Major Kites (continued)

Major kites have a broad, flat head. Large eyes on either side of the head allow them to keep track of their flock while in flight.  They have good eyesight in both dim and bright conditions, allowing them to range to either edge of their planet’s twilight zone. Their eyes also have pigment cells that can change color. They use the varying ranges of color communicate.  A bioluminescent layer behind the pigments is used as a backlight to communicate at night. The backlight might also be used to suggest increased emphasis on the message, much like a human raising their voice. Major kites have no eyelids and the surface of their eyes is a transparent chitin, making their eyes naturally hard and resilient.  The mouth is located in the front of the head and can open to more than twice the head’s width.  Major kites use this large basking mouth to collect swarms of small prey.

Behind the head are two long skin flaps. These prehensile wind vanes serve multiple purposes.  First, they are used as semaphores to communicate visually, or through direct contact (especially with embarked minor kites).  Second, they can be used for general light utility such as scratching, lifting, and grooming. Lastly, they aid in flight, sensing changes in air pressure and providing assistance in maneuvering.

Major kite language is visual and auditory. In flight, they will use their bright eye colors and wind vanes to signal each other. This is more reliable than using sound in high winds that can distort the message. When on the ground, major kites will rumble and bellow in low tones using vocal cords in their throats. Humans and major kites do not have the same vocal abilities and require translators or voice synthesizers to communicate effectively.


Kites (Major)

In this installment of universe information I will be writing about Kites: Two of the August population’s constituent species.

Kites: An Introduction

Major kites and minor kites are two species from the same planet.  Despite the closely linked names, they are not actually very close relatives:  Their most recent common ancestor lived 200 million years ago. Many millions of years after divergence, their species began to converge.  At first this was by pure chance as mutations pushed the two towards similar adaptations. As their morphologies introduced them into adjacent niches, they began to share habitats and formed a symbiotic bond.  Eventually, the two species became so closely dependent that they began co-evolve; with one species’ mutations affecting the other. 

Major kites are the largest species on August: Larger than humans and dwarfing their minor kite cousins

Major Kites

Major kites look like large caterpillars when at rest.  At an average 4 meters long, they are August’s largest inhabitants, though they are not the heaviest; the average adult major kite weighs a little less than an adult human.  This is because major kites they are not actually giant caterpillars, but a vertebrate species whose greatest distances are traversed through the air.  When major kites unfold their rolled up, pillowy skin membrane, they become even wider than they are long.  This allows major kites to glide on the high winds of their native habitat, a tide-locked planet orbiting a red dwarf.  The planet’s capricious sun makes for turbulent weather in the twilight habitable zone between the permanent night and day sides of the planet. This creates a need for nearly constant migration.  Major kites can remain in flight for weeks, feeding on insect-size flying creatures which they collect in their large mouths.  They will follow their food source across the planet’s habitable zone, ranging for thousands of miles.  But they are not alone on their journey…

Daytime Job (doin’ alright)

There’s a line in Dire Straits’ famous song “Sultans of Swing” that I really like. If you don’t know the song or haven’t listened to the lyrics, you can watch the video below:

It ain’t what they call “Rock-And-Roll”…

The song is about a band of musicians who play on the weekends in a less-frequented venue in London.  The lyrics suggest that the musicians are all very dedicated and skilled, even though they are not fully appreciated for it: There is mention of low attendance at the venue and that some of the patrons don’t even like The Sultans’ style of music.  No, this is not a post about people not appreciating an artist’s hard work :D. I am actually bringing up this song because of the line below.  It describes one of the band’s members who is not a full-time musician:

“And Harry doesn’t mind, if he doesn’t, make the scene / He’s got a daytime job, he’s doing alright”

from “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits

I love this.  It comes up a lot when I think about art and people who are artists.  I made a decision early in my life that I wouldn’t be a professional artist.  Even though I have always enjoyed drawing, I was averse to the idea of being a “starving artist”.  Instead, I decided that I would get a career that would pay the bills and give me the cash flow I wanted.  If I had any energy left after my work – if my art was worth doing – I would do it then.

The thing about art, in all its forms, is that there really is a lot of luck involved.  Just because you love your art doesn’t mean that other will.  Trying to get people to notice your art can be emotionally harrowing enough; tying one’s living to the same prospect only raises the stakes.  It is because of this that I really admire people who have the courage to go through with it and work their craft full-time with no supplemental income.  Cheers to those folks!

But this post is more about those who have a trade other than their art.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most artists fall into this category.  These are people who have dreams that they don’t pursue full-time because they are too economically risky.  Being one of these people, I work my day job diligently and then hope that at the end of the day there’s some willpower left to write or draw. 

It can be quite difficult to work at a job if your mind is on your art.  I can speak for myself in that, since I have started working on Free Drove in earnest, the project has occupied more and more of my mind.  Back when I was just kicking the idea around, coming up with the story, or fantasizing about what it would be like to post my work online, it was easy to compartmentalize it and stow it away while I was at work.  But now with the blog up-and-running, and the need for actual concrete plans and preparations, it takes on a life of its own.

The idea that my project, or at least my posts about my project, are out there for others to see, naturally raises the hopes that they will like it. The seduction of the dream that others might enjoy your work enough to make it a viable full-time occupation is very strong. But the likelihood of it happening is not very high for now. So, I must temper my dreams with realism and instead resolve to enjoy the trade for what it is right now: me sharing a creative journey with others.

Does Harry think about playing with the Sultans when he’s at work?  There is an inherent comfort in knowing that he can fall back on his daytime job.  He also doesn’t have to worry about the band’s success to pay his bills: He can simply save his creative energy for Friday night when he plays with them.  But does he dream that one day the band would become popular?  That the crowds would build up and their act catch on?  That one day, all the attention would attract a denizen of the recording industry that would sweep them into lucrative and fulfilling fame?  I bet he does.

So cheers to all you part-time artists, too!


Today I’ll be writing a bit about one of the species that inhabit August – the Scarabs.

Scarabs are pillbug-like creatures about the length of a human forearm and hand. Curious and industrious, their calling in life is to build, tinker, and maintain.  They are as intelligent as humans and naturally fit into human habitats as custodians of infrastructure – keeping settlements running. Scarabs are an ancient race whose origin is unknown. Scientists (including scarab scientists) still disagree on whether scarabs evolved organically or whether they are artificial life-forms who were left to evolve eons ago. The primary driver of this disagreement is the scarab brain, which functions very similarly to a semiconductor processor and is not seen in any other non-artificial species.  The electrically driven muscles and highly efficient energy use are also topics of speculation.

Although they do maintain their own colonies, scarabs seem almost happier managing hearth and home alongside other species.  To these diligent technocrats, it is more fulfilling to manage than to rule.  

A peculiarity of the scarabs is that they are somewhat vulnerable to mental stress.  War, unpredictable environments, overwork, even severe weather can cause many scarabs to enter a temporary catatonic state where the individual will be incapable of functioning.  It is because of this that more warlike and chaotic civilizations do not attract many scarab inhabitants.  However, a civilization that is patient and nurturing enough to host the scarabs will be the beneficiary of feats of technology, engineering, and efficiency that no other species could muster without extreme efforts in administration and automation.  But to the scarabs’ diligently preoccupied minds, this all comes quite naturally.

Scarabs can become easily spooked by emergencies and may require assistance from others

A couple of excerpts from the novel involving scarabs:

From Chapter 1:

Scarabs skitter across the street, oblong hemi-ellipsoids about the length of a human forearm with no visible head or feet. They beat a roughly curved path across the pavement, then climb up walls or fixtures, pause for long seconds, then proceed down; all this, done at a pace seemingly impervious to any obstacle or change of surface – horizontal, vertical, slanted, or littoral. 

From Chapter 4:

Coal walks behind Milleanthe, enjoying the sight of Eyol swaying lightly off her shoulder like a half-slung backpack.  At times she can even spot the tips of his eye stems peering beyond his shell.  Brave Scarab, she notes.  Most Scarabs are creatures of habit, curious and industrious in an established environment and routine.  But exposed to a new place or situation, most become timid, apprehensive, or even disorientated. Because of this, the majority of a Scarab’s business is conducted within the confines of its hemi-ellipsoid shell.  The lip of the shell extends down beyond the underbelly, creating a protected hollow between the underbelly and whatever surface the scarab is on.  The hollow provides ample room for the sensor stems, claws, and many legs to perform their functions wholly underneath the shell.  That Eyol is willing to extend any of his appendages beyond the borders of his personal space hints at great relative bravery –  an overpowered instance of his species’ paradoxical curiosity. I have to introduce him to Quince when I get the chance, Coal thinks.

The personality matrix for scarabs is below. Note the fear-curiosity duality: Stressful, short-term encounters tend to see scarabs as more pensive and anxious. Routine encounters and long term behavior is highly curious and engaged.

Gif Drop: Marvan Heron Cheeses it

Hello! Hope you’ve had a good week and are ready for the upcoming one. Today, I’m presenting Free Drove’s first Gif Drop. From time to time, I will share a preview of the animation in the form of an animated GIF. This one’s from chapter one. The Marvan Heron is one of the species populating August City and holds a special place in my heart. I’m going to go into them in further depth at another time, however, I will say right now that they are not characteristically cowardly as the Gif seems to suggest :). Have a great week!

The Trade

This blog post is the first of a category I’m calling “The Trade”.  In these posts I will write about different aspects, tools, and skills used in this creative project.  A quick note: This isn’t a how-to guide, I’m just sharing my process and what seems to work for me.  I mean, for goodness sake, you don’t even know if my writing’s any good : P.  If you write, or draw, or work on other creative projects, I would love to hear what your process is. I like hearing how other people think and work creatively.  Leave a comment below if you would like to share : ).

The tools of the trade: smart phone, laptop with touch screen and pen, gamer headset with microphone, mouse.

Free Drove combines writing, animation, and voice-over, so there are really three major elements to the trade. 

The Trade

  • Writing
  • Animating
  • Voice Recording

Of course, each of these can be subdivided.  Tasks like animation can be divided into drawing, arranging your scene, composing the frame, and cleaning up mistakes.  But there’s also a mental subdivision of every task: Each requires thinking about what you’re doing and what you’re going to do.  I’ll give an example.  For me, the actual typing out of words occurs only after I’ve decided the very next thing that is going to happen, or going to be described.  Sometimes this is a spontaneously generated event that I think of as I am writing. At other times it’s something that I have been planning to write ever since I outlined the chapter in my head.  Forethought goes into all these things: 

  • Macro-plot
  • Things I would like to write about
  • Things that come up in the moment.

This level of forethought can actually be quite frustrating if I feel rushed.  For example, sometimes I can only dedicate a few minutes in a day for writing or drawing.  When I realize that I’m going to have to think about what to write instead of writing, it can feel like I’m not being productive.  But just because new words aren’t appearing on my screen doesn’t mean that the product isn’t growing – it’s just growing in my head instead of on the paper.  Even though I know this, I do have to tell myself that it is part of the process and that I should keep going :).

Being creative sometimes means you end up overly pressuring yourself

This brings me to something I’ve discovered about myself since I started writing Free Drove.  The ideas and situation come very easily after two important tasks:

  1. I write the high-level plot
  2. I start writing

High-level plot (macro-plot)

I am currently writing chapter 5, but I have a macro-plot written for probably another five to seven chapters.  Knowing where things are going gives me the freedom to play with how they get there.  It is also easy for me to write the high-level plot because I don’t have to write it properly.  I just write a general statement of fact about each major event, nothing fancy.

A rough schematic of how my writing happens

Start Writing

This is something I just have to make myself do.  The easiest way for me to get started is to read the last few paragraphs that I have already written.  Invariably, I find something unrefined that I want to happen or read differently, usually the latter.  I fix that part, and by then I’m in the zone and ready to write the next paragraphs in the chapter.

Thanks for reading!

What’s this “August”?

“So, what is this August you’ve welcomed us to?” you ask.  August is a planet far away from Earth where the story of Free Drove takes place. 

But before I get into that. A quick note on content I will post on the blog.  Some of the posts will share background information about the universe of Free Drove.  The Novel itself will not rely on you knowing this information. Some of it will be revealed through the story telling, other parts may not be explicitly shared in the novel because they are not important for the plot.  These universe posts are merely to share the background of the universe that my mind compulsively comes up with.  Regardless if these bits show up in the novel, they are real aspects of the novel’s world and you can consider them canon.  So just as a romance novel set in modern-day Canada might not mention the island of Tasmania, it doesn’t mean that Tasmania does not, indeed, exist in a world where two people in Canada happen to fall in love. Also, whoof, I restrain myself from writing complex sentences like the preceding one in the novel, but here on the blog I’m gonna go ahead and splurge on the windiest sentences grammar will allow me to write (law school anyone?).

We don’t talk about Tasmania enough…

Ok, now that we’re done with that piece of meta data, on to August.  The events of Free Drove revolve primarily around the planet of August.  More precisely, around August’s only permanent settlement, August City.  The city’s main dome houses the majority of the 36 million inhabitants.  Humans comprise a plurality of the population at about 40 percent. I will share information about the other citizens gradually.

August falls under the governance of a political union based on Earth called the Earth Domains.  Of all the extra-terran* habitations in the Earth Domains, August is unique in that it is fully subscribed to the laws of Earth refereed to as the Earth Sovereign Code.  Some, though not all, of Earth’s old nations also subscribe to the Earth Sovereign Code, while others retain more autonomy.  For all legal purposes, August is treated as if it were physically “on earth”.

August City with it’s landmark dome

But this brings us to one very practical issue: August is really, really, far away.  In fact, it is the farthest habitation from earth in the entire Earth Domains.  During the war with the Aggregate, August was left to fend for itself due to its relative strategic unimportance.  As the majority of Proxima’s forces retreated to defend the core worlds, August had to fend for itself in what became known as the Great Siege.  For fifteen grinding months, the citizens of August waged a guerrilla war against a massive Aggregate invasion force.  Through a combination of advanced technology, wily tactics, desperation, and dumb luck, August held out until the war ended and military relief arrived.

Our story is heavily intertwined with August’s ordeal, and its recovery from the Aggregate war.

Some Terms

  • *Extra-terran – Not on Earth.  August is physically extra-terran, although it falls under earth sovereignty and follows earth laws.
  • Earth Domains – The expanse of habitations initiated from Earth. Primarily Human, a continuation of the 21st century global civilization.
  • Proxima – A military alliance of which the Earth Domains are a member
  • The Aggregate – A coalition of civilizations who initiated a war with Proxima

First Post from August

Hello and welcome. Free Drove is a creative project that I am working on. I constantly have ideas for stories and universes in my head and I feel like it’s time I committed one of them to writing… and drawing.

Free Drove is a science fiction story that I am writing in novel form. I am also creating a storyboard animation that will illustrate the novel as I narrate it. Thus far I have about 4 minutes of storyboard animation with voice-over. My goal for this blog is to help me keep pace with my work and share the project’s development with you!

I Will update the blog at least once a week with stills from the animation and related yammerings. I promise at least one post per week and at least one picture per post.

– Sapling