Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon

Modern Mechanix & Inventions

I love looking back at our old future.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia talking, but I liked seeing the Things to Come back before they came. I mean, we’re basically living in the future as we speak.  We’ve got it all – space ships, space stations, robots on Mars, handheld communicators that can put us in contact with anyone in the world, instant food, everything.  We even have flying cars, especially if you drive them off of someplace really high.

The problem with our current future is that it’s so unimpressive looking.  Ever notice how the iPhone looks like a bar of soap that’s got two more showers left in it?  Sure, its practical, fits in your pocket, and doesn’t require nuclear energy to play music or make a call – but man does it look dull!

I long for the days of our fun future, the inaccurate and impractical version with big, silvery pipes and unnecessary buttons and single levers that control everything.

And so it was with great pleasure that I came across a little gem from history called Modern Mechanix & Inventions.

Modern Mechanix & Inventions began life in 1928, seeking to make its name amidst the science and technology publications biz at the time.  Chock full of DIY projects and the car reviews of Tom McCahill, the magazine held its own until 2001, changing its title a couple of times during its run.

There are a number of places on the ’net to find archives with pictures of the covers, most being mixed in with other classic publications.  I wouldn’t be writing about it now if a friend hadn’t made mention about it on facebook (props to MarcosBnPinto!).  The visions presented in some of the mag’s more fantastic covers are the stuff that fueled the rockets of the imagination in the days before we exorcised the Man in the Moon.

I genuinely enjoy seeing stuff like this. It’s great food for fantasy, storytelling, or getting ideas for running a role playing game.  I’m always on the lookout for more retro-future artwork, so if you can suggest any, I’d be glad to take a look at it.  Drop us a line!

For a look at a number of these beautiful covers, visit Marcos’s tumblr here.

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Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon Supplement –

Fan to Pro by Steven Savage

A Review

The engineering major gazing at the movie screen, wishing he had been at the computers of WETA studios when Gandalf took on the Balrog.  The retired warehouse worker with his Steelers jersey, hat, socks, beer mug – and faded fantasies of being on the gridiron during the big game.  The overworked store manager who had been told her singing voice was angelic, but that her dreams of singing for the masses were impractical and childish.

From an early age, we are told that our various fandoms – be they for sports, entertainment, recreational sciences, art, whatever – are just silly wish-dreams that should be put aside for the rigors of the seemingly more practical day-in-day-out of work.  We may find no joy in ‘work’, in fact, we may even hate it – yet, we attend our duties faithfully while dreaming of more desirable activities.

Why do we do this?  Sure, we have to keep from starving, but why are people always encouraged to relegate their fandoms to their off hours, always warned against turning their passions into paychecks?  Are we obligated to condemn that which brings us happiness the joyless realm of Never-Everland?

Fan-to-Pro: Unlocking Career Insights With Your Hobbies is a work that doesn’t merely seek the answer to that question; author Steven Savage and editor Jessica Hardy intend to help you get past it.

Fan-to-Pro is a book that revels, praises, exults, and joyfully rolls around in the world of fandom.  Though he has a background in science-fiction and fantasy fandom (as well as extensive experience in IT and career recruiting), Savage makes it clear that fandom covers any number of celebrated subjects, from the aforementioned sci-fi, to sports, and even art.

As the title implies, Fan to Pro refers to turning your hobby into a career that you would love.  What makes the book special is how much it puts itself in the corner of the fan.  A touching element of Chapter 3 is where Savage delves into “Fandom Edges”.  These would be common traits seen among die-hard fans that give them a particular advantage when striving for their goal.  In these fans, Savage sees qualities such as experience, knowledge and passion, tools inherent in any successful artist, football player or entrepreneur.  The goal is to get the reader to recognize these qualities in themselves and fan them into confidence to move forward, improve their skills, and excel in their endeavors.

The book lends itself well to being read.  It is written in a straightforward, informal and funny tone in which it presents sage advice and several exercises meant to help the reader get past the common hurdles, both physical and mental, of making their dream come true.  It’s not simply focusing on what you like that matters; it’s important to look at what you like from different perspectives and see practical ways to turn it into a profession.

The reader is implored to turn away from the disheartening, ultimately empty criticisms of how futile and unprofitable fandom can be, and instead is advised to focus on the actually pragmatic benefits fandom can provide.  Organizing a convention would be a fantastic way to network, for example.  The author himself mentions that his math skills were greatly enhanced from having to work with math while playing RPGs in college.

Fan to Pro, however, is not simply a warm-fuzzy meant to make you feel that all the hours you spend chatting on a Skyrim forum is actual work.  In addition to the exercises mentioned, important topics such as learning about the industries you’re interested in, connecting with others, and even the particularly tricky subject of relocating is thoroughly addressed.

Savage and Hardy have comprised this short (127 pages) work from a series of blogs that had explored the world of fandom and fandom-based careers thoroughly. Through gentle, good-natured humor and encouragement, the reader is instructed to take their passions seriously.  History has proven repeatedly that no great writer, inventor, physician, linebacker – geeks all, in their own way – could have ever made it otherwise.

Fan-to-Pro: Unlocking Career Insights With Your Hobbies is available to order from www.fantoprobook.com in print, Kindle, ePub and PDF format.  To see the blog that brought about the book, check out www.fantopro.com.

Check out Steven Savage’s additional work at seventhsanctum.com and stevensavage.com.  Point your browser to the following for his other books.

www.conventioncareerconnection.com

www.focusedfandom.com

Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon (06 March, 2012)

Ya know, hang around the fantasy genre long enough, and chances are pretty good that you might come across a dragon.  The reptilian beasties have been either benefiting or terrorizing the human race for hundreds of years and throughout many different cultures.  They have been the subject of myths, movies, and books, the level bosses in video games and the eponymous hero of a children’s song that seems to have been inspired by an illicit substance.

Dragons are and have been so popular, they run the risk of becoming passé after several centuries.  So, if you’ve wanted to employ a dragon or a dragonesque creature into your fantasy epic but wanted to avoid cliché, why not take a trip around the Internet and see what you can substitute your charming, fire-breathing monstrosity with?

Mythical & Fantasy Creatures is a great storehouse of information when it comes to entities of the unreal. One of the first things I noticed was how simple and uncluttered the site design was.  There are categories listed for just about any phylum of creature you’re looking for, from avian to serpentine, large to small (if you’re looking more for division than phylum, plant-like creatures have their own section too).

Click on a category on the left – say, Large Creatures, for instance – and a new page pops up with a helpful definition of what exactly “Large Creatures” is intended to mean.  In this case:

“Large sized mythical creatures are a range of fabulous monsters and fantastical creatures, they are from myths, folklore and legends, or in some cases are based upon exaggerated descriptions of real creatures. Other of these creatures origins are from popular modern fiction.”

On the right side of the page is a list of creatures kept in the site’s library.  Here I saw listings for massive things like titans, chimera, and manticore. Out of curiosity, I clicked “cockatrice”:

“The Cockatrice is a snake like creature, which has a pair of great wings that are seen to come from that of a great eagle or that are leathery wings like a dragons. Characteristics of a Cockatrice are that it has glowing red eyes with black pupils. Cockatrice has a magical gaze that it can petrify an attacker to stone.”

Dragons?  Please!  All they can do is set stuff on fire!

Ah, well, anyhow, if you ignore my advice and want to find more inspiration for your dragons anyway, not to worry:  Mythical & Fantasy Creatures has a separate section altogether for Dragons and Serpents. What’s more, the site designer wasn’t content to just say “Here. Dragons.”  Instead, the visitor is offered the option of learning about fantasy dragons, culturally significant dragons (such as those found in Chinese traditions), and serpents of both land and sea.

The amount of information on each creature varies.  Some entries are about a paragraph or less long, some – such as the entry on the kraken – contain tons of information, including historical references to the creatures that, once upon a time, were actually thought to be real.  Regardless, what is clearly evident is the amount of love, work, and research that was put into the page.

As if all that weren’t enough, the site also features designations of mythical beasts by culture.  Looking to get ideas from the members of the Egyptian pantheon?  Want to base a hero off of a Norse god but can’t come up with any ideas than Thor?  The site covers Celtic, Mayan, and elemental beasts (fire, water, that kind of thing) in addition to those, and has a whole Greek section off to itself.

Sometimes when coming up with the ultimate monster/friendly creature, a writer often needs help coming up with inspiration.  Turning to the classics – especially the ancient classics, born in less cynical days unspoiled by the scientific method – can provide ideas for the unearthly fauna that will roost in the dreams – and maybe the nightmares – of readers for years.

Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon (02 February, 2012)

Having been a child of 1980’s cinema, I was exposed and became enamored of science-fiction movies with a good dose of action in them.  From the eye-popping SLAM!-BANG! of the early Star Wars saga to the bloody shootouts of Robocop, action sequences were the go-go juice that inspired my imagination whenever I sent my heroes on their perilous quests.  Just as fitting in fantasy as in sci-fi, pulse-pounding action sees us through classic scenes of knights battling dragons and elves battling orcs.

The task of putting an action sequence in your story can be tricky and frustrating.  Not being a visual medium, literary stories don’t have the advantage of simply showing the audience what’s happening; the reader must be told what’s going on.  As a lot of the excitement of action relies on a chain of events happening in quick succession, the risk emerges of losing the reader’s interest through wordy, overworked description.  Conversely, it’s kind of difficult to sell the heart-pounding suspense of “He swung his sword and almost chopped the other guy’s head off.”  The entire sequence can come off as a ‘You had to be there’ moment.

Fortunately, there are those out there who have experienced success in writing action.  I’ve done a little digging around and found some sound advice from around the Internet that may help with chronicling not just a battle, but an awesome battle.

One of the key elements of creating another world is populating it with unearthly creatures, the way-out nature of which could distract from the tone of the story. Storm The castle.com has a wise bit of advice about that featured in the piece, “How to Write a Great Combat Scene – Advice for Fantasy Writers”:

Handle Strange Creatures Realistically – When writing a creature into a combat scene, whether it be a Troll, Ogre, Goblin, Orc, or any other type of exotic fantasy creature, it still must follow the rules of flesh and blood. You probably don’t have a real fantasy creature to model combat motions after, but you will have a familiar creature that you can use as a template for motion. Fantasy creatures are almost always distortions of real creatures. Trolls become very large men, Goblins are wiry and quick, and Centaurs follow the template of horses. What you can do is to transfer your thinking about the creature in terms of what it is similar to. How would a horse move in this situation? How would a very large man move in this combat scene? These transferences of physique work well and make the combat realistic.

If you go check out the rest of the great tips listed (there are a number of them), remember to check out the other pages as well.  Storm the Castle has a treasure trove of fantasy-based craft projects and other goodies.

Elfwood.com is a massive collection of science-fiction and fantasy on the web.  Their stated goal to “provide a place for amateurs from all over the world to share, teach, and inspire a new generation of dreams” is backed up by their large library of stories and artwork, as well as the Fantasy Art Resource Project (FARP), an elaborate series of tutorials intended to aid the struggling visionary in the creative process.  In her article “Writing Action”, S. B. ‘Kinko’ Hulsey provides an excellent example of writing action by, in fact, providing an example of written action.  She starts with a rather drab, wordy piece of text and uses valuable tools to improve it.  A great piece of advice is to carefully choose one’s words, which can really make a difference in presenting action and keeping the play-by-play from getting boring.  Consider the following passage:

Janis leapt into the air, clearing the large, granite boulder without touching it with his plain, brown leather boots. He saw a glint of metal out of the corner of his eye and turned to see a huge ugly monstrosity of a troll swinging a large, engraved sword, made by dragons by the looks of it, at the boy. Jumping backwards, Janis avoided the sword and countered with his rapier, its strong, plain blade holding up to the strength of the beast.

Pretty clunky. But once it’s jazzed up with more arresting verbiage:

Janis leapt into the air, clearing the boulder easily. He caught a flash of metal out of the corner of his eye and whirled to see a huge troll swinging a sword straight at the boy. Leaping backwards, Janis avoided the blade, then countered with his rapier, its blade holding up to the strength of the beast.

… it becomes more interesting, and shorter to boot.  Brevity in an action sequence is important – and the article even says as much.  There’s much more inspiring information in the article, as well as the rest of elfwood.com.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Finally, what better place to learn about something than a site called about.com?  I’ve gone there many a time for other issues (everything from food safety to finding the right kind of freeware to do a project), and lo, they even have an entry about writing action, Ginny Wiehardt’s “How Do You Write Action Scenes?” One of the more soothing elements of the article is that it starts right off saying “Action scenes are really hard to write: it’s not just you.”  Good to know I’m not alone.

Get up and act out the scenes as best you can (though I realize this is not always possible when writing fantasy novels). As you act it out, you’ll also get ideas for other things you can describe. You might also try watching action sequences on screen (you could even observe or take a martial arts or fencing class). How do people tend to fall, on their sides, on their hands, etc.? What sorts of exclamations do they make? Do they wipe sweat away, or do they ignore it? How does a body respond when a sword (or hand, foot, etc.) makes contact?

Sage words. One of the keys to writing fantasy or science-fiction is to ground the world into some kind of reality.  This makes the characters and the situation relatable to the reader. I, for example, have never been to a high-tech park nestled in the jungle of a Central American island that saw bloodshed and disaster after the scientists that brought dinosaurs back to life lost control of the facility, but Michael Crichton provided plenty of effective descriptors of the action and the environments in Jurassic Park for me to relate to the danger the characters were in.

These were just a handful of search results.  Action writing can be a hassle, but it can also be a satisfying challenge met.  Never give up until you’ve created something that flows on the page as fast as it flows in your mind.

KMS

All of the quoted material is copyright their respective authors.

Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon

Doing the impossible is a lot harder than it sounds.

Being a science-fiction or fantasy writer is hard.  Wrestling with the hassle of plot, theme, character, setting, transition, voice, and deeply rooted psycho-sexual subtext is hard enough without having to deal with the added challenge of hanging the threads of your story from the rafters of disbelief in order to satisfy the demands of the genre.  As if these hurdles weren’t high enough, the problem of inspiration when it comes to thinking up a memorable and appropriately science-fictiony or fantastical-without-being-embarrassingly-flamboyant name for characters and exotic lands becomes even more frustrating when writer’s block insists on being a squatter in the house of ideas.

Fortunately, the Internet hosts a series of solutions to this problem in the form of name generators.  Name generators are applications that are programed to combine a number of different elements of vowel sounds, consonant constructions and a slew of other linguistic elements into new configurations that give you just the unearthly quality you need to sound authentic.

One of the first and best experiences I’ve had is with seventhsanctum.com, a website by Steven Savage featuring a particularly robust set of generators.  Not content to focus on names alone, the site enables the visitor to play with a number of different subjects, from character names to planet names, story ideas, character skills and even ideas for when good old cousin Writer’s Block stops in for a few days.

A quick click on Elf Names – described as “Names for both Tolkeinesque elves, Wild Elves, and general fantasy,” – opens up a page that requests the number of names desired (up to 25), a category field offering the choices of High Elves, Wild Elves or Full Names, and a generate button.  A selection of ten High Elf names renders thus:

Aderlusn Hammerfinder
Adsaar Smilefollower
Atagear Firewand
Atleid Lakemaker
Goglaal Prayerstealer
Ilburb Mercyblade
Ilolain Rainvoyager
Lorhaeg Dreamfletcher
Naratg Featherfollower
Otibnadr Hawkbrewer

Somewhere in there is my future pen name.  Or hotel-check-in alias.

           The names don’t always have to be exotic.  Utilizing information from the US Census, seventhsanctum.com’s Quick Name Generator can supply you with garden-variety appellations that can also be frustratingly difficult to come up with without sounding bland. Kristina Scott, Lily Cash, and Stefanie Hatfield would agree – were they real people.

           The site is a blessing for anyone looking for humor or inspiration in writing their story or bringing their role-playing game setting and characters to life.  It was put together with an obvious love for writing and creativity.  Not content to simply kitbash the English language and leave it at that, there are several links to other sites and features meant to aid the artist’s mind in advancing technique and even suggestions as to how to make forays into the world of getting paid to do what you love.

           So the next time you seethe with frustration when you find that somebody else preemptively stole your idea to name the dashing hero Han Solo or Aragorn, head on over to seventhsanctum.com to kick-start your creative slump, and find a doorway into a great community as well.

KMS