Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Where Did Realm Makers Come From?

Image Credit: Dog Eared Design, Kirk DouPonce
At the header for this blog, the graphic reads "Author-Artist-Ringleader," and for some of the folks who stop by, the "ringleader" part is a bit of a puzzlement. I thought today that I would shed some light on the reason people attach words like that (or nerd-herder) to me.

A little over 5 years ago, I started planning this thing called the Realm Makers Conference. It came into being because of several factors that exist in the publishing world that make it difficult for Christians who write fantasy and science fiction to find publishers for their work.

On the general market side--that means the Big Publishing Houses of New York, stories that center on traditional values are often passed over as "been there, done that" at best, or "dangerously misogynistic/insensitive/out-of-touch" in more critical scenarios. This climate  has only gotten worse over the decade I've been following publishing. In this past year, I have learned of multiple scenarios where the author's failure to include significant characters that promote ideals counter to Judeo-Christian values has proven grounds for rejection. Authors need to be on the lookout for anything that might be construed as tokenism, exploitation, cultural appropriation, and a whole other host of parameters that will send the red flag flying.

Now, understand, that I completely agree that no group of people should be treated like a gimmick. What could be more counter to the teachings of Christ? But for fiction to be forced to include a certain recipe of character types and concepts, and only cast those in the prescribed light, is poison to creativity at its core.

On the Christian market side, the speculative fiction writer has an uphill climb as well, although I must say, the publishing options in the CBA have grown a little since Realm Makers began. We're nowhere near having enough publishing homes for the number of fabulous manuscripts out there, but incremental progress does seem to be happening. The main obstacle Christian Speculative writers face is general Evangelical suspicion of the genre. This is the factor I see chipping away. We have a long way to go, and we have our own content wars on the Christian side of the fence. We battle over cleanliness in fiction, inclusion of magic, the core definition of "Christian Fiction," and more.

The other challenge for Christian publishing has always been wide distribution of books. This is actually looking a little more grim of late, given the failure of independent bookstores and the disappearance of even large Christian bookstore chains. Add to that the publishers who are rumored to be closing their doors to fiction altogether, and you've got an uncertain future for CBA speculative fiction.

So, as you can see, the Christian who writes "weird stuff" is still between a rock and a hard place. In addition to the publishing climate being turbulent, Christians face a lot of snide looks, if not downright insults, when interacting with the marketplace at sci-fi/fantasy/comic conventions and other places they seek to connect with readers. The sad part is that the loudest voices don't typically represent the largest populations.

These factors prompted me to begin Realm Makers, a writers conference with several core goals:
1. Educate Christian writers so their craftsmanship would rival the "big names" in the general market.
2. Connect writers who are ready for publication with industry individuals who can bring their books to market
3. Equip Christians to innovate and pioneer in order to find routes for great fiction to get to market
4. Build a community of creative contemporaries who support one another through the challenges of being makers of fantastic, but often misunderstood, stuff. This community atmosphere where everyone's voice could be heard without fear of slap-down or disrespect was a fundamental value at the root of what Realm Makers does.

God has truly blessed the Realm Makers effort beyond what I imagined it could be, and for our 5th anniversary conference, we have already surpassed our attendee numbers by leaps and bounds. I am grateful we've been able to take this "Little Conference that Could" (to quote Mike Duran) and build it into a vibrant, year-round encouragement to like-minded creators whose faith infuses everything they make.

But as we grow, the spectrum of voices becomes wider within our community, which is a good thing. Sometimes the newer community voices don't know the history of what Realm Makers has aspired to do, all along, and that's what compelled me to write this post. First and foremost, I want Realm Makers to be a place where creativity flourishes, because no one feels they need to defend the majors of their worldview: the existence of God and the redeeming work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Beyond the tenets of our faith, however, I sincerely hope Realm Makers continues for us to be a think tank where we can lovingly discuss the challenges of the publishing landscape, whether our authors choose CBA, ABA, or self publishing.

Overall, our goal is to see great books that shine a light on who God is reach the hands of readers. When I stand in judgment, some day either soon or far, it is my prayer that the Lord will be able to say to me of my Realm Makers efforts, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Melancholy, My Dad, and the Charcoal Tree

When you're like me, and you lost your dad at 13, it's easy to romanticize how you perceive a man who's been gone for the vast majority of your life. I like to remember the Marine, the idealist, the brilliant man my dad was, even though he was also an alcoholic, a child abuse victim, and ultimately lifestyled himself to death until he left my mom with 6 kids and no real career to support us. I didn't learn much from my dad, sadly, because I was too young at the time to tap the brilliance part, while we still had him.

He did, however, one afternoon in our smoky, cluttered 80s living room, teach me how to draw a tree.

My dad was a charcoal artist who never pursued honing his gift outside of high school. Probably not a lot of opportunities to draw still life or models while drill instructing on Parris Island, I'm assuming. But I can't count the number of times he sat in his kind-of-gross recliner and told me how he drew a series of beautiful nudes during art lessons as a teen that mysteriously disappeared. (I think his running suspicion was that his instructor made off with them. Oddly, I lost one of my favorite drawings in high school the same way, but it was a cat.) Art clearly remained in his bones, even if life had pushed it aside.

Anyway, my dad gave me this impromptu lesson with a number 2 pencil and a scrap of whatever paper was sitting atop the clutter. He flicked the pencil over the paper, using the side of the lead, and said, "Trees, grow from the ground up, so draw them that way." I think he was trying to break my of the childhood habit of making a bumpy lump and sticking a trunk under it.

But I watched, fascinated by the way his seeming haphazard flicks of that pencil slowly fused together to form branches, reaching twigs, and a sturdy trunk. And how mere scribbles overtop approximated leaves so generally, yet perfectly.

There's a sort of pall hanging over me this month--call it a collection of political frustration, lingering burnout after finishing a large client project, and gray weather malaise, but I've found my mind lingering in melancholy, and for the past few days, art has been . . . awful. Stilted, graceless, and frustrating.  A friend recommended I try something to free up my mind, and in that mix of gloom and a need to shake out the tight lines, my dad's tree technique tapped on my shoulder.

The image above is a digital version of my application of my father's instruction from so long ago. Just a little 20 minute gesture, but an opportunity to reflect on the fact that I do have this one little piece of legacy to hang onto. No matter what life thrust upon or took away from him, he took that moment in my childhood to grab a pencil, and that moment has stayed with me 30 years or more. For all of us, those who are reeling with hurt, or frustrated, or fearful for the future, I hope we all remember today--and everyday--that little investments into single lives matter. More than we may ever live to see or understand.
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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Harry and Honey Moon come to Pennsylvania--and I'm signing books


I officially have my first appearance scheduled as a book illustrator!

The work I've been doing on the Harry Moon brand is pulling me from my typical introverted seclusion into not one, but two opportunities to sell and sign books on Small Business Saturday, which is just after Thanksgiving.

These events will be great, for a few reasons:

  • I will be able to hobnob with the Queen of Author Events herself, Suzanne Kuhn, who will be signing the Honey Moon books she's written alongside me as illustrator.
  • I will be able to encourage people to support local, independent businesses--a Christian bookstore and one that sells all book genres. I am a big fan of the "Shop Local" movement.
  • I'll get to see my work pass into the hands of new readers--what creative person doesn't love that?


So, if you know anyone in the Mid Atlantic who would like to pick up some fun reading for their elementary aged kids, please tell them about us. Find us at

The Master's Mercantile, Pottstown from 10:30 am to 12 pm

Town Book Center, Collegeville, from 5-6 pm

Hope to see you there!
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Monday, August 15, 2016

Artistic Seasons and How I'm Growing

ARTIST

With just a few weeks left until summer's end, of course the thrust of my work right now would be all about winter. It's like the crooked, sardonic smile fate likes to cast at me, because it's a gazillion degrees outside, and every frame I design for my new graphic novel project has a dusting of snow over it. My characters are wearing scarves, and I'm fending off heat induced hives, which are one of the awesome additions my fibromyalgia has thrown into the mix.

Anyway, the project I've got brewing for Rabbit Publishing right now is another tale set in Sleepy Hollow, featuring Harry Moon and the usual suspects. It involves a 150-foot snow sculpture of the headless horseman and his mount, which magically end up wreaking havoc. I won't say more for fear of spoilers, but it's been a good laugh to have the instructions come back from my project manager that say, "Make it creepier!"
I have also had the awesome privilege of receiving my first copy of Inkadink, Rabbit's first graphic novel, printed on beautiful glossy stock, with spot varnishing on the dust jacket and 170+ pages of my drawings!


So, needless to say, things aren't feeling too shabby with the world of art.

AUTHOR

I still have to admit failure to break out of a holding pattern with my novels, though. I delivered my first pitch in three years at Realm Makers, giving The Risen Age Archive one last chance at traditional publication before . . . oh, I don't know what. I know I keep telling you some thing that I do is the last stab before I self publish. And then that doesn't pan out, so I think I'm REALLY going to self publish this time, though I'm short cover art and editing to do so, which leaves me to circling the proverbial airport.

Pitch Receiver was very complimentary in a follow up conversation about Curse Bearer, so we shall see how that looks over the next few weeks. If I can get this publisher to bite, then still like ALL the chapters, then it would on to finding an agent to jump on board, if I can get one. (No more negotiating contracts with publishers for me. Scarred. Scarred for life, I say.) But if Pitch Receiver decides to pass, then it's back to waiting for word from the tower whether I'm landing this plane. (Some art-based income to justify art-based investment wouldn't hurt!)

RINGLEADER

Perhaps the most telling interaction I've had lately about all the hats I'm wearing was one with my littlest gremlin in the family today. He saw that I was working on Realm Makers details for 2017, and he said, "What? Are you seriously working on the conference ALL YEAR now?"

Yep. That's what it's become--a year 'round labor of love. It's both great and terrifying to offer the writing community something that is now a thing to pursue. Authors and their agents are inquiring how to get a speaking slot. Every attendee has input on how the conference could . . . be better? Sometimes. Usually just be different. It's like walking down the aisles of a giant department store where hundreds of other people are throwing things into your shopping cart, saying "You want THIS, it's great."

It may very well be a great thing, unexpected helper. However, when I open my wallet, I find that maybe I better not even THINK about your suggested purchase. Sometimes I look at my home and realize...this doesn't coordinate with any of my furniture or color schemes. But sometimes, a gem I never would have thought to look for appears in the overflowing cart.

So the job of conference director begins, in this anarchy stage of planning, as one of sifting for that nugget of wisdom or crazy-perfect idea nestled within the flood of input that comes through email, messenger, twitter, texts . . . every day.

But the coolest thing is, I can see that there is a cloud of creatives around me almost invested in the stuff I'm creating as I am!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In the Home Stretch with Harry!

I used to be a fan of horse racing--mostly because, well, horses. I've become less enamored of it because of the extremes the sport subjects young animals to and the gambling aspect of things, but let it suffice to say "the home stretch" generates a more robust metaphor for me than maybe your average user of idioms.

The home stretch, if the race is close, means the jockeys are pulling out all the stops to get every last bit of speed from mounts that are just about spent. The whips are flying, horses are foaming, there's likely mud everywhere. So when I say I'm in the home stretch of finishing the first Harry Moon graphic novel, I don't mean I'm happily drifting toward a blissful light at the end of the tunnel. I mean I'm flogging myself, proverbial foam lathering my productivity, and there's almost as much chance of me blowing a tendon as there is of me finishing the race with flying colors.
Because my monitor is a beast, you may not fully appreciate the sheer size of that stack of drawings. It reminds me of the number of drawings it took to make animation, back in the day.

But this is nothing new for me. If there's anything consistent about my all-over-the-place life, it's biting off more than any sensible person would think of chewing. Somewhere beneath my self-loathing exterior, there must be some kind of egomaniac. It's probably something I should let a qualified specialist unpackage someday. But not now! No time for mental health.

But anyway, as I round the final turn into the home stretch, it's exciting to see the huge stack of drawings (I've had to crank out at 3x the speed of the typical industry artist) come together into a product that will soon go to market. The turnaround into the next book will be almost immediate, so I better find a good filing system for the 400+ drawings this book has produced.

But like any good race, the finish is exhilarating, lest I sound as though I'm complaining. Far from it--life is in the shape now that I believe best fits me, as precarious and insane as it may look to the "normals" I know. There's nothing better than spending your days doing what you do best and making a living doing it! May this first race truly qualify me for a season of even more exciting races to come.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Artwork selections of late

Maybe some of you have noticed...I sort of suck at blogging. I mean, really. I don't know why, but article-writing just seems beyond my capacity...any point I want to make is basically able to be summed up in the space of a Facebook post, so that's pretty much where I've been doing all my ruminating for the past couple of years. So in terms of my blog, I have decided to allow myself to let it be for the occasional announcement, periodic update, or sampling of "here's what I'm up to."

Today is a "here's what I'm up to" day. I've decided to share a couple pieces of artwork with you fine folks, hopefully for your enjoyment and not just the stroking of my ego.


Ah, Harry Moon--the project that has me drawing about 15-20 drawings a day right now. Fun stuff! Praying for a strong finish and excellent reception of the final product.
This was just a moment I had to take to acknowledge that working as an artist still leaves you a little bit of longing to immerse in your own ideas. I'm grateful to have full-time freelance work, but I do miss my crew of characters



Last but not least, the design for this year's Realm Makers T-shirt. I fully expect the concerned emails to start flowing in that I'm going to get sued, but I promise, the design cannot be construed as a bootleg property, and the distribution is limited, so it will be OK. :) I'm far too Lawful Good to proceed otherwise.


And now, it's back to the world of conference directing and drawing like mad! Thanks for dropping in. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I'm a Finalist and Need Your Votes

Hey loyal friends! I'm blowing the dust off the old blog here because I finally have some news on the art front. First, the time-sensitive thing that I need your help on, and then I'll do a general update about what else I've been up to since the summer.

First of all, I have been painting for a paint-and-sip model art studio called Painting with a Twist since January, and they are sponsoring an art contest. The idea is that artists from the franchises would submit paintings they think customers (often with little to no art background) would like to paint and find attainable (since painting is SO not fun when you can't do what the artist is teaching.)

So anyway, about 500 paintings landed in the submission box at the corporate office, and mine made it into the top 20! Feelin' pretty good about that, even though I will probably go to my grave insisting I'm not really a painter. The submission I offered up looks like this:

So if you go to: http://www.paintingwithatwist.com/art-contest/ and choose this painting, you could help me toward a possible big cash prize!!

Also, two of my artist friends from the Royersford studio made the finals, so if you want to help them along too, choose the black-eyed susan painting and the field of magenta flowers with purple mountains in the background.

By the way, voting puts you into a drawing for a $100 gift card to any Painting with a Twist studio in the country.

Thanks for your support in this!

Now, as for that update...

I officially left my cubicle job at J. W. Pepper and Son (the world's largest sheet music retailer) in August of 2015, and while Pepper is a great place to work and I wholeheartedly support the products they sell, I am a BAD fit for a cubicle. I became really unhealthy in all ways while living the American Office life. So after Realm Makers in August, I began my life as an independent contractor, mostly doing art right now.

In addition to teaching painting classes for the studio and helping on the management side of things, I am also waist deep in a graphic novel project for a company called Rabbit Publishing. It's been a whirlwind, but fabulous in its own ways. I honestly couldn't be happier in terms of my professional life.

The only hitch is that I really don't have an iota of time to write at the moment. The grand scheme right now doesn't have me writing, and while that is hard, I know it's not by chance. Not that I really GET why we have to shelve certain passions at certain times, but I also know that some day, I will get back to the Risen Age Archive and the Windrider Saga. (I can't wait!)

So in the meantime, vote for my painting, and keep an eye out for further updates on when the graphic novel project I'm on releases! Thanks for all your support through these years.