Various sketches

I’ve been working on a new batch of commissions lately. Here’s their conceptual sketches.

This one is more characters from Rachel’s Zyearth books. Here’s Trecheon and Matt, with Leah in the background trying to break up the scuffle.

This one, my commissioner asked for her character with an eastern style dragon. My first concept is that her character visits her world where one of her alternates has been born as a dragon. It has a hurt foot.

Then I did her character in a kimono with a Chinese dragon all swirled in the background.

Note to self. Get a kimono. They look awesome.

Third one is her character commanding one of those Chinese air dragon god thingies with a glowing sphere. She’s holding a baby one.

I like this one so much that if she doesn’t pick it, I might revise it, swap out the characters, and finish it up for the win.

So that’s what’s been going on. Arts!

Slow clap for J.K. Rowling

Clap. Clap. Clap.

So her new book A Casual Vacancy launched. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

Sounds pretty straightforward. And then you start reading the reviews.

“When you read the book, you need to forget this is the same author who gave us Mr.Potter’s world of magic. This is set in a tiny English town and deals with politics,class struggle,poverty,drug use,child abuse,rape,self-mutilation, suicide, pedophilia,mental illness and other ugly realities. Much to her credit the author does this with sharp comic wit, however it does all go on a bit too long with the ending being somewhat predictable and heavy-handed. It goes from being a lively comedy of manners to over-wrought slog by the end.”

And the best description I’ve read so far:

“This book is about what would have happened to Harry Potter had there been no Hogwarts. It’s an “alt” version – what happens to a neglected child in the welfare state, what happens when there is no magic, what happens in a world composed of Durselys. That makes it an adult book and a very unpleasant read. I could not bring myself to care what happened to any of the Durselys.

I see that almost everyone gained self knowledge (and most did not put it to any use); I see that hacked Facebook pages as a means of knowledge is very clever (JKR lives); I see that a girl who was being destroyed is more confident because she is imitating someone (Kristen) whom she does not really see as she is – but I didn’t care. I was glad I’d reached the end alive myself, that was all.

However I did read the entire book so Rowling is still a page turner. I will also buy her next book but I hope someday she can integrate what is at present a double vision – magic childhood and adult rottenness.”

They’re a little more charitable over on Goodreads, where the book has 3.9 stars. Goodreads seems to be where all the fans hang out, and they’re trying very hard to say nice things. Even the people who you can tell hated the book still try to phrase it as “it’s just not my kind of book”.

Rowling has the kind of fanbase most of us new, young authors only dream of. Rabid, extremely loyal fans who will buy any drivel she happens to pen. Instead of writing something her fanbase will devour, she goes the complete opposite direction. Is she trying to show that she’s a “grown-up”? That she can write “dark and edgy” (because Harry Potter didn’t have enough dark, edgy stuff in it)?

If she keeps on writing in this vein, she’ll alienate her fanbase. And that’s like cutting your own throat. It’s why Sega doesn’t go after the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom with their art and fanfics. The loyal fans buy games. Just like the loyal Harry Potter fans will buy Casual Vacancy.

A lot of them already have, and are trying to come up with something nice to say about it.

Now, I know that pandering to the fanbase is a bad thing to do. That’s how you wind up with the endings of Neo Genesis Evangelion and Mockingjay. As an author, fans can depress you.

But fans also buy your work. Hopefully Rowling’s next book will be something in a similar genre as Harry Potter. As Diana Wynne Jones pointed out years ago, there’s no shame in writing juvenile fiction.

Diana Wynne Jones: Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used. A book for children, like the myths and folktales that tend to slide into it, is really a blueprint for dealing with life. For that reason, it might have a happy ending, because nobody ever solved a problem while believing it was hopeless. It might put the aims and the solution unrealistically high – in the same way that folktales tend to be about kings and queens – but this is because it is better to aim for the moon and get halfway there than just to aim for the roof and get halfway upstairs.

The blueprint should, I think, be an experience in all the meanings of that word, and the better to make it so, I would want it to draw on the deeper resonances we all ought to have in the other side of our minds. For me, those resonances will have something to do with the Other Garden, but I am willing to hope – or even to believe – that if I get the book right, I might actually provide these resonances for those who did not happen to have such a Garden.

I have anyway always hoped to write a truly memorable book, the one that you go back to the beginning of and start rereading as soon as you get to the end, the one that you think of in subsequent years as the one that really pointed you in the way you wish to go. I still don’t think I have done it. That’s life. Halfway to the moon. But on what I have done, I would not really like to set an age-limit. I am always delighted when aunts and grandfathers write to me, saying their nephew/granddaughter has just introduced them to, say, Howl and they couldn’t put him down. Source

Friday blog roundup

YA Highway does these on Fridays, and I always find a few things in there to broaden my horizons. I follow a billion blogs now, and there’s been interesting stuff on all of them this week. Here’s a selection!

On writing:

I got interviewed over on the Literary Equine!

Rachel gives a rundown on the Passive Voice: the dreaded To Be verb.

Anne Stengl gives tips on how character relationships make them much more interesting.

Stephen Burnett reports on the weirdness of cosplayers getting banned from a banquet at ACFW.

YA Highway talks about the fine line between thriller and horror.

On Adventures in YA Publishing, Joan Swan talks about nailing emotional turning points in your novel.

The Kill Zone talks about getting the Male Perspective right.

On art:

James Gurney profiles Solomon Solomon and his book The Practice of Oil Painting.

Run-around Ranch Report has an amusing series of photos of a cardinal being upset at a painted bunting in the birdbath.

On food:

Pioneer Woman makes granola bars. You know they’re decadent just from that.

Bizarre picture of the week:

Golden eagle attacks cameraman

Apparently there was an annual eagle hunting competition going on in Kazakhstan, and this eagle took offense to the cameraman. More details here.

Book Review: Curse-Bearer by Rebecca Minor

Danae helps her father in their apothecary, even though their city is occupied by enemy forces. The enemy offers human sacrifices, kidnaps, tortures, loots, and generally does all that nasty stuff oppressive regimes do. Danae watches her father’s illness grow and tries fruitless to find a cure.

Finally her family flees the city, and Danae strikes out on her own to find a cure for her father’s illness. Along the way she finds that her fledgling ability to work magic has made her into a Curse-Bearer, marked for consumption by the Darkness. Aided by a holy mage and an uber-hot elf healer, Danae detours in search of a magic sword that can strike down Queldurik, leader of the enemy and cause of her father’s illness.

I enjoyed this book from part 2 on. Part 1 annoyed me because it seemed to drag on and on, and there was nothing Danae could do to fight the bad guys. But once she left town, stows away on a ship, and generally becomes a nuisance to Graycloak, the story really takes off. The individual towns felt like actual places, instead of being Standard Medieval Squalor #3. And not a sign of stew!

The story sidetracks a bit to introduce Culduin, the awesome elf of hotness, but the sidetrack is massively excused on his behalf. He’s just a nice guy who patches up Danae, but he’s also full of elvish awesome. Kind of like what Legolas became in the Lord of the Rings movies.

There’s lots of peril throughout the story, keeping the pacing up. There’s monsters and evil hounds and dragonkin.

My single complaint is about the magic being either black or white. There’s no gray areas. But this is where the Curse-Bearer plot point arises, so in the world’s context it makes perfect sense.

Now, where’s book 2?

Random Wednesday post

We’ve just been doing school quietly all month. The munchkins have a love-hate relationship with school. They love everything except math. Although even math is fun when the mathbook includes codes you have to do math problems to decipher.

The munchkins having a tea party with play food.

That play table has seen a ton of use. It’s a prime place to build legos, or draw, or play, or put pillows around and make into a fort.

Everybody reading books!

My husband’s mom sent a bunch of Curious George phonics books, and the munchkins have been looking at them over and over. Curious George is always a crowd-pleaser.

A heck of a sunset we had the other night.

Over on YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday, they had a great prompt:

In honor of this month’s Bookmobile book, Marissa Meyer’s CINDER, name a fable or story you’d like to see a retelling of. If you’re feeling creative, come up with a premise of your own!

I recently picked up our Grimm’s fairytale book and started reading through it. The very first one is The Golden Bird. I just loved it. It’s all about the prohibitions–don’t go to sleep under the tree. Don’t put the golden bird in the golden cage, but in the wooden one. Don’t put the gold saddle on the horse. Don’t let the princess say goodbye to her parents. All of these prohibitions are delivered by a talking fox to the youngest prince, who nevertheless manages to botch it most of the time.

I just love fairytale prohibition stories. I always wonder, why? Does the wooden cage and the old saddle represent humility in the face of grandeur? What was wrong with that dang princess? Why couldn’t all of these castles (who were in riding distance of each other) swapped around their own dang golden items?

I’ve been tossing around an idea for a middle-grade series. I know who the characters are, I just wasn’t sure what kinds of adventures they should have. I was thinking I’d like to mess with fairies, then I started looking at other books. Fairies are waaaay overdone right now. But fairytales with talking foxes and golden horses? Not quite so much! Especially not with the spin I’d give it.

So yeah. Fairytales are awesome to rip off–I mean retell. 🙂

Two commissions

I’ve been working on two commissions over the past few days. Now that Spacetime’s sixth draft is finished (confetti falls down–the good stuff–our last bag), I can get back to drawing.

First, Zyearth-Defender’s characters in a scene from one of her stories.

The foreground guy has just used his magic to set his butt afire. The girl throws a bucket of water on him while the guy in the background laughs.

Next, a griffin from Jess Owen’s Song of the Summer King:

Mostly conceptual stuff and trying to figure out what pose looks good. I tossed these back to Jess tonight and we’ll see what sort of pose she prefers. The griffin’s half-eagle half-falcon (his name is Halvden), so I was trying to come up with a look for that. Also he’s wearing armored gauntlet things on his claws, so I had to figure out how that would work on long skinny eagle toes.

So yeah! Busy busy. 🙂

Interview with Kat Heckenbach, author of “Seeking Unseen”

YA modern fantasy: It may be Angel’s wish…
It’s been two years since Angel learned the magic chip of wood inside her locket would grant any wish. What is taking her so long to choose? An alarming discovery about her beloved foster brother Zack makes the decision easy…but everything else gets complicated after she runs into her old friend Melinda, who demands to go along for the return to Toch Island.
…but it’s Melinda’s journey.
Melinda doesn’t fit in with the magical freaks any more than she did with the losers back in Florida, but she never wanted to belong before. A secret world surrounds her where even the bugs have magic… She’s more of an outsider than ever. So when ex-con Doran Ashe slinks out of the shadows and offers her an easy road to powers of her own, Melinda follows him despite-or maybe because of-everyone’s warnings.

K. Carroll: When I picked up Seeking, I liked Angel all right. But then Melinda came in and I was completely hooked. Was Melinda supposed to take over the book the way she did?

Kat: Actually, no. At least, not from her point of view. When I first decided to take Finding Angel from a stand-alone to a series, I had every intention of keeping the entire thing in Angel’s point of view. As the story began to solidify in my mind, it became more centered on Melinda, but I still expected to tell Melinda’s story completely through Angel’s eyes.

But it just didn’t work. I got up to the point where Angel runs into Melinda, and Melinda just came to life more strongly than I expected. I found myself diving into her head instead and realized that is the only way the story could properly be told.

Well, that and the fact that Melinda is just rather stubborn and demanding :P.

K. Carroll:
Horatio makes for an interesting pet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a psychic beetle before. What was your inspiration for him?

Kat: I keep trying to figure this out, to be honest, and I’m not sure exactly what inspired me. He came into the story at first as just a beetle–odd looking, but not necessarily sentient or magical. I wanted something strange to happen, something that would link to Angel’s past in the first book. Angel’s little foster brother Zack is based quite a bit on my son, who is really into bugs. I happen to think beetles are rather amazing with their enormous variety and the way they can actually look metallic. So I picked a beetle to be that linking element with Zack finding it in their back yard.

But I felt there was a stronger connection between Gregor (the character who has been searching for Angel) and Horatio than owner and pet. And having Horatio sentient helped the plot tremendously. The truly deep connection that allowed Gregor to really communicate with Horatio–and later, that allows Angel and Horatio to communicate–fully formed as I wrote. I kept seeing him as something “more”…a kind of spirit guide or something, He’s ancient and mysterious and knows a lot more than he lets on. I intend to explore this a lot more in the third book and possibly reveal where he came from…

K. Carroll: Both Finding Angel and Seeking Unseen have a theme of science and magic clashing, with unsavory results. Why is this?

Kat: I am a science geek (I have a bachelor degree in biology) and it came naturally for me to include a lot of science in the books. But the reason I made it a clash is symbolic. Christians and atheists clash over science, not because the facts change–gravity is real, covalent bonds exist, there really are fossils buried in the ground, etc.–but because of the worldview behind our observations of those facts. I wanted to set up a situation in which science is a real thing, studied by people with magic, the way science is a real thing in the real world, studied by people of Christian faith.

When you bring those things together, though, there will be a clash. The science on Toch island is studied with the worldview of the Empowered (my term for those with magic). When certain characters come into the story and look at science from a non-magic perspective they can’t see the whole picture. They try to force it into this box, make it a genetic thing, and they end up crossing moral lines. I see that happening in our world–scientists and doctors crossing moral lines because they see people as walking DNA strands instead of complete beings of both body and soul.

K. Carroll:
I’m already itching for more books with Melinda. Any in mind?

Kat: Oh, yes! As I said, Melinda is rather demanding. She pretty well took over Seeking Unseen and her story will definitely continue into a third (and likely final) book, which is as yet untitled. The ending of Seeking Unseen makes it pretty clear that there is another story to be told, and I definitely think Melinda is the one to tell most of it. Angel will be there, and I do think some parts will be in her point of view, just like in Seeking Unseen. But it is going to be much more Melinda’s story.

Here are a few hints: It’s going to have a time-travel-ish situation and a dilemma Melinda must face regarding that situation. And Melinda generally doesn’t like being cornered…

K. Carroll: Will they ever swap their horses for dragonback riding? 😉

Kat: Is that a challenge? Heehee. I could possibly work in some dragonback riding–there are certainly enough dragons to choose from on the island. And if Melinda has her say, there would never be any horseback riding, ever. Smelly beasts in her opinion, but dragons have nice, clean scales :).

Find Kat on Facebook or visit her blog!

Book review: Asylum, by Ashley Hodges Bazer

Genre: Adult science fiction.

Summary: Ghost captain Chase Leighton’s wife, Trista, is captured by the Progressive Legacy and arrested for her affiliation with the Ghosts. Though publicly pronounced dead, she is handed over to the Legacy’s Experimental Medicine Agency.

Chase searches for her, despite the news that she’s been executed. He and his men are ambushed and sentenced to the Straightjacket, a ship-based facility for the criminally insane. Systems analyst Krissa Carlisle is temporarily assigned to the ship to fix their computers. As she is working, Chase and the other inmates riot, taking Krissa as their prisoner. But when Chase comes face-to-face with Krissa, he recognizes her as Trista.

And that summary interested me enough to volunteer for a review copy.

A little bit more explanation: It’s kind of like Star Wars or Firefly, with the tiny rebel faction fighting the Big Powerful Government faction. The rebels are honorable and kind, and the bad guys are mean nasty bullies. The rebels also have people with Logia, kind of magic powers. Chase himself is what other books call a Technomancer, able to manipulate machines with his mind.

But the book’s main strength is its medical horror. If invasive surgeries, drugs, and the details of mind control creep you out, you might want to stay away. I personally don’t have a problem with it. The surgeries and procedures were interesting, and made me really feel sorry for Trista. She quickly became my favorite character because she fights the mind control so hard.

The first half of the book kind of rushes through the plot and throws a bunch of characters at you. Chase and Trista fade into the Main Cast for a while. But once Trista gets caught and Chase gets sent to prison, the book really takes off. The scenes with Chase trying to break through to Trista/Krissa are some of the best in the whole book, and worth the price of admission.

And there’s plenty of tension, with the bad guys coming to kick butt and take names (and minds, and lives). The conclusion felt kind of scattered and ended abruptly. But all the loose ends are tied up. As this is the first of a series, I’m curious as to what characters the next book will follow, as the entire cast seems to have interesting stories.