Make Believe Faces in Make Believe Places

When I was first designing my Salem Institute of Greater Education and Learning–under a different name, mind you–I had maps drawn and things labeled.  I had a location in the middle of Maine for the school, towns that the students could visit, and interesting things that could be done in and around the area–which, to be honest, was pretty much all wilderness.

During the process of transplanting my Salem school into another world, I started thinking, “Having it in Maine makes no sense.  But where can I put it so it’s close to Salem?”  Fortunately for me Goggle Maps exist, and I found the perfect place:  the middle of Cape Ann, a small island where the town of Gloucester is located.  I could come up with all sorts of interesting ways to keep the school hidden–after all, what’s the point of writing about a huge, world-encompassing organization if they can’t hide a large group of buildings in plain sight?–and, if I set my mind to it, I could make the school bigger.  Much bigger.

That’s where I got into Blender and began doing a little three dimensional modeling.  I came up with a whole new layout for the school, while keeping the central area–The Pentagram, the Coven Towers, and the Great Hall–all right where they belonged.  So I started thinking big–really big.  And a whole new school was created out of the old.

It's real enough--you just have to look hard and think of it that way.

It’s real enough–you just have to look hard and think of it that way.

Constructing a model of the school and the tunnels that run under the school took weeks.  In actuality, I probably tweaked this model for a few months–in fact, the labels you see in the picture above were put there last month, and this included labels I put on one of the cross-country race tracks–the Green Line–so when people say, “He lost it in the Northwest Passage”, I know where it’s at.

How big is the school  The Great Hall is 175 meters from the north end of the library to the main entrance at the south.  That’s 574 feet if you don’t do the whole metric thing.  That means The Pentagram is much larger–each of the walls between the towers are between 220 meters (722 feet) to 240 meters (787 feet).  And yet when you look at this structure, it fits nicely inside the walls.  From the north Polar Tower to the southern wall next the Gloucester Entrance it’s about 5.5 kilometers (or 3.4 miles), and a good part of the school is about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) across.  Like I said, it’s a big place with room to move.

Now that I had a place, I was almost ready to start writing the pre-novel, The Scouring.  I just needed to do a little modifying of some of the characters . . .

All of the characters were developed around a starting 2011 time frame, but a lot of them were teaching back in the year 2000, the time of The Scouring.  Not only there, but a few of the current teachers in the work in progress were students.  So you know what was needed?  Time lines.

Ask and you shall have to make your own.

Ask and you shall have to make your own.

As you can see, I know that Erywin, Jessica, Madeline, and Ramona were teaching in 2000, and that Isis, Deanna, and Wednesday–who work at the school in the current novel–were students then.  I also see that Coraline came in as the school doctor on 30 April, 2000–the day after the time of the Scouring.  This is where a time line comes in handy:  it lets you know what people did went, particularly if you’re working on multiple story arcs.  And you also see just about when all the main characters–and a few side characters–were students.  The nice thing here is that Aeon Timeline allows you to export part or all of a time line as an image, and then you can insert that image into a Scrivener file.  So if you don’t want to have two programs up at the same time, just bring in your time line and view it when you feel it’s needed.

Now, one last thing, and it’s about my characters.  I’m an old role playing gamer and GM, or Game Master.  I love making characters, and I like to make them as real as I can.  When I started putting the characters for these stories together, I not only did a little bit of history on each, but I assigned a “face” to them, something that, when I’m first starting out with the character development, I get an idea of how they looked.  Sometimes–like I did for Her Demonic Majesty–the faces are of people whose pictures I just find.  And then there are times, like with the character in The Foundation Chronicles, that they sort of become celebrities in their own right.

Here are the people I picked for each of my characters for The Scouring, and I’ll show you were I altered them.


Jessica Kishna, Mistress of Transformation.  She came from a picture I found of an African-American runway model, with a big helping of the wonderful Angela Basset.

Ramona Chai, Self Defense and Weapons.  Ziyi Zhang.

Matthias Ellison, Music and Arts Director.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Madeline Palmescoff, History.  Mary-Louise Parker.

Erywin Sladen, Formulistic Magic.  Joanna Lumley.


Isis Mossman.  Chloë Sevigny, but with changes.  Since it was stated in The Scouring that her mother was Egyptian, that meant altering her features and complexion slightly.

Deanna Arrakis.  Deanna was difficult because she’s Iraqi, and it took some time to find good pictures of women from Iraq.  Eventually I settled on a combination so that she has a slightly large nose, a strong chin, large brown eyes, black hair, and a slightly tanned complexion.

Wednesday Douglas.  Here I went totally meta, because I literally came up with the actress first.  That actress is . . . Christina Ricci.  And who is Christina known for playing?

"Why am I dressed like someone's going to die?"  "Wait."

“Why am I dressed like someone’s going to die?”  “Wait.”

There you have it:  Wednesday Douglas, who will have a daughter named Tuesday and a granddaughter named Friday.  And who is one of the best little witches to come out of Salem in a long time.  She doesn’t have pigtails, though.  She hates them.  Now you know why.

And lastly, Supporting Characters:

Helena Lovecraft.  She’s a Kiwi, so I wanted a Kiwi as her “face”, which means I picked Lucy Lawless.  she’s gone through a lot of changes, however:  I kept the body and her intense look, made her half-Māori, darkened her hair and complexion, and gave her “black shark’s eyes”.  All and all, I have always loved Helana, and I have her back story with Erywin, her partner and companion, thought out and down pat.  One day Erywin will even tell Kerry about how she met her “pretty girl”.

Coraline Gallagher, the new School “Nurse”.  Coraline is modeled after Christina Hendricks, thought the young character that Wednesday meets is more like Yo-Saf-Bridge from Firefly (with red hair, naturally) and not Joan Holloway from Mad Men, the person Annie and Kerry meet.  This is also why when “Red” meets Coraline–as she likes to call him–for the first time he doesn’t know how to describe her except as “curvy”, which is his way of being polite.  Coraline is a huge romantic and a hell of a fighter–I still have to publish that except of her and Madam Chai going at it–and Kerry doesn’t know it yet, but he and Nurse Coraline share a birthday.  There is a reason for that . . .

Now that we have all that out of the way, tomorrow I can get into outlining a small novel.

The big one comes after that.

Animating My Days

Last night was a time to reflect, and think about things to come.  Stories, pictures–animations?  See, it’s like this . . .

First, someone sent me a tutorial on how to create things in DAZ 3D and import them to Blender.  Of course I had to go look, because I wanted to see what it was all about.  It’s easy to see why you’d do this:  you create your model in DAZ, then import it over to Blender to place inside your world.  This is something that interests me, because building a book cover is all about getting the character into a world.

In doing this, I found another tutorial on Blender, so I downloaded it.  I haven’t open it yet, but I will, very soon, and play with it alongside the tutorial I already have for Blender.  Because when it comes to software, you  can never have enough tutorials, nor enough examples of how to do something the right way.

Then, off in another area of the Internets, I ran into a friend.  Said friend is someone I know from Second Life, and they are setting up their own grid away from the Trolls of Linden Labs.  They know about the stuff I do–which is to stay, they know I write–but they’re very interested to hear about my adventures in 3Ding.  I mentioned that it might be possible to make avatars and clothing for their new grid, and then sort of off-handedly said, “Oh, and I might be able to create walk animations, because you need it.”

So my mind began working that last out.  I know DAZ and Blender can do animations, which led me to wondering if they could do the same for a Second Life-life virtual world.  So off to my favorite thing:  research!  Well, almost my favorite thing, but you know what I mean.  And behold . . . I find things.  I find information about how you have to download these avatar skins from the Second Life wiki, and you can import them into DAZ and make them your slave, then you save off the object and import the animation up to SL . . .

Oh, yes.  I was happy.  So happy that I pulled up another program I’ve had for years and started playing with that–

This is the thing one runs into when they have a bit of a creative streak:  they can find themselves off and running in many different directions before they get settled down into one particular thing.  Yesterday I said I was going to do one thing, but I ended up doing all the stuff I’m talking about now.  I know there is the possibility I will when I get home tonight, but I also want to do these other things, and damn it, there just aren’t enough hours in a day to find the time, you know?

I’ve had a bit of a holiday from writing since editing those stories a week or so back.  One needs to change gears now and then to keep from getting stale.  When you aren’t ready to write, then work on something that caters to your creativity, and these modeling programs are doing exactly that.  When I’m ready, I’ll work on my writing, and put this in the background–

But never out of mind.



Ah, the weekend.  That transitional period where you go from one miserable week to another, usually stressed out from catching up on all the stuff you didn’t get to do during the week.  Mine are like that from time to time, and then there are moments when it’s all about relaxing and playing with something new.

First off, there was this writing thing I do, and what I was going to do next.  I thought and thought and thought–okay, maybe I only thought a little, but drama, people–we gotta have it.  I’ve decided that my story Replacements, which I wrote for consumption on another site, is a good little project to edit, then format, for self-publishing.  The last thing I had published was back in May, and I should get something else out and up before the end of the year.

Since Replacements isn’t a novel in search of a home, or something that’s a continuation of one of a couple of series that are ongoing, it’s made a good candidate for finding a home at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, as well a some points in-between.  It’s also twelve thousand words, so there’s room to expand the story, maybe go into a little more detail on some areas–like how the new Olivia fell into her role as mistress–and not blow this up into another novel.

It seems to be the best way to go:  editing, with a little rewriting, as well as getting something new out in the end.  All for the low price of $2.99!

But wait!  There’s more!

I’ve been playing with some 3D modeling programs the last week.  Blender has been one, Hexagon has been the other.  Mostly I’ve been playing with things in Hexagon, which is an easy program for one to learn the basics, then trying to create the same things in Blender, which is far more powerful a program, but–as everyone tells me–has a extensive learning curve.

One of the things I’ve played with is modeling space ships–in particular, one I ran for a game called Diaspora.  The ship my players “owned” was named The Divine Comedy, and the idea was to make the ship look as “realistic” as possible.  I knew what I wanted it to look like, but all I had, up until now, were sketches and a few notes.

But now, I have this:

Divine Comedy 03

What do we have here?  Up front you have the main docking port.  The big round thing is a centrifuge, and inside are modules that change position depending on which way “Down” is for any given moment–meaning, if the drive is burning, down is towards the back towards the engine, and if they are coasting, down is towards the short, outer wall of the centrifuge casing.  On top you have the comm tower.  There are two cargo doors between the centrifuge and the radiators–those wings on either side of the ship, which are used to get rid of heat.  On the girders you have the fuel tanks, then a large and thin shadow shield to keep pesky radiation away from the crew.  Then you have the reactor, and the engine nozzle.  Not how we often think of space ships in science fiction, but this is a lot closer to reality than anything you will see on television, or in the movies.

After that, I wanted to try my hand at something else from another story idea.  It’s sort of a alternate history/future history that could end up being very Rocketpunkish (you can look that up here), and one that’s been bouncing about for a few months.  One of the key moments in the story is involves the construction of a very large space station which acts as a transfer station to the Moon and points beyond, and what my characters do to make this happen.

What does this station–which I have imaginatively named Station One for now–look like once it’s built?  Like this:

Station One 01

It’s a huge assembly.  From one docking center to the other, it’s 210 meters long, or 688 feet if you’re not into the whole metric thing (even though you should be), and from one set of solar panels to the other it’s 170 meters, or 558 feet high.  This thing would need a couple of football stadiums to sit inside, and even then it’d pop out of whatever sort of roof you have over those joints.

At the one end are a couple of very rough models of ships that I’d use in the story.  At the center, before the solar panel towers, are four living modules, each one 38 meters high by 16 meters in diameter, set upon a centrifuge producing .3g gravity.  About the only thing missing are circular tunnels that allow people to walk from one module to the other without needing to climb up to the center, then head down to another module.

To give you a sense of scale, there is something below the station that looks like a fat goose flying in formation.  That’s Skylab, the one and only.  As big as it was, it’s miniscule compared to what I’m thinking of creating in my story.  Actually, one of the ideas in my story is that Skylab is saved and used as a work shack for the people putting Station One together–at least until they can get large living modules in place.

One of the things that’s nice about doing this sort of thing is being able to take a vision you have for something that could end up in a story, and give it a sort of physical presence.  Yes, it’s still fantasy, but now it’s a fantasy that one day may just show up as an illustration inside a story.

Just give me time, ’cause neither of us knows where this is going.

That’s always fun.