Monday, August 8, 2011

Tall Picket Fence Shelf, Weathered

A few weeks ago I decided to design and build a large book shelf for my home. The plan was to make it from wood that looked as though it had been pulled from a hundred year old barn. I decided to use fence posts since they are inexpensive and lightweight.
Of course, the wood didn't just look like that when I bought it. First, I had to learn a thing or two about distressing wood.

Here are the steps that I followed.

First, I had to figure out what I wanted the shelf to look like. I based my design off a similar shelf I'd seen in an old country store, but my version is much taller, heavily distressed, and includes a basket at the bottom.
Once I had a plan, the first thing I did was cut all the pieces to the lengths I wanted. My measuring wasn't perfect first time around, but fortunately I erred on the long side, so I just had to make a few minor trims to make it all fit. The posts I used are made from 5/8" x 6" x 6' privacy fence. I had to split each of them in half right up the middle to get the desired width. Then I added pointed tips to the boards I knew would be standing upright.

Next, I painted all of the various pieces. I chose a soft color that I thought might make a nice contrast against the dark spots of distress I planned to add later. The color I picked is Sunset Gray by Behr which I thought would give the wood a nice sun-bleached look.
Once the paint was dry, I was ready to start distressing. I found this to be the longest and most difficult part of the entire process. For the look I was going for I really had to spend a lot of time on each plank. I used an awl to poke all of the worm-holes and leave scratches. In addition to an even spread of worm-holes across each plank, I gave some areas a really thorough stabbing so it would look like the worms had really been chowing down. When all my stabbing was finished, I hit the wood with an old railroad spike to leave dents and chips. I have heard of people using a chain for this step, but I had better luck with the railroad spike. Try different things and experiment until you find a method you like.

Then I was ready to apply a stain. I chose a dark brown, almost black color called Jacobean, because I felt it would contrast strongly with the much softer Sunset gray. The idea here was to get the stain on and off as quickly and completely as possible. I only wanted it to soak into the holes and scratches, not to radically alter the color of my paint. To do this, I spread a layer across each board and wiped it away immediately with a paper towel. I used a paper towel as opposed to a rag or sponge because I wanted something that would absorb completely rather than smear the stain around. Also the paper towels were disposable. If anyone knows of a more efficient way to do this, please let me know, because I used a TON of paper towels during this phase and they kept leaving little dingle-berries everywhere! But overall, I found that the stain soaked into the areas of distress and caused them to really stand out and look nice. Now, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the stain also altered the color of my paint in a major way by making it much darker and browner than I'd originally planned, but it wasn't so catastrophic that I didn't still like the look or couldn't bring myself to live with it. It still looked very cool, just not quite what I'd had in mind. If anybody knows of a better way to do this that won't result in as great a change to my paint, but also doesn't require me to use an eyedropper to stain each small worm-hole individually, then I would love to hear about it.
This was my first time to ever attempt such a project, and I'm rather pleased with the result. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing what you think!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Terminator the Second by Husky Jackal Theater

When I was in high school and had to read The Crucible in lit class, me and some friends had the tongue-in-cheek idea to make a movie — a film halfway influenced by The Crucible, halfway influenced by Terminator 2: Judgement Day. We were going to call it THE CRUCINATOR. At the time, we were excited about it, and we managed to get half the senior class excited about it too. In fact, we were so excited that we collectively skipped a day of school to actually go out and film THE CRUCINATOR. There was no working script, no costumes, no anything really. But we did have a camera and a rough outline of what we wanted to see happen. I remember the ending: After defeating pretty much everyone and everything pro AS WELL AS anti-witch in Salem, John Proctor would have had a heartfelt moment with his wife Elizabeth. He’d take her into his arms, shed a tear, and say, “There’s one more witch, and it must be destroyed also.” Proctor would then point to himself. Dramatically, he would release Elizabeth, move to the edge of the gallows, reach out, take the rope in his hands, slip the noose around his neck, make one last eye contact with Elizabeth, give her a big thumbs up, and step off the gallows. Ah, as silly as that is, to this day some part of me still feels like that was a good idea.

Sadly, our project didn't go very well. It was a mess, and the video that came out of it was an unfinished jumble of improv and silliness that didn't look very much like either Crucible or Terminator. But we did have fun... Man, I really wish I could find that video!

Maybe that’s why I got so excited when I found out about Terminator the Second. The Husky Jackal Theater company in Nashville have adapted Terminator 2 for the stage and, through a painstaking process, have managed to replace every single line of dialogue with something that William Shakespeare once said!

Husky Jackal Theater: “We adhered to strict guidelines regarding the usage of Shakespeare’s works. Each line and phrase is taken directly from folios printed by or before 1685, and many extended sections of dialogue are composed of individual lines from separate works. Only proper nouns and pronouns were subject to change, as dictated by the plot. In these instances, all proper nouns are supplanted only by other proper nouns, and all pronouns by other pronouns. In some cases, corresponding verb tenses are modified. These practices enabled us to accurately retell the story of Terminator 2: Judgment Day while remaining true to the words of Shakespeare in form (if less so in intent).”

And judging from sample pages of the script (1) (2), it sounds like they have done a remarkably good job.

To be back, or not to be back?

When I first heard about this, I was stoked. The whole concept is just hilarious! These guys have taken our Crucinator idea to the next level. I knew right away that, if such a play actually existed, I NEEDED to see it. And that’s when I read some of the details on their Kickstarter page. For a pledge of $50, Husky Jackal promises two tickets. For $100 they were offering the tickets plus a copy of the script with an annotated bibliography of all the quote sources!!! I was immediately reaching for my wallet.

But then I stopped.

Who was this Husky Jackal Theater? What is this Kickstarter? I needed to make sure it wasn’t a scam. So I sent an email to Husky Jackal. Cutting to the chase, I found out that they are indeed legitimate, and I decided to go ahead and pledge $100 to help fund their project. However, if you are less than convinced, I would like to share our email conversation at the end of this blog entry, especially since Terminator the Second has kinda gone viral over the past few days, and I feel like I have this exclusive interview with its creators. It was very informative and contained a good deal of information that hasn’t been posted anywhere else on the web.

If you’re a fan of theater, comedy, Shakespeare, or Terminator, this is a ridiculous fever-dream come true. I strongly urge anyone who gets a chuckle out this to consider making a pledge to these good folks. The performance is supposed to take place in Nashville some time this summer. I’ll definitely be there. Maybe I’ll see you there too!

P.S. Oh, and Husky Jackal, if you ever decide to make a sequel, I hope you'll keep The Crucinator in mind... It could be gold!

An email from me to Husky Jackal:

Dear Husky Jackal Theater,

I really want to donate to your project, because it sounds cool as hell, but I want to make sure it isn't a scam. Can I maybe get a little additional info? Is this your first production? What other plays have you been involved with in the past? That sort of thing. I desperately want this to be real, so I hope I'm not coming off as rude. Thing is, I googled "Husky Jackal Theater" and couldn't find a link to anything else you've done. I just want to be sure you exist outside of the internet. I'm poised to donate, and I don't need much convincing, but can I please have SOMETHING?  Please write back soon, as I can't wait to make a pledge.

- Ricky Aucoin

An email from Husky Jackal to me:

Hi Ricky,

Thanks for getting in touch, and we completely appreciate your concern. You're right--we don't have much of a web presence. We're building it up as we speak (including a site for Terminator the Second in the works), but Husky Jackal was essentially formed to put on this production.

Husky Jackal Theater co-founder Marshall Weber and I spent the majority of 2010 writing the script. We've spent the past several months bringing the early elements of our production together. We've secured a dedicated and talented crew. We have support from a local venue (the Exit/In), and a near-complete cast. We have secured rehearsal space, (in a local warehouse), and will begin running rehearsals in a few weeks. We've established connections within the local theater community to ensure that we can continue to grow our team in the right way, and we're going to continue to do so.

Now, here's what we don't have: a reputation to trade on, and most of the luxuries of established theater companies. We're an all-volunteer operation, and this entire project is both a labor of love and an experiment in bringing Shakespearean theater into non-traditional spaces (rock clubs), in front of new audiences.

Each member of our cast and crew, including Marshall and myself, brings a degree of experience in one regard or another (many of our crew worked together initially on the award-winning feature "Make-Out with Violence," which I co-created, and in which I co-star--you can check it out at, or read the NY Times review here: [clearly, I'm not above a little self-promotion).

Some of our lead actors have had notable roles in films and local theater productions, but we're essentially operating on a community theater model: find the people who bring passion AND talent, and empower them in ways they might not be empowered in more traditional, established companies. And, that being said, the attention we're finding will help us attract the best people we can for the project, which is critical--we want this show to be an *event.*

And here's the other important thing, Ricky--we thought we had a pretty good promotion strategy in place, but we had absolutely no idea how quickly this was going to take off. If we'd known that there were as many other people who wanted to make this happen as we've found, we absolutely would have made ourselves more available. It's something we're working towards doing now, and I hope this message helps to put your mind at ease. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Cody DeVos
Co-Founder, Husky Jackal Theater

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tips for Writers

It’s been a while since my last post. A lot of noteworthy things have happened, but I’m so unaccustomed to blogging that I’ve failed to jot any of that stuff down. I may try to play catch-up in a future post. But right now, I want to share a few writing suggestions. These are things I’ve been trying out lately that have proven quite effective.
Tip #1 – Interact with other writers.
About a year ago, I was forced to realize something rather difficult: I didn’t know anyone who could give me the kind of critiques I needed. See, I had just finished writing the first draft of a novel a few months prior, and I was trying to get feedback by passing it around to all of my family and friends. A select few responded immediately, but their corrections mostly had to do with grammar and punctuation. While I appreciated the contribution, the area I felt needed the most work was the story itself. Very few offered anything that was truly helpful in this way. Now, I don’t want to make it sound worse than it was – I did get a few solid tips, mostly from English teachers. But it still felt more difficult than it needed to be. I wondered why no one seemed to get what I was asking, why they were reluctant to have sit-down conversations about what I was doing wrong. Well, the simple answer is that they didn’t care about the story as much as I did; they had no stake in it. I was asking them to do something for which they had no natural talent or interest, and they weren’t even getting anything in return.
I began using my Twitter account to network with other writers – this is something else I highly recommend. I found authors I had read and respected and decided to start following their tweets. I looked at the people they retweeted, and I’d start following them too. Soon, I had a sizable number of writers, editors, literary magazines, and bloggers showing up on my feed (a few of them were even nice enough to follow me back). I asked them questions about the best ways to get critiques, and one thing I heard over and over again was that I needed to show my writing to other writers. But I didn’t know any other writers, so what was I supposed to do? One of my Twitter friends recommended joining a local writing group. I decided to give it a shot.
For those of you who have never used it, Meetup is an excellent resource. After a quick search, I was able to find a freshly-formed writing group meeting in my city. Note: not all writing groups are worthwhile, and not all people in your writing group are going to be worthwhile. But I was lucky enough to join one with a core group of startlingly talented folks. I’ve been to about 6 meetings now, and overall, it has been a really great experience. Over the past few meetings our group has started to dwindle some, but I’ve still made a few worthwhile contacts who are happy to give me fantastic critiques. Which brings me to my next point…
Tip #2 – Give critiques.
Remember how I said that my friends and family weren’t as interested, because they weren’t getting anything in return? Well, with other writers you never have to worry about that, because you will be asked to return the favor. The other writers you meet will have experienced the same frustrations as yourself. They know what it’s like to pour their souls into a story, agonizing until they have precisely the right words, doubting and constantly second guessing themselves, only to have their mothers or significant others look over it once and respond in a tone of half-question, “It’s good!” They know all about that stuff, and usually they are just as eager as you are to get real feedback. And as a writer, there is no one more qualified to help them than you. You should always be willing to offer your hand at a critique, and not just because it helps other writers who will in turn help you. No, there’s more to it than that. Taking the time to really read something, to see it for what it is, in all of its beauty and flaws, that WILL make you a better writer. Think of it as practice for your own writing endeavors. When you critique others, it is like you are an NFL player studying game film. The more experience you have scrutinizing stories, the more equipped you are to tell your own.
Tip #3 – Read.
This is closely related to the previous tip. It seems like it should go without saying (but often it doesn’t) that writers need to always be reading. All sorts of things, all the time. As a writer, you need to form a serious addiction to processing information. Particularly information that pertains to your craft, but in a pinch anything will do. Short stories, novels, poetry, newspaper articles, tabloid trash, recent scientific findings, the ingredients in a box of your favorite breakfast cereal. There are useful ways to fold all of that information into your own work. I have a lot of problems in this area, and I usually end up putting down most books I start reading. I’m trying to get better at this, and I’ve recently started a diet where I require myself to consume at least one story a day. It doesn’t matter if it is a chapter in a book, a short story heard on a podcast, or a film I see on the big screen. The point is, I like to have the raw parts of a story floating around in my mind at all times. Theme, character, setting, motivation, cause and effect, action and consequence, dialogue, conflict, energy... Before attempting to tell your own stories, you need to be confident in your understanding of what a story is, what makes it powerful, and how are the parts arranged for maximum effect. The only way to gain that understanding is by keeping your eyes open. Good stories are not made from scratch – they are made from thoughtfully selected ingredients and from influences so far-ranging and vast it is impossible to whittle it down to anything that resembles a specific formula. I sit in traffic for about 2-1/2 hours a day, so I’m not always able to read as often as I’d like, but I’ve taken up listening to podcasts in that time, and I’ve discovered some that are pretty great. I have discovered a lot of truly great literature this way, and I would recommend these podcasts to any writer.
New Yorker Fiction Podcast – About one episode per month. Story followed by discussion format. The discussion is one of the best aspects of this show. It almost feels as if I am sitting in on a university literature course discussion. The stories are top shelf.
PRI: Selected Shorts Podcast – About one episode per week. Great stories read live on stage by great actors. Usually more than one story per episode. This one is probably my favorite. The actors really bring the stories to life.
This American Life – One episode per week. Each show has a theme and features several types of stories centered around that theme. The stories on this show are primarily nonfiction.
The Moth Podcast – One episode per week. Live storytelling performances on stage by people without notes. This is storytelling in its most basic, stripped-down form. Nothing fancy, just a human voice with a story to tell.
Stuff You Should Know Podcast – About once every two days. Frequently updated show that is chock full of interesting information. Who knows, maybe you’ll get something useful out of it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dad's chipmunk story

Yesterday, my dad surprised me with an email that told a story from his childhood. Something you should know about my dad is that he tells a lot of stories, but he very seldom (if ever) writes them down. There have been plenty of times where he has expressed the desire to write a book about himself, saying that he has tons of good material to draw from but lacks the desire to spend the time it takes to jot them down. I'm not sure what caused him to write this one down, but I would be interested in reading more of these.

Subject: A true story from my youth.

My Paw Paw had a hunting/fishing camp that we spent a tremendous amount of time at back when I was a boy. It was nothing more than several poles sticking out of the ground with tin sides and a tin roof and a door. In short, it was a paradise palace for us boys. My little brother and I hunted and fished from daylight to dark for most every species found in Louisiana. We were very successful too. Talk about a game rich environment. Paw Paw's rules were law.  If we didn't obey, well, let's just say that there was no one around for miles to hear the screams.

One of the chores that Paw Paw assigned to us, (other than hunting and fishing for meals) was the extermination of chipmunks that had taken up residence in our little shack. Them little rascals dug tunnels everywhere under our shack and did a significant amount of damage. They gnawed on just about everything. They stole knives , forks, spoons, and all manner of things small enough for them to carry off into their tunnels and dens. But when they got into Paw Paw's mattress on his bed and stole most of the stuffing, he declared a bounty on their heads. He offered us a nickle for every one we could kill with our Benjamin pump air rifles. Needless to say, we had tons of fun earning them nickles. It would have been impossible for us to actually put a dent in their population due to the immense numbers of them and the fact that they didn't sit still too long. 

One particular day, I had about a dozen chipmunks in my pockets and was walking back to the camp to proudly collect my bounty. I had to crawl under a barbed wire fence so I carefully placed my gun on the other side and started to crawl. About half way under the fence, I felt one of the chipmunks in my hip pocket moving around. I came up from there in a hurry and started shucking munks from the pocket in fear of getting bit in a very tender area. When I found the one that wasn't dead, I put the others back in the pocket and instead of finishing him off, I carefully picked him up. I noticed that he was a young one and had been shot through one eye. For some strange reason I decided not to show this one to Paw Paw. When I got back to the camp I wrapped him up in an old flannel shirt and hid it in the truck. We got busy filling up the ice chest with bass and bream and I actually forgot about the chipmunk till I got home and was helping unload the truck. I grabbed up my shirt and carried it around where nobody else could see. I was fully expecting the little chipmunk to be dead and I felt bad that I had forgotten about him. Surprisingly he was still breathing. He wasn't moving much and seemed awfully weak. It was at that point I had to make a decision. It didn't take long to decide that I wanted to try to save him. Now all I had to do was convince the grown-ups. Maybe it was to teach me a lesson, I don't know. But neither my parents nor grandparents, (we lived next door to Maw Maw & Paw Paw), tried to talk me out of it. In fact, my Daddy, (who I thought would offer the most resistance), said,"bring it in the house and let me see what I can do". Daddy took him and put some Merthiolate and Neosporin on the injured eye. He then told me that my patient may not make it if the pellet fractured the skull and or was lodged somewhere inside. A little later, after finding an old shoe box for a temporary chipmunk hospital, I was able to get him to take some warm milk from an eyedropper. The next morning, I heard him moving around in the box a little bit. He eagerly took some more milk but was very weak. I knew that chipmunks of this size needed more than milk so I got some shelled pecans from my Maw Maw and mashed some up into mush and mixed it in with the milk. Chip, (that's his name now), seemed to like this pecan mush milk a lot. As the days went by, he got stronger and stronger. I continued applying the Neosporin to his eye and feeding him regularly. Eventually he was back on his feet and living in a brand new cage that Paw Paw helped me build. And somewhere along the way, Paw Paw stopped hating chipmunks so much. I started feeding him shelled pecans and acorns and such and gave him water from one of those little hamster water bottles that I fastened in the cage. It took quite a while, but he healed up nicely except for being blind in one eye, and could gnaw into the acorns and pecans by himself. I had been handling Chip every day since I brought him home, so he was used to me and didn't seem to mind being held. He actually acted glad to see me and would climb all over me. He never tried to escape and was content to be on my shoulder or in my shirt pocket, peeking out now and then. Even stranger still was that our pit bull,(Reb), was fascinated with Chip. Reb never even once showed any aggression towards Chip. On the contrary, he played with Chip. It was the weirdest animal relationship ever. Chip could ride on Reb's back and those that saw it were amazed. I even snuck my little one eyed chipmunk to school with me a time or two. My friends, (the vast majority of which had never seen a chipmunk), loved him and the teachers that I trusted enough to show him to, didn't mind as long as he stayed in my shirt pocket and didn't cause a disruption.

At home, I didn't have to shut him up in the cage unless we were going somewhere that Momma said he couldn't go. I did however have to clean up after him if he made pellets or puddles outside the cage. Usually he was with me and I was outside.  I also had a small portable cage that I hung on my bike in case I happened to be playing ball or something. It was interesting watching him move around the house because he would get right up against a wall with his blind side and run along the wall till he got where he was going. Rarely would he venture out away from a wall or the couch unless he was riding Reb or me. I really don't remember exactly how long Chip lived, but I was somewhere around 5th or 6th grade and I was in my junior year of high school when I came home one day to find that he had passed away in his cage in my room. Having that little one eyed chipmunk was a lot of fun and a great experience for me. It never changed my love for hunting, but it did help to nurture a certain respect for life that I feel is missing in a lot of hunters. This is but one of countless little memories from my childhood. I hope I did'nt bore you to death with my ramblings.
- Richard

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pav & Shrode Ride Again

There are a few recent developments that I am really excited about. I would tell you what they are right now, but it's getting sort of late, and I have work tomorrow. So I will be writing about those things over the next few days. In the meantime, here is another Pav and Shrode comic. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pav & Shrode

A while back, I had this idea which I thought was really funny. It was an idea for a comic strip featuring Pavlov's Dog and Shrodinger's Cat. The dog would always be slobbering in obscene amounts while the cat would refuse to come out of its box. They would banter back and forth about various concepts involving physics, biology, philosophy, etc... The kind of humor you see on xkcd, except I'm not nearly as smart as that guy, and I also hate math... So not exactly the same, but similar. Now, I don't claim to have any sort of talent when it comes to drawing cartoons; I tried to get another guy to draw it, but he was too busy. But after a few months on the backburner, I finally decided to give it a shot. Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time anywhere, I give you Pav and Shrode:

***BTW: The yellow cat is not Shrode. It is a drawing on the box.***

Pav & Shrode, Comic #1, 12/11/2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hint Fiction

I recently came across an article on touting a new fiction anthology called Hint Fiction edited by Robert Swartwood. 
As a fiction writer myself, I found the premise of the book extremely interesting: writers tell stories in 25 words or less. It certainly doesn't leave a lot of room for nuance or charictarization, and I probably wouldn't have taken it seriously as an artform had there not been a selection of samples posted below the article. Some of them were really, really good.

So I bought the book, read the entire thing in a single sitting, and loved it. I would have never thought it was possible to condense a story so extremely and it still have the imact, the wrecking-ball moment, where it strikes a chord and lodges itself in your memory. And not every story did that for me, but many of them did. I constantly found myself laughing, groaning, and wincing over their potency.

Hint fiction is all about the power to suggest, the ability to say a thing without having actually said it. The stories are like riddles or "fill in the blank" assignments. The writer says only the necessary, and the reader will assume or puzzle through the rest. It takes talent and precision to choose exactly the right words. It isn't a cheap artform for the attention deficit.

But I said all that to say this: at some point, after my indoctrination into the form, I started to wonder if I was also capable of writing hint fiction. So, for the past week or so, I have been trying it out. My stories don't always fall directly within the 25 word range, but I take that as more of a suggestion than a rule. The main idea is brevity. I would encourage all writers to give this a chance. It's a great brainstorming technique, and sometimes your hints can become the skeleton for a much longer work.

Here are my hints:

Arts and Humanities
With a brush and canvas, she had taught the elephant to be human. Upon realizing this, it thanked her with crushing weight and stabbing tusks.

The Tease
He left without so much as a whisper, for what he thought had been an invitation had really been a too-subtle goodbye.

The Party Clown
When arrested for possessing enough M-80 to level a laundromat, Fizzo wondered how long it would be before they discovered his secret.

The Unlikely Pair
Hurrying to meet his sleeper cell, Amir was again delayed by the goth girl wishing to talk. It wasn't he that fascinated her, but death.

Through the Cracks
I said, "Wait here," but she  did not, and I can't find her. Oh, how I fought for custody.

Catching his own blood in hands, he pounds on the door. Little girl answers, dirty bare feet. No phone. No car. No sign of parents.

Upon hearing the worst news of his life, 86 year old Maxwell overdrew his accounts, maxed his credit cards, and sent the cash to overseas children's charities, no intention of paying back the debt.

Take Me There
They drove through her childhood hometown, stopping to tour the abandoned house. Opening a certain door, she said, "This is where the recordings were made."

It's That Time Again
The young ladies always weave baskets. Except during lunar eclipses (a time reserved for picking flowers). Also during solar eclipses (a time reserved for murderous rampage... and orgies).

The Hard Lessons of Life
Middle of "the talk" dad collapses, pulmonary embolism. Hospital, beeping machines. Through deathbed whispers, leaves me his officer's badge. Not a good time to ask, but there is still some confusion over where to put it.

Green Initiatives
He decimated the vegetable garden, throwing roots over the neighbor's fence, overturning composts and recycle bins, still wearing the t-shirt she'd given him, the one that said, "Go green, for me."

We're Taking A Shortcut
When he'd told them the quickest route to the hospital and the bickering couple had not taken it, the atlas salesman shrugged.

What All The Fuss Is About
"Oh that's not very good," she said. "No, it isn't," agreed her husband, "At all." They wore their bathrobes, backlit by red and blue lights.

The NPR Article
The Official Site of Hint Fiction