After almost of month of work, I'm happy to announce that I've launched Pendorwright 2008, an all-new look and feel for my writing blog. Everything there is my own design: the header, the photography, the style sheets, and so forth.
I started with a couple of different things I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted my photo on the header, I wanted the right sidebar to be big and to be mostly about my stories, so most of the blogging administrivia of other websites belonged more in the footer than anywhere else. The blog should be on the home page; the old view was wimpy.
I took my inspiration from a lot of different places. An old site about yachting that's no longer around provided the template for what the header should look like, but I did my own textures and colors. The orange and blue came from the uniforms of the "soldiers of the future" in the video game Lost Odyssey. The photograph work was all my own. The torn and stressed paper background came from CG Textures, as did the leather texture I used in the header.
The PHP layout started life as Elements of SEO and quickly warped, with contributions from PersonalMag and Hemingway adding ideas for column control and footer design, although I wimped out and didn't do the hard-core PHP stuff found in Hemingway, but instead wrote it simple.
But the big deal is the right-hand column. It contains hand-coded SQL for an entirely different database: The stories database. What does this buy me? Just about everything: the power to add series whenever I want, the ability to put stories up at will and have them show up on schedule, without my having to hand-control them. As long as the HTML document contains a comment field with the right metadata (which is stripped out before deployment, so you'll never even see it), a little script entitled 'add story' will automagically create an entry in the database, and all the SQL in the system will automagically make those stories show up in the correct series's index when their time comes (bwahahahah!). Or at least the pubdate is now or earlier. All of the indices are driven off one MySQL table.
The price of this was, sadly, having to wrap all my story deployments in an executable. It's not as non-performant as I feared, and it seems to work pretty well. It would have been nice if I could have wrapped all of them into a single executable, but sadly that was not to be: the index engines for all of them are slightly different. Aimee and Bloody Beth are the same, but The Journal Entries are "special" (damn that date format!) and the Other Tales section has its own needs.
In the past week I have learned more than I ever thought I'd know about Ruby (but not Rails), PHP, the insides of Wordpress, the Gimp and using my Wacom pad, MySQL, configuring Apache's RewriteEngine... holy moly, that was a lot of work. And my wrists are killing me.
There's still some work to be done. I want to fix a few graphical 'tics' inside the Pendorwright Theme, add an "available in paperback" section, and so forth. Then I want to add to the stories sections themselves with some graphical work and fix those sidebars so they're universal and look more like the one used by front page, which is why this is labeled 'beta'. But it worked. Lessons to come.