Friday, January 28, 2011

Do Your Research

This evening, in an effort to get caught up on my 5th grader's science project that is coming due, we spent an hour or so investigating the effect of viscosity on boiling point of a selection of liquids. My son had chosen  four different household substances, all he perceived as having varying levels of viscosity, to boil and measure the temperature at which they did so. One of these chosen substances was vegetable oil.

As he measured the oil to pour it into the saucepan and heat, I told him to hold on a second. In all my years cooking, I have never once seen vegetable oil boil. It has smoked. But bubble to a steady boil? Never. So I quickly did a little snooping around on the internet, and soon informed my son he would not be using vegetable oil as one of his subjects.

What does all this have to do with fantasy? Or writing? I promise, I'm getting there.

I learned in my quick Google search that it could potentially take raising the oil to three hundred degrees (Celsius, mind you) to get it to boil, and that just ain't gonna happen here in my kitchen. Even if I could make that happen on my stove, I wouldn't want my 5th grader within range.

Which brings me to the fantasy tie in. You hear all kinds of books that employ a pseudo-medieval, western European structure at their core, and in those epic sieges of castles, you hear talk of intruders being doused in boiling oil poured through murder holes. Now, the murder holes are something you can go to any number of castles that are still standing and observe. But what about the boiling oil? Would medieval technology really offer the means to boil oil, rather than just heat it to smoking and potential combustion? I don't know the answer to this, but I could know. How? A little thing called research.

Yes, fantasy is one of those places you have a lot of wiggle room to make stuff up, since if you can't do something in real life (like boil oil over an ordinary fire, maybe?) there's always magic to bridge the gap. But even fantasy writing is so much better when the mundane facts are researched and based in plausible reality. Sure, you can throw us into your fantastic world, where people wear armor that makes them able to jump many times farther and run exponentially faster than they otherwise would, or dragons spew way greater a volume of  their substance of decimation than would logically fit inside a physical organ of some sort, and you can chalk that up to magic. But when ordinary people are trying to accomplish every day stuff, a little research goes a long way in building depth and richness.

I see the researched stuff as the steak of the meal, and the magically enhanced, fantastical stuff as the crumbly gruyere topping. You wouldn't eat a whole plate of the topping.  A big chunk of steak, more likely. The cheesy goodness, in moderation, just makes it all the better.

So whether you're deciding if your soldiers can carry armed crossbows on their backs, or you're planning a massive, cataclysmic war in your world, do yourself a favor. Undergird it with some research.

Otherwise, you might just find yourself standing at the electric range rescuing a ten year old from a pot of oily inferno. Figuratively.


By the way, drop back in at the beginning of next week...a new installment of The Windrider will be up either late Monday or early Tuesday.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Multiple Exploits

So, some of you may be wondering, "Hey, what has you so busy you can't get us our installment of the Windrider serial, you slacker?" And I do apologize that there's been such a gap since last time. Consider this my solemn promise I will have the next episode up and for consumption on January 15th.

The thumbnail image above is part of the "other" stuff I've been focusing on. Those of you who traverse the same web-roads I do may already know that Port Yonder Press is going to be releasing a book later this year called The Book of Silvari: An Elven Anthology (sometime during the summer/fall of 2011.) I have been blessed with the honor of providing illustrations for at least one of the stories in this work, particularly, Ruth Mills' excellent fantasy yarn "The Renewal." It has been a great joy working with Ruth to convey a couple of the most cinematic moments in her work...and hey, I can't complain abut having an illustration credit in the book.

Doing the images for this particular story has tickled the part of me that loves a great epic movie, and I'm very fortunate the author and I talk almost precisely the same language when it comes to inspiration from the worlds of film and fantasy as we discuss what she wants for her artwork. The opportunity to tap back into the old draftsperson toolbox, with a reason besides my own self-gratification, has brought a smile to face with every stroke of the pencil. (Okay, between the times I'm cursing myself for not being able to get some devilish nuance right. As I said on my professional facebook page the other day, the devil is in the details, but you'll find the artistry there as well.)

So, despite the fact that my not-so-short story didn't make the anthology, I am equally as pleased that my artwork will as I might have been if my writing had hit that pages. It served as a reminder to me that God is sovereign, and he wants his best for us, even if we have a hard time getting our finite heads around what that is.

So, in-between drawings, I again promise the exploits of Vinyanel and his um...friends (?) will be back to fill this spot soon. If you want to drive that endeavor and help motivate me to keep the tale spinning, invite a friend to the site. I'd love to have the fan base grow over the coming months, and your word of mouth is a huge part of that.

Blessings upon you in this new year!