Landscape painting practice

Lately I’ve been trying to improve my neglected art skills. If I drew as much as I wrote, I’d be fantastic by now.

Anyway, the internet is awash in tutorials. People are so generous with their knowledge! So here’s three landscapes I’ve painted lately, with the tutorials I used. You know, in case you’d like to try them, too.

landscape-tut1
Landscape with ruins, painted from this tutorial
landscape-sunset-skull
Draconic horizons, painted from this tutorial
tutorial-forest-painting
Misty forest, painted from this tutorial

I’m trying to do very different color palettes and styles, here. Keeps them different and interesting. Eventually I’ll work up to painting landscapes from real photos. 😀

Advertisements

Choosing a word for the year

I don’t think I ever picked a word for last year. I was looking over my resolutions post from last year, and I seem to remember that it was something like Fun or Moving Forward.

This year, my word is Steadfast. It goes along with this Bible verse:

Hebrews 10: 35-36: Do not, therefore, fling away your [fearless] confidence, for it has a glorious and great reward. For you have need of patient endurance [to bear up under difficult circumstances without compromising], so that when you have carried out the will of God, you may receive and enjoy to the full what is promised. 

This year, I’m going to keep on keeping on.

Last year, I was trying to take my art in new directions, trying out streaming with my husband, trying out new school things for the kids. Over the course of the year, what I discovered is that simplicity works best. When it comes to school, a pile of workbooks and read alouds has been great for us. I’ve found some holes in my kids’ education, and we’ve been fixing those this year. It’s been great to have that focus.

Streaming fell by the wayside when we found out that we don’t have the hours and hours of free time necessary to make streaming work. We’ve just been playing games together for fun. Same effect, less stress.

Books published last year were books 2 and 3 of the Puzzle Box trilogy, and the first book of a paranormal cozy mystery with dragons. I also made the decision to unpublish the Spacetime books and completely redo them from scratch. I was still learning when I wrote them, and they were pretty much an unreadable mess.

I also wrote two book-length fanfics toward the end of the year. I just couldn’t get the stories out of my head, and I was very pleased at the way they turned out. It also showed me that it’s better to write for fun than to try to write for money. I’ve been so money-focused for so long that I lost track of the fun. And my writing wasn’t very fun to read. So this year, I’m going to try to balance my writing with more fun. I want to dare to dream and experiment and write crazy things.

I do have the new first Spacetime book in revisions, as well as the second dragon cozy. I’m looking forward to publishing those in the early part of this year, before summer, probably. After that, I want to take a crack at writing a stand-alone fairytale fantasy. Kind of Sleeping Beauty meets Howl’s Moving Castle. Since it’s barely in the concept stage right now, I have no idea if that will be out this year or next. I’ve observed that fairytale fantasies tend to balloon to massive length their authors didn’t intend.

howlscastle
Howl’s Moving Castle from the Studio Ghibli film

If you followed my blog last year, you saw all these little discoveries and growing pains. I want to thank you deeply for coming back and reading my strange little scribblings. I now have more blog followers than I’ve ever had before, and I’m excited and humbled to see you all.

I also want to blog more regularly–once a week, if possible. And good pithy topics. It’s hard to be pithy once a week, but it’s a good goal to have. Let’s see if I can’t knock the chupacabra blog post off the #1 spot for the year.

My top blog posts of 2017

As we hit a new year, it’s fun to look back and see what bonkers things people came to my blog to read. As usual, the Google image search sent lots of people here for my chupacabra pictures. But aside from that, here’s what else got hits:

#1. Stuff about the chupacabra, or Texas blue dogs

#2. Shouting into the void

#3. Shut up and take my money – a conversation about book piracy

#4. Marketing (and how nobody knows how to do it)

#5. 14 things I learned from urban fantasy

#6. The real reason that Christians don’t read fantasy

#7. Five worldbuilding tricks I learned from the show GRIMM

#8. Waterfall City vs. Theed, Naboo

#9. 23 books reviewed in a minute

As usual, my clickbait headlines did really well, as did anything with interesting pictures, like the angry post comparing Star Wars episode 1 with James Gurney’s Dinotopia. (I later realized that Disney’s Atlantis ripped off his second book, The World Beneath. But I don’t want to watch that movie again to prove it.)

I’ll do some more posts soon about what I learned in publishing and marketing this year. 2017 was a year of revelations, and it’ll be fun to boil them down.

04029_sunriseofbaishimountain_1920x1080
Sunrise of Baishi Mountain, from InterfaceLift

Audiobooks are hard to do

Audiobooks are exploding right now. There’s lots of articles talking about how everybody likes to listen to books on their phones, like this one. Listening to books on your commute is another one. I’m constantly seeing cozy mystery readers who are frustrated that their favorite series aren’t available on audiobook yet (especially people whose eyesight isn’t so good.)

I’ve been tossing around the idea of narrating my own books, for example, my cozy dragon mysteries. They have a female protagonist, and I think it would be a good fit. But I need to practice. So when somebody asked me if I planned to turn my fanfics into audiobooks, I thought, why not?

The fun thing about fanfics is I don’t have to mess with Audible. I can drop them on Youtube without worrying about Audible’s strict sound quality requirements. I can flounder around and make production mistakes and have volume issues and nobody cares because, hey, fanfic.

thunderhead_and_pirate_ship_by_ebineyland-d6ff3yz
Thunderhead and pirate ship by Ebineyland

My hubby gets up at 4:30 AM most mornings for work. I get up with him, and after he leaves, I have about an hour before the kids wake up. Beautiful, beautiful silence. So that’s when I sit and record a chapter, which usually takes about ten minutes. My hubby has a very nice microphone that I commandeer.

I still had a bit of echo after my first few attempts, so I scoured the internet for workarounds. A lot of people record in their closets, where the hanging clothes muffle the sound. My closet is about eighteen inches deep and filled with junk, so that’s not an option. Then I found a podcasting tips website. This podcast is more like a radio drama. They recommended recording with a duvet draped over you and the mic. I tried it, and my background echo vanished. People are so brilliant.

Over the course of several weeks, I recorded all fourteen chapters of a fanfic. I learned to repeat a phrase if I stuttered or coughed or something, which made clipping it out during editing so much easier. I used an old, free version of Adobe Audition. I had used it years ago, when it was Cool Edit Pro, before Adobe acquired it. I know how to use the program well enough to remove background noise and things like that.

Then I actually listened to my recording. Egads, I thought. I’m BORING. I read like a robot. I enunciate very carefully, and I do the voices decently, but the straight narration! It’s so dull! How do professional audiobook narrators pull it off?

Well, the best ones are all actors, for one thing. You’re giving a performance.

I went ahead and posted my boring performance–it’s just a fanfic and it’s good practice–and now I’m starting on a second one. This time I’m trying to be more expressive and really perform. It’s quite a bit harder than just reading!

I thought I’d put this out there for other authors who are considering narrating their own audiobooks. Practice first! What sounds good as you read it may sound pretty dull when you’re playing it back.

Art for fun or profit?

I’ve been rediscovering how much fun it is to create art and stories about things I love. I thought I had done that with the Malevolent books. But writing this new Spacetime book has been even more so. And fanfics are the most fun of all.

But I feel guilty about fanfics. I’ve had this idea for a long time that art is worthless unless you can make money off it.

Isn’t that a sad, mercenary thought? It’s crept into my thinking and sapped the joy right out of art. When I do allow myself to play with art, it results in teaching the kids to make pumpkins out of clay.

clay-pumpkins

Or in me giving them a crash course in Photoshop. Or the basics of animation.

But none of those things add cash to the coffers, so I sadly steer my brain cells away from them. Instead, I work furiously on my “real” art: book covers, stories written to be published, and so on. I’ve had moderate success with them.

Writing a fanfic feels like a guilty pleasure. I’ve allowed myself one per year for the last few years. This year? I wrote two book-length fanfics, back to back. I hang my head and shuffle my feet. You can’t make money off fanfics, after all. It’s a waste of time. Except I love it so much.

Is it okay to make art purely because you love it?

On my Facebook, someone was talking about this podcast episode of Makers and Mystics. Ken Helser was talking about this idea that we have to make money off our art, and how bad it is.

He told a story about a woman who had a beautiful singing voice. Everyone around her told her that she needed to go professional. So she scraped together the money to record a demo tape and went knocking on doors in Nashville. Everyone said the same thing. “You have a great voice, but you’re not what we’re looking for right now.”

Discouraged, the woman returned to her hotel room and lay on the bed. “God,” she cried out, “why did you give me this voice if you don’t want me to use it?”

God replied, “I thought that you would enjoy it.”

I’ve pondered that and pondered that since I listened to it. You mean that we can just enjoy our art? We don’t have to make a living with it? But that’s crazy, isn’t it? If we have a talent, we should milk it for all it’s worth!

Then I look at the quality of work I produce while trying to be “commercial”, vs the work I produce while playing. The stuff I produce during play is far superior.

When you give yourself permission to play, the shackles come off. You try things. You make a mess. You make a lot of mistakes, but you can quickly iterate on those mistakes and improve. I watch my three-year-old learning to color. She colors the same picture over and over (printing out coloring sheets), until she’s gotten it perfect. It’s play. It’s also iteration.

I’m going to give myself more permission to play and less pressure to sell. It certainly makes life brighter, and the kids happier.

jungle-tower
Jungle Tower, by me. Because it was fun.

 

Eleven things I learned from fairy tales

I decided to go on a fairy tale binge recently, so I picked up the Red Fairy Book. Such a delightful bunch of stories! And some of them have an oddly deep look at human psychology. So, here’s what I learned:

  • Towers. Useful for locking up cursed/doomed/otherwise troublesome princesses. Very rarely do princes get locked in towers.
  • Evil is ugly. An ugly person is nearly always evil. Sometimes good can appear ugly, but never for very long.
  • Good is beautiful. A beautiful person is always good. Sometimes evil can appear beautiful, but never for very long. There’s an interesting dichotomy about clothes here, too. A suffering princess dressed in rags can be given beautiful clothes when her goodness wins the day. But it was always her inner moral goodness that made her beautiful in the first place.
  • Princesses. These girls have all the problems. They get cursed, they make bad choices, they get curious about that one locked door in the castle that Dad told them never to open … yeah. They always land in the moral problems.
  • fairytale-art-fairytale-painting
    Painted by Amanda Clark
  • Princes. These guys have a different set of problems. Their challenges are almost always physical. They have to slay trolls, overcome puzzles, outwit evil enchanters, and find how to sneak into the towers where the princesses are locked up. There was one very interesting story about a very good prince who was a hunchback who was locked in a tower. Over a series of adventures, he is healed and made to look as beautiful as he was on the inside. This was the one exception to the Evil is Ugly example I’ve found so far.
  • Trolls. These guys always have multiple heads. They also carry a flask of some kind that instantly heals you. So if you have to fight a troll and you’re grievously injured, just find his flask and rub some of his oil on you. Corollary: sometimes the flask grants super strength instead, when you need to lift a truly enormous sword in order to fight the troll.
  • Horses. Whenever they appear, they’re almost always magical. Often they talk or have amazing super powers of travel. If a horse says something to you, he’s always right. Do what he says.
  • Other animals. If an animal begs for you to spare its life and it’ll repay you later, DO IT. If they give weird advice, like pick an acorn from yonder tree and whack the trunk three times with a willow twig, DO IT. If they say not to share your food with the prince, DO IT.
  • Fairies. Fairies are basically angels. They come to test mortals and see how good they are. If the mortal passes the test, they’re rewarded with all kinds of gifts, curses lifted, ugliness removed, etc. If they fail, they have toads come out of their mouth for the rest of their life.
  • Witches. They can turn into things. Inanimate objects. Animals. They’re always evil and scheming, kind of the antithesis of a fairy. Bad fairies and witches are about the same.
  • Wicked stepmothers. The main antagonist of fairytales. These are women who marry a dude who had kids from his previous marriage. The stepmother proceeds to abuse her step-children to the point of actively trying to murder them. See: Graciosa and Percinet. (I think, in the metaphorical sense, Graciosa IS murdered at the end.)

So that’s what I learned from my fairy tale binge. I kind of want to write some fairy tale adapts now. 😀

Sneak peek at Malicious

Ah, the Puzzle Box trilogy. It was supposed to be published, all three books, in one year. And then I got pregnant. Here we are, two years later, with the final book almost ready to launch. I’m aiming for November, since I’m still deep in revisions before I hand it off to my poor editor.

It’s a YA paranormal romance trilogy that I wrote after reading way too many paranormal romances. I was tired of the girl never having any inkling that vampires or werewolves existed until her new, alluring boyfriend flashed a fang. I mean, really? How can a girl exist in this world without ever having seen a vampire on TV?

warrior-angel-high-fantasy

So Libby, my heroine, is what they call genre-savvy. She plays videogames and reads fantasy books. She pegs Mal as a vampire straight off, even though he’s a different kind of monster. (White skin – check. Super speed – check. Unusual strength – check. Never seems to eat food – check.) Later on, when she finds out that he’s a lich, she knows what that is because of videogame knowledge. Same for other monsters like revenants, ghouls, zombies, and so on. Mal is always astonished at her knowledge. And all she does is play videogames.

Mal is a lich. That means that he’s only sort of undead. His soul has been removed and stored in a container called a phylactery. He still has his mind and spirit, but the human part, with all positive emotions, are in his soul. Without it, he’s a creature of negative emotions: anger, hate, loathing, all that jazz. It also gives him massive death magic powers. But Mal never wanted to be a lich, and is desperately seeking a way to return his soul. So he keeps specially-bred bees that collect life magic from flowers and store it in their honey. By eating their honey, he can simulate human life, which keeps his death magic in check.

And then there’s the Necromancer, who is intent on turning Mal into a proper evil monster who can follow in his footsteps.

Book 1 is on sale right now at all retailers. If you’ve already read the first two books, here’s a sneak peek at the beginning of book 3, after the devastation that was the ending of book 2.

Continue reading “Sneak peek at Malicious”

Shouting into the void

Controversial topic ahead. About religion. You have been warned.

Okay, so, I’ve been reading some fantasy from Christian authors. I used to read Christian fantasy all the time as a teen, simply because that’s all I knew how to find. Our library didn’t have a lot in the way of juvenile science fiction and fantasy in the early 90s. (Boy, it sure does now!)

Anyway, once I started reading adult fantasy/sci-fi, I stopped reading the Christian stuff. I especially got into urban fantasy, where gods and monsters ride motorcycles and eat greasy Chinese food on the weekends. In this brand of fantasy, if you need to interact with God, you do it very respectfully, usually through an angel. All the other gods and monsters dislike messing with Heaven, because God is the Big Boss.

the_angel_by_therafa-dagah2h
The angel, by The Rafa

So I’ve been reading some Christian fantasy, and I’ve run into something that bothers me. These characters pray all the time, and I do mean all the time. They attribute everything that happens to God’s will. When bad things happen, they spout platitudes about God’s mysterious ways.

But they’re shouting into a void. God never answers. There might be a coincidence now and then that is attributed to God, but God himself is absent.

After spending so much time in other branches of fantasy, where the gods not only intervene in daily affairs, they all bow to the high God, who also intervenes on behalf of his worshipers … this leaves me scratching my head. A lot of these books are written by non-Christians, as far as I know. So why are the Christians the ones the most distant from their own God? God talks to people all the time in the Bible. He’s talked to me quite clearly in my own life.

Even Cthulhu will answer if called to long enough and hard enough.

So why is God silent in Christian fantasy?

 

Making art again

So I’ve been trying to make art more often, now that I have a new tablet. The littlest ones are old enough to sit and watch videos while I draw, which means I actually get to focus on my doodles.

I recently discovered the joys of texture brushes. They make painting a lot of little things, like leaves, a lot more pleasant.

Or chains.
chained-tree

I thought it might be nice to try a matte painting tutorial. The one I found turned out to use a lot of stock photos that you have to buy first, and my attempts to Google comparative images was hit and miss. I gave up, but produced this.

matte-painting-1

However, I learned a few things, I tried my hand at speedpainting a mountain scene. It’s more a study in values and atmospheric perspective than anything–both things I need to study up on.

mountain-painting-practice

Here’s the painting I did today, using these cloud brushes for Photoshop. They’re kind of odd and blocky, but they stack well with themselves. It was also fun to paint a dragonish creature there in the foreground. I’m super rusty, though. I need to get back into the swing of art.

sunset-dragon

So there you have it. My super-productive week. :-p

Love is the motive

I’ve been brainstorming up a new Sonic story. I write about one per year, and it makes my fans so happy.

Anyway, as I was figuring out the character arcs for everybody, it dawned on me that the root motive of every last character is some kind of love. And it’s funny, because it’s has almost no romance.

One character loves his sister with this obsession, because she was in stasis for years and has just recently awakened again. He’s extremely jealous of the other characters for having any contact at all with her.

The other characters are fond of the sister, except for one character, who falls in love with her magic. This is bad for him, because the magic is slowly killing him.

All of them love their home island, which has been stolen from them by the bad guy, and they’re struggling to get it back.

As I was pondering this, I started looking at other books. Who else is motivated by love? Harry Potter? (Love of friends and home.) The Railway Children? (Love of family.) Trumpet of the Swan? (Love of family.)

Apis_mellifera_-_Melilotus_albus_-_Keila

It’s interesting, because I’ve also been plotting out murder mysteries for my dragon cozy series. Murderers are motivated by everything except love: lust, greed, jealousy, pride, anger, and so on. (Is sloth ever a motivation for murder? You’d think a slothful person would be too lazy to kill anyone.)

It’s interesting to see the way things turn out. A bad motive leads to evil actions. A good motive (like love) can lead to good outcomes, except when it doesn’t. (I’m thinking of the necromancer in Malevolent who is obsessed with resurrecting his dead wife.) Or when love of one’s country (patriotism) turns to frenzied conquering of the world.

But when you have selfless, sacrificial love, you get beautiful stories like Linnets and Valerians, which I just finished reading to the kids. Four children get caught up in a series of curses and black magic that surround this little English town. They have to break the curses with the help of friendly animals and good people, who are pitted against the evil animals and people. Their love has to overcome a bitter root of jealousy that has been there for years.

Autumn_Colors_and_Boat

I think the sacrificial love stories are the ones that stick with us the longest. That’s what makes a story beautiful. The nice thing is, it has nothing to do with romance. Oh, it works in romance, too, but love is so much bigger than that.

Villains can be motivated by love, too. Love of self is the easiest one–“I’m better than everybody else so I deserve better treatment/a better spouse/more money/to rule the world.” But what if a villain is motivated by love for a person? That’s why Mr. Freeze from Batman is one of my favorite villains. Everything he does is to try to save his wife, who is frozen in stasis with incurable cancer. The motivation there is fascinating.

So, next time you write a story, see if your characters are motivated by love in some way. Pay attention to movies and TV shows. Who is motivated by love, even if it’s twisted?

Jubilee_and_Munin,_Ravens,_Tower_of_London_2016-04-30