Archive for April, 2010


Sky dock

The wind ruffled Sean’s hair as he bent over the deck.  The rough stone in his hands ground against the deck, raising a lather.  The blood slowly lifted from the wood, turning the water pink.  Sean tried to distract himself with the scenery floating by 500 feet below.  There was nothing wrong with the blood itself, fellow crewmen had been shot and stabbed by falling splinters at every battle from Manassas to Atlanta.  But there had always been a pressing duty, something to pull his attention, or at the very least a person of a body where the blood had clearly come from.  This blood, without any clear source, made him think of the textile mill he had worked in after his father died, of the day when he’d been told to remove a woman’s arm from where it was trapped in the workings.  He had been the only one small enough to get into the machine where it had gotten caught.  It had taken more than an hour to wash the sticky blood from all the gears.  Finally, he sluiced away the soapy pink water and the thoughts of his childhood.

When the deck was clean, Sean walked to where Edmond was standing by the rail.  Edmond was inspecting the four cannon mounts spaced along the deck.  The advanced mounts provided powered elevation and windage adjustment for two guns per side, but all presently stood empty.  The union had taken all four guns before they set the bomb in the engine room.  The spaces where the guns used to be (before they were “appropriated”) had been helpful for climbing aboard the night before, but now there were hundreds of feet between the deck and the leafy green world below; the openings were a terror even for those with little fear of heights. Edmond had looped some rope across the opening and was making it fast against the rail.

“Head down below and see what we can eat for lunch if you please?”  Edmond asked as he finished the makeshift rope rail for the first gun port.

Sean didn’t need to be asked twice: “Aye aye sir!”  He grinned as he entered the spacious kitchen.  Ten feet long, and fourteen feet wide, it had a large range and oven, a table for 14, and even an ice box.  The union might have taken the guns, but they had left the state of the art kitchen fully stocked.  Mold had ruined some of the carrots and onions, but he was able to find apples, potatoes, and salt beef.  Sean recalled how his mother had him prepare their own potatoes when they lived on the farm in Ireland as he washed and chopped them.

Edmond descended the stairs as the potatoes came out of the oven.  Sean looked apologetic as he explained that the only meat aboard was salt beef, but Edmond simply smiled and sat down.  The two men joined hands in prayer as the food steamed on the table.  Sean said grace while Edmond sat silently. Quakers were technically protestants, but Sean had never been a perfect Catholic himself, so he didn’t mind.

The hot potato wedges and sweet apple ones disapeared in a moment, so it was over the salt beef that they discussed the state of the ship.  It was about five hours till dusk, and Edmond was hoping to finish replacing the planks and handrails with bullets buried in them before dark.

When their tin plates had been scraped clean, Sean and Edmond gathered tools and lumber from the forehold and set to shaping pieces to fit.  It was when all the pieces had been trimmed and routered and the two were sanding them smooth that Sean spoke.

“Well, a few more days of work, and she’ll look almost good!  No more contraband in the hold, no more discomforting stains on the deck, and in a minute: fixed rails.”

Edmond laughed uncomfortably.  “Better to put ourselves to work than lay about the whole way back.  But fixing her up doesn’t make her ours.  When we land we’ll have to figure out what to do about the legal problem.”

“We could just-”

“Sean, I’m not going to sell the ship without papers proving that we own it.  The captain may still be alive!”

“We didn’t steal it from him. It was supposed to be destroyed.”

“And I imagine that is what will happen wen we turn it in.”

“Sir- how can we turn this beautiful ship over to be destroyed?  The previous owner may have been a criminal, but we aren’t!”  Sean made note of the beauty of the craft, but left out the related fact that it would sell for more than the two of them had made during the course of the war.

Edmond looked from Sean to the deck at his feet, and then to the gap in the rail.  He ran his good hand over the replacement piece.  The other turned slowly round and round, almost absent mindedly.   “Nail this in place, we’re done here.”

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Reflection

I’m going to start this with what I liked about this class.  I loved the groundbreaking nature of the class, I loved being introduced to new ways of viewing the internet, I loved my digital story, I loved doing the audio files (the story with sounds but no words, the interview, and the morse code project I did on my own), I loved the zombie Video modernselkie and I put together.  I got pretty nostalgic doing the screen cast of my hometown.  All of these projects asked me to be creative but were not overwhelming.  They taught me things (I could not have done any of them on my own before this class).  As far as the tools go… Audacity was excellent!  It was easy to use and easy to learn, free, and relatively intuitive.  The website tools and wordpress worked fine.  I enjoyed learning to take photos, and I thought I did well on the photo assignments we had early on in the blog.  I may have gotten a few tips from a certain someone, as well as the use of photoshop, but that just helped me learn more.  To a large extent, my photo skills prior to the class were of the point and shoot variety, I had little experience setting up and editing shots.

What did I not enjoy?  I didn’t like the readings at the beginning of the class, or the HTML coding for my website’s front page.  The readings were too long and they were often speculative or technical.  I had trouble getting the fireFTP to work, and so couldn’t do the HTML the regular way, and I was afraid to try the coding because I have never done that before.  Windows movie maker wasn’t the best ever, but it was what we had, and it was free, so… I wouldn’t worry about it.

My digital story was more challenging than I thought it would be, but it was incredibly fun.  It was its own world, had definite characters, and began to establish its own history.  I made it interactive, with the ARG-esque morse code.  I’m trying to figure out how to present it where it can get recognition, and I’m certainly going to keep working on it.

I think that to improve the class, we should have started our digital stories much sooner.  If I had had 12 weeks instead of 6 to write posts, I could have had a much better story.  I would suggest using the first week to talk about what the class is going to be like, go over examples of digital stories and the other projects folks’ll be working on, and getting folks to pay for domains.  In the second week, you could do some of the background reading you did this time, and get everyone to download word press onto their site.  That way, by the third week, students can begin their story outside of class, and start doing some picture taking as well.  This might require tweaking, as it speeds up the start of the class a lot, and might push out some of the assignments.

One of the difficulties with the class which I realized midway into my story was the lopsided nature of the work.  This isn’t a bad thing.  I am not saying that any one person worked harder than anyone else.  What I am trying to get at is this: I wrote enough during the class to make it writing intensive.  A WI credit would make a huge difference for me, as it would for a lot of folk.  Modernselkie worked really hard and produced a lot of art.  However, her photo blog certainly wasn’t writing intensive.  A video journal would be speaking intensive if you were talking to the computer for half an hour a week.  My blog was as far as you can get from speaking intensive.  I don’t really think this is a problem, and I don’t think that there is anything to be done about it, but I think it is worth mentioning.

I really liked this class.  It was an experiment, and it took a little while to find its sea legs.  When I was unsure about what I wanted to do for my story, and when I didn’t know what the class was going to be like, it was a bit daunting.  But in the end, I am very glad that I was in this class, and I hope to see it offered in the future.  I learned a lot that I didn’t know about how websites work (all the wordpress variety websites I visit look a lot less fancy now!).

Experiment results: Success!

Curtain Call

This is my first post on the archival blog.  With this archive I have a couple questions to answer.  Firstly, why archive it?  That answer is simple, so I don’t fail the class.  It does bring up a lot of questions about why I should preserve the story I’m working on.  I want to keep working on it, I like the story.  I initially thought I should work on wordpress here, because it is free.  However, wordpress reserves the right to reproduce my work elsewhere “for the purpose of promoting my blog.”  Any work I do on their site isn’t quite my own.  Whether or not I end up trying to get my work seriously recognized, I need to make sure that I own it, and without paying 120+ bucks a month to own my own space, I can’t do that.

Of course, the counter question to that is: who is going to steal my work anyway?  The only folks who read the blog were my immediate family, significant other, and professor.  If I wanted to continue with my work in an online space, I would need to try to get a little more recognized.

In the meantime, I don’t know what to do.  If I’m trying to move this toward a professional format/platform, I’d need a flexible platform.  My writing would go well in a magazine, or even a book, but the images and (especially) the sound files?  I think that I should keep writing it (drop down to an entry a week, seeing as I don’t need to do the commentary posts anymore), and send it out to a few folks for editing and revision.  With the small number of people who read it, it would be simple enough to email out, or better yet, to write as a Google doc that readers could write notes in.  Doing it on Google docs would make it simple to edit.

In any event, I’ve got two blog posts left, officially.  This one, and one more story post (for last week, which I’m late on because of computer trouble).  However, one more story post will leave us at a crappy ending point.  So, I’m going to post one more story post after that, probably during the week following exams.  This post, a ‘bonus’ post, will finish out the story arc, simultaneously resolving the issues we’ve seen so far and generating some new ones.  Think of the bonus post like the season finale.

So that is my plan for the story.  Finish the initial arc, archive that part here for as long as possible, and then continue working more privately, brutally using allowing friends to edit via Google docs.

Wordle: Lincoln's words

I’ve been thinking about Abraham Lincoln a lot.  Thats why when it came time to do a wordle, I decided to use his words.  Not too complex, I just used his first and second inaugural addresses, the Gettysburg address, and his last speech.  One of the difficult things about 1882 is the speed at which that world begins to differ from our own, and how far it goes in its differences.  Because I want it to feel very much like ours to start, and because I want it to feel realistic, I need to have a really good idea of Lincoln’s thoughts about what to do after the war.  Because I want it to go differently than it did, I need to take some liberties.  Either way, the speeches make for good reading.

Excelsior is (ever) up!

With this post, I’d like to talk a little bit about how I come up with each entry.  I’ve got a very scientific process, which just so happens to be identical to an unscientific, random, sounds O.K. to me process.

First, I start thinking about where the post needs to go.  In some cases, I have a definite goal in mind, as with Episode one, where I needed to introduce Edmond and Sean, I needed to establish that it was the civil war, and I needed to establish that Edmond had been wounded.  With this episode, I needed a reason for Edmond and Sean to take the Crusade.

So I worked this issue over in my mind, thinking of different ways that they could find the ship and acquire it and how that would show their respective characters.  First I thought that they could buy it, as blockade runner/smuggler’s ships could be confiscated by the union and sold.  This seemed plausible, if a little strange.  The problem was that it was boring.  Hero doesn’t escape concentration camp/ Death star/ villain’s laser beam installation by running to a used car dealer and haggling a bit.

I then thought that perhaps the ship might have looters on it, and that Edmond and Sean could convince/intimidate/pay them to help.  I also thought that perhaps the former Captain could have paid folks to guard his ship, and that Edmond and Sean could bribe them or something.

None of these situations properly fit the characters.  They didn’t tell the story I wanted to tell.  Then I got the idea of a bomb planted on the ship.  It is conceivable that the union would burn ships as they came through, and conceivable that one might fail.  The bomb would keep folks away from the ship, and give a chance for Edmond and Sean to show how awesome ships are (by being all ZOMG AWESOME SHIPPPP) and also show their character by either being wary or excited about the bomb.

So, once I’ve thought the story section through, I write it all out by hand on paper.  Paper lets me write over stuff, cross out old ideas, write synonyms next to each other, and most importantly it feels better to get my ideas out and to look over once I’m done.  When the first draft is done, I read it over, and then rewrite it completely.  Then I might show the drafts to an awesome lady who tells me the best aspects of both drafts.  Once that is done, I type up the entry online, show it to her again, fix any minor errors, and post it!

A lot of work is done haphazardly, with notes in my notebook for plans for future posts.  The disorganization fits my style, and allows me to be creative with my stories.  I listen to music while I write sometimes, and write during class sometimes.  Usually the thinking bit takes three days to a week, the writing two to three days, the editing an hour or so.  A lot of time elements of the story are being chewed over in the back of my mind.

That is how the magic happens!

The hot air bag came into view first, dark against the twilight horizon.  Everything in the city was closed or in ruins; Edmond and Sean had not seen another person since the train station.  Edmond wore his sword, and Sean had loaded his revolver.  Both strained their eyes into the lengthening shadows with twitching fingers.

The airship was listing haphazardly.  The bow was caught on a sand bar, the stern downstream.  The ship must have drifted to this spot from an anchorage upstream.  It was a stone’s throw from the waiting teeth of a bombed out bridge.

The hot air bag was light blue silk, opaque in the dim light.  Edmond and Sean immediately recognized that while the wider beam and shallower draft made her slower in the water, it gave the ship a distinctive advantage in the air.  Her aerodynamic lines and brass fittings marked her as British.  Everything about the ship, from her redwood construction to her complex engines spoke of expense.  This ship must have made massive profits to be worth building.

“I would say she must be ruined, because there is no one on board, but there isn’t any damage I can see.”  Sean spoke quietly despite the racket they had made clamoring down to the river’s edge.

Victoria’s Crusade.”  Edmond’s brow furrowed as he read the name.  “She’s a blockade runner. A smuggler’s ship.”  Her three engines and sleek lines said as much as the name.

“It can’t hurt to look around.”  Sean sounded almost plaintive as he glanced between the fine craft and Edmond.  Their troubles were forgotten for Sean; he wanted to see the ship.

“Oh I’m sure it could.”

The two men picked their way slowly down the sandbar and up the side of the ship.  Sean grabbed a loose rope and scrambled onto the deck.  Edmond, whose stump was bleeding from the walk from the train station, struggled up with the rope and Sean’s help.  There were two splotches of blood that had soaked into the deck and a number of pistol rounds buried in the deck and handrail.  Edmond unscrewed a lantern from the rail and raised his eyebrows at Sean as he lit it.

They found that the burners that heated the air in the bag were all nearly empty.  There was barely enough catalyst to keep the bag from collapsing, let alone take off.

“Damnit!” Sean swore as he closed the cover on the third unit.  Without functioning burners, the ship was simply an ungainly river barge.

“Lets check the hold, there is always a chance that there is more fuel there.”  Edmond did not sound as if he believed there was any fuel there.  He also did not sound as though he were spending too much effort covering his excitement at the beauty of the airship.  Edmond found himself figuring out the bearings and distances for travel to the Chesapeake Bay, despite the fact that he had never even heard of a two man crew running such a large ship.

The hold, lit by their small lamp, revealed only scraps of silk and lace: all that remained of the smuggler’s load.  Night had fallen completely by the time they entered the engine room.  Neither man had a large amount of experience with the propellers that drove these vessels through air and water.  That is why they did not see it for more than a minute.

“It looks like it was set to explode on a timer.  Something must have malfunctioned.”  This was more than Edmond had bargained for.  No ship was worth fooling with explosives he knew nothing about.  “Lets get ou-”

“No sir, we can use this!” Sean had an excited look on his face.  Edmond would have rather no one even talked loudly around the explosive.

“A massive incendiary won’t help us against three angry bigots.  Lets go Sean.”

“This is just like the incendiaries we used at New Orleans.  We can use the catalyst inside to power the burners on deck!”

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Edmond had not prayed since Vicksburg.  Sean knew more about ammunition than he, and though he was of unsteady temper he was steady of hand.  Surely he was not spared one explosion to perish in another?  Edmond nodded and Sean quickly cut the match-cord that led to the detonator and carefully unscrewed or broke all the pieces holding the container of catalyst in place.   A few seconds of work and the tension evaporated like fog in the sun.

It was only a few minutes of work dividing the catalyst crystals into the burners on deck.  The sandbar held onto the hull of the ship, but a few minutes of burn lifted them gently into the night sky.

Trapped is up!

So, with the schematic that went up last time, I wanted to include something else (something better!) for the next post.  I need to get a player for the media file, but there is a Morse code message behind the link in the story.  If you want the full story, you’ll have to translate it.  The short story is that Abraham Lincoln survived the assassination attempt.  This is going to mean some important things for the US, but we’ll have to see how much it will affect our characters.  You’ll notice in the story that I almost get our folks into a fight.  This is I must admit a temptation for me, as I am much better at writing fight sequences than conversation.  Thats why I want this story to have really well developed characters and such, is so that it wont feel as flat as some of the other things I’ve written.

Which is why the next post (on this blog) will be about plot, and how I write each piece.  I hope that you might find it interesting and useful to see how I come up with and refine my ideas.

Another important point is that as you can no doubt tell, this is a learning experience for me.  Both blogs look ok, but nothing as pretty as some other folk have got.  There are some things that I (hopefully) am good at, such as writing and story design, but there are other things that I’m not good at, such as putting all this in a good package online.  I’m trying to bridge the gap with some things, by putting the schematics and the telegram on the blog.  But its going to take a lot of spit and polish to make it all shine.  I hope the story is interesting enough to hold one’s attention while the other aspects improve.

Look for the next story post soon!

Trapped

News Telegram

“Its over!” Sean burst into the sun room of the plantation, the whole of which had been converted into a hospital.  Edmond and a half a dozen other convalescents looked up from their breakfasts to tee the young officer waving a telegram over his head.

Edmond rose and poured Sean a cup of coffee so he could join in the round of toasts.  The telegram rapidly went from hand to hand, its simple message read and reread.

“How did it happen?  What were the terms?  When can we leave?”  Edmond asked as they sat at a small table.

“You know Captain, information I learn in the union telegraph office is secret.”

Edmond raised his eyebrows.

“Top secret.”  Sean smiled.

“How did it happen?” Edmond asked as he pushed sugar and cream toward the Lieutenant’s cup.  “What were the terms?” Edmond pushed pushed a plate of toast and jam to Sean’s side of the table.  “And…” Edmond pushed a plate of bacon across the linen tablecloth.  “When can we go home?”

“Well, sir, the answers are supposed to be secret, but I’m certain the former owner of this plantation was also supposed to give his hogs over to feed the army.”

Sean explained between mouthfuls that a month or more worth of news had come in when the telegraph lines were repaired.  The war had ended when Lee’s army had tried to flee Richmond, and Grant had chased him to Appomattox.  Lincoln had come out with a number of executive orders planning the reconstruction of the south, and congress had agreed to fund them.  Sean had been picking up speed, both in his telling and his eating, so by the time he got to the bacon:

“Troops’re in Virginia and th’ Carolinas, restoring order for construction crews and I heard that they-”

“Slow down Sean!  You’re not on a deadline.”  Edmond laughed as he carefully poured some milk with his new left hand.

“Actually sir, I am.  I’ve been given my discharge papers, the old staff at the telegraph office are expected to be replaced next week.  I thought that you and I might try to catch a train… and the last one out leaves at five.”  Sean looked slightly sheepish as he finished the rushed speech.

“I’ll gather my things.  Where is the train headed, Richmond? ”

“Most of the lines are cut, sir.  We can only get to Savannah or Charleston.”

“Neither of those is exactly a northern direction” Edmond laughed.  “But perhaps we can catch a ship from there.”

The two gathered their things and packed them into a stagecoach.  It was eleven by the time they left, and a long journey into the city proper.  If they could not catch the train, then they would have to find lodgings in the city.  The ticket counter was quiet, a lone teller was talking quietly to a couple of men at the edge of the counter.

“Good evening.  I would like to purchase two tickets to Charleston.”

“For the five o’ Clock?”  The teller asked, looking Edmond up and down.

“Indeed.  How much will tickets be?”

“Ten thousand dollars.”  His tone was flat and level.  It might have been a joke, he might have been about to smile and say that the train was not coming, or that the price was actually four dollars and fifty cents.  He might have, were it not for the sneer and the loaded revolver under the counter that was just touching his fingers.

Sean sucked in his breath to yell, but Edmond saw movement out of the corner of his eye and spoke first.

“Why do you give this offense sir?”  Edmond tried to sound calm.

“There are two ways for a Yankee to leave Atlanta.  One is ten thousand dollars, the other is painful and free.”

“What do you mean by that?”  His officer’s sword was in his pack, his revolver had been destroyed in the blast that took his arm and leg.  That left him barehanded against at least three.  Sean was a large man, and ready to fight, but Edmond could see the long shadows of the two men behind them.

“Walking , certainly Captain.”  The man grinned, showing his teeth.

Edmond heard the sound of an approaching train.