Monday, December 30, 2013

I Survived 2013 and That’s Enough

My awesome social media coordinator, Ralene Burke posted a status on the Realm Makers facebook page today, asking how life has changed for our fans over the past year, and like many posts there, I felt compelled to respond. I mentally worked my way through 2013, and came up with this list of what big events happened over the year.

I settled into a new position at work

OK, so I changed positions, technically, near the end of 2012, but 2013 was the first year that I had to go through the “busy season” for my new job. The busy season runs from about May to August, and during that time, I am responsible for obtaining and preparing about 6500 (no, really) jpgs of the covers for different pieces of choral, band, and orchestra music to populate our half dozen catalogs that go out before the beginning of the school year. I spent the first half of the year learning who’s who at about 50 different publishers I need to contact for these covers, and by some miracle, survived juggling all this artwork on my own. (There are other things, too, like making sure these things get to the company website, but I won’t bore you with the laundry list.)

Besides my day job…2013 brought us a home of our own

At the end of April, 2013, my husband and I closed on our first home. We’ve been married 15 years, but yes, this was the first time we were in a position to get out of the rental market, because A.) we live in a place where it’s plausible we’ll stay, and B.) we both have a predictable income. For many years, we chose to rent so that I could stay home with our children, but since my husband’s gift is in teaching, and he is in the place of ministry God would have him (teaching in a private, Christian school) I am helping with the household income now. In dream-world, I would be home full time doing creative things and having some tiny clue what in the world is going on with my kids’ school and homework, but for now, this is where God has us. Anyway, as for the house…

Our budget necessitated we get creative about buying, and we were ready when foreclosures were at a historic peak. Typically, foreclosed homes have problems, so you can’t get traditional financing on them. So we went into the process approved for what’s known as a 203K loan, which is basically a purchase and construction loan all rolled into a single closing. Mortgages and homebuying are complex enough. But holy moly was the 203K convoluted.

In the end, we got a solid little Cape Cod style home in a quiet neighborhood, with just enough yard to be manageable and to be able to tell the kids: Go outside! We gutted the entire upstairs and had to have all the plumbing throughout the house replaced, as well as ductwork installed. Oh, and we discovered we needed a new roof on the back dormer of the house because it was leeching water down the back wall and rotting it. And we needed all new windows. And appliances. And floors in the kitchen and bathrooms. (There’s more, but I’ll stop.) Oh, one other tiny detail: remember how I said we closed at the end of April? That meant we were renovating the house (while living in it) at the same time as my first busy season at my day job.

But wait, there’s more…remember that thing where I write stuff?

Also in the spring, I was in the process of the final edit for my third Windrider book, Valor’s Worth, with my
publisher, Diminished Media Group. Since I was also producing the cover for this, I was also building sacrifice chalices and daggers out of craft store supplies, drawing pages to ancient texts, having all this photographed, and compositing it for the final artwork. So I’m turning around corrections, begging friends to proof my finals, and approving final cover layout all at once. Right in the home stretch, we also had a few unprecedented formatting nightmares for the interior of the book. This all while in the busy season of my day job and renovating a house . . .

And not to forget . . .the crazy Idea That Wouldn’t Be Ignored

During this same first 8 months of 2013, I was also planning the first Realm Makers conference, being held in St. Louis at a venue I could only go on faith my good friend had scoped out and knew would be adequate to host 65 authors and 20 faculty and volunteers. I don’t know how many hours goes into planning a two day conference, but I know I’ve already sunk about 300 or so into the 2014 event. Yes, most of the work for the first Realm Makers happened in—you guessed it—May, June, and July.

So why am I writing all this? Not so much to toot my own horn as to explain why I came very close to a nervous breakdown over this year. Perhaps I’m leaving myself a horrifying chronicle of how not to schedule your life. I’ve been wondering why I have felt so emotionally fragile for the past few months. Um, I’m thinking maybe it’s fatigue? The good news is, for 2014, all I have ahead of me is finishing my sequel to Curse Bearer, planning the next Realm Makers (which will fall BEFORE busy season) and managing the day to day demands of family and work.

By comparison, that sounds like a breeze.

So what about you? What amazing things did you witness in your own life in 2013? What you hoping for in the coming year? I wish all of you a new year full of many blessings. Here’s to living and learning!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Not Exactly Hatin' on Desolation of Smaug

I’m not usually a fangirl—I don’t think I even have the physical capacity to actually squee. But yes, I will have to concur, the combined efforts of the sound designers on The Desolation of Smaug and Benedict Cumberbatch created easily the best dragon voice EVER. I dare you to try to show me one better. In terms of design, mannerisms, and animation, Smaug was definitely the crowning achievement of Peter Jackson’s continued cinematic interpretation of The Hobbit.

For me, however, much of the rest of the movie was just OK. It pains me to say that, but I keep thinking back, trying to determine if I was just addled from slogging our way to the theater through driving snow, or from the unthinkable--actually having to get up and use the restroom during the movie. (This has NEVER happened to me in two decades of independent moviegoing. I must be getting old.) But no, it just turns out that tDoS did not strike the chord with me that any of the Lord of the Rings movies did.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Kid With No Currency

The following is probably going to be one of those blog posts that, once my kids are old enough that we'll let them search the internet on their own, they will scowl at me for it if they find it. But since I've decided this blog is going to be just about life and observations and musings--a public journal of sorts, that's the risk I take.

Nobody who's ever tried it for more than three minutes will dispute that parenting is hard. And anyone who has more than one child will laugh knowingly when you dig your fingers into your scalp wondering why in the world people with so much overlapping genetic material end up so daggum different in terms of personality.

In terms of genetic variations in my family, I have one relatively compliant but scatterbrained child--an absentminded professor, if you will, a people pleaser with an imp underneath, and My Angry Child. My Angry Child has been the subject of more prayers and tears and lost-for-words bafflement in my life than the other two put together. I love him fiercely, but as for trying to shepherd this child? Neither rod nor staff nor food nor fury have done the job so far.
Clearly, this is not my child...but the expression is familiar.

On my way to work today, I pondered this child and whether he would come home with yet another behavior notice this afternoon. The first few "your child disrupted class today" emails that came home this year--of course I responded with horror and third-party repentance for My Angry Child's infractions. But lately, I really am sorry, Mr. Fourth Grade teacher-Saint, but I just don't know what to say, and I've stopped responding. If I knew the magic incantation to open My Angry Child's eyes to the way his behavior derails your efforts to teach, or the way not everything is somebody else's fault, or how Everyone is not actually making fun of him 24-7, I would implement it and pass it along, I promise.

The trouble with My Angry Child is that he has never had what Dr. Kevin Lehman would call "currency." There's nothing I've found that I can take away from this boy that will drive him to preventative measures the next time. Wii time? Whatever. Dessert? It's not the only one we'll ever have. Playtime with friends? Play dates are few during the school year. So back to my drive to work--I spent the bulk of the 40 minute commute wracking my brain. Every kid has a currency, what is MAC's?

So wending my way through as many Christian psychology and parenting helps tucked away in the cluttered recesses of my mind as I could recall, I dragged out the old Five Love Languages concept. (A very useful way to evaluate people and why the heck they took something the way they did and not how you intended, by the way.) For those of you not familiar, the five ways this philosophy implies people receive love are: through works of service, through physical touch, through words of affirmation, through gifts, and through an expenditure of time.

I have always somewhat lamented that my love language is time--what do parents of elementary- and middle school-aged kids who work full time jobs and have artistic hobbies have less of in this world? (Well, maybe money, but anyway...) My tank gets empty pretty easily and I have periodic meltdowns because of it. This morning it hit me.

My Angry Child's love language is also TIME.


Pardon my coarseness, but yeah. Could it be that busyness, despite the fact that we eat dinner together pretty much every night of the week, despite the fact that I get out of work at 3:30 to pick my kids up at school as soon as employabley possible, is sabotaging MAC's emotional storage tank? We do so much less in terms of activities than literally every family I know, but still, we're scrambling to juggle everything, 366 days of the year. What we do, we do as a family unit, for the most part.

In a group, the Time Lover doesn't get his tank filled. It takes focused, "I just want to be with you--even if we don't really do anything very interesting" time to make this type of person feel fortified--especially if he's also an introvert, which I suspect MAC is.

One on one, MAC is fun to be with, witty, and very loving. I want his classmates and teachers to see that side of him. Not the one that loses control during the school day (and then when I rail at him in my exasperation, the one that breaks down and says "I don't want to be the bad kid," between sobs. Yeah, epic parenting fail during that conversation.)

So, alone in my car, where it's quiet and I can actually think for a while, if I don't get stuck behind a school bus and want to combust, here's what I came up with.

What if I tell MAC, that every week, he gets an hour of one-on-one time with me on Saturday or Sunday, whichever works better? (Yes, this means I will probably have to cut my Sunday nap out of the routine. Please pass the coffee. And yes, this is going to cause conflict with Compliant Professor and Smiling Imp, but we'll deal with that separately.) If he has a "clean" week at school, then he gets the full hour. Every time I get a notice that he's misbehaved, he loses ten minutes of that time.  If he has multiple infractions some days, yes, he could lose the whole hour by the end of Friday.

If I'm right, I think that MAC will work very hard to shield that chance at an hour where he gets to be the center of one person's universe. When he gets a little bigger, maybe he'll want that person to be Dad, but for now, he's still into hanging with Mom, and I'd be a fool not to cherish that for every moment I can squeeze out of it. There's a part of me that worries I have this all wrong and we'll be at square one after a failed experiment, but the bigger part of me is sure only good can come of trying. For the first time in a long time, I'm actually looking forward to squeezing another obligation into my schedule.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Which Character is Supposed to Be the One Who Changes?

"Supposed to" is a terrible phrase in the world of creativity. I find myself wrestling with it all the time when I write. We're "supposed to" show, not tell. We're "supposed to" stay away from adverbs. We're "supposed to" make sure something significant wrenches "life as usual" from beneath the protagonist at the end of act I. Who knew so few words could exert so much pressure on a writer?

Currently, I'm working on the sequel to Curse Bearer, a book I'm tentatively calling A Voice Within. Whether that name will stick through the completion of the book, who knows...since I've taken what the book was in rough draft form and demolished it, and am now fairly certain I will only retain the vaguest plot markers from the original. But I'm wrestling currently with the big "supposed to" of character development:

The main character is "supposed to" undergo a paradigm-shifting change of attitude that will take them from a destructive or unworkable set of behaviors and move them toward a more victorious mindset. At least that's how it goes if you're writing a happy ending, which I am.

The trouble is, the protagonist of Curse Bearer, Danae, underwent her epiphany at the climax of book I of this series. I have been wrestling with getting book II off the ground because it's a continuation story, and what remains for Danae to do is grow in the knowledge that she's newly embraced. I don't have another "knot" (to use Jeff Gerke's terminology) to work out for her in this book.  I could manufacture one, but right now, I view her more as a character who knows what she needs to do--she just has to get trained up enough to do it.

A discussion of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader that we had at the West Branch Christian Writer's Conference that brought me to a bit of a crisis point with A Voice Within's story structure. The more we talked about Darth Vader in terms of character "knot" and epiphany, the more I started thinking, "You know, Luke's the protagonist of Star Wars, but he doesn't really change. Sure, he learns things and goes from farm boy to Jedi--but his general desire for truth and his inescapable sense that there's something more out there in the universe he's meant for than operating vaporators, aren't reversed in the original trilogy. They're only built upon to make him an amplified and more capable version of what he was already.

However, Darth Vader, he's the guy you talk about when it comes to discussing someone who has an epiphany that forces a decision between sticking with his usual M.O. and something completely different. He's the one who throws off his loyalty to the Empire (and subsequently the Dark Side) and becomes the agent of change. Arguably, it's Darth Vader who won the day for the rebel alliance, because in choosing to destroy Palpatine, he threw the Imperial forces into disarray, and without that, the rebels would have surely lost.

But anyway, what's all this Star Wars geekery have to do with my writing? It makes me think that here, in book II of Risen Age, that I have to allow an ally to be the character who has the more dynamic inner journey. It's Culduin who stands in the position to have a revelation and change his approach. But the question is, am I deft enough as a writer to allow him to be the changing character? It would be easy to just let Culduin run off with the story, since awesome elves have a way of doing that. But if I allow Culduin to be the character's whose inner journey we explore in this book, can I do that and still finish what I've begun in terms of Curse Bearer's plot? I don't want his character development to cloud my plot vision in terms of Danae's desire to get back to her father in time.

I take comfort in knowing this has been done before. Not only the Darth Vader transformation comes to mind, but the story of Samwise Gamgee. He serves in the role of ally in The Lord of the Rings, but he's the one who changes, not Frodo. So if I can pull off the transformation of a secondary protagonist, at least I'll be in good company.

What about you? Can you think of other examples of great stories where the main character isn't necessarily the one who changes the most? If I can make a study of stories that do this well, I'll be much better armed to try it myself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Genre Mashups and a Revelation

OK, so maybe "revelation" is a bit of a strong word. More of a "huh" would probably be accurate.

Anyway, I was looking at the Publisher's Weekly blog post that Marcher Lord Press shared, where PW gave a little press to Kerry Nietz's new release Amish Vampires in Space. Now, I'm glad for any press Kerry is getting--it can only help his visibility, and even if people are mocking (which PW wasn't) it generates traffic. Good for him!

The PW article was talking about genre mashups and how authors seem to be unabashedly having fun with them. I can support writing for fun. It's generally what I do. The other three books in the PW article included romance as one of their genres pulled into the mix, and in the midst of my moment of mirth over the ridiculousness of making a character a werecuttlefish (like werewolf, but yes, shapeshifting to a fish) I had that "huh" moment.

The three covers in the article (yeah, you should probably go look at it if you haven't yet) that weren't Kerry's book featured bare-chested men, as is to be expected with romance. But on two of the covers, the models were positioned in such a way as to cut their faces out of the composition. Women whine constantly about being objectified in video and still photography. Um--hello? Not just naked men, but faceless naked men splashed on the covers of the only genre I think a person can write in and make a steady living--how is this not objectifying men? At least women in photography tend to retain their "come hither" smolder, where as, they're just a set of highly-waxed-and-greased pecs and abs. More and more, it seems the reduction of people to body parts goes both ways.

Thank goodness Kerry's girl in the bonnet gets to be compelling for reasons other than the shedding of clothing. Campy is one thing. Trashy is another. And for the record, I understand Kerry's book is neither. I look forward to a chance to check it out.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Plea on the Behalf of Newbie Authors (Like Me)

I’ve lost count of how many times I have tried to write the blog post that is to follow. As I pull it together now, I recognize that I am taking a risk of looking like I am pointing a finger at individuals who have placed their confidence in my work and gotten it to market. But at this stage of the game, this post isn’t so much about my experience in particular, but the troubling recurrence of certain issues I have been hearing from many authors across multiple publishing houses.

To be clear, my own books are small-press published, and in that process, I have made some great friends with some excellent people. In most cases, the way my works got to market was the right fit for where I was at that moment in my publishing journey. But as I seek to grow my writing career, I’ve hit a few bumps in the road. Had I been the only one to hit these snags, I’d let them pass quietly. But since there seems to be something of a quiet sickness going around, I feel the time has come for someone to talk about the elephant(s) in the room. Am I a fool for being the one to open my mouth? Maybe, but here we go anyway.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Character Misery and Creative Momentum

For the first time since I discovered A Voice Within (the sequel to Curse Bearer) would require massive rewrites I am actually excited to plow into the new book. How long ago did I realize these rewrites were in my future? Sadly about 3 1/2 years ago.

What's changed? I've put my characters into better position to have problems.

It's funny, in life, we tend to try to orchestrate things to minimize problems, but when we do that in writing, it makes for books that are both boring to read and to write. In the original draft of Sword of the Patron, I covered the entire tale of Danae's departure from Dayleston, around the western half of the continent, and back home again, and the whole tale took about 150,000 words. The trouble was, the last 40,000 were rushed, summarized, and awful. It occurred to me I was going to have to make SotP into two books to give each section its due.

Sometimes I'd like to blame my computer for my
writing issues.
So I performed the second-half-ectomy and focused on the first 100,000 words to get them ready to sell to a publisher. That was in the summer of 2010. The story sold, went the the editorial process, got renamed Curse Bearer, and that was a wrap for that part.

Between 2010 and today, I've visited the amputated story segment enough to work it up to about 90,000 words of its own, but I always had this nagging feeling that the first third of A Voice Within had deep structural problems. (And for the record, it is REALLY hard to apply a standard three act story arc to a book that is a continuation. Just sayin'.)  I've been away from it for months, and when I pulled it out again at the end of August, it occurred to me. The story starts out like a travelogue. A boring travelogue, because I placed my characters on winged mounts (griffons) and took them completely out of harm's way. All I could assail them with was aerial combat (which would kill them all. They're just not equipped to handle that), internal bickering, or random encounters anytime they landed to make camp.

I steered away from the first and last of those options, since I didn't want to have them plummet to their deaths and end the story, and I didn't want the book to read like a gaming session. So that left me with internal bickering.


I fought it for the past three days and tried to rearrange the bicker/fly/bicker sequences. I got about 20,000 words into it even, but I still didn't feel like I was making progress across the map of "finish the book." I still had vignettes and isolated conversations. I felt like I was pacing a track into the ground like a leopard in a small cage at the zoo. There was no climax of act one in sight.

This morning, I committed to forgetting what I originally thought the characters would be doing in the first third of the book. The old draft of Sword of the Patron is irrelevant. I needed to be able to imperil my darlings so that my readers would be swept off on an adventure--not get stuck overhearing an awkward domestic spat.

And so I mentally threw out the whole journey from the Temple of Queldurik in Garash (where they ended Curse Bearer) to Bilearne (their first major destination in A Voice Within) and asked myself, "How else can they get to Bilearne that will be faster and more interesting than walking, but still sufficiently dangerous?"

Well, far be it from me to post spoilers I haven't even really written yet. But let's just say my first act now involves a subterranean culture of unpredictable merpeople.

That concept has put the wind back into my sails on the project, and I hope it will stoke your interest as well.

Off to wordsmith! See you in a few revisions.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

But Does It Have to Have a Message?

I'm going to start off by launching right into the question at hand:

Does a Christian writer have an obligation to be sure his writing advances the gospel (a.k.a. helps people come to a belief in the redemptive work of Christ or in some way build up the existing church) to be using his time in a way that is worthwhile? What if a writer chooses to write solely for the entertainment value he and his readers find in his books? Does that mean he is being a bad steward of the talent that God has given him?

As you can imagine, Christians in the arts fall on every part of the spectrum when they endeavor to answer this question. But when I look at it, I have to writing any different than any other hobby or profession?

If you scrapbook avidly, should you be only putting together albums that preach the gospel or commemorate church events?

If you're a cabinet maker, does your woodwork need to have scripture graven upon it?

If you golf, is it a waste of time if you're not using the time to witness to your companions on the course?

If you're an accountant at a big corporation, are you spending too much time earning a paycheck and not enough serving God? And what if you work for a company that actively discourages any sort of religious dialogue in the workplace?

Cobblestone Brooke by Thomas Kinkade
Now, I realize the examples I've thrown out there are borderline absurd. But is there something about narrative that somehow bears a greater responsibility to convey biblical truth than cabinetmaking? What about visual arts? Thomas Kinkade, the "painter of light," was said to be a man of faith, but he painted tons upon tons of pictures that were merely pretty with no significant gospel narrative attached. Does that make his entire wall art empire a sham?

As you can probably tell, I am not of the mind that we have to tell the story of Christ in order to write fiction Christians can feel good about reading or I can justify writing. I am of the belief that if my work engages the reader with excellence, that we honor God through a job well done. We small-time authors might not get to engage thousands of fans and share the way we try to live out the gospel with them, but we might get to someday do so with one, or six, twenty. Last I checked, God doesn't keep a tally of how many people we told our testimony or mete out rewards accordingly. And it's not as if our writing is the only route we have to touching the lives of others.

This is one of those blog posts that exists mainly to pose questions. I have come to place of peace on writing "entertainment" fiction. What do you, as a reader or a writer, have to say on your own stance?

Friday, August 9, 2013

I'd Look Ahead If I Could Keep My Eyes Open

The Realm Makers Conference is a wrap for 2013, and if the feedback is to be believed, was a great success. Valor's Worth has been released. We're (for the most part) in the winding-down phase of the renovation on our home. So why is it I feel closer to a nervous breakdown now than I did in the thick of all three of those things at the height of their production?

Don't get me wrong...I am still very excited for what's been going on with these three monumental events that have characterized the summer of 2013. But justifiably, I'm tired. I have told myself that I would do nothing that causes artistic pressure during the month of August. However, we all know that's not realistic. After all, books that have been released require a high level of talking-up and promotion if they're not going to go off with a fizzle. The conference needs wrapping up from a bookkeeping standpoint, and if we're going to do this annually, we honestly need to start thinking about what next year will look like right away. Home ownership is never a "done deal." There's always a project waiting for attention.

I don't want to be like the quintessential child who begs for a puppy and then tires of walking, feeding, and training that commitment. The trouble with artistic "babies" you birth is that you have to decide: will I continue to nurture this thing to its full potential, or will I let it wither? Or put it up for adoption? For me, I'm too emotionally interwoven with my "babies" to go for the latter two options I just presented. And so I pick up a cup of extra-caffeinated coffee so I can soldier on.

The advantage I have with the conference is that I don't have to carry that one on my own, as I do my books. The first Realm Makers inspired a host of volunteers who I will be able to gather in order to make the next event grander and better-executed. I take heart in that. And so, after a brief weekend of extra napping (after I paint some stuff around the house) I suspect I will be back at it. Yes, I get that "what have I done?" feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about the pressure to make next year as good if not better than this past event. My friends who constantly remind me that it doesn't have to be up to just me lend me the strength to push my fears aside and prepare to serve once more. Thank God for that.

And so if you don't hear from me for a few days, never fear--I may be curled up in my bed with the covers over my head, but you can bet I'm still scheming under there.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Now available for Pre-Order! Valor's Worth

$18.00 for a signed copy of the newest installment of The Windrider Saga!

Price includes shipping

The third book of the Windrider Saga, Valor's Worth, is now available for pre-order. If you would like a signed copy of the paperback edition of the book, please use the PayPal button here.

The best part about this pre-order: if you order before August 19th, your name will be entered into a drawing for a fabulous book bundle from Diminished Media Group, including books from Bryan Thomas Schmidt (The Worker Prince and The Returning) and the first paperback edition of The Windrider Saga which includes both Divine Summons and A Greater Strength.

Please note that the $18 cost only applies to US orders. If you are ordering from outside the US, please email me at beckyminor123[at]comcast[dot]net. I will invoice you with your exact cost for international shipping.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Valor's Worth Cover Reveal

Whether or not you believe it takes a village to raise a child, it does seem to take at least a city block or two of folks to build a book cover--at least when you're like me and have the vision, but lack the layout chops to actually finish the job!

And so, after the coordinating efforts of Mitchell Bently of Atomic Fly Studios, Morgen and Ken Knott's photography, and my crazy building of props, sketching, and mocking up, we arrive at the cover for the next release in The Windrider Saga...

Front cover for Valor's Worth

And the back cover, since it has my doodle on it and I couldn't resist. 

I hope the covers will speak for themselves and draw in readers for this, the first novel-length Windrider story to reach the market. Look for it at the beginning of August...and don't worry, there will be an announcement when you can get the book on Amazon. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Go vote in the Clive Staples Award

There are so many awards out there where the audience for the nominees in question (whether it's movies, books, or music in question) lament that the board of folks who choose the winners are completely out of touch with what normal people actually like. I think of the Oscars, especially. How many years has the best picture award gone to films that the average film goer watches, wrinkles his nose, and says, "Really?"

Well, this shouldn't be the case with the Clive Staples Award, offered by Speculative Faith and co-sponsored by The Faith and Fantasy Alliance. The Clive Staples Award is a reader's choice award, where you, dear readers, have the chance to give a shout out to your favorite book of 2012. In an effort to keep the contest from degenerating into a test of which authors can get the most voters to show up and click on their book, the contest sets the stipulation that voters must have read at least two of the books on the finalist list. This should end up eliminating the votes from authors' moms and acquaintances who don't really read speculative fiction, but read author x's book because they know him. (Provided folks are honest and don't ignore the stipulation.)

If you'd like to have a say in which book receives this honor, as well as the cash prize to be awarded at this year's Realm Makers conference, head over to Speculative Faith and weigh in.

And not that I'm campaigning, but I would be remiss in failing to note that Curse Bearer is on the list of finalists. If you truly loved it, I would be honored by your vote.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Drawing Challenge Update, the Making of a Book Cover, and the Parable Award

So, over the past few weeks I had decided to crazily add a goal to my already-packed draw something every day for a month. Well, I haven't succeeded. I have drawn something for about 5 days from each week, so while I haven't met the challenge goal, that's still better than no drawing at all. And honestly, now that I'm working on book cover elements, I'm counting sculpting toward the challenge. I made it up. I can do that.

You see, since I am published through a small press, I can choose to take as much control over my cover design as I feel I have the chops to manage. As always, I've bitten off more than I can chew. My current project involves sculpting a crazy stone-bladed dagger that figures into the climactic danger in Valor's Worth, and it currently looks something like this:
Completely impractical in terms of use, but hey, it's job is to intrigue readers, not actually be functional.

Once it's dry, I'll be repairing it, which is inevitable, with the way air-dry clay tends to shrink. And like a real knife maker, I didn't run the tang all the way through the grip, so I knew there would be some degree of separation between the blade and the grip. (Again--for display only, not use. Not even extensive handling, really.) Once the repairs are finished, I'll build a pommel that looks like a ram's head (I think...still deciding), wrap the grip in either wire or a leather lace, paint the blade in a stone texture, and add beading. That should dress it up sufficiently. The beading should be the easy part, especially since I've already tried my hand at that in building last month's chalice.

Then it's on to scroll tubes and diagrams and a handful of other set decorations for the photo shoot. It may be that I can't paint, but it looks like I'll have my artistic fingers in this cover by hook or by crook.

In other book cover news, I've also opened the Parable Award for Excellence in Cover Design to reader/author/publisher suggestions. Being entrenched in my own cover, one could say I have cover art on the brain. Well, the corner of my brain that isn't working on conference registration and logistics, house renovations/packing/moving, my kids and husband, my day job, or (soon) edits on Valor's Worth. But over the next month, if you haven't already, I'm taking suggestions of covers my committee should consider for a $100 prize and recognition as the best cover in Christian Speculative Fiction for the year 2012. So if you know of a cover that is deserving accolades, go read the article I linked to and submit your suggestion right away!

So, what are your thoughts on the pieces I'm pulling together here for my own cover? Remember, friends don't let friends have bad cover art. I'm counting on you to tell me if I'm headed in an awful, cheesy, confusing direction with all this!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Drawing Challenge Update

Since I issued my "draw something every day" challenge to myself, life has been doling out the stress from multiple directions, and it has definitely gotten a grip on my psyche--and this has taken a toll on my drawings.

Sure, I've been able to stick with the idea of drawing every day (well, except Saturday because I was out of the house from 7:30 am to 11 pm helping my kids' choruses with a competition they were attending), but like I predicted at the beginning, masterpieces, these have not been.

It started with my Veranna piece. While I was pretty happy with how Veranna turned out, the dance mistress, Devna is not great work. And without the context of the booing audience and flying rubbish, the scene lacks the impact I went for in the story. But it was meant to be quick, and thus the focus on only the major players.
Mind you, this is just a sketch of the final idea
The final will use a real font

After that, I worked a bit on the Geek Girl design, which will likely be the concept that gets the most mileage from this whole endeavor, and honestly, if it pans out, it will be worth the whole experiment, because I think it has potential to be a great t-shirt.

Next, I had a couple days of misfires, one of my elf character from Curse Bearer (Culduin) which failed to capture him at all, and one of mermaid that I actually started a redo on today. The redo is coming out better, but I want to get further on it before I post it. Somewhere in there, I did a scribble of Fiernoth, a dragon from the next Windrider novel, Valor's Worth. That one rises slightly above the level of misfire.

The fact is, it's hard to draw when you are feeling under pressure, (even self-imposed) from multiple directions. Couple my overladen life with the fact that the supplement I was taking to help my sleep and my anxiety has turned out to have digestive side effects that make it too miserable to take, and you get more misses than hits on the drawing target.

But honestly, beautifully-rendered drawings aren't the goal of this whole endeavor, and I need to remind myself of that--daily. If polish was the goal, it would be the "draw something every two weeks" challenge. For now, it's enough that I'm working to carve out the time where I can. In the end, there will be a few gems within the tailings, and I can't complain about that.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Draw Something Every Day: Day 2--Geek Girl

Here on day 2 of the "Draw Something Every Day" challenge, this one has a semi-strange inception.

I was talking with some on-line friends about how writers conference attendance is heavily dominated by female conferees. Fun for a guy looking for a mate, I suppose, but perhaps intimidating otherwise. Anyway, that got me thinking about how the population of Geek Girls is also on the upswing. So that led to the pondering: what's the right t-shirt to be the uniform for that club? Hence, the image above was born.

I foresee the silhouette overlaying chunky letters that form a pretty exact square that say "geek girl." I haven't found the right font yet, though, so that's why you see no lettering involved.

We shall see where this and the other other drawings that crop up over this challenge lead.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Draw Something Every Day Challenge: Day 1

Veranna is ushered from the stage by the dance mistress when the crowd turns ugly...
On my way to work today, I was thinking about some of my artist friends who have been working full-time in the art industry since we graduated college in the late 90's, and how I admire the way their craft has grown because of it. I've been what you would call "all over the map" in terms of what I have been doing with my days since college, ranging from game animation, to full-time parenting, to managing files for a sheet music company, to writing novels and novellas--so needless to say, drawing has taken a serious back seat. I don't love that truth.

So in an effort to limber up, I've decided to challenge myself to draw something every day for the next 30 days. Some of them I'll post here, some I might throw onto Facebook only. But I thought I would give you the method behind my madness as I begin.

Now, there are destined not to be masterpieces, but just little sketches I can crank out on my lunch break or while I'm waiting for files to upload.

Today's sketch is inspired by a short story I just submitted for an anthology that gives readers a glimpse into the early life of the prophetess, Veranna, from The Windrider Saga. I hope you enjoy this little journey, and maybe you, too, will be inspired to try something you haven't really focused on lately but still love.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How Your Book Cover has the Potential to Make Me Embarrass Myself

One of the thorny things about social media is just how wide open it leaves you to making a fool of yourself. Take today for example: a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a book she had just read and was very pleased to report it defied all the stereotypes of self-publishing in terms of story. Unfortunately, all I could respond to was the cover of said book, having not read it, and I was direct about the fact that I thought it was a shame that the cover on the book was not as professional as what my friend said was inside. This wouldn't have been such a big deal, except the author of the book was privy to my friend's posts.

So moments after I called the cover "unprofessional," the author chimed in, wanting to know what was wrong with it. I winced.

Now, to give myself a little credit, I don't think I was mean or unprofessional in the way I worded my thoughts on the cover, and I did get into specifics with the author. Hopefully that particular spec-fic enthusiast is not too slighted, even if my assessment stung.

Fortunately, the cover was nothing like the stuff you find at Lousy Book Covers. Otherwise I might have been snarky and eating major humble pie right now.

So, maybe you're an Indie Author and you need to get a book cover together without sinking all potential earnings for the book into an illustrator. If you don't want to join the hall of shame over at the above site, there are a couple of principals I admonish you to remember.

1.) The title of the book is the star.
I don't care how awesome the illustration is, your title will overlap some of it. Don't crowd your text into the corners or along the edges of your cover so you don't overlap any part of the image. If your cover features a large face, the title will cover a portion of that. Plan accordingly. Better yet, make sure your illustration has natural "quiet zones" where the title can dominate. If the text takes up less than 1/3 to 1/2 of the cover real estate, your title is probably too small.

2.) Too many fonts are bad design. As are fonts that are too whimsical. Choose wisely, and stick to one, easily-readable font. Maybe two, in rare instances, but it takes a very deft hand to make multiple fonts work. Trust me on this.

3.)Make sure people other than you can tell what the image on your cover is. There's nothing like someone picking up your book, squinting, and saying, "What is that?" It's almost as bad as when your 4 year old brings you a picture they've labored over, and a wrong interpretation from you has the potential to send them into a fit of tears.

4.) Free stock art tends to look like what you paid for it. Couple it with bad photoshop layering that accentuates every stray pixel around the heroine's studio-windblown hair, and you're sure to tempt the Lousy Book Cover people to feature you.

And last, a piece of general advice: the best design elements are out there, waiting to be reinterpreted. Look at book covers. Lots of book covers. From big publishing houses with large design budgets. Decide what you like in what you see, and then find ways to incorporate those concepts into your own book cover. I'm not saying steal anyone else's design. I'm just saying that there are established principals that make some images compelling, and once you figure out why something you see works, you can apply the principal to your own cover. The only way to grow into a master is to imitate one until you have the principals in your bones and can draw on them at will.

That's my rant for today. I imagine I will come back to this cyclically, since I can't seem to get this bee out of my bonnet. If Indie Authors and small publishing want the credit they deserve for good craft, we've got to make sure we're wrapping those words in top-notch images, because as we all know, people do judge a book by its cover.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Coming this Summer: Valor's Worth, book III of The Windrider Saga

Whew. The last 10 days have been, in a word, insane.

On April 30th, my husband and I became first-time home-owners through a fairly complicated loan process called a 203K loan, which is a federal loan that lumps home purchase and renovation into a single closing. The loan type exists to make it possible for home buys who can't simply pay cash for a house that needs rehab in order to be livable. (As I understand it, you can't finance a home in any other way when the place has no plumbing due to vandalization, needs electrical work, and generally needs overhauling.) The house we bought isn't much to look at right now, but when we're done, we hope to have a cozy little place to call home that we can enjoy together for the long haul. While I am excited to finally quit renting, the purchase has reinforced my hatred of wall paper.

Then on May 1st, we rolled out the registration for Realm Makers: 2013, the first-ever symposium to address the creation of science fiction and fantasy through the lens of a Christian worldview. Although the conference will not deal with exclusively Christian market topics or players, faith will definitely play a part in the content. Registration is going strong, and I'm convinced we're going to have a great group of excited attendees learning from a top-notch faculty.

And lastly, I have officially signed the contract for my next book in the Windrider Saga, Valor's Worth. Unlike it's predecessors, this book is a full-out novel, some 400+ pages, and it no longer runs in the episodic format. This, I suspect will be to the great relief of some readers, and the equal chagrin of others. But I am confident in saying it is the best book I've written to date. We'll see if my readers agree, since therein lies the true test, right?

And for now, I'm off to get a cast put on my eldest son's broken arm. Yes, we have that going on along with everything else. Never a dull moment!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Finding the Bigger Fishbowl

One of my kids' favorite books is A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer...I'm sure most of you probably know it. It's that story where a little boy buys a fish at the pet store, and despite the shop keeper's warning, feeds the fish too much, and the fish begins to grow and grow and grow. The boy moves the fish from bowl to pitcher to pot to public swimming pool in order to find a place where the monstrosity he's created can fit. There are illustrations all through this book of a fish that doesn't even have enough room to turn around in whatever container he's occupying. He shifts from oblivious to shocked to dejected.

Authors in the Christian publishing world, in terms of marketing, seem to have this "big fish, little bowl" scenario working against them. Not in the sense that we've outgrown Christian publishing with our writing prowess and sheer market massiveness, but just that there's simply not enough water in Christian publishing in which to swim and find readers. (And let's face it, critics. We need those too, if we're going to grow.I'm of the opinion that the quarters are too close for us to be critics within our own little pond--but that's a whole 'nuther topic.) We keep bumping into the same 250 like-minded fish, with only the rare book reaching outside those circles.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Valor's Worth: Book III of The Windrider Saga, chapter 1 sample

Welcome, old friends and new explorers! Below, you'll find the first chapter of Valor's Worth, the next book in The Windrider Saga, for your preview. Please bear in mind, this is a draft of the chapter, subject to change once my editor gets his mitts on it. For now, I hope you enjoy it. And if you do, consider picking up copies of the stories preceding this one: Divine Summons and A Greater Strength. Both these ebooks can be yours for less than $7--which is less expensive than a single book from a big press.

So, without further ado...

Chapter 1
The Phoenix

We sailed high over the dense pine forests of northeastern Kelmirith, our only companions winging birds, clouds, and wind. The westering sun warmed my cheeks, although its dip below the horizon would soon usher in the frosty chill of a mid-autumn night. Far below, the winding river Nuruhain flashed, a strip of amber glass set alight by the sun’s inevitable demise.
The rhythmic whoosh of Majestrin’s silver wings thrust us forward with both ease and speed, and I grinned. His lithe neck pumped in a slow rhythm with each wing beat, and the topaz glow of the sun played off the reflective surface of his scales. Astride this beast, I became part of both breeze and setting sun.
Our smaller companions, a griffin and a winged lion, flew slightly behind Majestrin and out to his sides, taking full advantage of the path he cut through the force of the headwind. Even so, he drifted almost lazily along, while the griffon and the lion flapped with focus. I called back to their riders.
“This seems as good a region as any to make camp tonight, agreed?”
From the griffon’s back, the dark-skinned North Deklian rider, Hridayesh, leaned around the elf who guided the mount and shouted back. “Can’t you find a village with a decent bed? You’d think elves preferred sleeping on pine needles and moss to a civilized mattress.”
I guffawed. “I find there are fewer bugs on the ground than in the beds of most inns.”
Behind me, my passenger shuddered. “What a disgusting observation.”
“True, nonetheless. I would think of any of us, you would have the deepest objection to sharing your sleeping quarters with fleas, Veranna.”
Veranna sighed. “But now that you’ve brought it up, I’ll spend the whole night imagining phantom legs crawling all over me.”
“Is an over-active imagination a typical half-elven trait?” I asked.
Veranna stuck her nose in the air.
Insufferable, squeamish prophetess. I dismissed my irritation. “Major Galdurith, Sergeant Althoron,” I yelled to the soldiers guiding the lion and griffon. “We shall make our descent.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Purple or Poetic? The Fine Line in Prose

Since I spend about an hour and a half to two hours every day in my car, I use a lot of that time to think and observe. I figure, if I must have a commute that takes away time from my  writing, I can at least use that time to hash out things about or within my stories.

This morning was an observation kind of day. We had thunderstorms last night, which left everything quite wet, and lingering patches of thick haze hung in the air, depending on the elevation or the proximity of low, boggy places along my route. Since I take "the back way" to my job, I spend it driving through the hilly, wooded terrain of southeastern Pennsylvania, a route dotted with covered bridges, venerable fieldstone farmhouses, and mottled sycamores. Today, the sun was rising over the crest of a sloping farmstead, and the sunrise shone through the water droplet-laden grass grass with a silver glow. I fixed that picture in my mind, for use in a later book, I'm sure.

For me, if the description of a setting doesn't paint a vibrant picture of the place, and if the word choice doesn't also convey the feeling a person gets by being in that place, the description is dead weight. Yes, a reader needs to understand the layout of the scene, but in my mind, there's so much more one can do than explain where the tables and chairs sit relative to the stairs and the nearest exit. I love rich descriptions of textures and smells and the color of the light in any given space.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Intimacy with an Audience of Thousands

Recently, I started reading George R R Martin's A Game of Thrones, as part of my quest to read in both the mainstream market as well as within the tinier niche of Christian speculative fiction.  I have not made it far into the book, and am not sure if I will finish it. Certainly, it is well-written, and the depth of the worldbuilding is fascinating, but I hit a speed bump in the chapter where the young teen character, Daenerys Targaryen, is given in marriage to the older Khal Drogo, which is very early in the book. I'll be honest--call me a prude if you must--but I found the on-page depiction of their wedding night squeamishly troubling.

Now, the fact is, if you are looking at the practices of medieval society, a teen-aged girl marrying an older man has plenty of precedent. Just because it seems skeevy to us in our modern-day mentality doesn't necessarily make it a deal breaker for me on this book. The coarse language in the preceding chapters was also a non-issue for me. I don't presume to insist that when men are with men that they're going to act soft and pretty. But the consummation of Daenerys's marriage went over the line for me, so I decided to wrestle a bit with the questions: Why? Where is the line?

The book did not go to the extent of portraying a blow-by-blow progression of intercourse. It did stop short.  But what it did depict, I felt very much like an intruder on a scenario that was private and not meant for anyone but the two people involved. Lately, there's been an argument going around in Christian circles as to whether media depictions of intimacy between married people are acceptable, because hey, the folks are married, so they aren't sinning. I agree, married characters engaged in an intimate encounter are indeed enjoying a great privilege God has bestowed upon husband and wife. But when God created sex, did he create it as something to be shared between two married people and to be witnessed by whoever might find it interesting or exciting?

My ruminations about all this brought me back to the Song of Solomon, since it's probably the most overt depiction of marital intimacy (as God wanted it to be--there are plenty of examples of the misuse of sex all over the rest of the Old Testament) in the Bible. There are obvious allusions to kissing and caressing, and no shortage of admiration by both parties of each other's physical attributes. But seeing as it's poetic, and much of it merely the expression of desires, not a depiction of the actual acts of fulfilling them, it seems to me the Bible text falls in a different category than an on-page depiction of who-touched-what-when and how it felt.

I haven't yet reached a conclusion on this concept, beyond knowing that physical desire between married people is good for them, and that God himself has given us a transcribed picture of a couple's longing for one another and the emotional power behind that. The two passages that seem the most overt to me come in the 7th chapter.
vs 7: "...and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, 'I will climb the palm tree and take hold of its fruit.'"
vs 12: "Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom--there I will give you my love." 

These are clear statements about what the speakers intend--but again, it is only a statement of intent, not a depiction. Any actual "giving of love" is left completely in the white space between verses and chapters. So where does that leave the Christian writer and the Christian audience? In a media-saturated culture where you can view anything from a peck on the cheek to full-blown pornography, where does the Christian draw the line? Do we undermine the power of prose if we limit what we read and write to only what we would be comfortable with anyone seeing us do? Or do we enable a level of unholy voyeurism by depicting anything beyond that?

Your thoughts, if you're comfortable sharing them, are warmly welcomed!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Valor's Worth: Off to the Judge, Jury, and (hopefully not) Executioner

Some inspirational art of Lieutenant Commander Vinyanel Ecleriast and elements I'm batting around for the back cover of the book

Once again, another manuscript has escaped my hands and is now sitting in the likely-crowded inbox of an acquisitions editor. Even though I've had at least a dozen conversations with the powers-that-be at this publishing house, I can't help but have a little bit of trepidation about sending the book out for their ultimate acceptance or rejection. It's sort of like sending your kids into the first day of middle school. Maybe not as traumatic as the first day of Kindergarten, but somehow you know they are going to face new challenges, probably some nitpicking, and definitely some growing pains, and as much as you dread what might befall them, you know it must be done.

Having been down this small publishing road a few times now, I know what I want from the relationship, should the publisher in question decide this book is worth taking a chance on. It's no secret that every book    a publisher takes on is a risk, and my newest Windrider book takes some chances.For one, it's not serial, so it departs from the structure the previous stories have taken--which might bug some readers and will inspire hallelujahs from others. But with the change in format, I do risk an audience shift.

The book is also a little grittier than its predecessors. Certainly not George R R Martin gritty, but there are a couple necessary battle injury elements this book does not shy away from. We'll see if those make it to the final version.

And so, I'm left to wait--one of my severely under-developed author skills. Thankfully, I have Realm Makers conference planning, my family, my day job, closing on a house purchase at the end of the month, and the next book in The Risen Age Archive to keep me busy in the meantime. That should be enough, right?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Free Short Story

For the next few days, I'm running a promotion: The "Spring is for Unicorns" short story giveaway, where you can get a free copy of my tale "Wish Wary" from Amazon. The irony to this is that it is decidedly un-springlike here in the Greater Philadelphia area, as I watch snow blanket everything outside.

The story I'm giving away is a quick little ditty, meant for a quick diversion, for some resonance with a simple folk tale or bedtime story form. Drop in and grab a copy, and if you feel inclined, leave a review. Review quantity has a large impact on whether little-known-writers become better-known-writers.

Thanks, as always, for your support. Your word of mouth has the power to move books, and the more books I move, the more likely it is I can continue to write further tales. You, dear readers, have the power.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Intellectual Property is Still Property

Recently, I attended a church production that did a really excellent job delivering the message of God's love and his desire to redeem our lives, no matter how big or how numerous our mistakes. The production quality of the show was absolutely professional, and the actors, singers, and dancers involved all showcased high-quality talent.  I wanted to enjoy that production without reservation, but there was a problem.

The show was "homegrown," which is great. I admire the effort it takes to work from scratch if you can't find a pre-packaged dramatic production that fits your needs. However, there were a couple items in this homegrown commodity that left me questioning the legality of their use.

One large section of the story was told utilizing the text from a published collection of children's stories. However, nowhere in the program or anywhere else did I see any credit given to the author or publisher of this text. I know for sure my own publishing contracts make very specific mention of and provision for who owns the rights for dramatization (in any form, film, audio book, or live performance) of my writing. As with any author, if I don't retain those rights, the publishing house controls them, and therefore, it is against the law to use someone else's writing without either purchasing or otherwise procuring the rights.

I'm not saying this church did not procure the rights legally, because I don't know if they did or not. I don't attend there, and I was just a visiting audience member. If they did procure the rights, it would have been nice to see something in the program acknowledging the source. At the very least, the author and publisher deserve a shout-out for their hard work. Such a shout out prevents rules-driven people like me from stewing over whether the church did what was right in terms of copyright law.

But if they didn't procure the rights and just went ahead and used this author's text, boy does that put a bee in my bonnet. A whole swarm of them.

The process of getting a children's book written, picked up by a publisher, illustrated, edited, typeset, released, distributed, and into the hands of readers is a process that takes countless hours--years, literally--of many people's lives. Most writers scrape for every penny they make at their passion, so every time somebody misuses or misappropriates their work, it takes food from the mouths of their children or keeps new shoes off those kids' feet. For a church to use content without permission, even for a production that was free to the public, is unconscionable.

My husband put it like this: would the church steal the lighting equipment they used for the show? No, they rent it and pay whatever it costs. (And there was some really fabulous lighting for the show, I have to say.) How are lights different than content? I would argue they are less important! All the lights in the world can't convey the message the text does.

The last point I'm going to make about this is this: if we as Christians think we can skirt the proper handling of intellectual property, that creates another reason for non-believers to point at us and call us hypocrites. "See? They're no different than any of us. Just a bunch of lying thieves, hiding behind good intentions." Even if souls are impacted by the message a less-than-legal production conveys, for me, the ends don't justify the means.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Constant Terror of Being an Author

On my lunch break today, I ran an errand of such gut-twisting formidability that I’m lucky the lunch I scarfed down on the way back to my cubicle stayed where it belonged. What was that errand, you ask?
Dropping off my first load of books at the local, independent bookstore to be shelved and sold on consignment.

Maybe this doesn’t sound so terrifying to you. It probably isn’t to most people. But for artistic types like myself who are consistently underwhelmed by our own talent for making the thing we can’t help but produce any more than we can help breathing, it was enough to induce heart palpitations.

You see, I handed those books to a real person in the store. (A kind woman by the name of Kit who actually reads the stuff local authors bring to her in search of shelf space.) This woman had no prior connection to me. She didn’t seek my books out, I brought them to her and asked for a spot on her shelves. She was a perfect specimen of someone both objective and knowledgeable, and that, my friend, is the most terrifying person in the world to hand your paper babies to.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What's Coming Next for Vinyanel?

A while back, there was this blog hop drifting around people were calling “The Next Big Thing.” I got tagged at least four times for it, and being the distracted mother, conference planner, author, advertising associate I am, I never got to post while this was still news. I’ve had bits and pieces of his post kicking around for weeks, so I’ve decided I need to actually get it in place. The point of the blog hop was to encourage authors to share in succession what they are working on in their writing life, to link to other authors who tagged them and who they intend to tag, and to generally raise awareness about what’s up and coming in the fiction market. All good stuff to do if you have time. So here I am doing the informational part, sans tagging.

Most of my motivation to finally post this stems from the fact that I have been getting feedback from Beta readers on my “next big thing,” Book III of The Windrider Saga: Valor’s Worth. They say you need to write a million words before you know what you’re doing in the world of fiction writing. Valor’s Worth takes me up to about 750,000 words written so far, if you don’t count blogging, so I do believe I may finally be hitting my stride. The feedback on the book has been extremely encouraging, and I am really hoping this book will hit the market with a bang and some acclaim!

So thanks to Kat Heckenbach who technically tried to tag me first for The Next Big Thing. Also thanks to Kessie Carol, whose tag I am formally posting in response to. Here goes…my next big thing:
1) What is the title of your next book/work?

My next book to release, Lord willing, is Valor’s Worth. It’s book three of The Windrider Saga, and unlike its novella-length predecessors, will top out at close to 120,000 words. Not just a novel. A fat novel. (That’s about 480 pages for those of you who would rather look at it from that angle, which is a similar length to Curse Bearer.)
2) Where did the idea come from for the book/work?
This book has arisen out of subplots that have remained unresolved in the first two Windrider stories. Most prominently, the passing back and forth of the Chalice of Gherag-Tal, the fiend summoning artifact Vinyanel started his adventures trying to keep out of the dragon-kin’s hands. This book will deal with his burning need to recover that once and for all, and along the way, he’ll have to face his emotional woundedness that arises from his past, both recent and distant.

3) What genre does your book/work fall under?

This book, as well as just about everything I write falls under fantasy, basically of the sword-and-sorcery subgenre. Except the system of magic is entirely divine in origin, rather than being some kind of neutral power source a user can tap into. I hesitate to use the word sorcery because of the red flags that start flying on that, but style-wise, it’s very much like classic caper fantasy.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Captain America: The First Avenger
fame, would be the actor with the right look for Vinyanel. The beefed up version of him that Marvel trotted out should work nicely. That is if he can sport a substantial pair of prosthetic ear points and a long platinum wig. I think he could handle it.
For Veranna: I keep coming back to Penelope Cruz. Try as I might to scan Hollywood for another face, she keeps coming up with the right combination of skin tone, hair, and pluckiness.
And for Majestrin: Jeremy Irons. The depth of his voice and smooth accent make him perfectly suited to Majestrin, in my opinion. I can just feel the floor of the movie theater vibrate after the sound mix adds even more bass to his voice.
Although this wasn’t a question, I also want to add that the sound track should be written by either Howard Shore, Alan Silvestri, or John Powell.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Grrr. (No that’s not my answer. That’s my reaction to this exercise. Is there an author who likes one sentence synopses?) As for the boil down: When Lieutenant Commander Vinyanel Ecleriast learns of an imminent plot to employ the sinister artifact, the Chalice of Gherag-Tal, he takes upon himself to intervene, but his impulsiveness and the determination of his enemies test both his mettle  and his understanding of valor.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The book, as far as I know right now, will be published through a traditional publisher, but it’s not under contract yet, as of this writing. If things go as planned, it will be a contracted work.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Too long. This book has been in the works since about March of 2012, and the draft wasn't really done until late December. But in the meantime, I have been editing Curse Bearer and dealing with its release, so that has been a big part of the long drafting time. Since January, I have been editing like a lunatic in an effort to catch up.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This book compares somewhat to the Dragonlance book series written back in the 80s and 90s by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. It’s meant pretty much entirely for entertainment purposes, with hopefully just enough depth to be memorable.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The evolution of the Windrider saga has been a bit unusual, since it has its roots in serial fiction for Digital Dragon Magazine. Honestly, the content of the other books, which left the plot element of the dragon-kin having re-stolen the chalice of Gherag-Tal with the full intention of putting it to malevolent use, required I follow that thread through to its end. Couple that with the fact that I’ve been wanting to write a straight up Windrider novel, outside of the constraints of the serial format, and you end up with what I’ve got brewing.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

This book makes greater use of the red-haired dragon-keeper elf maiden who Vinyanel encountered in book 2 of the Windrider Saga, A Greater Strength, so I think readers who have been following along this far will be interested to see how she weaves into the story.
The book gets into a little bit of Majestrin’s back story, and readers will learn the awful reason why he is extremely uncomfortable around hatchling dragons. (We authors are so mean to our characters.)
This book is a little bit darker than the previous Windrider books, so it will be interesting to see how my readership reacts to that.

That pretty much covers it for now. Hopefully I will have this book tied up within this month, and then I will send my initial query on it and see how the publishing end looks. Hopefully circumstances will progress smoothly, and the book will make a quick trip to market.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Half Baked: A Creative's Biggest Fear

Windrider Saga
Lieutenant Commander Vinyanel Ecleriast, Windrider Battalion
The other day, during my lunch break, I got the itch to draw. You see, I'm in the midst of trying to come up with the right cover image for the third book in The Windrider Saga, entitled Valor's Worth. I really want this cover to feature Vinyanel prominently.

The trouble is, with all the work I've done on him in terms of sketches, I have never really "nailed" his look. That was, until yesterday. (The right reference makes a world of difference, by the way.) I was very pleased with the drawing I cranked out over lunch, but there are problems with it from its inception that I will never be able to fix: I started it in a crummy sketchbook with a horrible pencil.

This picture at the left here is drawn in a $2 spiral sketchbook from IKEA. I love IKEA, but it's not exactly the best place to shop for illustration supplies. My goal at lunch was just to do a study or two of Vinyanel's face, but one drawing took on a momentum of its own and grew into the sketch I posted on facebook yesterday. The image demanded I keep at it and add some tone and detail, which is what you now have here. Back to the pencil issue--I'm embarrassed to admit it, but this drawing was done with a Bic mechanical pencil--you know, the yellow kind where you turn the point and the lead emerges? I can hear Karen Saler, my freshman drawing teacher at The University of the Arts, groaning at the very thought of drawing with such a thing. The graphite transfers (fancy art word for smears) when you so much as wave your hand within 4 inches of the image, and it's completely inflexible in terms of tonal levels (but it's great for lots of little chain mail links, incidentally.)