Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Role of Concept Art & Visualization

Ryan Church is one of the most prolific concept artists of this era.
There's a whole field of brilliant visual artists who work with high-end movie and game developers to envision environments, characters, technology, and narrative moments.  My understanding is that many of today's top movies and games start with some type of visual concept art.  It may be tempting to call them "illustrators" instead of "artists."  But when somebody creates the visual motifs and designs of some of the most popular stories of our time, then what's the difference?

I just stumbled upon two images by Allesandro Taini that I think are pure-cool.

Trip's Room by A. Taini

Enslaved Mood by A. Taini

These are artists.  They envision narrative landscapes, characters, and moments.  

The Great Fire Zone, NYC by Gilles Beloeil (for the Assassin's Creed 3 game)
The above work likely helped the game developers envision their historical environment as well as the narrative action.  Art. History. Architecture. Character. Drama. Visual dynamics.  Beloeil illustrates a moment that brings them together into an artistic story.  I can see why artists get paid for this contribution. For the writers on that development team, I would assume having this kind of concept work is extremely inspiring and clarifying.  Whether the concept art is for movies or for games, it probably impacts the writing.

Did the Potter movies impact Rowling's writing as she finished the series?  How could it not?

With the growth of graphic novels and illustrated children's literature, perhaps we'll grow a broader dialogue about concept art for general storytelling?  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sign Language in Classrooms & Communities

The coolest woman in NYC steals the show.
40 states recognize American Sign Language as an official second/"foreign" language for school instruction.  Can we imagine a movement into bilingual ASL-English schools?  There's also a growing movement that uses "baby signs" to teach pre-verbal infants to communicate with basic signs (i.e. giving them a way to communicate before they can actually talk).

Hungry babies aside, might we be witnessing something bigger?

I hope so, which is why I'm thrilled to learn about the Deaf Bilingual Coalition.

There are many human dimensions to this.  While bilingual immersion in schools is an fascinating idea, there are many teachers currently using limited forms of sign language with hearing-students to enhance learning and to manage classrooms.  There's so much to offer, for both community building and instruction.

Allison Bouffard has posted some great videos about using signs in her classroom.  I don't know when this all started, I've seen this implemented in quite a few classrooms over the years.  While this trend seems to be geared at early childhood activities and classroom management, I believe that ASL can be used just as effectively with older hearing kids and teens.  "Muscle memory" can enhance learning.

This 1-minute clip shows some of the management tricks in action with hearing youth.

It's cool.  It builds community.  It's non-verbal.  It engages multiple learning styles at the same time.  And perhaps it can bridge more hearing people with deaf culture?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Turn and face the strange

"and these children that you spit on
as they try to change their worlds
are immune to your consultations
they're quite aware of what they're goin' through"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tripped the Bots Fantastic

This iphone-controlled hover-drone was for sale at a Barnes & Noble in Florida (July 2012).   It has a camera.

If you had asked my childhood-self what life would be like in 2013, I would have imagined a scene out of the Jetsons:  jetpacks, flying cars, sarcastic robots that clean my room.  Are we there yet? I wouldn't have been able to imagine Facebook and social networking.  I wouldn't have imagined a world where video games are a bigger industry than movies.

However... TacoCopter makes perfect sense!

Yes!  That's right, there is a business in San Francisco that will be delivering tacos using unmanned aerial drones.

Most of the media attention on drones involves military and police application, but how might the rest of us use it?  Imagine what farmers, scientists, and industries will be able to do with advanced UAVs.  Imagine what the medical and emergency response experts might do with this power.  Unfortunately, it's also not hard to imagine what the commercial media and paparazzi will do with drones.  We might expect years of legal and regulatory struggles ahead.  For now, the Federal policy is to keep commercial applications illegal.  Whether personal and commercial drone use evolves as illegal activity or as regulated activity, it's going to explode.

Hummingbird drones already exist.
What might this mean for our daily lives?  

How long until Siri can hover next to us?

Small, personal robots combined with increasingly networked, sophisticated lifestyle-oriented AI?  This is such a natural extension of today's technology that I believe it's only a matter of years before the air around us is buzzing with them.

I believe we're entering a new phase of lifestyle and entertainment technology that will evolve at the same pace as social networking and gamification.

What might the sidewalks of New York look like in 2050 or in 2100?  Today's engineers are doing truly inspiring things.  Who will make the first flying gaming console? (and if nobody thought of this yet, can you please cut me a check for coming up with the idea?)

Fascinated?  Follow groups like DIY drones and DronesForPeace.

MorpHex (imagine if this thing could also fly!)



And now to share some random "background" music as I go back to writing... 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Resilience of Play

Both in fiction and in reality, our stories often delve into recognizable themes of resilience.

The One World Futbol Project is sending indestructible soccer balls to children in the most dire situations around the planet.  It's not just an inspiring effort worthy of support, but it highlights the importance of play in the lives of all human beings.

This single effort plans to deliver 1.5 million soccer balls in the coming years.  Awesome!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Brooklyn Book Festival & Young Humans

The Brooklyn Book Festival is a 1 day event filled with 5 days of content.  Endless tents and happenings scattered around downtown Brooklyn.  From the BK Law School to the magnificent St. Ann's, you had to hustle for seats at the 180 panel discussions available throughout the day.  

These four books are going onto my Nook!

R.J. Palacio's Wonder.

Andrew Zolli's Resilience.

Isabel Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns.

And Karen Thompson Walker's Age of Miracles.

Does the YA genre provide a unique dynamic in terms of moral reflection?

This came up during a session.

Youth seem to internalize a society's moral yardsticks and then hold it directly against reality.  For me, the matter becomes whether YA authors are writing to the raw dreams/frustrations of young audiences - or whether we're only writing from the tempered sentiments of adult reflection.  Are we writing about youth or for youth?  YA is a genre.  It's also a market.  However, I never want to forget that it's primarily an audience that thirsts for stories.  Stories that resonate.  And maybe YA is primarily about stories that go straight to the raw roots of our conflicts, our dreams, and our human fears?

Perhaps we should rename Young Adult?  Let's call it Young Human.

Now for something completely random.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Back Story: Put a Finger in the Dessert

I've enjoyed reading Steven King's On Writing.  I am fond of the way he captures the notion of stories being undiscovered relics.  Writers develop the habits to spot stories while also developing a toolbox to chisel them out.  I love this quote.
"Probably J.K. Rowling is the current champ when it comes to back story."   Page 225.
Back story.  I'm wrestling with different approaches to the pacing of back story revelation.  There is a peculiar pleasure in stimulating questions, but this seems to be a major "genre distinction" for Young Adult books.  YA often involves first person narration with snark and double-edged affect, right?  Most of the extremely popular YA books hand over heaps of back story up front, right?  There are unique elements to the market and genre.

I'm not sure of all the distinctions, but it's different.

I think adult readers are lenient and patient across most genres.  If adult readers see indicators of quality writing in the early stages of a book, then a small appetizer becomes a delight.  Adult readers enjoy the mouthwatering steps.  They want to savor each moment, each course, and to appreciate the pauses.  Right?

Younger readers want to dip a finger straight into the dessert.  First.

Can you blame them?  Do you remember being 15?

This story involves a zombie apocalypse?  Fine.

Is there a dash of non-corny humor and a course of romantic tension?  Action?  Promise?  Before I care about the female lead's road to power-enabling self-discovery in this Dystopian world, let me taste these sweet expectations - thank you very much.  PROMISE!

I've obviously taken this darling food analogy too far.  This had something to do with back story...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Best Outdoor Reading Spots in NYC

Summer time!

What are some of your favorite outdoor #ReadingSpotsNYC?

In NYC, we're lucky enough to have incredible public transportation.  We can sit on our butts and travel around town while reading.  The journey can become the destination quite easily. 

The city is filled with parks and waterfronts.  The parks are filled with benches.  Let's go!

Prospect Park / Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Pavilion at the Japanese Garden
Annual membership to the BBG?  Prospect Park itself has wonderful places to read, but the BBG is a spectacular place.

Plenty of benches at the Overlook. Look down at the Cherry trees & Rose gardens.
Cherry Esplanade.

Coney Island/Brighten Beach, Brooklyn

Hey, guess what?  There's actually an ocean nearby!  If you like dawn adventures, go there early and enjoy a fantastic morning.  Crowds probably won't arrive until 10-11am.

Enjoy the OCEAN breeze on the historic pier (with Russian & Chinese retirees trying to catch fish).
Beach towel or not, there's plenty of ocean seating.    I enjoy the end of the pier.
You'll also find several pavilions along the beach.

Riverbank & Riverside, Manhattan

Riverside Park, Hudson River Park, and Riverbank State Park offer many places to sit and enjoy life with a book.  I personally love the uptown views of the George Washington Bridge and the Palisades.

Great benches and regular kite flying (attempts)!

Gantry Plaza State Park, Queens

Across from the United Nations is this park with spectacular views of Manhattan.  There's also the East River State Park in BK with a similar view.
Claim your seat under the willows!
From here, you gaze across waters at the UN and  Manhattan.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Ramble down romantic Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights to the promenade with its incredible views of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty.  One of the greatest views on the planet.

These benches are prime real estate!

Central Park - Upper Half

The upper half of Central Park tends to be much more quiet and relaxed than the lower half.

Harlem Meer 
Off-hours, the benches around the meer make for a peaceful time. 

The Conservancy

There's a reason this garden is one of the top spots in the city for wedding photos (lol).  Nonetheless, you can find plenty of corners to read yourself into bliss.
One of the most romantic places in the city.

The Pool & the North Woods Loch

The Pool always offers a fine reading getaway.  If you're really looking to escape, then explore the North Woods and the calming waterfalls hidden within!

Belvedere Castle, Turtle Pond, Shakespeare Garden

The castle makes for superb tourist watching.  Poke around the western side to find quiet corners and benches in the Shakespeare Garden.  Or go lay out on the great lawn above Turtle Pond!

You can find a quiet spot near the Castle or just sit on the vista.

Central Park - Lower Half

If you love the background energy and buzz of international tourists, then grab a bench on the Mall.
Explore the quiet brambles or just grab a bench somewhere.  Anywhere. :)

NY Botanical Gardens, Bronx 

Take the Metro-North Harlem line or cross over from Manhattan on the BX19 bus.  See their website for additional travel options.  It's a very large place with many spots to read.  A nearby zoo, too!

This place is massive with lots of spots to hide away.

Park on that bench under the bridge or wander over to the waterfall.
This may be the best argument for annual membership!

Morningside Park, Manhattan

Waterfall, ducks, and a looming Cathedral.

Inwood Hill Park - Where Eagles Roam

Did you know that bald eagles nest at the northern tip of Manhattan?  This park is a gem.  The northeastern section is great for plopping on a bench.  You may also want to adventure around (or over) the hill to the Hudson.
This quiet tip of Manhattan makes for a great escape.  Also investigate the local cafe.
The Hudson side of the park offers great views of the GWB and beyond.

Queens Botanical Gardens & Flushing Meadows

Grab the 7 train for a great adventure.  Hop off at Flushing Meadows or continue to the end, then walk down Main Street to the Botanical Gardens. Nearby zoo and museum.

The grounds of Flushing Meadows offer lots of benches and views.
The QBG offers quite a few enjoyable spots to sit.
I'm linking this image from
* Photos taken on an iPhone, sometimes using the Pro HDR and Pano apps.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Relatability? (a hard rain)

The photo above only shows a portion of the location.
I was walking by this massive community garden during a gentle drizzle.  In the distance, I heard acoustic music echoing over the neighborhood.  I loved the song.  The timing was sublime.
I saw a white ladder all covered with water.
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken.
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children.
The music was Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall'.   Can you envision this setting?  Can you smell the garden and the gentle drizzle?

Where was I?

The South Bronx.  Echoing from a tenement window was Dylan.  Not rap or bachata or salsa or r&b or merengue.   Dylan.  Is that "authentic"?  Expected?

Do we expect kids in the South Bronx or Harlem to know Metallica and Hannah Montana?  Or do we presume they only understand/relate to certain kinds of music and culture?

I think about the "urban youth" I've seen with their heads stuck inside Riordan and Rowling books.  Do we assume they'd rather read books about teens "like them"? What does it even mean to be "like them"?  Are they culturally situated (or segregated) first?  And then human youth second?
Teen Skater
I heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin'.
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin'.
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter.
Another time I walked by that garden and then up Westchester Avenue towards the bustling Southern Boulevard.  If I look carefully, I notice so many nuances.  So many shades and shapes.  Skaters.  Tilted hats.  Retro-punk.  Retro-preppy.  Nerd-styles with tats.  I even see a redheaded young gal in 80s swag.  And new styles yet unnamed.
I met a young woman whose body was burning.
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow.
I met one man who was wounded in love.
I met another man who was wounded in hatred

Do we presume a black or latino boy in the South Bronx cannot easily relate to the lead female character in The Hunger Games?  Do we truly believe they must prefer a book about a boy of color who loves basketball?  A boy who must grow up poor and struggle to avoid the complications of street life?  That may be very real for many, but is this the best basis for crafting stories and "relatability"?

Don't we risk reproducing the stereotypes that often frustrate youth and make them feel trapped? 

Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty.
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters.
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison.
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden.
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten.
Where black is the color, where none is the number.
And I'll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it.
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it.
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'.

Isn't it better to approach multicultural literature and story-telling with an eye on universal human themes that all adolescents tend to relate to?  Or do we think these children only watch TV and movies with characters of the same skin color and cultural background?  Do we think these children only listen to one kind of music in 2012?

Southern Boulevard.  Notice the 80s style on the hip redhead on the left.

If reading is about meeting new people and visiting new places, shouldn't we unshackle the teens of today and build them bridges upon broad human themes?  Even if we dig into matters of despair and poverty with diverse characters, how do we avoid typecasting based upon museum-style, static notions of culture?   Do today's kids even think about differences in the ways we believe?
If we can't envision settings and characters that break the typecasts and stereotypes, then we're in trouble as a species that needs stories for growth and reflection.
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.