Art Showcase: Destiny 2 concept art

My brain is totally, creatively fried right now, so I’m filling my tank by looking at pretty art. Here’s some sweet, sweet eye candy:

Art by Sung Choi, Jeremy Fenske, Dorje Bellbrook, and other Bungie artists. They all have Artstation accounts!

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Good storytelling owns all

No art to show this week! I’m working on some, but it’s not done. Maybe next week.

Meanwhile, I wanted to write about something that I don’t want to write about. I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this blog post. Because I don’t want to admit that maybe, just maybe, all of the education I’ve given myself on how 2 rite gud is more or less worthless.

I won’t say that learning story structure and characterization and grammar and the rest of it is meaningless. That’s the basics of the craft, after all. All those are important for a writer to know.

But there’s a vast chasm between writing and storytelling. And a good storyteller can tell a story despite their lack of craft chops.

This is a hard pill for me to swallow. I’m a literary snob. When people misspell things or use bad grammar, I snicker at them. This author actually said “She was such a beautiful site”. Haha.

And then those books go on to be bestsellers. My literary snobdom means nothing.

When I was in high school, one of my assigned reading books was Smokey the Cowhorse by James Will. At first, I thought it was the worst-written book I’d ever seen. Here is the first page.

As a know-it-all teen, I rolled my eyes at this vernacular. Oh gosh, what pile of trash am I reading THIS time? I moaned. But it was assigned, so I kept reading.

And wouldn’t you know, it turned out to be such a good story, a kind of Western Black Beauty, that I stopped noticing the vernacular. I was hooked, and to this day, this book remains one of those shining reads in my mind.

The other day, I was poking around fanfiction dot net for something decent to read. I ran across a Destiny story that sounded interesting, took a look, and after a few pages, was hooked. I read all ten chapters and I’m waiting breathlessly for more.

And yet, this is the first page.

There’s passive voice. There’s boring description. The paragraphs are long and dense. There’s very little dialogue. And yet, the story being told is absolutely riveting. You wouldn’t even know it’s Destiny, because it’s set about five hundred years before the game, after civilization has collapsed, and humanity is ruled by these warlords. It’s like medieval fantasy post apocalypse science fiction, and it’s great.

The writing, itself, is obtuse and hard to follow. But man, the story. I would drop cash to read this story. It’s called The Lords of Ambros, if you’d like to take a look.

All this is to say, the writing community obsesses about adverbs and character arcs and all the other minutiae of the craft. In the end, only story matters. As a literary snob, this galls me to say. But it’s true.

Failure: what drives the beta hero

Lately, I’ve found myself writing a lot about characters who are failures.

At this stage of my life, I’m now older than a whole lot of people. I have the leisure to look around at peoples’ lives, particularly the “failure” kinds. You know, the people who get on social media and weep that their book only sold four copies, so it’s a failure and they’re taking it down. And then they leave the group when people tell them to try harder.

Failure is such a nebulous thing. In school, you get a big fat F and have to repeat a class or rewrite a paper. That sucks. It’s like being slapped in the face. But all it means is that you didn’t meet a certain standard set by the teacher or the school. Kids don’t have this perspective. Failure is the END OF EVERYTHING OMG.

But once you become an adult, what is failure, really? When you go bankrupt? You’re still alive–you can start over. When your project doesn’t sell? When people say nasty things about you? What is the failure point? Those are all setbacks, not the END. The END is when you’re dead.

Success can feel like failure when it eats you alive and rockets you to an all new tax bracket. Talk to lottery winners about this.

So, in my pondering failures and what it means to fail, I sat down and wrote a superhero trilogy with a beta hero.

Beta males are fascinating to me, especially in a team dynamic. It’s the sidekick, the guy who is content to let somebody else lead. He usually has his own interests and ideas, but he keeps them to himself. He’s easy-going, and plays off the driven personality of the alpha male.

But what happens when the beta hero is forced to become the leader?

You guessed it: failure. Lots and lots of failure as he has to learn to make decisions. Sometimes he makes bad decisions because he’s not good at this leadership thing. This creates friction with his friends, and especially the previous alpha male, who can see the outcome of all these mistakes miles away and is gnashing his teeth at his friend’s perceived stupidity.

This is fun to play with in a superhero setting, because everyone on the team has some kind of power. They could all be leaders, and they all have ever-present stakes as they fight the resident supervillain. In a setting like this, forcing the beta male into an alpha role is even more devastating. He could get all his friends killed with one bad choice … and he carries this knowledge as a terrible burden.

So, I present to you Guardian’s Awakening, first book in the After Atlantis trilogy.

guardians-awakening-cover-f

Tane is the beta in his team of superheroes–the muscle who lets his team do the thinking. He and his friends defend their small town on the Atlantean Isles from the experimental robots of a neighboring mad scientist, earning enough bounty to live on.

When Tane discovers a mysterious gem that threatens to take over his mind, he accidentally drags his friends into becoming the crew of the mysterious Mercury Island. In addition, the island accepts Tane as its Guardian, making him the leader of the group. This sparks a cascade of conflicts between himself and the previous leader, Sebastian, who doubts and questions Tane at every turn. To make matters worse, they discover that a girl lies in stasis deep within the island–and she is the most powerful super of all.

Now Tane is in deeper and deeper trouble as the girl’s powers awaken, attracting the attention of supervillains and monsters alike. But she is the key to making Mercury Island fly again.

Tane has only begun to grow into his Guardian role, but his enemies–and allies–may kill him first.

Available here on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited


This book is a little heavier on the “Fantasy” end of superhero fantasy, but don’t worry. The next book will be heavier on the “superhero” end.

New dragon cozy–all the new things

I’ve been super busy the last week or so. Let me show you the list:

I’ve got the paperback of Malicious formatted and almost ready to go. Just waiting on my proof copy to show up. Not quite ready for sale yet, alas!

The whole Puzzle Box trilogy, Malevolent, Malcontent, and Malicious, are available in a single omnibus now. I’m debating turning it into a paperback, because it’s kind of a tome. For sale now on the platform of your choice! Except Smashwords. Smashwords is a pain.

I also got off my tush and finished the edits on the second dragon cozy mystery I’ve been working on. Here it is!


cozy-mystery2-cover

A fad diet has swept Carefree, Arizona. Tianna, drake shifter, has her hands full trying to invent a type of ice cream that meets the diet’s rigorous standards before the celebrity creator arrives. But when the diet creator turns up dead, Tianna must call upon her drake skills to sniff out the culprit.

A whirlwind of intrigue sweeps her in, from shifty cameramen to secretive publicists, as well as an abandoned chihuahua who knows more than she lets on. Helped (and hindered) by her friends Katie and Bruce, Tianna must find the killer hidden among the tour team before they leave town, letting the killer escape and strike again … or before Tianna gets too close and winds up on ice.

Available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!


 

There you have it, folks. Where I’ve been when I’m not shmoozing around social media … working! Next project is launching this superhero trilogy. Still working through edits on that, as well as building covers for it. Trying to make it look as epic as the story inside truly is. 😀

New book covers and stuff

I get quiet on this blog when I’m busy creating things. Here are some of the pretty things I’ve been working on:

I’ve been working on making new covers for my historical shifter stories. Aren’t they pretty? Much better than the terrible covers they had before. These are set in a fantasy world loosely based on the Regency period in England, so you have women in dresses and men in top hats drinking tea and sometimes turning into monsters. There’s romance, but no sex. Which is one reason I think they don’t sell much, ha! But I still love them all. And yes, they each feature a different kind of shifter. I still think the werefox is the most original (nothing like a good cup of tea to set you right!).

I’ve finally completed an audiobook of the second fanfic in the series I was doing. Here’s the first audiobook, and here’s the second one. I got a lot of advice on the first one, namely, “DON’T TALK SO FAST!” So I tried to slow it down a lot for this second one. I find that talking slower leads to a better performance, too. I’m sure there’s seasoned actors out there snickering at me for figuring this out. I feel like I’m slowly building up courage to record an audiobook of my original work.

In other news, I’ve been drawing a lot and writing a lot. It’s amazing how a nice, boring, routine life promotes a creative mind. The kids love being on a routine, because they always know what we’re doing next (even if it’s math).

I feel like I’m slowly coming out of this scary survival place where I’ve been hiding for the last decade. It’s hard to be creative when your brain is shut down in fear all the time. But things are stable, and I feel like I’m turning back into a human being again. All I want to do is create things. And you can tell, because look how pretty those new covers are!

Here’s a composite artwork I’m very proud of, too:

artemis-dream

This is me drawing a made-up Sonic character, then going crazy with Photoshop compositing and various special effects brushes. Oh yeah, those tutorials on matte painting are paying off.

Christmas Story: A Candle in the Forest

It’s almost Christmas, and that means it’s almost time for Candle in the Forest! This is a sweet little story that I like to post each year. It’ll get you into the Christmas spirit in a jiffy.

christmas_by_lucky008
Christmas by lucky008

Candle in the Forest
by Temple Bailey

The small girl’s mother was saying, “The onions will be silver,
and the carrots will be gold–”
“And the potatoes will be ivory,” said the small girl, and they
laughed together. The small girl’s mother had a big white bowl in her
lap, and she was cutting up vegetables. The onions were the hardest,
because she cried over them.
“But our tears will be pearls,” said the small girl’s mother,
and they laughed at that and dried their eyes, and found the carrots
much easier, and the potatoes the easiest of all.
Then the next-door-neighbor came in and said, “What are you doing?”

Read more

A sense of wonder

David Farland says that all stories need the following beats in varying amounts: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama. Depending on the genre, you might have more suspense or more romance, more humor or more horror.

One that I enjoy and don’t find very often is the sense of wonder.

Dave Farland gives the reason for this.

When you’re a child—between the ages of 0 and 11—you’re in what I will call the “discovery” phase of life, a time when much of the world seems strange and new to you. In some ways, the world seems boundless, because every time that you turn around you learn about some new wonder or some new region of the world that you have never heard about. And so children in that age are predisposed to what I, and a few others, call “wonder literature.”

In wonder literature, the main emotional draw (outside of the essential story itself) is typically that it arouses a sense of wonder. Hence, stories set in fantastic settings are extremely interesting to children. But when you encounter something new—say a new animal—there is more than one possible outcome to the encounter.

1) The encounter can in some way be more satisfying than you had imagined. (In which case a sense of wonder is aroused.)

2) The encounter can twist away from your expectations in a way that is neither wondrous nor terrible. (In which case a laugh is usually evoked.)

3) The encounter can be more painful or traumatizing than you had imagined possible. (In which case terror or horror are aroused.)

Because of this young readers, by virtue of age alone, are biologically predisposed to be drawn to works of wonder (fantasy or science fiction), humor, and horror. Those are the largest draws for them.

Source

Maybe it’s because I have kids in this age range who are really into wonder literature, but I like it, too. I want some wonder mixed into my mystery or romance or fantasy. Something new and unexpected that makes me sit up and go, “What is this? Tell me more!”

sagittarius_by_sandara-dbv6svo
Saggitarius by Sandara. What is this?? A sci-fi faun??

One of my favorite things in urban fantasy is when a myth, creature, or historical period is given a new twist. A Minotaur who has become a Buddhist? The conquistadors used black magic to subjugate the Native Americans? The number of people who disappear every year are the same percentage as herd animals eaten by predators? Hitler was a werewolf? TELL ME MORE.

I love this genre because it’s fantasy, mystery, wonder, and drama all in one package. Its also a very glutted genre, full of copycats. Like a copy machine trying to copy a copy of a copy, about all that’s left is the darkest of the lines. Urban fantasy has gotten darker and grittier, the detectives ever more hard boiled, the monsters ever more nonsensically sexy. Lighter strokes, like wonder and humor, have fallen by the wayside. The humor has become darker and meaner.

Yesterday I was clicking through a promotion page of urban fantasy books on sale. They went like this:

dondossantos--fantasy-books-fantasy-art
The art of Don Dos Santos for the novel Black Blade Blues

A woman/man has fire magic/is half-demon/is a vampire/is a dragon/is some other magical creature. They have just moved to a new city/lost a job/broken up with a partner. Then an assassin finds them/they find a mysterious magical item/they are hired to find something/kill someone. But that mission will damn the main character/empower the villain/doom the world.

Dozens of books. Same plots. Same characters. Maybe the summaries were bad at conveying what made their books unique? But there’s no hint at wonder, or fun, or the other experiences I want from this genre.

When I wrote the Malevolent books, my goal was to invert the expectations of vampire romance novels. I lampshaded the heck out of the tropes, sort of like elbowing a friend and going, “She’ll never figure out he’s a vampire! Eh? Eh?”

As I’m rewriting this new Spacetime book, I’m kind of doing the same thing. Sure, James and Indal are running around Phoenix and hitting clubs. They’re also exploring a mysterious island in a pocket dimension that exists on the other side of a door in James’s apartment. The island keeps spawning new terrain–mountains, forests, monoliths, and so on. There’s a huge silver disc-clock-thing that changes when the island does. The bad guys are very interested in it, but the heroes have no idea what any of it does. The island and its secrets will drive the whole series.

magic-disc-wip
A very early conceptual version of the disc, made by me.

This concept intrigues me. It fires up my sense of wonder. I want to know what will appear on the island next, what new wonders or dangers the heroes will encounter. Sure, there’s the usual urban fantasy trappings–werewolves, demon satyrs, vampire elves, protagonists who kid around and make jokes. The whole package all together is like candy to my brain.

I’m going to send the first chapter to my newsletter subscribers on Friday. If you’d like a sneak peek, sign up! I’m trying to ramp up my newsletter, turn it into a fun thing to read. I’ll include pretty art and progress reports on how writing is going, as well as exclusive sneak peeks.

You guys can also help me pick a title, since I have no idea what to call this book. The working title is Island of Elements, but that’s more of a series title than an individual book.

How about you? What flavors do you prefer in your books: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama?

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.

 

Finally old enough to write fanfic

Yesterday I finally finished writing a fanfic trilogy. Good grief, I am so fried.

I wrote the first story a few years ago as an experiment with a new world. I had tentatively planned it as a trilogy (three is such a nice number), but I didn’t expect a lot of feedback on it. After a while, comments trickled in. Very positive comments. So earlier this year, I wrote story #2. The comments on that were even more positive.

So I just finished writing the third story. I took the conflict deep. I was laughing at it, though. The big finale is basically everyone standing around talking about all the things they’ve been hiding from each other. And it’s massively intense. Yes, it’s Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic. You can find the trilogy in order here.

(That’s why my poor blog has been neglected this month. Every spare second of writing time has gone into that story.)

As I was cooling down from the final intense writing session, I got to thinking about the difference between my old stories and these three new ones.

As a teen, writing my Sonic stories, I tended to come up against things that I didn’t know how to write. Like romance. The depth of love between friends. The true meaning of sacrifice. I knew all these things in a theoretical way, but I had never experienced them. So I wrote about them as best as I could and hoped nobody noticed that I had no idea what I was talking about.

Fast forward eleven years. I got married, had five kids, moved across country. I experienced joy, grief, homesickness, poverty, plenty, you name it. A lot of furious living in those eleven years.

So, this time when I sat down to write about love and sacrifice, I was able to handle it in a completely different way. These characters feel it, man. Especially in this final story, when the conflicts of the whole trilogy come to a head. Here’s one of my artworks and the scene that it’s from:

perfect_chaos_confrontation_by_netraptor-dbn25et
Perfect Chaos Confrontation by me

The island settled beneath Knuckles, touching down in the sea with a light shock. Now he was lower than Chaos, looking up at the huge, rippling head in the morning light. It was impossibly blue, turquoise at the edges, indigo in the middle. Could it really eat him? Did it have a stomach? It didn’t seem to have any organs at all, aside from the suggestion of a brain between its eyes.
Knuckles drew quick, panicked breaths, the floating feeling of unreality settling over him again. “I want to negotiate the outcome of this sacrifice,” he heard himself say.
In his headset, the AI Ramussan said slowly, “What did you just say?”
Chaos studied Knuckles, the huge head swinging closer. “I will hear your terms.”
Knuckles drew a deep breath, trying to speak without screaming. “Lift the blood curse from the line of Solaris.”
“Guardian, no!” Ramussan screamed. “Someone stop him! He’s about to throw himself to Chaos!”
His friends’ voices broke into a panicked clamor. Knuckles ignored them. He gazed into the monster’s nearest eye, which was focused on him intently.
“Much depends on you,” Chaos replied. “I will draw power from your death. If you contain enough, I can, perhaps, lift the curse. It was laid with the power of my beloved’s death. Perhaps you can match that. Perhaps not.”
It was a good a bargain as he was likely to get. “And you’ll keep your word?” Knuckles said, his voice faltering. Annihilation stared him in the face. His entire being wanted to turn and run for his life.
“I can’t find him!” Sonic was yelling. “Shadow, where is he?”
The black hedgehog teleported to the path up the hill from Knuckles, a hand pressed to his headset. He and Knuckles exchanged a long look.
“He’s not at the dock,” Shadow said coolly.
Chaos lifted his head higher, stretching upward on a thick neck made of water. “I always keep my word.”
The huge head curved over Knuckles, the jaws opening. Teeth made of water lined the jaws, clear as icicles. Knuckles looked up into the maw, detached, terrified, and saw there was no throat. It was all just a shape made of water with no real body.
Then the shape fell apart into a crashing waterfall. It struck Knuckles like a tidal wave, sweeping him off the rock and into the sea with the speed of a rip tide.
Shadow watched. “We’re too late,” he said into the headset. “There was nothing I could do. Chaos took him.”


I feel like I’m finally old enough to write fan fiction properly. Isn’t that funny? Most people who write it are young people, like teens. Maybe most teens don’t try to write the grand epic stuff like I wanted to.

Tell you what, though, it’ll be so nice to dive into editing Malicious for the next few weeks. In the the meantime, I’ll be catching up on my reading. Got to fill the creativity tank!