Art & Lit Dump #2

Today brought the news that Mr. Trump’s new budget will slash funding for the arts if passed. So to stick it to The Orange Man and go high, here are some drawings I did and some short works of fiction I wrote last year. Enjoy!

ART:

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“Column” and “Unguent” are in ink pen. Both were inspired from nouns I got from Give Me A Noun (Art Dump) — Unguent happened to be the name of a D&D character my husband plays, unbeknownst to the person who gave me that noun. So that was convenient. “Heidi”, “Benson”, and “Killer” are in India ink and watercolor. They were gifts for my sister and her wife. They are portraits of their pets. “Honey Glowfang” is ink and art marker. It is an in joke from the same D&D campaign as Unguent, and was made as a label for a gift of homebrew honey cider. My husband brewed the cider, and did the calligraphy.

 

WRITING:

SAINT PETERThis short science fiction story popped into my head wholly formed, and I wrote it all down in one go.

THE BARROW WITCHLosing entry for Fiction War Fall 2016. Eh, I still like it. The requirement was a story of no more than a thousand words inspired by these words: “I can’t leave her now. She’s already gone.”

SYMPATHETIC GESTAPOThis writing exercise was given to attendees of the 2016 Pima Writer’s Workshop by Michael Carr, an agent from Veritas Literary Agency. Writing exercises aren’t something I would normally share, but the subject matter seems appropriate.

Find Other Writers

Hello again! I’m back to blogging. Did you miss me? (All five of you?) I didn’t mean to go on hiatus, but I’ve been through a weird, unsteady, totally blocked time in my writing journey. I sent my novel out, got rejected, and got hit with some other, more personal issues at the same time. It took me awhile to figure out how to move forward again.

I’d say more about it, but there is already a glut of information out there. So many blogs and Twitter feeds and Pintrest boards dedicated to writing advice. So much overwhelming and sometimes contradictory information. So I’ll keep it simple.

Ordinarily, writing is a solo activity. But if you’re stuck, and get rejected over and over, you’ve got to get beyond your circle of friends and family. Find a bunch of writers, and ask for help. Go to a writer’s workshop with an option for a manuscript critique. Enter a flash fiction or other writing contest that provides critique in return for your entry fee. There are local writer’s guilds, and bookshops and libraries sometimes have readings or other events that bring writers together. You can take a continuing education class, or join a writer’s group.

There is so much help and connection out there, and the best thing about it is meeting other writers. When I went to my first writer’s workshop earlier this year, it was wonderful to walk into a room full of people like myself, with my quirks, my obsession with story form and well-turned phrases. And everyone was so positive, so kind. I’m a life-long introvert, but I felt comfortable enough around my fellow writers that I found myself acting like an extrovert.

I can’t promise that reaching out to your fellow writers is a sure path to success. But it sure is nice to not be alone any more.

Submission Advice from a Failure

I’ve gotten to that point in my writing (pre)career where I’ve written some stuff, I feel pretty secure in my abilities, and I’m putting myself out there. I’ve sent out six query letters for my novel (two rejections, more to come), and spent a little time looking for homes for a pair of short stories.

Obviously, this does not make me an expert. I’ve only gotten rejections, and not many of those yet. But I’ve learned three important things that I would like to share with my fellow would-be-published-speculative-fiction-writers.

(1) Read this before writing your query letters. Apparently I wasted my time with those first six query letters, because I hadn’t read the SFWA’s guide to finding an agent yet. Turns out I messed up about six different ways. Giving information that I shouldn’t give, withholding information that I should, that sort of thing. I can’t prove that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America know what they’re talking about, but since they’ve all been published in my genre of interest I’ll assume they know a thing or two.

(And note: you’ll probably have to personalize part or all of most of your query letters. Every agent or publisher says they are looking for different things, so you’ll have to tell them how your work fulfills their desires.)

(2) Have some patience, and season your work. Put it in a drawer, or leave it alone on your hard drive, for at least a few months — six, if you can stand it. Then read it and edit it before sending it out. This advice comes from Steven King, enshrined in his excellent guide to writing, On Writing. This book should be your bible — it is mine. I followed this rule for my novel, but not my short stories until a kindly editor rejected my work and called it “rushed”. I know I can do better than rushed — but I’ve got to let some emotional space grow between me and my work before I can take a critical eye and editing-pen to it.

(3) Form rejections break your heart, personalized rejections are precious lessons. Notice how I called the editor who rejected my work “kindly”. That’s because he let me know WHY he rejected my work, in the form of real, critical advice I can use. I would rather he had accepted my work, of course, but I’m not even mad he didn’t, because I know what to try next. The form rejections I’ve gotten for my novel, on the other hand, have upset me. I don’t know what I did wrong, so I don’t know what to try next.

(The good news is that a few rejections do thicken your proverbial skin.)

If I have more professional query letter (see item 1) I assume that agents will take me more seriously, even the ones that reject me. If they take me more seriously, my hope is that they’ll send me personalized rejections with clues that will guide me to acceptance by another agent.

To reiterate — I am on this journey with you all right now. I have not reached the Peak of Publication yet, but I hope to soon. We’re running this grueling emotional marathon together, so if you have any additional advice or a cool anecdote feel free to leave it below in the comments.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Gallery

Give Me a Noun (Art Dump)

We had a small flood in our apartment, so until we get our furniture back in order (why is that always so much harder than moving it out of the way in the first place?) I don’t have a desk to make more “finished” artworks at. So here’s some random stuff I’ve been drawing.

Two of these resulted from my new trick; asking my husband for a random noun to draw when I have no ideas. He asked for a guillotine and a gas mask, so I drew a dragon/daemon/horrible-monster-thing and an insect. Because that’s how I roll.

 


I came up with the throne/tree in the same spirit of “let’s draw two things at once.” I don’t know why I like to merge two objects into one. I did a whole semester of “people/trees” AKA “dryads” in art school, some of which you can see here.

Aaaaaand the fabulous, mammiferous lady is Wendy the Woods Witch, a being of infamous cleavage described as a joke by a friend while playing D&D. So I just had to draw her.

If you like, you too can give me a noun in the comments. I promise to draw something entertaining. (And if you’d like to cross my palm with silver, I’ll put extra work and care into it and bequeath you with the results.)

Renn and the Wyrms

Illustration is Hard!

The life stuff that’s been keeping me super busy is not over, but at least it’s taking up a lot less of my time/energy.  So hey look, another illustration. Finally! Right?

Wrong.

I just spent about six hours inking this beautiful thing, and I was going to post it with a short preview from my (as yet unpublished) novel, Proper Magic. Namely, with the scene it illustrates. But when I went to copy-paste that scene into this blog post, I realized that I had drawn my character Renn holding the wrong weapon. Renn was holding a knife in the first two drafts, but in the third, present draft I had switched that out with his trusty sword. And completely forgotten about that.

I try not to swear too much here, but there is only one proper expression for this:

FUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!

So next chance I get I’ll be redoing this illustration. Which isn’t so terrible. Really, this was practice, getting back into the swing of things. I tried out some new techniques I learned from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s illustration blog. I had to run to the art store halfway through because I lacked the right brush as well as the “white ink” I used to make those bubbles after salt and rubbing alcohol did not do at all what I wanted them to do. The pose could be tweaked a bit to make it look more active, and maybe more bubbles would add to that action-feeling.

Besides, odds are that IF my future publisher lets me illustrate my own work, they (specifically their art director) will make me redo everything because the aspect ratio is wrong, or I shouldn’t have used cold-press (slightly bumpy) paper (hey, it’s what I still have leftover from art school), or they don’t like some other detail. Heck, maybe I’m wrong in assuming they’ll prefer black and white ink drawings over full color. I love color, but I’m working black and white because it’s cheaper to print — something I assume a publisher will find attractive.

My point is that, just like writers, illustrators have to produce a lot of, “I’m never showing this to anyone, it’s awful!” before they become satisfied with their work — it takes practice, practice, practice. And even then, once they finally like what they are producing, they still work in drafts. And that “final” draft may not be so final after all once a publisher and their very specific expectations get into the mix.

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If you’re interested, here’s a quick look at the process I used today:

Renn and the Wyrms Process
1 and 2 are preliminary sketches — the proportions on 1 turned out awful, so I did 2 to try and get them in hand. To be perfectly candid, this pose is a real stretch for me. I don’t usually draw two figures touching each other, let along wrapped around each other and underwater.

3 is a Photoshop composite of 1 and 2. Yay Photoshop! This is a trick that Law frequently uses. She then prints out her composites, and transfers the sketch onto an appropriate piece of paper or other ground. This way, she gets a nice, clean sketch without any extra pencil lines or eraser marks.

If she can cheat that way, so can I.

I used a simpler transfer method than she does — I rubbed graphite all over the back of my printed-out composite (4), then traced over my drawing (5) with a red pen so I could see what I was doing and make any minor corrections I wanted to (proportions are still off, as you can see).

6 and 7 are just shots of the work-in-progress taken with my smartphone. In 7, you can see the black blobs the rubbing alcohol and salt left behind. Sprinkling on salt or rubbing alcohol is supposed to be a good “resist” technique — they move pigment away from an area, leaving a white, aesthetically pleasing splotch in the middle of a dark field. But mine left black blobs in the middle of those resist areas.

Clearly I have something to learn about how to properly use these techniques still. But I was still able to turn them into pretty bubbles by painting over the dark blobs with “white ink”.  I then used some on Renn’s head, his knife, and a little on the wyrm trying to drown him.  Using a technique throughout a piece instead of in just one area makes it look more like it belongs, and less like a mistake.

Unfortunately, I can’t turn just that knife into a sword with liberal use of white ink because the sword in question is curved, like a saber or a katana.

The Village of Aunbry from Proper Magic

A Home for Heroes to Leave From

This is Aunbry.

It’s a village, home of farmers, herdsmen, and a lone priest of the Five Temples of the Aegis.  It’s  small, dull, and narrow minded.  It echoes many other such small villages in fantasy literature, all designed to be left behind by the main characters.  I don’t know if my readers will like it much, or think it warrants a fancy map.

Certainly not, since Aunbry exists only so two of my main characters, Thades and Jenna Morgan*, can run away from it.

Yet I’m fond of Aunbry.

I think that’s one of the quirks of world building.  You generate piles of notes, and (if you’re like me) piles of sketches as you invent cultures, settings, and characters.  You end up knowing and loving corners of your world that are going to be overlooked by your readers, or that don’t even make it into your novel.

Besides, just because you leave a place behind in your narrative doesn’t mean it ceases to influence your characters.  Fantasies often begin in villages so the characters who leave them (and the readers looking over their shoulders) can view the rest of the world with wonder.  Characters left behind (or perhaps killed) give the new heroes quick and easy motivation.

But what else, what makes Aunbry special or memorable compared to all those home villages from Eragon, and The Eye of the World, and A Wizard of Earthsea that I can’t be bothered to remember the names of?

Unresolved conflict.

I don’t want to give too much away, but Thades and Jenna don’t get along with their neighbors in Aunbry for reasons that are not entirely their fault.  That conflict remains strong in their minds because it is the same conflict they find everywhere in their world; the conflict between magi and manuals**, between knowledge and ignorance, between youth and adults.

Aunbry isn’t the Shire — it isn’t remembered fondly, even its cranks seeming quaint from miles away.  But Thades and Jenna do remember it.  Hopefully, so too will my readers.

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*Magus Thades Morgan and his little sister Jenna star in my first fantasy novel, Proper Magic.  It hasn’t been published yet — you’ll hear about it here at The Drakehall Broadsheet first when I get lucky with an agent or publisher

**the non-magical — I couldn’t call them muggles, now could I?

Map of Drakehall Thaumaturgical Academy

A Tour of Drakehall

So far, I’ve critiqued various books, movies, and TV shows, discussed a little of the “how tos” of writing a good fantasy novel, and rambled all over the place.  But I haven’t said much about my own work.

Well, now that I have finished the manuscript of my first novel, Proper Magic*, I’m ready to talk about it.  And Drakehall Thaumaturgical Academy, namesake of my blog, is a good place to start.

The magic school is an old staple of the fantasy genre.  Credit is usually given to Ursula K. Le Guin for inventing the modern literary concept of the wizard school in her Earthsea novels, but wizards have long represented the power gained through hard study in Western mythology — a tradition that goes all the way back to King Solomon.

Traditionally, it was study that made wizards “good”, and the lack thereof (combined with a partnership with Old Scratch) that made witches “bad”.  And this dichotomy remains in fantasy, although without the overtly religious overtones.  “Trained” magic is usually seen as superior to “wild” magic, whether the student follows one master or enters an appropriate institution.  Magic users across the genre require training before they take full control over their own powers, and that training (and the ways it may go awry) is the bedrock for many, many novels.

In A Wizard of Earthsea, young Ged is nearly killed when he attempts more advanced magic than he is prepared for, and spends years dealing with the consequences.  Much of Dragonlance centers around just how badly The Test at the Tower of High Sorcery screwed up Raistlin Majere.  Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is a more inviting place, but the school ultimately fails the protagonist of The Magicians by doing nothing to help him deal with his inner dissatisfaction.

Can you see the pattern?  Knowledge is power, but too much power too quickly is dangerous and corrupting.  If a school does not impart good character to its students, its lessons are wasted, or worse than wasted.

Hogwarts, that pinnacle of wizard schooling, gets that.  Dumbledore and his professors ready Harry Potter for the dangers he will face.  The conflict lies where Harry is kept ignorant, or where Hogwarts itself is harboring the danger.

So what does Drakehall bring to the genre?

To start, I dispense with the tradition that the headmaster of such an institution be serene, kindly, and nigh all-powerful.  Drakehall’s headmaster, Felix Grizweld, is no Albus Dumbledore.  Grizweld drinks, he swears, he’s abrasive, and he’s not above taking his frustrations with the temples out on his staff.  He’s not all bad — he cares about his school and his students, he maintains a loving (if sometimes absentee) relationship with his wife and son, and he kicks a lot of ass.  But he’s not a guy to turn to for comfort.

Drakehall is also a practical place, a part of its world instead of set aside from it.  The academy sits smack-dab in the center of the Golden City of Haleidon.  The magi who work and study there make themselves useful to their community.  They run a teaching hospital, manage a postal service (utilizing drakelings to carry the messages) and a library, and craft potions for common use.  The school is an extension of a powerful guild that helps defend Haleidon, chasing off dragons one week and fortifying levees in a storm the next.

Despite all the goodwill they garner with such services, the magi are always wary of losing their popular support.  Drakehall itself is built like a castle, with gardens, dovecotes, a well and cistern, and supplies on hand for months in case the magi should find themselves under siege.

The magi themselves are proto-scientific.  They are not part of a world standing still, like Middle Earth or Krynn, where technology, fashion sense, and language has stayed more or less the same for a thousand years.  They are advancing magic, and with the help of a blue alien who crash-landed on their planet, they will soon be advancing science and manual** technology as well.

The magi of Drakehall might even build themselves a printing press, and start a broadsheet.

Want to learn more about Drakehall Academy, the world of Endrion, and Proper Magic?  Keep checking back.  I’ll be sharing more as I work on maps and illustrations, and you’ll hear about it here first when I get lucky with an agent or publisher.

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* Working title, it hasn’t been published yet after all.

** “Manual” is the word I use for “non-magical” in my novel.  As good as “muggle” is, it would have been a bit fourth-wall breaking to steal the term.