through the black chicken gate (thoughts on worldbuilding) part 4

So now there is a mystical/magical/mysterious Gate between Rook’s Hill and Mystery Hill.  Iowa discovered it by following a black chicken (a black rooster, actually).  It was an easy step to decide that the black chicken has been a minor character in Kekionga folklore the whole time. (Kekionga has a lot of weird folklore, most of which was invented specifically for plot purposes, or because it would be fun to draw or both.)  This adds a bit of atmosphere and also gives a reason for Iowa to follow the chicken even though it is probably a bad idea (particularly if it’s a dark and stormy night in the thickets of Rook’s Hill).

This suggested a bit of backstory. Wouldn’t it be cool if Bone Joan’s familiar had been a black chicken, and it continued to be seen around Mystery Hill long after her death?

Bone Joan is a character who has been present in the Kekionga background– one of the very first European inhabitants, long before the area was widely settled, a wise woman and herbalist who lived alone so that people thought she was a witch, blah blah blah.  I know more about how and where she lived (in a hut made primarily of mammoth tusks and bones on the far slopes of Mystery Hill) than I do about how she looked, so I don’t have a great drawing of her to share here.  I have a feeling that is going to be corrected soon.  So picture her as a tall, thin woman with long brownish hair, wearing a combination of Puritan or Colonial and Indian clothing: perhaps a long black dress and a calico apron, with moccasins and a fur or leather cap.  And accompanied by a black rooster.

If the chicken was occasionally seen around Mystery Hill, and had a reputation for leading people into trouble in the marshy parts of the Woods. maybe people in Kekionga have always said “never follow a black chicken”, meaning the same thing as “never shut yourself in any wardrobe”.  (Retroactive folklore is the best folklore.)  So Iowa should have known better, but when she saw the chicken on campus, all the way across town from its usual haunts, you can’t blame her for being curious. All in all, she is glad she followed that chicken that day in the story that hasn’t been written yet.  Mostly glad, anyway.

So that’s all we know about the Black Chicken Gate right now.  There are many more questions than answers– we haven’t even started setting up the Gate’s rules and conditions.  But it’s still pretty amazing, considering that none of it existed at all five or six days ago.  Plus, now if anyone ever asks me where my worldbuilding ideas come from, I can send them here to read this essay in four parts.   It’s better than shrugging and saying “it just happens”.


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through the black chicken gate (thoughts on worldbuilding), part three

So there I was, thinking about the black chicken and looking at the map and thinking about how far it is from the Library to the junkyard, more or less at the same time.  I wondered if this, at last,  was the chance I’d been waiting for to hang something major on the empty hook that is Rook’s Hill.  Rook’s Hill, Corby, and the Wooden Tower all did not exist before I drew the map.  The Wooden Tower is a real red herring: I have no idea what it may be.  But Corby and Rook’s Hill are there to fill in the space between campus and the old cemetery and east of the off campus residential and shopping district called The Stroll.

Corby is a fairly well developed setting that hasn’t been used yet: an abandoned farming hamlet based loosely on the lost crossroads of Jaite,  a real life model that haunted my high school experiences (and writings) back in Ohio.  Rook’s Hill is geographically necessary,  one of those typical small Midwestern hills that may or may not be Indian mounds.  It’s the Mystery Hill of the southern half of the map, and the home of the ravens that hang out on campus, in the old cemetery,  and on the courthouse lawn.

Mystery Hill to the North of the Old Fox Road.  Rook’s Hill to the South.  Lots of weirdness all around. What if the two hills were connected,  not by a mundane (and very long and creepy) tunnel, but by a Gate, which transports people instantaneously between the two locations?  Sometimes.  Under certain circumstances.  If you know where it is, and how use it.  I knew right away that Gate was there.  This is going to be fun.

And then I knew, just as surely, the Iowa was the first of the current characters to find this Gate, and she finds it when following a strange black chicken. Not a raven. There are too many Significant Ravens in fantasy already.  There are even too many in Kekionga.   This Gate, whatever it is, belongs to the black chicken.

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through the black chicken gate (thoughts on worldbuilding) part2

At the same time I was thinking about the black chicken, I was looking, as I often do, at a copy of this map of Kekionga which I have taped to wall in the studio.sketch map inked I really like this map, and I think it reflects story reality as it stands.  No major changes have been made since this version was finished more than a year ago, although I have a copy with enough notes on it that I should probably make new “final”.  But the major issues are clear: it’s a long way from campus where Iowa and the Professor explore arcane secrets in the basement of the Noakes Library,  to the junkyard where Bud renders assistance to distressed strangers and helps train an unexpected apprentice.  There are ways to get from here to there: the University shuttle runs between town and the campus during the day and into the evening, and a Kekionga town bus will take you past the junkyard if you’re patient.  Iowa has a car, a little MGB, and of course Jack and Bud have access to assorted cars and trucks in various states of repair. The Professor can run through the Woods in his Moondog form, and anyone can walk if they’ve got the time; it’s probably only 5 or 6 miles.

But still, when you’re in the middle of an exciting story, it might make things even more exciting if characters could move between the two main settings a little more quickly. Not all the time,  maybe not reliably, maybe not at no cost, but hey, Kekionga is a mysterious place in general, and these two places are extra mysterious.  Maybe it’s not pushing logic that they should be connected in a mysterious way that is also convenient to the narrative.

Maybe the black chicken gave me the next idea.

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through the black chicken gate (thoughts on worldbuilding) part 1

I had a rather important new piece of the Kekionga background fall down on me all in a chunk over the weekend. It’s doesnt happen often, having a significant idea right at your desk, with the notebook for that project literally under your left hand.  This one’s origin was totally clear and thoroughly documented, and it starts with a hypermelanistic chicken.

Apropos of a discussion we’d been having on an unrelated topic, someone sent me a link to this article on Wikipedia, and another to an image very similar to this one.cem046_zpsf24019c0 I was very taken by the idea of a character who was a little solid black rooster.  Maybe he could be drawn as a simple black shape … I was immediately determined to write this rooster into one of my stories.  I know Edison’s sidekick/familiar is supposed to be an owl, but I haven’t drawn those pages of the story yet …

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twine time

Let’s take the time to think about … twine.  It’s not something you think about a lot; most of us have replaced it (if we ever had it) with rubber bands or wire twisties or cable ties or bungee cords.  Or tape. I use blue tape for everything.  If you wanted twine, would you even be able to get it?  Where would you even go?twine time 1-blogTo a big box “home store” of course.twine time 2-blogThere, it is, all ready for spring, made of all natural materials in a pleasing color scheme of green and natural buff, with all the hairy, potentially scratchy texture of the great classic twine.  I didn’t buy any, although I was tempted.  It’s a compelling material but I have no use for it.

So it’s twine time, twine time …  made of sisal and jute …twine time 3-blogUse it for tying and binding; it really is … a beaut?twine time 4

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leonard nimoy

leonard-nimoy-uncle-22Leonard Nimoy is gone, but Spock lives on.  There’s a lot to say about Mr. Spock and his place on the list of oddly immortal characters to come out of the “good junk” range of low-to-middlebrow genre media.  Most of the outpouring of feeling on the death of his creator has its source in the great love so many of us have for Spock, who was and is pretty much the patron saint of geeks, the protector of everyone who grew up feeling they couldn’t be entirely human in exactly the same way as everyone else.  Spock managed to live and love in spite of all that, and we could figure it out too.  I’ve known Spock longer than I’ve known most of the people in my life, and even though I feel the character is currently well served by the magnificent Zachary Quinto,  there will never be a substitute for the original version.  (I think I may miss the hard won wisdom of Nimoy’s Elder Spock of the current reboot series most of all.)

But Spock belongs to the wider culture now, so let’s take a minute to celebrate Leonard Nimoy himself:  television character actor and voice artist, photographer, writer and general philosopher.  He had presence and brains and a sense of humor, and his face was always worth looking at.  Above, Nimoy rocking a cigarette holder while guest starring in The Man from U.N.C.L.E in 1964. Below, Nimoy in old age, demonstrating true mastery of one of the great expressions of all time.


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all over the country around the world, kids are thanking Leonard Nimoy for the gift of Mr. Spock.  Grownups too.

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best of the drawing of the day, week 148: the long lynx

drawingoftheday-week148-longlynxAh, what could be sweeter than the relationship between a boy and his … yard long giant psychic snake/cat/dragon thing?  Psychic isn’t the right word, but felinoids (otherwise known as catsnakes and longcats) are definitely the most common members of the “psychic pet” class of fantasy/science fiction characters found in Knotted Rope stories.  Most longcats are fluffy, stripey beasts, resembling an intelligent and rather snarky cross between a Cheshire Cat and an anaconda, but in cold climates they sometimes take on lynxlike qualities for maximum efficiency in snow.  A longcat may prefer not to dirty its paws with the inconvenient (and bloody) details of outdoor survival, but it is perfectly capable of dealing with them when necessary.

Search the blog for “felinoid” to find more pictures of longcats.  They prowl through the sketchbooks fairly frequently.

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a japanese scarf and an alfa romeo

The Japanese scarf (more properly, the furoshiki) went to the Auto Show this year.  It had numerous adventures you will see later, but the high point of its visit was being photographed elegantly posed with a 1951 Alfetta in the Alfa Romeo booth.alfascarf2-blogAlfascarf1-blog Grazie to the the corporate representative who did the draping. What, you don’t think they’re going to let me near their gorgeous vintage Alfas, do you? It took several attempts  to get the logo on the video screen behind the car into the shot– the image kept changing.

(For photo geeks: Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art on Pentax K5iis, 1/6o, f/4.5, ISO 250.  Lots of light at the Auto Show.)

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wrestling with a portrait lens

That’s a title with a double meaning, in case you were wondering: I went to a pro wrestling exhibition and took photographs with a portrait lens, and while I was there I wrestled epically with that lens. (No light.  There is no light in that place.  And I learned a lot about how not to handle its absence.)  But the shoot was an awful lot of fun, mostly because the wrestlers and the fans are all such great subjects. oxbakerjunior-blog This is Ox Baker Junior, who has clearly never met a camera he does not like.  And the camera  likes him right back.  At least mine does.  The first is a full frame, right out of the camera, the second is a crop from an exposure I liked better, with a composition I did not.  This unique facial expression, I understand, is one that belonged to  the original Ox Baker.oxbakerjunior-crop-blog More wrestling photos to come, including some action, but, like the carpenter’s hammer that makes everything look like a nail, a portrait lens makes a photographer see portraits everywhere. Even in ridiculously low light.

(This is probably going to be a very photographic week here on the blog, but how often do you get an auto show and a wrestling extravaganza in one weekend?)

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