Tag Archive | personal story

The Peers of Beinan: A Literary Journey

Castle Fantasy BackdropThere is a lot of science fiction on the market from independent authors published these last five years since I first published “The Great Succession Crisis.”  It is a crowded field where it is easy to get lost in. As with many popular genres, a huge number of books seek to emulate the plot and character elements of mega hits on the assumption of that what works for one highly profitable author must work for them as well. We’ve seen this with “Twilight” style paranormal romances.  We’ve seen this with “Five Shades of Grey” styled erotica.  The list goes on and on.

As moderator of a book promo group on facebook, I get to see the copycats almost ad nauseam. Books all look the same after a while. And while the premise of copying another’s ideas is repulsive to me as both a science fiction author and as a dedicated historian, I do genuinely see some success in these authors following those formulas — if the measure of success is Amazon rankings in any event.

But open these books and the blandness of copycatting shows itself. The writing lacks the sort of literary luster of the books and authors whose work holds the test of time. That is, perhaps, the best distinction one makes between commercial and literary fiction.  Commercial fiction is about today’s sale.  Literary fiction is about creating timeless works of art.  My fiction is literary fiction.

The Peers of Beinan Series is everything I love about the classics. As a free thinker and intellectual with a life-long passion for learning, it has never been my habit to follow the crowd – on anything. Whatever was “hot” or “trendy” was never of interest to me.  I always liked to be different. On occasion what I’ve liked and what the greater society is into have coincided — but never by my conscious design and rarely in precisely the same way.

I started my writing career with the Peers of Beinan because I saw an America becoming more and more socially and politically divided, an America where it was becoming more and more difficult to engage in civil conversations about the stuff that matters. I saw an America that was increasingly creating false equivalences between fact and opinion and where acts of hate against those who are different was going unpunished and ignored. Sound familiar?

I wanted to engage in an honest discussion with people about the subjects that matter to me most. Looking to the great science fiction/fantasy authors I like best — Gene Roddenberry, Dorothy “DC” Fontana, Ray Bradberry, Frank Herbert, Issac Asimov to name just a few — what I noticed is they often tackled some really big social and sometimes political subjects in their books — without offending people in the process.

I wanted to do the same.  I wanted to talk to people and encourage people to really think about things that matter to me. And I wanted people to open their minds to ideas and possibilities that put a different way to them they would never listen to.

And that is, in essence, what the Peers of Beinan Series is. It’s my reaching out across the universe and saying “this is important, please think it about it” from a group of stories that don’t ask that question directly of people.

house-personal-heraldry-collage

In personal interactions I am known for my point-blank directness. I don’t play the stereotypical gender roles game — not any more at least. And so I am “bold” as a woman and a writer. The Peers of Beinan is less point-blank than I usually am. It seeks to provoke thought without being confrontational. And just as important to me personally:  it seeks to bring you hope. For in the greatest darkness and despair, there is always Light. That’s how I overcame the great adversities of my life and how you will too.

 

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Reblog: The Reality of an Unreal Career — part one

Over the weekend, I joined a new social networking site for creative professionals called STAGE 32 which has numerous industry useful resources and blog posts.

 

I really like today’s blog post called “The Reality of an Unreal Career, part one” and have to share it.  Read it on the Stage 32 website on the title link.

 

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Today’s blog comes from Beau Janzen, a visual effects artist based in Los Angeles with over 23 years experience in digital animation production. Beau has served on a wide variety of projects ranging from feature films, television series, commercials, and stereoscopic ride films. Most of his career has been spent working at medium to smaller-sized studios of films such at Life of Pi, X-Men, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Yes Man, and television shows such as Game of Thrones, Arrested Development, Bones, Black Box and many, many more.

In this entertaining 2-part series, Beau will take you through his two decade plus journey in the entertainment industry and impart some great advice for all creatives along the way.

From animating a vegetable conga line to learning how to reverse engineer an 8 ft tall phallus-shaped green screen character, I think you’ll enjoy the ride!

RB

Despite the fact that my job as a visual effects artist is anything but glamorous, I was asked to write about my experience of building a career that has lasted over two decades. I’ll work to avoid being self-indulgent and try and extrapolate out some bits of wisdom relevant to anyone working to sustain a career through a creative endeavor.

As is the case for essentially all visual effects artists of my generation, I spent my childhood constantly drawing, building models, obsessing over Star Wars, and being generally geeky. I often set up my bedroom as a makeshift stop motion studio where I would make goofy little Claymation movies with an 8mm movie camera. The main thing about me that was notably different was that I never had any dreams of making movies; I was always motivated to work in education in some capacity.

While pursuing a master’s degree in education, I was able to land my first job as an animator with a PBS affiliate for a series of six, nationwide daily live broadcast classes (a broadcast precursor to on-line classes).  I was plopped down right in the hot seat as the sole animator to coordinate, design and generate graphics for six hours of classes every day.  In taking on this new job, I quickly realized how shockingly unprepared I was.  I had never created animation with a computer and knew nothing about all the technical issues of broadcast graphics, and the technical director of the classes was not in the least bit shy about making my ignorance abundantly clear.  He was a Vietnam veteran who was initially skeptical of the new graphics I was introducing to the classes.  Part of my initial training involved running repeated wind sprints up from my workstation to his control booth so I could see on the scopes exactly how my graphics were in violation of FCC broadcast standards.  After this initial boot camp, I sponged up as much knowledge as I could and did ease into the job quite well. There was an experimental nature to the classes, and I was able to push the boundaries of how I could use my animation as a communication tool.  The fact that my boss hired me for this job which, at least on paper, I was so clearly unqualified for leads me to my fist chunk of wisdom:

For entry-level jobs, people are rarely hired due to their current skills, but because they are a good investment

With my own experience as a primary example, I have seen so many people hired for entry level jobs not from their resume lines, but from an affable personality and an obvious desire to work, listen and learn.

While I was working with the classes, I took it upon myself to learn every piece of animation software they had in the building which included the old Wavefront software, my first foray into 3D animation.

Never pass up an opportunity to learn

While the Wavefront software was cutting edge for its time, by today’s standards, I might as well have been using a diesel-powered abacus to create my graphics.  But, I feel grateful that I went through this initial learning curve on a more rugged tool since it forced me to find creative technical solutions.  With the amazing capacity of the tools available today, I’ve seen a tendency in some newbies to sit back and be more of a passive software driver. At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old-timer, I’m glad that in order to create what would now be considered rudimentary effects, I had to MacGyver together some clever trick to get the job done.  Going about my work with this more “MacGyvering” approach I feel has made me more fearless and creative with my software.

Drive the software – don’t let the software drive you.

At work, my responsibilities expanded beyond the classes to include show openings, interstitials, and the like.  I also took on my first outside freelance job for a commercial.  This proud moment in my career was a commercial for a local taco restaurant which featured 3D animated peppers, onions, and a tomato all wearing sombreros, dancing and shaking maracas. Although the taco restaurant did go out of business a month or so after the commercial aired, my animated conga line of vegetables was never proven to be the direct cause of their economic downturn.

For the pre-calculus class I worked with, I created an animation depicting how the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes was able to measure the size of the earth in the 3rd century BC with only basic geometry.  I was quite proud of the video and felt it was a great example of how I could use my medium to communicate abstract concepts, but never thought that anyone outside of the classes would give it much attention.  A colleague encouraged me to submit this animation to the SIGGRAPH conference.  Every year, the SIGGRAPH conference is a mecca for computer artists from around the world, and their Electronic Theater is the holy grail of computer animation festivals featuring the most beautiful and cutting edge work in the CG world.  I honestly thought it was rather stupid to think I my work belonged anywhere near the conference, but after some coercion, I figured all I had to lose was some postage and a sliver of pride.  A few months later, I remember reading and rereading in disbelief the letter from the conference saying that my animation was accepted into the Electronic Theater.  Compared to the other entries in the festival, my animation was very low-tech, but the story was good and it had a compelling message.

A strong idea, even when presented a humble way, is still compelling.

Getting my work in such an international venue did draw a good deal of attention, and, long story short, I was eventually offered a job at a major visual effects studio. I did have a demo reel I had pieced together, and interestingly enough, the part of it that seemed to impress the studio the most was the clip that was the most “low-tech”.  In my work, I had felt that I was often fighting a certain inertia in terms of the look the software could deliver.  For this one piece, I decided to go in a completely opposite direction in terms of look, and hacked together a clever little low-tech cheat to create something that looked completely different.  The resulting novelty of the look impressed them, and they were even more impressed when I told them how simply I had accomplished it.

This studio where I was hired was a place I had worshiped from afar for many years, and getting a job there was an odd mix of exhilaration and “oh crap, what have I gotten myself into”.  Again, I see that I was hired on as an investment probably more than for the current quality of my work.  The job took me and my wife to Los Angeles, and to compound to the surreal nature of the move, the LA branch of the studio was in a small place up in the Hollywood Hills immediately under the Hollywood sign.  The studio was actually the closest structure to the sign, and if the second O in Hollywood were to become dislodged and fall over, it would have crushed my workstation.

The first feature film I worked on was probably one of the most fruitful learning experiences of my life.  This was due not only to the fact that I was still new to the visual effects industry, but also because nearly everything that could happen wrong in production did, and I had a plethora of lessons in “try to make sure this never happens again”.  For this feature, I was given a sequence to create in which a CG creature was to fight two actors and eventually be beaten into submission.  My first “try to make sure this never happens again” lesson was that the whole sequence had already been shot before anyone knew what the creature was supposed to look like.  In the footage I was given, the actors were essentially beating the hell out of what looked like an 8-foot phallus covered in greenscreen material, and I had to figure out what to put in there in place of the giant phallus.  I was able to reverse-engineer a design for the creature and figure out what actions I could make it perform in order to have the fight make sense.  I think what I came up with was pretty effective, although it resulted in my creature being an abysmal fighter.  The creature had to make many unwise moves which always seemed to place some part of his body in the path of a punch every 20 frames or so.

Tomorrow we continue with Part 2 of The Reality of an Unreal Career.


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Feel free to share your thoughts – Beau is available for remarks or questions in the Comments section below… 

 

The night I lost my voice

From time to time, I move away from writing and the publishing business to write about my own life and perceptions.  Tonight is one of those nights.

 

It is no secret to anyone that my upbringing was violent, raised in a church that takes the Bible so literally that the most heinous acts of violence seem perfectly logical, godly, and properly.  Where a claim of “disobedience” from a young child is enough to make her responsible for rape, incest, torture, and worse done upon her.  And where no cry for help is to be listened to.  After all, it IS the three year old’s fault if her father rapes her and slashes her with knives, is it not?

Well, so I was brainwashed into believing for many years — until I learned not to.

 

In the first six years of my life I was mortally wounded by my father six separate times — three times on Beltane (April 30th/May 1st)  and three times on Samhain (all hallow’s eve).  Sometimes I will talk about being shot or drowned.  But what I never talk about was the night, I was maybe three or four, when my voice was taken away.

 

 

The audio edition of Boudicca:  Britain's Queen of the Iceni by Laurel A. Rockefeller and narrated by Richard Mann

The audio edition of Boudicca: Britain’s Queen of the Iceni by Laurel A. Rockefeller and narrated by Richard Mann

My favorite actor and, by the grace of god/goddess/the universe, the narrator of my biographical novella “Boudicca” talks about the importance of the voice.  If you have not seen his presentation talking about the importance of our voices (courtesy of Future Legend Media), it is a true joy to watch.  

 

Our voices are very important.  But that dark night — I cannot remember if it were Beltane or Samhain — my voice was both literally and figuratively taken away.

 

By this time, my father had his routine down pretty well, kidnapping me from my room and making sure everyone else at home was either asleep or too frightened to stir.  I was usually taken into the woods near our house.  My family home was on the edge of Lincoln, Nebraska when it as first built a few months before I was born — so there were ample woods and wildlife around.  As usual, my father cut my throat one to two centimeters below my left ear (this routine left a somewhat pronounced scar — if you look)  and offered some blood to whatever it was he felt he needed to worship or revere; I will not claim I know or understand, only that the nearest I can describe the sounds of these prayers would be the “black tongue of Mordor” in Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  After raping me (which was also part of the routine), he noticed I was fighting back with the one part of myself that was stronger than the ropes he bound me with:  my voice, my song.

 

There is something spiritual about singing from the heart and soul, especially when you are that young and lack the filtering egos and superegos that enable adults to filter information.  At four the mind has not yet learned how to reject incorrect or harmful information, let alone tell the difference between when adults are telling them the truth or lying to them — which is also why many children do not know the difference between reality and fantasy.  Because of this, a child’s song is especially pure; there is no deceit to it.  If humans ever tap into the voice of that which created all of us — it is at that same age.  Healing warmth filled me.  My spirit was far from broken.  Resistance was not futile.

 

Enraged, my father drove his boline (a razor sharp ritual knife) into my vocal chords.  The singing stopped.  All sound from my throat stopped.  I Crossed Over.  But as it was before, something powerful and divine would not open the door, the tunnel some see during “near” death experiences.  The silver cord binding soul to flesh remained strong and tight, holding my spirit to just a few feet or inches away from my blood-drained body.  I was, for the lack of a better term, “MOSTLY DEAD.”  The flesh had no blood left — but the spirit remained nearly as tightly rooted as it was any other moment in my life.

 

Satisfied, my father left me for dead for a time.  I cannot tell you what happened next except that at some point, my spirit sank downward, back into my body.  Was it god or the goddess who restored me to life?  Was it some part of my spirit that simply refused death?  I am too honest a scientist to guess and have always been so.

 

The next thing I knew, I was back in my bed — but I could not speak.

 

Do not ask me why no one noticed — or cared — that my notorious chatterbox fell completely silent for weeks while my body healed.  On the surface of my skin, only a tiny mark remained.  But I could not speak, let alone sing.  No sound came out, not even a buzz.  The family dog knew and tried to console me (this was about four or five years before I finally won my argument to get my first bird).  But absolutely no one else cared that I could not speak anymore.

 

I was silenced.

 

Time of course healed my flesh, leaving little evidence unless you look for it — except when I was asked to sing in school.  Though my voice has always been pleasant to listen to (one time, while writing a song on the subway on my way home from something in Brooklyn I was directly asked if I sang on Broadway — quite a complement), I had a technical problem with my voice.  No C sharp note!  The only way to hit it or get close was to FORCE it — essentially do exactly the opposite of what every vocal music teacher or coach tells you to do — to some unpleasant consequences at times.  Today I can sing that C sharp — after a moment of particular healing while attending university.

 

But though the physical side waned and healed with time, what I never realized until tonight was that my voice was silenced more sinisterly that terrible night in the woods.  From that night forward, every single person around me DISMISSED every single thing I said.  Truth or lying did not matter (naturally my habit has always been to tell the truth — whether you want the truth or not).  No one heeded me.  No one listened.  It was as if I were invisible.

 

On November 5th, 1985, the night before lines were due in the only drama class where anyone allowed me to participate on stage, a car hit me in the left temple, slicing across the left side of the brain before my skull shattered entirely to, well, rather gruesome results –and taking all memory, including academic memory, with it.  That was the seventh time I Crossed Over — and the only accident.  If I were a right handed person like most of you this certainly would have ended all ability to communicate from a neurological stand point because those regions are clustered behind/close to the left ear.  As it happens, I am in the 50% of left handers (5% of the general population) who have SYMMETRY in the brain — meaning that instead of a single center for speech and for understanding speech, I have one on each side of my head.   My ability to speak, read, and write, remained.

 

But what good is speech if you are completely ignored, if everything you say and do is ignored or made excuses?  This extended to my health — to food allergies, to the headache that never went away after the concussion.  Not even falling grades (I had to literally re-learn everything all over again that year in school) were enough to signal to anyone that anything was wrong.

My voice was truly gone.

 

It is therefore a very humbling matter tonight to not only remember the physical attack that silenced me as a child, but also realize that the attack was also very much a psychological and spiritual one as well, designed to do exactly what it achieved.  My father is a very smart criminal who was never caught nor punished thanks to his destruction of my voice, one more than willing to speak truth to power.

 

Breath creates your voice.  You cannot sing without pushing air through your larynx.

 

Holy Mother Goddess, teach me to sing again with confidence and strength.  Let my words no longer fall to deaf ears.  Let the beauty of my writing reach the minds and hearts of others.  And bring into my life those who will encourage me to sing once more, to climb up to a high perch and dare raise my voice to heaven once more.   Let there be, at last, people in my life who care enough to steady me so that I can finally be heard. Let this little bird finally take flight.

 

So mote it be.

 

 

 

 

 

An intimate look at my life as a low vision author

This is one of the few pictures of me with a white cane taken in July 2010.  I'm only a size 2 in this picture following three years at the time of taking a very strong prescription migraine medicine that nearly killed me (I weighed just 83 lbs at the time).

This is one of the few pictures of me with a white cane taken in July 2010. I’m only a size 2 in this picture following three years at the time of taking a very strong prescription migraine medicine that nearly killed me (I weighed just 83 lbs at the time).

My dear friend Alexandra Butcher interviewed me this weekend regarding the special challenges I face as a low vision author.  Since I don’t want to be typecast into people’s stereotypes of the differently-abled, I usually don’t talk about my sight loss and my books at the same time.

This is one of the most intimate portraits ever of my life.

http://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/the-challenges-of-a-blind-author-follow-up-laurel/