Happy Halloween!

It’s that (scary) time of year again.

This year, Halloween is a little something different for me.  In years past, I’ve reveled in the opportunity to dress up – even when I’m staying home to give out candy.  This year, I haven’t devoted even 5 minutes of thought to what costume I’d wear.  Not because I have no interest in wearing one, but because I’ve been too busy with other things.

There was, for instance, the matter of B.T.’s Halloween costume.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about how that came about – about how Dear Wife and I had assumed B.T. would be thrilled to dress up as a Fireman, but about how upon actually being asked his opinion he firmly (and consistently over time) insisted he wanted to be an airplane instead.  And I suggested that I might share some of the in-progress pictures with you all.

Well, I’ve finally had the chance to load them up and today it’s Halloween, so I figured there was no better day than today. And thus for your viewing pleasure, may I present:

The Making Of An Airplane

The box after a first cut is made for the cockpit, and duct-tape applied for reinforcement

The box after a first cut is made for the cockpit, and duct-tape applied for reinforcement

I used as my primary model for this airplane a P-51 Mustang.  But of course, it had to be sized-down for a toddler.  And I knew I’d have to exagerate the lines and shapes to evoke the appropriate image. Here, I’ve made cuts in what seemed an appropriately-sized box to represent the cockpit.  It needed to swoop low enough to accompade arms (and there’d be no cockpit canopy, of course).  The left side is where the eventual front of the aircraft will be.  The right will eventually have a tail.

Cutting out the pieces of the airplane

These pieces will eventually become the wings

I realized very quickly that the cardboard was a little too flimsy – it would crumple if bumped the wrong way.  This would be a particular challenge for the wings – which needed to extend outward from the aircraft.  So I decided immediately to use a double-thickness for the wings – which meant cutting the wings out 4 times.

I originally meant for these to go on the opposite direction from the way they ended up – based on my misreading of an image of the aforementioned P-51.  But in the end it worked out great, because they looked like they were meant to go the other way around.

Scraps of Cardboard as the pieces of the plane are cut away

As the pieces are cut away from the cardboard, a lot of scraps are left. Here are some of the raw materials of the airplane.

The tail wings were cut as a single unit, to be attached to the tail-end of the fuselage.

Assembling the Tail

Here the parts of the tail are coming together: the tail wings, vertical stabilizer are shown, and the tapering end of the tail itself

I later realized I’d have to the tail wings down the middle in order to have a slot to fit the vertical stabilizer in.  But things had started to come together.

The Tail is Attached

Finished assembling the tail, reinforcing it with duct tape, and attaching it to the fuselage

While I’d planned to use double-thickness cardboard for the wings, I didn’t think to do so for the stabilizers on the tail.  For the tail wings that probably wasn’t a bad idea.  But for the vertical stabilizer, which is pretty large, it may have been an unfortunate decision.  Regardless, I reinforced the whole tail section with a lot of duct tape.

Time for a Paint Job

The wings are attached now, so it’s time for a paint job

After attaching the wings, it was time for a paint job.  With double-thick cardboard wings, I was pretty worried about the weight of the wings.  You can see on the tail that I added some support struts to help keep the vertical stabilizer up.  Harder to see is under the wings I added similar support struts to help hold up the wings.

In retrospect, however, the support struts under the wings needed to be about 50% larger than they were.  Even with them, the wings quickly started sagging downward.  They just weren’t enough to hold up the weight of these wings.

B.T. had originally asked for a yellow airplane.  But he later switched his preference to a red one, and that remained pretty consistent for the last couple weeks before Halloween.  So red it was.  I had plenty of leftover cardboard and paper to make a working surface on the lawn outside.  The above picture is after the first coat of glossy candy apple red paint – and that first coat killed a whole can of spraypaint.  (The second and later coats required substantially less paint, as some parts of the plane, such as the interior, did not get second coats.)

After finishing the paint job, there were still three things left.  First, and most important, was the propeller and engine.  The engine was six-sheets thick of cardboard cut in a circle shape and covered entirely in gray duct-tape.  The propeler was a pair of double-thick cardboard pieces taped together to make a 4-propeller set-up.  I chose 4 propellers because, again, my inspiration was the P-51, which happened to have 4 propellers.  All of this was fully covered in gray duct tape.  To attach all of this together, I drilled a hole through the propeller, the engine, and the front airplane, and secured it all with a bolt attached with a spring-loaded wall anchor.  I used several washer to separate the propeller from the engine and allow the whole thing to rotate fairly smoothly.

Next was the stylings and design elements.  Some white duct tape was perfect for the job, making a few white stripes on the wing and down the side, and a big “A for Airplane” on the vertical stabilizer.  (B.T. is learning his alphabet, and “A for Airplane” is one of the letters he knows best.)

Last, but not least, the plane needed a strap to make it wearable.  Luckily, we’d purchased a strap at Ikea about a month or two ago when we’d purchased a large shelf unit and needed to hold the trunk of the car closed to transport it home.  A few slits in the fuselage, and cutting the strap to a better length, and this baby was ready to fly.

The Finished Airplane

Here she is, in all her glory… B.T.’s very own Cardboard P-51 Mustang!


The finished result is imperfect.  As mentioned above, the wings sad a bit.  And I grossly misjudged B.T.’s size relative to the airplane: it dwarfs him and the weight doesn’t distribute evenly so it leans forward heavily when he wears it.

But he was super-excited to put on his very own airplane!

Happy Halloween you all.  Hope you stay safe and have an enjoyable evening!

Writing Progress: Week Ending October 27, 2012

Look, I can explain this:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 0 words

Super Secret Project:

  • Wordcount: 0 words

Grand Total: 0 words

Yeah, I wrote nothing.  Zero.  Nada.  Bupkiss.  But I can, in fact, explain.  Remember the “super-extra double-secret” project from last week?  Well, just re-read last week’s writing update and you’ll know what I’ve been doing all week.

Literally, every single free moment this past week was devoted completely to fashioning an airplane for B.T.’s Halloween.

And, if real-life were a video game, I would (to borrow a running gag from Pat Rothfuss’s blog) be able to say the following:

Achievement Unlocked:

Fashioned Halloween Costume By Hand, From Scratch, For My Kid

That’s right, the airplane itself is done.  To be fair, that wasn’t the whole of B.T.’s costume.  Since he can’t reasonably wear the airplane itself all the time, there’s a secondary element to his costume: the pilot’s uniform.  And that area wasn’t my domain, but instead Dear Wife’s.  She fashioned a cute-as-a-button U.S. Air Force-style flight jumpsuit from things we had lying around (and including some actual flight patches courtesy of an ex-Air Force pilot in our extended family).  He looked as completely convincing as a 3-foot 2-year-old can be.

So it killed the week, but I’m a proud and happy dad just the same.

I’ll probably post more, later, about the airplane with pictures when I get a chance.  Maybe even by Halloween itself.

So, how was your week?

Writing Progress: Week Ending October 20, 2012

I was perhaps premature in declaring an end to my “slump”:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 157 words

Super Secret Project:

  • Wordcount: 0 words

Extra-Double-Super Secret Project 2:

  • Wordcount: Eleventy Bajillion words

Grand Total: Infinity words

Okay, obviously I’m joking there, about the Extra-Double-Super Secret Project #2.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  On the other two projects: Well, “Book of M” saw little productivity this week.  This wasn’t entirely unexpected on my part.  I could’ve done more, I think.  I should’ve done more.  But it still wouldn’t have been a whole lot.  If I’d been more efficient and a better writer in the time I had, I’d probably be looking at 500-ish words this week, instead of less than 200. 

I fully expected, on the other hand, to have little or no measureable productivity on the Super Secret Project. As I mentioned in the comments on last week’s update, the Super Secret Project is a non-fiction literary analysis sort of piece.  It’s my proposed contribution to a collection of such essays, the collection itself being likewise a proposal itself.  I don’t know whether the collection is a sure bet or not.  But my proposal for it isn’t a sure shot at all.  I’m told to expect to hear back near the end of the month.  Until then, there isn’t much to write on the essay.

But there’s research – of the reading kind, of course.  So I’m busy reading up on different things that touch on the topic of my proposed essay.

Meanwhile, there’s Extra-Double-Super Secret Project #2.  I jest in including this among the “writing projects” I track here.  The Project does exist, but it’s nothing whatsoever to do with writing.  Rather, it involves the manufacture of a costume.  You know, like you do this time of year.  Allow me to illuminate through the telling of a story.

Dear Wife and I had assumed for months now that B.T. would dress as a Fireman for our perennial festivities.  He’d developed an obsession for Firetrucks to accompany his obsessions for Trains and Planes.  We had a Fireman-themed raincoat and a little toy plastic Fireman’s helmet and gollashes.  Some black pants with reflective tape attached and voila!  We’d have a Freman costume.  The shortcoming in our plan?  We hadn’t stopped to ask the man himself what he wanted to be for Halloween.

You see… he wasn’t exactly vocal about his opinions in prior years.  He pretty much happily accepted whatever silly thing we decided to dress him in (a dragon and a puppy in the past two years).  But this year he’s bigger, more self-aware, and vocal.

So it was that one day when Dear Wife was reading to B.T. a recently checked-out library book that was seasonally-appropriate, she asked the little tyke what he wanted to be for Halloween.  B.T. had just been exposed to questions of dressing up as any number of traditional Halloween characters: ghosts and cowboys and whatnot.  B.T.’s totally unexpected response: “I want to be an airplane.”

Repeated inquiries have not swayed him from this planned course of action.  We’ve tried different ways of asking him “Wouldn’t you like to be a Fireman for Halloween?”  No dice.  We’ve tried asking him right after he’s just watched a little Fireman Sam or some other Fireman-themed program, or after reading a book with Firemen and Firetrucks in it.  This doesn’t change his mind.  His answer is always the same: “No, I want to be an airplane.”  The only change, in fact, has concerned the specific color of the airplane in question.  He’s gone from preferring a yellow one to preferring a red one.

So, what’s a father to do?

In part owing to some of the circumstances of the recent and on-going “Home Project”, which continues to drain time away from writing and other leisure activities, we are, shall we say, replete with cardboard boxes at the Casa Chez Watkins.  With those materials at hand, I hied myself off to the hardware store for some spray-paint (candy apple red in color) and duct-tape.

I may share pictures of the work-in-progress, if I get the opportunity.  But I spent a not-insignificant amount of time laboring with a box cutter over bits and pieces of corrugated cardboard.  There’s still lots to do.  But it’s been fun in it’s way.

So, how was your week, in writing or otherwise?  Planning on dressing as anything particular for the season of spookiness?

Writing Progress: Week Ending October 13, 2012

As promised, I’m out of the slump… at least for now:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 553 words

Super Secret Project:

  • Wordcount: 507 words

Grand Total: 1,060 words

As it turns out that whole idea I had about spending October writing a short story?  Yeah, so far, it hasn’t happened.  Instead, this week, I started work on my new “Super Secret Project”, which I’m both excited about and terrified of.  The “Super Secret Project” isn’t a short story.  But a potential opportunity came up and I had to move to try to take advantage of it.  I’m excited because it’s something I’ve been wanting to work on for a while.  I’m terrified because I’m not sure I’m up to the task of doing the job right. It’s a pretty ambitious and difficult project.

Right now, though, the Super Secret Project is pretty tentative: there’s no guarantee I’ll “get the job”, so to speak.  I’m hopeful, of course, and excited, but I’m keeping my expectations in check.  What I wrote last week on the Super Secret Project was really just my proposal for the project, what I’m planning to do.  It wasn’t a typical query, really, but like I said this isn’t a short story – it’s not even fiction.   Even if this project doesn’t go forward , I’m happy to have had the opportunity to start fleshing out my idea for it and start expanding my knowledge of the subject.

If the project does go forward, then my November will be about the Super Secret Project instead of about “Book of M” – so no “Novel Month” for me.  “Book of M” will be on the back burner until I finish the Super Secret Project.  On the other hand, if the project doesn’t go forward, well… I’ve still got “Book of M”, don’t I?  And that’s not a bad deal either.

Speaking of which… after four weeks of nothing, I finally got in a word edgewise on the “Book of M”.  That felt good.

So, not a huge week, but a good one nonetheless.  How was your week?

Writing Progress: Week Ending October 6, 2012

I think I’m officially in a slump

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 0 words

Grand Total: 0 words

I did manage to do a little bit of editing on some existing stuff I’d written – which if I tallied would actually result in a negative wordcount for the week.  But I did that while somewhat distracted, so I can’t be assured of the quality of the edit.

ETA: I should add, for completeness’ sake, that I lost one potential day’s writing to the machinations of U.S. politics, which was likely obvious to anyone who may have followed me as I live-tweeted the Presidential Debate last week…

In more positive news, my next week’s wordcount is bound to be better.  That’s because I did do some writing on Sunday evening.  I calculate my Writing Weeks from Sunday to Saturday, though, so that wordcount won’t show up until next week’s run-down.  We’ll see if I can add to it between now and then.

Incidentally, I bookmark my weeks that way just of the purposes of this post.  I’ve found tracking my wordcount can be a time-consuming enterprise all on it’s own.  I have to actually go through and add up what I’ve done.  I use this to help me track it all, but the spreadsheet is very large and highly taxing for my already-on-its-knees home laptop.  And so, anticipating that I’ll be updating my weekly progress on Mondays sometime (unless time doesn’t permit, and it slips to a Tuesday), I make sure I have my weekly numbers crunched by Saturday, because I don’t want to be caught too late on Sunday evening having done some additional writing (which itself is rare, as I don’t often write on Sundays) and then having to re-crunch my numbers.  Easy solution: cut it off on Saturday.

As for the writing that Sunday brought me: it was on Book of M, and not, as it turns out, on the Short Story I’d planned to work on in October.  Another writing opportunity may (or may not, as the case may be) have come up, in which case I’ll be focusing on that soon.  But I don’t really know yet whether to shift my attention or not.  So, in the meantime, I’ll just keep chugging, when there’s chugging to be had, on Book of M.

So that’s my world of writing at present.  How’s  yours?

Writing Progress: Week Ending September 29, 2012

This week looks an awful lot like the last two weeks…

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 0 words

Grand Total: 0 words

Even without the significant family engagement that kept me busy during the two weeks prior, last week was still a no-show on the writing front.  What free time there was to be had I spent with Dear Wife, mostly working pretty hard on some of those long-overdue Home Projects.  We’ve got a list of several more things that need to be addressed in the next few weeks.  I expect to be substantially busy with much of that this week and next as well.  I still hope to get some writing time in, though.

So, looking forward, then, I’ve been thinking about the impending arrival of that perennial month of writing madness called NaNoWriMo in November.  If I’m realistic with myself – and I often am – there’s no way on God’s good green Earth that I’m going to be able to output some 50,000 words of novel this November – even if I cheat and use my current novel project as a “NaNo”.  The most I’ve written in any given month this year has been about 9,000 words.  In the last two months I’ve average about 2,000 words for the whole month!  Even if I am somehow able to crack down in November and really give it my best efforts, I don’t see it being reasonable to expect that I do anything better than 10-12,000 words in November (and that’s stretching things a bit, IMO).

Yet still, I feel inclined to mark the month in some way.  50,000 words may be a wholly unattainable pipe-dream.  25,000-words (a NaHaNoWriMo, if you will) still seems beyond unlikely.  Can I do 10,000 words?  (A NaIncMyWoCoWriMo – National Increase My Word Count Writing Month… but now we’re just getting silly.)  I don’t know, but I can stretch for it.

But there’s my plan.  In October, I’m going to switch gears, a little: I’m going to focus on a short story for a little while.  Hopefully that’ll give me some writing progress to talk about (and feel good about), provided I actually find time to write in October.  Then in November, assuming my October Short is done, I’ll switch gears back to Book of M to see if I can stretch for 10,000 words for the month.

So, what about you?  How was your writing week?  Are you looking forward to NaNoWriMo?  Will you be participating this year?