Sketches and a heatwave

Just a few sketches I did last night in the last five minutes before writing time.

June and July weren’t too bad out here on the west coast. It’d get hot, then we’d have a cooling trend. Meanwhile, the rest of the country burned up in 110 degree weather.

Well, the heatwave has come west. Now while the rest of the country gets rain and early fall weather, Cali is baking in 110 degree weather. With monsoon moisture, so we have humidity that we’re not used to. This is our second week of it. It’s amazing how hot weather murders your creativity. I just want to sit and stare at the wall. Then I get depressed because I’m just sitting around.

But I can work through this. People survived the summertime in the old days before air conditioning! They slept between wet sheets on screened-in porches, they had kitchens separate from the house, and they spent weeks at the seaside.

Doesn’t sound like it was much fun then, either, come to think of it.

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Book review: Song of the Summer King

Shard is a gryfon in danger. He and other young males of the Silver Isles are old enough to fly, hunt, and fight–old enough to be threats to their ruler, the red gryfon king.

In the midst of the dangerous initiation hunt, Shard takes the unexpected advice of a strange she-wolf who seeks him out, and hints that Shard’s past isn’t all that it seems. To learn his past, Shard must abandon the future he wants and make allies of those the gryfons call enemies.

When the gryfon king declares open war on the wolves, it throws Shard’s past and uncertain future into the turmoil between.

Now with battle lines drawn, Shard must decide whether to fight beside his king . . .or against him.

Fantasy fiction, YA, I suppose? It’s hard to put an age slice on non-human characters. It’s clean, anyway.

I’d heard about this book when an artist I follow on deviantArt did the cover art for it. (Note the gorgeous cover art, by the way.) I heard about it again when the author held a kickstarter campaign to raise money for the publication costs. So when the ebook was offered for free on Amazon, I grabbed it out of sheer curiosity.

I wasn’t expecting it to be as well written, or as good of a story as it turned out to be. Within the first chapter I was immersed in the gryfon world. Shard is a likeable protagonist, a little falcon griffin among the big, conquering eagle griffins. Actually, I kept thinking of the Lion King. Except if Simba was forced to serve Scar without knowing his true parentage.

Also, the wolves are great. They have a distinct Native American feel, and the main wolf wears feathers twisted in her fur. The wolves and gryfons are enemies, of course, except they weren’t always. That’s part of the Coming of Age story Shard works through.

Another thing I enjoyed were the gryfon’s words for things. East and west are dawnward and nightward. Lightning is skyfire.

Also, the author’s love for these characters, the setting, and the story really shines through. I don’t read a lot of books that the author is passionate about. Harry Potter, maybe, where the characters and setting leap off the page, because the author loved it so much. The only place I see writing with that kind of passion behind it is fanfiction. So to see it in a published book was a real joy.

Really, my only complaint with the book was it’s the first of a series, and the ending didn’t wrap up all the loose ends. And that’s hardly a complaint, because I’d happily get the rest of the books. I mean, it’s been alluded that the eagle griffins robbed dragons and got chased away for it. I wanna see dragons!

So if you’re in the market for some good animal fiction a la Watership Down, pick up The Song of the Summer King and give it a shot. It’s refreshingly original.

Book review: Elisha’s Bones by Don Hoesel

An adult Christian thriller, but better-written than most. Here’s the official summary:

Every year, professor of antiquities Jack Hawthorne looks forward to the winter break as a time to hide away from his responsibilities. Even if just for a week or two. But this year, his plans are derailed when he’s offered almost a blank check from a man chasing a rumor.

Billionaire Gordon Reese thinks he knows where the bones of the prophet Elisha are–bones that in the Old Testament brought the dead back to life. A born skeptic, Jack doesn’t think much of the assignment but he could use the money, so he takes the first step on a chase for the legendary bones that will take him to the very ends of the earth. But he’s not alone. Joined with a fiery colleague, Esperanza Habilla, they soon discover clues to a shadowy organization whose long-held secrets have been protected . . . at all costs. As their lives are threatened again and again, the real race is to uncover the truth before those chasing them hunt them down.

I’d been going through my Kindle app and trying out all the books I hadn’t read yet, throwing out the garbage and filing the good books. I had picked this up when Amazon offered it for free (Spirit-Filled-Kindle tracks the daily free ebooks and tries to only offer the non-crap ones).

I usually read the first couple of pages of a book, and if it stinks on ice, out it goes. I picked this up, noted vaguely that it was first person present-tense (which I despise). Then I realized I’d just finished the first chapter and was diving straight into the second. Then the third. Then the fourth.

It’s a great thriller novel. The hero, Jack, is a reluctant adventurer a la Indiana Jones, and his travels take him to a lost pyramid in South America, to Ethiopia and out to Australia. He’s accompanied by his ex-fiance, Esperanza, who is always punching him for dumping her. Bad guys of various factions follow them around and blow away secondary characters. Lots of skin-of-your-teeth escapes and holy-crap-I-didn’t-see-that-coming.

After the first paragraph, I never noticed that it was first person present tense. The book is stomach-clenchingly intense a la David Balducci. I’d say I devoured Elisha’s Bones, if it didn’t sound so macabre. But it’s the truth. I devoured this book. If you like thrillers, ancient tombs, artifacts with mysterious powers, merciless bad guys, and tension, pick up Elisha’s Bones and enjoy the ride.

Urban fantasy and fairy tales

I watched this video with Patrick Rothfuss, Emma Bull, Diana Rowland, and Jim Butcher, all notable urban fantasy writers. The topic was all about urban fantasy. Here’s the video if you’re curious (it’s about an hour long): http://youtu.be/52khu_YJAmo

They said all kinds of interesting things. But what has stuck with me are two main points about urban fantasy.

First off, urban fantasy is just fantasy set in a city. But more importantly, the setting has to be so defined that it’s almost another character. We want to feel like we’re really in Los Angeles or Chicago or New York City.

The second point is that urban fantasy takes the fairytale stereotypes and brings them into modern day. In the old days, the forest was the dark, scary place where people disappeared. Nowadays, it’s downtown. For all we know, vampires, werewolves and zombies could be running around in the ghettos. And where would you be more afraid to go at night–the dark woods, or a dark alley?

Urban fantasy is getting more popular all the time, especially with TV shows like Grimm and Doctor Who coming out of nowhere and becoming popular. The funny thing is, it was popular in juvenile fiction before it was in adult fiction. Look at anything by Diana Wynne Jones, or Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising), Harry Potter, Inkheart, Twilight, or even Narnia. All set in the present day, even if the kids wind up visiting another magical world.

Adults seem to favor high fantasy. Lords and ladies, dragonslayers, paladins, elves, or basically anything derived from Tolkien. But urban fantasy has been slowly making its mark on adult fiction.

I grew up reading juvie fantasy set in the modern day, so I don’t have much of an appetite for high fantasy. But urban/modern fantasy? Bring it on! I think that’s why I’m so enamored with Spacetime, because it’s urban fantasy. I’ve been trying to make Phoenix, Arizona a viable setting for monsters and fantastic happenings, and it’s such fun. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy set in Phoenix, even though it’s a huge city.

Xironi portrait

I sat and worked on this Tuesday night instead of trying to write my quota. But my excuse was I was listening to a livecast with Pat Rothfuss, Jim Butcher, Emma Bull and Diana Rowland, all talking about urban fantasy. After listening to it very closely, I’ve discovered two things. First, Spacetime is totally urban fantasy. Second, I need to read more urban fantasy.

Also, I’m really happy with the way this portrait is coming. I’m trying to keep the masses simple, especially the eyes and the mouth.

Munchkin activities

We’re marking time before school starts in a couple of weeks. I’m going to try my hand at homeschooling the munchkins. Mom gave me a huge box of curriculum and reading primers and stuff, so I’m just waiting for the school year to officially start.

When I grabbed my camera, all three of them were wedged in this couch fort. But by the time my camera condescended to stop doing preliminary flashes and actually take the picture, the baby had galloped out of the fort and come to investigate the camera.

Here’s where she wound up. At my lap, jabbering. She can say some words now, and she imitates very well.

Legos are also a popular pastime. This time I got off a picture before C. noticed.

Christian book tropes

TV Tropes doesn’t have a page for Christian books and what their tropes are. So I’ll take it upon myself to collect and list them. This is a work in progress, so if you know of a trope that wasn’t listed here, mention it in a comment and I’ll add it!

Aliens. There are no aliens, only Nephilim.

Alien planets. These are not allowed. If humans aren’t on Earth, how would God find them for the Rapture?

Altar-call Ending. Sometimes this ending is the reason the book was written in the first place. The Hero goes to a Church/Chapel/Cathedral, kneels before the altar, and accepts the Christ-figure with a fantasy-ized version of the Sinner’s Prayer. Usually this is directed straight at the reader.

Angels. Winged musclemen in white robes who fly around with fiery swords, beating down demons. See This Present Darkness. Occasionally an angel will appear as a smiling young man in a white shirt who mysteriously helps the hero or dispenses advice, then vanishes. This is sometimes confusing, because the Christ-figure does the same thing.

The Antichrist. According to Revelation, this is some dude who gets possessed by Satan and becomes the One World Leader. At first he’s good, then he turns bad and starts chopping off heads (of Christians). The ultimate big bad, most Christian books wind up trying to prevent his rising or fight him when he comes. See Left Behind.

Armor of God. This is a physical suit of armor that represents the one in Ephesians–the Helmet of Salvation, the Belt of Truth, and so on. The Sword of the Spirit and the Shield of Faith are usually the most important parts. Commonly seen in post-apocalyptic stories.

The Bad Girl. This is the harlot/tramp/whore who exists only to tempt the Hero from his path of righteousness. She only cares about her own pleasure. We’re treated to graphic descriptions of her entire body except her breasts. She usually works for the Antichrist.

The Bible. This is called anything but the Bible. The Book of Light, the Holy Book, the Holy Writings, the Sacred Scriptures. But it’s always the Bible and grants either obscure knowledge or superpowers. Expect clumsily-reworded Bible verses.

Breasts. No woman has these. We might be told that she has some nice “assets”, or that she wore a shirt that showed off her chest. But breasts, as we know them, do not exist. Perhaps women in Christian fiction have udders instead.

Christian Community
. Run by wise, sincere male elders (the wise sincere females are allowed to counsel younger women). They are 100% sure of every doctrine. This usually includes :
– Pacifism, they won’t fight the Anti-Christ’s forces with a weapon, although they may sometimes knock a baddie out, provided they are suitably sorry for it afterward.
– Guidance, they know exactly how God will guide Hero 4 chapters later.
– End Times, they know exactly what God has planned, even better than Jesus did in the Gospels.

NB there may be a Baddie among the wise, sincere male elders, but he will be completely undetected, despite the most obvious give-aways. – Submitted by Malcolm

The Chosen One. This is a kid, or a guy, who goes on a quest to find the lost artifacts, or the birthright, or the sage, or something, that will help him defeat the Big Bad. See Antichrist.

The Chosen One’s story is “yet another medieval setting with overt Christian allegories during the tale of [an] orphan who turns out to be the lost son of royalty about whom there is an ancient prophecy that he will defeat evil and bring peace.” -E.S. Burnett, Speculative Faith

Christ-figure. There is always one of these. He might be a man in a white robe, or he might be a lion or some other sacred animal. He shows up to give the Hero advice, help the Hero when the Hero has reached his lowest point, or in rare cases, actually do something interesting like swing the battle in the good guys’ favor. In other words, the Christ-figure is a literal deus ex machina.

Death. An unpleasant way for the hero and supporting cast to go hang out with the Christ-figure.

Demons. Insidious beings of pure evil. They appear as either patches of living darkness (see the Vashta Nerada) or as scaly lizard-like beings that breathe out sulfur fumes through long fangs. They can also appear only as a whisper in the hero’s ear telling him what a failure he is. Demons can only be slain by angels and occasionally good Dragons. Occasionally the most devout Chosen One can exorcise them.

Dragons. Most dragons are evil because they represent Satan. Some dragons, however, swing too far the other direction and are just dinosaurs with spikes and sometimes wings. Sometimes, you might meet a dragon that is the traditional fantasy type, breathes fire and has wings. But these are hard to find.

The Future. Christian science fiction can’t look too far ahead because of the Rapture and the Antichrist. There’s no future past that.

God. Generally a caricature of the Christian God, God is a distant deity who sits in heaven and allows bad things to happen to people to make them come to a better relationship with Him. Sometimes God answers prayers or resurrects someone, or heals a wound at a crucial moment. There will usually be a conversion scene where the Chosen One, guided by the Christ-figure, will come to believe in God. Then the Chosen One will get all kinds of Divine Power and beat down the bad guys with it. God is a Deus ex machina.

Heaven. A glowy gold place with lots of light and people who have already crossed over. The hero’s murdered parents/girlfriend/grandparents/best friend are always shown hanging out here, waiting for the hero to encounter Death and join the party.

Magic. There are only two kinds of magic: Holy and Demonic. Because all magic comes from God or Satan. There is no neutral magic, and thus no neutral magical practitioners, even in high fantasy worlds with otherwise standard fantasy rules. Good magic is only used for healing and defense, making everyone either a Paladin or a Cleric. Black magic is used for mind control, summoning demons, and other, far more interesting things.

Magic can also come from Science. Science magic is basically a superpower, like increased magnetism, or super-developed brain lobes to allow telekinesis or telepathy. This kind of magic squeaks past the Occult-radar because it’s more like Spiderman.

Miracles. These take the place of magic spells. Characters offer a token prayer, then fling miracles around at their own whims. – NewburyDave

Monsters. Monstrous creatures are always 100% bad, whether they’re genetically engineered, part human, or anything in between. Monsters seem to ascribe to the action movie school of thought, where everything and its brother is out to single-mindedly eat the hero.

Nephilim. These are half-human, half-fallen-angel people. There are no aliens, elves, mermaids, dwarves, or any other fantasy race. There are only Nephilim. They can be tall and handsome with pointy ears, or tall and ugly, or tall with big round eyes like aliens. They can be any combination of man and animal (man + horse, man + goat, man + fish). The Rephaim and the Anakim are almost never mentioned.

The Pure Girl. This girl is the Right Choice for the Chosen One. She’s kind, helpful, supportive, and never thinks about sex. She is the Proverbs 31 Woman. If the hero is not saved, the Pure Girl will show him the error of his sinful ways and guide him to repentance.

The Rapture. The only future allowed to Christians. This is when God returns to Earth and vacuums up all the Christians, leaving behind all the bad people for judgement. This is when the Antichrist takes over. Usually has elements of an Ultimate Escape Fantasy followed by seven years of Ultimate Revenge Fantasy.

Satan. The original mustache-twirling villain, always out to take over the world. Satan is always behind every bad thing happening, no matter how fantastic the world.

Sex. This is only allowed if it’s part of a character’s backstory and involves rape or some kind of abuse. Sometimes, depending on the publisher, the abuse can be very graphic. This is so the heroine can be Saved by God later in the book, and learn to love the Chosen One. Love scenes between two married people are never as graphic as the abuse scenes.

Snakes. See dragons.

Villains. Often the villain is the most likeable character in the whole book. He may be a misguided rogue, waiting for the Christ-figure to show him the error of his ways.

Or he is a psychopath, possessed by Satan or a demon, bent entirely on destruction.

Thinking in sketches

A lot of times, it helps me sort out story stuff if I can sit and doodle related things.

I’d like to do “updated” pics of all the Spacetime characters, and make them look like real people. I recently found the perfect model for Xironi, so here’s a sketch.

You get the idea.

My Sonic story’s coming along nicely. But it’s brought up some ideas I need to draw. The thing I miss about writing longhand was the great doodles I could make in the margins of peoples’ faces. Or of the odd things I was writing about in that paragraph.

One thing I ran into was Mephiles. He’s this evil shadow demon thingy from the Sonic 360 game. He steals Shadow’s shadow and takes Shadow’s form, then later it turns all crystally and eeevil. Well, my version of Shadow is half robot, so I realized I had no idea how that would look on Mephiles.

I imagined all the robot bits would turn to solid crystal. I think this deserves a proper pic to explore the visual properly.

Also it’s funny to see Shadow stalking along, all badass, and have Nox trotting along beside him all like, “Hi Shadow! It’s a nice day, isn’t it? Aren’t you glad to be alive?” And Shadow’s all like, “No. Shut up.”

Here at our house

We’re having monsoon moisture out here on the west coast. Everywhere else they have hurricanes and tornadoes. In the valley in Cali, we might get a thunderstorm, if we’re lucky. Blame it on the mountains.

I was headed indoors out of the heat yesterday, when I noticed this cloud.

See the dragon?

You know it’s going to be hot when we’ve got dragons in the clouds.

Around here, the youngest came down with chicken pox while the older two caught nasty colds from swimming lessons. They’re also incubating the chicken pox. It’s like sitting on a time bomb.

So we’ve explored the entertainment value of My Little Ponies, Arthur, and Martha Speaks on Netflix Instant. I like PBS shows. They’re not so stupid that my brain melts out of my ears just from being in the same room.

So that’s been the last few weeks around here.

Battling insomnia

Earlier in July, I had a terrible case of insomnia. I’d just lie awake all night and wonder why I was still awake. Finally, about 4 AM, I’d doze off for a couple hours until the kids woke up, then I’d stumble around all day in a fog.

This went on for four days before I finally started doing research. I knew my diet was deficient in some vitamins, and something wasn’t being triggered correctly in my brain. As I’d doze off, I’d feel my body fumbling for that sleep-trigger, and that trigger would never fire. It was the weirdest thing.

Eventually I found my way to this page, all about the biochemistry of insomnia.

The major cause of insomnia is the failure of the body to produce sufficient amounts of the neurotransmitter melatonin. This chemical induces us to sleep in conditions of total darkness. Thus an appropriate dark room is one necessary condition. The bedroom should never be used for reading or watching television. When you happen to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, try to do so in the dark. Don’t switch on the light as this will switch off melatonin production. Melatonin production also decreases with age. (Source).

The neurotransmitter, melatonin, is produced in the pineal gland from serotonin – our feel good chemical – which in turn is derived from typtophan – an amino found in food. Thus biochemical pathway is

Tryptophan —> Serotonin —> Melatonin

Therefore insomnia is merely a symptom of a wider problem of metabolism.

The lights started to come on. My body wasn’t manufacturing melatonin! But why? I’d been getting lots of sunlight. Then I found this.

For instance, if we were to take SAM-e a very well recognized antidepressant nutritional supplement – it could help produce serotonin IF, and only if, we have sufficient amounts of tryptophan, vitamin B6 and magnesium. SAM-e can only supply a methyl group to trigger a change in the shape and function of chemical molecules, i.e., convert tryptophan into serotonin or in the methylation of norepinephrine. The same applies to St John’s wort failure to induce relaxation if the real cause of insomnia is a tryptophan deficiency or B6 deficiency.

The body can produce its own SAM-e (S-Adenosylmethionine). It is present in every cell of the body and is derived from methionine in the presence of vitamin Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid, plus a molecule of biological energy (ATP). ATP is the end product of glucose metabolism and without that energy the body cannot manufacture the neurotransmitters necessary in sleep.

When the brain is threatened with energy starvation it will send a hormonal message to the adrenal glands to pour adrenaline into the system. Adrenaline is a hormone that converts glycogen – strings of glucose molecules stored in the body – back into glucose, so as to feed the brain again. (See image). But abnormal adrenaline secretion during the night can also cause insomnia and nightmares.

However, if the body has a deficiency of Vitamin B3 (Niacin), all the available tryptophan in the body may be used up in the conversion of tryptophan into niacin, leaving little for conversion to serotonin.

When there is a niacin deficiency tryptophan is converted to vitamin B3 at the ratio of 60 to 1, which may create a tryptophan deficiency despite adequate amounts in food !

The supplement of niacin alone has miraculously cured depression in some people.

So, something in my body’s chemistry was off. The chain to manufacture the various hormones was broken somewhere, and I’d probably screwed it up with my diet.

I try to eat a low-carb, low-sugar diet. But lately I’d been eating sweets and white breads (cinnamon rolls!). And not just a few, I’m talking every day. Slowly that took its toll on my body until wham. Biochemistry broken, no sleep.

The first thing to do was to get my yeast in line. Eating high-acid foods like bread and sugar feed the bad yeast in your intestine until it devours pretty much all the nutrients your body needs. You can’t absorb vitamins until balance is restored.

So I took a ton of probiotics over the course of the day. (Probiotics being the good yeast to balance out the bad yeast. You need both the good and the bad in balance. Either one getting the majority is bad for you.) As the hours passed, I felt something in my body ease back toward normal. The fog cleared a little and I didn’t feel so frantic.

That night, I slept like a brick.

Moral of the story: if something is out of whack in your body, check your diet first. If you’re eating a lot of processed foods, chances are, cutting them will improve your overall health dramatically.