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PSA October 19, 2018

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Look at all these fantastic books!

I don’t tend to bring it up much here, but I am the owner of and, essentially, one-woman show behind Brain Lag, publisher of science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t tend to mention it because that means technically, my own novels are self-published, though aside from the fact that that has no correlation to quality, six other authors have liked my work enough to entrust me with theirs.

I love to do this. It took me almost thirty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’ve seen two fellow publishers hang up their towels in the last couple years because it wasn’t right for them or it wasn’t viable, and I get it. My sales aren’t nearly what I would like them to be, and I’ve had to take on freelancing work to help support the primary function of Brain Lag.

But I believe in my business. I love taking the amazing manuscripts my authors send me and turning them into beautiful, professional books. I love seeing my shelf of books I’ve published expand and to introduce as many people as I can to these great stories.

So please, help spread the word a little. Tell your friends, mention it on social media, buy a book, request a copy at the library, leave a review. It would mean so much to me to help get my authors the recognition they deserve.

Thank you.

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Never ending stories August 24, 2018

Posted by thejinx in art, writing.
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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.

Ad Astra schedule April 27, 2016

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I’ll be at Ad Astra this weekend, Toronto’s original scifi/fantasy/horror literary convention. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Brain Lag table in the dealers room, and I’ll also be involved with the following events:

Saturday

11:00
Creating Art on Commission
So someone has asked you to create a piece of art for them. And they’ve even said they’ll pay. How much do you charge them? How do you sell yourself as a commission artist, and what are the pros and cons of offering to create work on commission?
Thornhill room

1:00
Selling Your Art at Conventions and Festivals
So you’ve finally finished a beautiful set of paintings. Or maybe you’ve been selling your fan art on commission and want to think bigger with prints. Maybe you want to do commissions for money, or you fancraft and have an Etsy store and want to sell in person. You’ve got wares, and you’re ready to sell them and think that a convention or festival is your best bet. How do you do this? What’s the etiquette? How do you market yourself? Should you participate in an art show or just book a table? And is what you’re selling even allowed? In this panel, learn the dos and don’ts of being an artist on the convention or festival circuit.
Thornhill room

5:00
Tabletop Games You May Never Have Heard Of
Are you bored of playing Monopoly and Risk over and over? A fan of RPGs but unsure what the best party games are? Curious about which games are best for specific numbers or types of people? This panel is a great opportunity to learn about and share recommendations for tabletop games from those in the know!
Oakridge room

6:00
Brain Lag launch party
Brain Lag invites all Ad Astra attendees to join us at our spring book launch party celebrating the release of Why I Hunt Flying Saucers And Other Fantasticals by Hugh A. D. Spencer and Tinker’s Plague by Stephen B. Pearl! The authors will be on hand to give readings and sign autographs, there will be free snacks and drinks, and we’ll be featuring an exclusive sneak peek at the cover art for the upcoming sequel to Tinker’s Plague, Tinker’s Sea!
Room 1080 (penthouse suite)

Sunday

12:00
Setting Up Shop as an Indie Publisher
So you want to be an indie publisher. How do you bring other authors on board? How do you build your reputation within the literary community? In this panel, learn from those who have done it how to be a publishing entrepreneur, and get tips on start-up costs, marketing, and what it takes to get started.
Newmarket room

3:00
Sunday Afternoon Fantasy Reading
Join authors Catherine Fitzsimmons, Rob Howell, Cameron Currie and Brandon Draga as they read a fantastical selection from their work.
Oakridge room

I hope to see you there!

On my journey to the Dark Side* January 13, 2016

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* Or the Light Side. They’re both fine choices.

I often find that when someone is a fan of scifi/fantasy books, there was someone in their life who led them to it. Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, or a friend. Someone wanted to share the stories that they loved and opened up a new world to a budding fan.

I didn’t have anyone like that. No one in my family was really into speculative literature, my friends didn’t quite hold my same interests in fiction, and I was far too shy to attempt speaking to a school librarian about it.

I wanted to read fantasy books. But back in the days (you kids get off my lawn) before Goodreads, book blogs, or even social media, and in a genre rife with huge, epic stories that are often poorly marked as such, I had no idea where to start. My nearest library was a half-hour hike over lots of steep hills, and the small fantasy selection just didn’t seem to have any titles that caught my eye.

I read a lot of original stories posted online by authors back in those days, but when it came to actual published books, my list was quite short. I did read some great books back then, like one by an author recommended by a friend I chatted with over IM (Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint), a random purchase from a bookstore with a cover and premise that intrigued me (Thief of Lives by Barb and J. C. Hendee), and a gift from my future husband the first time we met (Green Rider by Kristen Britain).

I credit a lot of my truly discovering fantasy books with a mailing list I joined nine years ago that provided me with free e-copies of selections from many currently popular authors. I still feel like I’m not necessarily well-read, but I have certainly read enough that I could introduce someone else to the genre.

That seems to be how I have come into a number of my interests – by discovering it for myself, and even resisting when trying to be shown it (maybe that’s why I had troubles in school). I had friends who listened to Jpop but it wasn’t until I heard Japanese arrangements of a soundtrack I loved that I began to accept listening to music in foreign languages (which I have loved for many years now). I had friends who read a lot of comic books, but I never even really read any until last year, when I subscribed to Marvel Unlimited and discovered favourite series on my own – and now we have a pull list at our local comic store.

And now, it’s happened with Star Wars.

I’m not the Star Wars fan in my family. Let me rephrase – I’m not the Star Wars fan in the family. I enjoyed the movies, of course – well, the original trilogy – but I’m not the one with giant tubs full of Star Wars novels, action figures, and art prints. I tried to read a particularly well-loved Star Wars novel once years ago, but I couldn’t get into it. (I couldn’t get into tie-in fiction for a long time, whether fanfiction or officially licensed novels.)

Last year, however, fostered a decidedly increased interest in the Star Wars universe. It started with X-Wing Miniatures – because hey, I’m always up for a good table top game. Then, I started watching Star Wars Rebels, because it’s now canon (whereas those tubs of novels in the basement no longer are).

It escalated from there. Curiosity drew me to Kanan: The Last Padawan, a comic book series about one of the characters from Rebels, which I immediately loved. I saw the trailers for The Force Awakens and grew truly excited about it.

And when it released… well, it wouldn’t have become the top-grossing film of all time if it had been another Phantom Menace.

This week, I have taken the step I never could before – the novels. And not only have I read two Star Wars novels this week, but I didn’t even like one of them very much (but I still got through it).

Now, I’m hooked. I want to read different eras, different characters, I want to know more of the lore and the history and politics that don’t get revealed in the movies, and I’m fascinated by the rich tapestry of comics, shows, movies, and books that are making up the new Expanded Universe. And it’s even kindling a new interest in Star Wars Legends, the old canon.

Maybe I resisted for a surprisingly long time, but now, I have truly discovered the Expanded Universe. It’s always fun discovering new things.

To Boldly Go July 28, 2014

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As a mother of a now 3-year-old daughter, I tend to watch a lot of movies aimed at young girls. And my daughter fits the trope perfectly – her favourite things are princesses, faeries, and My Little Pony. She more or less came into these interests on her own; I didn’t really let her watch movies or TV shows until this year, and when I let her sit in front of the TV, she has pretty strong opinions about what she wants to see. Yes, we might have been the ones to originally introduce her to these things and allow her to continue watching them, but I try to offer her a well-rounded selection to choose from. And I’ll admit it, I just don’t want to let her watch something I can’t stand.

Oh, sure, there are exceptions – she likes some gender-neutral things like Winnie the Pooh, she has seen and enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine, she does have a particular interest in Disney’s Planes, and she loves watching me play Mario Kart – but primarily, she likes the girly things. In fact, when it comes to Mario Kart, she insists upon me playing a princess as driver.

I don’t think Disney princesses are bad role models. Nor do I want to try to mold her into liking the things I prefer; I would rather she decide on her own what she likes. (Yes, this means I do not believe that putting Star Wars or Firefly costumes on kids far too young to be watching those is “parenting done right.”) But after watching so many of these movies and shows targeted to young girls, I find myself yearning for some variety. Why can’t we have a simplistic, kid-friendly story with a happy ending that takes place in present day, or the future?

So the bug bit me. I want to write one. I want to write a middle grade or younger story about a space princess. Or something like that. I want the main character to be female, because there’s not enough of that out there and I want it to be someone my daughter can relate to, and I want her to be independent and the hero, but not at the expense of her femininity. I want little girls like my daughter to read/hear this story and think that girls can do anything.

But beyond that, I didn’t know where to start. I got stuck trying to think of the theme or message of the story. I don’t want it to be about the girl learning that she can do anything, because then the conflict would center around the assertion that she can’t, which is not the message I want to send. But then, what should the theme be? I tried looking to my daughter for inspiration, but – fortunately for her and unfortunately for the sake of a story – I just don’t see any problems in her that might help to be resolved through another medium. Maybe I’m just overthinking things, but as someone who tends toward dark endings, complicated conflicts, and villains that are more grey than black, a story like this is quite a leap.

Then, my daughter gave me an idea in another way. I was listening to music and she asked me what song was playing, as she tends to do. It was an arrangement of a track from the Metroid video games. I immediately saw this as an opportunity. I showed her one of my Metroid game cases and told her about Samus Aran, fearless and strong warrior for justice in space – and female.

And I was overthinking things, because that’s all I need for this story: a space heroine. I’ll just go to a new galaxy and let the girl save the day. The rest is just details.

It’s still going to be quite a challenge for me to write, especially if I want a story I can read to my daughter. But just as I believe there’s too much stagnancy in speculative fiction for adults, I think too many kids’ stories are the same, and the best way I can combat that is to write something new.

Ad Astra 2013 wrap-up April 9, 2013

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I have been to numerous conventions now. I don’t just mean multiple visits to the same convention in different years, but I have been to at least half a dozen different conventions. The focus and topics of these conventions vary; some are geared toward comics, some toward anime, some toward science fiction. (All, of course, are based in some area of geekdom; I don’t try to pretend that’s not where my interest lies.)

Panels and workshops are a large part of these conventions, as anyone who has attended one will know. To tell the truth, however, largely I am not very interested in attending panels. I’m not overly interested in discussing or hearing discussions on pop culture or media, nor am I interested enough in things like sketch-offs or trivia games or other such events to want to spend time with them, and largely any panels that relate to writing or other interests of mine are either on very basic aspects of it that I don’t feel I need to spend an hour covering or otherwise just don’t quite match what I’m looking for. Part of it I think is the intimate nature of panels and workshops, being with a smaller group and therefore closer to and more directly involved with the people there, rather than the refreshing anonymity of the crowd of general attendees milling about. And, of course, these days I don’t simply attend conventions anymore; I’m there to sell, and even if I have assistance with doing so, I still usually don’t want to leave my table for a panel.

Ad Astra last year, however, was an entirely different matter. The sheer number of panels held at the convention that I would have loved to listen in on blew my mind, and I feel like I could have spent almost the entire convention going from one panel to another. It is, of course, a matter of focus. Ad Astra is a scifi/fantasy literary convention, so the entire event is largely centered around what interests me most. As a result, the panels went into more detail on aspects of writing than all other conventions I’ve attended, and offered a slew of very interesting topics. Alas, I was stuck behind my table with no one else to watch it for me for the weekend and didn’t have the opportunity to attend any of them.

This year, however, I had a second person manning my table and was talked into not just attending panels, but sitting on them. Having rarely even attended panels before, as well as for various personal reasons, I was quite nervous about the idea leading up to them. After having done it, however, I can say that it was a very positive experience. The panels were very thought-provoking and informative and it was an excellent opportunity to meet some very interesting people, both other panelists and attendees of the panel. I think they all went quite well and it seems that everyone there learned something new or got a new outlook on the topics covered.

I Love to Hate You: This was the first panel I sat on. This panel looked at villains and discussed both good and bad villains, as well as the difference between villains – the characters who command the basic conflict of the story – and antagonists – those characters who aren’t necessarily involved with the central conflict but still serve to get in the protagonists’ way. Examples of good villains included, of course, Darth Vader from Star Wars – though mention was made of diminishing his impact through overuse of the Force strangling technique in The Empire Strikes Back – as well as classic literature like Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello and Grendel from Beowulf. The idea of blurring the line between traditional notions of “good” and “evil” as well as not compartmentalizing characters and conflicts into such simplistic definitions was discussed, although some readers do prefer to have a clear idea of who the ‘good guy’ and the ‘bad guy’ are in fiction.

What to take away: Villains are an integral part to fantasy and scifi literature and they must be given as much care as the protagonists. An author must know everything about their villains, even if the details of their motives and history are never revealed in the text, and in fact that can be used to great effect when hints of the existence of those things are sprinkled throughout. When one does get into the reason why a villain is doing such evil deeds, however, one must be careful to avoid their actions becoming petty or obsessive as their backstory is revealed. Also, unscrupulous or villainous characters can be used as protagonists and keep readers from completely despising them as long as there is some nugget for them to like, even if it is something as simple as the character is nice to their pet cat.

Is the Stand Alone Novel an Endangered Format?: This panel addressed the place of standalone or one-shot novels in a genre dominated by trilogies and series. From an author’s standpoint, there is a clear advantage to writing or at least pitching series, both because readers want more of what they already know and like and because the sales teams for publishers are likely to sell far more books of an installment in a series to bookstores than a standalone novel, for the same reason. Publishers also put pressure on authors who write a successful standalone novel to extend it into a series, again to draw in those same readers who have already been sold with the first book. That said, authors should not feel obligated to extend a standalone book into a series for the sole reason of selling more books, and even discerning readers can be very satisfied with a really good standalone novel. Also, there was frustration on both sides of the table for the way publishers tend to handle series, in particular with how unclear it often is where a certain book takes place in a series.

What to take away: It is a tricky market to enter for authors with standalone novels, and ultimately publishers do not put out nearly as much effort to push standalone novels as series. But, there is still a place for standalone novels and one shouldn’t force a series. When writing a series, particularly a longer series, using the same words and terms to describe characters, while repetitive, can help keep consistency throughout the different books and allows new readers to understand the characters just as well as those who have been following the series from the beginning. Having a central outline for each character that one refers back to for each installment is also recommended, for while characters evolve throughout a series, one should not forget the basic roots of the character. Also, Robert J. Sawyer and Julie Czerneda have wonderful senses of humor.

Writing High Fantasy: This was such a fantastic panel that covered so many different areas of writing high fantasy that I’m not certain I can effectively sum it up. It began with a discussion of the definition of high fantasy and the various ways one can delineate high fantasy from other sub-genres. The “high” in high fantasy can refer to the stakes, which are often world-changing even if the events themselves are fairly small or the decisions made very personal; it can refer to the level of the fantastic in the story, e.g. the difference between a story like Lord of the Rings, rife with magic and dragons and other races and such, and a story like George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, which does have very fantastic elements but focuses far more on the politics of the world in a way that is much more like our own world; or it can even be a reference to the class of the main characters, as in “high” fantasy referring to high-born characters and the story concerning itself with kings and queens and nobility as opposed to the main characters being more common people.

The panelists were also asked to identify what one aspect of fantasy defines the genre to them, with answers ranging from the sense of wonder, otherness, and unknown that we all once held as children, to the world itself, a completely different place from Earth and distinguishes high fantasy from something like historical fantasy. Much discussion ensued on female characters and the often stereotypical way they are presented in fantasy literature, tough female characters either pretty much presented like a man with breasts or having very female-oriented motivations, i.e. rape or pregnancy/childbirth. There was also discussion on the diversity of setting and characters in fantasy – or, often, the lack thereof – along with some examples of recent titles that have explored different types of worlds or races of people, and by that I’m not referring to elves and dwarves. The panel concluded with some pet peeves in the fantasy genre by the panelists and a brief discussion on how a fantasy work originates.

What to take away: Fantasy is an immense canvas with which to explore the unknown but also to address the same issues that we ourselves face in our own world. As such, one should look to our own world to reflect the same level of diversity in an invented world and not be afraid to write stories based in other cultures aside from the much-used medieval Europe. However, when trying to create something new and fresh, one should not just flip an established trope on its head. A mirror image of a cliche is still a reflection of the cliche itself. Female characters should be given all the complex motivations that male characters, and actual human females, have. Ultimately, fantasy worlds, conflicts, and characters should all display the same level of complexity as our world does, and doing so makes one’s fantasy much more rich and believable. Also, when introducing a fundamentally different aspect of life into a fantasy world, careful thought must be given to the impact of that thing on the world in terms of technology and society.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the launch party for Brain Lag, my publishing company, and I want to thank everyone who came out to celebrate its opening. Overall, I had a really wonderful time at Ad Astra and I am certainly looking forward to returning next year.

Also, if anyone who attended these panels has anything to add that I forgot, please feel free to comment and add your input!

Calling April 1, 2013

Posted by thejinx in life.
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I have never held a permanent job for more than a year.

But perhaps I should start farther back.

I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I entertained a lot of ideas as a child, but nothing ever grabbed me, consuming my full attention, and made me say this is what I want to do with my life.

When I entered college, I studied computer repair, because, well, the best excuse I have now is it seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t. I didn’t make it through the program. So, still living at home at the time, I entered the workforce instead.

I’d only ever held one real job through high school, which was at a movie theatre. Dissatisfaction with the job, and more notably the management, made me leave after about six months. When I needed to start making money after leaving college, having nothing of note on my resume at the time, I started out at a temp agency doing office work. It sufficed while I still didn’t know what to do with my life and I was good at it.

With a very lenient parent, I didn’t need a constant source of income, so I took jobs when they were available, which never lasted longer than two weeks, save one. I got in on a regular, twice monthly borderline light industrial position at a state agency operating a mail inserting machine for mass mailing. I got the evening shift, 4:00 p.m. to midnight, and I ended up enjoying the job quite a bit. I liked my coworkers and I enjoyed the work. The irregularity meant it wasn’t enough to live off, but it lasted for two years and I was glad to go back each time.

Of course, I was maintaining a long-distance relationship at that time, and the job had to end when I moved to Canada to get married. Once I was able to work here, with still little to show for myself on my resume, I started out the same way, at a temp agency.

Eventually, this got me in the door at the company where my husband works, which we had been trying to get me into for some time already, and I even ended up in the same office as him. After six months as a temp, I was hired on permanently.

Of course, no sooner was I beginning to feel unfulfilled with this position than I was laid off.

My experience there got me in another temp-to-perm job at a similar company in the same position. Once again, after a year there and just as I began to question whether this was what I wanted to be doing with my life, I was laid off. However, while I was there, I self-published my first book, Aurius, doing the cover art myself and using my experience in these two jobs with document formatting to take care of all aspects of the book creation myself.

And that’s when it hit me. I enjoyed doing that.

I enjoyed every step of the process. The editing, the interior layout, the cover creation, and of course holding my own book in my hands. And I realized, I could do this for other people.

I’ve read a lot of really good amateur/indie fiction posted online to websites like Fictionpress and Elfwood, and I know there are a lot – a lot – of manuscripts out there that have never left people’s drawers or hard drives. And I know that not everyone has the knowledge, or the interest, to turn a manuscript into a book. And the thought of doing this for others gave me great joy. It was a light bulb moment.

So Brain Lag became not only the name I published my books and my husband’s under, but the name of my burgeoning small press business. I still have a lot to learn, and I still have moments of feeling like a very small fish in a very big ocean. But I’m willing to stick it out and do what I can to get this business off the ground and publish books for other authors.

Because I found my calling. This is what I want to do with my life.

Have you found the career that you’re passionate about? How long did it take you to find out what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Ad Astra schedule March 25, 2013

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I’ve received my schedule for Ad Astra, Toronto’s original scifi/fantasy literary convention, happening April 5-7. I will be sitting on a few panels for the first time, and I am proud to announce that I’ll be hosting two panels alongside New York Times bestselling author and convention guest of honor Jim Butcher! For those who will be attending the convention, I hope to see you at any of my events that weekend:

Friday, April 5

10:00 p.m., Franklin – I Love to Hate You

Ed Greenwood (m),  Jim Butcher,  Fiona Patton, Gregory A. Wilson, Catherine Fitzsimmons

In this panel, examine what is involved in creating a truly great villain.  By discussing some examples of favourite well-written villains and what makes them memorable, you will gain a better understanding of how to make your antagonist someone that everyone loves to hate.

Saturday, April 6

11:00 a.m., Berczy A – Is the Stand-Alone Novel an Endangered Format?

Julie Czerneda (m), Robert J. Sawyer, Catherine Fitzsimmons, Jim Butcher

More and more books are coming out in series format. While this may be publisher driven, it is just as likely consumer driven.  In the face of this trend, it may become impossible to successfully pitch a stand-alone work, and the temptation to force a series may become irresistible.  Is there still a place in publishing for a stand-alone book?  This panel seeks an answer.

4:30 p.m., Berczy B – Autograph session

6:30 p.m., the penthouse (room 1401) – Brain Lag launch party

Come join us for the official launch of Brain Lag, the newest fantasy/scifi publisher in the GTA. Learn what we’re all about, meet the team, get a first sneak peek at an upcoming title, and celebrate our opening for submissions with OPEN PITCHES! Bring us your novel and you could be one of the first authors under Brain Lag. Prizes, refreshments, discounts, goodies, and more!

Sunday, April 7

10:00 a.m., Ellesmere East – Writing High Fantasy

Marie Bilodeau (m), Catherine Fitzsimmons, K.W. Ramsey, Gregory A. Wilson

Discover what makes a fantasy story epic, as well as the basic elements of high fantasy in this panel. Also, with fantasy TV going mainstream, now is the right time to focus on writing a fantasy novel, but the genre is littered with potential pitfalls and deadly clichés. Learn some should haves (and must avoids) when writing high fantasy.

2:00 p.m., floor 2 suite 2 – Author reading: Catherine Fitzsimmons

Come join me for an exclusive first look at my upcoming fantasy novel Enduring Chaos, the first book in the Sisters of Chaos trilogy, scheduled for release this fall.

Ad Astra looks to be an exciting convention for me this year. Hope to see you there!

Halcyon giveaway on Goodreads December 5, 2012

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I’m giving away a copy of my latest book Halcyon on Goodreads. Enter now for your chance to win. Hurry, the contest ends Saturday! For more information on Halcyon, check out the novels section in the menu bar above.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Halcyon by Catherine Fitzsimmons

Halcyon

by Catherine Fitzsimmons

Giveaway ends December 08, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 

Halcyon fan art September 4, 2012

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Thank you to everyone who stopped by my tables at Gen Con and Fan Expo! Halcyon had a great reception and I’m looking forward to my next convention in November. And for those who can’t wait that long, Halcyon is now on sale online!

I’ve recently received some fantastic fan art of characters from Halcyon. This drawing of Zander comes from Janna Fong:

The following drawing of Elya comes courtesy of Sarah Petrulis:

And at Fan Expo I received a sketch of Zander from Nicole Chartrand, creator of the webcomic Fey Winds:

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to draw these characters!