Sunday, January 14, 2007

A fair slice of Sunday

Ever have one of those really productive weekends when you just get heaps done. No? Well, I can't worry about you.

I was given Saturday afternoon and a fair slice of Sunday to work on Caliban's End and rather than spending the time wandering round the house and checking the fridge for something to eat, I just wrote... and wrote... and wrote. This morning I awoke at 6:30am, had a shower and was writing by 7am. I didn't stop until midday. And it wasn't a struggle!

I'm beginning to get the pay-off from writing in a non-linear fashion. This week-end was devoted to completing the final draft of Chapter 10, one of the trickiest chapters in the book. It starts with two almoners coming to Garlot Abbey to collect alms. It introduces the character of Cate Audrey (her picture's in the sidebar somewhere) who becomes more significant later on in Chapter 27. There's a quite a lovely sense of structure with this chapter as it reintroduces the character of Maeldune Canna who will be the catalyst for the drama that unfolds in Chapter 27.

More importantly, the chapter gives us great insight into Wade Grayson, who is the closest thing to a protagonist this book has. The majority of the chapter occurs as a flashback as Grayson sits in his room in the abbey contemplating events that had taken place 30 years earlier. If the book was written in a chronological fashion, this would be the first part of the novel. This chapter explores why Wade Grayson packs his twin brother off to a leper colony. It presents a moral dilemma that will hopefully lead readers to considering what they would have done if they were in the same position. It is in this chapter we meet the Morgai Lilith Cortese.

I really enjoyed writing Lilith's vision sequence. I was worried about this part, thinking it would be difficult to write, but now I have the entire book nailed down in draft format, it was quite a painless passage to pen. In this sequence Lilith presents Wade with a series of images that paint a rather bleak future for Terra. Wade sees the monster his twin will become and is catapulted into actions he would wrestle with for the rest of his life.

I'll finish this blog entry with something completely unrelated to Chapter 10. If you look below you will see a picture I came across whilst I was perambulating down the web's many paths. I found it on at:

It's by an artist called Steven Stahlberg (an ex-pat Australian no less). Now I haven't received permission to put this image up but believe me it wasn't for lack of trying. I spent a good hour trying to track the artist's email but his site didn't have it nor did any of the message boards. I will put it up here for now, and hopefully he won't mind as I think his artwork is brilliant. Reminds me of the fantasy stuff of Frank Frazetta I adored as a young pup. Just click on it to get a better view.

I had big pots of money to throw around, I would definitely employ this guy to illustrate my book, or be the art designer on the film when New Line approach me with a blank cheque. In many ways, the picture resembles the plight of Lara Brand's baby Birren who is kidnapped by the Ghul and kept captive in the harsh, rocky realm of the Endless. The young girl's naivete and vulnerability echoes the dreadful situation into which Birren Brand is placed.

That will do for now. It's a warm Sunday night here and time for dinner.

Bye now. Paul

p.s. Hope you like the funky word counter I added at the side. It should give an indication of how things are progressing!

'One Last Time' © Steven Stahlberg 2007

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's all geek to me

Hi. Welcome back. Today is a stinking hot day but I don't care because I just finished my second podcast for Caliban's End. I have put links to my podcasts on the sidebar (but when the novel's closer to being finished I'll have them hosted on iTunes... or somewhere like that). This second podcast explores the technical side to this project. I thought I'd base this post on the same subject. You will find links to all the applications I use that are either freeware or open source. I thoroughly recommend trying a few of this out.

What elements of IT are embedded in the project?

Firstly, there's the chapters which are quite simply written up in Microsoft Word. If I were starting from scratch, I'd probably use Open Office. I know I could migrate everything onto Open Office, but I'm not a big one for changing such things midstream. I do all my notes and research on EditPadLite which is simply brilliant as it is a notepad with tabs so I can have many pages accessible at once, without having to constantly minimise to move between them. It is available from JGSoft. A really good alternative to this could be ZuluPad which also allows the user to hyperlink between pages. I think I'll use this on my next novel. Yes, I plan to do more.

I also use Adobe Acrobat to convert the Word files into a single PDF document. If I didn't have this, I'd probably use an converter like PDFonline.

I have four facilities for backups. I have a free account with which allows for 1GB of free online storage. I also email to my gmail account every time I add to a single chapter. I am religious in doing this, and the beauty of being able to tag email in gmail means that I can always easily retrieve what I need. Occasionally I also backup to memory stick and CD. I know this seems like overkill, but I constantly remind myself what I would be like if I lost work and it's best not to release that beast from its cage.

I have really two Internet presences for Caliban's End, a blogsite and a wiki. Firstly let's look at why I chose Blogger. As i have a lot of things tied into Google (e.g. Gmail, Google Notes, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Google Reader etc.) it made sense to choose a blog facility that made life easy. I can access my blog without remembering anothing account name and password and that sort of consolidation is important for busy people (among whom I count myself). Also, I have used Blogger for other blogs, I like the interface, I love the tagging facility and I know it will be supported into the indefinite future.

For my wiki, I use I can't recommend this company enough. The support I have received has been phenomemal and the wiki is really robust. The folks at pbwiki even recorded the intro for my podcast on the day I asked them and sent back three versions of the intro to accommodate my needs. If you don't know how to find it, the wiki for Caliban's End can be found at I chose a wiki over a plain website for two simple reasons. 1. I want people to be able to contribute comments and a wiki was the easiest way to facilitate this. 2. It's a lot easier to maintain a wiki than a website. I did have a website for Caliban's End, but I found the time I was giving to author to it and make modifications was time I did not have to spare. Also, because my original website was written in Frontpage with heaps of tables and highly specific formatting, it was looking decidedly awful in some people's browsers. I'd much rather adhere to standards via a wiki.

As discussed in my last post, you also see a voting facility on my blog from Neomyz. I plan to use this a lot more. Although there are limitations with the free version, it certainly meets my needs. It was extremely easy to build into the blog - I just copied the html into the right place on my sidebar.

For the art of Caliban's End, I have predominantly used Corel PhotoPaint , which I find to be just as useful as Photoshop. I know a lot of people will say that Photoshop's the only way, but for what I want to do, Corel's works well for me. I tend to do my lettering in Macromedia's Fireworks - it just does that sort of thing really well. I also did the map of Terra (see below - at the end of this post) in Fireworks.

I've played around a bit with Vue 3D for landscapes and over the next six months plan to do a lot more of that. I'm lucky in that I have access to this software as part of my fulltime job, but there are plenty of open source alternatives other writer/artists could employ. I also use Picasa to keep track of my images, and occasionally use Faststone to crunch down the size of images.

Most of the pictures I have used on the Caliban's End wiki and on my blog I have obtained from Creative Commons searches on Flickr. Initially, I was just pilfering images from Google images searches, but it did not sit well with me that I did not have permission to manipulate the images in the way I have. The Creative Commons licence allows me to use the pictures I find. The same licence applies to the images I create, but I have no problem with others using these pictures under the same arrangement. In the case of the Creative Commons pictures, I have cited attribution into the webpage, so a user only needs to right-click on an image to see its attribution.

Similarly, any music I use that I haven't created will also exist under a Creative Commons licence. I have found the best site to source such files is Freesound. The opening music for the Calibanned podcast comes from this site. The selection of this music was a little freaky. I wanted to avoided the symphonic music that is often associated with fantasy especially in games and films. I also wanted to avoided anything bombastic. The music that had an slightly exotic feel but not be obviously tied to any one culture. I stumbled across the piece I use and fell in love with it. I think the language is Spanish. It wasn't until I'd chosen it that I noticed the name of the piece: 'Festa de la terra', which I think translates to Festival of the Land. Each year in April they celebrate the "Festa de la terra" in Barcelona. This music is actually a yoga group recorded singing during a workshop held during this event. Curiously, Caliban's End is set in Terra. It was one of those coincidences that suggest the existence of providence.

I also use for bookmarking any webpage that could be relevant to Caliban's End. If you don't use, it's time to start. It's fast, easy and I can access my favourites from any computer. It also integrates beautifully with Firefox, my browser of choice, available from I also use Google Notebook to quickly grab text and pictures from web pages that I may want to use later on.

When I write I sometimes get stuck for synonyms or definitions. The first place I go is to my toolbar where my WordWeb patiently waits for me to show it some attention. I use WordWeb 4.5a which is free to download and use. If this does not give me what I need, I open up a program called Thinkmap's Visual Thesaurus, which is a little costly at $US 39.95 but it's pretty special. Now I know I could use a dictionary, but I don't really need one. It's more efficient and effective to use the electronic equivalent.

Now onto podcasts.

I like the idea of guerilla podcasting. What this means is keep the technical aspects simple and light. I record straight into an mp3 recorder (at the moment I am using an iRiver T series mp3 recorder but I'll have to give that back in a week when I leave for my new job). I then throw the recorded mp3 into a little app called Mp3 Gain which improves the audio quality especially for voice recordings. This podcast I am going to try something new that I stumbled across recently. It's a little Java applet called The Levelator, available freely from GigaVox media. All you have to do is drop your recording onto the applet and it will create a new one with considerably improved sound quality. Unfortunately, at the moment, the sound file has to be a WAV file, so I'll convert my recorded mp3 into a WAV via Audacity and then drop it into the Levelator. I'll then edit the WAV in Audacity and export it as an mp3, ready for the world to hear.

Although I have access to Adobe Audition here at work, it's overkill for what I want to do, so I use Audacity for all mixing and editing. It's free and beautiful to use.

Now at the time of recording this, I'm just uploading my podcasts to my wiki (so they aren't technically podcasts yet). I haven't explored having my podcasts hosted on networks such as iTunes, but when I do I'll pop something in my blog about all that. What I do want to briefly discuss is my thoughts on podcasting which has become such an essential part of my day.

What I love about podcasts is how time-efficient they are. I'm not sure many people remark on this but I just love how much time podcasts give me. I subscribe so I don't have to constantly seek out the newest podcasts, they download as I do other things and I listen to them as I carry out mundane tasks like driving to work, watering the garden and vacuuming the house. I can also listen to them as I go on walks, but I don't consider that a mundane task. I hope that some people will listen to my podcasts in the same way. If not, I'm sure some insomniacs could find a use for them.

I thought I'd list some of the podcasts I really enjoy. I won't supply URLs to each podcast's website but if you throw the names into a search in iTunes, you will find them in seconds. Just hit the subscribe button and you'll start downloading the latest podcast (and automatically download all future ones when they come online). If you're new to iTunes, you don't need an iPod (but it works even better if you do!) Now this isn't all of the podcasts I subscribe to, just some of the best. I know there are tonnes more I should be listening to, but occasionally you have to take the earplugs out to do other things!

For writing, I listen to:
  • Michael A Stackpole's 'The Secrets'
  • Mur Lafferty's 'I should be writing'
For technology, I listen to:
  • Cranky Geeks
  • Diggnation
  • Web 2.0 Show and
  • Inside the Net
For gaming, I listen to and watch:
  • The 1 UP Show
  • On the Spot
  • The Hot Spot
A number of other podcasts that are must listen-to's are:
  • 43 Folders. If you need help getting yourself organised, then this one's for you.
  • The podcasts of Fr Roderick. Fr Roderick is a Catholic priests who explores themes in films and books. Initially I approached these podcasts with some trepidation but his views are extremely honest and open-minded.

For entertainment I listen to and watch:
  • The Ricky Gervais Podcast
  • Happy Tree Friends (although this is certainly not for the faint-hearted)
  • Ask A Ninja
Numerous podcasts devoted to Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Angel and so.

Well, that should do for another blog post. Try out some of the applications I've mentioned and let me know how they go by dropping a comment on this post or sending me an email @:

p.s. Check out my map below. It should give you a sense of just how big the world of Caliban's End is!

NB: This map
is copyright © Paul F Stewart 2007 (All Rights Reserved) and is not covered by a Creative Commons licence. I created it from a sketch I made of Terra. Please click on it to see a larger image.

'Map of Terra' © Paul F Stewart 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

Holidays are not a time of rest.

Over the past three weeks, I have written about three paragraphs of the novel. Things have been a little hectic being Christmas time and all. I guess getting a new job also has added to the chaos.

I plan to return to regular writing next week, but that doesn't mean I haven't done anything for the book. (Oh dear, a double negative - that's not good writing). I discover a funky Web 2.0 app @ and I thought I'd test it out in this blog. The survey below is a little hard for anyone but me to answer as no-one has yet read the book (and cannot have a favourite character) but I'll leave it on the blog as a test. Hopefully this works! I'll add it to the side of the page. Please respond (it's just a test!)