Memorial Day 2017

Here is an American flag.

I shot it a couple of weeks ago, looking west in Central Phoenix, outside a modest strip mall with a bakery, a pizza joint, a taco shop, a Buy Your Gold store, a cell-phone store, a nail-art salon, and some other little businesses.

That’s as representative a slice of modern, ‘real’ America as you can possibly get. I can’t review the nail salon, the gold place, or the cell-phone store (haven’t been inside), but the restaurants are all excellent. I was there with friends, after we’d seen ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ nearby.

The flag was enormous, blowing in just enough wind to make it ripple like a Reagan-Era political ad.

My friends and I ate too much food, and discussed the movie, lies told by tyrants, what a Stepford job they did on poor Mantis, and how to recognize when one is within an impending political disaster.

The general consensus is that by the time enough people realize it, it’s probably too late, but you need to resist, subvert, and fight on general principles.

On this Memorial Day weekend, in between beer and picnics, church and parties, please consider this flag. Its genesis, everything it has withstood, the triumphs and tragedies it has flown over, the honor and duty of the people who have defended what it stands for.

WHAT IT REPRESENTS. Good and bad. Not just to Americans, but to people all over the world. To some folks, it’s still a beacon of a better life. To others, the mark of a hated empire or a rival power to be humiliated and sullied.

By itself, it’s merely pieces of sewn or printed fabric, likely to be made overseas. Don’t worship this thing. It’s a cipher, an illusion, a moving goalpost, and an easy target for those who hate it or misuse it.

I’m old enough to remember the rather sweet and optimistic American flags painted everywhere in 1976. This truck reminds me of that:

These days, when you see an American literally wrapping themselves in this flag, it’s often as cover and misdirection for un-American, even inhumane and evil reasons. Here are some more flags and trucks, but this time, they come across as creepy and dangerous, from the Tea Party references and truck flags (and even from the trucks themselves).

All flags wear out. There are entire sections of law books listing the solemn and respectful decommissioning of American flags.

There are no such rules regarding the dissolution of America. Or arguably worse: its steady ebb into ignominy as a racist, isolated parody of itself, as the rest of the world meets challenges too many American policy makers won’t.

Happy Memorial Day, America.

Phoenix Comicon 2017

That’s right folks, the madness that is Phoenix Comicon starts in just a few hours!

I probably won’t attend this year because of schedule conflicts with other work and art stuff. If you’re brave enough to deal with the heat and crowds, I can promise there will be lots of insane, wonderful, awe-inspiring moments for you.

This show is nowhere near as vast as San Diego, which still makes it approachable and fun. Phoenix is in the midst of reinventing its city center (yet again), which gives intrepid visitors and locals plenty of great food, drink, and entertainment…if you even leave the convention itself.

Moro’s Price revised edition now on sale!

The rewritten, expanded version of my smutty M/M space opera romance, Moro’s Price, is now up for pre-orders at NineStar Press. It should hit other vendors in a few days to a week.

A shout out to my brilliant editors, and to cover artist Natasha Snow. She managed to craft a cover that is gorgeous, sexy, kinky, relevant to the actual book, and still somehow mostly Amazon-safe.

Here’s the blurb:

Crown Prince, techno-geek, and secret sadomasochist Valier has lusted for years after the gorgeous gladiator called “The Diamond.” Meeting the escaped slave on a rooftop, Valier discovers Moro Dalgleish wants suicide before his former masters can reclaim him.

Infected with a deadly symbiont, Valier proposes empty sex to satisfy his urges and grant Moro’s release from a horrible life. Neither man plans for Moro to survive, or how the morning after will shake three empires to their foundations.

If you read this book in its first version from Loose Id in 2012, this is not quite the same book. I hope it’s better. If you didn’t read it, and you’re a fan of space opera and smutty romance, the TV shows ‘The Expanse’, ‘Killjoys’, and ‘Firefly’…you might like this one.

There’s a pretty good chance this one will have a print version, too!

STEM and art

Americans are so myopic, sometimes. In the rush to ‘teach to the test’ or advance our science and math education (well, until Betsy DeVos became Education Secretary), we’ve forgotten that art can involve some high levels of math and science, too.

Follow this Racked.com and Twitter thread for an in-depth look at the MetGala dresses and outfits, from scientist Mika McKinnon’s POV.

The rise and fall of Tate Publishing

It’s May 2017, and America (and the world, really) is still reeling from perhaps the greatest case of affinity fraud ever perpetrated: the election of Donald J. Trump to the American Presidency.  

Let’s look back at Tate Publishing, as a company deeply interlocked with some of the mindsets enabling Trump’s election: nominally ‘Christian’ worldviews that enshrine greed, corruption, hatred-of-others, and the belief that poverty is a moral failing.

Donald J. Trump and his immediate family (and many donors, sycophants, etc) are fans of the Prosperity Gospel. This philosophy bluntly preaches that wealth and success are outward signs of God’s favor, and that poverty and illness are signs of his disfavor and/or a flawed person. ‘Anyone can become successful’ is an innate American ideal, but these days the game is rigged. It’s not only stacked against most people, but the proponents of the Prosperity Gospel tend to cleverly repackage their corruption to shunt public attention away from them.

Many multi-level marketing, mega-churches, and vanity publishing all have similar goals: to enrich a small percentage of their members/founders at the expense of all others, and to instill a cult-like level of support from those same defrauded members.

Perhaps no other American vanity publishing company took the religious overtones to such extremes as Oklahoma’s Tate Publishing.

Tate Publishing’s corporate headquarters at 127 E Trade Center Terrace in Mustang, Thursday, 19 2017. Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman

It was started by Dr. Richard Tate and his wife Rita about 18 years ago, and has been run recently by son Ryan Tate and his wife Christy.

The Tate family leveraged new technology and new social norms to begin marketing their pay-for-publishing business to primarily Christian authors, artists, and musicians. They promised a wholesome Christian outlook, a supportive ‘family’ experience, well-produced physical books and music recordings, state-of-the-industry marketing…all for a hefty front end ‘subsidy’ from the author, as well as a commission charge on all sales.

How hefty? Authors could pay anywhere from almost $4000 to well over $50,000 depending on what ‘marketing packages’ and other frills sales people could convince them to buy.

Tate’s book editing was often done by low-skilled, underpaid, and in some cases even outsourced foreign editors. Covers were often low-quality, as were interior illustrations. Tate’s marketing of finished products was nearly non-existent, and for the large part ineffective for most authors. Many of them were told various forms of ‘buy the books from us, and hand-sell at local events’. This naturally limits an author’s effective sell-rate, as most people can only reach a few hundred of their family and friends. Effective trade publishers market to much broader groups, and generally command much higher sales.

Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware wrote a few years ago:

Tate takes pains to depict itself as a selective traditional publisher that accepts “only a single-digit percentage of authors who submitted manuscripts for publication” (a claim that’s a little hard to credit from a publisher that, if Amazon is to be believed, pumped out 3,000 titles in 2015). In fact, authors must pay nearly $4,000 to publish with Tate, with even more due if they choose to buy any of Tate’s array of extras, such as “personalized author websites” and video book trailers. Tate also incentivizes author book-buying, by promising to refund the original fee once 2,500 books are sold and allowing author purchases to count toward the total–though only if made in bulk quantities of 300 or more.

Of course, Tate never mentioned these fees in its front-end website material or videos. Only when authors asked for more information or submitted a manuscript, did Tate begin to disclose its fees. If authors balked at the cost, the the sales rep often backtracked to ‘offer’ a lesser amount. Authors were stalked with hard-sell tactics including letters, emails, and phone calls, all to close the sale.

Tate representatives also didn’t disclose the very small probability of any author making enough sales to earn a refund of their original fee.

Tate’s main source of income was apparently never consumer sales of their books and music, but book and music sales to their author/creators and expensive marketing and other packages.

Authors couldn’t even be certain of what they were actually earning, because Tate’s royalty accounting was so opaque as to be nearly meaningless. Authors complained that they diligently marketed their books, had documented sales and testimonials from readers…and yet did not see those sales reflected in royalty reports.

This could be seen as early as 2004, beginning in this AbsoluteWrite thread. While the warnings abounded, Tate never lacked for customers to buy its ‘services’, thanks to the enduring power of religious affinity fraud.

Because Tate marketed heavily to fundamentalist Christians who were already put off by ‘coastal elites’ and ‘Jewish mainstream publishers’, they could conceal their less-savory operations from unsuspecting authors who never bothered to learn how trade publishing worked. Tate Publishing also marketed heavily to senior citizens wanting a retirement income or a family history project in print, to misery memoir authors wanting to memorialize a lost loved one or bring attention to a medical issue, and to ‘fringe group’ believers who might not have the writing skills to reach an audience through a big trade publishing imprint.

Here’s the opening story of a typical Tate author, revealing how she was conned by Tate:

When Tate first called me, it was like I had won the lottery! I felt so proud of becoming one of the 4%. My children’s book was special, as it was written after my daughter had her 2nd heart surgery. I was filling a niche. I knew it would be hard to publish a children’s book about Down Syndrome, but I had tried and succeeded.

This author had a noble cause and good faith in Tate’s public persona. She didn’t research enough to understand Tate’s failings before signing a contract with them. She did all the right things by industriously marketing herself at Down’s Syndrome support events across the US. But she received no marketing help from Tate after the first couple of months, and her royalty checks ranged from sixty-some dollars to forty-two cents.

Tate authors were often warned away from naysayers as ‘negative influences’ and ‘liars’.

The Tate family were quick to take offense and threatened critics, bad reviewers, and recalcitrant authors with libel lawsuits. They threatened their employees often, and had a high turnover as disillusioned editors and artists fled the company.

Of about 1000 current authors in the 2016 Tate catalog, Ryan Tate claimed most were ‘very happy’. I’d believe it, if only for the power of Sunk Cost Fallacy and even perhaps Stockholm Syndrome. Many people never want to admit they’ve been conned, and go through mental gymnastics to avoid it. Likewise, authors who never know anything different might be happy with poor marketing, vague royalty statements, and tiny sales. For some people, it’s not about the money, but having something in print.

Here too, Tate failed a lot of writers. Many of the Consumer Affairs complaints involve claims of shoddy books, bad covers and illustrations, or simply no physical books produced.

Even when authors finally wised up and tried to leave the company, Tate Publishing had one last con to play: they charged authors a $50.00 ‘processing fee’ to turn over final print/sound files so the authors and musicians could republish their work. (Rights buy-backs are a huge problem in the publishing industry, see my posts on Ellora’s Cave for how bad they can get). Because Tate’s final fee wasn’t large, many unhappy authors simply paid it and moved on…often to similar vanity publishers!

A few years ago, driven mostly by the attrition of their prime senior citizen clients and the advent of easier digital self-publishing, Tate Publishing fell on hard times. They started outsourcing much of their editing and other production work overseas. There’s a famous rant online from when Ryan Tate fired 25 employees after none of them told who leaked their dissent about the outsourcing. It’s here, and epic.

Soon, Tate couldn’t even pay its foreign workers in the Philippines, and ‘scaled back production’ returned to their Oklahoma facilities. Bear in mind, they still released thousands of books and hundreds of records a year, showing how little money and time actually went into production. Authors who visited the Tate offices at this time described the formerly busy company as ‘a ghost town’. High employee turnover caused communication breakdowns between authors, staff, and company officials.

By mid 2016, Tate Publishing’s lease deals with major print machinery and computer suppliers were on the rocks, leading to at least one hefty lawsuit.

The Tate family announced in late 2016 that it would close its doors, but not without hinting they would simply rename the company and rise anew as Lux Creative Concepts LLC, which was registered in February 2016 by Ryan Tate’s wife, Christy Kelley-Tate.

By late 2016 there were at least 800 complaints being considered by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, and thousands of warnings by disgruntled authors and ex-Tate employees across the internet.

The case broke to the public in full drama this week. First, the Tates announced that they might open up again. The OK AG office was understandably reluctant to add more names to its case files against Tate, so they charged the Tate patriarch Richard and his son Ryan with felony embezzlement charges, misdemeanor embezzlement charges, and three felony attempted extortion by threat charges.

Those last charges, the extortions? All come back to those $50 processing fees, which were apparently paid to Tate Publishing but funneled to the Tate family’s private bank accounts. A day after the charges were made public Richard and Ryan Tate were arrested, held on $100,000 bond each, and forced to surrender their passports.

There will be authors who still champion Tate Publishing. Many of them also voted for Trump.

As the old Sun Tzu quote goes, ‘The wheels of justice grind slow, but exceeding fine’.

We can hope at the very least the Tates lose most of their ill-gotten gains and serve serious jail time. At the best, we can hope this is a harbinger of greater justice to come.

(This post compiled with images and information courtesy of newsok.com, koko.com, Writer Beware, Publishers Weekly, and consumeraffairs.com.)

 

Shaderunners webcomic

I have this featured over in links, but it’s worth a closer look and a shout-out: Shaderunners.

From the comic’s ‘About’ page:

One part Prohibition fantasy, one part Robin Hood, and a whole lot of epic heist, Shaderunners follows a group of ragtag bootleggers and bohemians who band together in an effort to steal colour from the wealthy echelons of Ironwell’s high society. Among them: a philosopher, a puppeteer, a gutter rat, an opera singer, a naval officer and a hopeless romantic. Together, they run The Glass Dial, former watch shop and future night club, where all the house drinks run red.

Speak easy, pal, ‘cause the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.

Take a secondary world with a ‘feel’ of Prohibition-Era America. Unknown forces have left the world drained of all color. But the tomb of an ancient queen reveals artifacts still imbued with precious, rare color…and they become prizes in a power struggle not only between empires, but between the aristocracy and a furtive band of renegades. The renegades reason ‘Why should only the Gilts and Inks get to see color? Why shouldn’t ordinary people get to see it, too? And why shouldn’t we make money off it?’ and set out to rectify that injustice. Along the way, they might just stumble into idealism and real revolution.

The worldbuilding is A+, telling you just enough to ground you but leaving you hungry for more. The characters are interesting, each with their own flaws, strengths, and secrets. The plot is fun. The art is yummy, and perfect for the vibe.

One of the greatest tricks Shaderunners plays? How easily it follows several genderfluid characters, in a world where ‘alternative’ sexuality and gender are nothing remarkable. The art works with story image cues more easily and efficiently than pure text, to show us a character being ‘Mr’ one moment and ‘Miss’ another. In suspenders and a newsboy cap in one setting, and a silken dress and vamp-queen Deco headress in another. Rather than being a trangressive or ‘teaching’ moment, this is simply portrayed as life-as-usual…a refreshing change from both extremes, and one I wish more authors, artists, agents, and publishers would understand.

Try this webcomic. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!

 

The dark side of Pinterest

I both love and hate Pinterest.

On the plus side, it’s an incredible resource for worldwide inspiration in every visual art field, curated to various levels of research and granularity.

On the minus side(s), it’s a hot mess.

The app is pushy as hell, and locks down random scrolling unless you log it. Which I don’t always want to do or have time to do. No, Pinterest, you are not my go-to image search app, and the pushier you get the more resistant I get.

Even worse is the citation problem many visual artists feared from the beginning. When Pinterest started, there were few mechanisms to track the original source of an image. Pinterest addressed some of those, but it’s still not easy to tell who first came up with an image, and who merely reposted it.

I’ve been guilty of the same, I’m certain, even though I try to cite my Pinterest sources, and hope others will do the same for me.

For a cautionary story of the right and wrong ways to use Pinterest and other social media image-sharing apps, check out this tale of a mural in Chicago, two artists, and the best First Lady we’ve had in decades.

First Look: Politics As Usual

I’ve had this piece of fiber book art in mind since 2011-2012. I’m glad I held off until now: even Mitt Romney’s version of the GOP has been eclipsed by the current crop of corrupt, venal, sanctimonious, and utterly incompetent politicians gracing the Republican Party. (And I say that as a former GOP member!)

‘Politics As Usual’ will combine beaded 18-count cross-stitch with applique patches and commercially-printed fabrics, to make an Abecedarium (ABC Book) using two political terms per alphabet letter on fabric pages. The binding will be a wood box-spine anchored by decorative red-white-and-blue glass beaded tassels. The covers will be woodburned poplar, tooled leather, fiber art, or some mix of those.

The current main word-pair lineup stands at: Alternative Facts / Agenda, Brink / Bipartisan, Constitution / Conflict, Dissent / Doublespeak, Ethics / Emolument, Fascist / Filibuster, Grassroots / Gerrymander, Hegemony / Humanist, Ideology / Impeach, Justice /  Jingo, Kleptocracy / Keynesian, Lobbyist / Loophole, Mandate / Midterm, Nationalism / Nihilism, Oligarchy / Opposition, Proxy / Pundit, Quota / Quorum, Resist / Racist, Spin / Suffrage, Theocracy / Tyranny, Unity / Useful Idiot, Vote / Veto, Wedge / Whistleblower, Xenophobia / X-Factor, Yellow Journalism / Yield, Zeitgeist, Zero Sum Game.

There may or may not be additional smaller-font words worked into the background, along with little topical motifs such as biohazard symbols, radiation symbols, the GOP Elephant, the DNC Donkey, mushroom clouds, dollar and pound signs, Resistance symbols, Trump’s hair, high-heeled shoes, palm trees, golf symbols, etc.

As befits a subversive embroidery sampler, it may or may not be housed in a repurposed cedarwood Bible box, depending on the final dimensions of the book.

It’s going to be a lot of fun to make.

 

2017 Hugo Awards List!

It’s April, and I’ve been so busy with my own art and writing I forgot one of April’s cherished traditions.

It’s Hugo Awards nomination time! And that means another Pie Fight GIF, this time courtesy of the very topical film Dr. Strangelove. I love how stoic and dignified this poor guy looks…kinda the way most of us feel now about the Hugos, the Puppies, and the battle for the soul of genre fiction.

So much has changed since last we were here! The Puppies got trounced, but Trump won, only now it looks like Trump & Co may go up against a firing squad (maybe figurative, maybe literal) any day now. Or we’ll start a WWIII between the US, China, Russia, Syria, and North Korea, with IS bringing up the rear.

Is diversity and democracy dead? Or stronger than ever?

It may be worth noting that Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and plenty of other genre SFF memes have jumped from geeky obscurity to proud symbols of the anti-Trump #Resistance. When GOP and ‘mainsteam’ pundits mock anti-GOP candidates for loving SFF or, say, posing in Star Wars or Trek cosplay gear…we laugh at the naysayers. We know our people, and with some luck and skillful (nonviolent) revolution, we know our people can win.

We thinking peoples of the world have a chance to push back against kleptocracy and isolationist nationalism, against anti-science and anti-global cabals. It won’t be easy. This time we aren’t reading a book or watching a movie with a scripted ending. We’re inside a messy complex real-world multi-platform Go game where half the players won’t mind suicide if it takes out the others.

It’s also worth noting that many players on the Rabid Puppy/Sad Puppy/ Gamergate sides have migrated fully over to the neo Nazi alt-right camp (not that we were surprised by this.) They understand that a generation’s movies, games, and books become mythologies that shape its thinking, and they still want to warp SFF into their image.

Don’t let them. Read dangerous, challenging, and diverse books. Write them. Watch the movies. Make the art. Support the other people doing the same thing. Fight the Nazis, the rigid theocracies of every faith, the dynasties of terror and delusion, and the petty politicians who would rather support party (or their own Cayman account) than country.

Against this backdrop this year’s Hugo nominees are (mostly) a diverse and forward-thinking lot. We have only a couple of token Puppy plants, none as charmingly perverse as our beloved Chuck Tingle. I leave it to you, gentle eligible voters, to make your choices.

 

BREATHE covers

Typically, it’s April and I only just starting to upload 2017’s book arts pieces!

Here are the roughly 1.5x3x.25″ faux-inlay covers (outside and inside) for BREATHE. I showed a first look at the pages last year. They’re a gathering of Latin mottos I thought were particularly appropriate for the current state of the world:

Dum Spiro Spero. Dum Spero Amo. Dum Amo Vivo. Dum Vivo Prosum.

While I breathe, I hope. While I hope, I love. While I love, I live. While I live, I do good.

The covers give rough English translations, along with the title, colophon, my sigil and date made.

I chose poplar because it’s a fairly hard, very fine-grained wood that takes well to woodburning. When properly varnished, good poplar feels and ‘pings’ almost like porcelain or bone.

Text and designs are burned in with a pyrography pen. You can’t see it in these scans, but I did scrollwork on every edge. It came out yummy.

I sanded and scrubbed away the burn resins (otherwise the paint won’t stick!), then filled the channels with a thickened tinted acrylic (in this case, Indigo and Titanium White). When that dried, I sanded it again until most of the wood was clean, and most of the burned channels were still filled with a paint ‘inlay’ with a fine dark brown outline. It’s not an exact artform: you can see where I sanded out the paint on the word ‘breathe’ on the lower right image.

Alert readers will have seen me try this out here. I’ve been farting around with this technique for over ten years, but this and the blood orange wand are the first times I’ve been mostly happy with the look. Hint: fine-grained wood is the key. Wengewood, purpleheart, and oak have too much open grain that collects the paint and obscures the drawing (see where I messed up on CONTINENTAL DIVIDE and CITY AT NIGHT).

When sealed with a UV resistant lacquer varnish, the silky grain of the poplar shows up in a figured pattern, with a lot of surface translucence that offsets the opaque paint.

The beaded accents are from the 30-Year Stash: blue and white porcelain inside the cover holes, with matte green/red striped ‘onyx’ glass and pale gray-purple matte seed beads. I thought these picked up the dark blue, lavender, buttercreme, and ice-blue colorways and floral theme of the fabric pages.

Thread is Navy Blue waxed polyester from Maine Thread Co.

And now on to join pages and covers! More on the finished piece here.

 

My RevPit bio

Certain things in my life are brick walls that I bash into, until I become smart enough to bash through, climb over, dig under, or set aside. There are several art galleries that are such long-term goals, they’re almost just existential by now. Online query pitch contests are another. Every time I flame out in one I swear I won’t do that again…until the next one.

Next week begins a thing called #RevPit, for Revise & Resub. For the winners, it’s a month of free editing and query help from some pro editors, followed by an agent cotillion. It takes the place of the hurriedly cancelled Pitch2Pub.

The mms for SINGER is revised, the query tightened up again. I’m still planning on querying it to the Big 5, then one small press I like, and then probably just self-publishing it. At this point, I’m adult enough to know it probably won’t snag an agent. But it could use some decent editing.

For people stalking my mms, there’s plenty on that buried in the rest of this blog. I’ll make it simple. It’s a big secondary-world high fantasy/sword&planet quest/romance novel about music, ancient bio-weapons, sentient amnesiac black holes, oppressed populations, incipient civil wars, and three people who really need to talk honestly to each other more often. Like I said, simple. That big black beastie on a green background up above? He’s a major character in the saga.

For people stalking me, I’m really rather boring. The most interesting thing about me right now is my hair, which is partly cobalt blue right now. And my terrible taste in socks.

I’ve been a commercial and fine artist for a couple of decades. Some of my areas of expertise chosen obsessions are silversmithing, beadwork, embroidery, acrylic painting, costuming, couture clothing, masks, book art sculptures, and digital art.

I’ve had art in some national exhibitions and fancy coffee-table art books. My book art pieces are represented by two incredible galleries, who sell my work to collectors around the world. I have art online at a few sites, both for display and for sale.

By day I write marketing and catalog copy for private companies.

In my spare time, I write science fiction, fantasy, fanfiction, and original erotic romance. I’m apparently not supposed to let on how much I’ve written, but psst, I’ve been writing for 30 years last weekend.

Some of it has even been published by royalty-paying publishers.

What do I want out of this? Nearly everyone wants an enthusiastic, skilled agent and maybe a very nice deal down the road. But my years in art have taught me that the outcomes and odds can be so improbable that you’d better be doing something you love. That you would do anyway. That you cannot not do. That the journey itself may be more important, and lead to even more amazing places than you ever dreamed.

So I’m hoping to connect with some more mentors who will become good friends, that maybe I can help as much as they could help me. Even if I don’t make it into the later rounds, just doing this has helped me clarify my goals.

 

Tempe Festival of the Arts, Spring 2017

If you’re in the Phoenix, AZ area this weekend, check out the Tempe Festival of the Arts, running March 31 to April 2. It’s a sprawling wonderful circus occupying Tempe’s Mill Avenue and the surrounding side streets: plenty of art, food, live music, and people-watching.

This festival’s Featured Artist is Hannie Goldgewicht, known for her blending of ceramics and basketry. Her pieces have a monumental simplicity, combining the textures of pine-needle basketry with the rich colors of her stoneware base forms.

I’ll expand this blog post later today, to show the festival award ribbons I designed to riff off Hannie’s signature ‘look’ and themes.

***

And it’s now later.

Since 2010, I’ve designed and made the fiber art ribbons used as category and grand prize winners at the Tempe Festival of the Arts. The organizers and I have hit on the strategy of having me focus on themes (such as the AZ Centennial in 2012) or riffs on that show’s Featured Artist’s show poster. When I first heard they were considering Hannie’s work for this show poster, I started getting design ideas.

First, a look back at someone who may or may not have been an inspiration to Hannie, but they were certainly firing on the same wavelength: the late fresco artist Marcia Myers.

courtesy Gail Severn Gallery

I first came across Myers’ work in a coffee table art book, and then in person at a show at Phoenix’s Bentley Projects gallery. Inspired by Venetian frescos, Myers developed her own techniques for creating lush, many layered faux frescos on canvas or board with acrylic mediums (plus other art media). Deceptively simple, these must be seen in person to be really appreciated.

They show the same light-soaked, rich colors and pleasing textures as Hannie Goldgewicht’s work.

How to show those textures and tones in fabric? Ultrasuede: it has a soft nap and leather-like look that almost mimics the textures of fresco or ceramic. I had some oxblood red, aqua turquoise, and caramel-gold suede on hand from other projects.

How to keep a clean, crisp edge without a lot of bulk? Ribbon facing: a black-cherry red satin ribbon binds the edge of the cutout thick interfacing shape. Ultrasuede panels are glued and sewn on top. Bonus: I can use this edge trick on fiber book pages!

Text blocks and logo are digitally printed fabric, sewn in place with satin stitch.

Wood and stone beads (jasper, carnelian, dyed magnesite, various agates, tigereye, and aventurine) made great accents.

How to mimic Hannie’s simple pine-needle basketry? I thought about pine needles, but they are too finicky to work with in very small forms (for me, at least). Pigtail raffia, however, has long thin fibers in a rich straw to green-gold tone. When soaked to soften, then twisted, they were perfect to couch-embroider over the suede panels.

For the raffia accents, I chose very simple shapes to echo the simplicity of Hannie’s work.

The ribbons are finished on back with seafoam-green canvas, frayed out along the edges for more texture. Ribbon ties and pinbacks offer a variety of display methods for the winners of the three major awards, the category winners, and the honorable mentions. There are 23 ribbons total in each show’s set.

I can’t wait to see what next fall’s design is going to be!

Mood board for Singer

To keep my mind off #pitmad and to get ready for #revpit in two weeks, here’s another mood board I cobbled together for my high fantasy mms SINGER.

Art credits include: Michael Whelan, cover for Tanith Lee’s ‘Night’s Sorceries’

Renaissance gold chain, Incollect https://www.incollect.com/articles/revival-jewelry-looking-to-the-past-for-inspiration

Venezuelan thunderstorm, The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/southamerica/venezuela/11728250/Catatumbo-Venezuelas-everlasting-lightning-storm.html

Blue Planet, BBC advertising

St. Herman’s Cave, Belize http://www.vivabelize.com/tours-activities/land-activities/st-hermans-ceremonial-cave-exploration/

Bamboo flute, Alibaba

Sawyer Fredericks, MusicTone music videos

original map, embroidery, digital painting by Marian Crane

 

Why enter pitch contests?

Other than sheer masochism? They offer a slight shortcut to the usually long query process, they let you meet fellow writers and industry professionals, and they offer the chance to get agent offers and free feedback.

I’ve blogged before about some dangers and darker sides of online pitch contests. Now for a spotlight on the second valuable gift they offer: feedback and editing.

Very few people can write in a vacuum. We need feedback in developmental stages of a mms, and capable editing at the later stages.

Would-be self-published writers, do you know that it can cost between $1500 and $5000 for qualified professional editing of your mms? Most self-pub authors don’t bother, and it shows in the final product.

Many pitch contests offer author-peer and professional feedback, for free or a minor donation! Some offer the finalists or winners a few weeks to a couple of months of pro editing, as well as a final showcase to tempt agents and acquisition editors.

Sure, it’s a long shot, but why not try?

I just finished a rewarding and humbling experience: tightening up my smutty M/M space opera MORO’S PRICE, which is being re-released (in a heavily revised version) from NineStarPress this summer. I have an awesome editor, and I really need her skills. (So many mistakes!)

The experience made me look again at my newly revised high fantasy mms. It’s a better book that the version I shopped last year, but I know it needs editing.

So I’m bashing my head against the mostly-so-far-fruitless pitch contest scene again, and entering this mms in the upcoming Pitch 2 Publication melee.* I have a teeny chance at getting anywhere in that event, but I’ve got to try it.

Because even if I don’t snag an agent, I’ll get strong feedback. All the ‘unsuccessful’ contests last year, plus agent and editor feedback, led to my recent revisions and a much stronger book.

If I need to, I can then self-publish that book.

(I have been known to submit work to top SFF short fiction markets, just for their personalized rejections, for similar reasons.)

*Which has now been postponed and replaced with Revise & Resub.

 

Character names and titles

Character names and titles are important in fiction (duh!)

Different genres have different naming trends and types, if not outright rules. A clever writer can exploit or twist those, while a tone-deaf writer can suffer for them. Of course, it helps to read massively and currently in your target genres.

I have a perennial problem with names. Many of my characters go through name changes during their story’s evolution (Tel from ‘Bloodshadow’ has had five different names). Or they’re called by different names by different people or groups (Moro from ‘Moro’s Price, poor lad.)

Some characters will stubbornly keep their names, no matter what plotty bribes I throw their way.

I’ve got two naming problems right now, with two separate projects.

My editor felt uncertain about a 52nd Century character calling himself ‘Bill’, with a given name of William (which he hates, hence the nickname). Realistically, linguistic drift and culture changes should result in very different name structures.

But this is a smutty M/M space opera, not literary fiction with scholarly linguistic projection.

The character has good reason to go by a jaunty, unassuming nickname. So I left him as ‘Bill’.

I gave him an Eastern European version of ‘William’ that links back to part of his family’s heritage. He still hates it, because it makes him look even more like a rich mobster. And, like the rest of the book, it offers an indirect political comment on RL current events.

My second name problem is an honorific, a job title, a threat, and an insult…applied to one of the founding characters in my secondary-world high-fantasy Lonhra Sequence books. I’ve had this (mostly background) immortal character in his/her/their current form for over three decades. (What happens when you worldbuild as a hobby.)

That character’s given name changes often due to marriage and politics, but their title is a bedrock of Lonhran history.

Imagine my reactions when I read today about a new YA author using almost that same title in her fantasy book! After the initial jolt passed, I examined my problem logically.

I doubt she ‘stole’ it, even though my version has been trade-published since early 2012. The title is a combination of two common English language words. It’s likely many people have used it.

Could I use the Lonhra language version: Tilurak? It means the same thing. I like both, but the longer English version is more familiar and approachable for me.

If an agent or editor brings up the coincidence, I’ll have to explain and justify my reasons.

Until then, that character title stays.

The lesson for other writers? Names can be a battleground. Be prepared to fight for, alter, or jettison them as needed.

Black Ceramic Chain

Technology is wonderful. Especially when bright but otherwise bored people say ‘Hey, these zirconium ceramic ball bearings and whetstones are nearly as tough as sapphire. I bet we could make jewelry out of this stuff!’

Jewelry wonks are already familiar with Cubic Zirconium, the relatively cheap and readily available diamond-substitute gem, usually faceted and sold either clear or colored to mimic other gemstones.*

Zirconium powder can also be purified and melted with binding agents into a tough, hard, opaque ceramic (the aforementioned ball bearings). I’ve seen the jewelry results in pieces from David Yurman ($1500) or Jona ($5000).

Recently, Fire Mountain Gems got some black and white zirconium ceramic jewelry components in stock. When they had a deep sale on the 29x16mm and 13x10mm oval links, I bought. That yielded 12 of the big links and 2 of the smaller ones. For less than I’d pay for a good cheesesteak sandwich at my local deli.

Combined with matte-finished black #11 seed beads in ladder-stitched links, fire-polished Czech faceted ovals, and black nylon thread, the zirconium ceramic links made this minimal 20-inch necklace with toggle clasp. I like how the polished ceramic links have the black glitter of hematite, but much less weight. (It’s as light as a fiber art piece, honestly, with more weight from the glass.)

*About 30 years ago, when Cubic Zirconium gems (CZ) really came onto the hobbyist market, there was a mail order scam trade run by several ‘jewelers’ who would convince people they’d ‘won’ a free CZ faceted gem, for a minimal shipping fee. They even had soap opera celebrity spokespeople, which should have been an instant warning.

Sometime between 1985 and 1987 I got a mailing from one of the companies. (I’ve taken it off web links because the owner’s apparently just got out of prison on racketeering charges, with a side of witness tampering. Typical GOP businessman, alas.)

Back then if you accepted the stone and the ‘cash winning opportunity’, you’d get hounded to buy their other products. I had a pretty good idea what was really going on, so I said ‘Sure, Redacted Jewelry Company, send me my genuine fine diamond simulant!’

What I got was a pretty nice 1 carat white faceted stone for the shipping cost (not much), and a massive sales pitch for their crappy gold or silver plated jewelry settings. Because most people even then weren’t silversmiths, or knew that real silver and vermeil (gold plated silver) findings were easy to come by and easy to set with a few basic tools. Redacted Jewelry Company and I had some more go-arounds while I talked them out of a few more CZ gems (Hey, cheap CZ!) before they finally gave up on me.

What to take from this? I love technology, and I really like this necklace. Also, every new product or service has scam potential…but if you know what’s happening, you can have a hell of a lot of fun with the scammers.

 

Blood Orange and Jasper Magic Wand

Or: faux inlay technique on wood.

I make artifacts and jewelry, along with book art and a ton of other largely useless but fun things. I belong to a loose-knit group of like-minded souls who, upon occasion, will make Harry-Potter-inspired magic wands as props and cosplay pieces.

This newest piece is made from a Blood Orange tree twig woodburned and painted, with a lanyard of braided waxed blue-gray polyester cord strung with Picture Jasper and Blue Lace Agate beads. The stick is about 14″ long and .75″ at its widest.

I’ve had the twig for 15 years. It came from a Blood Orange bonsai attempt that died at two years old. The corkscrew end is part of the root, and shows the stress on the tree. (I am never starting another bonsai again. It’s cruel, the tree equivalent of foot-binding.) I kept the dried-out little trunk because it was beautiful in its frozen misery, and a stern reminder of boundaries I shouldn’t cross again.

When I decided to make a prop wand from it, I stripped off the bark with a Dremel sander tip, then polished with successively finer sandpapers up to 600 grit. 

I did the spiraling design on the twig freehand with a temperature-controlled woodburning pen with a chisel tip. That allowed me to sink deep, precise marks along the wood. The resulting resins got scrubbed off with 90% alcohol and an old T-shirt. This cleaned off the soot and oils that could otherwise retard paint and varnish. The stick looked like this…

Painting time! I mixed a blue/turquoise/gray acrylic paint slip and worked it into every burned line, then painted a layer over the whole stick. That got to dry for a day. I chose blue-gray because it’s a color out of a fantasy series I’m working on, and I want do do some book covers in this look eventually.

(I can imagine that an earthwitch out of my Lonhra Sequence books might use a version of this thing.)

orangwwood wand detailWith another old T-shirt and more alcohol, I rubbed off most of the paint, until the buttery-yellow bare wood showed and the burned lines were filled with blue-gray paint. Once that dried for another day or three, I sanded again with fresh 600 grit black wet-dry paper.

This leaves a general effect of bare wood + colored inlaid lines bordered with the dark brown burned edges of the design. Covered with an oil-based or clear resin varnish, the effect looks even more like inlay. I use this technique a lot on wood book covers, because it adds subtle, precise surface detail.

The lanyard is Gray 4-ply waxed polyester cord from Maine Thread Co, in a triple-strand braid. The tan/cream/brown Picture Jasper rectangular tubes came from a $4 thrift store necklace I found last week. From The 30-Year Stash, I already had tumbled nuggets of Blue Lace Agate with the right mix of gray-blue and white banding and tan matrix.

On pyrography: Some folks do woodburning on leather (I don’t like the smell, or the result, but that’s only my take on it.) You may not get as deep or as controlled a brand line as you might on wood. Be careful when scrubbing/sanding off the top layer, as you can ‘suede’ your leather accidentally.

If you want to try this look, you can use the regular hobbyist single-temperature ‘soldering iron’ type of woodburning pen. I’ve found that my variable-temp professional pyrography unit with multiple tips is an amazing drawing tool. It’s more than paid for itself in the decade-and-a-half since purchase.

What am I going to do with this wand? Hang it up to look at for a while, maybe sell it later. It’s a proof of concept. The value for me lay in the crafting, so I can apply the look elsewhere.

When writing goes exceptionally well

I’ve been at a plateau for a while on the big fantasy project: polished, but not quite gleaming. This weekend, three things happened:

I wrote a decent pitch for an upcoming pitch contest.

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I tightened the first chapter, and bridged new and old versions with really strong scenes. I forced more emotion into one character, and more agency into another.

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Both beta readers on this project (who are neither lazy slouches nor easily won over) have given me their vast approval.

So even if the pitch contest doesn’t work, I’m far more confident about this book than in its previous versions. It’s not wasted effort, if it improves the manuscript.

The only catch: it all has to be done by Friday the 24th. That’s when the pitch contest begins…but more importantly, it’s when I have to start work on a major art project AND wrangle incoming edits for the brand new, shiny version of Moro’s Price (coming from NineStar Press this summer).