Imperial Assault: Dark Forces

My best friend and separated-at-birth brother Tony Hobelman has been running Imperial Assault for a small group of guys.

Despite being soundly trounced in the first mission and narrowly escaping becoming cat food in the second, we are having a blast. So much so that I’m considering transforming the 90’s game Dark Forces into an Imperial Assault campaign Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors would make appearances as new heroes, and there would be new weapons and enemies aplenty.

Here’s a preview.

Jan-Ors

Full credit for Jan’s artwork goes to Kistehvost.

Uniquities

Our pottery class is in the books. While I still plan to make quite a bit more, I won’t have direct access to a wheel or kilns any more.

This year has been a grand experiment with slipcasting, and been learning through a lot of failures what NOT to do.

But, I came back from the Philippines to some of my final product!

Slipcast cups - Joshua David Bennett

From left to right – Clear Maroon, Weathered Bronze, Cappuccino Mist, Floating Blue, Bamboo exterior with Toffee interior.

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Not perfect, but functional

As I mentioned in the last post, with pottery you have lots of ways to screw up your piece.  With the two cups below, I discovered one more of those ways.

Finished Cups - Joshua David Bennett

#1 – Great White glaze with Sapphire rim.
#2 – Weathered Bronze with white interior.

These are cups that I’ve been slipcasting from a mold I made.  I’ve been using Laguna White Star slip to make the cups, and have loved how sturdy they are when they pop out of the mold.

Now, a lot of things “bisque fire” at the same temperature.  This is the first firing, the one before you start glazing it.  Then, your glaze firings can be all over the place.  Here is where I got confused.  My clay was labeled for glazing at something called “Cone 05” (with a Zero) – around 1800 degrees.  I had instead been firing them to the very confusingly named “Cone 5” (without a Zero) which can be up to 2200 degrees.  You can see it above, but that extra 300 degrees meant that my clay was actually starting to bubble and melt right along the rim.

I’ll take full responsibility for misreading my clay, but it’s still a dumb naming convention.  Seriously.

Anyway, I’m hoping the next batch comes out better.  There’s always a new way to fail with pottery, but I’m learning.

I’m also looking into creating a new set of cups that start not on the wheel, but in virtual space.  The following cups are just 3D models now, but thanks to a new store in Denver, they might soon be real.  More to come on that process.

3d cups - Joshua David Bennett

3D Cups

Stages

Centering the clay - Joshua David Bennett

Center. Get it on the wheel, get it moving fast and put a lot of pressure on it. You want to make sure that you get balance, because the next steps will fall apart if you wobble here.

Drilling the pot - Joshua David Bennett

Drill into the piece, creating the central structure.

Lifting - Joshua David Bennett

Lift. Make decisions about shape and function.

Greenware - Joshua David Bennett

First firing. Your first glimpse of how the piece reacts to heat. Potential for cracking or shrinking.

Glazing - Joshua David Bennett

Glaze. Put the finishing touches on it and send it back into the kiln for another firing.

 

This is our second year taking pottery classes.  The wonderful (and frustrating) thing about pottery is all the steps you take to get to a finished product.

Wonderful, because at each step you get to make decisions about a very tangible and real physical shape that you are making.

Frustrating because at any of those stages, something can and often will go wrong.  There are lots of “learning opportunities.”  Your piece could develop an air bubble as you center.  You could collapse the whole thing as you do your first lift.  It could deform as you take it off the wheel.  It could crack in the bisque firing.  Another student’s piece could explode in the kiln, destroying your masterpiece with shotgun clay fragments.  The glaze could come out all wrong, and you are back to square one.

As I go to class, I’ve been comparing pottery and writing.  Thankfully, writing is different in a lot of ways.  It’s far less final than clay, and you can always go back and fix something before it goes out to the next publisher.  But I’ve also been seeing some of these pottery stages in my writing.

  • Center.  I take an initial idea and put it under a lot of pressure, twisting it this way and that, seeing if it’s something I like.  I do this quickly, at speed, generating pages on pages of  possible characters and plot points.  If it works and can go on, I do so.  If not, I scrap it and clear the wheel for the next piece.  Well, actually, I put the raw materials into storage in case I ever want to try again.
  • Drill.  I write what I call a “meaty synopsis” of the whole piece.  Basically, this means going through the spine of the piece and creating a description of the story.  I write this in present tense, and can slam it out much faster than the fully fleshed version I used to write first.  For instance, here’s a quick piece that takes place in my science fantasy world:
    The captain is furious that only Fike survived the change.  He rounds on the merchant, berating her.  “You told me one man in ten.  We took on thirty six men, and I only have one to show for it.”  The merchant explains that it isn’t an exact process.  She ponders that maybe these men from the north with the reddened skin don’t respond as well.  The captain is angry because he could have sold the thirty six healthy prisoners.  The merchant assures him that one changed man will sell for more than thirty six normal.  She thinks that they will be the only ship with a coral man coming in this season.  The captain is angry still, but storms off.  The men begin to bring the ship into a giant cove.  In the setting sun, Fike can see the buildings carved into the side of the cliff that overlooks the cove.  It is closing in on night, and the men will be needing sleep.  The captain assigns the merchant to watch Fike.  
  • Lift.  I start to transform that synopsis into an actual story in past tense, making decisions about dialogue, tone, and description.  This takes longer, but faster than simply starting here, since I have something to work with and a clear vision for where I am going.
  • Fire.  I give this first version to some trusted alpha readers.  They put it through the fire, revealing the cracks in my story.  Thankfully, unlike wheel thrown pottery, I can still make changes.  I can take the piece back and fix these things as if the piece was still soft.
  • Glaze.  I take the feedback and use it to refine the story.  Then I start polishing, adding details or smoothing out rough edges.

Of course, after that comes the hard part.  Submit, and as Heinlein says, write something else.

 

Recombinant Creativity

I’ve talked before about how creativity at its heart is making something new out of something old.

One of my favorite things in music is cover songs.  I love hearing a new take on an old favorite.  A close second for me is mashups, or songs cut together to form something new.  Below you’ll find one of the best mashups around, and a good example of creativity that makes something new out of the old.

Now, this is no haphazard casserole.  This is melodies, lyrics and snippets of video all chosen to work together.  Does it work together?  I think it’s amazing.  Your mileage may vary.

Ratatouille

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember this scene.  Anton Ego, the acidic food critic, is sitting alone in a restaurant.  The kitchen doors open and out comes Alfredo Linguini on roller skates.  He sets a wonderfully plated masterpiece on the table.    Anton takes the first bite.  The camera zooms in on his eyes.  Flashback to Anton as a child, standing in the door, scraped up from playing.  His mother serves him a steaming bowl of Ratatouille.  All is well.  Back to the present and Anton drops his pen, review forgotten.  He digs in with abandon.
I'm not sure how he gets it to stack like that...

I’m not sure how he gets it to stack like that…

That scene has stuck in my mind for years, and last week, I decided to make Ratatouille as inspired by the movie.  I found our mandolin, a wedding present from Mike Ricci, and started shaving zucchini and yellow squash.  These thin slices go onto a bed of Piperade, a sort of red pepper infused tomato sauce.  I made mine decidedly less vegan by adding a bit of spicy Italian sausage.  Then, all this gets covered with some parchment paper and into the oven it goes!

Pre-Oven.

Pre-Oven.

When it was finished, we served it with some homemade focaccia that Rachel made.  The result?  Fantastic.  The texture of squash usually puts me off, but here the pieces are thin enough that they act only as flavor conduits.  The sauce is a perfect blend of tomato and pepper, with just the right amount of heat from the spicy sausage.

How does this tie into writing?  Well, Ratatouille so effectively used taste within the story that years later I remember this scene, and was even inspired to make my own version.  I’d love for my stories to have that kind of impact.  Ratatouille is a reminder not to neglect the sense of taste in our stories.  We can’t convey the visual impact of food quite like the movies can, but we can do them one better by getting inside the character’s mind and describing the sensations.
  • The pleasant burn of red wine as two friends sit and talk.
  • The saltiness of sweat on a battlefield.
  • The subtle bitterness of poison in a meal.
If you’ve got great examples of this played out in a book, let me know.  And come back Sunday for an example of “recombinant creativity.”

Feed the Beast

Creativity is not a well to be drained but a beast to be fed… I throw pots, cook, design strategy, garden, and write. You might think that those pursuits tap out my imagination, but it seems to be the opposite. As long as I keep feeding the beast new and stimulating things, it carries me to interesting places.

Shove some fuel in, grab the horns and hang on.

Shove some fuel in, grab the horns and hang on.

Ideas come from everywhere, but only God invents from scratch. For the rest of us, creation is starting with raw ingredients and transforming them into something new. Orson Scott Card describes it this way:

“All but a handful of my stories have come from combining two completely unrelated ideas that have been following their own tracks through my imagination.”

One of my first stories, An Accounting, started off as a simple description of a desolate wilderness. I was working through a class on showing not telling, and created a fun little vignette. It turned into something much more when I started thinking about the gifts we’ve been given but neglect. When I mashed them together, the story unfolded.

The trick for me is to let each new act of imagination funnel back into my writing. So in this space, I’ll chronicle new ideas and what my other creative pursuits are teaching me about being a better storyteller.

That’s probably enough pretentious introduction. Thursday I’ll give a real example of what I’m talking about, starting with the movie Ratatouille.