Sunday, September 27, 2009

Artifacts I: Vulture Capital

I recently redesigned my website, incorporating a "desktop" theme to make it appear as if the visitor was looking down on a wooden desk. The content for the site is shown in an ersatz spiral-bound notebook with the menu to select different sections of the site provided along the top.

To the left, beside the notebook, are various "artifacts" that one might find on a desk--particularly the desk of a private eye, such as my series protagonist August Riordan. The trick to this--from a website design perspective--is to shoot the digital photographs for the artifacts from directly above and to give them a transparent background so that the surface of the "desk" shows through behind them. That, coupled with a little cascading style sheet (css) magic, and you have the illusion that the objects are sitting on the desk, even overlapping the notebook to the right in some cases.

(This doesn't work quite so well on Internet Explorer version 6 where Byzantine manipulations are required to make the illusion work in even a half-assed manner. Please, please, please (!), if you are still using IE6, do yourself and the rest of the Internet a favor and get a real browser. Even IE7 or 8 if you insist.)

For example, to the left of the notebook on the home page sits an ashtray with a smoldering cigarette with a rather long ash:

There's also a whiskey glass, a cigarette lighter, a PI license, a couple of bullets and a picture of me doctored up to look like an old photograph. The items in that list remain static as you navigate through the site, but the spot taken by the ashtray is updated with a new artifact as you go to different sections.

In today's post and a few that will follow I'd like to talk about the artifacts I've created for the pages devoted to my books. I've taken special care to "gen up" items that are somehow associated with the plot of the book in question and I thought it would be fun to give a little background on the connections.

Today's featured artifact comes from my book Vulture Capital:

As you can hopefully recognize, the artifact is a wine cork and a wine bottle label from the winery Val du Grue. In Vulture Capital, Val du Grue is owned by partners Ted Valmont and Bruce Crane. Valmont, a venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, provided the money for the operation and Crane provides the wine-making expertise.

It is Valmont who hires August Riordan to find the Chief Scientist of NeuroStimix, a company in which Valmont has invested. The scientist has gone missing, and since he is key to product development at NeuroStimix, Valmont wants him found and back in harness as soon as possible. The search, as it turns out, takes Valmont and Riordan to the Napa Valley where they discover bad men have done a lot of bad things with the technology.

But back to the artifact: the label comes from Crane's award-winning 1999 Chardonnay (97 points from Wine Spectator) and since the winery and the grapes used in it come from the Mount Veeder appellation of Napa, Mount Veeder is shown on the bottle.

The illustration is a stylized painting of the Val du Grue building, which has been designed in the style of an French Chateau.

Next time you're in a hoity-toity wine shop, ask for the 1999 Val du Grue Chardonnay. I think you'll find it has a light, transparent, completely imaginary taste on the palate.


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