily worried. Kohoh was a dangerous time of year, for everyone.”

Book 2, The Suns of Vokhtah series

Messing around with videos is starting to become useful as well as fun. Who knew? lol

cheers,
Meeks


When a Pantster has to Plot – or how I wish I knew then what I know now…

Excel worksheet showing the timeline for each character

I consider myself to be a pantster because I don’t plot the events of my stories out in advance, but as you can see from the Excel worksheet above, there comes a time when plotting is a necessity.

Every ‘event’ shown in the top half of the timeline has already happened – in book 1 of Vokhtah – and generally speaking, I managed to keep that story nice and tight. The trouble started when I first realised that the timeline for the caravan to and from Deepwater was way out of whack.

That unpleasant discovery lead to the first Excel spreadsheet which reverse engineered the plot, but only for the Blue/Messenger and the Apprentice. If you haven’t read Vokhtah, don’t worry. All you need to know is that the Blue-disguised-as-a-Messenger and the na-Seneschal-disguised-as-an-Apprentice were the two main characters. Reverse engineering their timelines necessitated the making of a map:

Map of Vokhtah created using Inkarnate

The grid on the map allowed me to get a realistic [ahem] idea of how long the different parts of the journey would take. That was when I realised just how out of whack my guestimate in Vokhtah actually was.

What the hell was I going to do about it? Vokhtah was already published and book 2 relies on that timeline. Could I fudge it?

The simple answer is no, I can’t fudge it because a small fudge in book 1 will snowball in subsequent books as I weave the lives of the other characters into the storyline.

In desperation, I went back to Excel and created the spreadsheet you see up the top.

I’ve now got a pretty precise handle on the various timelines, but what’s become painfully obvious is that a few things will have to be changed in book 1. They’re not major things; the story stays the same. What will change is the sequence of some of the chapters. Chapters, and the sequence in which they occur, give the Reader a sense of time passing. I needed more time for certain things to happen, even though they aren’t mentioned at all in book 1. These are the things that happen concurrently with the main plot and lead directly to plot events in the next book.

What kind of things? Gestation, for one. The Six of Needlepoint is mated on day 16 of the story [in book 1]. Something has to happen XX number of days later, but it can only happen if the foetus has had a reasonable amount of time to develop…

Okay, I can see some of you rolling your eyes in disbelief. Why don’t I simply make the gestation period fit what the plot demands?

The reason is that biology is my thing, and although I’m writing about aliens, there are certain things that probably stay the same for all carbon based lifeforms – the bigger the animal, the longer its gestation period. So yes, I could fudge it, the Vokhtah series is a work of fiction about a place and a people that do not exist, but… -deep sigh- I HATE scifi that fudges things.

So, now to my regrets. When I published Vokhtah [book 1 of the Suns of Vokhtah], publishing anything was a brand new experience. I did a lot of research about how to publish as an Indie, but there were so many things I did not know, could not know. One of those things is that the first book of a series sets the rules of the world in place. Subsequent books have to live with those rules. You can’t just suddenly change a core constraint – like time – without ruining the story for people,like me, fussy, picky people with a decent memory. 😦

By the time I’d written the Innerscape series I knew better and did not publish book 1 until the whole damn lot was right. I think it shows in a plot that is tight, despite being written by a pantster. How can I do any less for Vokhtah?

The result of all this soul searching is that once the whole series is finished, I’ll put out a new edition of the first book before I publish the subsequent books. I just hope that doesn’t mean I’ll lose all the hard won reviews dating all the way back to 2013. 😦

Anyway… every decision has consequences, and I’ll just have to live with mine, but boy do I wish I’d known all this in 2013.

Anyone else have regrets?

Meeks-with-a-sad-face


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


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