Apr 29, 2011

Book 3 of 12: Odd and the Frost Giants

I really read this in March, honestly, but with school and work being school and work, I didn't have time/didn't make time to review it then.

So this was my third book of the year, the first 'kids' book, also marking a quarter of the books I've set out to read this year. Yay me.

Odd and the Frost Giants is a story of an unusual boy (is there any other kind in children's literature?) who has a bad leg and annoying smile and leaves home. (His father died years earlier and his mother wed a widower who favored his own children over protagonist Odd.) It takes place somewhere in Scandinavia sometime in the middle ages (Viking times). Odd lives in his father's old woodcutting shack until he meets an unusual fox who leads him to a singular bear overlooked by an individual eagle. The bear's paw is trapped in a tree, Odd frees him and they follow him home. While asleep Odd thinks he dreams the animals are all talking, but this being a Neil Gaiman book, Odd wakes up and not only realizes the animals are all talking, but is told that these animals are none other than All-Father Odin (the Eagle), the Mighty Thor (the Bear of course) and mischevious Loki (Fox) whose fault it naturally was that they are in this predicament. (A Frost Giant tricked Loki into giving it Thor's hammer)

With Odd's help they make it up the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard. There Odd drinks from Mímir's well, outsmarts the giant largely through smiling at him in an annoying way, and Asgard again belongs to Odin, Thor and Loki, who of course returned to their natural forms. Freya the goddess fixes Odd's leg which he had broken when a child and he returns home all growed up.

Despite the fact that the book really should have been called "Odd and the Frost GianT," (there was only one) I really liked it, though it was very, very short. It read like a child's story merged with a tale from Norse mythology (my favorite mythology) which is pretty much what it was.

My biggest gripe and only gripe was just the brevity of the story. While it made it easy for me to reach my goal, having read it in a few hours on March 31, it read more like an outline of a story rather than a full, fleshed out tale that Gaiman is known for.

Still, if you have a few hours to spend and you love Gaiman as much as me, I would recommend it. 3 out of 5 stars.

Apr 27, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Playing Peek a boo with Moby
Seeing a freshly clean room in my home even if it's only clean for a few seconds
Going to J-Dawgs on the rare occasion I'm in Provo
Calming down an angry customer on the phone
Having time to just relax with Tracie
Birthday Cake
Falling in love with an author I didn't know existed
A new CD from one of my favorite musicians
Getting a water filter $1000 cheaper than originally advertised
Visiting friends
finishing a 50 page novella
building a website
completing an 8 page brochure
drawing a life size self portrait that actually looks like me

Being DONE with the semester

Apr 23, 2011

Neil Gaiman on Dave McKean

My final project for Graphic Design is complete! We were to design a brochure, I decided to do mine on the collaboration between the writer Neil Gaiman and the illustrator Dave McKean. I found a great article on Gaiman's website that I used for the text, here's what I did:

A Statement: An Artistic Statement

For my Creative Writing class, we had to write an essay on things we learned this semester, what we liked about writing our novella, etc. Because I love my writing almost as much as I love myself, I wanted to treat you to reading it even before my teacher does. Enjoy.

All my life I've been a story teller. Throughout my formative years, teachers, parents and other adults would call me a liar on occasion, but I never used my gift of gab for selfish gain. Well, practically never. I used to invent stories about wicked dragons and good monsters for friends. I told tales that those creatures were the original residents of our neighborhood and mysterious shapes in rocks and esoteric carvings in trees were remnants of their primordial battles, or records left by storytellers of times past. (This was in Southern California's foothills north of Los Angeles). I came to find out that my friends/ storytelling audience took these tales as fact, and I never corrected them. This was around the time when I was in Kindergarten, and I hope they figured out the tales were fictional by now, although a part of me enjoys indulging in ruminations that I was such a skilled story weaver that they all still somewhat believe. Writing just grew as an extension of my storytelling, a way to remember 'facts' or at least things I said, and a way to cultivate my budding creativity. "We owe it to ourselves to tell stories," said Neil Gaiman. I continued story telling throughout growing up, sometimes reading another wordsmith's writings to a sibling or other child, other times reading my own, or making stories up on the fly, whether about dragons, pirates, giants, the color indigo, popcorn, shoes, Australia or spacemen.

I still tell stories. This semester in creative writing I was assigned to write a twenty thousand word novella (as no doubt you're aware). Rather than stick with something I'm comfortable with, namely humor, or something I'm familiar with, fantasy, I decided to dust off an idea I kept in the shelves of my mind for about three years. So for February and a half I typed up what would become a Western ghost story. My first draft emerged as bloated and unintelligible and pointless, and those are the positive things about it. But, I wrote the tale in about six weeks, an hour a day for about 3 days a week only. Not too bad. Then came the rewrite, and it felt like it took a few more hours and many additional cursings and yelling than the original. It was definitely more difficult, not least of all because I waited until three days before the assignment's due date to begin the rewrite. I knew what I needed to do, but I had never rewritten anything, let alone never written anything of such breadth as this novella. I knew I needed to eliminate one character since he was meant to be a secondary character and exposition giver instead of the one who swoops in like a God in a machine rescuing the "heroes" not once but three times. I knew I needed to make the threat of a evil ghost/vampire/zombie man more immediate and more terrifying, as well as many minor edits to make narrative threads more connected and make more sense. But knowing you need to change something and actually changing are two different things. I can say "I want to write the greatest novella ever written" for example, but that won't write the story for me, any more than saying "I need to quit drinking" can cure alcoholism. Usually, it will just make it that much more daunting. Rewriting was a new thing to me, I've never been good at it. Before rewriting I'm always unsure of where and how to begin, how to tell if what I rewrote was an improvement or just a substitution of one problem for a new one; like putting out a fire and causing a flood. But, like telling made-up stories to believing peers in childhood, once I actually tried, it was possible. Not easy and not as fun as the stories of a two headed dragon whose fiery breath formed the crescent La Crescenta, California took its name from, but I could do it. And I did.

The new draft is about ten times better than the first draft, but it's still not anywhere near where I want it to be. It's not that interesting and the dialogue hardly "pops," if anything, it "plops." As I said before, the story is different than anything I've written. Being deeply attracted to strong opinionated women, (and married to one) I often include several such characters in my stories. But in this story there's only one female character of note, and I'm sure reviewers (if I ever get any) may think I treat her unfairly if not misogynistically, (that's not a word, but you should get what I mean). The story as I mentioned before has little if any humor, whereas a common feature in practically everything I've written is some amount of comedy, whether highbrow dry wit or lowbrow jokes concerning bodily emissions. I'm talking about farts here. It's not the darkest thing I've ever written, probably second or third, and I've never been much of a fan of the Western genre. Exceptions would be the movies Maverick and Blazing Saddles, though to be fair that's more comedy with a Western setting, isn't it?

A Western, to Austin.

So why did I write a western ghost story? I think for the same reason I made up fantastical stories for kindred Kindergartners in my youth: for the challenge. To see if I could do it. Maybe the concept my subconscious conceives is that if I can create a Western story I find interesting when I don't care at all for the genre itself, then writing about things I do care about should be easier than writing a story about sparkling vampires. Similar to running at higher elevation where the air is thinner to make running at sea level a breeze, if the hardest task can be accomplished, what can't? Whether or not writing this Western story has turned out good for me or bad for me, I can only say that the best news is I'm eager already to start writing something else. Not to distance myself from this story, but to get right back and snuggle next to my Muse and keyboard and start plucking out a new tale. Writing and rewriting this story, I haven't lost my love of writing, far from it. I have gained a greater appreciation for creating a cohesive narrative and I've gained confidence that I can at last rewrite. It only took me 29 years of storytelling to go back and correct my mistakes made in the first draft.

Now that I've accomplished the writing goal I've had for several years, that is, learn how to rewrite, I must reflect on new writing goals. Publication? Certainly a nice goal, but I think my level of proficiency will never reach quite the heights I'd like in order to have my work read professionally. I tell myself that if I aim for publication then writing and storytelling will lose much of its magic, so I avoid it for now. I have no reservation having it read or printed, but I do refrain from allowing myself to imagine I'll be a world-renowned writer ever. This is both for ego protection and realism. For my next writing journey, I'd like to write something completely different. Something silly and witty and creepy and immature and philosophical with strong female characters and no attempt to be anything more than a darn good read. But, like the goal to rewrite is different than the act of writing, the desire to write "something" witty and creative is a different animal altogether than actually writing it. However, thanks to this class I am completely up to the task and ready to rewrite my next story before I even write it or know what it will be about. Maybe about a young boy who makes up stories of dragons and monsters in his neighborhood that the other children believe and start coming true. Nah.


The differences a semester can make.

Apr 20, 2011

Apr 19, 2011

Portfolio Going Live

For My Interactive Design class our final assignment was to make a portfolio website. After much sweat, labor, swearing and begging for help from everyone, I present austinbeckstrom.com version 1.0. Let me know what you think, I'm partially thrilled with it, partially embarrassed by it, but goshdangit, I'm done with it!

One assignment for the end of the semester done, three to go!

Apr 13, 2011


In Rendering the Human Head I've been rendering a lot of human heads. I thought it would be fun to see my progress. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or intentional, but one of the models from the beginning of the semester posed for us again today. The image on top is the one I drew at the beginning of the semester,
This is the one I drew today. The nose and neck are too long and one of the eyes seems a bit off, but I still think I've improved. What do you think?

Apr 12, 2011

Little Whinging

No, this is not a post about the fictional town in Surrey in the Harry Potter universe, it's a post of me whinging (or whining) about school and stuff.

Aren't you lucky?

The semester is nearly over, and through no fault of my own (cough - procrastination - cough cough excuse me) I have a literal mountain of work to do. And no, I'm not using the word literal incorrectly. There is a mountain of work I need to do. So there. Would you like to hear all about it? I thought not. Here it is anyway.

For Rendering the Human Head, simultaneously my favorite and least favorite classes, I need to complete a dual self portrait of myself (hence the 'self' part) showing 2 different aspects or expressions. My plan is to draw a carnival freak show, myself as the 2-headed artist with one face typical realistic/naturalistic looking, the other snarling angry evil Austin. It should be fun, I just need to set aside time to do it, but that's harder than it may at first seem. It's due in 2 weeks, so it's probably last on my priorities right now. What's first on priorities you ask? Funny you should ask that.

I took Creative Writing: Intermediate Fiction Writing this semester because I had the foolish idea that all the art and design classes would get boring, so writing would be a welcome reprieve. While true, I forgot that writing can also be an awful lot of WORK. I wrote the story I've been thinking of off and on for at least 3 years (yay!) but it reminded me I can be a terrible writer (no, no, it's true. Stop with your reassurances and raving at my brilliance, just stop...for now) and I have a LOT of work cut out for me to get it good enough to allow someone else to read it without worrying about the implications of them using it as a torture device or weapon of mass disgustion. That's due funnily enough on my birthday, and while I know what I need to do mostly to fix it or at least improve it, I'm learning that knowing I need to fix something and fixing it are two very different things.

Interactive Design began as the class where I thought I knew more than the rest of the class. Somewhere between then and now I now again feel like the dumbest kid in class. Everyone's site looks professional if not brilliant and mine appears juvenile and worse: non-functional. Hopefully by next Thursday I'll have a functional website with pictures of things I've drawn and designed and then I won't be the only one to know what a horrible artist I am. Yay! Seriously, I've really enjoyed the class, I'm just stressed about the amount of work I'm putting into a website I don't even like. Kind of like that girl I dated once, all that work and energy for someone I didn't really even...

So, last class is actually always the first one of the week (Monday and Wednesday mornings) I think it was the class I was most apprehensive about, though it's become one of my favorite. I am speaking of Typography and Layout. This class more than any other makes me think I could become a successful designer someday. I really like the teacher even though I'm not sure he cares for me, I really like the class and all the assignments. My last assignment is to design a brochure of... something. Most people either did places or events, I chose to do one on one of my favorite artists: Dave McKean. I'll post pictures of the brochure eventually, but it's coming along rather nicely, it's just, like everything else, will require a lot of time and I will probably need to take a day or two off of work next week and the week after, and possibly choose not to sleep.
From Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum comic, illustrated by Dave McKean.

This wouldn't be so bad but I also have a wonderful but demanding job and a inexplicable desire to advance within the company (odd, I know) but I find little time or chance to do it except near the end of the day when I'm so exhausted I can only sit here and blog about my troubles.

However, while school is taxing if not outright insane (it's outright insane) there are many wonderful things in my life, most notably my new video game just kidding my wife and son. Thank you Tracie and Morgan for bringing me back from the brink of insanity, and to Morgan, for sending me there in the first place but your smiles and giggles make everything worth it.

Thanks to you readers for reading my blog even when I whinge or whine and I apologize for not writing as frequently as usual, and I amend to write more, once this semester is over.