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Mid-year pulse check June 12, 2019

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, life, writing.
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Obviously, my attempts to blog more early in the year didn’t last very long. As usual, the greatest hindrance to it is myself. I’m sure I will always have something to write about, after all. I’m still sitting on photos from the winter to share, not to mention those from a trip to Banff a few weeks ago.

So what have I been up to while not blogging? The big news is that I have two new books that pretty much only need cover art to release, including Sisters of Chaos book 2. There may still be some final tweaking to that one, so I can’t give a release date yet. I’m also currently working on a short story which is a bit different from my usual fare, though that one’s not going to see print until next year (if it goes well).green light audiobook cover-small

Also, because I clearly can’t stand the thought of having a manageable workload, I’ve begun narrating audiobooks for Brain Lag. I’ve recorded two so far; the first, J. R. Dwornik’s Green Light to Paradise, came out last fall, and the newest, Innocent Earth by Dale E. McClenning, has been submitted for distribution and is making its way into catalogues.

It’s a lot of work; Innocent Earth took 100 hours total. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot in the context of 40-hour work weeks, but with my rather reduced work days and other projects going on at the same time, it took me about six months to finish it. However, voice acting has turned out to be a lot of fun. (I particularly enjoyed voicing a flamboyant preacher from Kentucky in Innocent Earth.) I also get a chuckle while editing now and then, say, when my cat decided to chip in. While I’ve decided to take a little break from it for the moment, I look forward to recording my next audiobook.

As for my 2019 goals, according to Goodreads, I’m three books ahead of schedule for beating my best year of reading. So a few of them are graphic novels; I didn’t specify that for my goal! Regrettably, I haven’t been doing as well with playing guitar in the past couple months. I think I was doing better than the last time I ‘seriously’ tried to learn before my practice time dried up, so I would like to find time for it again. I enjoyed playing.

However, I am happy to report that I have continued an over 150-day streak on Duolingo learning Japanese. I’m far from holding a real conversation, of course, but I’ve learned a few hundred words so far, am beginning to understand the idiosyncrasies of the language, and continue practicing reading hiragana and katakana whenever I see it. It’s been fun and maintaining an unbroken streak for so long (okay, so I’ve had two cheat days) certainly motivates me to keep learning every day.

I also just finished refreshing the design of the Brain Lag website, which involved learning how to make a responsive web design, or one that will change depending on the size of the device viewing it. Aside from that, I’ve managed to uphold some other personal goals, so it has been a productive year for me so far.

Now let’s see if I’ll actually fit blogging in to the rest of that.

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Judging by the cover March 28, 2019

Posted by thejinx in writing.
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How much work do you put into defining, and describing, a character’s appearance?

When I was a teenager, I described my characters in detail. I had clear images in my mind of how they looked and I wanted readers to get that same image. I also loved (and still love) crazy anime hair colours. I’ll admit I was guilty of this:

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But the books I read increasingly gave me the impression that describing characters in such detail was juvenile. I also came to shy away from unnatural hair colours, at least in traditional fantasy, for the same reason. I also prefer these days to make my characters more average-looking. After all, the world is not made up of Doctor Dooms and Captain Americas; it is made up of Johns and Jenns, Abduls and Taniquas. And I prefer to write stories about those regular people.

Yet, as a reader, I enjoy reading full descriptions of characters, getting an image in my head as clear as the author’s, and as accurate. And increasingly, my rebuttal to those reasons not to describe them in detail—show, don’t tell; don’t info dump; it’s not that important—is why not? It’s all fiction, and in my case, it’s all fantasy and science fiction. What problem is it to go ahead and describe characters in detail? One can go on too long, of course, but that is true of anything.

Aside from that, a character’s physical appearance says a lot about them. It is an extension of their personalities. How a character dresses or looks or styles their hair tells you a bit about them.

For example, take Damian, the star of my Sisters of Chaos trilogy. Her most distinguishing feature is her vivid yellow eyes; of course, they show that she’s different, and she’s spent the vast majority of her life hiding them behind a veil, until she makes a conscious choice not to hide them anymore. She styles her hair nicely, because she is effeminate and because she’s trying to show that there’s more to her than her strange eyes and what they represent. Yet, she makes fashionable gowns for herself that accentuate her body (slender, not shapely), not try to emphasize features she doesn’t have. She doesn’t wear corsets or padding or anything; she’s trying to show her best self, yet she is honest to a fault and does not want to be accepted for something she’s not.

Then there’s Garrick. He’s Marvel Studios ripped and very attractive, with an infectious/roguish smile. He is constantly aware of how he is perceived by others, and adjusts his posture, speech, and expressions to maximum effect for whatever company he’s in. Partly he does so to get whatever he’s looking for out of the encounter, and partly it’s to get the respect he has desperately desired throughout his life, and it also serves to cover up his own insecurities.

Maybe you don’t get all of that with a strict description of how a character looks, but the fact is, there’s a reason behind every character’s appearance. A character might be wearing an expensive but ill-tailored suit because they’re new money and don’t know how to live the high life, but want to. Maybe a female character refuses to wear a bikini because she’s self-conscious. A male character might have a patchy, or overly thick, beard because he’s trying to compensate for a babyish face he gets teased about otherwise.

All these details are more than just giving a reader a clear picture of the character the author is depicting; they’re clues into the character. And as readers, we also form opinions of the characters based on how they look, because that tends to show pieces of the character. Whether those opinions are affirmed by the character or challenge our biases, it adds to our understanding of the character.

And really, what’s wrong with describing a character’s appearance in detail?

A little micro fiction February 26, 2019

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“Skin-tight leather? Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to move in this?”

“It’s protection!”

“Against what, mosquitoes? Do you have any idea how hot and sweaty and sticky that’s going to get in a fight?”

“What do you want to be, the Superhero in Sweats?”

“Now that’s not a bad idea.”

May the frosting be with you February 3, 2019

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This weekend was my husband’s birthday, and since he’s a big Star Wars fan (and I wanted to try out my new candy melting pot), I decided to make Star Wars cupcakes!

I used the new X-Wing and Millennium Falcon silicone mold I got for Christmas to make the cupcake toppers.

I melted bright white candy melts in my electric candy pot, together with a few leftover Halloween chocolates…

… and poured it into the molds, then put them in the fridge for half an hour to harden. (With thanks to my daughter for photography credit.)

Presto! Delicious candy starships. Now on to the cupcakes. (Chocolate, of course.)

For the frosting, I started with a basic butter cream frosting. Homemade, I don’t do store bought in this house.

I wanted to do a bit of a galaxy style for the frosting, so I split it in half, made half into chocolate and split the other half to colour blue and purple.

Filled up a piping bag, gave it a quick swirl, and it was ready to go.

Used a big star tip and started frosting.

I also added some edible silver glitter dust to complete the galaxy look. It’s not super obvious, but it does add a little pop.

Once that was done, it was time for the ships.

And voila! The colours didn’t turn out quite as I was hoping they would, but I’m pretty pleased with the results. They’re also very tasty.

On pride January 17, 2019

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Pride. One of the Seven Deadly Sins.

It is not so much taught as it is ingrained into our society that pride is the worst form of narcissism.

But is it really so evil? Is it so wrong to feel proud of our accomplishments? Who does it harm for someone to take joy in being smart, or pretty, or strong, or creative? Why is it such a grave insult for one to respond to a compliment by agreeing with it?

No, I think the true evil is egotism. Putting oneself before everyone else. This, in my opinion, is far more rampant and far more insidious than pride.

After all, when one takes it as an affront if someone agrees with a compliment, whose ego is so paramount that it becomes challenged? A compliment should be given selflessly; to turn it around and say that the compliment is somehow lessened because the receiver did not bestow the proper praise upon the giver changes the intention entirely.

It’s why people are so quick to argue about the things they enjoy, or don’t. It always baffles me, even frustrates me, that so many people can’t seem to let others like what they like. Their opinions become so important that it becomes a personal threat when others don’t feel the same way. The perceived challenge to their worldview overrides any understanding that another’s enjoyment (or non-enjoyment) of something has no bearing on one’s own opinions.

This egotism seems the source of so many problems in today’s society. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, other forms of bigotry—it all derives from this need to be better than others. Denial of white privilege—belief that a systemic issue is instead a personal condemnation. Judging others over everything from how they look to how they live—reinforcing the idea that one’s own being is better than others’.

All of these problems hide the fact that none of these perceived issues have any bearing or judgment upon the viewer’s life. Does that person who looks funny diminish one’s own self-worth? Does accepting that being born white means one has an easier time in life affect one’s value? Does the fact that gay people exist really have any impact over one’s life at all?

No. It’s all a result of inflating one’s ego above others.

I don’t mean to say that all of this is done maliciously. In fact, I think a lot of such problems are related to the fact that we are taught not to feel pride. Because we’re not allowed to take joy in our accomplishments or positive traits, we seek that validation of self-worth in destructive ways. And for those who are more attuned to those destructive habits, it results in rampant imposter syndrome, feelings of worthlessness, and depression.

I think it’s time to admit that pride isn’t the enemy. Of course, one can take it too far, but then it goes back to the problem of egotism. So be proud of your accomplishments. Take joy in whatever part of yourself makes you happy. And more importantly, allow others to feel pride when they’ve earned it. There’s nothing wrong with that. And if you find yourself feeling insulted by someone else’s views or appearance or being, maybe stop and ask yourself if it really has any impact on your own life before saying something.

On resolutions January 11, 2019

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newyears2019When I was younger, I wasn’t crazy about New Year’s. (Admittedly, I didn’t get invited to many parties.) These days, however, I like the spirit of renewal. A blank slate. Casting off the wearied remnants of the old year and looking toward the bright potential of the future.

Yes, it’s an arbitrary date and people shouldn’t need an excuse to improve themselves. But it’s a landmark. A reminder, when we’re so often swept up in the chaos of our daily lives, that we should constantly be trying to better ourselves.

And now, in the Information Age, it’s easier than ever to do. Free apps can teach you a new language, how to play an instrument, how to draw and meditate and all sorts of things. YouTube videos can show you how to make or do almost anything. There’s a mountain of free ebooks and online courses out there that can help you master a new skill or subject. Most of these options are even broken down into chunks that only require a few minutes a day. There’s no excuse not to attempt any pursuit one might desire.

I don’t tend to make resolutions. I made an exception with my Goodreads reading challenge for 2019, and I’ll admit I like the push it gives me. Otherwise, however, I don’t want to pressure myself. I prefer goals. Google Fit keeps trying to get me to lower my fitness goals, make them more consistently attainable for me. But I’m not out to check boxes off every day. I want to strive for those goals. I won’t beat myself up if I don’t make them, but I’ll allow myself to feel good if I do.

I don’t have a lot of goals for 2019. I already started trying to exercise regularly a few months ago, and last year I made some changes to my health that significantly improved my overall quality of life. I want to read more, of course. I do want to try to get the second Sisters of Chaos book out this year. Editing continues to be a slog, but I’m using the spirit of improvement the new year provides to try to push myself to at least continue working on it.

Of course, with all these options for personal improvement out there, it’s hard not to get swept up in the different things one can learn or do. I look at the guitar(s) in my bedroom and think about the apps I’ve looked at to try to start playing again. I watch my daughter using new art supplies and think about breaking out some of my own that I haven’t touched for years. I even downloaded one of those language learning apps on a whim last night.

Is it too much? Maybe. Do I have too little time to explore all these interests? Maybe not, at least based on the apps I’ve seen. Will I lose interest before the month’s out? Possibly. But these options are better than just sitting around playing a silly mobile game or watching cat videos on YouTube, which I tend to do more often in my free time because it’s easier than doing anything that can be judged. Maybe my true resolution should be to stop being intimidated by starting anything.

The key to a good new year is not merely hoping or wishing that it will be better. Now’s the time to start making things happen.

Here’s to a great 2019.

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The year of trying more? Oil pastels, 2.5″ x 3.5″

Books / time: the story January 6, 2019

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I love reading (as is probably obvious). Even my 7-year-old daughter now says, “you can’t have too many books”, gets excited when we go to the bookstore, and says “booooks” hungrily when confronted with a stack of them.

But I’ll admit I’m not the most prolific reader. The main excuses for that are that I spend free time engaged with other pastimes (writing) and a silly fear of commitment over starting new books. I also don’t consider myself a very fast reader, so I don’t get through books as quickly as perhaps I could.

2017 was my best year yet for reading since I started tracking my books read on Goodreads, at 26. However, I followed that up in 2018 with a paltry 10. Well, 11 when you count one book that wasn’t on Goodreads.

Granted, that’s only the measure of the books I read for enjoyment. That doesn’t count the thirty or forty books I read as part of my freelance work, or the handful of books I read (or reread) for Brain Lag. But it does seem a little sad after such a good 2017. And considering the number of new books I picked up last year, it does make me want to read more.

I’ve started the year on the right foot, at least. Whereas last year, I had a gap through to the end of March without any books read for pleasure, I finished my first book of 2019 tonight. It was even one I’ve been meaning to read for a few years. Progress!

I managed to whittle down my TBR shelf (we’ll pretend that row of books hidden behind them aren’t there) to six or seven before I started buying more new books last year. Maybe if I keep at it, I can finally get through those books I bought and haven’t read yet. (Again, we’re not mentioning all the books behind them on the shelf, or the dozens of ebooks I have on Kindle and Google Play.) Maybe if I do that, I can get back to some series I’ve partially read, or start reading other books I’ve been wanting to check out for years, read some authors and titles I’ve heard such good things about.

Or maybe I’ll continue getting lost in whatever ebook I happen to open in a moment of boredom or picking up whatever shiny title catches my eye at the library.

Some people may lament the idea of there being so many books that one cannot possibly hope to read all the ones they desire in a lifetime, but to me, I find reassurance in the knowledge that I’ll always have something to read.

I’d like 2019 to be a better year for books for me. I’ll make it a better year. I’ve never set myself reading goals on Goodreads, but maybe I’ll do that this year. I spend too much time goofing around on mobile games because of this weird anxiety over starting new books, when I’ve plenty of minutes throughout the day that I can find to get some reading in. It’s not hard to start a new book, and I know that.

It’s a new year. Time for new stories.

‘Tis the season November 30, 2018

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While doing my annual Christmas photo session last week, I took some nice shots of my cat, Mew, too. Enjoy!

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Look at this gorgeous beast and tell me this isn’t the Platonic ideal of a cat. If only he wasn’t so crazy.

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In the middle of licking his chops. A lot of treats were involved in getting these pictures.

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Book tour and giveaway: THE BLACK TRILLIUM November 16, 2018

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The Black Trillium
by Simon McNeil
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
 
Confederation rules in Trana—so says the king.
But Fredericton is a long way from the shores of Lake Ontario, and
schemes for power will bring together three extraordinary young
warriors.
Savannah
A desert girl who came to Trana looking for refuge but has never found
a home
Kieran
A privileged city boy dreaming of rebellion and hardened by cruelty
Kyle
The disgraced heir to the throne desperate to win back his place in his
father’s heart
Sworn enemies or reluctant allies, they all have one thing in common: an
incomplete half of the legendary fighting skill known as the
Triumvirate sword art. They fight for glory, for power, for the
monsters lurking beneath the streets, and for the mysterious society
moving in the shadows of Trana—the Black Trillium.
Add to Goodreads
Amazon * Apple * B&N * Kobo
Read on for my review, a guest post, and giveaway!

(more…)

Art vs. Illustration October 22, 2018

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I’ve been drawing seriously, or at least trying to, for the better part of thirty years now. While it hasn’t been my only, or even necessarily primary, method of creative expression, I’ve done a lot of it. My artwork folder on my computer, which consists only of pictures I have at one point deemed worthy of sharing, has over 500 files in it.

Most of those pictures are more or less portraits. The character(s) might not be looking at the viewer and they might be doing something interesting, but the whole point of those drawings is just to show off a character. I’ve drawn my share of scenes, pictures showing a clear story, but they’re still one-off images. I have considered and even scripted comics and/or graphic novels, but I haven’t taken the time to really attempt it yet.

Now that I have been drawing for the chapter book I wrote, however, I am starting to understand the particular challenges to actual illustration, particularly now that I have started colouring my illustrations. Up till now, it’s mostly been fun: determining visual quirks of characters the first time I draw them and extending those to subsequent illustrations, designing characters’ clothes, hair and accessories, setting the scenes I’m trying to convey. There was a challenge in keeping characters consistent, of course, and I had to consider things I’d never dealt with before, such as height of characters relative to each other, but it wasn’t all that different from what I was used to.

When I coloured the first character in the first illustration, however, I suddenly realized that I should colour all instances of that character to keep their portrayal consistent. And then as I worked further, I found myself needing to consider things that even backstory for the book itself didn’t prepare me for. Take this drawing, for example:

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All went well enough, I was enjoying the way it came together as I coloured each character over the course of a few nights, and then I got to that breakfast bar. What colour should the counter and the cupboard be?

I hadn’t put much thought into it at that point, but suddenly it became a crucial issue. I knew what colours the characters may favour, but they live on a space station. What would the counter and cupboard even be made of? An aluminum counter top is easy enough to decide upon, but what about the cupboard? Trying to answer that question only spawned more. Are these characters the first ones to live in this apartment? Because there wouldn’t be wood or drywall on a space station, and I don’t think repainting would be likely on a space station. How old is the station? Because that’s going to determine whether this is a new apartment or if they’ve moved in to someone else’s design choices. What would the walls be made of? Because that’s going to affect their colour, and so the design elements in the kitchen.

I hadn’t even considered these things while developing the story. I probably never would have if I hadn’t been trying to answer a simple question regarding a background element to a single illustration in the book. And this is only a taste of it; I have several more illustrations to go. What other issues may crop up as I work through the rest of the drawings? What else might I discover if I went on to write and illustrate more books?

It certainly makes for an interesting, and fun, challenge. In a way, I’m also a little saddened, because I have to, and I want to, focus entirely on Sisters of Chaos book 2 after I’ve finished with this book, even though I already have some ideas for another book. I’m also enjoying creating the art for this book, as time-consuming as it might be, too much to consider letting someone else illustrate for any possible future books. This has been a very fun process, weaving art and writing together in a way in which each affects the other, and I hope to get the chance to do it again before too long.