Moving sucks but we did it

Two years ago, in September, I discovered that baby number 7 was on the way. We were living in an 800 square-foot apartment. I looked at my husband and said, “That’s it. We have to get a house, now.”

We were packed to the gills in that tiny place, bunk beds with roll away beds beneath them, and a crib jammed in somehow. My husband had finally landed a decent job, and a house was tentatively within our grasp.

The baby was born in 2020, meaning that the year wasn’t a total loss. I knew that I couldn’t pack and move until the baby was a year old, because I wouldn’t be physically strong enough until then. So we decided to wait for our tax return and start the house hunt in March of 2021.

Between that and the Covid stimulus checks, which we saved, we had enough for the various fees and down payments that houses require. A home loan secured, we ventured forth into the housing market.

And oh, what a crazy place it is. In Tucson, Arizona, housing is in such high demand, people pay 25 to 30k over asking price, no matter what garbage condition the house might be in. And they’re paying in cash. Little fish like us are squeezed out of the running by the big, fat fish coming in from CA, New York, and other states. We placed offers on three houses, only to find out that there were ten other offers on the same house. We rode the emotional roller coaster of Yay! We made an offer! to Ultimate Bummer, we were outbid.

We really didn’t want to get a flipper house, but house flipping is very big out here in Tucson. Two such listings were passed to us by our realtor: nice sized double-wides that were “undergoing renovations”. Translation: being flipped as fast as possible.

Just when it seemed that we would never get a house, our realtor called and asked if my husband wanted to see one of the flipped double-wides. It wasn’t on the market yet, and they were still working on it, but they would entertain an offer. It was in our price range. It was in a good area, not too far from my husband’s work. It was a nice rectangle of a trailer house, almost exactly double the space of our apartment. We took a chance and made an offer. It was accepted.

Now we had dozens of inspections, disclaimers, contracts, and agreements to sign, and sign, and sign. Thank goodness they do it digitally now, because it was almost a nightly occurrence.

Long story short, we got the house. We probably shouldn’t have gotten it, and we still feel like we cheated, kind of. It still has some issues that the inspections missed, but home warranties are wonderful things.

When it came time to move, my parents chipped in to hire movers. Last time we moved, it was just my husband and me, and it took us four days. This time, the movers had the truck loaded in four hours, and unloaded at the house in thirty minutes. Those guys were beasts. I just watched in awe. I worked like mad disassembling furniture, then tried to keep up with them, and I just about died of exhaustion.

Anyway, we’re now settled in a much bigger, nicer space. My kids have a yard to play in. After years of dodgy apartment playgrounds, words can’t describe what a relief this is. If they leave a toy outside overnight, it won’t be stolen or destroyed by morning. Rabbits and quail use our yard as a highway, to our constant amusement. It’s like we left prison and moved to the zoo.

Hopefully blogging will be a more regular occurrence, now that my laptop is unpacked again. And drawing! We haven’t found a new routine, so creative things are still a bit hit and miss.

Repost: The strangely Christian meta-narrative of the Destiny games

I wrote this post back in 2018, back before a lot of the storyline had been revealed. It’s only proved my point even more. I thought it was time to repost this and update it a bit.


Hold on to your hats, folks, I’m going all literary analysis on you today.

So I’ve been getting into the games Destiny and Destiny 2. These are multiplayer online shooters where you shoot aliens and collect loot. Pretty straightforward and pretty fun (and often, just downright pretty.)

Bungie Destiny 2, Nessus: Landscape painting of a forest with red trees with human figure looking at waterfall.
Destiny 2 concept art: Nessus

But the game also hints at a deeper backstory that it doesn’t explain super well, unless you’re willing to spend hours piecing together tidbits scattered throughout the games. So I’ve been watching lore videos on YouTube, where other people take all those tidbits and string them together into a cohesive story.

I’ve been increasingly delighted with the meta-narrative of Destiny.

Like most science fiction, the story operates from a humanist worldview: mankind can become gods if we just put aside our differences and work hard enough. But then the metaplot comes into play, and it’s decidedly not humanist. In fact, it swings decidedly Christian. I wonder if the writers at Bungie realize what they hath wrought and its significance.

The big picture story goes like this. There is this alien-machine god-thing called the Traveler that looks like a small white moon. It’s power is called Light. It shows up in our solar system, grants humans the Light, and terraforms the inner planets and the various moons of the gas giants. Humans go live on these planets. Humans also develop longer lives, better tech, etc, and go into a Golden Age.

Bungie Destiny 2: Man in armor stands at railing, looking at thunderstorm over cityscape with Traveler in the distance
Destiny concept art

This doesn’t last, of course. There’s an evil force called the Darkness that chases the Traveler from place to place. Its weapons are four alien races that serve it, but all who crave the Light–or hate it. They stomp humanity, destroy their colonies, and ruin Earth.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Traveler actually battles the Darkness one on one. The game is very vague about this point, and the lore videos have multiple theories about what exactly happened. Point is, the Traveler won, but it was wounded and stopped terraforming and things.

Instead, it sent out these tiny robots made of Light called Ghosts. Each Ghost resurrects a single person, basically a zombie (or revenant, since they have their soul) powered by Light. They became known as Guardians. If one of these guardians is killed, they can be resurrected so long as their Ghost is unharmed. If their Ghost dies, no more resurrections for them, it’s lights out.

Bungie Destiny warlock: human figure in armor looks at Ghost robot
Destiny warlock by TDSpiral

See the metaphor going on, here? It’s super interesting. Almost a Holy Ghost thing.

Now, it’s not a perfect metaphor. In real life, the God is the source of all Light, and He was not only before the Darkness, he already defeated it. The Darkness itself has a name and a face. Once known as the Light Bearer, he has become the Enemy, and his sin was pride. “I will become like the Most High!”

Jesus battled the Darkness and overcame it, being wounded on our behalf. In Destiny terms, the Last City in the shadow of the Traveler might as well be built at the foot of the Cross, because the symbolism is so similar.

Now, it’s really too bad that Destiny clings to its humanist philosophy. In its lore, the Traveler gives Light without making any demands of humanity. No devotion to righteousness, no forsaking sin and Darkness. In real life, there are two sides, and we have to pick one. If that was the case in Destiny, then the battle between Light and Darkness would go beyond meta-narrative and become the personal struggle of every Guardian. The story of the Warlords–guardians who abused their power–would become even more vile.

Bungie Destiny 2 concept art by Jeremy Fenske: human figure stands before ring-shaped Vex portal
Destiny 2 concept art by Jeremy Fenske

If such a choosing of sides was possible, then redemption would also be possible for the four alien races who serve the Darkness, however unwittingly. It would be possible for them to abandon Darkness and serve the Light, too, thus becoming very interesting allies.

But Destiny keeps things very Tao, with Light and Darkness equally matched and no ultimate victory is possible. Mankind doesn’t have to seek righteousness and abandon sin in order to receive power. (Which, the more you think about it, is so strange. Why aren’t Guardians forced to pick sides? There are in-game stories of Guardians who joined the Darkness, so maybe, in a way, that choice is still there, just buried out of sight.)

So, that’s Destiny’s meta-narrative, a lot of Christian ideas underlying a humanist story. And it’s funny, because if you make the game more humanist (the Light is ours because humanity is awesome), then the battle between Light and Darkness falls apart, with no real difference between them. If you make the game more Christian, with the Light actually having conditions and everyone being forced to pick sides, then the story becomes much more profound.

Note from 2021: The storyline of Uldren/Crow has brought home this point even harder. Uldren was the prince of the Awoken (think space elves), and he was a pretty miserable, increasingly depressed guy with mommy issues. When the queen died, he went off the deep end and started murdering his own people and doing a lot of other bad stuff. Eventually, he killed a main character, and our player character hunted him down and executed him. He doesn’t even put up a fight, and it’s very unsatisfying.

Well, later on in the game, a Ghost finds Uldren’s corpse and resurrects him. He takes the name Crow, and has no memory of his past. He winds up being extremely kind and merciful to the alien races, particularly the Fallen, who once had the Traveler’s blessing. He has this wonderful redemption arc that has been as satisfying as his death was unsatisfying.

Top: Crow is offered friendship. Bottom: Uldren shoots Cayde-6
Top: Crow being offered friendship by the hero leader. Bottom: Uldren executing the best friend of the hero leader.

Maybe that’s one reason the story is intentionally left vague, scattered throughout the game in hints and tidbits. Breadcrumbs for those to see who can. I’m continually shocked at the Christian terminology these lore gamers use to describe these concepts.

I think it’s a good lesson for us Christian writers. Tell a good story and don’t be afraid to pull in delicious metaphor about the struggle between good and evil. It rings true for everyone.

Bungie Destiny 2 concept art: landscape under storm clouds with Shard of the Traveler
Destiny 2 concept art: shard of the Traveler

Have you noticed any other religious points I ought to touch on? I know I’d like to dig into the Hive, evil aliens who take Gnosticism to its logical conclusion. There’s also the story of Thorn and the Last Word, which is a parable about moral relativism vs. moral absolutes. This game is packed with brain candy.

Learning to WordPress

I came to WordPress.com after my WordPress.org blog died in flames and malware smoke on my own server. I thought I pretty much knew how to use WordPress as a whole, and I’ve let the blog coast for several years. Life was busy and I didn’t have time to fool around with blog stuff.

Anyway, this past week, I actually bothered to grab the WordPress app on my phone so I could update my blog on the fly. As I was clicking on stuff, I happened to look at my stats. They pretty much tabulate the rise and fall of social media, where most of my hits came from.

Stats for my sad little blog over its lifetime

As you can see, I moved to wordpress.com in 2015. I update about once a week, or every two weeks, whenever I have something to share. After 2017, you begin to see the social media sites throttling outside traffic. I used to get comments on my blog posts. I forgot what that’s like. Actual people used to visit my blog and say things and for heavens sake, sometimes disagree with me.

My art used to bring in a ton of search results from Google. Google doesn’t like people to use the image search anymore, so that dried up. So now my poor blog sits here with a vast archive and no visitors. People say blogging is dead? Only because social media and the algorithms killed it.

Being the type to never say die, I was poking around in my shiny new app, and discovered the Reader button. It lets you follow blogs, and search for new ones. I started doing that. Lo and behold, I found a whole secret ecosystem of WordPress blogs. They’re interconnected. They share traffic. Some of them get comments.

The trick is the tagging system. WordPress doesn’t make this easy for you. They give you a general idea on their Help section, but they don’t give you a list of categories, except a handful of very broad ones to start. This blog would fall under “art” and “writing” and “creativity”. But thousands of blogs get posted to those categories every day. You’re supposed to use tags to describe your content in a more granular way. My artwork might also be “painting” “illustration” “fanart” “science fiction” “fantasy” and you see the trouble. WordPress’s ecosystem isn’t that big. There’s no way to target the exact readers I want unless I hunt them on social media. And social media hates blogs. Unless it’s Tumblr.

And if you have books to sell? Pff, you’re on your own, buster. Nobody wants to read a story unless it’s a fanfic and it’s free oh and it has the correct ship.

Please don’t make me explain what a ship is.

The point is, I’m going to start experimenting with bringing the ol’ blog in line with Teh Modern Internets. I’m going to repost some of my more popular posts with updated tags and categories. I’m going to try to figure out how to get my artwork onto the search engines. (Better descriptive text? I have to figure this out.) If you see smoke and ashes flying from this blog’s direction, don’t be alarmed. That’s just me, relearning how to blog.

Anybody else out there trying to cope with Teh Modern Internets? If you have tips for me, let me know. I’m woefully behind.

More fantastic girl artwork

You know, since I started doing this series of girls, I’ve gotten more commission requests than I ever have before. I guess people like pretty girls, huh?

Painting of a woman with bare midriff and armored legs
Painting of pretty girl touching her hair alongside a Destiny Ghost

People like midriffs and cleavage. Do you know what is also really hard to draw? Yes.

Cute girl in armor kneeling in grass

I was going more for ‘cute’ than ‘sexy’ with this one. There’s this one Spiderman comic book artwork by J. Scott Campbell that people either love or hate, so I used the pose here. I’m nowhere near Campbell’s level, so it was good practice.

Painted comic: man gives woman fur cloak, woman models it for him

This one became a tiny comic by accident, mostly so I could explain why this character is suddenly rocking a coat with all the fluff. Drawn mostly for the coat.

Woman carries unconscious man into the air while propelled by lightning bolts

And this one, which is telling a story of a dramatic, lightning-powered rescue.

Since I started posting these, I’ve gotten so much positive feedback, and commission requests, and nice karma in general. I’m just over here trying to improve my skills, and people like it. It also helps that my brain is finally coming back after having two babies back to back. I can actually envision action scenes again.

Two weeks until we move, then I can open up for commissions again once we’re settled. 🙂

Drawing more girls plus fight scene

Been trying to make more art lately, try out new techniques! I’ve also had to rip back my last book and rewrite the last third of it. I took a hard look and it just … had to happen. But the new stuff is coming along, bit by bit. Readers will be so glad I did this to the book. They might actually enjoy it. :-p

My personal challenge to draw more girls continues:

Except I have to sneak cute guys in there sometimes. This is Max and Sorrel. Sorrel was in an accident and has road rash scars on her face and neck. Max thinks she’s beautiful anyway.

This one is very purple. This is Lethia Marr Dasa, a voidmage who can rip the life force out of people. When she first got her powers, she hated them and thought she was evil and broken.

Action scene from a fanfic. I wanted to try out the angled perspective with a hero and a villain, and I like the way it came out. Inching ever closer to being able to make my books into graphic novels.

Armored gal

I spent most of the week working on the cover for my next book, but I’m not ready to show that off yet. So have a pretty gal in armor:

I was trying a new tutorial for shading and I liked the way it turned out. But I wanted it to be shinier, so I’m going to try that with my next attempt. Also, my Discord voted that I need to draw more pretty girls, so I’m working on that.

That’s pretty much all I got to do this week. The baby has decided to not sleep during my morning art time, due to the sun rising earlier. So … less art time means less art. :-p

Slow but steady

I keep trying to update the ol’ blog. I daydream about posts. In fact, I daydream so hard that my brain assumes I already wrote a blog post. Then I check it and go, “Why has it been three weeks since I updated?”

Anyway, here’s my latest commission:

Link to the book here

I’m getting better at these covers. I’m looking at my own books and going, “You know, I really need to redo a bunch of these because man, they kind of suck.” My skill was still developing at the time. I mean, it’s still developing, but at least it’s to a point where it looks good. My earlier stuff … well, I tried hard. Theyre probably lurking around lousybookcovers.com somewhere.

Anyway, I took a break from doing commissions to spend two solid weeks drawing a stupid Destiny comic that wound up being way more involved and technical than I had imagined. Click to enbiggen.

At some point, I also drew this forest study that I don’t think I posted. I recently reorganized my art folders. Now, instead of dumping everything into one folder that I can easily sort by date, I dump everything into FIVE folders that I have to sort by date. It loads faster, but I forget to check some of them.

Turned out nice, didn’t it? I need to do some more landscape studies.

I’m currently working on the cover for the next Vid:ilantes book. It’s the book that crosses over with After Atlantis, and I’ve been putting off working on it for some reason. Oh, yeah, it’s because I have to rebrand all seven previous books now. Because they’re officially the same series. This means touching up cover art and stuff.

Anyway, that’s all for now!

Catching up with arts

It’s been so long since I updated, WordPress updated their interface and didn’t tell me. Yikes. Things have been nuts lately around here. I post my art in so many different places, I forget about my poor blog. Anyway! Here’s some new stuff:

A couple of Destiny guardians on a speeder.

Ice powers are hard to control.

That’s the stuff I’ve been drawing in between commissions and stuff. Here’s the giant commission that cleaned my clock for the last month:

This was done for H.L. Burke. These are the main superheroes in her book series, the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project. It kind of takes the drama of the Marvelverse and moves it to the page, where you can employ all the special effects in your mind’s eye. 🙂

Sketching characters

I’ve been working on a commission for the last week or so, so I haven’t actually finished anything. Here’s the sketches I’ve done around the edges:

Kari gets five minutes with Jayesh in his isolation cell.

A character from one of Shari Branning’s upcoming books. Sean. Cute guy. Food blogger. Assassin.

Jayesh and Crow making a big show of meeting for the first time.

Sometimes you get more than you asked for when you kiss a teammate.

I suppose I should actually finish something, but this commission I’m working on is eating my lunch. It’ll be a while before I have the bandwidth for anything else.

Various fanarts

I think I went two weeks this time between updates, yikes. So here is the random stuff I’ve been working on. Just fanart of various things, mostly.

Bandages

The above was fun to do, because I was going for a charcoal look. This is fanart from Destiny 2.

Next, this one takes some explaining.

My husband has been playing the latest World of Warcraft expansion. In Shadowlands, you are trying to travel to the lowest level of the afterlife. Meanwhile, my kids have been playing Hades, a game where you try to reach the top level of the afterlife and escape. I joked about the hero, Zagreus, meeting the player from Warcraft on the way down. Of course he gives them directions.

Told you this one took some explaining.

Next, a process pic of an artwork I worked on for a whole week.

In Destiny 2, they came out with this really cool constellation outfit for each class. The warlock one is based around Pegasus, and has wings and stuff. (Notice the horses on the chestpiece!) So I just had to draw it alongside a guy with the fire wings and sword. I didn’t really intend any deep meanings in it, but it’s been amusing to see people analyze this pic and draw all these meanings from it.

That’s all I’ve got for now. It’s been fun to try some very different styles and play around with them. I need to get back to work doing actual book cover art and stuff, though.