Medieval Hair Taping, Without Elastic! #elasticless (Plus Small Writing Update)

I don’t usually post videos, but this was so fascinating from a historical standpoint and a practical standpoint. I have been trying to figure out a way to avoid hairbands for the sake of my hair, and this looks like a really good (and pretty!) alternative.

(Also, sorry if this just shows up as a link. Not something I can control right now. Soon, though. Soon.)

https://youtu.be/dpT86z93Ec8

Just a general update this week. I’ve started the revision of Puck’s Call. And I’m back to writing short stories and flash fiction. In fact, I’m sending one out to a market tonight.

That’s it for now. See you next week!

What about you? What are your thoughts on how women wore their hair without elastics? Also, do you prefer hair up or down (doesn’t have to apply to your own)?

In which I make an herbal vinegar

I’ve been interested in herbal medicines for some time now, especially when it comes to medicine as it was given historically. One of those ways was herbal vinegars, which could be used for both medicine and flavoring food.

So, in the interest of spreading the knowledge, I’m sharing this link to Mountain Rose Herb’s instructions on how to make an herbal vinegar and also sharing, very briefly, my own experience in starting my own herbal vinegar.

I tried this because I had success recently with making my own infused oil using olive oil and some Complete Tissue and Bone (Dr. Christopher’s) herbal mix we had left from a few years ago. It made a small amount but was totally worth it.

So, I tried making an herbal vinegar using the instructions linked above and some herbs we bought around the same time as the Complete Tissue mix. Now, I’m only a few days in, so I can’t post pictures of the finished project yet, but here’s an image of the jar after adding the vinegar and screwing on the lid.

Points Pertaining to My Individual Creation:

  • I used a cleaned out and sterilized peanut butter jar with plastic wrap between the lid and the jar itself. Metal lids have a tendency to rust when it comes to vinegar, and this is the solution I chose to fix that problem. I store it in a paper bag on a shelf that isn’t anywhere near sunlight.
  • I had cut herbs and no coffee grinder so I used the blender to grind the herbs down. It took a couple of minutes and didn’t ever get to a truly fine texture, but it came very close. Close enough to use, in my opinion.
  • I did make one actual change to the recipe: I filled the jar two-fifths of the way with herbs instead of just one-fifth. There was no reason beyond preference for this change, and the fact that the herbs, though still good, are older than I would like. I can always dilute it, if need be.

So there you have it. Sound interesting? Anyone else out there try something like this? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Free Software for Indie Authors: Cover Creation (e-book and print)

Last week, I talked about free software I’ve used for writing fiction, especially novels. Today, I’m going to discuss free graphics programs I’ve used for things like covers and such.

Really, there’s only three I’ve enjoyed enough to recommend for cover and website use. Those three are Paint.NET, GIMP and Inkscape. I’m also going to briefly mention an option I’ve used for preparing print covers, but please keep in mind that I don’t have nearly as much experience with that portion as getting an e-book cover together.

Please be aware that there’s a number of tutorials out there for all these. A little searching should answer whatever questions you might have on how to get a particular effect.

Paint.NET

When I first tried my hand at making covers, I knew I couldn’t get away with basic photo processing software. Okay, maybe if it were a literary or mainstream book, it might work, but I tend to write fantasy. The requirements for branded covers in that genre are a bit more stringent.

I originally downloaded GIMP. I took one look and ran as fast as I could from it (more on that in a minute). Paint.NET turned out to be perfect for someone who had never used a photo manipulation program before but who needed something with more power than the average photo touch-up software.

Pros:

  • Easy to use interface.
  • Pretty intuitive.
  • Nice filters.
  • Active community so it’s easy to find support and filter extensions.

Cons:

  • There’s a limit to what you can do in manipulating a photo.
  • Unless you have a pre-made painting/illustration that’s mostly the way you want it, it’s difficult to get a professional grade product. My memory tells me I had more hoops to jump through with Paint.NET than with GIMP.
  • It does not support CMYK (though I’ve heard there are plugins you can get for that).

Paint.NET works best, I think, for people who aren’t as familiar with photo manipulation, people who want something more intuitive, and/or those who want a tool that will quickly come up with some neat effects for a header or avatar.

GIMP

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I tried GIMP first. And ran.

Looking back, I can see why. Paint.NET is one window. In the version of GIMP I first downloaded (2.4?), I had three floating windows.

Yikes. Very intimidating.

And then I tried using it…and it got worse.

After some time using Paint.NET, I decided to try GIMP again. I’ve forgotten what I wanted to do, but I do remember that it involved a heck of a lot more work in Paint.NET and not so much in GIMP.

I’ve never looked back.

This is my go-to now for all photo manipulation.

Pros:

  • Powerful.
  • Similar to Photoshop.
  • Very nice filters.
  • Easier to get close to professional-grade product using this program.
  • I’ve seen some people on DeviantArt make some amazing digital art with GIMP, using the eraser to emulate a pressure-senstive drawing tool.

Cons:

  • Intimidating.
  • Not very user-friendly (though I’ve used worse).
  • If you’re stuck and need help, do NOT go to the main website for instructions. Maybe it’ll work for you, but for me, it was an exercise in frustration. The best tutorials are on YouTube by actual users. I strongly recommend watching them if you want to really get the most out of this program.
  • If you’re on Windows 8, there is currently no way to convert a picture from RGB to CMYK inside GIMP. Heck, I’m not even sure if it’s possible to use some of the plug-ins I’ve seen with 2.8. But I’ve heard that CMYK conversion is being added to 2.9 or 2.10, so I’m hoping that rolls out soon.

Before I go on…

A quick word about CMYK and why you should care about it when converting pictures to it for print.

If you’re an indie author who wants to diversify, chances are good you’ll also see the need for a print edition. It may not occur to you now, given how easy (ha!) creating an e-book is, but there will be fans out there who do not want an e-book version. They want print and only print. Not to mention fans who love your work who want a copy they can own and pass around to friends without worrying about device compatibility.

This means you’ll want to get a print version put together.

This also means the cover you made for your e-book, especially if it involves the color green, will need to be tweaked for CMYK (i.e. the colors used for printing on paper: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).

If you have any interest in making your own print cover for your book, I strongly recommend reading up on CMYK. Knowing the basics of this process is very important. If you don’t do a test run to make sure your colors are the way you want them to be (or at least somewhat close) you might end up with that beautiful cream-colored background and green images that look like they were coated in mud.

This is exactly what happened to me when I got a proof copy of one of my books. In fact, the trouble I had with getting that bright, clear green I soooooo wanted to have is what started me on this journey in the first place.

So, a quick word about what I learned. Your print cover is going to vary depending on many factors. In fact, there are so many factors that even if you ordered a proof copy and it looked just like you wanted, if another printer handles the order, it could still turn out different.

Here are the things I’ve learned to try to keep that risk at least somewhat mitigated. Please be aware that I’m still new to this myself.

  • Use a program that allows you to add color profiles and tweak the colors for your cover. The two I’m about to mention have that capability, though I’m more familiar with one than the other.
  • Buy a book that gives you CMYK color combinations. You don’t want to use one that’s online because the color isn’t going to look exactly the same on your monitor.
  • Once you’ve gotten it close to what you want, print out a test copy at home if you have a CMYK printer. I’ve also found that some print places will print out a single copy for less than a dollar if you need to use an industrial grade printer or just for the heck of it.
  • When you think you’ve gotten it the way you want, upload it to the print distributor of your choice and order a proof copy.

Following this should give you a decent product and help you avoid having muddy brown instead of green on your cover. Hopefully.

Now, on to the other programs.

Inkscape

This is such an amazing program. I’ve used Inkscape for headers, logos, the occasional book cover, icons, symbols, and even illustrations (i.e. the clock face on Flicker of Time’s cover). There are even some who’ve done photo-realistic images. I’m not that far ahead, but I hope to get there someday.

Pros:

  • Once you understand that everything in Inkscape is a path or an object, it’s actually pretty intuitive.
  • Inkscape is a vector graphics program which means you can make your image bigger or smaller without turning it into a pixelated mess. Perfect for the continual resizing a logo might require.
  • Intuitive manual kerning for text (though this has some dangers when saved to pdf format).
  • I’ve found there are some effects that are easier to achieve in Inkscape, such as making your text look as if it were a paper cut-out and you were looking through to a different colored background.
  • It’s pretty easy to tweak CMYK values in Inkscape.

Cons:

  • Very intimidating when I first tried it.
  • The concept of everything you create being either an object or a path might be difficult for some people to really grasp.
  • Layers are a bit trickier to navigate in Inkscape than in GIMP.
  • I’ve tried building a cover, exporting it to pdf inside Inkscape, then opening it as a pdf. It does not look good at all. However, if I took the same image, exported it to a form Scribus could handle, then exported it as a pdf from Scribus, that gave me the best looking pdf of all the methods I’ve used.

Please note: if you want to take something you’ve built in Inkscape and put it into GIMP, the best way to do that is to save your Inkscape image as a pdf and import it into GIMP. Please be aware that the moment you turn it into something GIMP can play with (called rasterizing) you won’t be able to resize it without risking pixelating it.

Scribus

This is only going to be a brief note since I want to talk a little more about this in a later post. For now, let me point out the following about Scribus and cover creation.

Pros:

  • Built for color management for print.
  • It’s possible to add your own colors to its repertoire.
  • Best pdf export I’ve seen, except for Apache OpenOffice/LibreOffice.

Cons:

  • If you’re using gradients/blends, it’s better to use a program like Inkscape or GIMP and then import what you’ve created into Scribus.
  • It can’t flatten transparency.
  • Very, very, very, very, very non-intuitive. In fact, of all the programs I’ve used so far, Scribus is the least user-friendly of them all. More on that when I talk about Scribus at length for book interiors.

Finally, an odd sort of program to stick into a discussion of cover creation, until you realize what it can do.

Blender

This is possibly the best gift Providence ever gave to cover creators. It is also the most maddening, exhilarating, mind-blowing program I’ve ever seen that is also completely and totally free.

In the sense that you don’t have to pay anything in order to use it.

Blender is a 3d graphics program. It’s what I used when I needed to create a wand for Lady Fair’s cover and could NOT find anything close except for one image…and I realized it was better to make my own than wait for someone to get back with me to give me permission.

It’s both very easy to use and very difficult. It’s concepts are simple, but the application takes a bit of practice.

Those of you who need spaceships, aliens, specific scenes, landscapes, planets, and so on, can use this to create things specific to your cover. It will take a bit of processing power (something I hope to acquire soon), time to learn how to use it, plus I’m not so sure you’ll want to use it to create people for your cover, but who knows? I do know I haven’t used it nearly enough and I can’t wait until I’m able to use it more (dang processor).

So that’s it for things I’ve used to create my covers. And now I’m off to practice drawing with an ordinary pencil and some paper. Next week, I’ll cover formatting for e-books, something that has been weighing on my mind for a while.

What’s your favorite program(s) for playing with photos or creating art? For indie authors, what do you use to make book covers?

Addendum: I wasn’t going to mention this, since I haven’t (yet) gotten this to work on my computer, but for those who like playing around with fonts, there’s an open source program called Font Forge. Though fonts can be tweaked and changed in Inkscape, I’ve heard enough good things about Font Forge to at least give it a mention here as a possibility. That’s all. See you next week.

The point is the process

This morning, we hunted for Easter eggs. The point of a hunt appears to be finding the brightly-colored eggs that older “kids” gleefully hide.

After today, I’m not so sure.

My kids are older now. Finding the eggs started out easy. The kids called out to each other as each candy-filled egg was found.

Then things grew quiet. How many were still missing? The kids added up the ones they’d found. Four left. Somewhere.

They kept looking.

Three left. Then two. Then one.

And no one could find it. Even the one who had hid them.

Some left to munch on the candy they’d gotten. Some wandered aimlessly, unsure what to do next. A few decided to keep looking, their candy forgotten.

And while all this was going on, kids were trading eggs, candy, and having a great time.

Finding the eggs was the point…and yet, it wasn’t. Finding eggs was the goal, but the point was the process of finding them.

There’s a lot of things we want to find in life. Sometimes we’ll get more or less than what we were hoping to find. Sometimes we’ll find the things we worked so hard for don’t matter as much as we thought. Sometimes that knowledge makes us think we made a mistake in working as hard as we did.

But the point is the process. I think, as long as we keep that in mind, we’ll always have a way to find joy.

*goes back to looking for that last Easter egg*

Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour: Music and Writing

Another post for the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour!

This month the focus is on our hobbies and how they relate to our writing. I have a LOT of interests so it was difficult to pick just one.

And then, while I was trying to shorten the list, I realized which one I wanted to talk about this time.

Music.

I’ve always loved music. My earliest memories include scanning the radio for good songs, listening to bands, and singing. Always singing. In fact, I almost majored in music in college. The reason I didn’t is a story for another time. I’m not surprised I married a musician/songwriter.

But how does this relate to my writing? A number of ways:

First, watching all those musicians gave me my first glimpse of professionalism in the arts. I got to see who did and didn’t become successful (i.e. managed to make some money from it or at least got some performance time), and I got to see how that happened, both in and outside school. I learned the importance of showing up, of trying new things, of getting outside your comfort zone, of practicing, of taking joy in the process itself, and of always improving your craft.

Second, I learned the importance of feeling your way through something. I couldn’t do that with music, but I’m learning I can do that with writing. Many of my best stories come through that process of going by my intuition.

Finally, looking at the history of music has taught me more about people than I ever dreamed, from the way music is used to manipulate others, to the way it’s used to inspire, to the way it’s sometimes forbidden altogether, or at least in certain forms.

It is, in its own way, an examination of power.

That fits perfectly with my preferred genre, fantasy, which is all about power and how it’s used or misused. In fact, that blending of music and power is a big part of why I’m writing the Trial of the Ornic series. Plus, I’ve always wanted to have a useful minstrel as a main character.

So, now it’s your turn. What are some unexpected benefits of your hobbies?

This post is part of the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Please check out the blog for more posts by other writers.

The Lord’s Tale (part two) is in editing; General update

Not much time, but I thought I’d give a quick update.

Yup, the next part of The Lord’s Tale is in the process of being edited. I’m really happy about this. It’s a very strange feeling, after it took so long to get the first part out, to start getting What Comes Next ready for publication. I’m really looking forward to starting the rough draft of part three, and it looks like (if my outline is to be believed) there might even be a part four. This book is turning out to be much larger than I expected. O_O

I thought I was at the end of my “space elves” story, but I haven’t really found an arc in what I’ve written. Not like the Trial of the Ornic series, anyway. More than likely, I’ll get to the end of this part of the story’s time period, then write the next so-called arc after I’ve finished LT#3’s rough draft. In other words, it won’t be serialized like Trial. It’ll probably be a stand-alone, given the way it’s currently going.

If I have time later in the month (and Internet access), I’ll see if I can post an excerpt from my “space elves” story on this blog. At the very least, I might post the first few scenes of LT#2 on Wattpad, as a way of taking off the edge of LT#1’s cliffhanger ending.

General update: Internet access is still spotty. We’re all healthy, though, and doing better than I expected. Hopefully, everything will settle soon and we’ll be able to get back to something of a routine. In the meantime, I write when I can. It helps keep me grounded.

More when I can. Thank you for reading.

The Dagda

Ruler of the Tuatha de Danann after Lugh (who ruled after Nuada and I swear I’ll do a post on him eventually), the Dagda was father-figure, savior, trickster, and overall amazing hero/god to the Irish. His name means “the good god,” though that doesn’t refer to him being an especially good person, but instead to his being good at fighting, singing, games, and so on.

He shows up in a number of tales surrounding the Tuatha de Danann. In all the ones I’ve read, he’s clearly a beneficent and fair god to his people. To his enemies? Not really.

He also goes by the name Eochaid Ollathair, which means All-Father. (Those who love Norse mythology, I know I’ve got your attention now, heh, heh.) Though later depictions show him as a bit of a dufus, with an enormous penis dragging on the ground, that doesn’t seem to be how early Irish viewed him. He’s a grand hero, who uses his wits and strength to save others through great deeds. In the First Battle of Magh Tureidh, there’s a strong sense of relief in the text when he appears, as if everything will be all right, simply because the Tuatha de have him on their side.

As if it wasn’t enough that he was apparently held in awe by the rest of the Tuatha de simply because he was so amazingly talented, the Dagda also had three magical items that were also impressive.

First, was his club. It was supposedly so big that he had to carry it around with him on a cart (draw any conclusions you like from that symbolism). Though it was deadly, as all weapons should be if they want to remain valuable, it could also restore the dead to life when reversed and the body struck with the handle.

Next, was his cauldron, called Coire Ansic or “Undry.” One of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha de Danann, it gave the hungry whatever they wanted to eat, and never let anyone walk away unsatisfied.

Finally, his harp, Uaithne, also called Dur da Blá. This item could manipulate the listener into feeling great joy, great sorrow, or a deep sleep that brought prophecy with it. It is also said that he used this harp to change the seasons.

I love how each of these items could be viewed through a science fiction lens. The club would be a bit hard to explain (an energy weapon of some sort that uses energy to both heal and kill?), the cauldron sounds like something you’d find on the Enterprise, while the harp is obviously an item that can enter the minds of others and change their thinking to whatever the user wishes it to be.

Will I end up using all this in the story I’m writing? I don’t know, but I would love it if the story lets me put these items in there.

More info:

The Dagda (Wikipedia)

Mona Lisa copies; I now edit

The image I had of Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance artists was that of an artist working in complete solitude, no one to help him. I’m pretty sure movies like The Agony and the Ecstasy helped cement that image in my head.

And then I came across this blog post from a couple of years ago about copies of the Mona Lisa. (Warning: there’s a bit of nudity on the page.) That’s right, folks. Leonardo had people copying his work, and some speculate his assistants worked alongside him.

This makes sense to me from a production standpoint. I’ve heard that some manga artists do this, hiring assistants to help with the panels, sometimes turning over the manga entirely to them and staying on as a kind of supervisor. James Patterson, does this with his writing. From this article:

“The reason his literary output is so massive, at a rate of about one book a month, is that in most of his novels he doesn’t do the line-byline writing himself. He produces a treatment of 60 to 80 pages, establishing the plot and characters in detail, then hires a writer to turn it into a full-length book. He sees their work every couple of weeks, sending it back with notes to speed it up, make it more real etc, and the co-writer ends up with a decent billing (although not an equal share of the cash).”

It makes sense because the more decent-quality items you can produce, the more likely you’ll win the artistic lottery. Seriously, the more books you have, pictures you’ve drawn, sculptures you’ve got at various locations, the more likely it is that someone is going to see it, like it, and ask for more.

In spite of that making intellectual-sense, I have no intention of ever writing like that. I’d rather just do it myself. Giving it to someone else, for me, would take away most of the fun.

On a completely different note: I’ve decided to offer my services as an editor. The first five people to approach me will have the fee waived entirely. If you’re interested, please follow the link below.

Editing Services

T-storms, tornadoes, and floods, oh my!

We live in the D/FW area, which means we got quite a show yesterday! We even heard, through Twitter, that Denton, a small college town to the north of Dallas, had, in order: baseball-size hail, a near-tornado, and some flash flooding.

There was a confirmed tornado in Princeton over in Collin County, and another suspected tornado in Krum. I haven’t hit the news sites yet to find out if that was confirmed or not.

As for us, we had some pretty scary moments, but we’re all okay.

We’ve had a number of troubles this year. I haven’t talked about most of them because, what’s the point? But yesterday, I saw those possible tornadoes as all the troubles we’ve been dealing with. And realized there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop any of it. The troubles/tornadoes can be somewhat planned for. But if they’re strong enough, you could end up with your home shattered to the foundation. Can’t protect against that. (It should be noted that insurance doesn’t always cover the damage and it definitely can’t bring back everything you lost.)

This made me think of Konrath’s recent thoughts on publishing and luck. It applies to more than publishing, I think. Because, if you get right down to it, most of our lives are ruled by events we can’t control. We can’t even really provide for them. I’ve known more than one person who “did everything right,” and life sent them a metaphorical tornado strong enough to wipe all that out. And I’ve seen families who did everything “wrong” and, yeah, they struggled, but they were never broken.

How often do we look at those who are struggling and say, “There but for the grace of God go I?” or something along those lines. Because that was driven home to me yesterday. All it takes in our lives is a strong enough tornado and we could lose everything. Like Konrath, you could just admit that all your hard work may not ever amount to anything simply because of bad luck, but do the best you can in spite of that to try to improve the odds. As for me, I do my best to prepare, but I also believe that, in the end, we’re in God’s hands, and whatever happens is what needed to happen. Even if that means a tornado ripping your life apart. I’ve read too many accounts of lives changed to more interesting paths by disaster to believe otherwise.

Anyway, that’s just my thoughts. Feel free to add yours.

The Last Scandal; the craziness of March; progress

This last week has been crazy. I could probably say that about every week, but this one has been especially bad. Three birthdays, one ear infection, a few bouts with colds/flu among various family members, and it’s no surprise I haven’t written here in ages.

Okay, a week, but still.

And this is on top of the usual craziness of March because of a convergence of family events that I’m still not entirely sure how to coordinate. The illness, in fact, actually took some pressure off of that this year. So, in a way, I’m grateful.

But I was still stressed, so I watched the first episode of a Korean dramedy called The Last Scandal of My Life this last Sunday. It’s about a thirty-nine year old housewife who finds herself penniless and her husband charged with fraud. During all this, she discovers that an old schoolmate (one who hasn’t seen her in twenty years) still has feelings for her, and might even be able to help her out of her predicament.

That’s a pretty bad summary. There’s actually a lot more depth in there than what I’m implying. I mean, some of the things covered (and covered well!) in the first episode were ageism, superficiality in people you thought were above that, real beauty, crazy fans, elitism among family members, and even the difficulties faced by aging celebrities. It’s a surprisingly smart show, even though it has occasional comic book moments. The characters are flawed, yet likable enough that I’m curious to see where the plot takes them.

Heck, the opening alone made me laugh out loud with its obvious Disney references.

Anyway, it’s a good show. I’m looking forward to watching more when I have time.

Talking of which, I’ve been focusing on writing when I can, making sure I use the WIBBOW* test. Because of this, I’ve managed to get a number of new words in. This pleases me. And I’m still using my boredom as an indicator of story pace. If I’m struggling to get through words, I do one of two things: I either make sure I have a point to what I’m doing, or, if it still feels like its dragging in spite of having a point, I throw a figurative penguin in the air (thank you Jim Henson) and see what happens. It seems to be working.

I hope to reach the mid-point of The Lord’s Tale (part two) by the end of the week. We’ll see! *crosses fingers*

*Would I Be Better Off Writing (not my idea, btw…it belongs to Scott William Carter)