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.
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. 😀
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So there you have it. My super-productive week. :-p
I’ve been working hard on the third Malevolent book, Malicious. I’ve almost finished this revision cycle, and the book is awesome. But man, it didn’t start out that way.
I wrote Malcontent and Malicious when I was pregnant with our youngest. She’s seventeen months old now, and I’m just now finishing revisions on Malicious.
Malcontent was easy to write. I knew the conflicts and the villain. But I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with Malicious. The villain changed, the conflict changed, my hero and heroine’s relationship changed. The first draft was me flailing around going, “What am I even writing?”
When I got to the end, the lights came on. I spent the whole book brainstorming my villain. Only when they defeated him did it finally click. Then I had to go back and rewrite swaths of the book to make the villain fit my new understanding. (And a book came out last year that did almost my exact same ending twist. :facepalm:)
So, after pass after pass after pass, the book is finally approaching readability. I’m confident that my editor won’t curl up in the fetal position now.
It’s so weird to finally be finished with this trilogy. I didn’t realize what a huge project it would be when I started out. “Hey, it’s only three books. No problem!”
News flash: writing books is hard. Especially if you want other human beings to read them.
So now I’m in that downtime between projects, unsure what to do with myself. This is compounded by summer vacation setting in. The kids don’t know what to do with themselves. I’m thinking we should sign up for the library’s summer reading program this year. Last year, when it started, the kids book section was empty. I couldn’t figure out why all the books were gone. Surprise! The summer reading program had kicked off. The books were all back a few weeks later.
I’m working through my own TBR pile. Amazing how stuff just accumulates in your Kindle–out of sight, out of mind. Right now I’m reading a shlocky, clunky space opera–but hey, it’s light. I’m also playing some Minecraft mod packs. Amazing how many story ideas you can get from those. Right now I’m learning Thaumcraft, a kind of crazy alchemy pack.
I’m going to read through my Spacetime series, correct the commas and make the dialogue funnier. Then I’ve got to write that fifth book, which is an epic boss fight that wrecks the worlds. I think I need to binge on superhero movies for this one.
Figuring out that Spacetime has more in common with superheroes than with real urban fantasy has been such a relief. Urban fantasy usually features a tough protagonist in an urban setting tracking down fairy tale monsters.
Superhero fantasy involves people with super powers fighting each other. While there can be monsters, they’re more the “victims of science” kinds of monsters. Genetically-engineered mutants, robots, that kind of thing. Superheroes also get away with having aliens. Urban fantasy? Not so much, unless it’s a Men in Black kind of thing.
I also want to write more cozy dragon mysteries. They’re like curling up with a blanket and a mug of hot cocoa. I’ve got a second one nearly finished. I want to write a third one where my little dragon sleuth is hired by a cat, who thinks her mistress has been murdered but can’t prove it. Because this whole series is one long wishful thinking about talking to animals.
So that’s my long ramble about the various projects I’m working on. How about you? Got any projects simmering away?
Or less resolutions and more like my bucket list of things to do this year.
First up: how did things go last year?
Last year in January I had a 2-month-old baby. I meant to do one of these posts, but never actually did. My word for last year was “smile”. When you have a new baby, you have to smile at them a lot to teach them how to do it. I hadn’t smiled in so long, my face muscles had almost forgotten how. The kids kept asking, “Why are you smiling so much?” It made for a nicer atmosphere in our house, just me smiling even when I didn’t feel like it.
Last year kicked my butt. Between having a new baby, getting harassed by CPS (oh noes you let you kids play outside!), and having to move suddenly in October, it was a grueling, stressful year. Not to mention all the election garbage that saturated social media. Blah. Barf. I’m glad that’s over with.
I did manage to publish Werefox in March, and the fourth Spacetime book in June. I revised the next two Malevolent books, but didn’t quite manage to release book 2 in 2016. I just got the edits back this week and I’m hoping for a February release. I can even do a cover reveal in a few weeks. Yay!
So for 2017, here’s the lineup:
Publish books 2 and 3 of Malevolent
2. Edit/publish my dragon cozy mystery, Takes the Drake (think the Dresden Files, only fluffier, with ice cream).
3. Write the fifth Spacetime book, which will end Series 1. Not sure if I can write/publish it in 2017, but it’s worth a shot.
4. My hubby and I are starting to stream gaming together on our Beam channel Chronostrider Gaming. Eventually we plan to do it every weekend, and we’re planning to play every two-player co-op we can think of.
My oldest child will turn 10 this year. School is going to change gears into a heavier workload for him, I think. Right now we’ve sort of slipped into unschooling (moving right before the holidays seriously disorganized me), but we’ll be heading back into more structured school here in the new year. Gotta get these kids writing more. Their reading and math skills are great, but writing, not so much. That will go along with their science/history/book reports.
Ah, book reports. I’m making them do reports in the format of Amazon reviews. So far my two oldest kids have successfully sold each other on various books, with Twisted (a book about were-tornados) being the latest hit. We’re also reading the Saturdays aloud, with plans to read the entire Melendy series.
I’m also trying to learn how to use Daz3D to create artwork. So far it’s been fairly easy to learn posting and lighting … now I just have to learn to incorporate it into a larger artwork.
So that’s my very general agenda for the next year. As this past year has showed me, I really have no idea what sort of things might happen. What I’m most thankful for is that my relationship with my husband is thriving. After all the anguish of last year, playing games together again has bonded us in such a wonderful way. If I get nothing else done this year, our improved relationship will have been worth it.
Back in my fanfic days (discussed here), I hosted lots of people’s stories on my website. One of them was a guy named Ryan Carroll.
While reading fanfics, I learned to judge people by what they wrote or drew–particularly their self-inserts. If a person’s sert was psycho, or stuck-up, or really nice, so was the writer. Ryan’s sert was always really nice–a fun-loving nerd who found a way to travel to other worlds.
We were friends from high school, through college, and on into our 20s. I was friends with lots of people online, but Ryan was the one I had multiple crushes on–and I only knew him as words on a screen.
As we got older, he took his stories and characters and began stripping away the fanfiction aspects, building these characters into their own fantasy world. We had long conversations about Carda, Xironi, Demetrius, and how the angeli differed from real angels. We hammered out how to make an adoptable robot pet from GaiaOnline into a character. (“Let’s name her Esca, after Escaflowne!”)
We started writing story episodes together. I invented Indal, the chronomancer werewolf, because there was a sad lack of werewolves in Ryan’s universe. There also weren’t many male characters–he had loads of girls, though. (And I had loads of guys!)
We came up with the Strider of Chronos idea while writing these stories. Originally we had Carda finding out about it through a series of secret journals that were hidden across multiple worlds. We had this nasty thing called the Subspace Storm that changed every time we wrote about it. Sometimes it was an actual storm. Sometimes it was a disembodied soul disrupting the space between dimensions. Once it was the perpetually exploding home world of the cat people.
Meanwhile, we slowly went from emails to phone calls. We met in real life, which was awkward, but kind of fun. We kept building the Spacetime world. One particular episode, when the Subspace Storm sank Atlantis, was especially fun to write. I’m still sorry that it didn’t make it into the finished book.
Time went on. We got engaged long-distance, and aside from a few holidays spent together, we lived in separate states until a week before the wedding. It was awful. I don’t recommend it.
Once married, we took long walks together and continued developing the world. “What about Demetrius?” I asked. “There’s got to be more to him than a mustache-twirling bad guy.”
At the time, the main series villain was Octavian, and Demetrius was this demon-dude that he summoned all the time.
We combined the two characters, and figured out that Demetrius was in love with the fallen angelus Inferna. They did the whole Adam and Eve thing–she sinned first, and he followed her lead. He may wind up as an antihero in the final book, though. Ryan and I are quite fond of him.
We decided to turn this into a fantasy novel. I took Ryan’s notes and old drafts and began writing it. A couple of drafts in, I found a lovely little critique group called the Sandbox. Everybody there at the time has moved on to being published, or very close to it. We were a hungry bunch, and happily brutal on each other’s work. I learned how much I didn’t know, and began consuming craft books. They introduced me to James Scott Bell, among others. Cue heavenly choir here.
I also tried my hand at Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writer’s Month. This gave rise to the second and third books, both of which took several rewrites to distill the story from the fluff.
There was also a proto book 2, involving blood magic, a dragon, and a really big, angry robot–but it had so many problems that I scrapped it. I reused a few elements for the upcoming fourth Spacetime book. (I couldn’t leave the giant robot idea alone.)
Ryan, meanwhile, has been brainstorming the second Spacetime series (we’re calling it Season Two), which will follow the Spacetime War and a batch of new characters. The old characters will show up, of course.
All in all, Spacetime has taught me so much about writing. I’ve done plenty of things wrong, but then, that’s how experiments are. (Apparently the one I got very right was Chronocrime, because one of my friends goes back and reads it every year.)
The fourth book, which I hope to launch in June, is called Magic Weaver, and features the catgirl Xironi, and how she weaves space into portal-tapestries. She befriends Revi, the heroine of Wraithblade, and together they have all sorts of crazy adventures. There are robots. There is a tiny white dragon. There is a person who has had their free will removed by taking all probabilities out of their timeline.
Ryan and I are excited for this book, because it leads straight into book five, the series finale called Inferna’s Fury. Clues as to what will happen are scattered throughout the earlier books.
“If you’re carrying all the feathers you can carry, can you carry one more?”
A few weeks ago, I had a wake-up call–I had to say no to a project.
It was an art project, and usually I can knock out art projects no problem. This one sounded really fun–draw pages for a graphic novel. It used the Disney style, which isn’t too difficult to learn. I started practicing.
As my art inched from “suckitude” toward “maybe passable”, the art director informed me that I would have to draw three pages a day.
Three pages a day doesn’t sound like much–especially since each page has a maximum of four panels. That should be easy.
Then I tried it, and timed myself.
Sketching, inking, and basic coloring took me two solid hours. For one crappy little comic gag. Possibly one panel.
I have five small children, one of whom is five months old, and gets tired of sitting in my lap at the computer. While I could scrape two hours out of the day for one page, I don’t have six hours for three pages. The currency just doesn’t exist. And I’m pretty darn good at time management.
It was with massive amounts of regret and humiliation that I had to back out of the project. Back when I was single and lonely, I could have knocked a project like this out of the park. But today? I’ve got too many feathers to carry. This would have been like dropping a brick into my armload of feathers.
Being mortal is such a hassle. What do you MEAN I have limited mental resources, and only 12 hours in the day? That is so not fair. Sleep is for the weak, right?
As it turns out, my life right now isn’t as permeable as it used to be. Lesson learned. Sigh.
My latest book, a historical paranormal romance called Outfoxing the Wolf (it has a werefox) is now available on all retailers, and is .99 for a limited time! Grab it now!
Ever since I got into the whole werewolf genre, I’ve wanted to see a werefox. People do all the other big predators–weretigers, werepanthers, werebears, weredragons. I’m pretty sure there’s even wererats out there. But foxes just aren’t as widespread.
Upon hunting around on Amazon, I turned up a few werefox books. This one, Bronze Fox, is about a guy who turns into a fox in a kind of steampunk setting. It was interesting. From what I gather, anyone who turns into a fox will have vulpine characteristics–cunning, crafty, quick, all that stuff we associate with foxes.
Wolves, on the other hand, are the ever-popular pack hunters of the night. More dangerous, I suppose. You never hear about people being killed by a pack of foxes. The worst thing they do is kill chickens or cats.
But maybe a smart hero is intimidating–after all, most werewolf stories these days are romances. “We don’t want our men smarter than us!” the ladies shriek. “We want him with rippling abs, not a brain!”
I wanted a werefox story. I hunted Amazon, I hunted Wattpad, and turned up a whole lot of NOPE. Oh, there’s werefoxes out there, but it’s just an orange-colored wolf. There’s little exploration of how different foxes are from wolves, or that they’re crafty, and make different sounds, and even snarl differently. (Wolves bare their teeth–foxes open their mouths all the way.)
So I set about writing a paranormal romance that features a werefox. I wanted it to be a wolf guy and a fox girl, so they could deal with their animal differences as well as their human ones.
This brought up another question–do people have to be bitten to become a werefox, the way they do with werewolves? Or do they transform a different way?
This led me on a tangent into alchemy, particularly their bonkers teaching that all matter can turn into all other matter–the “mutability of form” principle. Alchemy isn’t too far off our modern-day chemistry, actually. I had to really dig around to find the crazy stuff. But it added a really fun angle to this particular story.
Because it’s me writing, it turned out as more of a romantic suspense than a straight romance. Come on, there has to be a proper fox hunt at least ONCE, right?
Anyway, Outfoxing the Wolf will launch on all major vendors later this week. Maybe you, too, will enjoy the ins and outs of a werefox vs a werewolf.