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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.

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Never ending stories August 24, 2018

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I have some news to announce. The good news is: I’ve written a new story.

The bad news, of course, is I’ve written a new story.

Followers might wonder, so recently after I announced my intention not to write other books until I finish the Sisters of Chaos trilogy, why I suddenly wrote an entirely new book.

In short, I wanted to write a story for my daughter.

I’ve been wanting to write a story for her for years. But, as a SFF author of 100,000-word novels that lean more toward the grey side of the grimdark/noblebright scale, I found picture books just a bit too far outside my normal scope to attempt. Now that she is reading chapter books, however, I find an opportunity to write a story for her much more accessible.

I also made a realization recently. I hadn’t even considered writing a kid’s book before finishing with my trilogy, but it occurred to me that if I wait until then, she might be of an age when she can just read my regular work, and I’ll have missed the opportunity.

So, I sat down and wrote her a book. World, meet Mia:

mia

She’s nine years old, Hispanic, and lives on a space station.

Chapter books are still barely longer than my standard short story, so I was able to write out the entire book in a couple weeks. I still have some editing to do, but hopefully, the story won’t take much longer to finalize. The real holdup will be illustrations. Much as I would love to have someone else handle them, I just don’t have the budget for it, and I think my daughter would appreciate me drawing them myself.

Soon, I hope, I can share Mia’s story with the world.

New art: Garrick July 17, 2018

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Awfully late with this one, but I wanted to share this fantastic drawing of Garrick from Enduring Chaos by Stephen Peterson of TriCity Studios!

Sisters of Chaos book 2 update June 5, 2018

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I haven’t said anything about the progress of the sequel to Enduring Chaos in a long time. It’s intentional, though I’m not exactly sure why. Some nonsensical, subconscious mix of not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, feeling like people would just be frustrated with me posting about what I’m doing while still not having the book ready, feeling like I’m making too big a deal of it, still taking blog posts too seriously to just sit down and write one, or perhaps some straight-up pride (or guilt). But, it’s coming up on five years since the first book was released, which makes me groan, and I owe you, the readers, if nothing else, an explanation.

If you’ve been waiting for book two, all I can say is I’m sorry.

I have been working on it. After making a push last year and in late 2016, I finally finished the final first draft last summer. I then spent the next few months doing my preliminary edits before sending it off to beta readers in late fall. My beta readers gave me fantastic feedback, which came back in winter. Unfortunately, they made it clear that the story still needed some significant editing.

The editing has been a slog for the last few months. Just trying to figure out how to portray what I was trying to show instead of the less favourable impression the readers got, on one scene alone, held me up for a month or more. This has proven to be a very challenging book to write, and subsequently edit. There are particularly complex conflicts and character interactions, a whole wealth of new characters with their own cultures and histories to introduce, struggles not to bog down readers with too many characters or too much info in a notably bigger story than the first book*, dealing with all the backstory that a sequel entails (which I have never written before), remnants of earlier drafts that more often than not end up mucking up the works and have to be reworked, even hints of character development that the characters themselves aren’t aware of. Getting everything to align properly has also been tricky, because unlike every other book I’ve written, I wrote consecutively occurring storylines one POV at a time, and balancing timelines and spreading out scenes from different characters when I put it all together has required a lot of tweaking. It’s a lot of work and a lot of aspects that are difficult to handle.

* Spoiler alert: I completely failed at that one. Still working on some scenes there.

However, the beta readers are in agreement that it is a much better book than the first. Even though it’s not where I want it to be yet, I am quite pleased with it so far and have high hopes for it when it’s finished. The manuscript has already been through a lot of changes over the years and it has become a much stronger book for all the work I’ve put into it. I briefly considered trying to push it out for Gen Con this year, but I don’t want to rush it just to get it done. I want this book to be as good as it can be before I release it, particularly because it’s already better than the first book.

I have vowed not to write any other novel until I’ve finished this trilogy. I will, though, have a new short story related to the series in this year’s Missing Pieces volume at Gen Con. (It features a minor character introduced in book 2.) I do have at least a soft goal of having the book ready by next year’s Gen Con, if for no other reason than that the short story I have planned for next year’s Missing Pieces will contain a major spoiler for the book. I will admit that a couple years ago, I wrote a mostly unrelated novella that was intended to be for an earlier volume of Missing Pieces, but after finding that it needed much more editing than I could reasonably accomplish within the time frame for the anthology, it has been entirely back-burnered. Aside from that, and despite my muse occasionally (*cough* since last weekend) giving me a massive burst of inspiration for some other story, I have not written anything else.

I have a working title for the book which might end up being the final title, but I don’t want to share it yet because I’m not 100% satisfied with it.

For those who have been waiting for the book, thank you for your patience and I apologize again for the lengthy wait. If there’s anything you want to know about the book or any hints you’d like to see to hold you over until it’s ready, please don’t hesitate to comment here or send me a message through my contact form.

Meanwhile, I hope to see you at any of the Brain Lag events coming up this summer:

June 17: Brampton ComiCon – Brampton, ON
July 13-15: Ad Astra – Richmond Hill, ON
August 2-5: Gen Con – Indianapolis, IN
September 22: Forest City Comicon – London, ON

Words left behind October 16, 2017

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It takes a lot of work to write a novel.

All authors say that, but how can a reader understand what that means? Some authors throw out numbers like it took X hours of work, or X months or years. And yet, as a reader, one might look at one author who releases one book every five years, and another who releases a dozen in the same time, and wonder why the first can’t match the second. Especially with series. The world and characters are already established, right? Shouldn’t it be easier?

I think the true measure of what’s involved in writing a novel is in all the work you don’t see. Agonizing for hours over a single word. Dialogue rewritten ten times or more. Entire backstories, enough to write short stories or even other novels, for characters who appear only in one chapter. Characters, scenes, entire plot points that an author loved that had to be scrapped. The way it’s constantly on your mind – on a bus, at a grocery store, at a party, at your day job.

For Enduring Chaos, I wrote over 300,000 words that ended up in the trash before it came to the point it is now. At this point, the tally for the series overall is at least 400,000 deleted words. The first book went through three complete, start-to-finish drafts of which nothing remained in the published book. At least two scenes in the final draft were completely rewritten four or five times.

Hours upon hours of research, probably enough to fill a full-time job for a week at least. Conversations with half a dozen different people just for information on horses – some for no other reason than to determine a particular horse’s size, merely for the sake of a single comparison in the book. Research on weaving and weather patterns and etymology and much more. An hour-long conversation with my resident expert, along with taking over a page of notes, about the behaviour of a character who has exactly one spoken line.

I have pages of notes keeping track of the timeline and the distances characters have crossed. I have my own private wiki for notes on the series – characters, locations, artifacts, and more. I have notes everywhere – on my computer, my tablet, my phone, a notebook by my bedside, the cloud. I have pages of notes written for a single scene – and I’ve done that multiple times. I have pages of notes about the backstories that inform each character’s decisions. I even have pages of notes I never kept – writing down dialogue or actions as I was working it out, only to delete it when that conversation passed, or never even happened on page.

And then there’s the unwritten work. Character sketches and maps. Planning out movement during battle scenes. Those thoughts always on my mind. Hours of conversation with my husband about aspects of the book. Hours spent in so many sessions of staring at the screen, working out in my mind how a scene will go. Determining the impact of a certain event upon a character. Thinking. So much time spent inside my own head.

How do you quantify that?

Well… you don’t. A reader only gets the finished book, and a writer has to accept that that’s all most people will see. Sure, you can discuss the writing process at conventions or meet-and-greets, bemoan the struggles of editing with other writers, friends, family, or other witting or unwitting audiences, or write how-to articles or blog posts about it, but the truth is, no one is really going to appreciate the scope of how much work went into your novel except you.

As an author, it’s just part of the job. Writing means rewriting, and it means a lot of writing that will never be seen, not necessarily because it’s not good enough, but because it’s not necessary. We do this and we suffer through deleting words we adored time and again because it’s part of the process.

Because we love writing.

But don’t mistake that for meaning it isn’t hard work.

On ‘borrowing’ June 29, 2017

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I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural appropriation lately. It is a serious problem, I recognize that. But I also think that, unlike a number of so-called SJW crusades, arguments over it do go too far sometimes. Like a ‘get your picture taken in a period-style kimono’ exhibit at a Boston museum that was removed over too many complaints – despite members of the local Japanese-American community counter-protesting to keep it up.

I read a blog post a while back that resonated with me for a single line in it: straight people aren’t allowed to say what’s homophobic, men aren’t allowed to say what’s sexist, and white people aren’t allowed to say what’s racist. That made absolute sense to me. But would it also apply the other way? What does it say when white Americans rail against whitewashing more than the people supposedly being marginalized?

If I was married today, would I get complaints of cultural appropriation for my cheongsam-style wedding dress? (It was white. I obviously wasn’t trying to rip off a Chinese wedding.)

But again, it’s not up to me. Maybe I would’ve been in the wrong to wear that dress; maybe I was in the wrong. I wasn’t trying to disrespect or even emulate Chinese culture by wearing it. I just liked the style better than typical western wedding dresses and thought it more flattering on me.

I love learning about different cultures. I find it fascinating to see how people very different from me live their lives – their fashion, their food, their beliefs, their values, and on and on. And something I have come to learn is that it is immensely fun to both read and write about people very different from me.

That fact may come as a mild surprise to those who have read my novels, which (so far) don’t branch out very far from Tolkienesque 12th-century Britain-based fantasy or modern-day North America. But I want to. I wrote a novella last year starring a character from a nomadic society very loosely inspired by Romani, and I absolutely loved it. The part I’m currently writing for my next book features a number of different peoples all of which are very different from me. It’s been immense fun building these cultures and figuring out the characters’ roles in these societies.

However, I’m constantly wondering – will this be seen as disrespectful? Yes, these are completely fictional societies, and a lot of their development comes from natural progression based on location/climate/access to resources, but the fact is they’re not coming out of a vacuum. I find inspiration here and there from various cultures on our Earth, both because I find it interesting and because it suits these cultures and lends authenticity to them.

I’m not trying to make a medieval Mongolian or Mayan or Russian society in my novel; I start with pieces of one or several source cultures and work it into the world I’ve already developed. But all the same, I am borrowing from existing cultures, and is that problematic?

Today I was writing a scene in which a character reads the (magic) energy of the world. After some research I decided I liked the term prana for what she is sensing. But then I wondered – would people object to me using an Indian/Sanskrit term for a character whose society is more Pacific Islander influenced?

Am I splitting hairs, or is this a genuine concern I should be having? On the one hand, I absolutely agree that colonialism has resulted in appropriation that has undermined and demeaned other cultures through callous use of elements with deep sociological meaning to marginalized societies, and I should think carefully any time I “borrow” anything from another culture. On the other hand, where does it stop? Is it considered appropriation for me to cook a teriyaki stir fry dinner, or get henna on my wrist at a festival, or braid my daughter’s hair?

Earlier this year, the now-former editor of the Writers Union of Canada caused a lot of controversy when he recommended white authors incorporate more cultural appropriation into their writing, even as far as to suggest an “appropriation prize”. That comment was in extremely poor taste and emblematic of the issue… but I agree with the point he was trying to make. It’s boring and stifling to have white writers only write about white people. More to the point, writing is a way for us as humans to expand our minds and make sense of the human condition. In that regard, and especially considering white authors have such a stronger voice in current society, I would almost say it’s a duty of the white writer to step outside the box she lives in, as long as it’s done respectfully. We live in a multicultural society; is it not problematic to only write about your own race and culture? Good writing, writing that understands the world we live in, should either include or address multiculturalism.

But again, it’s not up to me. This is a highly complex issue, and one that’s unfortunately saturated with centuries of erasure and abuse.

Ultimately, I think the solution is to listen more to marginalized cultures on topics of cultural appropriation – both when it’s wrong, and when it’s not.

Sisters of Chaos vignette 2 February 29, 2016

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While trying to get back into the spirit of writing my next book, the second in my Sisters of Chaos trilogy, I wrote a short scene featuring Damian, the star of the trilogy, as a little glimpse into her history. Seeing as I don’t intend on writing any more of this piece, I present it to you now. This takes place 2-3 years before the start of Enduring Chaos:


 

For the first time that day, Damian could see clearly. Her veil hung close at hand in case of any surprise visitors, but standing in the kitchen, the aroma of herbs and roast duck on the air, she relished the free air on her hair and face.

Claude let out a breath as he sat down at the dining table. “Well, this is looking to be our most profitable trade season yet, though these regulations are awful this year. I wonder if I can hire someone who can sift through all these taxes and guild fees.”

Damian smiled as she carried a platter toward the table. “You said that last year, too, Papa. You’ll figure it out.”

Her father stood to help bring dishes to the table. “Well, I’m glad to have you here to help me out. I certainly couldn’t handle it all on my own.”

She gave him a wry smile. “You could always take on an apprentice. Mrs. Dunhill will need to before the year ends.”

Claude groaned as he sat at the table, Damian sitting across from him. “I can’t imagine teaching an apprentice enough of all this to actually take over for me one day.”

“You’ve taught me.”

“Yes, and you’re better than any apprentice I could get. I wish I could just keep you around.”

“What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere.”

His mustache quirked in a sad smile. “Damian, you’re as good a merchant as I am, but you deserve more than this. You should have your own family, your own home.”

The thought terrified Damian as much as she longed for it. It left an ache in her stomach so deep she felt nothing else could possibly fill it, but the idea of actually having a suitor made a chill run up her spine. She reflected on that afternoon, when they met with Mrs. Dunhill, one of Claude’s best weavers, and the woman’s daughter, whose belly now visibly swelled. She was younger than Damian.

Damian swallowed. “Papa, how could I get married?” She stared into his eyes, his brown meeting her vibrant yellow. “I couldn’t keep this a secret.”

“You’ll find someone who will accept you the way you are.”

She bitterly turned away.

Her father reached across the table and laid his hand on hers. “Have faith, Damian. You wouldn’t want to marry anyone who couldn’t see your true worth, anyway.”

She sighed but didn’t argue. Silently, they both returned to their meals.

“Papa,” she finally ventured after a protracted silence, “I’m the reason you never remarried, aren’t I?” As she saw the denial about to be issued from his lips, she added, “Honestly.”

His expression softened. “Honestly, I wouldn’t make that choice. I don’t need anyone else in my life.”

A smile spread on Damian’s face. “And I don’t need anyone else in mine.”

A trace of sadness remained on Claude’s face, but he smiled back and said nothing else on the topic.

 

2015 art update September 3, 2015

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In short, I still haven’t done much of it. However, in my typical way, I have done a bit of dabbling, and at times perhaps I have been doing more drawing than much of the time over the past few years, even if it is just sketches. The beginning of the year, in particular, saw me picking up the sketchbook a little more frequently:

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 I have also done some character designs on my tablet:

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More recently, after having the materials for upwards of a couple years, I finally tried my hand at some proper wire wrapping:

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And finally, earlier this year I upgraded to a proper DSLR camera, with which I am very pleased:

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Changes January 23, 2015

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I finished a new drawing last night, my first in over six months:

Sketch22420045It is a simple picture, in many respects, but this drawing is very important to me. Not because of the content, but because of the way it made me feel.

Because I enjoyed working on it. I enjoyed every step of the process – building up the sketch, designing the outfit, finding reference images for things like the hairstyle and anatomy, even learning to work around the limitations of the app I used, as I drew this from start to finish on my tablet. Intimidation reared its head and made it hard to get started at times, but I never had to force myself to work on it or felt discouraged that something wasn’t working and wanted to give up.

I don’t know why or how this changed, but this is a big deal for me, and it led to an even bigger revelation:

I feel good about my art.

I don’t care that it isn’t as good as the artists I follow. I don’t care that there are a lot of things I can’t or at least don’t know how to draw. I don’t care that after so many years I am still learning how to draw faces. I looked through my online gallery last night, both the drawings that kind of make me want to delete almost my entire gallery and the ones I still like, and it just made me want to draw more. For the first time in at least ten years, flaws aren’t the only thing I see, and I’m revelling in the act of creating, itself.

Now if only I had more time to draw.

What am I? January 20, 2015

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I’ve written before about the many hobbies I dabble in, or have done before and would still like to do again (reading, drawing, sculpture, jewelry making, learning guitar, etc.). It was enough to inspire a fleeting wish that I could say, “this month I’m going to do nothing but read.” And yes, I have little doubt that I could focus on a different task for each month of this year.

Many of these hobbies have fallen by the wayside in the past few months, if not already in the past few years. Aside from accessories for my daughter’s Halloween costume, I haven’t touched my jewelry-making supplies in months. Likewise for the last console RPG I was playing, despite that I was almost at the end and spent at least half of 2014 working on it. Obviously, 2-dimensional art is still only a very occasional dabble, despite how important that remains to me. I know things will change when my daughter starts going to school next fall, but I am not raising my expectations too high about the difference that will make with my available time.

As for reading, while I would dearly love to get through the books on my to-read list and then some, not to mention the couple dozen samples and complete books I have downloaded on Kindle, my life is hardly without words. I read blog posts and webcomics on a daily basis, and I have been editing novel submissions. It’s not the same, of course, but it’s enough.

However, there is one hobby that stands out among all of these. One that holds more sway over me than any other, one that I just can’t go too long without doing, one that I miss if I try. One that defines me.

Writing.

Even after all these years, I’m still learning how important writing is to me. I’ve written here before about it, about how I feel unsure of my skill in just about every endeavour I have attempted but not with writing, about how my opinion changed from thinking about myself as an artist first and a writer second, and more.

But I still forget. I go without for a little while, maybe I spend some time focusing on a project in another medium, and I let writing slip to the back burner. At least, until my mind reminds me that I have to create, and if I don’t get back to work on the story I have been writing, I will spend my showers, mealtimes, or other quiet moments having imaginary arguments between fictional characters over the pros and cons of a completely made-up interstellar political system.

… I will neither confirm nor deny that this is the exact thing which inspired this post. The fact remains that I have to write. I can’t not write. Even if my family and my business take up most of my free time, even if I feel too burned out to want to do anything but veg when I do have time to do it, even if I’m struggling with a scene or am enamoured with some other form of expression or life just gets too busy, I have to find time to fit writing in somewhere.

Because I am a writer.