Illusions of Magic Blog

 

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Personal Note from J.B.

Attendance at the September writer’s conference in Albuquerque sponsored by the Historical Writers of America (HWA) was low. This was partly due to lack of advertising and partly to the fact that specifics of the program were not available before August. Our presentations, however, (see “Presentations,” and “What Makes a Good Website,” below) were well-received by those attending.

A highlight of the conference was meeting a number of attending, and successful, ¬†authors. Jack Woodville London is the distinguished author of three WWII novels and an advice book for beginning novelists. Lewis McIntyre’s novel, The Eagle and the Dragon, digs deeply into the history of Rome and China during the First Century, A.D. His wife Karen has also issued her first novel. Tom Macy writes both novels and short stories and has developed software to help writers structure their books. Peter Andrews, a PR professional and producer, also teaches writing online and in the Hudson Valley. Tim Weed won a Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction award and his Will Poole’s Island was named a Best Books of the Year. Roger Mattson’s Stealing the Atom Bomb (2016) tells the true-life story of the disappearance of U.S. nuclear weapon materials.

One of the staples of humor is malapropism. Below in “Wisdom with a Smile,” you’ll see at least one malapropism at work. It depends on the two meanings that can be assigned to the phrase “found by”— ‘discovered by,’ and ‘found next to.’

I was recently asked to describe what it is like to witness the explosion of a nuclear bomb. This is the subject of my blog’s feature article, “A Rare Spectacle.”

To finally round out this October blog, I report on the multi-month process of producing our one-and-one-half minute video book trailer, which has become a smash hit.

I hope you enjoy my blog. Please take time to comment, about the website, the blog, or other topic. (Be sure to tell me who it’s from.) Simply send an email to: feedback@illusionsofmagic.com.

 

 
 

 
What makes a good website good?

What makes a good website good? In a couple of words, effective design.

Before a single line of code is written, even before a domain name is chosen, a website must be visualized and sketched, and its content created. And of course designing a good website is more involved than is suggested by the two words, effective design.

The design determines the layout, style, color selection, treatment of text, and inclusion of graphics on each page of the site. It includes the positioning of the desired elements on the page as well as the relative importance, size and interaction(s) of these elements. Other items to be determined include page size and scrolling requirements, spacing, style uniformity, headings that direct the viewer and fonts that are readable on differing platforms. Items to avoid include clutter, large blocks of text (unless they are formal documents like essays, poems, short stories, etc.), and backgrounds that interfere with the interpretation of text or graphics.

One of the surest ways to lose visitors is by failing to make a site easy to navigate. If a visitor cannot easily move to what interests them or to what they’re searching for, they may abandon the website. ¬†Simple, and preferably intuitive, navigating means are needed, including carefully worded menus, precise, brief and meaningful headings, and internal links and buttons that transfer viewers to the site’s pages in response to a simple click. Large sites, and sites with many elements may employ “breadcrumb” or “breadcrumb trail” navigation in which a line of type informs of the path to the present location. Clicking on the breadcrumb returns the viewer to the previous location.

Educated visitors (we do want to attract them, don’t we?) will often notice sloppy prose on a website. They may also note misspellings, poor grammar, revisions that failed to remove the revised words, and other so-called “typos.” Developers should not depend on Microsoft Word’s “spell-checker” to catch misspellings. Too often it ignores the incorrect substitution of they’re, there, or their, or to for too, when these words are wrongly used. Spell checker doesn’t cure the offensive insertion of apostrophes in simple plurals, either. Editing is the key. Read slowly while being on the lookout for repeated words, incomplete sentences, and disagreement in number and tense.

Each website should include one or more ‘call to action,’ meaning that the visitor is urged to take an action such as clicking on a link, contacting the site’s owner, or making a purchase. Included in this is the designer’s necessity of providing information on how to contact the site’s owner, representative, and/or webmaster.

Websites designed before the advent of mobile phones with Internet capabilities could utilize the full width of computer monitors. Now, however, the widespread practice of viewing websites on mobile phones forces designers to limit the width of material that is to be viewed in a single display. The change in viewing habits also impacts choice of font size because compression on mobile devices may cause fonts to be too small for comfortable reading.

Finally, a good website is notable for being attractive. Part of its attractiveness is the fun that exists in its presentation. And fun often comes from the inclusion of creative or unexpected content.

As is suggested in this overview, the effective design of a website consists of devoting detailed and creative attention to numerous factors. The payoff, however, is a website that is discussed often in the media and by word-of-mouth. It will then be visited often.

 

 
 

 
Presentations

Despite its alleged difficulty, writers may try to adapt their novels to the silver screen by writing a screenplay. And writers often struggle developing successful websites.

These two issues are some of the most daunting challenges today’s writers face. Below we offer some experience that may be helpful.

Last February, a ‘Call for Presentations’ for a writers conference sponsored by the Historical Writers of America (HWA), appeared. The conference was scheduled in Albuquerque Sept. 21-24. Submitted proposals were asked for 45-minute presentations followed by a 15-minute segment of questions and answers.

Anya Carlson and I submitted two proposals. One proposal was titled “Pictures Without an Exhibition: Creating a Screenplay from Your Writing”; the other was titled “Unique, Clearheaded and Quick: The Organized Website.” Both proposals were accepted.

The core of the first presentation given Sept. 23 was based on our experience adapting my novel Illusions of Magic to a screenplay. This 110-page script was completed at the end of 2016. In particular, the presentation dwelt on how screenplay action differs from literal (and literary) action; how we created ‘movie’ images from word descriptions; how scenes were skillfully crafted and when it’s necessary to create new ones; and how we slimmed a long narrative while preserving its story arc. In short, we sought to inspire the potential adaptors on how to think like a moviemaker rather than as a writer.

Writers interested in adapting their work to a screenplay should contact me or Anya Carlson (anyacarlson5@gmail.com) to request written materials accompanying this presentation.

The second presentation on Sept. 24 was based on our experiences developing the current website www.illusionsofmagic.com.

Because design of a website for a writer involves many diverse topics, we could only summarize the subject in the 45 minutes alloted. However, we emphasized creating elements that yielded an appealing, quick-loading, easy-to-navigate website giving a clear picture of the writer’s background, expertise and writing while also promoting sales of the author’s books. Some of this talk’s ideas are described elsewhere in this blog.

If, as a writer, you are interested in improving or developing your website, the written materials used in our presentation may be of help. Contact me or Anya for copies.

 

 
 

 
A Rare Spectacle

Have you ever seen the bones in your hand? Without an x-ray?

In March of 1962 I boarded a C-130 in Hawaii to fly 1500 miles south to a remote island near the Equator. It was part of my job, but an unforgettable episode in my life.

Hours later, the big airplane slipped onto a blacktop landing strip on a 20-mile-long lagoon-pocked coral island known as Christmas. As I arrived, more than 200,000 tons of supplies, construction materials, and equipment were in transit to this lonely area of the Pacific Ocean. And nearly 3000 technical personnel, mainly from major U.S. National Laboratories, would soon stream onto the island, keeping me and a few others company as we prepared for our work.

As a member of Joint Task Force 8, I served on the crew of the Safety Radar. Our equipment was entrusted to monitor the flight path of bombers and bombs during the largest and most elaborate testing operation ever conducted—the final atmospheric explosion of nuclear weapons conducted by the United States.

Our trailer-mounted X-band radar was positioned to track the path of each B-52 bomber as it dropped weapons over the Pacific at various distances from our site on the island. The purpose of the tracking was to verify that the aircraft, flying at 40,000 feet, was following the planned path to the “drop point,” and subsequently to track the bomb following its release from the bomb-bay until it detonated on the assigned target at the designated height.

During most of these “drops,” I was busy inside the trailer. However, during a couple of tests I was able to be outside where I faced the explosion.

Personnel witnessing a nuclear test are instructed to cover their eyes as the countdown to the explosion approaches zero. The intense visible light and thermal (heat) radiation from the fireball at detonation can cause “flashblindness” (and rarely, a retinal burn) if viewed without protection. Although I covered my eyes with my hands, on one occasion the brightness of the fireball was so intense the bones of my hands became as visible as if portrayed in an x-ray.

Besides the bright visible light, intense thermal radiation, and prompt ionizing radiation, follow immediately. To monitor the radiation levels experienced, personal dosimeters were worn during all tests.

The thermal radiation is similar, but more intense, than a “suntan” one might sustain from exposure to noonday sun on a clear day. Skin burns can, of course, result from higher intensities closer to the point of explosion. Clothing also becomes warm to the touch as it absorbs heat from the thermal pulse. In addition, when a bomb detonates, a shock wave of air, consisting of an abrupt change in air pressure that can crush objects, travels outward at speeds somewhat faster than the speed of sound.

The fireball expands rapidly, the glow decreases, and the familiar “mushroom cloud” forms. Delicate veils of iridescent blue vapor descend from its underside.

Witnesses facing the explosion outdoors are instructed to kneel or hunker down and to insert a finger in each ear after the detonation. The arrival of the blast wave is experienced as a highly forceful wind that tries to knock you over. The effect on the observer, however, is delayed (a minute or so) because of the time the wave takes to travel from the fireball to the observer. If clouds are present, the progress of the shock wave across the sky can be followed as each cloud’s vapor evaporates and then re-condenses behind the shock wave.

As instructed, I hunkered down to minimize the area of my body facing this “wind.” Nevertheless, its force, accompanied by a flurry of dust and debris, tried to overturn me and, during one test, slightly damaged several of the diagnostic trailers at our site.

The sound of the explosion, by far the loudest sound one can ever experience, arrives shortly after the blast wave. Despite the inhibiting effect afforded by fingers stuffed in ears, it is simply “deafening.”

These extreme and scary effects, and my reaction to them, are the reason I shall never forget these adventures on small scrap of coral in the middle of the Pacific Ocean nearly 56 years ago.

 

 
 

 
Wisdom with a Smile

It’s reported that when movie star Victor Mature was denied membership in an exclusive club because he was a Hollywood actor, he said, “Hell, I’m no actor. And I’ve got thirty movies to prove it!”


…And now, for a jot of Wisdom --

 

You are only young once, but you can be immature forever.


Insurance companies sometimes ask their insured to describe, in a few words, their accident. Here are some sample replies:

 

The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.

 

I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.

 

An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car, and vanished.

 

I told the police that I was not injured, but on removing my hat, found that I had a fractured skull.

 

The telephone pole was approaching. I was attempting to swerve out of its way when it struck the front end.

 

I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.

 

 
 

 
Producing the “Illusions” Book Trailer

At the end of 2016, Anya Carlson and I finished a screenplay adaptation of my novel, Illusions of Magic. We thought it successful, and decided to produce a short video publicizing it. Limited by rudimentary ideas on how to proceed, we consulted with friends working in local theater. This fortunately led to securing the services of actor-director Wes Deitrick, who in turn agreed to hire the required actors and film crew.

After discussing various script ideas with Deitrick, we produced drafts, critiqued and discarded them. Finally, we developed a working script.

Anya then rented the magnificent Roberts Mansion in Spokane, which was built in 1889 and recently renovated as a B & B. Its rooms, stairs and hallways were envisioned to provide the necessary settings for a one-day film shoot. Wes Deitrick and Jesse James Hennessy were designated co-directors for the shoot. They assembled the actors and the production unit and readied them for a May 8 date.

The production unit prepared and lighted settings in the basement and the first two floors of the three-story mansion. Scenes of actors performing a magic act, engaged in a backstage argument, bargaining in the banker’s home, and meeting at a speakeasy, as well as other actions, were filmed during the 15-hour shoot.

The cast included Patrick McHenry-Kroetch as magician Nick Zetner, Kris Crocker as his wife and assistant Connie, Amy Sherman as Iris, his rediscovered love, and Wes Deitrick as the enigmatic banker.

Following the shoot, the notoriously difficult job of editing began. Deitrick assembled sequences of the best shots and optimum performances from the hours of digitally-recorded film. Our viewing of these edits revealed performance gems, dark footage, gaps, and other problems. In addition, it was clear the original shooting plan and its corresponding script had undergone changes during filming. This meant revisions were required.

Subsequently we created new storyboards using superior elements from the shoot. This effort, together with time lost for my month-long illness, consumed much of the summer.

Despite difficulties and delays, Anya and I worked through the Directors’ edits and eventually—it was now August—selected and approved a satisfactory sequence. However, the film still lacked both the necessary voice-over narration and essential background music.

Thanks to Director Deitrick, we were able to contact and secure Hollywood composer J. Peter Robinson’s beautiful one-and-one-half minute score. We also selected an audio recording of the excellent voice-over narration done by Wes Deitrick. All that then remained was the tedious merging of the voice-over and music into the video.

Finally, in early September—after a nine-month effort—we were able to sign off on the one-and-one-half-minute video book trailer. It can be viewed by simply clicking on the video icon on the Home page of this site.

 

 
 

 
Thanks

Thanks for all those reading and reviewing Illusions of Magic. And thanks to all who’ve signed up for “Nick’s 99.”

 

A tip of the hat to those who take time out of their busy day to read my blog.

Send me your comments at feedback@illusionsofmagic.com.

Tell your friends to visit this website—they’re sure to find something of interest!

 

 

 

 

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