Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Captain Jack, webpages, and hunks in harm's way

We're having all kinds of fun today. So much fun, we're thinking of hiring a marquee and throwing a garden party, and inviting y'all.


The "fun" is all about webpage design. Now, design work is relatively easy. Basically, you treat the monitor as a page, and fiddle with elements to achieve the same kind of harmonious balance as you would get on paper ... book covers are a perfect example. Making a full wraparound jacket work, much less the dustjacket for a hardcover, is not the easiest job in the world. Thank gods, Jade at DreamCraft has been doing this for over fifteen years now, and things like the below example just fall into place:

(I still smile when I see this cover, because the painting, "The Jungle Book" was done first -- it was the painting that made the whole story jump into my mind. The hunk turned into Sonny Moran, the tiger just was Indhira, the location was the Tarkine. My brain is weird. I know.)

The beauty of working on paper is, you know ahead of time what size it is. You tell the printer what size to print on, and upon pain of death s/he (or more likely a digital printing robot these days) does exactly what s/he (or it) is told.

Webpages are different. For a start, monitors come in all shapes and sizes, and are never the same color twice. What's pale butter on one screen will come up as the brightest shade of sickly yellow on another; and their brightness settings are such that you can never, predict how images are going to appear. Worse than this, there are so many moitor resolutions today that designing a common page, something which is going to look good on them all, is a job that's assumed the proportions of the the Labors of Hercules.

Right now, we're designing a raft of new pages for the MK OnLine site ... trying to make it easier to get through the jungle to the "point of sale" whatsit; trying to get as close as possible to "one click shopping." And it's not so easy.

The design itself is simple enough ... making it work well, and look good, on anything from a square screen laptop with a 1024 x 768 resolution, to one of the big widescreen doohickies, is something else.

We'd hoped to have the new pilot page up and testable today, but it's still not right. We might get it online later, or it could be tomorrow. Bear with us: we look forward to your feedback. We read everything and listen to criticisms with a completely flexible mind. You'd be surprised how often a design (especially in the fluid pixelic world of the web) has been changed along the lines of visitor comments.

So that's the thrilling work which has us all shackled to the desk today; and not surprisingly, in the midst of boredom and frustration, my mind is wandering...

Wandering back to the last episode of the latest season of Doctor Who (went to air here last Sunday, on ABC 1), which was deliciously crossed with Torchwood and a new show I know absolutely nothing about, but which seems to revolve around the inimical Miss Smith, her kid, the tin dog, and a supercomputer that sounds like a wine waiter.

It was very, very nice to see Captain Jack back: John Barrowman looking great, as always. One could have wished they had devoted more screen-time to the character, but the script called in so many guest stars, there's a limit to what can be given to any single character.

In the limited time he had available, Jack was very effective, and Cheers to all concerned for a great job. You really had to concentrate on this one, though; blink, and you'd lose the plot -- which makes me wonder how this show will go down with critics, esp. in the US, where the third segment of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN trilogy was apparently way to complex to be followed by the poor widdle dears viewing on the free critics' passes.

(Well, if you insist on continually running out of the cinema to take phonecalls, smoke, use the loo because you've drunk buckets of watery coke to wash down your wheelbarrow loads of popcorn ... you can expect to lose the plot of a complex movie; critics shouldn't blame a film for this. However, re: POTC3 ... they did!)

I haven't looked at reviews of the end of the latest DW season yet, but I suspect the less cerebrally gymnastic of the general media critics will be saying the end was incomprehensible -- NOT true. But you did have to know your Doctor Who inside out and upside down (they didn't stop for one second to explain who in the hell Davros is; did you notice that?) ... and you had to stay glued to the screen with both ears open.

Lastly, Americans and other non-British native speakers might have their work cut out for them, following the rapid-fire dialog which is delivered in regional accents -- David Tennant and Catherine Tate, both amazing (how they get their tonsils around that lot beats hell out of me), both very British, and both so fast, one is reminded of the line from Pirates of Penzance: "This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter isn't generally heard -- and if it is, it doesn't matter." Personally? I had no problem with the accents or dialog ... then again, I have almost as much family in the UK as I have in the US, am used to the dialect, and was prepared to give it benefit of my few remaining brain cells! I thoroughly enjoyed the show; and it looked to me like the actors themselves were having a blast.

Lastly, for today, since I haven't given an update on the progress of LORDS OF HARBENDANE for a week or more, it couldn't hurt to do that right now. The book is well along, and we're still looking at a release date of end-October, which is in good time for Christmas.

Galleys are being proofed at this time, and the cover is under design. The cover blurb has not been written yet, but I can give you the book in a semi-coherent nutshell: "Gorgeous Gay Hunks adventuring across a fantasy landscape, with battles, sword fights, horses, shamanic powers, savage tribes, barbarous enemies, a cast of thousands, some sizzling pages (!), a fully-detailed fantasy world which might astonish you, and a (gay) romantic streak at least foot wide." You know me by now!

We should have sample readings online in the next couple of weeks, and you'll be able to download a PDF right off the blog here. Later on, we'll do the full book launch on the blog, just as we did for AQUAMARINE. (Incidentally, many thanks to all who sent feedback on the new edition of that one. We labored long and hard on it, and the good work showed ... we hoped it would!)

And now, it's back to the grind: trying to figure out a way to make the same damned page design look good, and work properly, on screens, and resolutions, that are so different, it's like trying to design a cut of LORDS OF THE RINGS that'll look terrific on your Pocket PC. Oof.

If we do manage to get the new pages online today, I'll post again later -- a recruitment ad for test pilots. Till then (or till tomorrow),


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