Joseph Devon Needs Your Fan Art

We’re starting a new contest today and it’s a larger one than the usual polls and quizzes. Basically I’m sick of not having any visuals to go along with my story so I’m bribing people to be my friends and make me some.

There are tons of really astounding communities all over the web putting up all manners of art and I wants me some.

The rules are outlined in more detail over here but really it’s a pretty basic concept.

Here’s how it goes.

Go read Probability Angels. Trust me you’ll like it.

Then paint, draw or computgraphicillytransmorgriphy a piece of art based on it and send it to me. There are some specific details about how to send me stuff, but really that’s it. And I don’t care what it is that you create, I want it. Photo mash-up? Ink sketches? Lego sculptures? Gimme gimme gimme. If my little team of judges picks your work you win your choice between a Wacom Tablet, Photoshop Lightroom combined with some color checking thing and a Spyder3 Elite, or Adobe Illustrator.  Those are some pretty crazy prizes…or so I’m told. I use Word. And please note I said “or.” You don’t get all of that, you get to pick one of those three packages. It’s explained a little better over at the contest page.

The contest will run until the end of April, that way newcomers get a chance to catch up with the whole Matthew and Epp thing.

So there you have it.

Go forth and create.

Details are here.

Photo Gallery

I was going through my pictures last week and decided it was time to put up another crop of photos.

I should also mention that I’ve got an account over at DeviantArt.com which you can get to here:

My Page over at DeviantArt.com

They’ve got a great community and it’s fun to share so after some deliberation I decided to start putting my photos up in my gallery there. They were just sitting on my external hard drive doing nothing, which was silly.

But here’s a crop of pics from the last few months. You should be able to click on all of them to get a larger version.

I was on a nature walk with my family and my niece pointed out this log…

…as well as this leaf:

She’s got a really good eye for a five year old, if I do say so myself.

I was walking home one night, I forget why I had my camera on me, but it started pouring and I had to duck into a bar to avoid possibly destroying said camera. I started messing around trying to get shots of the rain. It wasn’t working too well as it was very dark so either the flash was needed which drowned out the background and lit up the immediate foreground or I could try with no flash but that wasn’t working too well either. Then I took a few shots of the bodega across the street (the one that sells caviar) hoping it was enough of a light source. Even then, though, I didn’t think I had much until I started messing about with Photoshop. I managed to pull this shot out of seemingly nothing. I think it captures the weather as well as the odd mix of colors that your average bodega displays. Add to that the grainy texture of the high-speed needed to photograph in that low light and it wound up with the feel of a painting.

Now from rain to fire. This is…well this is a fire. That should have been obvious. More precisely these are the red hot embers at the bottom of a fire in a fireplace.

One of my niece’s ( a different niece) crocs. This is obviously at the beach and it was right around sunset which everyone always says is a great time to take pictures. I have to agree with them. You can shoot anything in this light and it just turns out fantastic.

This is the view from yet another family member’s window. There’s a very very old YMCA across the way from him. I actually want to play around with this one more when I get some more Photoshop experience under my belt. I get the feeling there’s a lot more color to be pulled out of it.

The sunset on the building in the background was the main reason I shot this, and then while trying to crop it I discovered that every single different crop changed the picture entirely. It was hard to pick one but I wanted to get in as close as possible to the building.

I think this last one is my favorite. Nothing too crazy, just some branches from a bush in Central Park after our most recent blizzard, but for some reason it just pops well.

How I Come Up With Ideas

One of the questions I’m asked most often, and from what I gather a lot of authors are, is: “Where do you come up with your ideas?”

This is a fair, yet hellish, question.

I don’t really come up with ideas so much as I piece together old ideas like a jigsaw puzzle and present them as new. If that makes sense.

I’ve been sick all week and so I thought I would take this post and piece together where one idea came from in order to illustrate the process. I thought this would be an easy post and I could get back to sneezing and drinking orange juice. I was wrong. This has turned out very weird and one of the weirdest aspects is that I now have to demonstrate where the idea to demonstrate where the ideas come from came from.

Follow? (ha!)

On my desk are a bunch of legal pads and on those legal pads are line after line, in permanent sharpie for some reason, of ideas.

This is where I jot down thoughts for blog posts. The stuff on the legal pads range from utterly useless (stuff I jot down thinking it makes sense when I’m walking back from the bathroom at two in the morning) to completely formed (I have to pick some NCAA basketball teams for a mini-bracket soon and I’m sure I’ll dig some jokes out of that process, how little I know about sports and the various team nicknames).

Also I quite obviously spilled something on the legal pad. No idea what that is.

Last night the legal pad was of no use. Most of my best ideas are already used and crossed out. All that’s left is half-baked crap. I can’t exactly mine gold out of the phrase: “I hate chap stick.” It’s worth noting, though, that it was very important for me to jot down, “I hate chap stick,” when it popped into my head. I’ll never use it, but the brain can be trained to either close off outlets or open them up, and every idea you have that you don’t jot down because you deem it stupid equals twenty more ideas that never bother popping up at all for fear of rejection.

So I had nothing. At which point I started wondering where I was going to come up with an idea.

This is where things get very strange. You, I hope, can see that the end idea for this blog post was sitting right there. I was sitting there wondering where I come up with ideas. But that wasn’t an idea yet, it was a question. I didn’t write it down, I didn’t pursue it, I just asked it and then went back to panicking and sneezing.

To brainstorm, a lot of times, I’ll go over to google images and punch in stuff and look at pretty or weird pictures and hope for something to jump out at me. There was nothing there.

It was then, and only then, that I decided that maybe a post about where I had come up with the idea for some past post or story might be a good idea. I thought about it and, this is usually a good sign, I got scared and decided it wasn’t a good idea. I always get a little adrenaline rush whenever I get an idea that tells me not to use that idea. Before every story there’s always a little voice that says, “You can’t write that. Can you?”

If you’re an author, learn to listen to that little voice, it’s very perceptive. Learn to listen to it and then do the exact opposite of what it says because while it’s very perceptive it’s also very stupid.

So I’ve got a concept, not really even an idea yet, and a lot of doubts about whether I’ll be able to write anything on it because I didn’t know which past story of mine to use in order to walk through the process of coming up with an idea. Mainly because by the time I get to a finished product the process it took to get there is gone. It’s very hard to remember what a story felt like inside before it came out. It’s like tracking a fish by its footprints.

And then I realized that what I was doing right then was what I needed to focus on because what I was going through right then was what it felt like to try and come up with, and then flesh out, an idea. Only the idea I was trying to flesh out was an idea about what it was like trying to flesh out that very idea.

Which is completely mad.

And what I opted to write.

And there  it is.

Nothing into question into concept into rearranging everything to wind up with the idea for this post being the idea I would focus on.

Right.

That was probably about as noneducational as an attempt at demonstrating an idea’s origins could possibly have been.

Never ask an author where he gets his ideas.

Never.

Especially not one with a fever.

Part Three Is Done

There are, as best I can guess, five parts to this book. And now I am on part four. Granted, there’s basically no real way to tell how long a book is going to be.

People are always asking, “When you’re writing a book, how do you know when you’ve reached the end?”

And I always respond, “Easy. Everyone is either dead or married.”

Were I to actually ponder this question I’d have to say that I know my ending, and so I know when I get to it. I might not know exactly how it will play out, and my notion of how my story will end might change very dramatically in the months, and sometimes years, that come after: “Once upon a time.” But I always know my ending and, thus, I know when I’ve gotten there.

The ends of the various parts, on the other hand, are complete BS and I basically slap them in willy-nilly when I feel I’ve reached a nice dramatic point and enough stuff has happened since I last ended a part.

That’s really not much of an exaggeration. Then again, how I write a book or develop characters or string dialogue is more or less willy-nilly along with some slapping so I probably shouldn’t knock it.

A more artful way of saying this would be that the patterns of plot, known as parts, that emerge from a book are not visible while writing said book and are only truly visible in hindsight, as all patterns are.

The point, though, is that stuff has been happening and things are moving along and I’ve awarded myself another section break.

Two more left.

I shall now get back to killing and marrying everyone off.

5 Technological Advances We Should Have By Now

A few weeks ago I rang in 2010 along with everyone else on this planet, except the Mayans I guess, and at a few points over the last few days I have stopped to marvel at everything technology has brought me. I can take eight hundred pictures and never have to change a roll of film, I can keep in touch with friends on the other side of the world as if they were in the next room and I don’t even bat an eye when I download books from a cloud to read on my phone, a string of words I’d have been hard pressed to pull drunk out of a hat in 1990. You could even have gotten the hat drunk and the odds stay slim that I’d have thought to put those nouns in a row.

And yet…and yet somehow there are some things lacking. Growing up there were certain benchmarks of technology that seemed like they were only a few years away but have yet to surface even decades later.

We need to get cracking on some of these.

1. Food in Pill Form

We’ll start with this one as it’s always been at the top of my list.

There are some days where you just don’t feel like dealing with eating food, right? How nice would it be on those nights when you’re really on a roll at your desk and don’t want to have to sit and think about what to eat and then perform the laborious task of chewing to simply pop a pill and enjoy the benefits of a meal? So easy. Everything you need dietary-wise in pill-form.

Now, I know that Centrum manages to pack 48 billion jimmyjams into their vitamins, but for some reason they’ve never taken this “meal replacement” approach.  Frankly, Centrum isn’t exactly out in front of the vitamin world as far as I’m concerned. This is their product’s latest advance:

I’m not sure what’s been going on over at the Centrum think-tank since they were founded in 1880, but you’d think at some point in the last one hundred and forty years someone would have come up with: “Maybe not making our customers swallow horse suppositories could be good for business.”

Unfortunately Centrum is the only vitamin I know, so my hopes rest with them. And, keep in mind, that food in pill form shouldn’t just let you eat dinner with one bite and move on with your day. It should give you some taste sensations too so that you feel like you’ve eaten a full meal.

I mean, come on, this guy was doing it back in the seventies, and he’s a freaking mad man:

2. Personal Jet-Packs

“Where’s My jet pack?” This isn’t even a question anymore so much as a cultural touchstone. Which is to say that I’m not alone here.  Check out this poster, for example.

“Where’s my Jet pack?” is a phrase I’ve been using for a long time now, easily since that other magical date, 2000, passed by and I still didn’t have one. I mean let’s get moving with some jet pack technology, right?

But let’s examine this. Really the jet-pack isn’t the problem. We’ve got tons of crap that can burn explosively enough to shoot pressure out of a cylinder and provide thrust. The real problem is directing that thrust. I mean, you shoot a jet-pack off and have it aimed perfectly true straight up and you’re good to go. But if just 1% of your thrust starts pushing you in another direction, well that can begin to topple you into a spin that anyone who has ever set off a bottle rocket knows all about:

So really the problem is that we need more jet stabilization technology.

Is this important?

Of course it is. Saying things like this makes you seem smart and will give you a stance of intellectual superiority unheard of at your next cocktail party. Simply steer the conversation towards jet-packs, wait until everyone starts talking about the lack of jet-packs, then unveil your jet stabilization theory and just wait for the ladies to start making out with you.

Unless someone at the party counters by mentioning “thrust to payload ratio.” If that happens, kick them square in the nuts and run like hell. You’ve been outgunned.

3. Hair On/Hair Off

I detest getting my hair cut. I hate buying shampoo, too, although we already went into that last week. Shaving I kind of like sometimes, but I don’t have to do it every day. If I did it would drive me insane. And it isn’t even the constant need for grooming that really gets to me, it’s the fact that sometimes I get a haircut and it looks good, or sometimes I shave at the right time of day and that evening it looks scruffily neat. In other words sometimes, through sheer luck, I get the hair follicles on my body to act exactly the way I want them to but I know that twelve hours later all of that is going to be lost forever because my hair won’t stop growing.

So where’s my built in, genetically coded switch that allows me to halt hair growth whenever I want to? Why am I at the whim of my haircutter lady and her attempts to repeat the same exact scissor strokes in the same exact pattern once a month to keep my hair from ever changing? What sort of tribalistic ritual is that? What am I, a skunk-ape?

How much easier would it be to have a switch that just shuts off my hair production and lets me never have to worry about hair cuts again? I mean I watch a lot of movies, there’s precedent for this…somewhere..sort of…maybe…right?

Whatever. Screw you. Thrust to payload ratio.

4. Fully Immersive “Games”

When I was sixteen I went to the South Street Seaport and played this game where you put on a helmet and entered a digital world. The screen completely surrounded you, or that’s what your eyes were led to believe, and if you turned your head you would be able to look around your virtual surroundings. A hand-held device let you run and gun and you could pay a few bucks and play digital manhunt with your friends, murdering them over and over again…or being murdered by them over and over again depending on how good you were at video games.

It was awesome.

And absolutely nothing remotely like that exists today.

Where did it go? Why isn’t it like a jillion times better? I know there are price points and market demand and all that to worry about, but this was in nineteen ninety six! Jesus Christ, the various components have to have been improved for other reasons by now to the point that slapping them together today would be the equivalent of assembling a toaster, i.e. something I in no way can do myself but fully believe to be easy for someone who is smart.

I mean, good lord, the amount of work my fingers have to do while playing video games is obscene. Why are my hands in charge of looking around, and pushing the gas pedal, and loading my gun, and shooting hookers and outrunning the police?

A truly realistic gaming community would have started moving towards a truer division of labor for my body parts by now. And I don’t want to hear any of your Wii-Fit crap. Turning my head in real life should be how I turn my head in a game, end of story.

Sadly, I’m not looking to the video game world to figure this one out. My money is on porn. There are certain similarities between the two as both try to provide a simulation of sorts and, since porn runs the world anyway, I’d have to guess that they’ll be first to start putting together a fully immersive experience.

But once they’re done I want to use it to murder my friends over and over again…okay?

And then maybe watch some porn.

5. Something with dinosaurs

Yeah, a list of five things seemed more complete than a list of four things so I added this one.

Maybe we could race them…like a dinosaur race? We’d set it up at the track and instead of ponies a bunch of crazy jockeys would race t-rexes in a circle and I’d gamble on them and drink beer.

Or they could make tacos.

I don’t care. Just make it happen.

Make a Font Out of Your Handwriting

This falls under the category of utterly random stuff online that I stayed up way too late playing with and, thus, thought was worth sharing.

Over at YourFonts.com you can download a template, fill it out, scan it and then for a few bucks download a font based on your handwriting.

I don’t think I need to sell this much more than that. You either think that’s crazy cool or you don’t.

I did and then wound up watching my illegible chicken scratch play out on Word documents for a good hour or so after I should have been in bed.

So this is what my notes look like…and this is why I don’t take notes by hand:

Okay so those aren’t notes on anything real but I can’t begin to tell you how weird it is to see words in your own handwriting appear on your computer when you type.

So cool.

Why Shampoo Drives Me Insane

A weird facet of my personality is that, because I near-compulsively read everything put in front of me, I wind up pondering things that I really have no urge to ponder: bus schedules, cornerstone inscriptions, warning labels on humidifiers, everything.

This morning while at the drug store the negative side of this trait became very apparent while I locked up trying to remember what freaking shampoo I use.

Now, I’m not the sort of person one would describe as a “clothes horse,” or “high-maintenance.” I prefer to wake up, shower, put on whatever clothes are closest to me and start my day. The fewer decisions involved there the better. I went through most of college with my wardrobe narrowed down to two pairs of pants which came to be known amongst my friends as my winter pants and my summer pants.

It was an ideal situation.

As I mentioned, a far less ideal situation occurred this morning while I was trying to restock my shampoo. Standing in the aisle at Duane Reade I completely froze when I started scanning over my selection.

Let’s take a look at some of Pantene’s products, shall we?

This one is “Smooth.” It gives you smooth hair.

Okay. I actually get that one seeing as how “smooth” is a word I might use to describe hair. Oh, if I had only grabbed this one and moved on.

This one is for full and thick hair. We’re getting into vaguely pornographic terminology here but I can still sort of understand what this one does. The only problem is I don’t quite get if this is a result that I want. Is my hair thick? Is my hair thin? If my hair is thick already and I use this stuff will I wake up in a week with giant knotted cords hanging off of my head?

This one provides breakage defense, because my hair is now the offensive line of the Indianapolis Colts.

Here we go:

Extra straight. Again, I sort of get this one. Straight is a word I would use to describe hair. Except the copy on the back tells me that this is “for straight hair that looks defined and disciplined.”

How the fuck do I know if my hair looks disciplined? Should I ask my hair to master a martial art or run an Iron Man to see how much discipline it has? Or is there a separate shampoo for hair self-discipline and this is for all outside forms of discipline? It’s winter. I wear a hat a lot. Is that like discipline for my hair?

Now you’re just kidding me, right? Ice Shine? Am I an X-man?

What on earth can these things actually be doing to my hair? How can they make it thicker? Once it pops out of my head isn’t that pretty much as thick as it gets? How can they make it ice-shinier? What does that even mean? The description on the back says I should use this one as, “a foundation to an ice-shining look.”

Because that clears everything up.

And what happens if I start mixing and matching these in my bathroom, late at night, lightning erupting outside while I create a vat of super-shampoo? I mean, fuck, if I can get my hair to be disciplined and strong with a super straight defense of ice against breakage…well that would be some motherfucking hair, now wouldn’t it? I could dress that hair up in a cape and go fight crime after hours.

Nobody else on earth bothers to read these labels, right?

Then I get to the front of the store and they only sell one flavor of Combos in only one sized bag.

Something is amiss here.

Motivational Advice from Jerry Seinfeld

With a new year here, and all those resolution thingies floating around and a book that’s more than halfway done that I reeeeeeeaaaalllly want to get finished up and into your hands, I decided to pull out some big guns in the motivation department.

Today I hung up my brand new 2010 Hubble Telescope calendar. Twelve months, each with a picture of the Hubble Telescope to look at…there are three of just the lens.

Okay, so that’s a joke. The calendar is, obviously, composed of twelve pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope of blobs in space but I’ve been sitting on that joke for weeks now just praying that what sort of wall calendars people are buying for the new year would come up in conversation so I could trot it out. It never happened, I forced it in there, it’s over, let’s move on.

I hung up my wall calender this morning and, after I had met my word count, I put a big, fat, red X through today:

Tomorrow, after I’ve met my word count for the day, I will put a big fat red X through the 5th. Then on Wednesday I’ll hit my word count and earn my X for that day, then Thursday, and, at that point, I will have a chain of glorious red X’s that, for weird reasons, is incredibly difficult to break.

This idea is credited to Jerry Seinfeld and is described here.

I have used this on a number of occasions in my life and I have found that pretty string of red X’s to be one of the most effective methods of motivation on the planet. It is also one of the most stupid. The notion that my brain can get tricked so easily by the desire to continue producing a simple pattern on my Hubble telescope calendar never fails to make me chuckle.

But it works. The inner need to keep the chain going keeps the words flowing and that gets books finished. And putting my goals right up in my face where I can’t avoid seeing them doesn’t hurt either. And making it public really drives the nails in.

So there we go.

I want this book done, you want to read it, everybody wins.

We’ll revisit this once I get a pretty chain going.