Toy Photography: The World Through Plastic Eyes

Today I’m going to tell you how toy photography lit up my soul during a dark time of transition. I’ve been letting go of a satisfying self-identity as a beloved web designer, a problem-solver, a techie geek who knows All The Answers. At the same time, I’ve been trying not to fall into the trap of embracing some new label that will simply change again someday in the future. Mid-life crisis? Some might call it that.

Enter toy photography.

Little People Who Lit Up My Soul

It started with Lego brand mini-figures. They encapsulate the joy of childhood. My son is an avid Lego builder, and I enjoyed photographing his creations (which I had to do quickly, before he changed them or dismantled them completely to build something else!).

These photos are from 2014. I began to realize that toy photos could be little stories, and my imagination is always set on fire by stories. Suddenly photography, which I had long enjoyed, didn’t require sweeping horizons, exotic locales or even the “golden hour” (although those things are still very nice).

I could do this in my house. At a restaurant. On a road trip! It became the perfect mobile hobby, and something that I could make uniquely my own. Anybody could take a photo of a sunset. But you don’t see sunsets featuring toys every day. (Well, unless you’re into toy photography. Then you see it all the time. But even then it’s not my toys creating my story during my sunset.)

The Star Wars Fandom Re-Ignites In My Heart

Another factor that came barreling into our lives around the same time was the new installments of the Star Wars saga, and the animated TV show Star Wars Rebels.

In 2016, we got a little Lego Kanan figure, and I was so taken with this stylized Lego version of a stylized animated character that I took photos of him and made him my profile picture on Facebook.

pic of Lego Kanan

As the animated series unfolded, I grew to deeply admire this almost-Jedi-knight who provided calm in the chaos, forgiveness after poor decisions, leadership for tumultuous teens. He was kind, gentle, and steady. He was also a fierce protector and a determined soldier when he had a mission. He helped others at personal cost. He laughed and told corny jokes. He was humble, yet possessed remarkable powers.

I bought a Kanan action figure from the Star Wars Black Series line of toys, and once again everything changed.

The Miraculous Transformation Happens In Your Brain

Some of my friends look at these photos and shrug. “So what, it’s a toy. Why are you taking pictures of a kid’s toy?” The first pictures in this post are exactly that: I was taking pictures of my kid’s toy. Not really artistic, not really compelling.

But I knew more was possible. So I studied what made some toy photos speak to me more than others. As I grew my skills, the pictures of toys became snapshots of a character in action. Subtle cues of head tilt, body language, and focus began to reveal the character’s attitude, convey emotion, suggest thought.

And then one day I took a shot that triggered a change in my brain. I wasn’t seeing a toy anymore. I was seeing the world through the toy’s eyes. I was seeing the world through Kanan’s eyes.

That, my friends, is one of the miracles of toy photography.

Toy Photography Resources

Here are a few of (honestly, I have so many other faves, there are so many amazing peeps out there!) my favorite toy photographers’ Instagram feeds:

If you’d like to learn more about toy photography, participate in toy photo challenges, and explore some active toy photo communities, try these:

Total Eclipse of the Sun [Resources] – August 21, 2017
November 2012 solar eclipse by James Niland

November 2012 solar eclipse photo by James Niland

You may have heard there’s a total solar eclipse happening in August, visible in some parts of the United States. Want to know if it will be visible near you? Here are some handy resources for fellow astronomy fans.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017 Resources

Other cool astronomical events in 2017


Corona detail on 2012 solar eclipse by Nicholas Jones

Corona detail on 2012 solar eclipse by Nicholas Jones

Manzanar: Never Again to Anyone, Anywhere

It’s hard to put into words the thoughts and feelings that I experienced when I visited the historical site of the Manzanar Relocation Center. Manzanar is one of 10 relocation centers (or internment camp) where the United States forcibly imprisoned Japanese and Japanese-American citizens after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

It’s a place of injustice, a place of betrayal, a place of hardship and human suffering. And like any such place, out of it come stories of courage and perseverance, of kindness and forgiveness and hope. Since I’m not Japanese, and I have no personal involvement with the historical events the place was established as a National Park to preserve, I will just share the pictures and the links below and allow them to speak for themselves.

The one thing I can do is join my voice with that of others saying: Never Again to Anyone, Anywhere. The recent issues with Muslim Americans being profiled, watched, or detained because of their religion (and its association with terrorism, especially after the 9/11/2001 attack) makes this a very relevant issue for us today. Personally, I would not trade “safety” for the violation of innocent citizens’ rights (if such a trade could even be assured). I encourage every American who has the chance to visit this place and to take to heart the lessons of history, that they might not be repeated again.

A Photo Scrapbook

There was so much to see, and the exhibits do a very good job of sharing the story. These photos are a small sampling of the 150 or so that I took on my visit.

Annual Event at Manzanar

The next annual pilgrimage to Manzanar is coming up April 29th, 2017. The theme this year is Never Again To Anyone, Anywhere! 75th Commemoration of Executive Order 9066. Get details on the Manzanar Committee blog.

Related Links


Whatever happened to collecting our Dead Darlings?

Changing the Dead Darlings schedule

Bring me your dead darlingsI posted a meme a while back declaring that I would give your dead darlings eternal life here on my site. Originally, I thought to post about it at the end of each month.

But every month was too often.

So we’re going to target something a little less frequent (and more intriguing). After rejecting the idea of doing every Friday the 13th (which was the first thing that springs to mind when we’re talking about the dead), I decided we’d share our lost loves whenever there was a super moon, since these happen about 3-4 times a year.

What’s a Super Moon?

Supermoon as seen from Washington on 2013-06-23. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Supermoon as seen from Washington on 2013-06-23. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

A “super moon” is when the moon is closest to the earth (which sometimes makes it appear slightly larger in the sky).

The Supermoon on November 14, 2016, was the closest (356,509 km from Earth) since January 26, 1948 (356,460 km). The next time a Full Moon will come even closer to Earth is on November 25, 2034 (356,445 km, dates based on UTC time).

New schedule for Dead Darlings posts

  • Thursday, May 25 (new Moon 357,209 km from the Earth) *
  • Saturday, June 24 (new Moon 357,937 km from the Earth)
  • Sunday, December 3 (full Moon 357,495 km from the Earth)


Just remember, only one of the super moons in 2017 is during a FULL moon, so don’t go looking in the sky for a huge moon until December. (I know, bummer, huh?)

* EDIT: Bwahahahaha! May 25 came and went while I was on an 18-day road trip. Oops. Shooting for June 24, then!

* EDIT #2: *Picard facepalm* June 24 was two days before my sister who lives in Egypt arrived for a visit. I was buried in house cleaning and property maintenance and completely missed it again. How can I hope to start a #deaddarlings movement if even I cannot remember to post them!? Oh, the writerly humanity! December 3, here we come!

Save your Dead Darlings in a morgue

If you’d like to participate in this mourning process for dead darlings, I recommend starting a “morgue” file (or Scrivener project) where you collect your dead darlings as you edit. Those beautiful gems that just don’t fit the moment, those descriptive passages that slowed down the action too much but who shine on their own like stars. Put them in a little drawer in your writing morgue and save them for the next super moon.

Then subscribe to my blog (or watch my Facebook page) and you’ll be notified when I do a Dead Darlings post. Or just mark your calendar for the dates above. Let’s mourn together, and celebrate together the (brief) lives of our sparkling word gems.

An editing tip from Nail Your Novel

While we’re on the subject, here’s an insightful tip from the lovely Roz Morris on recognizing dead darlings: Writers, are you showing off or sharing? A way to kill your darlings.

How to weave socio-political issues into fiction: One golden rule and three tips

 Divergent - Tris fight

The golden rule: The story is king

Of course the story is king! It seems obvious, but sometimes authors get off track and climb onto a soapbox.

If you’ve ever written a story and received feedback that it was “too preachy”, I have a few tips that might help. (Useful for avoiding this trap before you ever fall into it, too.)

Should you just avoid social issues in fiction?

No. Many speculative stories include social issues. In fact, if your world-building is thorough you should have many issues woven into the story. Here are a few books that come to mind:

  • The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov (actually, just about anything he wrote covered social issues of some kind)
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien

If your story has politics (Ender’s Game: Should the government restrict how many children one has, and should they have the power to draft them into military service at a young age?), if your story has different characters arguing over the right path to take (The Fellowship of the Ring: Should we use the One Ring to defeat Sauron, or destroy it?), then you’ll need to deal with this challenge.

Boromir and the One Ring

How can you avoid the soapbox pitfall?

I use three simple (though not always easy) rules of thumb:

1) Research

Research issues enough that the story resonates with people who face those issues in real life. A little bit of research can go a long way. A few little details sprinkled into the story can make the difference in hitting home with readers who can relate to what the characters are experiencing.

2) Represent

Sympathetically represent several sides of an issue, so the issue doesn’t appear one dimensional (real life is rarely so black and white). During the research phase, seek to understand 2-3 major views on the topic and then assign these views to several characters in the story. How much airtime you give to each side is up to you, but if you only mention one side of the issue, this is far more likely to trigger the soapbox alert in your readers’ minds.

3) Relate

Let the characters debate the issue in such a way that the reader is free to side with whomever they personally relate to. This requires that your cast of characters includes diverse worldviews, which will make your story stronger anyway. Stories thrive on conflict, and even your hero’s best friend should disagree with your hero on some subjects. I’ve noticed that more movies today are including minor characters that different groups can relate to. Sometimes we sneer at the “token” minority or “token” religious person in a story, but it can be handled well.

Yes, the social issue can be central

Red Rising quoteEven if you start a story with the intention of illustrating a social issue or presenting a moral argument surrounding such an issue, the story itself must stand on its own. There are many gripping stories centering around a social issue: human trafficking, racial tensions, life under an oppressive regime, overcoming poverty or addiction, dealing with bullies, overcoming family drama, reconciling violently different religious views.

Including a social issue in your fiction is not the problem. Seeking to convince someone else that a certain side of the social issue is “right” and all other views are evil and wrong is the problem. Readers come to a story wanting a rewarding emotional experience. Have you ever enjoyed someone telling you how you should think? How you should choose? No, that’s not an enjoyable experience. Keep that in mind.

Yes, the story can lean one way or another

Most readers don’t like a perfectly balanced middle line, either. “Drugs can be good. And sometimes drugs can be bad.” That’s not a story.

“Drugs weren’t a problem until she started depending on them for things they could not possibly provide. Once she stepped over the line into drug abuse, tragedy was inevitable. Only the love of friends and incredible personal courage pulled her back from a horrific end.” There’s drama in there, danger, love and courage. That’s a story. (If you can think of a better example, please include it in the comments. I’m feeling dry at the moment!)

Because readers actually (consciously or subconsciously) want a conclusion to the tension of some social issues, it’s natural to weight the issue slightly in favor of one view or another. Most people would agree that drug abuse is harmful, even if they don’t agree whether or not drugs should be illegal, or which drugs should be freely available. Represent several different views, but your protagonist will have a specific experience, and a specific bias. The voices of other characters should balance this out. In some stories, the social issue won’t be directly addressed by the characters, it will just be part of the landscape.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Either way, as long as you illustrate more than one side, it’s okay to lean slightly in favor of one side or another, as long as it does not distract from the story itself.

Which books handle social issues well?

Share in the comments some books that handle social issues well without crossing the line into “preachy”.


Tech Fix: When Windows is so far behind on updates that it won’t update anymore

I know that most people subscribed to my blog don’t care about this issue. I’m glad they don’t, because it’s not something I’d wish on anyone! Which is why I’m going to publish this fix, because if it helps someone else (like my post on how to make Scrivener display properly on high-res laptops did), then it’s worth it. Loyal email subscribers, just delete this post if you don’t need it.

Neglecting Windows Updates is a Bad Idea

I’m not sure how it happened, but my desktop PC got over one year behind on Windows updates. It was late December 2016 when I realized that my last successful update was in September 2015. Doh!

You see, I’d chosen to manually update Windows, rather than having it happen automatically whenever Microsoft chooses. I get a notification, but can ignore it. Apparently, I’d ignored it for over a year! It was that quiet time right before Christmas, and I decided I would leave my computer on and let it do some updating.

But after a while I realized that nothing was happening!

There was no error. Just hours and hours of this:

How I worked it out

I searched Google for things like, “windows 7 update hangs while searching computer for updates“.

According to the fix on this Super User entry, there was a July 2016 update from Microsoft to how the Windows Updater works. It seemed possible that my computer couldn’t download updates because Microsoft’s site was providing them differently than before and my old update software couldn’t receive it.

The fix offered links to manually download and install some of the new updater software, but how could I get the updater I have to stop automatically trying to update?

I found another fix on Super User explaining how to disable the updater software:

  1. Go to the Start Menu, type services.msc and press Return
  2. Scroll to find Windows Update and double-click
  3. Change the startup type from Automatic to Manual or Disabled (whichever you prefer)

This fix provided even more links to Microsoft updates that would help, so I downloaded and installed those, too.

But it still wasn’t working

That’s when I discovered what none of those “fix” pages explained properly (probably because it was obvious to anyone who knows what they’re doing).

Some updates aren’t applied unless you Shut Down

I had tried Restarting my computer. It didn’t help.

I saw no messages explaining what to do next. You know how sometimes a message pops up from Windows saying, “You need to reboot to apply these updates. Would you like to do it now?”

That didn’t happen.

The missing piece of the puzzle? Some updates require that you go to the Start Menu and select Shut down. Not Sleep. Not Restart. Shut down.

Windows Shut down

It’s so simple.

It’s the secret magic trick and nobody was talking about.

I hope it helps somebody out there who needs it as much as I did.