Kelly McCullough writes fantasy, science fiction, and books for kids of varying ages. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the, WebMage and Fallen Blade series — Penguin/ACE, School for Sidekicks, Magic, Madness, and Mischief, and Spirits, Spells, and Snark — Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He has Patreon and Ko-fi pages for those who are interested in supporting his work more directly. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star — part of an NSF-funded science curriculum — and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited — funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Kelly on Twitter, Facebook, G+, ello

Monday Meows

August 3, 2020 in Cat Things, Friday Cat Blogging, Pets and other friends

I’m from the past and I’m here to warn you about the kitten!

I thought time travelers came from the future to issue warnings…

Please, just make it stop.

Chill, it’s long gone. This is just an echo of the past.

Monkey, you know I can make you regret all this kitten shit, right?

 

 

Monday Meows

July 27, 2020 in Cat Things, Friday Cat Blogging, Pets and other friends

I live up here until the kitten is gone.

Relax, it left weeks ago.

But I’m going to be making guest appearances for ages. …Heh.

No. I put my paw down on this one. …or, is it up?

It’s gone. Ima look at squirrels.

We need to have a commission to investigate how it got here.

I reiterate, I live up here now.

Coconut Cat RIP

July 25, 2020 in Cat Things, Friday Cat Blogging, In memorium, Neil Gaiman, Pets and other friends

We have reached the end of an era with the passing of Coconut, the last of the cats of Castle Gaiman. Back in 2010, when I first became friends with Neil, I absolutely fell in love with the menagerie that lived at his house and spent many hours walking borrowed dogs, petting the resident cats, or simply writing in corners with feline companionship. Portions of ten novels were written in the castle, and whenever I worked there Coconut always found me and curled up on or near me. He was an incredibly social and loving cat; I am going to miss him enormously. He was a frequent guest on Friday Cat Blogging and I ended up with a lot of pictures of him over the years. As is my tradition when I lose a pet friend, I’m going to share a portion of them as a farewell.

My last shot of him. Old and thin but still himself to the end

And, this was my first.

Sitting with me while I was writing last fall.

Cuddling with Laura back around 2012.

He was often waiting at the door when I showed up.

Writing in the tower.

And in the kitchen.

He could be a goof.

Or the picture of dignity.

He kept the magnificent Princess close company in her final days.

Here they are sometime in that first year I made friends with them.

He was a but dubious about this interloper.

But he really loved people.

With Laura last winter.

And me that fall.

Here he is helping me with another book in the library.

My most common view was of him waiting for me to put the laptop down.

I just love this.

A champion sleeper.

Even when balancing precariously.

This is not a trap. He liked belly rubs.

And sun.

So much sun.

If I didn’t pick him up fast enough he got quite demanding.

Verbally too.

This is usually how he said goodbye.

He liked drinking from the sink while Princess was alive.

But mostly he liked people.

Damn, but I am going to miss this little guy.

Such a charmer.

And so sweet.

I’m going to end with this shot because I find it haunting.

 

Winter of Discontent (New Book, Who Dis?)

July 25, 2020 in Art, Indie Work, Publishing, Theater, Writing

New book, who dis?
My fantasy novel about Shakespearean Immortals is now live on Kindle and Nook. I’m still working out the kinks on this hybrid model, so other formats and venues to follow. An excerpt can be found here.

Ebook: | Kindle (Sponsored link)| Nook

Winter of Discontent:

Desmond was a soldier until a piece of shrapnel took away his life’s work. Now he only feels alive when he’s being someone else, so he’s majoring in theater while dreaming about losing himself forever. He’s about to discover the cost of dreams.

William Shakespeare is the greatest sorcerer who ever lived. People still believe in the characters he created 400 years ago. He has made them immortal. Literally. In Winter of Discontent, Shakespeare’s immortals live on in an eternal half life. Half themselves, half the creatures Shakespeare made of them. When the magic of theater meets the Magic of Theater in a production of Richard III a deadly chess game between the damned is the result.

Where there are players, there are also pawns. Matt and Riana are actors and friends of Desmond. They are also novices in the theatrical magic tradition that created Shakespeare where Desmond is not. Sworn to a secrecy that seals their lips, can they help Desmond stay alive and stay true to their oaths at the same time?

Some thoughts from the afterword:
This book has taken over twenty years to get from my brain to the page, or nearly fifty if you count its roots in my childhood love of Shakespeare. I literally can’t remember a time before the great plays were a part of my life of the mind. Sometime before I could speak my mother discovered that reading to me was one of the best ways to calm me down. She also discovered that it didn’t matter what she read. So, in addition to the typical children’s books, I got Shakespeare, Asimov, Tolkien, and various myths and legends in an endless loop that saw classic language and iambic pentameter layered into my bones along with the laws of robotics, the lore of middle earth, and the tales of half a dozen pantheons.
The love of literature and theater this created has dominated the course of my life. Though I am a novelist now, I started acting when I was ten or eleven, and performed steadily from then till shortly after I got my B.A. in theater, when I shifted to writing as my primary artistic outlet. Richard III was always a favorite, but as I grew older and learned more about the reality that underlies Shakespeare’s history plays, I found myself increasingly angry on Richard’s behalf and wishing I could do something to “write that wrong”—if you’ll allow me the pun. This isn’t the only time I’ve felt that way—in Cybermancy and MythOS, I addressed my anger with the plight of Persephone and the tragedy of Ragnarok—but the earliest versions of this book came first.
For readers who are familiar with my other work, this novel may seem something of a departure, though I strongly believe that if you like my other books you’ll also like this one. In voice it is less intimate, coming as it does in the third person, with three major point of view characters and half a dozen minor characters. As I was working on Winter of Discontent I read and reread Richard III as well as renewing my acquaintance with MacBeth, the Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus, a Midsummer Night’s Dream and bits of the various Henry plays. I also corresponded with the Richard III Society, visited and wandered the backstage areas of several theaters, and generally indulged myself in a depth of research and scholarship that my more commercial work doesn’t normally allow.
Winter of Discontent has seen four major drafts and countless minor tweaks over the twenty-one years it has existed on the page, mostly due to my substantial improvements as a writer over that same time and continual attempts to bring the words on the page up to the standards of my vision for the story. The initial draft was my fifth completed novel and came at a point when I had written perhaps three-quarters of a million words of fiction and published a few thousand. The current version benefits from coming at the end of more than four million words written and more than a million in print. It is a work of love and anger and scholarly self-indulgence, and it marries my training as an actor to my vocation as a novelist. I hope very much that you will enjoy it.

 

Monday Meows

July 20, 2020 in Cat Things, Friday Cat Blogging, Pets and other friends

Sleep battle, yo!

I’m down.

Dis cat sleeps better’n anyone!

She ain’t sleeping, she’s stoned.

I see what you did there.

 

On Writing Humor

July 16, 2020 in About Kelly, Musings, Writing

Every morning I get up knowing that I’m going to be making between two and four humor posts, and that people need to laugh right now perhaps more than at any time previously in my life. I also know that it might be a reach day when I go beyond the baseline. I don’t always succeed, but I do always try.

One part of that is understanding that there are lines that you have to cross to make things funny and lines that shouldn’t be crossed if you don’t want to hurt people. My process for humor is largely built on top of poking at the English language and seeing what falls out.

That means following the loops and puns of language to places that can be pretty fucking dark. When I get there I always pause before posting and think about who this joke might harm. That means that something between ten and sixty percent of what I come up with on a given day gets thrown away. Humor is transgressive by nature, and that means that you have to explore where the speculation takes you, and you also have to pause and assess whether a given transgression is going to hurt people who are vulnerable and who have already been hurt too much.

I have come up with things that are hella funny that would probably make ninety percent of my audience laugh pretty hard at a moment when they really need a laugh, but which comes at a cost of hurting some portion of the ten percent who wouldn’t laugh in a way that is unacceptable for anyone who cares about paying attention to the vulnerable.

In humor, as in life, restraint is as important as pushing yourself to the limits.

Books I Have Written or Tried to Write (Update)

July 15, 2020 in Publishing, Writing

I got this meme from Naomi Kritzer about million years ago and she got it from jpsorrow.

I’m updating the status on a lot of the older books here as I plan on releasing some of them myself and others are moving again after years of sidelining.

01. 1990 Uriel

My first Urban Fantasy, a vampires and faeries book. From which I learned that: I can write a book. I can do it fast. I really like doing it. Rejection letters are not much fun, and this business is tougher than it looks. Oh, and that I am not Anne Rice, and that’s a good thing. Status: Trunked for now.

02. 1991 The Swine Prince

High Fantasy Farce. Wizards and princes and thieves and gnomes. From which I learned that: Uriel was not a fluke. I can write funny. I still don’t much like rejection. I am not Terry Pratchett, although I’m much closer to being Pratchett than I am to being Rice, and again, it’s a good thing. Status: mostly rewritten to current standard. Needs a new first 10,000 words. It’s on the list for indie release.

03. 1992/1993 The Assassin Mage

High Fantasy. Book I of III, wizard assassins. From which I learned that: I really really like this writing stuff. Rejections suck. This business is tough, but I’m going to make it if it kills me. Status: Trunked with the intent to rewrite it as a YA.

04. 1994 (Partial) Uprising

High Fantasy. Elves and dead gods. Shiny. From which I learned that: I maybe need to figure out why I’m not selling stuff (I wander off to do short stories for three years). I also learn that I am not Mercedes Lackey and that this is an exceptionally good thing. Status: Reevaluating as part of Blade series revival.

05 1997 (Partial) Family Planning

A scene is written in which a bunch of really cool characters have intense and interesting dialog that implies many dark and wonderful things. I fall in love. It goes nowhere. From which I learned that: Loving a story doesn’t mean knowing where it goes or how to write it. Status: This is one I will come back to.

06. 1998/1999 WebMage

What I sometimes call my senior project book. This is where I finished my writer’s equivalent of college. (My real college experience finished when I got a BA in Theater in 1991) Cyberfantasy that will sell in 2005. I sold the short story, my first sale, Woot! I’ve written another story in the same world. It occurs to me that there might be a novel here. In a fit of optimism I plot it out and begin. From which I learned that: Writing short stories has taught me an enormous amount about plot, story, and only putting in what should be there. Also, I learn how to write subplot that supports the main plot and how to write theme. This is the book that gets me an agent, and that keeps a second one when my first agent closes up shop and offers a bunch of us to a fellow agent. Status: In print.

07. 2001 Winter of Discontent

Contemporary fantasy. Shakespeare, Richard III, MacBeth, A touch of Coriolanus and The Tempest. From which I learned that: I am still deeply in love with Shakespeare, care deeply about theater, and am not so fond of theater people. That handling 8 viewpoint characters is a real challenge. That writing about things you love is pure joy. That I can write 60,000 words in 30 days without breaking a sweat. That I am very interested in the idea of belief and how it shapes the world we see (sub this, that being the child of a paranoid schizophrenic may have something to do with same). That my agent may not always love everything I write, but that he’ll support me wherever I go because he has faith in me and my work. I tend to think of this as my Master’s thesis in writing. I’m still very much learning and mastering my craft. Status: Recently rewritten and in process for an indie release in the next few weeks.

08. 2002 Numismancer

Contemporary fantasy. Coin magic. The EU and the Euro. More belief and reality. My dissertation book. From which I learned: An awful lot about directed research. How to successfully transfer dream cool to book cool. That thinly fictionalized incidents from my life will sometimes read as less believable than stuff I simply make up. Status: Doing a final edit pass in the process of making it into an indie release.

09. 2003 The Urbana

Contemporary fantasy. Assume that the fey really did die out. What evolves to use all that magical energy? That’s where this one started. From which I learned that: I can write a book that I’m not feeling one hundred percent enthused about because I know that a lot of my readers are likely to enjoy it. How to love what I’m writing on a day-to-day basis even when I’m not as enthused as I have been about other books. I’m really pleased with this book, and I think of it as my first truly professional novel. Status: Needs a massive rewrite due to changes in the industy.

10. 2004 (Partial) Outside In

Contemporary dark fantasy, architecture magic. From which I learned that: I am much more interested in certain aspects of architecture and construction than my writers groups. That I need to rethink some of the structure of this book. That being depressed makes it much harder for me to sustain a book in the face of criticism. Status: Trunked for now.

11. 2004 (Partial) Ave Caesar

Mystery, cozy, theater. A departure for me, and one that I want to come back to. From which I learned that: If your early readers aren’t familiar with mystery as a genre, you may have a problem. Writers groups that specialize in one genre are probably more effective than groups with lots of folks doing different things. Status: Trunked for now, but I’ll come back to it.

12. 2005 Chalice book 1

Young adult contemporary fantasy–arts magic. From which I learned that: YA is a blast to write and that the shorter length is incredibly natural for me. Oh, and that I still feel deeply and deeply ambivalent about theater. Status: In rewrite to tighten up some things from an editorial rejection.

13. 2006 Cybermancy

WebMage Book II. From which I learned that: I can write a second book in a series that wasn’t supposed to be a series, just a stand-alone. That Greek myth matters deeply to me. That being paid and having deadlines are both really great motivators for me. That I really really like turning books in early. Status: In print.

14. 2006 The Black School

Young adult, alternate history, WWII, fantasy. From which I learned that: Everything I liked about YA last time goes double for this book. That my YA is much darker than my adult fiction. That anger at contemporary politics is a great motivator for me to write. That my writers group likes my dark stuff more than my funny stuff, or at least that they like these books more than anything else I’ve ever done. Status: On submission as part of a trilogy.

15. 2007 Codespell

WebMage III. From which I learned that: I can write an ongoing series and enjoy it. That I’m happier writing under contract from proposal than writing spec books. That my own assessment of how smoothly I’m writing doesn’t necessarily agree with my readers–everybody else liked this book more than I did, and I could see why when I reread the copyedited manuscript. That I really like turning things in way early and that this makes my editor happy too. Status: In print.

16. 2007 MythOS

WebMage IV. From which I learned that: I should feel free to make strong changes in an ongoing series as long as I talk to my editor and agent first (did that, they were quite happy with the proposal and hopefully they’ll like the result as well). That I really want to write at least one more WebMage book after this one. Status: In print.

17. 2007 (currently unfinished) Duel of Mirrors

Contemporary fantasy with a humor edge. Hopefully this will be the logical successor to the WebMage books and will help build that thread of my writing brand. From which I learned that: It’s always a joy to fall in love with a new book. That travel juices the heck out of my creative mind. That I become very difficult to talk to when I’m in composing mode. Status: Out on proposal.

18. 2000-2004 Chonicles of the Wandering Star

Hard SF, YA, illustrated short-story collection/serial novel for the teaching of physical science. This one is unusual which is why it’s down here out of order. It’s a work for hire project that I wrote as part of National Science Foundation funded full year physical science curriculum. I was hired to develop a science-ficitonal context for the curriculum and to write shorts as teaching tools. Fun project. From which I learned that: If the pay is high enough, work-for-hire is a great deal. That I can write YA. That I can write 1,000 word short in an hour if I have to. That I can write that short to teach a specific science concept, and that I can do it well enough to make a goodly percentage of the students who read it happy. That deadlines and getting paid are great motivators for me. Status: In print.

2013 Update: Yeah, I’ve written a bunch since the original post.

19. 2008 The Eye of Horus

Book II of The Black School. I love this book and it’s predecessor, but despite near universal agreement from those who’ve read them that they are some of my best writing I have not been able to sell them. See also: Argh! Status: On submission.

20. 2008/2009 SpellCrash

The last WebMage book for some time to come. In some ways I think this is the best of the series. I learned so much about writing on the way to this one. I’m somewhat bummed that it is also the least read of the books. Status: in print.

22. 2009 Spirits of the Past

First book in a dark contemporary fantasy series centered around alcohol magic. This book exists only as three chapters and a series outline that now comprises six books. There is an excellent chance that this will be my next adult series once Fallen Blade is finished. I love the premise of these and still really want to write them. Status: Waiting for the pandemic to end—I don’t seem to be able to manage contemporary under current conditions.

23. 2010 Broken Blade

Fantasy noir with a badly broken hero. Status: in print, the first of six confirmed books in this series and now available both in German and as part of a Science Fiction book club omnibus edition of the first three Fallen Blade books. Book 1 is available as an unabridged audio, and all six books are available as dramatic audio—essentially an old fashioned radio play. I think I’m finally getting the hang of this writing stuff.

24. 2011 Bared Blade

Fallen Blade II. Status: in print, in omnibus, in audio play, and in German.

25. 2011 Crossed Blades

Fallen Blade III. Status: in print, in omnibus, in audio play, and in German..

26. 2012 Blade Reforged

Fallen Blade IV. I’m loving this series more and more as I go along. It’s enormous fun to write something that’s simultaneously episodic in the detective novel mode and a multi-book epic fantasy storyline. Finding the balance between having each book complete in itself and building multi-book and series arcs challenges me every day. Status: In print, in audio play, and in German.

27. 2013 School for Sidekicks: The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman Jr.

My first Middle Grade book. Silly superhero science fiction about a boy who sets out to become a hero and ends up at the School for Sidekicks. I had a ball writing this and learned a lot about writing something much closer to pure humor. I learned even more in the first round of revisions—there’s a huge difference in how books are written and marketed for younger readers. Current revision with my editor at Feiwel and Friends—crossing my fingers that she like the revised version which includes 25,000 words of material not in the first draft. Status: In print, and in Chinese.

28. 2013 Drawn Blades

Writing this right now and about 25% of the way through it. Barring misfortune this will be my 20th completed novel. …how the hell did that happen? Again, barring misfortune it will be my 11th published. One thing I’m finding absolutely joyous about writing this book is that I’m getting to pull stuff from novel attempt number four up there in 1994—there’s stuff from the early years that I loved that I’m only now getting good enough to pull of. I’m working on an incredibly compressed deadline on this one due to me make a minor but self-compounding mistake in my workflow. Status: In print, in audio play, and in German.

29. 2014 Darkened Blade.

Outlined, under contract, and due in June. I’ve reached a point now where managing my time and learning to say no to projects that I’d really like to do is becoming increasingly important. I feel that I mostly have the hang of the writing part writing books, though I continually strive to push the edge of what I can do, and still land on my nose with some regularity. The rest of being an author? There, I’m learning new things all the time. Status: In print, in audio play, and in German.

2020 Update

30. 2015 Magic, Madness, and Mischief.

My second middle grade novel, in which I cannibalize my childhood including the difficult books and the hippie school and rewrite my trauma for your amusement. In which I learn that I can continue to turn trauma into humor. I love this book, and there’s more of me in it than anything else I’ve ever written as it’s demi-autobigroaphical. Status: In print, also, probably, in Russian.

31. 2016/17 Spirits, Spells, and Snark.

The sequel to Magic, Madness, and Mischief. More cannibalized trauma, though this time with a lot more collateral damage as half was written before the 2016 election and half after. I was in a pretty dark place and probably should not have written this book without benefit of therapist. Ended up having to essentially scrap the second half and completely rewrite it to recapture the funny tone it needed. Sadly, though I’m quite proud of the end result, this book has not done particularly well sale wise, and my adventures in middle grade are over for the moment. Status: In print, also, probably, in Russian.

32. 2018 Baker Street Ronin (partial).

Steampunk, alternate history. A Japanese airship invasion of London. Sherlock Holmes illegitimate son who is half Japanese and the eponymous Baker Street Ronin. Jane Austen’s great-granddaughter who is member of Queen Victoria’s secret service and a Bondian style super spy. She is also the granddaughter of the woman who invented this world’s steampunk super-science and the daughter of the one who most advanced. This book is pedal to the metal gonzo weirdness, and I adore what I’ve got of it so far. Status Out on submission in proposal form.

33. 2018 Hob’s Apprentice.

High fantasy and book one of a trilogy. I love this book. It’s about theater, and spying, and an alternate camedia-del-arte that is both theater and this world’s fey. It synthesizes a lot of things I love about theater and the fey and history and the lessons of years of playing Japanese style RPGs and how they frame the debts of duty and honor. It’s some of my best work to date and I very much hope it finds a home. Status: On submission.

34: 2020 Reunion (partial)

High school reunion at the School for Magical Oddities. A charming troll, his compassionate nightmare girlfriend, fashion golems, the living emdodiement of the blues, child Merlin, etc. Another gonzo style piece. I love this so much, but have recently learned that I simply don’t have the right emotional frame of mind to write contemporary fantasy during a pandemic. Status: Parked till vaccine.

35: 2020 Lost Blade.

I just started working on what will be the seventh Fallen Blade book. I outlined nine when I started this thing, and now that I’ve had a couple years off after book six, I’m getting back to them. Will probably be an indie release. Status: In process.

 

(A bit over half of this was originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog November 26 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted, reedited, and updated as part of the reblogging project)

Monday Meows

July 13, 2020 in Cat Things, Friday Cat Blogging, Pets and other friends

Monkey, tell me a story. Monkey… Monkey. Monkey!

Oh, damn, it’s that thing again.

Really? Oh, hell.

Send it away!

I think we should kill it with fur.

Yes, make it so.

 

 

Monday Meows

July 6, 2020 in Cat Things, Friday Cat Blogging, Pets and other friends

Hi, I Kitten!

Oh, Hell No!

Shoot me now.

I’d take you up on that, but I’d have to move.

Chill, it’ll be gone soon.

Building a Light Board from Odds and Ends

July 2, 2020 in Laura McCullough, Politics/Public Service, Science

I built my wife a lightboard for online teaching purposes for the fall semester because  covid-19 means she’ll be teaching from home. If you’re coming here from Facebook or Twitter, you’ve already seen how this thing works with Laura’s demo video.

If you’re coming in some other way, your first question is probably what’s a lightboard? It’s a way for a teacher to both face their students and be able to draw on a board so that students can see what the teacher is doing. It works like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1I4Afti6XE

Either way, a couple of people have asked me to write up the process. So, here goes. First, this isn’t a particularly difficult project and it doesn’t require a lot of tools.

Tools:

Tape measure.

Saw that will cut boards at 90º (I used a power miter saw).

Drill or screwgun.

1 small stepladder

Ear protection (if you’re using a loud saw)

Eye protection (likewise for the saw)

Materials:

I mostly used scrap I had around the house, but I’ll lay this out as though you were buying fresh.

3 Eight foot 2″ x 4″s

3 Eight foot 1″ x “4s

5 Eight foot pieces of quarter-round or similar trim (or ~36 feet total)

1 Four foot 1″ x 12″

1 Large sheet of glass. (I used 3′ x ‘5 plate, but poly or window glass would work)

20 3-1/2″ screws (I used deck screws, but any power driveable screw will do)

50 1-1/4 inch screws (I used a mix of sheetrock and finish screws)

Optional 8 small steel L-brackets.

1 King size black fleece bedspread

1 pint (or spray can) matte black paint

1 Sixteen foot color variable adhesive LED strip light with remote

1 Cell phone tripod mount and remote

1 Cell phone with video capability

1 Blue tooth earpiece

1 Tripod or other camera base (I used a 2″ x 4” hinge-mounted to the ceiling)

4 clamps (holding the backdrop, and screws or binder clips would work too)

1 Set of Neon/Window glass markers (we used EXPO 1752226 Neon Dry Erase Markers)

Construction:

I’ll start with a shot of the end product minus the fancy lighting. Not much to look at, right? What you’re seeing here is a camera side view of the lightboard. As you can see, the basic frame to hold the glass is made of two-by-fours with quarter round holding it in place. the piece of chipboard across the top is there to mask the overhead light that lights Laura while she’s using the lightboard. The red line is part of the system for locking the camera mount in place when it’s not folded up against the ceiling. The board you see bottom back is on the far side of the glass and masks the LED strip so that it doesn’t overlight Laura.

Step One: Find a place in the house where you can put the lightboard up as a permanent fixture and not have it be an impediment to anything else. It needs three to four feet behind the glass to fit the teacher and the light-absorbing black backdrop, and another four to five feet in front to give the camera enough space. It also has to be a room that can be made very dark. In our case that meant the basement under our back stairs.

Step Two: Measure the distance between the floor and the ceiling so you can cut the vertical two-by-fours to the right length. In our case, that meant slightly longer than the height between the floor and the overhead joists so that I could screw through the joists to attach the top ends. I used pressure to hold the base in place, because it’s concrete and so is the wall. If I were mounting this in an upstairs room, I’d have hard mounted one of the verticals to a wall stud.

Step Three: Cut the two-by-fours to length. Vertical length was determined by the height of the ceiling as noted above. Horizontal length came from the size of the glass sheet. In our case that was three by five feet, so the horizontal cut was three feet. Materials shots below.

Two-by-fours salvaged from an old platform someone threw out.

Glass sheet (from a long ago project)

Salvaged 2″x 4″ + quarter-round trim salvaged from bathoom gut-out.

Step Four: Assemble the basic two-by-four framework. I did this on our back deck where I could lay things out flat and create an opening of the right size to fit the glass with right angle corners as perfect as I could make them. The glass has basically zero tolerance for any variability in the frame, so I gave myself an extra 1/16th of an inch vertically and horizontally beyond the basic size of the glass to give me a little slop to account for the frame boards not being perfectly straight. I used three heavy screws at each corner to make it tough. I also left the bottom corner on the side away from the wall only partly screwed in because I thought the glass might not slot in perfectly (it didn’t and I had to open it when we put the glass in place and then close it again once we had it set).

Frame in place but without any mounting hardware.

Step Five: Mounting hardware. I chose to put four small L-brackets in place at the corners in order to backstop the glass as I was putting it in. This isn’t necessary, because you can achieve the same effect by simply screwing the quarter-round in place on the camera side of the glass. In either case, the camera side mounts should be placed so that the glass will sit about 3/4 of an inch from the camera side edge of the two-by-four frame because you need  space on the back for the lighting system. I used one inch quarter round lengths trimmed to fit with a simple square join because I had salvage wood and didn’t want to do fancier joins, but you could easily use shorter pieces if you’ve got them. The quarter round serves a dual purpose in that it both holds the glass in place and masks the lights so they don’t dazzle the camera.

Frame with L-brackets top and bottom.

Step Six: Putting the glass in. This is ideally a two person job, especially if you’re using a large piece of plate glass, like I did. In a perfect world you pick up the glass, set the bottom on top of the bottom board, slide it tight against the brackets or quarter round, and then tip the top in and get your second person to hold it in place while you mount the back quarter round. The most important thing to remember here is to not hit the glass with the screws for the quarter-round. Also, this is why I used screws rather than finish nails. I also installed a couple of two-by-four supports on the inside of the verticals under the frame proper because I always over engineer.

Glass in place between quarter-round layers, plus bits for later.

Glass up, and extra supports in place, but nothing else done yet.

Step Seven: Lights. We used these LED Strip Lights with Remote from Amazon for $17.99. It’s a 16.4 foot strip with adhesive backing. I very carefully attached the plug-in end at the top and unrolled it around the inner surface of the glass frame on the backdrop side immediately adjacent to the quarter-round. I also put an extra screwed down anchor at the plug in end to support the weight of the plug and cord to keep it from coming unstuck. When I did that I was very careful to NOT drill through the LED strip.

The LEDs are the strip of white to the left of the black quarter-round.

This is how it looks lit.

Step Eight: Back masking. It turns out the LEDs put out a lot of light that hits the backdrop area and makes it harder to see the lightboard drawings, so I needed to put up extra masking to help keep the light from the LEDs in the plane of the glass. I used one-by-four boards attached to the outside of the two-by-four glass frame as seen below. I cut six footers down to the exact size of the frame, but you could easily use shorter scrap boards.

One-by-four masking boards left over from some previous project.

Lights on, backdrop up, but only partially masked.

Step Nine: Front masking. With the masking that keeps the LEDs in the plane of the glass, they don’t put out quite enough light to show the user properly, so we are using an overhead fixture that was already in place at the beginning of the process for that. However, in order to keep it from dazzling the camera we needed a little extra front masking. I used a piece of chipboard scrap as seen in the picture immediately below. It’s 3′ 3″ long by 11″ wide, and would be replaced by the one-by-twelve listed in the materials list if you were buying new. It’s screwed directly to the camera side of the two-by-four frame.

Front masking.

Step Ten: Backdrop. We used a king-sized fleece bed cover, because the combination of texture and size was perfect for absorbing light and because it was cheap (27.99) at Amazon. Flannel Fleece Plush King. To mount it I just grabbed a couple of pressure clamps from my workroom and clipped them to the joists, but I will use screws with large washers or binder clips screwed into the joists to replace them. If I were doing this in a room with a ceiling, I’d start by putting up the binder clips and then clipping them in place. As you can see from the picture, I’ve got the backdrop mounted so that it creates a box around the user with fleece on three side and the lightboard on the fourth.

Fleece blanket backdrop from Amazon

Step Ten A: Camera mount part one. This is a serious kludge.  I hinge mounted a piece of two-by-four  to an overhead joist because we needed to be able to fold the mount out of the way when not in use. And then I had to add a couple of pieces of board to get the camera to sit at the right focal point since that was between joists. If it didn’t need to move it would have been much simpler. I would have put a board across between the joists, screwed a vertical piece cut to the exact length I needed and been done with it.

Step Ten B: Camera mount part 2. I drilled a hole through the piece of two-by-two and mounted a machine screw that is the size of a standard camera tripod base. With that in place it’s simple enough to screw a cell phone camera mount onto the base. You could also simply use a tripod if you had one around. The cell phone base was another cheap amazon purchase at $13.95. We used this one because it came with a remote.

That’s pretty much it. Laura records the video with her cell phone using a blu tooth earpiece as a microphone, and then flips it before posting.

One final note: This is not a difficult project, though it took a lot of fine tuning one the lighting and masking. I am a handy sort of individual with a good bit of construction experience since, but anyone with a saw, a screwgun, the materials, and a bit of can probably manage it.