Sultran Warship Build, Part 1

For the Destroyer Trilogy of novellas, I needed to create a new starship model. With the crew of the Truxtun stranded in the Ostrov System, one of their chief antagonists are the Sultran warships. My plan was to build one and bascially use it to create as many of them as possible. I struggles with a design for them and finally settled on a drawing done in my youth by my friend Ed Halbig. I wouldn’t be following it verbatim though, I would be using scraps of plastic from my day job in a kit-less version of Kit Bashing.

I work for a tech giant and I have friends who like to dig through the company garbage bins for old equipment to salvage. I’ve trained them to find interesting plastic bits of junk for me to use on my models. I now have several plastic storage bins filled with such greeblie goodness. So I thought I’d use them to build this model in a piece mill sort of fashion.

Heres the original drawing. I’ve long forgotten the circumstances that led to these ships being pelted with asteroids, but I like their look. It’s important for the warship to not look like anything in the Federation or the Votainion armada. Both of these ships fit that bill.

One of the first things I do for a build like this is try and find parts taht match what I want for engines or the main body. In this case I started with the engine which in part are Airborne medicine bottles.

For the main body, I started with a block of RenShape for the mount, then built up two black plastic pieces for sides and some plastic core board for the top. At this point, I still don’t know how I will shape the body from the parts I have. But I do know that the engines will attach to those brackets on the black pieces.

The above picture shows the RenShape with mount inserted and the set screw protruding from the side. The metal blocks are being used to hold things down when they glue. Those blocks and various clamps are a scratch modeler’s best friend. Also – Gorilla Glue and Testers tube glue are my cements of choice when scratch buidling. I also use Super Glue, but less than the other two.

Here’s a close up of the engine parts made from varous parts found in my boxes.The white parts are 3D printed in the model shop at work and the clear part shown here is a soap dispenser pump.

Above you can see the 3D printed boxes that I settled on for the bridge and lower front body of the starship. They were light weight and simple shapes that sort of look like the drawing.

This angle shows the sheet styrene used to fill in the boxes and shape the main body of the ship. I expect detailing to commence shortly after this initial boxing in of the main shape.

This angle shows how the engine nacelles will sit on the mount racks. She’s beginning to take shape. Next time we’ll have plenty of greebly detailing to show off.

Ten Creative Goals For 2020

Some creative things I’ll be looking to accomplish in 2020. No particular order, after zero.

0. Vote Trump out of office.
1. Continue learning to play guitar, get an acuistic guitar.
2. Finish some new starship models for my book covers.
3. Read more fiction/non-fiction.
4. Finish and publish the Destroyer Trilogy of novellas.
5. Write XiniX, Book 5 of the Star Saga.
6. Get an agent for my Mystery Novel.
7. Go to a writer’s conference again. Been a while.
8. Watch all the new TV Star Treks.
9. Watch all of Lost in Space Seaason 2.
10. Promote my writing.

Writing Accomplishments – 2019

This year was the first year in over a decade that I didn’t actually publish anything. My initial goals were to finish three novellas so that I could begin publishing them next year. I managed to write two of them in a year. I’m still many months away from finishing the third novella and from publishing any of them. So that goal will extend deeper into 2020 than I anticipated.

The first novella of the Destroyer Trilogy was written quite fast and cording to my Beta Readers, is one of their favorite things I’ve ever written. But getting that second novella done took most of the year and was a real pain in my ass. I managed to finish it just a few days before the end of 2019. It still needs a good edit, but I think it allowed me to move the story arc along nicely, for a great final book. I’m already 1400 words into book three as of this writing and I have a renewed enthusiasm for the series.

My writing output has been slow this year, and I think the biggest reason is all the time I’ve spent volunteering with Civil Air Patrol. I took over as the Squadron Commander for the Boise Composite Squadron in October of 2018 and CAP has become something akin to a full time second job this year. Time spent at activities and worrying about personnel issues has drained me quite a bit this year. Hopefully I can manage that position a bit better in the next three years, until I hand it over to someone else.

New Starship Models

It’s fall and the temperature here in Boise has finally come down to tollerable levels. This means it’s model building season at House McConnell. My workbench is already dirtied up with bits of plastic and a new model frame on the stand. I have to create two new starship models for an upcoming trilogy of Destroyer novellas.

I’m starting with a Sultran Warship which is loosely based on drawing a buddy of mine did when we were kids. Of course I’m improvising the build and using a bunch of kit bashing parts from the junk bins of the company I work at. I’m hoping that foks won’t recognize anything and that I have used and it will look unique in the universe for which it was built.

There is another warship, slightly smaller that I still haven’t worked out yet. I’m considering something more along the lines of a rocket or perhaps a submarine-like shape. The Sultran ship will be a matte green color, so I might do the opposing forces in silver or something completely different than what we’ve seen before. The stories are set in a distant star system that is not part of the main Federation, and can therefore be very different in just about every way imaginable.

Stay tuned for more progress posts on these models.

What I’ve Been Doing This Year

I have to be honest. I keep forgetting I even have a blog. I just don’t have much time to tend to it these days. Well, let’s just say I’ve got other priorities right now. This has been the only year in the past ten years, that I have not published a novel or novella or even a short story. Nothing. Dead air. Only two blog posts in six months.

So have I quite writing fiction then? No. Not entirely. My goal is to write three novellas this year. I’m at 1.2 so far, so I need to keep typing as the year’s more than half over now. Can I finish one and a half novella’s before the end of 2019? Possibly. Usually I finish a book and publish it, but this time I’m planning on releasing an entire trilogy in like a few week’s time next year. Just to see what happens. Then it’s back to a book or two a year again.

These last few weeks it’s been a slog getting through book two of the Destroyer Trilogy. Part of that is due to my plot being not exactly clear to me and part of it is due to lack of interest in writing. Maybe I’ve hit some kind of wall, maybe it’s plot related and maybe I’m just tired of it all and my creativity is hibernating. Whatever it is, I need to kick myself in the butt and get writing.

I have a Mystery and a stand alone SF novel in editing, but those are both being reserved for traditional publishing. So you might not see them for years. In the meantime, I should have this trilogy out early next year.

Final Draft Editing

The rest of December is pretty much all about me polishing the final drafts of two novels that may not see the light of day for years to come. I was recently pointed to a new book called Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody. I’m using it as a guide to make sure my novels stay on track and in addition to Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, it’s proving to be a big help in that department.

In the above image you can also see the new laptop that I purchased for writing. It’s proving to be a really good platform. For the curious, it’s an HP Spectre 13″ running Ubuntu 18.10. I normally use Google Docs for drafting, but I switch to LibreOffice Write for editing.

I’m hoping to have my SF novel to my editor by the end of this week or next and then follow that up with the new Mystery novel. Hopefully sometime in mid-January I’ll be ready to start sending them both out to agents. They each represent the best writing that I’ve done to this date. I don’t expect to have too much trouble selling either one or both of them. Unfortunately, until they get rejected by everyone under the sun, they won’t see the light of day. 

In the mean time, I’m back to writing the fourth Starship Series book, entitled Destroyer: Declo Demons. That will be published next year. My second book for 2019 will in all likelihood be Book 5 of the Star Saga – XiniX. 

Next post I promise to write about the books I’ve read this year and recommend. 

New Looks

It’s that time of year when I start to feel the need to change the look of my blog. Must be all that time off during the holidays. Anyway, we’re going black again and in the process, cleaning up some things. I’m not happy with the header image yet, so expect more change to happen there. But otherwise, the current dark theme is working for me.

My wife got a Chromebook update ahead of Christmas, and I used it last week for a writing sprint. It worked out great, so I can safely recommend the HP 2-in-1 12.3 Inch Touch-Screen for writing books in Google Docs and StoryShop.

My own laptop replacement won’t get to me until next month, so stay tuned for that report.

I’m currently cleaning up my Mystery novel and a stand alone SF novel so that I can start querying agents at the first of the year. I know, WTF? Well, we can’t stay Indy only forever, now can we? Anyway, both of these novels are pretty awesome and I feel my chances of finding representation are much improved after writing and selling fiction for the better part of a decade.

Stay tuned next year to hear how that goes.

In the meantime, I’m back to work on the Destroyer first draft. I’d like to have that novella to readers in late Spring of next year. Then I’m bound and determined to tackle XiniX, the next Star Saga novel.

In case things get crazy in December, have a great holiday season and I’ll catch you next year!

 

Scratch Building Starship Models, Part 1

I’ve been meaning to do a post about how I build the models that appear on my novel covers for some time now, so here we go. I can’t fit all these pictures and explanations into a single post, so this time we’ll talk about Designs and Mounting Systems.

I’ll be using the last model I built for the Corvette novella’s, the SS Kootenai for construction examples. You can find a Google Photo Album with tons more reference pictures from this build, here. If this kind of thing really interests you and you want to try your hand at it, there are a couple of places to get more information. First of all, this DVD is where I learned many new techniques and it’s from a former ILM modeler, Fon Davis. Recently, Adam Savage did a One Day Build using similar techniques to what I will show you here. The Fon Davis video is golden, and far more detailed than Adam’s quick video.

Design

It always starts with pencil sketches or doodle drawings where I play with shapes until I have something that interests me. The original Corvette model was an older design and it set the style for the industrial design of future starships in the series. It was basically a three section ship with a head, a body and an engine separated by gridwork beams. Below is the sketch I originally drew of the Weippe.

To show that starship design is evolving, I wanted the much newer Kootenai ship to be sleeker but also share many design cues from the Weippe.

Above is my pencil sketch for the Kootenai. The shapes are similar for the head and the body but the engine is now one long tube instead of a separate section. I have already built models of what these starships look like later in the series so this design is a morph of the old, Weippe style and the next generation of warships. Below is a picture of a later model design, the GCU Griffin. You can see they are now all just boxes in line with a spine that’s a cylinder.

One of the first decisions you have to make is what scale to build your models. This is usually determined by how close you’re going to be getting when photographing them, and by how much space you have to store it afterward. I’ll never build models the size of the Star Destroyers from Star Wars (8 Feet) because I don’t have a warehouse to store them in. So long ago I chose the ship model scale of 1/350 for my large starships. When I do smaller ships, I usually build them to 1/32 or 1/24 scale.

If the model is small enough, I will usually formalize the shape with a paper blueprint. Below you can see the blueprint I created for the Kootenai.

Once again, your model will have its own styling cues but for these models, I use simple block structures with tubes made from PVC pipes. So the main engine cylinder is going to be a one-inch diameter PVC pipe. The burnt orange colored block in the picture above is a material called RenShape. This is what ILM uses as the interior mount point for their models. It’s a polycarbonate block that you can easily drill a hole through and then tap for set screws. Hollywood types use a C-Stand to hold their models up when photographing them and C-stands have 1/2 inch metal rods that can be articulated in just about any direction. Lighting crews usually put heavy lights on them, so your plastic model will never be too heavy for a C-stand to hold up.

Here’s another, later model starship on a C-stand having its picture taken. The knobs are called Gobo Heads and let you position the model while keeping a firm grip on the mounting rod.

Mount Points

Since we seem to be discussing this already, let me explain how I do mounts for my models. This was a huge mystery to me for a number of years. I saw the ILM crews putting models on bluescreen covered mounts with metal rods in pictures. But I didn’t understand how they kept the models from spinning around the rods. It wasn’t until I found former ILM’er Fon Davis’s videos that I discovered the secret.

What they use is an industrial material called RenShape. Now the only place I’ve found this material is online direct from the manufacturer and it’s not cheap! But they do offer a grab box of samples that are perfectly sized for the models I make. I take a block of this RenShape and postion it in the middle of the model or where the center of gravity is. Then I determine how many directions I need to place a mountting rod. Usually it’s left and right side and front and back side. I drill out 1/2 inch holes where the rods from the C-stand will go and then I drill a smaller hole and tap it for a set screw. This set screw is how you keep the model from spinning on the rod and you have to make sure that you can get to it to tighten it and untighten it as needed.

Above is a block of RenShape with the mount holes drilled and the set screw protruding from the top. Below you see the set screw which is smaller than the tap, the tap and the screw that goes inside. The red handled Alan wrench is how you turn the set screw to tighten it. You have to have a long handle on it because usually, it’s deep inside your model.

These items can be purchased at your local home improvement store like Home Depot. The bottom picture is soft, but you can see the set screw meeting up with the rod inside the RenShape. This is a different model, by the way.

Below you can see another benefit of RenShape. You can epoxy plastic directly to it, because it’s part plastic itself!

I didn’t always know how to do this, and so I’ve used all kinds of things for mounts in the past. All of them inferior to the RenShape and rod. If your spaceship model will never be photographed in a studio, it probably doesn’t need this kind of mount. Static display model mounts are covered elsewhere on the internet and you can search them out pretty easily.

Prototyping

One other subject I wanted to touch on before moving on to the building up of the model using styrene is prototyping. Plastic sheets of (Styrene) are expensive, and if you’re not sure how your design will look, or if it has complicated angles or something, you will want to build a prototype in a cheaper medium. For these times, I resort to building a prototype model out of poster board. Yes, the dime store white cardstock that kids make posters from for school projects. It’s cheap and all you need to build with it is Elmer’s white glue, a hobby knife, scissors, and a ruler and pencil.

When I first started building models of my own design, all of them were built from cardboard. Below is a model my friend and I made for a film we made in Junior High School. It’s older than many people reading this blog, and it’s made entirely of cardboard. So is the one under it from the same vintage.

But for prototyping, you just need to rough out the shape, so it doesn’t have to look good. When I built the cover model for K’Nat Trap, I had to do the whole model in cardboard to get the strange angles right. The upside to doing that was that now I had a template in the same scale to build it in styrene.

Next post we’ll get into boxing and framing with sheet styrene.

 

What’s Next for Corvette?

The Corvette Trilogy is now complete with the publication of Pirate’s Lair. The next trilogy in this Starship Series, that’s what I’m calling it for lack of a better descriptor, is called the Destroyer Trilogy. Our hero, Captain Armon Vance is now on a Tin Can and on a new set of missions. I hope to start writing the first book, Declo Demons this fall. Look for it in the first half of 2019.

The series will take a dark and different turn with this middle trilogy as Vance searches for his former First Officer – Trin Lestor. Declo Demons will be a loose retelling of the literary classic, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Sort of like how Appocolapse Now retold the story in Vietnam, Declo Demons will retell the story on a distant planet.

  

Middle books of a trilogy are usually darker and this middle trilogy will be edgier and darker, right from the get-go. It takes place five years after the first trilogy and its set mostly on the jungle world of Declo where the dominant technology is diesel and the hunt for oil drives humans and aliens deeper into the darkest jungle. I’m super excited to write this book as I’ve already outlined it and the story is really going to be a fun read.

Above is a dirigible/boat that has inspired a craft in the story. Below are some aliens and humans that have also inspired the story.

    

It’s going to be a wild ride and I can’t wait to share it with you next year!

 

 

Seiko Prospex PADI

As regular followers of my Twitter account have no-doubt noticed, I tend to take pictures of my watches when I write or edit during my lunchtime sprints. Somehow the #WatchAndWords hashtag has never really caught on. Usually, I’m sporting my Hamilton Khaki Mechanical. But lately, I’ve been wearing a new Seiko diver.

I probably would not have gotten this watch had it not been offered to me for free through an employee gift program, but now that it’s in my rotation, I’m enjoying it. It sits on my wrist very comfortably and it looks good on either the included bracelet or any number of colorful NATO bands. Would I actually purchase one then? Yes, but not the PADI Pepsi. I’d probably go for the black dial version.

The one thing I have learned from wearing a diver for a month now is that I do appreciate the look more now. In the future, I could see getting a more upscale diver such at Tudor’s Black Bay 65 or heaven forbid, a Rolex Submariner.

I’m still not crazy about the arrow minute hand. The blue radiant dial is pretty in direct sunlight.

The watch wears colorful NATO’s really well, especially this patriotic tri-color one.

I also have a nicer bracelet but I found it to be too heavy and chunky for my tastes. Perhaps I can use it on another watch down the line. Getting a bracelet on this watch is not easy. I know watch geeks all faun over the SKX 007 Seiko diver, but if you don’t mind spending a bit more, I can heartily recommend this one instead. It has more features and still sports the classic Seiko diver features.