The Ever War

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just like home... only different

We started off our time in Hurstville doing a bit of “getting to know you” with our new host family. The next day we were run around and got to tour some of Sydney, followed by our largest Rotary meeting yet. There were four clubs all gathered for a single meeting… somewhere over 100 people were present. It also happened to be, in my mind, our best presentation to date. We really fed off the energy of the crowd and they laughed when we hoped they would laugh and stayed in rapt silence when we hoped they’d be retaining information.

The next day we visited Symbia Zoo, which is a cross between a petting zoo and a standard zoo. At this zoo we got to not only feed kangaroos, wallabies, emus and other animals, but we even got to pet a Koala. Most of the time we were there the Koalas slept, as they are apt to do, but when they were awake they seemed docile. However, we were careful around them as we were warned that they can get aggressive, especially if they feel provoked.

In addition to the Koala we got to see the Tasmanian Devil. They look nothing like the cartoon character. There is currently an illness that is quickly devastating the natural Tasmanian Devil population on Tasmania, it is forcing conservationists to try and create a breeding population in other areas in case the population becomes too thin to guarantee the survival for the species.

It is the same reason the zoo is trying to collect funds to build an add-on to their current set up that would add two Sumatran Tigers, in the hopes of starting a breeding group. According to the information they gave us there are only about 250 Sumatran tigers left worldwide.

After our time with the animals we spent more time driving around Sydney allowing us some spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. These two structures epitomize the skyline of Sydney more than any two other structures. I can never look at the Sydney Opera house without being reminded of my mother. When I was young she often mentioned that it was one of her favorite buildings and that she loved the elegance of it. At the time I think she was secretly hoping I would go into architecture rather than writing.

I finally got some sunburn, on my left elbow where I apparently missed with my spray, and on the tops of my feet where the sand and water obviously wore down the sun block to the point where it could no longer do its job. But the burns aren’t bad, thanks to some heavy cloud cover giving me the assist. We also had a dinner tonight that allowed us to meet some new people, including one of the team members for the Australian team that will be coming to Connecticut.

Tomorrow is a vocational day and I’ll be flittering around the publishing industry here and then going to a Cancer Lodge (a medical in-house treatment center specializing in Cancer treatment and research). Hopefully I’ll have some new and interesting information to paste here this weekend. In the rare bouts of free time that I’ve had I’ve also been working on retooling “The Song of Ending” for the upcoming Ever War short story anthology. I expected my visit here to inspire a different story, but the fact that it inspired me to revisit and rework a different story first is a testament to the transitional effect this trip is having on me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Kiama

On Saturday morning I got to see the marker for the “Cities Service Boston.” It was an American ship that had crashed on the rocks in the Kiama/Shell Harbour area and four Australian soldiers perished in the rescue mission, but none of the people on the ship died as a result of the crash and the heroic efforts of the Australian rescuers.

For the weekend we had a few free days. I completed roaming around Kiama while some of the others went on to various Vineyards for some wine tastings. While going around Kiama I saw the Terraces, which are small shops that are sort of like a strip mall with porches. They were originally housing for the miners that lived in Kiama, but since then they had been converted to shops. They were set to be torn down for a short time, but they were declared a historical landmark and were saved from destruction.

With a free day on Sunday I went with another team members to Woolongong while some of the others went hiking or refreshed themselves at the beach. Woolongong had a recent event of sadness wherein a sailing ship crashed and sadly there were some casualties. In the shopping area near the brewery and stadium there were some lovely fountains.

On the way back to Kiama from Woolongong the train ride was calm and most of the route was scenic and beautiful. Today we go to see our new host families as we move to St George and the suburbs of Sydney.

Friday, October 9, 2009

More time in Kiama

Time has a funny way of running out on you when you least expect it, and as such my time in Kiama is coming to an end. While preparing to head to St George I'm also preparing for the possibility that it may be quite a while before I have access to wireless internet. Hopefully it won't be long at all and I can continue to keep everyone updated with what's going on with the trip.

Yesterday we started off at TripleCare. For lack of a more appropriate term it is a rehabilitation center, but more accurately it is a center that helps young people who have had issues with substance abuse or other destructive problems go and learn to overcome those issues and find the inner strength that's hidden within. They can then take that knowledge, coupled with the marketable skills they are taught at the center, to build on, as a foundation to a better life. Below is a view from the location, which is both serene and breathtaking.

After Triplecare we trekked to the Flywalk at Illawarra. It is roughly a giant walkway suspended over the trees on a mountain. The entire walkway is about 1.5 kilometers in length and very very very very very very tall in height. The first image is a shot from the top of the Knight's Tower pointed at the ground. The second shot is the view of Kiama from the top of the tower.

That evening I was a welcomed guest at Kiama Lodge. The lodge is older than the Commonwealth of Australia and I was happy to find that fellowship is the same around the world. The brothers made me feel welcome, and watching their ritual was certainly a learning experience.

Today we visited a woman affiliated with WIRE, a group that does wildlife rescue work in Australia. They help animals injured in car accidents and left on the side of the road, or animals that are the offspring of a parent killed by a car. I have attached two photos from this visit. The first is a pair of Kangaroos that were rescued, both of which were extremely young. The latter is a pair of Wombats. It was interesting to learn that they have giant bone plates on their rump and shoulders to protect them in case heavier animals collapse their Burroughs and step on them. Also, their pouch is backwards to a Kangaroo or a Koala's pouch so that they don't spread dirt into their pouch with their offspring when they dig through the dirt.

I also wanted to mention, that before our group left the animals we got to see a baby wallaby and two baby kangaroos. Whereas the other two Kangaroos where young they didn't quite match the big-eyed cuteness of the baby roos. They had their fidgety moments, but for the most part they just wanted to curl up in their blankets and be adored. We tried not to disappoint.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Somewhere down under the rainbow

Dual rainbow action! Kiama welcomed us with open arms, and the weather has managed to split the rain and clouds at times for fierce sunshine and open skies. While walking with Pepsi we got to see some of the beach front views of Kiama including the beach below, which the surfer's called "Mystic Beach."
You can only get to the beach by trekking through the woods or swimming. There are no cars. It's not very populated. Since Sandra claimed a beach a few Kilometers away as her own, Alan and I decided to claim this as Alan and Dan's beach. While it's true that I'm not much of a beach person due to the lack of shade and volume of water the seclusion of this spot fits my needs for relaxation... plus with the trees so close I can hide in the shade and just watch the waves. It was walking in this area of Kiama that we got to see humpback whales playing in the water not far off.

We spent most of yesterday at the University of Woolongong. It's a beautiful campus, but also very young with its eyes set firmly on its future rather than its past. It is in the process of developing a medical health center and has a technology center that incorporates visionary technology with entrepaneurial ambition. While the collection of tech buildings make heavy use of green technology we found out some interesting things, like the fact that they are limiting the use of solar panels because in those same buildings they are working on the next generation of solar panels which will be cheaper and more efficient (and easier to produce). This is the view from the main building at the tech center where you can see why there is no short supply of inspiration for big ideas.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Days in Kiama

This week we have moved into Kiama (pronounced Kai-ahm-uh, not Key-ahm-uh). I am staying with Pepsi who is allowing me to share his humble abode:

The rain continues to plague the East Coast and vacillates between non-existent and torrential downpour. I suppose we're lucky that this week it's not coming with the giant red dust clouds that festered upon the area just two weeks ago. Outside the home where I'm staying there are a group of birds called "laurelkeets" (that's more of a phonetic spelling and might not be completely accurate) that inhabit the trees. Despite their vivid colors they manage to blend in very well with the greenery.

Much of Kiama is beach-front property. Unlike back home, here the beaches are all open to the public. You do not need to pay the government for the right to access any beach. I believe this is a federal law.

As we got to meet and mingle with the members of the Kiama Rotary Club we learned that one of their members passed away in recent years and the last project he worked on has become a memorial park in his honor. I have attached a video of the park and the area most directly improved and worked upon by Rotary members.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More exploring and of course... More walking

We finally got to see our first live kangaroo on Thursday. She was small for a Kangaroo and she was 18 years old. She was a rescue. We went to see a farm that rescued animals and raised birds and had a variety of fruit trees (down to 300 trees due to a recent fire, but previously over 1,000).

We also got to see a couple collections while visiting the farm. Afterwards we went on a bit of a historical lesson as we saw how people in Woolendilly lived at the end of the 18th century and later including a lesson on the local aboriginal culture.

Friday was another day of running around and jam packed with learning. We travelled all around the capital including parliament, the US Embassy, and the Australian War Memorial. Below is a picture of the Lone Piper playing "Flowers of the Forest" as is customary for Australian Military funerals. People familiar with The Dropkick Murphey's rendition of Green Fields of France will be familiar with this custom.

Here is a shot from the front of parliment that can see straight through the capital city:
Saturday was a trip to the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately for us there was quite a bit of rain and fog (a good thing for the area, though, which is in need of rain). A couple times the mist and the fog cleared so I could get some good shots.
The three sisters, located in the fog to the right in the picture below, were unfortunately not visible during our visit. However, we did get to do some exploring in the nearby rain forest and we got to take the steepest railcar in the world, which drops at 52 degrees.
Below is the first video I shot of our stop at the Blue Mountains. It details the fogginess and stands as proof of my indeterrable ability to bring rain with me whenever I travel.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A "Bushwalk" is more than just a "hike"

Today we went on a Bushwalk. One thing that can be said about Australia is that only the toughest and hardiest of lifeforms can stay alive there. Today the Picton Rotary took us to a nearby national park and together we traversed some of the most inhospitable terrain I've ever had the privileged of stumbling through.

Very nearby to the spot where we parked there was a large gorge that housed The Mermaid Pool.

I was told that the reason it is called the Mermaid's Pool is because there is an Aboriginal tale about a mermaid that lived at the pool and would lure men to the water with her singing... and then she would drown them.

The temperature was in about the mid-80's (F), but I still ended up drinking about 2 1/2 liters of water, which did not prevent me from cramping up due to dehydration. The land was very unforgiving, making the pictures seem that much more valuable. We managed to traverse an area that most locals haven't tried to conquer.

To give you an idea of how difficult the terrain was... this was one of the easier parts of the trail as it was both less steep and more traveled than other sections:

From front to back this was Ellen, Adrianna, Heather, Sandra and Vlad. There were 14 of us all told.

Before heading back to the car site Alan and some of the team members decided to swim in the frigid (some would say numbingly cold) water. I was actually straddling the waterfall that Alan was swimming under in this picture:

While I have not yet seen a living kangaroo, I have seen an array of birds and this little fellow, which the locals call a "skink":

Amazingly after hike we went to King George's Pub, the oldest licensed pub in NSW. Their homebrew is known for being one of the best microbrews in Australia and I can attest for its tastiness. It's similar to a Sam Adams, though sweeter and more potent. I had a couple Scooners (larges) and half a minnow (small) of it and later in the day the team converged to do our GSE presentation, which went incredibly well for our first real overseas work. The audiance even got the baseball references.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vocational Day and Meeting the District Governor

Yesterday I took part in my first vocational day and was surprised by the extreme difference between the insurance industry here versus back home, despite having many of the same carriers, but I won't post the details here, which most people would find boring.

At the end of the day we visited the Narellan Rotary Club and we were present for a speech from their District Governor. Many of the points he made were similar to thoughts I've had about the Masonic Fraternity. While Masonry does not promote itself there is no reason that awareness of the organization cannot be increased (without depending upon the kindness of Third Party entities like Dan Brown or the National Treasure film series). More to the point, our notoriety has to be increased among younger people. Joint ventures with outside organizations should also be encouraged. A joint venture can allow smaller independent bodies to have a much larger impact. However, groups like Rotary and Masons working together does not solve the greatest threat to both groups... a disparity in the influx of youth.

To this end partnering with a college fraternity or sorority for fundraising efforts and charity events would provide a doorway to a more youthful face. However, the danger is that such a union would become an all too easily abused recruitment tool. Young men and women in college are often still trying to discover who they are and are not yet prepared for the kind of work that is involved with these organizations. As such partnering with a fraternity or sorority would have to be viewed purely as a way of increasing notoriety with a younger generation, so that when they are ready to make the kind of commitment these groups would need they are aware of them.

At the very least this has me thinking about things I'd like to bring up with my lodge upon my return.

Well, I need to get ready to head out on a Bushwalk. It should be interesting and I'm sure more pictures will follow.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Australia and The Longest Flight Ever

Overall I would say that I'm expecting this trip to be amazing, even my packing was Fable approved. Above you can see him "helping". So far it has not disappointed. Our initial plan was to use a limo service to have a passenger van pick us up and schlep us to the airport. Unfortunately the vehicle was having battery issues so instead of the van they had to send us off in the vehicle below:

I must say that our driver, Joe, with Hy's Limo, was a lot of fun and he helped us circumvent a massive traffic jam in New Jersey. Sometimes, when I think about traffic in New Jersey I imagine that it's the highway Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are really talking about in Good Omens.

It turns out you need Visas to go visit Australia... not a big deal, but it would have been nice if our itinerary printouts from the airline didn't say exactly the opposite (and it's not the only detail their electronic communications had wrong - I'm looking at you info about how many bags we could check!). If anyone is planning on traveling with United any time soon I'd strongly suggest you do yourself a favor and weigh your bag before you leave your house. If you're over 50lbs you get hit with a $150 charge... but if you top 70 lbs it jumps up over $300.

The flight to San Francisco was an hour and a half quicker than normal because there was virtually no headwind! This allowed us to take some time between flights and eat a meal at a Mexican restaurant at the airport (surprisingly reasonably priced too, and with quite tasty food). We then boarded our second plane for a flight that now dwarfs the duration of every flight I've ever been on. I can best describe it as flying to London from NYC, and when you get there instantly deciding not to land and instead... flying back to NYC. Because of the time difference we boarded the flight at about midnight EST. With the help of a couple of Dramamine I also got in a full 8 hours sleep. The problem with that is that I then had to spend the next 8 hours cramped next to a stranger just waiting to get out of the cramped confines of the cabin with its stale air and raucous engines.

Amazingly, after 26 hours of travel (including the limo ride) we arrived in Sydney and the ladies on my team still managed to look this good getting off the plane:

After arriving at my Host's house (for week 1) I found our Itinerary for this week. It stands as the following:

Monday: Jetlag Day. Landing in Australia and getting situated.
Tuesday: Vocational Day/Rotary Presentation.
Wednesday: National Park (Bushawalking is to be expected).
Thursday: Recreational Training Facility (A nature walk including local artifacts and culture).
Friday: Visiting Canberra and seeing the American Embassy.
Saturday: Visiting Camden and possibly going into the Blue Mountains.
Sunday: Swapping over to our next hosts.

When I'm not doing presentations, learning, or running about and exploring the locale I will be staying with my hosts Peter and Debbie for this week in their lovely home:

What struck a lot of us was how much this little neighborhood in Camden (Narellan) happened to remind us of houses in California. One thing I can say that does feel different is that since landing I don't think I've seen any clouds. The sky just seems to go on forever. Ok, enough settling in. Time for some exploring!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Inspiration of Art

For the last few years I've been working to build up as much additional free content for the books as I can produce. One of the things I've done is scanned and posted the sketches from my personal notebook. I've never been happy with this being the only content, and while I'm searching for contributions from other artists that can be posted I have decided to teach myself to paint in Photoshop Creative Suite. I've been using that to update my photos: crop, clean, paint and post. The creative heat from this process kindled a furnace of desire to produce new work, even whilst I was updating my older sketches.

I often enjoy an homage to a well known painting, though some of them are overused by pop-culture (BSG and Watchmen both recently used the iconic image of Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper). I wanted something unique as a starting point, but I also wanted it to capture the maelstrom of action that I intersperse throughout the books. I turned to the art-world for some direct inspiration and I found this:

I, unfortunately, have not been able locate the name of the artist nor the name of the painting, but it depicts a massive confrontation between Greek and Roman forces and more importantly has a woman as the focal point of the picture. I was instantly inspired by this image to depict a scene of chaos surrounding Julienna. My first step was to print out a copy of the picture and sketch a foundation of the image. Once I had my outline down I placed a sheet of white paper over the foundation sheet, back lit the two papers and retraced my sketch on a clean sheet of paper in pencil. Then I inked the image in black and white and used my watercolor painting style in Photoshop to color and shade it. Here is the final product:

For me this image manages to do a few things. First, it sets a color tone for Normand and allows diversity among its citizens (the multi-colored coats are an indication that they are not a dedicated military or para-military force while the unified design sets a cultural precedent). Secondly it has a sense of motion; it isn't overwhelmed with gore, but it adequately conveys the violence of the moment. Lastly it tells a story. For someone who has never read the books there is a clear vision of conflict and for people who have read the books the scene is instantly identifiable.

I'm hoping to have all the black and white images replaced by color images by the end of this next year. Since nearly all have been updated I don't see this as an unreasonable expectation. I will also keep putting up additional new pieces and of course... keep you all informed of my progress.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Greetings and Salutations

While I had planned on starting this blog with a post on some of the recent artwork updates I've been producing for the main site I have found that a different item of interest has taken hold of my concentration and imagination like a shiny bauble to a kitten. It infests my brain... but in a really positive way.

Recently I was accepted as a member of a Vocational Group Study Exchange (GSE) sponsored by the Rotary. For this trip I will be heading to Australia (in just under a week). I am fighting off the overwhelming waves of excitement in order to make sure that I accomplish all that I need to do in the short time left before heading out. I will be staying with different families during my travails and travels, and hopefully the trip will give me the final inspiration I need to complete Flight of the Torrah Fonn, one of the short stories relating to The Ever War that I'm hoping to release in a compilation next year.

I have designed special gifts for the families I'll be staying with in Australia and they finally arrived:

It's a single volume hardcover edition of the entire trilogy! Having received it the first thing I did, of course, was get the feel for it in my hands and flip through it. It is an odd thing to see in one single place something that represents so much time and work. Even the cover is an image I painted rather than a commissioned work like the covers of the soft-cover editions, thus making it that much more of an emotional impact. I was so impressed with the overall quality of the product that I will now strongly consider working to make a variation of this edition available for regular purchase.

In the mean time, I have a lot of things to prepare before my voyage. I promise I will work to get another posting up soon, specifically the one that was usurped by this very special post.