Myself from Space

For a couple of years recently, I worked at a strenuous but fun job painting faux finishes on fiberglass architectural forms.

A mostly outside job winter or summer, it involved schlepping big cast brickwork arches onto sawhorses, fixing the (numerous) flaws from the manufacturer, and painting a three tone finish to mimic a particular type of Italian brickwork.

Even when the Phoenix temperatures hit 117, I loved that gig. I had a great team and a wonderful boss who is a master of moldmaking and theatrical props. The work was easy once I figured out how it all went together. There was always enough shade, cold water, and excellent coffee. The boss had wrested from the unforgiving clay a remarkable garden, so that meant fresh tomatoes and artichokes. (I hadn’t seen an artichoke flower before. They are otherworldly.)

For comic relief and amazing eggs we had urban chickens.

The boss got out of that business, two years after I left it for an indoor job, and is now departing to the Antipodes and a saner country. I can’t blame him. He’s having an artwake/farewell party in a couple of weeks.

The house will be sold. Will the new owners will keep up the garden, or keep funny obnoxious chickens, or create mad art miracles behind a privacy fence? Or will they be a boring bland example of gentrification?

In a fit of nostalgia I looked up our little enclave on Google maps, and found a satellite photo snapshot circa 2014 or 2015:

Google’s commercially available detail is stunning. From the vegetation and shadow angle it’s summer, a couple hours after noon. The house, shop, and garden are tucked into an unassuming scruffy corner of metro Phoenix. The boss’s truck, one of my coworkers’ vehicles, and my car are clearly visible in the locked, fenced parking area.

Out in the workyard are the shade canopies, the unpainted white fiberglass forms, the upright drying racks, stacked sawhorses. And two blobs casting shadows as they work: my coworker and me.  I know because I can see the colors of the shirts we’re wearing.

It’s really weird to see yourself from space, from orbit, from a past time.

But also damn cool.

 

 

Tempe Festival of the Arts Awards, Fall 2017

The latest award ribbons are done and delivered! As I mentioned here, they are based on the collage/printmaking work of Erin Curry. Here’s the Festival poster image, a commissioned piece.

And here are the award ribbons I made in fiber applique, machine stitching, and hand-sewn beaded embroidery.

Materials include polyester felt, commercial printed cotton, digital print on fabric, gel transfers on fabric, polyester thread, polyester grosgrain ribbon ties, metal pin-backs, and glass beads. Signed on the backs: ‘Marian Crane 2017’

Added 12-13-2017: And one more 9×3″ Honorable Mention Award, because the art was so good the Festival judges gave out one more award.

Gel transfers on fabric

I’m partway through the next set of award ribbons for the Tempe Festival of the Arts.

These are based on the work of Erin Curry, so for the applique backgrounds I used a mix of bright and subdued cotton prints glued on white felt pre-edged with dark green/blue rose print fabric. The prints have some unifying colors and thread patterns: deep blue starry effects, bright blue tropical prints, map and ledger fabric, touches of orange and yellow.

Then came sewing on the printed fabric show labels, three to a ribbon, for all seventeen main categories, the three ‘big’ awards, and two small honorable mention awards.

Curry’s ‘Animalia’ prints are tricky to adapt, even with my own photos and Painter 17. I really wanted to have the animal motifs sewn in black & white with an embroidery machine, but that’s not in the budget right now.

But wait…I had a few yards of pale pastel floral chintz. I have a laser printer. Ta da, gel transfers!

You can find clearer instructions online. Basically, work on a clean flat area. Have waxed paper or plastic-covered cardboard panels for drying. Paint a layer of clear acrylic gel medium all over the fabric area you want to cover, paint gel over the printed face of the fabric, press printed paper facedown into the fabric, and squeegee the hell out of the paper. This will force gel down into the fabric, and stick the paper image smoothly to the cloth.

Let dry on covered surface for between 3 and 24 hours, depending on how rushed and/or insane you are. Peel off the fabric from the drying platform. Dunk the fabric into a big tub of warm water. Do NOT use a bathtub for this unless you have a screen cap to prevent paper shreds from clogging your drain!

Let soak for a couple of hours. Peel off the paper, then gently rub off the rest of the paper fibers. The result: a gel layer trapping the laser printed image against the fabric. You can paint another layer of satin or matte gel over this, to make it stronger for wearable applications.

I’d forgotten how fun these can be and how clear an image they can yield. The trick apparently is fine-grained smooth natural-fiber cloth (cotton works best, in my experience). Linen will pick up the linen texture, which is great if you want that in your piece. An aged fresco effect can be achieved by sanding the face of the fabric lightly with 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper (but then you should paint a stabilizing gel layer over the top.)

Using a white-on-white print or a pale print fabric with strong transfer images gives depth to the prints. They can be embroidered and beaded over, and touched up with fabric paint.

Now that I remember how to do these, they’re going to be in some fiber art books.

What’s next for the award ribbons? Sew down the motif critters, then beadwork, then grosgrain ribbons and metal pin backs for ease of display.

Final pieces can be seen here.

Happy Halloween, 2017!

Because they make me smile:

Sugar Skull ceramic planters from a nearby Trader Joe’s.

I’m wondering if I could coax a Datura seedling into growing in one, instead of the succulent shown.

Probably shouldn’t, though. Responsibility in gardening, and all that.

But honestly: wouldn’t it be gorgeous?

Horehound candy from scratch

Note: ‘Natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘safe’. A surprising number of herbal products can harm or kill you, used improperly. This stuff is no exception. So if you are mad enough to make your own horehound candy, be careful and don’t overdo it, either in the making or the eating.

These are horehound candy ‘sanded’ lozenges from a company called Claeys. They’re readily available online, at candy shops, or kitschy folk-life/food outlets like Cracker Barrel. Their characteristic bitter flavor is well balanced by the cane sugar candy, and they are nicely soothing for sore throats and stopped-up sinuses.

But they are made to a modern American taste. I find them rather wimpy and mild.

Horehound itself, good old Marrubium vulgare, is an odd plant. Kind of the coyote of the mint family: drought tolerant, tough, opportunistic, and so bitter most sane animals won’t nibble it. It probably originated around the Mediterranean, but has spread as a colonizing weed nearly everywhere. (My given name comes from the same root word as this plant, so I have several dimensions of fondness for it.)

My first taste of ‘real’ horehound candy came in my early teens. My local community college had a great wintertime presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and my junior high English class got to attend.

The college made a Renaissance Faire thing of it. My local historical re-enactors/Faire folks added flavor by dressing up in garb while running sales booths. I most clearly remember one selling blackberry tartlets (damn those were so good), and one selling horehound candy.

The candy had been poured into dark brown glassy sheets looking like medicine-bottle glass, then broken into irregular shards. This comes close, from sugarontheweekend.

Clients bought it by weight. A shop matron in full merchant-class Tudor garb weighed it out on a shiny brass suspension scale somewhat like this one.

I’d heard of horehound candy in novels, and knew what the commercial versions tasted like. This stuff? In a class by itself. First I tasted the brown sugar, then the deep herbal bite like the funkiest of mints. I enjoy strong, bitter flavors, especially if they have complex layers. Coffee, tamarind, grapefruit, even bitter melon: bring ’em on!

The candy did something else: my usual persistent winter sore throat, legacy of childhood illness, hayfever, and some seriously polluted air, vanished for the rest of the show.

I snuck out at intermission and used the rest of my spending money on brown chunks of miracle candy, which I doled out carefully until spring. Especially after our family doctor told me I could give myself high blood pressure or heart failure if I over-ate it.

Commercial horehound candy has been a mainstay in my house ever since, but I’ve missed the rich bitterness of the Ren Faire version.

I decided to make my own.

There are recipes. You can find them online. I do not recommend this. It takes a bloody long time, and it reeks up the whole house. Not quite as bad as cannabis, but damn close.

I, however, am a bit insane. Possessed of a candy thermometer, brown sugar, maple sugar, vanilla extract, some excellent spearmint, and a nearby herb & tea shop selling very fresh dried horehound leaves from a quality supplier…I spent last Saturday making my own horehound candy.

Once I slowly boiled off the water from the decoction, I didn’t take it to the ‘hard crack’ candy stage. I wanted easy-to-break sugar crystals, and I’d already spent most of a very stinky afternoon.

The result, 5 hours after the initial herbal steeping, was a revelation: soft, luscious crystals that look like dark-honey quartz drusy. The taste is better than I remembered: first the cane and maple, then hints of vanilla and spearmint, then SLAM the bitter glory of the horehound.

Works on my throat, too.

I just have to remember that this is much stronger than the safe old Claeys drops.

If I keep it cold and dry, I figure I have a couple of years’ supply at least. Which will give me enough time to try out online suppliers, because I am probably not making this stuff again. (The reek!)

 

 

 

 

Orange Orchids & a Halloween shirt

Guilty as charged: I love Halloween more than I love Christmas. I used to be dazzled equally by both. I adored the lights, the glitter, the rich mythology. Both are consumer frenzies, but I hold that less against Halloween than I do Christmas.

Not so much the fault of Christmas. It’s been hijacked by both ultra-conservative and ultra-capitalist forces, and the underlying fun has been shadowed…for me. At some point I might fall back in love with it.

Halloween? I have no problem with its glitz, I’m familiar with the Samhain stories from which it evolved, and no treacly-pure ‘harvest festival’ will take its place in my esteem.

Here are two fun pieces that will help me celebrate the season in years to come (MileHighCon 2018, I’m eyeing you.)

Orange Orchids is a long 32″ beadwoven necklace I started a little over a year ago, with vague ideas of weaving it into a lighted strand of ED orange pumpkins. Yeah, no, engineering and physics said otherwise. But the necklace alone is wearable, and I’ll be adding more vines and flowers to it to make it even longer.

Everyone needs a good Halloween shirt, and I lucked out with this one at my local Kroger’s on sale. I usually don’t bother with thin synthetic knit garments, but the design on this one was so killer I had to have it.

However, by the time I actually wear it, it will almost certainly have more beads.

Autumn landscapes: Baltic Blue 1, 2

I’m shamelessly neglecting my #Inktober duties.

With so many disasters both natural and manmade in the news right now, I wanted to pull away briefly, and post two old-but-fun pieces inspired by Autumn.

‘Baltic Blue 1 and 2’ are large acrylic paintings on canvas, approx 22″x36″, done around 2009-2010. While pure fantasy, they were inspired by the myriad small islands around Copenhagen, where I’ve never been, but had seen in a friend’s photos of an enchanting autumn trip.

Imagine mother-of-pearl skies, rich blue water, and vibrantly-colored farmhouses.

Materials: acrylic paint applies with brush and brayer, iridescent and interference acrylic paint, stainless steel paint.

Larger versions found here and here.

 

Blue Night Marketing Affiliates

These are the people who pay me, when you click/buy through their links on this blog. They feature companies whose products or services I, or friends and family, have used in the past. These companies have not directly paid me for a specific review or endorsement.

While many of these links will be found in text form, or as images at the bottoms of future or previously written posts, I thought it might be efficient and honest if I also show my current affiliate marketing links in one post.

Amazon. Where I show or review books, I check to see if they have a corresponding Amazon sales page, and link to it. In most cases, that will be a paid link: if my review was useful enough to send you looking for the book, and you buy it from Amazon, I’ll get a (very tiny) percentage of the sale. Whether I know the author or not, I will only review books if they strike me as really worthy of my time.

Rakuten Kobo U.S. Because I believe in fair competition, I’m also offering links to Rakuten Kobo U.S. This gigantic publisher of the Kobo format is one of the most popular in Asia and Europe, and fast making a name for itself in the USA. So if you don’t want to buy an e-book off Amazon, chances are you’ll find it on Kobo. I’m thrilled that NineStar Press, my current e-book and print novel publisher, has just made a direct distribution deal with Kobo!

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Coursera. I wrote a whole blog post about Coursera, I like them so much. This company provides universal access to some of the world’s best online college courses, lectures, and professional certificate programs. Build your brain!

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Vudu. Cut the cord to cable TV: if you just want HD movie and TV-show streaming a la carte, try Vudu. This American content delivery and media technology company’s streaming service distributes most current and a 70-year back catalog of vintage movies and shows.

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Taschen. One of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, science, and the humanities.

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RiffTrax, LLC. In long-ago ages there was a cult hit, a low-budget comedy/movie review show called Mystery Science Theater 3000. The main ‘gimmick’ was a hapless Everyman imprisoned on a satellite over the Earth by evil masterminds, who periodically forced him to watch the most horrible old movies For Science. He had robot buddies for company, and to the Evil Scientists’ dismay, had a great time absolutely shredding the movies.

Why that long intro? Because MST3K may be no more, but its founders are back with RiffTrax LLC.

This streaming service allows you to sync their hilarious real-time commentary with specific movies. This is the only sane way to watch some real steamers (like Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’). Rifftrax also has live shows, and if you ever get a chance to attend one, GO.

‘Red Amber’ update

A few years ago I posted this excerpt of a rewritten fantasy short story, ‘Red Amber’, a M/M erotic romance about creativity, grief, pride, and lost love.

Here’s the current mood board for it.

While I’m waiting on edit letters for THE PURIST, I’m settling back into this story. I have 12K of it written, so expanding it to somewhere around 25K-30K shouldn’t be too difficult.

My first inspiration was this tiny red amber bear talisman, which was so cool when I saw it back in 1989 that it spawned an awkward story…with decent roots. I knew I wasn’t good enough for the idea, so I set it aside.

‘In a fantasy setting inspired by Neolithic North Africa, Tarhan Carver is the last of his reclusive clan of amber-workers. Shattered by the loss of his true love Aio, a young man sold into chaste religious servitude, Tarhan becomes obsessed with hoarding amber until he has enough to buy back Aio. But along the way they’ll both learn some things cost more than mere wealth.’

A M/M romance anthology call in 2014 made me take another look at my het little romance, and realize it could be any two people, not just a man and a woman. The rewritten version worked as a story, but not for that antho. So I set it aside for a few more months. Stuck in the waiting room for jury duty, I realized this was a whole book. I outlined a rough path to expand and interweave the short story, set later in the characters’ lives, with earlier sections showing how they got there.

On a whim last week, I sent the proposal to my current publisher. They liked it. The editor who saw the newest partial version wanted to offer a contract then and there. I’m reluctant to contract something until it’s finished…because life happens, and schedules get derailed.

Finishing this is a good distraction, especially if I can write 2650 words in three hours, and still like them the next morning. The characters are ‘chatty’: their dialogue and actions spin out naturally from my skimpy notes. Tarhan, like many of my characters, makes stuff, which is kind of a Thing I like to read (but other people get bored). Aio is giving me an excuse to read up on the Dinka herdsmen of East Africa.

And some gorgeous cave art from the Sahara.

Mood board sources:

Model M’Baye Ford, photo Maltchique

Ethopian woman, photo Timothy Allen

Cobra, photo by W. Klein, Angola field Group

Amber, lava, and malachite beads, Artfire

Thunderbird, ‘best thunderbird’, Deviant Art

Ancient Nile landscape, History Channel

Neanderthal male face reconstruction, Germany

Dinka herdsman and cattle, photo Irene Abdou

‘Horned Goddess’, Tassili cave art

 

‘The Purist’ has a home with NineStar Press

I’m contracting THE PURIST to NineStar Press for a release date sometime in 2018.

It almost certainly *won’t* have this cover, and possibly not this title, but I look forward to seeing what NineStar does with it.

Way back in 1996 or 1997 I wrote a 6K short story set in my Lonhra Sequence fantasy universe: a secondary-world riff on the Orpheus myth where Persephone and Eurydice combined into one badass spearwoman with A Secret, Hades was a genderfluid immortal sorcerer, and Orpheus…was Eridan: a bard and ambassador whose quiet life is turned inside out by those other two lunatics.

Around 2013 I wondered if I could expand SINGER IN RHUNSHAN into a novella. That happened, then it shot past novella-length and eventually to 102K words.

I gave it the next four years to find an agent or editor willing to take it on. The wonderful agent who helped me with the first MORO contract tried to place this one, and got form letters back. Several agencies said ‘no’ but asked me to come back ASAP with new work. At least two Big Five editors have liked my social media pitches for PURIST in its early incarnations as SINGER. (Ironically, a couple of months after form-rejecting the actual mms, but that happens.)

They didn’t like it enough to champion it or my other work, either in mainstream fantasy or LGBTQIA SFF romance. No one but me, five beta readers, and the agent loved this story. And she couldn’t get anywhere with it.

I’ve seen the miracles that can occur with my art representatives: they’re cheerleaders as well as representatives of the artists they help. They’ve lifted my art career far beyond my ability or expectations.

A bad or indifferent agent is worse than no agent.

I have options that I would not have had, if my first (very capable) agent had been able to sell my first (barely) coherent novel to a mass-market paperback publisher in the mid-1990s. Good small presses are out there now, and they are getting industry awards, notice, and readers. Effective self-publishing exists now, and is the safety net for many authors now releasing their own backlists and new work. I have access to trade groups that will help me with audiobook versions, film rights, and foreign rights if those apply.

NineStar is a great small publisher with a lot of potential. It probably can’t come near the best possible Big Five sales, let alone advance rates. But the NSP staff will do the best job they can with their formidable skills. NineStar’s rights reversions processes are clean and simple enough that I will be able to self-pub in the future, should I need to.

I don’t view NineStar as ‘settling’ as much as finding another viable route through what has become, for this book, an impassable quagmire.

It’s a journey I’m looking forward to, and a huge relief.

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Cygnet, by Patricia McKillip

This book (two books, actually) holds a wistful joy for me. The two stories woven within are pure McKillip at her best: lyrical, mystical, with down-to-earth protagonists and a way of bringing the eldritch in for tea.

I encountered the first book in 1992 at a World Fantasy Convention, and the second in the summer of 1995.

I can even narrow down the time: I was re-reading it while doing this needlepoint (inspired by both books), at the big splashy grand opening for an electronics store that is now Fry’s Electronics (the boring one in Tempe, not the MesoAmerican fantasy in North Phoenix, now famous from Mr. Robot.)

Even more than McKillip’s earlier Forgotten Beasts of Eld or her Riddlemaster trilogy, these two books probably pushed my writing in a certain direction.

Not that I will ever come close to these.

But if you haven’t read Cygnet, or any McKillip, this book is a damn good place to start.

What is the duology about?

‘The Sorceress and the Cygnet’ begins with Corleu, white-haired son of the dark, wandering Wayfolk. His people travel from land to land with the changing seasons, hiring for farm work and craftwork. But on one autumn journey to the warmer southern Delta, the Wayfolk are led astray by a clever, magical enemy…into a blissfully beautiful, evergreen, ever-warm, neverending version of the Delta lowlands and swamps.

All but Corleu, who inherited more than white hair from his unknown non-Wayfarer grandfather. Corleu, immune to the sorcery, is offered a way to free the Wayfarers: betray the hidden Sentinel that has protected all the lands from the chaotic magical beings he accidentally awakened.

‘The Cygnet and the Firebird’ weaves a story of the sorceress Nyx Ro, who helped Corleu free his people and re-imprison his adversaries. Dragged by Corleu from her weird swamp mansion, Nyx now bickers with her less-magical but more level-headed siblings, avoids enamored lordlings and the responsibilities of being a princess, and learns the secrets of a magical castle that can teleport wherever her mother wants.

Until a wounded firebird appears in front of her…and a brief moment, is a young man warning Nyx of a new threat. A tyrant sorcerer has discovered old magical pathways through time and space, and prepares his conquering armies to overwhelm Nyx’s people. But doors go both ways, so Nyx and her cousin Meguet follow the firebird home.

Why do I love these books? The writing is gorgeous, without some of the unfocused ornament of later McKillip works (which I never mind, but your mileage may vary).

The two women are heroes, without being the new ‘strong woman’ stereotype of one-dimensional badass, and sympathetically portrayed as they pit themselves against a new world and new enemies. Their male love interests are equally well-crafted: strong, determined, both loyal and secretive, they’re a perfect antidote to the toxic masculinity touted by alt-right fantasists of today.

McKillip set this story up with a wistful ending: Meguet chooses one old love while refusing a new one, and Nyx’s firebird prince is pulled back to his realm with his father’s defeat. There is the possibility of a sequel, but it looks like McKillip may have set it aside. Similar themes pop up in her 2004 book ‘Alphabet of Thorn’.

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Some of you are probably asking: “Is there fanfiction?”

Yes. I haven’t waded deep enough into the search results to see all three pages, but Archiveofourown.org currently has 44 fanworks listed for Patricia McKillip books. On the first page, some are mediocre, some average, and some spectacular. As with most fanfiction, you’ll be able to separate them within a paragraph or two.

That catalog page is here.

Crane Designs Book Art

 

Many of my book art sculptures are represented in the US and internationally by the wonderful folks at Vamp & Tramp Booksellers.

http://www.vampandtramp.com/finepress/c/cranedesigns.html

A large catalog of works can be seen by scrolling down the pages on the right side of this blog. Look for Book Arts & Text Based Art, for pieces from specific years.

Most of these pieces are one-of-a-kind, with a few limited small-run editions.

I go more into my book art process and philosophy here.

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Moro’s Price mood board

Since I’ve a nice uptick in sales lately on this M/M space opera romance, here’s a mood board of my original art inspired by the story, cover background from Natasha Snow, and images from Alphonse Mucha, The Nature Conservancy, and Pinterest.

I don’t know any other way to respond to the anniversary of 9-11, or the creeping insanity and denial that darkens our world today…but to write and make art, find joy in it, and hope sharing it makes someone else’s afternoon a little better.

If you want to know more about MORO’S PRICE, go here.

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Big Fails: Lani Sarem and Louise Linton

So much news to absorb in the last week or so: Charlottesville’s aftermath, Trump’s Phoenix speech, the solar eclipse, religious riots in India, North Korea, Hurricane Harvey…

I might touch on all those later, but let’s look at two hilarious gaffes in recent social media. Both of them embody privilege, legal-but-morally-suspect corruption, and astounding condescension from their originators. Oh, and world-class whinging when they got called out.

Louise Linton is the wealthy Scottish actress who recently married the even wealthier financier Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary and beneficiary of several financial scandals. Linton is no stranger to putting her couture-shod foot in her mouth, via an earlier socially-inept misadventure over this book on Amazon.

Last week, ostensibly on government business (but suspiciously probably to see the eclipse from Fort Knox) Linton and Mnuchin took a government jet to Kentucky, home of some of the poorest counties in America. Linton hashtagged her arrival with this post (left side image). She boasted openly about the designer stuff she wore on the trip.

Someone else called her out (top right).

Instead of ignoring it, Linton fired back with a dripping bit of classist condescension (lower right)

Whereupon Social Media tore her apart, with endless posts and memes, many touching on the old ‘Let them eat cake’ quip from Marie Antoinette.

Whereupon poor Linton found herself persona-non-grata to the fashion events and designers she craves to fill her empty life, and the charities that helped give her a gloss of social responsibility. Good thing she married money, eh? Pity it couldn’t do anything to teach her about class.

An even worse pity that more voters didn’t figure this out about the greedy and corrupt upper level social circle attaching itself to Trump’s baggy suitcoat. Louise Linton is a normal example of the group, not an exception.

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Now onto Lani Sarem, from a different class background and motivation. Lani presents herself as an edgy liberal outsider, a skilled player in the indie music and film industry. Apparently, to fuel support for an upcoming film project, Sarem and her publisher GeekNation cooked up a stunt to game the NYT hardback YA book ranks with her new release Handbook For Mortals.

Except that no one in the very tight knit YA book community (already seething with other recent controversies) had heard of Handbook.

YA Twitter’s crowdsourced investigation took less than a day. Finding, among other things, that even the cover (if not outright plagiarized) was derivative.

Again, Sarem’s reactions made everything worse: starting with saying of her first online YA author detractor: “I’ve never heard of his book, either.”

She then went on to accuse the YA community of being bullies, insular, out of touch with reality, and not worth her or GeekNation’s time.

Which (no matter how one feels about YA genres in particular) is a spectacularly stupid way to approach the people who will be your target readership and colleagues.

I could forgive some arrogance on Sarem’s part if her writing was groundbreaking, skilled, and original. If the writing showcased in the Look Inside Kindle samples of Handbook is anything to go by, it’s as derivative as the cover art. Seriously, go look while you still can. Actual teen writers on Wattpad and Archive of Our Own could blow this out of the water without trying.

What do these two (blonde white) women have in common? A breathtaking disregard for other people (or at least people who are not immediately useful to them.) It’s not like gaming the NYT hardback ranks is new; so many other authors have tried it that the system is rather a joke.

Louise Linton needs to take a cue from the Old Money in Europe and the UK, which for decades post WWII managed a credible facade of modesty (even in the face of Eurotrash escapades).

Lani Sarem may be a capable screenwriter, but the terrible writing and self-indulgent navelgazing shown in her book reveals she desperately needs some writing courses (more likely, a ghostwriter) if she’s going to continue as a novelist.

GeekNation needs to stop and analyze their path forward. Like many coming from the technology and social media sector, they figured publishing books couldn’t possibly be that hard. They didn’t learn from this unique and crazy industry, tried to reinvent the wheel, and took disastrous shortcuts.

They’ll probably even win, in the end: the book stunt was only to drive buzz for the attached film project and franchise, where Sarem is on track to play the lead.

Added 9/29/2017: Lani Sarem is making the most of her moment of notoriety. Here’s a follow-up article from Vulture.

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Diversity Bingo

Or: the state of LGBTQIA SFF and Romance publishing in 2017.

Tl:dr…diverse authors may be courted by large publishers not so much for the value of their stories, but for the cachet of representing them as proof of diversity in publishing. Unagented authors and agents need to be wary of this possible trend, and plan ahead for its most-dire side effects.

The Science-fiction, Fantasy, and Romance industries (and they are industries) have been on a good roll lately, as far as including diverse authors and stories. Native Voices, POC, and LGBTQIA authors are getting more notice and somewhat less airbrushing/outright censoring (at least in the US, UK, and European markets) than they were even a few years ago.

C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince series was heralded as a new and daring icebreaker in blending M/M romance with plotty fantasy intrigue.

And yet.

Was Prince a signal of things to come, or a fluke driven by already-loyal readerships gained during its earlier self-published days? It’s worth noting that the author’s agent approached her after the first two books became self-publishing legends.

I keep seeing agent and editorial MSWL posts begging for queer, gay, bi, NV, POC, and other authors. In fantasy, in science fiction, in fantasy romance, in all flavors of YA. As far back as this post, M/M romance publishers were asking for more books where the LGBTQIA protagonist’s story wasn’t primarily about his, her, or their issues, but how their background made them and their adventures interesting. How they fit into a world while they ‘happened’ to be gay, bi, or whatever.

I’ve seen a heartening increase in crossover books where two different genres melded to great effect…with LGBTQIA characters.

Diverse authors (especially women) had a triumphant showing at the recent Hugo Awards.

And yet.

I’ve also seen large mainstream SFF and Romance imprints scaling back their buys or even dropping LGBTQIA authors because the latter strayed too far from ‘message fiction’. As if these authors were only legitimate while they displayed carefully-sculpted tropes in their fiction. Woe on them, if they wanted to explore other directions, than the ones that made them a little titillating and safely ‘marketable’.

Part of the friction, I believe, comes from competing-but-equally-valid mindsets among romance and SFF readers, whose purchases ultimately guide large and small publishers. Romance readers want the Happily-Ever-After or the Happy-For-Now ending, and a focus on character emotions and arcs. SFF readers will tolerate more backstory and secondary plot, unlikeable and unreliable characters, and the possibility of a bad ending. Crafting books to appeal to both camps can be an exhausting task, and possibly only solved by happy accident.

Another problem may lie in the mainstream SFF market’s remaining squeamishness about LGBTQIA characters, especially given the accounts of ‘bi-erasure’ even and especially in the gay community, and given the new overt tolerance and celebration of racism, sexism, and authoritarianism around the world.

Sure, we got Fifty Shades of Grey, whee. And a Handmaid’s Tale TV adaptation that’s as scary as the mid-80s original.

We also have diverse authors and artists being singled out for persecution by traditionalists who see them as a threat to authoritarian ‘stability’ and ethnostate fantasies.

The SFF and Romance publishing industries have long been in the business of celebrating ‘what-if’, however awkward and halting their progress might have been.

I worry about the fates of newer authors recruited in the wake of projects like Captive Prince, if their publishing adventures don’t pan out as well.

What can be done?

Unagented authors and agents need to make certain both Big Five and small-press contracts have clear, specific routes to rights reversion. That means no undue (if any) financial penalty for exercising those rights. It means shorter contract terms or specific sales thresholds under which the author can get their damn books back.

It means that authors need to be aware of their options in self-publishing reclaimed backlists (which can resurrect a career!), self-publishing new works, working with more-agile small presses, or creating direct imprints of their own with Big Five publishers. The latter requires chutzpah and strong existing sales, but I’ve seen more than a few M/M romance authors achieve it after the fallout from Ellora’s Cave and other defunct romance publishers.

Being merely a checked box on a publisher or agent’s ‘Diversity Bingo’ card may not translate to decent sales and a fulfilling career for those authors. They’re likely to leave the business, or change what they write to more safely fit trends.

We all lose out, then.

 

 

Sfassa in Sirrithani guise

Finally, finally, after way too many years of having only a vague idea what Sfassa, one of the main characters of THE PURIST, actually looks like when she’s human-ish, Hayley Amber Hasselhoff (yes, David’s daughter) showed me the way. I also owe a shout-out to model and wrestler Lindsay Hayward, and the other stunning plus-size models and actors we’re lucky enough to see in modern media.

This digital sketch is modeled after one of Hayley’s photo shoots.

Hayley has the size, strength, and sweet-but-smoldering beauty that I keep seeing in Sfassa Snowdancer.

Who is Rui-Sfassa se tha Jensei? A mystery to her smitten husband Eridan, who stands about three feet shorter than Sfassa (I estimate her to be about 7′ and far heavier in mass than even her big body should be, probably around 500 pounds).

Eridan believes she’s from some backlands isolated tribe of especially tall and warlike Sirrithani, the most numerous humanoid race on Lonhra. Sfassa would rather be naked than go without her two vicious steel kori-spears, which she wears on her back with a variety of harnesses. She has dark bronze skin, white hair, dark blue eyes with almost no white showing, fangs, and semi-retractable claws. Her very tall, fur-fringed ears look a little like a Terran lynx’s or serval’s. No one but Eridan can touch Sfassa’s ears without getting bitten or stuck with those spears.

Her rich, strong singing voice was the first thing Eridan fell in love with about her, listening in a snowy winter canyon three years before he actually met her.

His singing voice was the first thing she noticed about him. Which made up for him being a vegetarian, about as high as a water barrel, as wide as a stick of firewood, and having no fangs or claws.

Honestly, someone needed to protect the little idiot from himself, much less from the hosts of people bent on assassinating or abducting the loud-mouth, meddling, socially-crusading Master-Singer Eridan Sydall, last bard-prince of a dying race.

She set herself to be his bodyguard soon after they met, but she has ulterior motives.

And she’s not humanoid at all…

Show of Hands

These lovelies arrived today from AZ Art Supply: Richeson 10″ Female Right and Left Manikin Hands. 2/3 articulated, posing hands in blond wood (probably box, lyptus, or poplar, I’ll have to check.)

Meant as an artist’s drawing aide, I find they make amazing jewelry models. I’m resisting the urge to woodburn henna designs on them, but I did (in an inside joke) nickname them ‘Johani 1’ and ‘Johani 2’.

I got them so I could photograph things like this, without my burn-scarred and carpentry-sliced hands getting in the way.

 

Horizon: acrylic sketch

Golden Acrylics makes some wonderful ‘open’ paints with built-in drying retardants. They don’t stay mixable anywhere as long as oil paints do, but they don’t dry instantly on canvas (like regular acrylics might, especially in Arizona summers.) This makes the Open Series really fun as plein air tools, along with a pack of canvas paper and a little easel.

‘Horizon’ is a quick sketch of a rainstorm I did a few years back, down on the plain between South Mountain and the Estrella Mountains, along Riggs/Beltline road.

Mark Engels: ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER

One of the best side-effects of online novel-pitch contests: the community around them. Whether or not a writer makes the cut (agent request, mentorship, etc), most writers can find new friendships and even collaborations within the larger pool of the hopeful and hopeless.

Mark J. Engels and I met during a pitch contest in 2016 (was it #DVpit? #Pitmad? #SFFpit? They blur, yanno.) Neither of us got anywhere meaningful in the actual contests, other than some helpful critiques. But we hit it off as sounding boards.

Who is Mark, other than a cool guy who is a go-to source for locomotive engineering and logistics questions? Go here and find out. Or here: https://www.mark-engels.com/ 

Psst: if you do, you are going to see some wicked cool art. Like Pawly Doing What Pawly Does:

Mark has a book launch today: ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER, which I read in beta form last year. This novel will be slanted toward ‘Furry’ readers, which is okay, because the Furries I know are eagerly waiting for it. But GRAY is so much more than what many outside readers (and even Furries) are expecting. For one thing, it’s not erotica, romance, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance.

I stand by my initial impulse to call GRAY ‘Furpunk’: a Military Thriller that happens to have shapeshifters in it. Pawlina Katczynski is a well-written strong female character without being a caricature. Her story runs on high stakes, killer action sequences, sneaky plotting, and some deft worldbuilding (as there should be, to fit an embattled clan of Polish were-lynx mercenaries into a world that would be familiar to the leads of ‘Atomic Blonde’ and ‘Bourne’.)

Will you like it? The book will be in print first, but hopefully the publisher will release an ebook version soon, too. Go to Mark’s site, click on ‘Novel’, and see if it sparks your interest.

Book links:

https://www.amazon.com/Always-Gray-Winter/dp/1945247193/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36008025-always-gray-in-winter

 

Unrelenting Optimism

Or in other words, the Twitter phenomenon that is #ThinkBIGSundayWithMarsha, begun and hosted by media entrepreneur Marsha Wright.

Okay, many of us roll our eyes at those inspirational quotes slapped on lovely or heartwarming posters, and presented in slim metal frames. You know, the ones your boss and mine put up on our office walls?

I can be deeply cynical, but I have a soft spot for those posters. Sometimes they’re a guilty pleasure, like listening to ABBA or having Nutella toast.

Sometimes they truly help me deal with an awful week of everything going wrong.

Some of the best places I’ve ever worked had such things on the walls. And a lot of their owners and upper management actually tried to operate by the noble, kind, or funny tenets the posters proclaimed.

So imagine my joy when a chance Twitter follow opened my eyes to Think Big Sunday With Marsha, a weekly extravaganza of optimistic, positive, inspirational tweets, quotes, and images.

This is such a quintessential American phenomenon: the kind of stubborn, willfully optimistic outlook that gets stuff done. Or bankrupt and on fire, in a ditch.

As entrepreneurs and inventors, creative people must look beyond that latter fear. Life is full of mistakes and obstacles. So are business careers. When problems happen…and they will…the most adaptable people can learn from them, not remain shackled by them.

It took me years to understand the highest goal of the optimism industry isn’t to sell vague dreams and bridges. It helps open people up to possibilities they hadn’t considered, and goals they never knew they had. Sometimes all we need is the right opportunity at the right time, and we can work miracles.

And along the way we can drink coffee and look at gorgeous posters and GIFs.

***

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