March 2007, Softly Spring
Jim Fitzpatrick's drawing.
Well, due to a couple of requests, I'm posting some pictures, mostly. There's a little news: one is that Sky is doing protein alignment for some guys running a bioinformatics company in New Zealand--if your curious, check out his site. I think the work is fascinating, but I like anything 3-D. The other news is that I finished the first book in the new series reconstruction, called: Tales of Anieth: The Burning Tree. I decided to junk all the individual stories that I was doing like a Witch World treatment and decided to do all the stories in five books with a prequel. I also had an inspiration to blend the world of Earth much more into the series and this gave the series an overall structure which it badly needed.
It's in the edit right now and readers have commented on how much my writing has improved. So, I'm tickled. I was also pleased that I got 230,000 words written and edited in two months. After the line edit I'll have to do some tweaking, but the book has met its day, so to speak. In a fit of frustration, I wrote to Baen again, demanding that they release the book since they've had it almost two years and, surprise, surprise, they told me it was still under consideration. Sigh. They have an older version, written last year, and it's murder to wait two years for a rejection. I can't let myself hope that it'll sell--this series has been rejected about 20 times and accepted once, but bombed when the publisher cancelled the contract--she hated the book that much! Ah, well, to be popular!
So, with the book done, I loaded it into InDesign (by Adobe a great piece of software) and fiddled with it for a few days and it's a whopping 650 pages with illustrations. Then I realized the implications: in the version I imagined, I was up against 96 illustrations. Then I went into panic mode. 96 pictures before May? AGGGGHHHHH!!!!!
Okay, deep breath. Sky, as always, was unflapped by this and just told me to do the pictures, maybe two a day. TWO A DAY???? I had a bit of a heart attack, but thought to myself that the only thing I could do it just to draw and see what happened. Either I'd make my deadline, or not. Then after a few failures, I freaked again and told Sky that I just had to do the pictures right and hurrying through them would make the book look like amateur hour and ruin all the expense we're anticipating to publish it. So, I might not be going to the Fantasy Con in Denver on Memorial Day. But Mile High Con is in October and, (deep breath) World Con is in Denver, autumn of 2008. I want to hit the cons in a big way, with life-sized cutouts of the characters and large paintings and Meghan and Max and I in costume. Meghan's such a babe now that the young nerds will buy books from her just because she might talk to them! And Max is almost as tall as the Veldonaccii, so he'd look great in crow armor with long black hair in the shock. Before I lose you, I'll show you some pictures.
Before I go on, I promised Rebecca and Max a picture of my hair cut. I finally got tired of it being scraggly and went for the middle-aged look! Well, just hacked it. It's calmed down now, but when the humidity kicks in I look like a strawberry blonde haystack. This is also a picture of my office. Yes, the walls are green--that's a clear sign that it's mine, for those of you who know too well my green library variations! I'm sitting in a chair with a back and no legs and you can see a green corner of my computer desk. I've found the working on the floor makes me move around more. I also wanted to sit in front of the tape on the walls--I reuse my masking tape for two pictures. See that golden drawing board behind me? I tape the paper to it. You can also see some of my notes on the wall. The short diagram is the seven sections of the series, each mapped to an animal, tree and other correspondences. The challenge of these books is that the writing has to change in each section. Next to it is a plot diagram, well a linear plot diagram--the plots of this series are spirals. As the books progress, each section gets shorter, the chapters get shorter and the viewpoint changes, for a whirlpool or vortex effect. This long chart shows: chapter, place, time, POV, characters, scenes, and the four-fold maps of conflict and plot: moral conflict or issues; intellectual development, background or argument; emotional conflict; and the actual plot events. Forrest enjoyed very much these plot diagrams--I'll put this one on the web site at some date in the future. I do these because I'm visual and I have to be able to visualize 230,000 words for five books, hm, let's see, about a 1,300,000 words. That's a lot of plot! I have to know what will happen on page 1800 when I write something on page 300: thus plot diagrams. Each book has 56 chapters, and up to three scenes per chapter, so that's a lot of plot.
I looked through many of my books and decided to try to do pen and ink drawings--which I hate to do. The only good experience I ever had with pen and ink was crow quill--which, if I'd kept at it, might have been all right.
This is crow quill. Yet, as you can see from the above, it's not going to cut it. I was pretty discouraged, but then called Kinko's and yes, they do gray scale--saved by gray scale!. For those curious about art techniques, crow quill is named after well, crow quills. They are tiny, tiny metal nibs that flex quite a bit so the ink can vary coming out of the nib, depending on pressure. After many disasters with India ink, which doesn't come out of anything and permanently black fingers from holding the pen, I left crow quill. But as you can see, rapidiograph or any of the modern pens, don't do the same work. You can vary the line a little. I tried brush pens, but they lose the tip rather too fast. The line is brutal and no matter how small you get, you can't get that scratchy quality that makes Balthazar work so well and the above drawing of Hav Agalli and Eola Vael look like amateur hour.
I left this large. This was one of the second attempts, to stay simple and leave some of the underlying pencil shading. Still didn't work. Even small on the page. This image would be about three inches wide in the book. It was okay, but still not what I wanted. I got depressed and wondered if I was cut out to be an illustrator. I've always had problems with illustrations--I'm not sure why. Then I threw up my hands and decided that if I spent three weeks on a billion drawins of Hav and Eola Vael, I'd go crazy. I then decided to junk the whole pen and ink thing and junk illustration and just do some pictures. Okay. You can see that this process isn't automatic and it can be really depressing. Melt downs are pretty common with me. I never say anything, just feel it inside, that big looming voice that says FAILURE. It's very hard when you know you can do something and it just doesn't work. I realized that I was intimidated by the challenges of this series. Many of the characters age ten to thirty years and there are hundreds of them. The books are so foreign that having pictures really helps. I was very depressed by the reponsibility.
All right. The only cure is discipline. I decided to chuck it all and start with what I knew I could do: portraits. I went back to my favorite, pencil and white chalk on gray paper. Elvie said that I have a gift for cariacture. And I have thousands of photo references for these characters. So, on to a character. This is a picture of Marsyas o Gallanis, the Zelosian commander of the Decian League. In the first book, he's in his twenties and has recently bought his way into command. Basically, he's an okay guy, enjoying partying and exploring and riding in his chariot. However, he's incredibly ambitious for his family, who is of the farming caste and not nobility. He's ruthless in that he's very strong and not very thoughtful and just assumes that people should be able to cope. He undergoes a serious change in Anieth, from a proud captain to a ruthless dictator who is addicted to drugs and is scornful of the fact that he's destroyed a people. He's the "bad" guy. So I had to show that potential in this portrait of him just after his arrival in Anieth. Technically, the Zelosians are rather like ancient Persians, hook nose, darker skin, hair that does the natural, oiled dreads, bronze armor, lots of jewelry, mushroom-hilted short swords, etc. They had to look very not-Roman. The armor is a primitive form of "body curiass" that became very stylized with the Greeks. In this early form, the pectorals are only the barest of shape and no six-pack abs on the armor yet!
I failed with my first picture of Korutos as a boy. I have many, many drawings and photo references of him as a man in his 40's, but none of my actors who are Korutos had younger pictures. I tried one of my actor references from his late twenties and didn't like the result. Then I went back to the net and found some more Bollywood pictures that seemed right. I took a bit from two of them and then did my own hair, etc., but also tried to make a portait of a teenaged boy who was intellectual and very idealistic. Korutos is vulnerable to anger and is very religious. He finds the peoples of Anieth morally disgusting on his first visit and goes on a mission (he thinks from god) to bring light to the barbarians. He is the mover of the Classification of Anieth and fights a guerilla war for thirty years against the natives of the wood. He is besmitten with a vision of a woman and this ruins him for his marriage and playing around. He is a tragic figure whose redemption is one of the more vital parts of the series. Show that potential in a boy! He also ages with very heavy eyes, a full mouth, the hook nose and, as an adult, has a heavy grief about him. You can see my work on the hint of heaviness and grief in the eyes and the lush mouth that belies a sensuality that he suppresses.
Then I departed from doing portaits per se and wanted to do a picture I'd dreamed of. My Fantasy people are shape shifters, both trees and animals. I wanted to draw something referred to in the books as the "Call to Leaf". The tree shapers cannot change back from trees unless they are very small and very strong-willed. At the end of their lives, they go to the groves of their clans and take root, so to speak. Hearing the "Call to Leaf" is a way of saying that a person is under too much stress and wants to suicide or is drawn by the feeling of leaving, or leafing--pardon the pun. The series plays on death imagery and the play between immortality and change. I wanted to show a picture of a man with the potential of the tree, without being too weird, like some pictures of dryads or tree spirits. One of my main characters in the first book, is one of the Burning Trees, or the Rowan Clan, a clan of people who see the future and are lesser Trees in that they don't like politics, are of the Stone Age in their technology, are not farmers, but nomads and enjoy song and crafts and fishing. This person is called, Lorg Arinn and here he is, hearing the "Call to Leaf". He had to have the Celt nose, red hair, gold skin, and a trickster face, but be pleasant and not too sharp. I was pleased with this picture.
I wanted to draw one of the strongest couples in the book, Lorg and his daughter, who is the daughter of Lucia Shields, the greatest magic in Anieth. Lucia could shape anything. Lorg's daughter is the very devil, very smart, a smart aleck, confident, precocious, and very attached to her father. She hangs on him and does the things children do with tolerant fathers to get them to throw them in the air and wrestle and play. I also wanted to show, in these books, the bond between fathers and children which I think is underplayed in fiction. This picture was hard to do because Lorg's daughter is strange looking to begin with and the pose is also difficult because Lorg is looking up and the little girl's head is tilted down and the position of her arms, while correct, looks wrong. But with cariacture I was able to capture the essence of their relationship, even if I not pleased with the faces as much. Lorg's daughter has a tragic role in the books. One of things I did through the Rowan was to show the entire future and Lorg was distracted by his daughter's tragic death. She thinks little of it and is fond of shocking people who have some of the sight by saying that she knows that she's to end up a drumhead for the Willow. It's interesting to play with the future tragedies of characters in the book and show their reactions based on personality. All said and done, this picture may get trashed becuase it almost works but not quite. It's frustrating to do pictures that just don't work, but equally so to twiddle with ones that almost work and don't.
And then there are the pictures that work better than you thought they would. Rewarded at last. This is a mother and son picture of a tragic pair. The mother, Imig Ivumoni, is burned as a demon in the third chapter. I'm not doing a spoiler, the purpose of Imig is to show the main conflict of the book, that all half- breed shapeshifters are burned alive. Most of them go mad. Over and over, the characters are threatened for being half-breeds. Stan Avimig, the boy of five here, is a half-breed and one of the major characters in the series. So he's at risk. As seen here, Stan was still a slave of the witch, Calli, and had such bad asthma that Calli refused to give him a name because everyone was so sure he would die. Often in ancient societies, children were not acknowledged until the age of five, infant mortality was so high. Stan is rescued by Eola Vael and becomes a very famous Eola, or a kind of professor-advisor-priest. But here, he had to look sickly and lethargic. His mother, Imig, was very other-worldly and silent, yet regal looking, careworn and tired of life. Using an old photo, I was able to change her face a little and she came out Madonna-like. This picture was magical and encouraging. Sometimes you're never sure you can capture the personality of a character until this kind of thing happens.
I'm so pig-headed! Determined, I rather ruined this picture trying to do ink again. I bought some gray ink brushes and tried to use them. Unfortunately, the work like magic marker and make the picture all streaky! AGGGHHHH!!! This is a perfect example of something that worked well in the line drawing and got ruined when I tried to shade it. Using the tablet Sky got me for my b-day last year and PhotoShop, I was able to rescue it a little, but I'm not sure it'll make the final cut. After my success with children and parents, I decided I had to do the major love scene between the Holly Champion, Tinneal Atenga and Lonrach of the Rowan. Their relationship is illegal, rather like Romeo and Juliet, I guess. Not only are they from different Clans, but Tinneal, as a Champion, cannot have a family, marriage or children. Their son is predicted to be one of the greatest heroes against the Zelosian invasion and so they defy convention and run the risk of being ostracized and having the child killed as a half-breed. Tinneal here, is wearing the crow armor, armor made of stiffened linen "feathers" that are like scales but longer. Because they are stiff, they will sometimes stick up from the spauldrons like the ruffled feathers of a crow, thus the name. The Red Holly champion's armor is red and the scales are rimmed in gold so that the effect is a flame-like armor. I decided that rather than back down into boredom from the metal armor of classic Fantasy, a la Martin, I would design and make all kinds of fun non-metal armor, some useful and some just for show. I mean, if the Thais can do it, why not the Proto-Celts? It was also hard to show the size difference. The Clans look like their trees, and some are very tall--the Ash can reach nine feet tall or more before they obey the "Call to Leaf". The Holly are taller than the Rowan, and Lonrach, although six feet tall, is only as tall as Tinneal's sternum bone when they're standing. Another challenge was Tinneal's hair, which is "shocked" or oiled and teased so it stands up on the head, rather like a form of mohawk. Here's an old picture of Lonrach and some of the Holly.
Here you can see the proportions and the shocked hair.
And again! I wanted to do ink--I know, I know. But this time, I left it a line drawing. One of the other challenges I wanted to try was to do an "action" shot like the picture way at the top of Nuada. I didn't want anything that involved--Fitzpatrick excels at this; sometimes it works, sometimes not. I've never done many action shots that worked. First off, the anatomy is a bugabear. Most artists, like last blog's artists, use models--this makes illustrations ten thousand times easier. I'm not keen on finding people, paying them and trying to find and work in a studio. So I've got to make it up. Even if you have a photo reference for a face, say, then what about the body? If you want an arm doing this, what about the hands? If the person has his hand outstretched or he's holding a pencil, what about holding a spear? What happens to that leather amour if you got your anatomy right? On and on and on. Not to mention: inventing the armor, the weapons, the facial types, the clothing, etc., etc., etc.,--even the size of the horse! People in my "time" had ponies, not horses, who were not bred for size until the Middle Ages. There's a reason why Fantasy works best after 1200 AD; it's because everything's modern. My people didn't even have stirrups.
Granted, this picture is terrible Romantic, but hey, so was Frazetta. This picture was a number of challenges. It shows King Tuama at the Siege of Correna when the Horse People fell to the Zelosians. I had to show King Tuama in berserk mode. For those of you not hip on barbarism out there, berserkers are a BIG part of Gothic, Viking and Celtic legends. That's why Tolkien didn't like them--well, that's not why--he didn't like the legends. I think berserk may be personality dependent, but the effect is an overdose of adrenaline and endorphins that make the berserker able to do superhuman feats. Some people do this when they're angry. Others can do it in a athletic situation when the endorphins kick in and you win the match, etc., etc. Others experience this when in an emergency, like Kirk who walked into the hospital with a hernia and a broken leg. Stuff of legend. So Tuama, here is berserk. He's got too many weapons, and holding his horse with his teeth and is about to jump out of it into the fray. I might color this later and make him torn up and bloody. I'm not quite that good yet! This is also one of my first horses. All and all, I'm not displeased. And the line work might be all right for illustrations. It's extremely difficult to shade this kind of picture realistically. No models, remember?
One of the other bugabears is when you, as a writer, make things harder. I chose not to have any swords. Since sword fighting is a major part of Fantasy, (thank Arthur), how do you make battles exciting? And, as an artist, if you use metal weapons, well that's okay, but my Tree people don't use metal, except for the rare piece of silver jewelry. So stone weapons. Hm. Tuama here has the ax and the spear, which I had to show in perspective--damn difficult to make up out of your head, I'll tell you! Well, you get the picture.
All in all, a start on the illustrations. Not bad for 17 days! And learning all the time. Drawing's one of those things you can't learn unless you do it. Different part of the brain. If you look at something you don't see it until you try to draw it. Then you SEE it, believe me. The only thing I can say for myself is that less ends up in the trash, and like Howard Roark, I throw stuff into the trash if it doesn't hold up, but I show you the mistakes. I think it's fascinating to learn what people go through to do anything. Any of you who've cooked know that many time the first experiment is pretty awful, but you learn. That's what cool about being human--you can learn from misakes as well as successes.
Well happy birthday to the March and April people: Gayle, Tim, Frederick, Forrest, Lee, Rixie and anyone else I don't know is a Pisces or Aries (old style astrology). I'm almost 50! And, no, I don't dye my hair--and yes, it is full of gray, just doesn't show very much.
For those of you who haven't seen the Max-meister in a long time--here he is from last summer. My mom is now 72 and is about 5'10" in this picture. I stand about two inches taller than her. Max is 6'5" here and might be even taller before he's done. I told him when he was dismayed that everyone talked about how tall he was that he was lucky to have such an "in-your-face" feature. Therefore people don't have to dig around to try to find something unique about him. They just go on and on and on... One of these days he'll fill out a little, but at 18, he's lucky to be 160 lbs. Arms and legs.
Not much else is going on, just selling stuff in case we make the big move out of the country. I found out that New Zealand is home to giant biting bugs the size of sparrows or mice--can we say UGGGHH!!! We'll see where we end up. But at $100-$300 a small box for shipping, most of the books and all are going, going, gone. Nothing like moving to convince you that stuff is overrated! Oh well.
Spring has come in very, very softly. Mild weather, rain, of all things, and crocuses and violets everywhere. Being Coloradoans, we're all waiting for 3 feet of snow, but maybe we'll get tricked into having the earliest spring ever after the snowiest winter ever. I just hope it's not 100 degrees the first of May--ugh. I hope all of you are well and write me if you can!