Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Major in Focus: Multimedia and Digital Culture

My second undergrad major (after Creative Writing) is Multimedia and Digital Culture.  Not too many schools have a program like this one.  So what does the program even look like?  Well, you can read about it, in an article I wrote for The Odyssey Online, right here.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Major In Focus: Creative Writing

As you may know, one of my majors in college is Creative Writing.  But what does a Creative Writing major even look like?  It's not a major that every school has, at least as such.  You can read about my program in an article I wrote for The Odyssey Online here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

I'll Take This Over Suffocation

[Note: This story started out as a drabble--a story numbering exactly 100 words--some time in late 2014.  I later expanded it to a bit over 500 words, submitted it to a few places that rejected it, then used it in the March 2015 issue of my high school's newspaper as my fiction story for the issue.  I read it over again a few days ago, and I really liked it, so I'm gonna give it some new life here.]

            There is no wind on Edelraa.  Its trees never bend nor bow.  Its birds never ride a gale nor battle a gust.  And so they fall, for they have not grown strong like those of Earth.  Edelraa is perishing.
            I cannot change the course of our little colony ship, barreling through space toward the third planet in the system of the red dwarf Drake VII.  There isn’t enough fuel to turn back for home.  We must land on Edelraa, to survive there or be snuffed out like a candle; not a flame gently blown out, but one smothered under a glass bell.
            The first settlers on Edelraa were dying of starvation and suffocation at the time of their last transmission to our colony ship.  That was three months ago.  They have not responded to our replies.
            There are five hundred and thirty “people” aboard Sterling.  I’ll explain the quotes later.  We come from forty-seven nations across four planets, not counting the fifty children born aboard during our five years of travel.  The animals in our pen are multiplying, so much so that we’ve been eating steak every night for the past week.  The greenhouse is laden with green vegetables and healthy fruits, grown in designed soils.  Until this morning, I thought we might be able to throw our mission aside and live out of our tiny ship, without need to descend onto the deoxygenating surface of Edelraa.
            Two significant events occurred between the Earth-time hours of 05:00 and 07:00 today.  The first was an eerie transmission we received from the planet.  When it came in, I threw down everything I was doing and listened, believing it to be from my husband, the leader of the planet’s sole settlement.  As it turns out, there is a much larger power on Edelraa.  It calls itself the “Wind God.”  Apparently it is angry with us.  That explains quite a lot.
            The second event is just as supernatural and a bit more terrifying.  One of my crew woke up this morning dead.  Yes, she died, and then she woke up.  I had the brilliant idea to put on “Monster Mash” and see what would happen, but it only slowed her down.  She would be the “running kind” of zombie, except we’re in low-gravity, so the pursuit occurs in slow-motion.  Isn’t that how everyone dreams of having their brain devoured by a zombie?  So far she’s eaten two brains, killed three passengers with her plasma sidearm, and infected five other people.  Unarmed zombies are one thing, but pistol-toting zombies are a whole ‘nother story.  They give you a choice.  You can run away and get shot, try to fight and get your brain munched upon, or sit there and accept zombification as a new stage in your existence.
            I don’t feel a whole lot different as a zombie.  In fact, maybe there isn’t a problem here at all.  Since I don’t need to breathe, there’s no reason to not just form the colony on Edelraa as planned.  What’s the Wind God going to do, kill us?  I’ll take this over suffocation.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

On a Gemstone Sea

[Note: This is a narrative snippet.  It does not have a full narrative arc.  It's a rewrite of a few paragraphs of Stephen Crane's story "The Open Boat," but I hadn't read the story at that point, only the few paragraphs I was working with, so some aspects to it don't align with the original story.]

            Jonathan leaned hard against his brother as they each carved into the dark waters with their oars.  The sheer masonry of the wave served to lock his eyes to its majesty, but in truth there was little else to see.  It seemed that the ocean had had enough of the men.  They were Mongols, ready to steal its jade.  The boat lilted, tumbling over the wall.  A new barrier followed.
            The next snarling crest spit in their faces.  Norbert grunted.  “We’re gonna have to start bailing this ding out if this swell don’t calm the hell down.”
            The cook shot him a dirty glance.  He exchanged a phrase with the correspondent.  Something about stations and houses of some sort.
Jonathan huffed, hoping that the sea would start huffing with him.  He knew it wouldn’t.  There had been two Danish fellows on his first brig, tall whips of men.  When the ship had stopped to restore provisions they would race each other up and down the streets of the little coastal towns.  They made Jonathan exhausted just to watch them.  The sea almost reminded him of them, except that at night the sea didn’t stop, whereas those Danes had been suckers for a good supper and bottle of gin.
By the looks of the sun drooping on the horizon it was far past supper time.  The cook’s stomach growled.  His hadn’t swelled up yet.  There was no time for the hunger anyway.  Jonathan raised his oar, bit down into the water one more time.
The sun gained ground up the dome of the sky, and he laughed.  It was dawn, not dusk.  The sea was a bed of emeralds, streaked with streams of topaz.  Foam poured forth from the gem field, snow in June.

Monday, June 5, 2017

New Novel Start

So I started a new novel.  Typically, these drafts don't live long.  This will be at least my ninth novel attempt, eighth novel idea (one idea was reattempted later).  I've yet to finish a novel.  I've yet to come close to finishing a novel.  In fact, I have three novelettes I haven't even finished writing.  My longest completed story consists of only 2,978 words.  I have only six completed stories (though one is unedited) that are longer than 2,000 words and fourteen total completed stories over 1,000 words.  That leaves around 160 stories of less than 1,000 words.

My working title for this novel is "Teya."  At this stage of the game, I'm not using the accent aigu over the "e," but I think I'll add one in a later draft.  The novel has French inspirations with somewhere toward 17th-century technology.  It is adult fantasy, though it reads currently more like YA.  I'm still puzzling through the subgenre.  It has some mystery elements, at least at the beginning, and it feels a bit like Sword & Sorcery, though I would prefer Epic Fantasy.

After just over seven days of work (and only a short amount of time per day), I have 2,609 words written.  That makes this novel attempt my third-longest, I believe, after both attempts at my first novel idea.  My second attempt at my first idea garnered about 3,000 words, while my first attempt at my first idea hit around 11,000 words before I decided to start over.  I have one novelette with around 2,200 words, another with around 4,000 words, and a third that's over 6,000 words so far.  Hopefully, I'll one day finish at least the latter two of these three (especially the last).  My strategy with this novel attempt is to force myself to write at least a little bit every day and to keep adding words even though my draft so far is pretty dreadful.  I just want to get a finished draft, then I can start over from the beginning and make it clean enough to start normal editing.

This story begins with Teya discovering the corpse of her friend and Defender (in-book jargon) Jean.  Like one of the characters from a previous novel attempt (you can look at the first chapter, all or most of what I wrote before abandoning the story, by scrolling through this tag), she is missing a hand.  The process to become a mage requires the severing of a hand, but for many the ritual fails, as was the case for Teya.  Still, she was given an important role by her village, out of respect for her courageousness, what I'm calling in this draft "Chef d'Intelligence."  Hopefully I'll come up with a better name at some point.

I have very little clue where this story will go, but I know that I need to make my way toward a Call to Action, and that will probably come within the next 5,000 to 10,000 words.  There's already a certain level of disturbance, but it hasn't manifested as a true quest yet.  When I get there, I should be able to churn out words a bit faster.

I'll keep everyone posted on my progress through Teya.  I'm not so much worried about the quality of the book this time around.  I just want a completed draft.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Keep Calm and Read This (Please)

My second article for The Odyssey Online is titled "Eleven Of The Best 'Keep Calm And...' Slogans We Shouldn't Have Forgotten."  Consider it a public service announcement.

Which slogan is your favorite?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

In Defense of the Humanities, Sometimes

I need to get this blog out of hibernation!  I've had a few ideas for posts over the past month, but I just haven't put the fingers to the keyboard.  I have, however, recently joined the Odyssey Online, and I'd like to share with y'all the first article I've written.  It's called "In Defense Of The Humanities, Sometimes," and I think the title can speak for itself.  Cheers.

How's life been the past month or so?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Biddle 223 at UPJ (Final Project Version)

For my Final Project in Writing for Digital Media, I decided to expand my location-based narrative, giving it a bit more flesh and personality. I also invited dozens of my Facebook friends to like the page, but only about ten did. In addition to being location-based, "Biddle 223 at UPJ" is non-linear, collaborative, potentially interactive, and containing a slight degree of remixing. Digital media has allowed me to approach the exploration of the idea which is Biddle 223 (as transcended beyond the simple physical space) from several different angles.

This project is fairly nonlinear because it won't be easy to experience as a straight line. It's intended to be explored rather than simply read in a linear fashion, even though the material of the project is exhaustible, in a manner similar to multimedia projects like "Tailspin." Biddle 223 at UPJ is very location-based, centered squarely on an actual place. The project is also collaborative, as the narrative is established based upon how other people interact with me within the space; I also have quotes from certain people. Not only is the page itself slightly interactive in that I can respond to anyone who posts to the page or comments on an existing post, but anyone can walk into the real-life Biddle 223 location and experience the project first-hand, potentially becoming an unwitting collaborator just by traipsing in while I'm there. As for remixing, a few of my photos were captioned in a way that was inspired by the Facebook project Humans of New York.

A photo from the local project Humans of Johnstown, itself a remix of Humans of New York

The full nature of this project should make it feel like a bodily experience, as well as a mental (and possibly nostalgic) excursion for anyone who explores in it. The room is Biddle 223, and the people are the people I know, but the essence should hopefully resonate with anyone who has ever thought of a space (or will through exploring in my project think of a space) from the perspective of his or her life. These were my basic aims for this project. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell whether it has "worked" or not. I think that at the very least this project could give individuals who have never been in Biddle 223 a good idea of what the room is like, and I'm okay with that. One student project that I have seen that I think works similarly to mine is this Google Maps essay that is based in a location just a few miles from my home.

The project I linked to above used some photos too, and they kind of make my photos look bad.

My creative process can be broken down into two phases: the initial project and the final project. You can read my Artist's Statement from my initial project here. Both phases used Facebook exclusively (with the exception of my last post, which linked out to an unlisted YouTube video). In the initial phase, I utilized only text and photographs, while for the final project I added the aforementioned video, three events, and an offer, in addition to more text and photos. I also made a fake Facebook profile that I was planning on using to heckle my page, but I ended up just having the page like my project page. There weren't any great openings for creative havoc. I added pieces to the puzzle as I thought of new ideas. I wasn't in Biddle 223 as often as usual during my final project phase, and when I was, there often weren't many other people in the room besides professors. One aspect to the project that I knew I wanted to have was photos of all the professors who have the offices attached to Biddle 223, plus photos of the students I see most often. One professor's photo was ultimately a snapshot of his arm being extended out of his office, which I think is funny because it actually attaches a name to the photo because of the visible name-plate. Another professor is averse to being photographed, but he was featured at one point in the project in a textual form. Overall, I think my creative process went well. Another video or two may have given a better look into the visible/auditory experience of the room, and maybe I could've included a few more text and photo posts. I also kind of wish more people would have interacted with the page so that I could go @Wendys on them. Ultimately, I just ran out of time and good ideas.

As it stands, I think this project gives a good face to my aims. I'm definitely interested in adding to the project in the semesters that lie ahead, even though new pieces won't be a part of my graded project. There are angles of storytelling that I have missed thus far, I am sure, and there will be new angles that emerge out of the continuous grinding of time. When I graduate, maybe I'll even hand over the page to the next generation of Biddle 223ers. Facebook is eternal, right?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Poem and Two Stories

Just a few days ago I was published in my Uni's literary magazine Backroads.  In the past, all but a few poems printed in Backroads volumes have existed only in hard-copy, but this issue has been published digitally as well.  You can read it here.

My poem "Parlor Games" is an itty-bitty thing that brushes against several philosophical concepts, including concepts of social class.

"Unification" is a work of Alternate History taking place in the late 18th-century in America.

My story "Up to the Brim" was influenced by Anton Chekhov, though it is set in England (well, it's technically unspecified, but it's supposed to be inferred that the story is set in London) rather than Russia.

While I'd love to hear any thoughts on these pieces of mine, I heartily recommend reading everything in the volume.  It shouldn't be a laborious task, and the visual design is stellar.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Share the Squares

Comic strips are really hard to make as a one-person army.  One has to be able to draw, script, and possibly color.  There are some popular comic strips produced by more than one person (and possibly more than I know of).  Why not try to start a new one?  Or even if making comic strips is just a hobby you wish to pursue, but you know that you're only adept at one of the necessary skills, why not use Share the Squares to crowd-produce your comics?  Well, there's an easy answer: Share the Squares doesn't exist yet.  But maybe it will some day.

With Share the Squares, you can choose to either start a project with a script or a set of drawn panels.  You can also choose to work on an existing project, drawing panels to fit a script, writing a script to fit some panels, or adding color to give a strip some extra dimension.  Pick your poison and play along.

I can't say that I'm particularly good at any of the phases of comic strip development, but I appreciate the art, and if I ever have the skills necessary to produce Share the Squares, I just might.  In the photo above, you'll see my attempt to give a script and some color to a drawn set of panels from an existing comic.

Let the comics roll, in their lines and in their times.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Biddle 223 at UPJ

I decided to use a Facebook page for my location-based narrative, which struck it down a peg for originality but allowed it to be both cohesive and open for exploration.  The nature of Facebook timelines is such that the pieces are a bit scattered, which is an accurate representation of the space.  My experiences in Biddle 223 are scattered throughout time, and it's rare for everyone I see there regularly to be there at the same time.  There are four people I see most often in the second-floor Biddle meeting room, and those four people got little Humans of New York-style photos with captions.  With digital technology, I was able to assemble a group of photos and bunches of text that represent my typical interactions in Biddle 223 over a short span of time.  The room cannot be both empty and full at the same time in physical space, but it can be in the digital.

I chose Biddle 223 for my project because I've been spending a lot of time there the last three semesters.  It's where I hang out with my French friends, my best friends on campus.  I made a few acquaintances before meeting the three students pictured in my narrative back in Intermediate French I, but I've definitely spoken with these three the most since then.  There are a few other people who I regularly spend time with in Biddle 223, but these three are there the most.  And as for the pictured professor, I'm in his office at least once a week.  He has great office hours.  I've learned from the feedback I received in class that there are many other students who have come to love this room on campus during their time at UPJ.  If I were to expand this project for my final project in the class, I would expand the project beyond simply my experience with the room, including perspectives from other students, as well as more photos and captions.  The project as it stands represents Biddle 223 when it is empty and when it is subject to my presence, but I think the meaning of the room is deeper than that. This page ought to represent everyone who has had the privilege of passing through Biddle 223 at UPJ.

Search for Comedy Gold

I feel like comedy is beginning to fade out of popular culture.  Which is surprising.  I suppose satire is on the rise, but straight-up comedy has been declining the past few years.  It makes sense, with the economic climate improving slightly and the political climate descending swiftly.  Still, I think there's a place for comedy in our current culture.  But it can be a little difficult to find the right jokes for the moment.

Like for some of my past ideas, I have no clue how to execute on this project, but I have an idea for an app or website called Search for Comedy Gold.  Based upon the prompt below, it will allow users to type one word into the search bar and find jokes that contain that word or a very similar word.


With Search for Comedy Gold, you'll be able to find a joke on any subject in seconds.  There would be some censors to prevent clearly-offensive jokes as well as to prevent users from getting any results for clearly-offensives words such as (what, did you think I was going to actually give an example?!).  This resource would allow for easier access to the comedy you want in the moment.  Auf Wiedersehen.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Working Title: This App

Communicating with aliens could get pretty tricky if they don't know any Earth languages.  And by the same token, it can be very hard to communicate with other people who don't know any languages we know.  Sometimes, we might not even know what language or languages the people near us know.  This gave me an idea: What if there were an app that would detect the language most chiefly spoken in proximity to your location?  I don't have nearly the skill-set necessary to execute on this idea, but I'd like to lay it out here.

Above you can see a photo of an exercise from the Steal Like An Artist Journal.  As I wrote at the beginning, lack of language knowledge could ultimately render such a letter moot.  Unless the aliens learned how to read English or designed some sort of program to translate for them, they wouldn't be able to read it.

Say that you're backpacking through Europe and you stumble into Switzerland.  Well, Switzerland has a lot of language diversity.  You could always Google the names of towns to figure out what language they spoke most chiefly, but in certain places, that language might vary depending upon the neighborhood.  Even in the U.S., it can be unclear in certain cases whether you're in a predominantly English-speaking or predominantly Spanish-speaking "part of town," at least at first.  If you want to have the highest chance possible of communicating with the people around you in these cases, you'll want this theoretical app (once it, theoretically, exists).

This app would also work with dialect.  Type in something you would like to say in your native or favorite language, and the app will use GIS systems and databases (or something) to determine what language and dialect is utilized most often within, say, half a square mile of your location.  The app would then translate what you type in into that language and dialect and help you pronounce it.  You could also just point your talking phone at someone, but that might be rude to some people.  This app could also offer some culture tips to help you avoid unwitting offense to the local populace.

With this app (Working Title: This App), communicating with people in your immediate proximity just got/will get/could plausibly get easier.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Nuclear Family: Remixed by Patrick Stahl (and You!)

(You can read about the spark for this project here.)

The first story that came to my mind when I decided that I wanted to make an interactive remix story was "Nuclear Family."  After asking author Alex Shvartsman for permission to use it, I went ahead with my piece.  I crafted twenty-seven pages in Sublime Text 3 using HTML and CSS coding.  Then I uploaded the files to my UPJ server space with WinSCP.  "Nuclear Family: Remixed by Patrick Stahl (and You!)" contains twenty-six remixes of "Nuclear Family," some with subtle changes and some heavily rewritten.  The first four sentences are maintained throughout the piece.

Some of the remixes of this story are meant to be manipulative to the user, making them think there will be major changes when really there aren't.  This story is pretty brutal, and often the remixes are too.  It's possible that none of the remixes are quite as horrifying as the original, but I think a couple might be even worse.  Several, on the other hand, have a relatively happy ending.  Still not great, but sometimes more comical or soft.  Certain remixes are based upon differences in situation or character, while others change effects by changing causes (like the first option on Page 3AA aka D.html).  I made many of my specific decisions for this project on the fly.  Some remixes are more entertaining within the context of this project than as stories standing on their own.  In fact, many of them probably are, and that was my intention.  I think this project turned out just as well as I had hoped.

Sorta Pie Memes

The Merriam-Webster definition of the word "meme" is: "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture."  Most of the time, memes are presented as images overlaid with words; however, this need not be the case.  The idea that I am about to present borders on memehood.  The individual pieces may not all be memes, but some of them would convey parcels of culture, and some could potentially enter into popular culture themselves.  Below is the exercise I was inspired by:

This exercise was left undefined.  There are pie charts that are wont for labels.  So I labeled them.  I tried to take them and turn them into charts of frequency.  The proportions are approximate.  Then the one broken to thirds forced my hand.  I've cut cat food into various pieces, but when I first started it was always two cans, each split into thirds.

Check out this cool pie chart that, coincidentally, exemplifies my idea!

I think it could be interesting to start a new sort of "sorta meme" site.  Have a "Sorta Pie Meme" generator that allowed users to break a pie into as many pieces as they wanted (up to maybe ten), each in whatever size they would like (with the minimum being a one-pixel line).  Different sorts of ideas could be conveyed in this manner than can be conveyed by standard memes.  I don't have the technical know-how to execute on this idea right now, but it's possible that I will some day.  I sorta like it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Of a Thing Writ

The entry I did for today's post (for my Writing for Digital Media course) is a Moby Dick black-out poem.  The Steal Like An Artist Journal printed two pages from the classic novel with the request to black out words to make a poem.  I only ended up using the first page.  You can see it below.  (I've also typed it out at the bottom of this post.)

I used this prompt as inspiration for my idea for my next project in the class.  The project is an interactive narrative.  I'll be selecting a flash fiction piece or a passage from a longer story (or even a poem, perhaps) to use as my base.  To start, there will be a few words, phrases, or sentences toward the beginning of the base that'll be hyperlinked.  Clicking on the hyperlink will dissolve those words on the next screen, as well as change the text that follows, based upon the absence of those words.  That next page will also contain options for the second round of transformations.  The transformation process will repeat at least once more.

This project will require a good number of pages.  I believe I will be using HTML and basic CSS to make them.  Because of the time required to rewrite the text and determine where the hyperlinks should go, I'll probably limit myself to around 25 total pages, maybe a few more.  This idea takes the interactivity of a black-out poem and strips it of some of its freedom, but instead allows the player to look into the writing process, to see how decisions made in storytelling affect a story as one writes.  It should be interesting and entertaining as well as interactive.

Below is the poem from above, typed out for easier reading:

see a space
the light to spread
faster than
top-gallant sails
kept on 'tis but
the rush
pertinacious pursuit
into night, and through
no means
confidence great
observation of
circumstances, pretty
for a time
while out of sight

losing of a coast,
return again,
this pilot
of the cape
with the whale
gently daylight,
wake through the
darkness sagacious mind
of a thing writ in
water, a wake
steadfast Leviathan

Friday, February 24, 2017

Extra, Extra, Meme All About It

Throughout this post are memes that I created by taking an image and a bit of text from the #RemixUPJ tag and putting them together.

Remixing/"uncreative production" is a fun and interesting way to be creatively productive (as oxymoronic as that may sound).  By taking material developed by another artist and repurposing it, you can give new life and meaning to old art.  Alternatively, you can turn something that wasn't originally thought of as "art" into something more traditionally (at least in a contemporary sense) "artistic."

Originality is a complex question in the arts.  When you use a trope in a creative work, can it still be original?  What if you based a new work off of one specific old work or a small subset of old works?  More controversially, what if you take someone else's content and reuse it in a different manner?  In the Digital Age, taking content is often very easy, but it doesn't need to become a pirate's game.  If a work is repurposed effectively, its stolen material broken down into raw components to be rerefined, it can become quite legitimate.  It may or may not be legal, but it may very well be valuable.  The memes we made took inert chunks of text and interesting images and lassoed them together to make new miniature narratives that ask questions, tell stories, or make comments on human topics.  Or they might just be funny.  That can be fine too.

This next meme below was made by @ashleypgh.  She took one of Professor Landrigan's images and combined it with one of my bits of found text to make an interesting meme.  It invokes the edges of a story without giving any details beyond what can be seen in the image.  I think it's pretty cool.

I took both inspiration and content from my peers for my memes.  They provided the raw materials, and those raw materials carried with them some inherent values.  The second image from the top of this post, for instance, has a certain level of grandeur to it.  I decided to pair it with "I think my soul just threw up a little bit" (actually one of my own text-bites) to make a joke.  The meme could've gone a different direction with a message like #VacationGoals, but it chose to be over-the-top and shocking instead.

Creativity in the field of mashups is all about selection.  In the same way that a poet must select just the right words in just the right order to build a poem, a mashup artist must steal just the right pieces and arrange them in just the right way to create a project with new life and soul.

To maintain a sense of originality with my memes, I tried to take images and texts that don't immediately seem to fit together and turn them into memes.  I had to come up with original ideas that I hoped would be born out of the juxtaposition of certain images and words.  They might not be perfectly original as concepts, but they at least take old ideas (like the phrase "mind blown") and give them a fresh face (a skeleton on fire).  Placed beneath the phrase "Imagine, if you will, an America without hippos," the image should invoke a strange response in a viewer whereupon they are momentarily dazzled by the idea of a hippo-less America, despite the fact that there are few places in America that hippos have any reason to be at, if any.  Then a neat little mental conversation can start in the viewer's brain.  What fun!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Full Ashtray

My remix project, titled "A Full Ashtray," expanded as it went, one burnt-out cigarette at a time, you might say.  The original spark came from dramatic readings of Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself" by Morgan Freeman and myself.  Separate dramatic readings, of course. (But that would be awesome.  I'm not actually certain who had the idea first.)  My first inclination for this project was to do a reading of "Closer" by The Chainsmokers, but I decided that I wanted a more complex and time-consuming project.  I decided to use the whole EP on which "Closer" resides: Collage.  When I saw the EP's name, I thought it was fate.  Later, I decided to do a mash-up of the Collage EP with Xenia's EP Artemisa.  Xenia is an indie pop/jazz singer who competed on the first season of The Voice.  I thought that her songs had a lot of running threads in them, and they do, but they actually don't have as many threads running through their refrains.  But wait.  When you put the Xenia refrains up against the Chainsmoker refrains, threads suddenly appear.  What is going on?  I'm still not quite sure.  Both artists have an indie pop sort of core, though Xenia is influenced by jazz and The Chainsmokers is influenced by EDM.  The two EP's I've used have a lot of similar content, if different poetic structures.  I guess it's an indie thing.

This project has three parts.  The first part is a simple Word document with the lyrics of my mash-up.  You can find it here.  The second part is a dramatic dialogue interpreting my mash-up.  Kiri McCoy helped me out by playing the female character. She performed the Xenia parts. You can find that video here.  The third part is a sung interpretation of my mash-up.  I tried to stay true to how the song-pieces were originally performed, but I linked the full remix loosely.  It should be fairly easy to hear when I switched songs since the Xenia parts are so much slower and jazzier.  You can find the sung video here.  My goals were to create entertaining remixes that examine music, specifically indie pop music, more closely.  The dramatic dialogue I shot may have ended up a bit too Shakespearean, but I think it gives a glimpse into a different sense of emotion resonating from the songs.  Especially with the Chainsmokers' songs, emotion has been stripped away to allow for more fun and musicality to seep in; I wanted to let the emotion show through in dramatic form.  With my video, I give a less-modified depiction of my mash-up.  It should be relatively similar to a cut-and-paste video of song clips.  My voice doesn't sound all too similar to the voices from the songs, but the tunes and emotional bases are similar.  I think the remix works pretty well in this way.  It should sound pretty cool, if I did a good job with it.  The point of this assignment, I think, was to create a remix that steals from someone else, but with such theft being eventually justified by some artistic reinvigoration of the appropriated parts.  I feel that my remixes have done just this by shining a different sort of light on the stolen lyrics and tunes.  They have been reenvisioned in a new way, and they are serving a function that may've never been thought of by their original artists.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Battle of the Bands + Profit

This week's prompt in my uncreative journal is about starting a tipping war by putting out two tip jars and having people "vote" with their change.  While I could get digital tip jars without a whole lot of strife, I'm more interested in social media exposure right now.  (Well, unless you wanna drop some Benjamins in the tip jar.)  I propose a battle of the bands.  Except both bands are me.  But playing covers.

From my four pairs of jars here, I picked musical artists for three pairs.  The Army v. Navy idea may or may not translate to the digital for this theoretical project.  I could easily record covers of one song from each of these pairs of artists/bands, tweet them out right after the other, and have people vote for their favorite by retweeting one or the other.  Or both, if they really can't choose.  This would increase incentive to retweet links to my videos, boosting traffic to both my Twitter page and my YouTube channel.

As a little precursor to this project (if I do indeed pursue it), comment below which of the following songs you prefer:

Friday, February 10, 2017

White Lightnin’ in the Jar: A Folk Song with a Legacy

My group member Chelsea Furnari wrote up a great introduction for our project, as well as a short history of the legacy to which our project owes much.  Those can be found here.  Hundreds of hands touched the song we created and filmed in one way or another, many of them unwitting, but some contributory or conscious.  The video for the song can be found here, and a video I made in order to try to bring in collaborations for lyrics can be found here.  You can see a visual breakdown of who devised the lyrics to our song (titled "White Lightnin' in the Jar") here.  That Google Doc also contains some notes on the collaborations we had.

Artist's Statement:

I had the idea of a music video in my head as soon as I saw that one of the projects for this class was collaborative.  But in a twist of fate, it wasn't me who initially had the idea for our video, it was Roberta Dostal.  She thought that we should use skills that we listed in class for our initial group meeting.  Both of us write poetry, so we could handle song lyrics without two much trouble, and I play the mandolin.  She asked me for a song that I could play very well, and I said "Whiskey in the Jar."  Chelsea signed off on the idea, and we went about our way writing a new song to the Irish folk tune beloved by many.

My group wanted to have as many hands as possible touching our project.  About five individuals ultimately contributed to the lyrics of our song.  Likely hundreds contributed to the tune we used.  While I was most chiefly inspired by the band The High Kings and their version of "Whiskey in the Jar" for my performance, The High Kings in turn were inspired by other bands, and those bands by other bands, and those bands by Irish "folks" stretching back into the 16th-century.  About three-quarters of the choruses in our song are modified only slightly from the traditional (though I cannot say for sure how old the words are), and most versions of "Whiskey in the Jar" use a similar rhyming scheme to the one I created in my revisions of "White Lightnin' in the Jar."  (Roberta's draft did not have a rhyming scheme.)  While my group did not use the same forms of collaboration that other groups in the class did, we still embraced the idea of collaboration.  I can tell you this: I am not a skilled songwriter.  Even if I can get lyrics, I've only written one short song for both lyrics and music.  Using a musical framework shaped in the furnace of centuries and a plot-driven draft by Roberta, and with the additional help of several other individuals, I believe that we ended up with a solid set of lyrics and a beautiful tune.  You may notice that the details of our video do not line up perfectly with the details of our song.  Among other reasons, this is meant to poke a little fun at those exaggerating Irishmen throughout history.  Putting our song to video gave it a digital presence that may allow it to some day extend the chain of folks playing songs to the "Whisky in the Jar" tune by taking our video as inspiration.  I think that prospect is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Lights Weren't Enough to Escape Darkness

A photograph: "Monongahela River from Mount Washington" by W. Eugene Smith
(The title to this drabble was stolen from @KiriMcCoy's tweet for #cmoa6words.  I decided to experiment with this story, both with narrative structure and physical structure.  The W. Eugene Smith photograph above served as the inspiration.)

At night, the city grins at me with glittering teeth, but its jaws do naught but taunt me.
*   *   *
I duck into an alley, and I remember. I retched here last Tuesday. Or was it Friday, before the fish-fry? I had a bottle, my last one, and I almost smashed it. I didn’t have the heart.
*   *   *
It came as a rolling tide against the sands of my sanity, that bleakness where she was but is no more. I saw her, last Monday—or maybe Sunday—but I now a beggar, she gave me naught a glance.
*   *   *
I find a liquor shop.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Request for Creative Aid

(Edit: I've gotten all of the feedback I need at this stage of the game [tight deadline].  Thanks for dropping in.)

In my Writing for Digital Media class, I'm in a group of three for a collaborative project, and the project requires collaboration both within the group and outside.  If you have a few minutes to spare and some creative energy flowing, please consider watching this video and commenting below advice for possible chorus lines or suggestions for lyrics or any other aspect of the song we are making.  Thanks!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Awake Wide Came He Night

You probably need to read the whole novel to fully appreciate one of my two favorite quotes from Robert A. Heinlein's YA science-fic Citizen of the Galaxy, but you don't need to have read any particular novel to join in the collaborative exercise that I am about to propose.

All you need for this collab is a group of people and a Google Doc.  The more people who join in, the better.  Here is the plan: type out a sentence from some work of fiction (it could be a favorite quote, or it could be a random sentence, and it should be running forwards), have the next person add a sentence in front of your sentence, have someone else add a sentence in front of that sentence...you catch my drift, non?  By the end, you should have a bunch of cool sentences, with perhaps a few mundane or weird sentence mixed in.

Now I'm going to do a little variation on this exercise.  I'm going to take five books on my bookshelf and use random sentences to construct a six-sentence narrative, with the sentence I used for my prompt (running forwards) as the base.  It won't be a collaborative exercise, but it should give an idea of what such an exercise may yield.

Sophie had half a mind to stump straight out of the castle again, and away down the drive.  "Tell me when it's over," Thalia said.  Even in the darkness she could see the anger blazing in those eyes, feel them pierce her like two jagged shards of glass.  There the great beeches came right down to the bank, till their feet were in the stream.  "I can get out, and I can get help."  But as he was dropping to sleep one night he came wide awake with the black, ironic thought that one of those slave ships in whose stinking holds he had ridden might have been, at that very time, the property of the scabby, frightened slave he was then.

(From beginning to end: Howl's Moving Castle, The Titan's Curse, The Paper Magician, The Hobbit, Mr. Monster, Citizen of the Galaxy.)

This looks like it could be fun, right?  I hope so.  Using random sentences may actually be the most enjoyable method for this exercise, but I'll allow you to experiment with it both ways, if you wish.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


(I linked to this story soon after I wrote it, but I rediscovered it today, and I wanted to post the actual text of the story on this blog.  You can find the details of the contest it was an entry for here.)

            Rivulets of blood streamed down my fist.  “What have I done?” I muttered again, falling to my knees.  The tears slipped off my chin.  The blood ran cold down my palm.
            “You made a mistake.”
            I turned to face an ageless man, his linen robes cinched with a golden belt.  He seemed to be shining, but I figured it had to be from the crying.  “I hurt her.”
            “You did, son, but it’s over now.  You’ve learned.”
            “Who are you?”  My throat burned.  I cleared the dampness from my eyes and saw that he was glowing with fourteen rays of light.
            “Your guardian angel.”  The man smiled.
            I crinkled my forehead.  “Why are you here?”
            “I am always here.”
            “Wherever you are.  Standing in a place beyond belief between your realm and mine.”
            I stood and wrapped my hand with a handkerchief, thankfully clean.  “Between Earth and Heaven?”
            “Sort of.  We understand it about as well as you do.  Only God knows.”
            “Why are you showing yourself to me?”
            “It’s been months, Rickard.  You need to move past it and remember.”
            I shuddered.  “Remember?  I remember.  I remember all of it.”
            “Not that.”  The angel shook his head.  “I’m here to make you remember what you learned when you were young.  Remember that you are not alone and that you are forgiven when you repent.”
            “I guess it’s true then.”  I chuckled, looking down at my shoes.  “Unless I’m just finally going insane.”
            “It is quite unusual, being given the green light to show myself, but I could see you suffer no longer.  You’ve always believed, son.  You had only forgotten what it meant.”
            “And what does it mean?”  I tried to look the angel in the eyes, but they were too bright.
            “It means that you will always be given another chance so long as you continue to believe in Him and that He will be with you always, to conquer all.”
            In that moment the grace of God poured down upon me in rivulets.  And I remembered.  I blinked and the angel was gone.
            No, not gone.  Just there in his little place beyond belief once more.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Simple Memes

Memes are already pretty simple (most of the time), but why not make them even simpler?  And by "even simpler," I really mean "so simple that they're abstract and therefore complex."  Take a simple image and turn it into a meme.  Sounds easy, right?  Not so fast.  The simpler the image, the harder it becomes to find something concrete (and meaningful) in it.

This exercise from the Steal Like An Artist Journal only went one step of the way:

If I were to convert this exercise to a digital form, I would want to add some complexity.  Rather than simply captioning shapes, I would want to turn shapes and other simple images into memes.  How much can you pull out of something as toneless as a square?
I'm not sure how I would pull something like this off.  It would take a lot of coding, I think, to create a meme editor.  There might be some way around it though, like making a Word template that gives a bunch of canvases with images that can be modified with text boxes and then turned into solid images.  It wouldn't be particularly pretty, but it would allow me to pursue this digital project without the need for code.  This idea would stretch the definition of "digital writing," but I think the creation of images, even if those images are just strategic two-dimensional shapes, should constitute a form of digital writing.

When you have a common meme image at your disposal, it isn't terribly difficult to come up with a passable meme.  But when life throws you a flat yellow ellipse, it can take some serious squeezing to get that nectar flowing.  Why not allow the challenge to have its go?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Teaching "Spec Fic For Free"

My next theoretical exercise for Writing for Digital Media involves making a syllabus for a class I would like to attend or teach.  I decided that I want to (theoretically, and only possibly in the near to distant future) teach a course titled "Spec Fic For Free."  You can see the raw details for this class below.

This course could be taught face-to-face, but it could also be done online using digital methods.  A growing number of authors are developing online courses accessible to the masses (often for a fee).  That is probably the way I would go for this.  I would either livestream or record lectures in advance, making them viewable only by those who pay a bit for the class (unless I have a good pool of assets by that time).

"Spec Fic For Free" would contain lots of documents with hyperlinks to different locations where free speculative fiction can be read (such as here).  It likely would also feature links to articles about the various topics discussed.  All assignments and tests would be conducted through the Internet, and conferences would be held through some form of video chat.

Never a problem online

I'm interested in one day actually teaching this course.  First, I need to become the sort of person you'd want to be your teacher.  My experience with the field of speculative fiction publication is still slim, even if I do have a handful of publications.  Maybe some day.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Self-Generating Teacher

I used the "10 Things I Want to Learn:" pages of the klepto journal.  But I cheated.  I wrote eleven things.  Because I know not the laws of this world (and none of my eleven are those).

I quite like the concept of these analog pages with my jokes (and my two serious topics), but it would be interesting to make a digital product for them.  My digital product would be a self-generator of instructive text.  Essentially, typing one of my eleven topics into the generator would result in a random answer output.  There would probably be a separate, limited pool of answers for each topic, though I could add some scrambling to make the answers even more random.  For a topic like "Who let the dogs out" there could be a pool of individuals with a random draw of one, two, or three of the individuals as an answer.  The pool could resemble this list: Batman, Robin, George Clooney, You, Me, The Real Slim Shady, Kanye, Mrs. Robinson.  For some of the topics, the answers could be more complicated, like full paragraphs for "How much wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood."

The main purpose of this digital product, as with the analog, would be humor.  I like writing comedy, though I rarely do (because it's hard).  I think this generator could be pretty funny.  For the two serious topics ("How to play the violin" and "Welsh") the generator would probably spit out links to videos of complex examples of the two.  Beyond humor, this generator, I believe, could give food-for-thought for some of the great, funny questions of life.  And, heck, doesn't everyone wonder where the socks go?  Maybe this generator could one day aid in this Grailic quest.

I'm not quite capable, at this point in time, of making this self-generating teacher, but I hope to be able to make it some day soon.  Python is one candidate for software, and there are probably other programs I don't currently know of that would work well too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


There are a lot of elements I really like in "Spaceman" by Florence Vincent, published in the sixth issue of Shoreline of Infinity, but there are a few that I question.

I really enjoyed the characters in "Spaceman."  There are two of them, and they're both very interesting.  It took me a few scenes to realize that there are two characters, with alternating scenes taken from alternating viewpoints.  The characters' voices have some level of distinction, but I question whether they are separate enough from each other, at the very least in the first few scenes.  The backstory of the second character is engrossing, and the first character is strange enough to draw the reader in.  I could've went without the handful of crude sentences sprinkled throughout, but those sentences definitely helped with the voices of the characters.

Shifting slightly from voice, the general writing style of "Spaceman" is beautiful.  No, it isn't beautiful like poetry; this style is plain glass with great execution.  There are several fantastic sentences (that I won't spoil for you).  The flow was only interrupted, for me, by that whole character confusion, as well as one slightly-crude sentence I wasn't expecting.

The true setting for this story is fairly basic, which is fine by me.  The overarching world, commented on by the first character, may have strayed a bit too far to the weird, but it was certainly interesting.  The setting worked well with the characters and the plot, always a "plus."

I have a few reservations regarding the plot of "Spaceman."  The second character has a compelling storyline up until the end, where it felt a bit like a cop-out.  The first character gets the real ending, and it fell flat for me, unfortunately.  It kind of made sense for the character, but not incredibly-so, and I never really felt like the two characters "belonged" in the same location at all (allowing them to interact with one another and bridge the viewpoints).

There are plenty of reasons to still read Ms. Vincent's sci-fi short story from the Scottish Shoreline of Infinity, even if it had some potential problems.  For one, you may decide that everything works out for you.  The writing style and characterization present are quite good, so "Spaceman" can yet offer some instruction on those fronts (thinking like a writer).  So, why not give this story a read?  You'll need to pay a few pounds for the issue in which it appears, but I think it's worth it, for this story and others.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Brief Piece on Double-Dipping Description

I've written posts before about my philosophy for description in stories, but it's been quite a while, and I can't recall how much ground I have covered.  My use of description is counter to that of many works of modernism.  Rather than taking up long paragraphs detailing the appearance of the setting and characters and giving sensory details to accompany those, I try to make my descriptions as short, tight, and potent as possible.  I frequently "double-dip" with my sentences.

Henry's chestnut hair matched the parlor wallpaper, aluminum tracery included.

This sentence came to me while I was thinking on this subject a few minutes ago.  It's not my favorite sentence, and I don't believe I'll be using it in a story, but I think it should work well to illustrate my concept of "double-dipping."

Without any other context, this sentence tells us several things about the story in which it hypothetically resides.  First, there is a character named Henry.  This character has chestnut hair, though that probably isn't integral to the story (and I often omit such details).  This scene takes place in a parlor, and that parlor has chestnut wallpaper with aluminum tracery.  Perhaps the wallpaper even mimics the wave of Henry's hair or the lack thereof in its pattern.  That's up to a reader's imagination.  What is important here, though some readers may miss it, is that his hair is graying.  Henry could be anywhere from forty to seventy-five with such a description, but he is "aging" in any case.  First sentences will always give a lot of information to a reader, yet this sentence gives more than the typical sentence you will find, I think.  I don't "double-dip" (that is, describe character and setting at the same time) with every sentence of description that I write, but I do use this tool frequently.