What I'll be doing in 2013.

I feel like 2013 will be the year everything changes for me. It has to be, right? This last year has been stressful, full of little disappointments, but also some modest accomplishments. There's been tragedies, confusion, and too many bills. Looking forward is the only thing that will change all that.

I've been writing novels for over 2 years now, with several books completed and one actively being queried. A second book will be ready for the same by the end of February. I've sent out dozens of query letters, received many rejections and two full requests (one of which was just the other day, and I have yet to hear back on it). I keep getting told that if I keep at it, and don't give up, I'll make it, if only by default. I'd like to believe that.

So here's what 2013 has in store for me:

First off, I committed to my writing group that I would complete 2 books this year. As I mentioned, one is already set to be done by the end of February, and the second is almost a third of the way written so far. I may even be able to exceed my goal by a whole novel by the end of the year.

Secondly--and I know I have little control over this--I aim to sign a contract with an agent, hopefully even be on submissions to publishers this year. If I keep at it and don't give up, I think this is extremely possible.

Third, this coming year will mark a new level of commitment and time management for me. Earlier in 2012 I made the decision to work part time and quit school, instead focusing on writing as my Plan A. 2013 will be the first full year where I implement that plan. Wish me luck.

Fourth, watch the heck out of a ton of awesome movies coming out this summer.

What do you look forward to in 2013?

My thoughts on The Hobbit.

I had the opportunity to see The Hobbit at 7pm, Thursday. Becky's employer was having a client appreciation event and rented a whole theater for the night. As an employee's husband, I got in free and early. We also returned to see it in 48fps 3D the following Saturday. Each viewing was extremely different from each other. First, I'll talk about the traditional viewing in 24fps 2D.

I loved returning to Middle-Earth. I loved seeing Hobbiton and--a smoking--Gandalf the Grey again. Gollum was amazing. The visuals were beautiful, the colors vibrant. I especially enjoyed the bits of the movie taken from Tolkien's appendices: the Witch King of Angmar, the Necromancer, and the council with Elrond and Saruman. They made the movie feel like a real prequel to The Lord of the Rings, and helped bring back the feeling of the first trilogy.

I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the movie as a whole the first time around. I had no problem with the myriad dwarves, since we'll be get the opportunity to know them better in the coming installments, and Martin Freeman as Bilbo was excellent.

However. I did have some hang ups. Despite the lengths I go to describe them, they didn't ruin the movie for me. Not quite.

First off, and most importantly, I believe the music was terrible. Now, let me preface that: I absolutely love the music from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think Howard Shore is a genius and I listen to all three soundtracks at least once a week without fail.

But he must have tossed in the towel for The Hobbit. The music has all the subtlety of a hammer to the head, it's spotty and inconsistent, seemingly lazily written. The first half of the movie consists of badly remixed themes from the original trilogy crossed with longs phrases of single, drawn out notes that fill the background with no melody, only sound that doesn't have anything to do with the images on the screen. When any action ramps up, the dwarves' theme song suddenly blares to life and blasts you with "epic", even when it doesn't fit the mood. In contrast, the music in The Lord of the Rings maintains a coherent structure throughout, providing consistent backing when needed, and emotional heft when demanded. At no point is there a melody or harmony in the original trilogy that makes me wince. There are plenty in The Hobbit.

To sum up, I am severely disappointed in the music. In my honest opinion, it was the worst part of the movie. In fact, it almost comes close to ruining it for me.

To a lesser extent, I also disliked Radagast the Brown. I was excited to see him finally, having missed him in The Lord of the Rings. For some reason, meeting another of the wizards always sparked my imagination. The version of Radagast in the movie however, was nothing like I expected him to be. Now, I can't fault Peter Jackson and company for having a different vision than me. But, I would have hoped that someone would have nixed the dried bird poop dribbling down his face, toned down the pot jokes, and generally made Radagast a little less of a high-pitched moron.

Thorin Oakenshield? Way too overdone. He was acted well, but he wasn't given the proper buildup for some of the emotions we were supposed to feel for him. Felt a bit melodramatic.

The one other thing--aside from the music--that nearly ruined the movie for me was the voice acting. I was so used to the voice acting in The Lord of the Rings--full of believably gruff dwarves, barbaric Uruk-hai, and disgusting-sounding orcs--that The Hobbit's cast of high-pitched and nasally-silly goblins made me shudder. That's not to say that there wasn't good voice acting, because there was. The Pale Orc was particularly good. But the Goblin King? Come on. Not to mention the three cave trolls that try to eat the dwarves, which were terrible. The snotty idiot of the three was actually painful to listen to, and by the time I saw it a second time, I hated that entire scene.

Too much silly in general, not enough badass. In The Lord of the Rings, the orcs felt super dangerous, and you actually felt afraid that they would kill the good guys. Not so in this movie. Aside from the Pale Orc, I didn't much feel any fear. The Goblins were just too silly.

Side note: the movie needed more black orc blood. There was next to none. All cuts and scrapes were completely clean, almost like slicing through rubber.

Moving on to the 48fps 3D version, I want to start with a warning: see the traditional showing first. You'll thank me later. Like I mentioned, we went to the 48fps version a few days after seeing it the first time, and I'm very glad we waited. The high frame rate sucks the magic right out of the movie while making everything look like the props they were. It's too clear. You see too much and it yanks you out of the illusion. If you've ever watched a BBC television show, you'll know the feeling. It was distracting and actually made me feel like the movie was too long, and *gasp* I eventually got tired of watching The Hobbit.

The 3D was excellent. I do recommend that part.

Once again, I enjoyed the movie, it was more than I ever hoped to get after Return of the King came out, so there's no overall complaints, just nitpicking.

I will say this though, and you can decide: what does it mean when The Hobbit simply leaves me dying to watch The Lord of the Rings again?

What the Lucasfilm/Disney merger could mean for Star Wars.

Admiral Thrawn
Oh man. Oh boy. Did you hear? They're making a new Star Wars! I think the entire world was under the impression there would be no more, mostly because of George's statement about not wanting to make things that would only get him yelled at. But that's kind of changed now. I can completely understand and sympathize with his statements, despite having done a little of that yelling myself. I mean, the poor guy just wants to make movies. He had an awesome run of three, a perfect storm if you will, born of funding issues, budget problems, not to mention distribution and production bottle-necking. Despite all this, or maybe because of it, the original Star Wars trilogy was, simply put, amazing. Then George ran into a hitch. A hitch called "success". See, the problem is, without adversity there can be no growth. When you hold the power of making movies in your palm, with no one to say yea or nay, some bad decisions never get changed or fixed. There also isn't the passion involved that fighting a system can impart. George definitely had that passion when he made the original trilogy, but not so much with the prequels. I won't go into the problems episodes 1-3 had, because let's admit it, we all know what they are.

So this news yesterday of Disney buying out Lucasfilm for $4 billion (the same as Marvel's acquisition) came as a surprise to many, and a shock to some (like me). When I heard of the merger, my first thought was "why?" Why would Disney invest in Lucasfilm, a company that had basically run its creative course and retired with the ending of the last Star Wars film? Immediately following this question was a small spark something you may have heard of: hope. Wait a minute, would they, could they, possibly be thinking of making more Star Wars movies? Eeeep!

Of course, I immediately headed out to Google and read all about it on several different sites. I'm not gonna cover all the info, because there are better outlets than me that number in the thousands. Let's just say that George is retiring for real and will only be involved with future projects as a consultant. But I do want to say what I feel this could mean for me, the viewer and former Star Wars fanatic.

Oh, and yes, this does mean there will be more Star Wars movies, starting in 2015. Since George is calling it Episode 7 in interviews for now, we have to assume that these would be sequels, not prequels, to the original trilogy. As in, Luke, Leia, and Han post-Battle of Endor. Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, I realize that there is no concrete evidence to support that assumption. Even if there was, the logistical nightmare of getting the original cast back together, all these decades later would be monumental. Possibly impossible. Harrison Ford, for one, has always said he was glad when his role in Star Wars was over. Plus, they're all old. Have you seen Mark Hamill lately? The point is, we don't know.

But I can hope. Here are some things I think and wish they would do.

First (and what I think is most likely), they could easily take one or two actors from the original trilogy (the least ancient) and bring them along as cameos. Think Mark Hamill in a beard and robes, teaching a new generation of Jedi at the Jedi Temple on Yavin 4. Or Carrie Fisher back in her simple white dress trying to wrangle the New Republic into some semblance of order, long after the Empire fell. If those don't work, they could go lower and bring in some of the people with even smaller roles, just to help bridge the gap between the two casts. Of course, the cameo idea would dictate new characters and most likely a completely new story idea other than simply The Empire vs. Alliance Take 2. The Extended Universe (books and comics) has a multitude of story lines they could draw on.

Second, they could go a whole different direction and introduce a completely new set of actors and a timeline well outside of Luke, Leia, and Han's lifetimes. This would mean an entirely new cast, and no real on-screen ties to the original trilogy (please leave C3-PO and R2-D2 out of it). I'm thinking a focus on Luke and Mara Jade's/Han and Leia's kids would work. It would definitely feature an antagonist other than the remnants of The Empire. Once again, the Extended Universe has already gone here. This option wouldn't be bad, but I don't prefer it.

Third, they might choose to simply throw the whole original trilogy away and go with a spin-off, such as a Boba Fett movie (which they ruined already with the Clone Wars origin they gave him), or some other new Jedi doing stuff in space. Maybe even the Old Republic, a la Star Wars: The Old Republic game (I hate this idea). I really hope they don't continue to move backward in time, only forward. These are better than nothing, but not ideal at all.

Fourth, and least likely, they could actually manage to get the original cast together and make the movies I've been waiting for since I was 12 years old. Granted, instead of 10 years after the Battle of Endor, the story would have to take place quite a ways after to match the original casts' current ages, but it would be worth it. This option fills me with glee, even though I know I'll be disappointed.

And fifth, they could simply recast the roles from the original trilogy and move onward directly after the Battle of Endor with a new cast. This one would be risky, and would upset a LOT of people. I might be okay with it, just to see the characters again, but it would be really hard to pull off. I don't think this is likely, because Star Wars is a continuing story, not prone to (semi)reboots like Star Trek or some others out there. If this were the case, I'd love to see the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn come into play. Those were great books and introduced some of the best Extended Universe characters hands down. A complex Admiral Thrawn would really fit into what we like as villains nowadays, and a conflicted Captain Pallaeon would add intellectual depth the prequels were lacking. Like I said, this is really unlikely, and I'd be really cautious about it, but the storyline options it would open up are exciting.

Aside from all that, I also wanted to briefly discuss what they could do (and are already planning to do in some cases) to kind of "fix" the problems the prequels brought into play. First off, George Lucas will not be directing or writing the scripts. This is huge, and as much as I hate to say, the best thing for Star Wars. The original trilogy was directed by 3 separate directors, only one of which was George. By far the best 2 of all 6, are Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. They were directed and written by people who knew how to accomplish what the story called for. If I had my way, each of the new movies would follow that model and switch out directors, so the talent would match the need of each movie's story. I dream still of a Spielberg directed Star Wars. We'll see. Heck, even JJ Abrams or someone else like that.

Second, the prequels suffered from "earnest syndrome". Everything and everyone was so damn earnest all the time. Romance, drama, the fighting, even "comedic" lines were delivered with complete seriousness. Everything was supposed to be dire and important. It all comes down to this: where the heck was the Han Solo character? Why are all the actors staring at me through the screen like I killed their dog? The new movies desperately need a rogue, a pirate, or a thief. Someone to bring real sarcasm and biting humor back to the universe. The movies can be serious as all get out, but they can't take themselves too seriously. Bring back the Han Solo!

Third, get rid of the politics. The prequels were a huge mess of dry and thoroughly uncomplicated maneuvering by people wearing latex and makeup. We don't watch Star Wars for the politics. Sure, those can be running behind the scenes, maybe even poke their heads out every once in a while. But don't make the whole story line revolve around it. Bring back some action and adventure. Let's get some opera back in the Space Opera.

Fourth, no more puns. Enough said.

Fifth, focus on things we haven't seen before. Let's get some space walks, Jedi Special Ops, kids training in jungles where they get beat up by the wildlife and sweat to death like Luke on Dagobah. Let's see some space plagues or Hutt gangster action. Stop bringing back characters just for the sake of it, stop making everything tie in. Let some things expand the universe, not just make it into a huge loop. Let's see some prominent female characters that kick butt (hint, hint, Mara Jade). One thing I would like to revisit is the grunge. Star Wars used to be a grungy future, but the prequels kind of glossed that over a bit. Let's get gritty.

Sixth, the Force needs to be magic again. Star Wars is not sci-fi, it's fantasy set in space. Trying to make the Force fit into science just doesn't work. Mystify it once more, make it MAGIC. Also, take a note from the Star Wars Unleashed video game, and really go for it as far as Force powers go. Explore it.

Seventh, focus a bit more on practical effects and make sure the CGI looks and feels real. The prequels were a little too close to video game for my tastes. I think the new Star Trek did a great job hitting the spot when it comes to effects.

Eighth, try to forget the stuff from the prequels, please. Don't rely on the aliens you made in those movies, come up with new ones. Don't keep referring back to the Trade Federation or Naboo. Don't retconn stuff in the original trilogy to fit the prequels when you make the sequels (sorry for that).

And finally, try to keep in mind your ENTIRE audience, not just the kids. There are adults who want an awesome, complex movie to enjoy. The prequels were way too closed off when it came to adult viewership.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, and I hope to see some awesome things happening in the next few years. What do you think will happen? Disagree with me anywhere?

Plugging away!

I've been sending out a bunch of queries over the last month, in addition to working on my new novel. I've gotten several rejections--which is to be expected--but still haven't heard back from the vast majority of them. In general, I'm keeping pretty positive about the whole thing, with little spikes of excitement and dips of depression. It's funny how incredibly normal the process has been, or maybe I should say it's been standard. Writing and querying don't have much about them that's normal.

I'm looking forward to becoming a little more active on Twitter and the blog once more, so make sure to stop by.

The epic (and late) conclusion to my Nerf steampunk pistol project.

It's time for the finishing touches to my first endeavors into the world of cosplay accessories. You can read the beginning of the project here

So we left off after I had sprayed the gun pieces with the bronze paint. It took a while for them to dry, and they remained pretty tacky to the touch for a while. Truth be told, it's still kinda sticky. I'll mention how I solved that problem further down. Anyway, screw the pieces back together, making sure to place all the components in the way they originally went if you want it to still function and shoot darts.

Falling behind on the steampunk gun.

Hey all. I know some of you expressed interest in the steampunk gun I was building. It's been a couple of days since I said I would finish up and post the rest of the process. I'm sorry! I haven't been able to do much with it since then, besides pressing the two sides together. I haven't even screwed it back up. Rest assured I will finish it and get the post up. Make sure to check back in for the results!

Trying to manage time.

I think I may be overestimating how much time I have in a day. That, or I'm foolishly hoping I'll gain some hither-to-undiscovered sense of self control. Right now, I'm engaged in the following: a part time job, part time novel writing, playing Minecraft with my buddy, and now I've also re-subscribed to World of Warcraft (eep). Plus, I've just started watching Downton Abbey season 2, started working on puzzles with Becky, begun reading Double Dead: Bad Blood by Chuck Wendig, and tried out the whole steampunk cosplay accessory thing (which you can read about here).

Ah, Minecraft, you are the Legos for my adult heart.
I've never been very good at managing my time and prioritizing. I usually end up playing World of Warcraft for hours because it's easy on the brain, which makes me depressed because I'm ignoring my writing, which then leads to more World of Warcraft (it's sort of like chocolate cake).

Curse you World of Warcraft!
But not this time! I've set up parental controls (yes, you read that right) on World of Warcraft, essentially banning myself from playing during my writing hours. Becky has the secret password, which I hope she keeps, well... secret. If I can just keep each activity within its normal hours I should be fine, though it feels like trying to police the border between North and South Korea. Sometimes I just gotta say, "Look Minecraft, you had your 45 minutes, now its Downton Abbey's turn. No, stop crying! Ack! World of Warcraft, put that down before you break it!"

Anyway, I realize that having so many enjoyable hobbies (and an enjoyable future career in writing *crosses fingers*) is probably one of the best problems a person can have, so I won't complain except to say I wish I was born with a bigger and more responsible brain.

So that's what I'm up to right now. What are your vices?

Turning a Nerf Maverick NEV-6 hand gun into a proper steampunk weapon.

Let me just preface this post with a statement of fact: I am a geek, but I never, ever dress up. Sure, I just bought a scale model of the Enterprise D from Star Trek, I have multiple Iron Man figurines on my desk, not to mention rows and rows of fantasy books lining the shelves. But my geekiness simply does not extend to the donning of costumes, fantasy, steampunk, or otherwise. Not that there's anything wrong with doing so, I simply don't choose to participate.

That being said, I have officially entered the world of costume accessories. What exactly are costume accessories? I'll explain. When your average geek wants to dress up as their favorite character or style, second-hand clothes from the local thrift outlet and some pins will only go so far. There needs to be an extra pop, something that really sells the costume. Most of the time this comes in the form of accessories, or doodads. For instance, a gangly teenager in a brown robe is just a sad, sad person, but, as soon as you add that homemade lightsaber hilt at his utility belt, he becomes something more, a Jedi Knight, guardian of the galaxy. A girl in a corset and top hat is just a goth, until you add the brass and leather goggles. Then she transforms into a swashbuckling steampunk princess.

The Dark Knight Rises Tragedy

I don't even know what to say. I don't know what to feel. My thoughts and emotions over this are so confused and strange. How can such a thing happen? How can we even find the proper reaction? I'm not sure why this particular shooting has affected me so so much. Previous shootings have been horrible, and of course I've been saddened. But there's something about this particular instance that digs at me.

I didn't hear about it until this morning while browsing Facebook over a bowl of cereal. The first thing I saw was a story from Superherohype.com reporting that Warner Bros. and President Obama had issued statements regarding a shooting that had taken the lives of 12 people during a nighttime screening of The Dark Knight Rises. I followed the link, and felt my stomach drop out.

I won't pretend that I have some connection to these people. I have none. Yet, for the first time in my life, I found myself genuinely heartbroken over a news story. Even 9/11 didn't give me such a visceral reaction. (To clarify, I was very young when the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center took place, and it took some time for the enormity of that event to sink in. I am not downplaying the events of 9/11 one bit.)

I wonder now, a few hours later, if my sudden feelings perhaps have something to do with the venue the shootings took place in. It's strange and terrible that a man would choose such a setting to commit such atrocities. Batman has always been a symbol of unappreciated justice, a dark figure unflaggingly fighting the masked and shadowed evil that lurks in humanity. I have not seen the film as of yet, but I know some of the characters involved are playing the part of terrorists, violent and guilt-free men who destroy lives with abandon. What was it that pulled the man responsible for the shootings to such a place? Was it the convenience of the people massed in one place? Or was it somehow connected to the film that was playing behind him?

I don't mean to suggest that the film inspired or informed the attacker in anyway. This is not my intention in the slightest. A man is responsible for his actions, and passing blame onto the film in any way would be an insult to the victims of his attack.

I suppose the feeling I'm trying to express is the sudden humanization of Batman and everything he stands for. It was an attack on me and what I believe. It was an attack on all the people of the world who care for a character who promotes such good in the face of adversity. For just a few moments while reading that first news story, I felt like I had fallen into the world Batman inhabits, a character reading the Gotham City Newspaper. My heart wanted to cry out for something to be done, for Batman to save these people. Why hadn't he been there? Why couldn't they have been protected? Unfortunately, a fictional character, no matter how beloved or symbolic, is powerless against the very real abomination that reared its head last night.

Batman remained trapped behind the screen, and I felt his desperation. I don't mean this is a literal sense. I know reality from fiction, but fiction is also what defines us. Batman and other superheroes alike reveal us, our flaws, our triumphs, our struggles, and our desires. We tell the stories of Batman because they give shape to our need for justice in a world we can't control. We need to see something good amid all the darkness.

Batman lost a fight last night. We lost a fight last night. For a short time, we were defeated, not by a character in makeup or with a silly name, but by a person, a human being with motivations most of us will never, ever fathom. There were no fists, no capes, and no grand symbols of the human struggle. This was not a Superman comic, this was a Batman story. And by that, I mean it was our story.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families. My thoughts are on the many men and women and children who witnessed this horror. Please, know that the world loves you.

The end of yet another book.

It seems almost... mundane news to be finishing another book. I've been at this whole writing thing for years now, and it seems like just another day. Almost. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some writing veteran, but when you do something for so long, it starts to become the norm.

On the other hand, five years ago I never thought I'd write one novel, let alone multiple books. All things being equal, I'm pretty excited.

Only Gingers Can Be Witches was completed last week, and is ready to take its long nap while I begin editing The Sometimes Sword. It's been a weird ride, I can tell you that. I've experienced some of the highest highs and the lowest lows while writing this book, and I'm glad to see it's finally paid off. I've dropped it off to multiple beta readers, and I hope they enjoy, and don't rip me to shreds. *Chuckles nervously* Hopefully I'll be able to make it back to the book by this Fall, and then querying by Winter.

So now I embark on the strange and frustrating journey of editing, a journey I don't yet have much experience in. Wish me luck!

Diversity, show-don't-tell, and a query tip.

Oh wow, okay. It's been a very long time since I posted anything, but that doesn't mean I haven't been up to a lot. I've just passed the 50k mark on my current book titled Only Gingers Can Be Witches. I'm coming up on the official start of editing The Sometimes Sword version 2.0 (which some of you will remember I finished about two months ago). I'm now sitting on 4 novel-length works in my (admittedly short) writing career, which is a little mind-boggling to me. Hopefully I will be ready to begin querying The Sometimes Sword by the end of this Fall.

The Salem Witch Trials.

No, this is not going to be some intelligent study of the events that took place way back when. (See right there?  I don't even know the dates.) I just find the whole thing really interesting, so I thought I'd talk about it a little bit. Over the last week I've been writing a new book while I let The Sometimes Sword rest, and it includes a young witch character. So I thought, hey, I'll do some research on witches and witchcraft, just for kicks you know? I even went to the library with Becky. Let me tell you, I never thought I would find myself looking up witchcraft in a public place using the Dewey Decimal System. But you live and learn right?

Anyway, I found some great books, some a little more.... technically informative than I preferred (let me just stress, I am NOT a witch, you people with torches and pitch forks), but overall there was some good stuff. A lot of the books focused on presenting thoughts and evidence on two sides of the whole witchcraft issue; for, or against. I'll just say this: the Christian pastor who tried to represent Harry Potter as evil in his arguments came off looking quite a bit worse than the self proclaimed Wicca did in her arguments. But that's beside the point.

A quick update.

I've been really busy lately, which is a good thing. Sometimes I think back to two years ago when I worked full time and didn't go to college; and I wonder what I did with my time. True, that job was incredibly stressful and I usually worked over time (almost 60 hours a week around the holidays), but other than that, I didn't have much else to do. I'll admit to spending hours and hours playing World of Warcraft, mostly just to unwind after work.

Now however, I work a (relatively) low stress part time job (if my boss can keep the company afloat that is), attend school part time, and write. It's a pretty nice set up, and I know I'm lucky to have it. I was able to finish my rewrite of The Sometimes Sword just a couple of weeks ago, and it's currently in the hands of my beta readers. In a month or so I'll be starting up my web comic Kestrel with my brother Travis, and as of this last Monday, I've officially started my fourth novel. My brain is swimming in fiction and it's awesome!

It seems as time goes on I find myself wanting to write for younger and younger audiences. And I'm cool with that. I know it won't always be that way (I like to write violence and dark stuff too much to never return to adult fiction), but for now it's what's floating my boat. Here's how it goes: my first book ever was written for adults; the second, for the older end of YA; the third (which was a rewrite of the second) lowered that age by two years; and now I have this new book, written most likely for kids ages ten and up. Perhaps I'm just regressing, losing some of my ability to write mature material. Who knows.

Anyway, it's my first attempt at a diverse fantasy, and I'm really excited about it. It's about a young girl living in a smallish town in late 1996 (heck yeah, I'm way excited for a period piece). One day, another girl moves in down the street, and she just so happens to be a real, self taught witch, complete with pointed hat and striped stockings. They get into shenanigans and a mystery unfolds. Should be fun.

So that's what I'm doing so far! What about you?

T-shirt contest results announced!

Alrighty! It's Monday, which means it's free t-shirt time! This month's interview with Isaac Stewart was a huge success, with well over a thousand of you showing up on the first day alone to read the great stuff he had to say. Over one hundred people entered the contest by commenting, at which point Ink Wing Arts decided to add another shirt to the mix. Thank you everyone for entering and supporting Isaac, Ink Wing Arts, and myself.

okay, on to the good stuff. I drew two names, both of which ended up not having any contact info, which was too bad. After drawing again, the same thing came up. Unfortunately "Unknown" with no email, Twitter handle, or Facebook was not a valid entry! (Believe me, I tried to do everything I could to track down their info.) Ah, but such is life. So after a third try, success! Our two winners are:

Sean Jackson

Congrats guys, I'll be sending you an email here soon to give you further instructions!

Well, thanks to everyone else who entered; don't be too sad about not winning, I'll be hosting monthly giveaways from here on out, so make sure to add me and stop by to say hi! If you still want a shirt, stop by InkWing.com and check out their great deals.

Interview with Isaac Stewart, the man behind the maps of Mistborn and The Way of Kings! Also, a free t-shirt contest! Yay!

"Save the puppies."
Permit me a nerd-like "squeee!" before I start this one. I'm not ashamed. Okay, now that's taken care of, let me tell you what the big deal is all about today. As you can see in the post title, this month's interview is with Isaac Stewart, hence my excitement. He's just the guy who created the maps, symbols, and chapter headings for Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series and The Way of Kings, in addition to a ton of other cool stuff. But I'll let the interview detail the rest of that. There's some seriously good info in here boys and girls, so make sure to pay attention.


The other big thing is this: by coming to my blog and checking out this super-sweet interview, you have taken the first steps toward the possibility, nay, the opportunity to win a free t-shirt of your choice from InkWing.com, the merch site for everything Brandon Sanderson (which is run by, guess who, Isaac Stewart). How does one win such a prize, you ask? By leaving a comment of course! Each unique visitor's comment will be assigned a number, which will then be pulled from a hat (you'll have to trust me that I'm actually using a hat, and not a coffee can or something). Please make sure you leave a way for me to contact you if you are the winner! (That's important.) Multiple comments by the same person will be considered as only ONE submission. The contest will close on April 15th, 2012, and the winner will be announced on this blog on April 16th, 2012.

UPDATE: Due to the volume of awesome people commenting (like you!), Ink Wing Arts would like to throw a second shirt into the contest! Meaning you no longer have to sharpen your swords to fight for just one shirt, but two! (Still only one shirt per winner; your chances simply went up.) Keep em coming!

UPDATE UPDATE: The contest has officially closed. Winners have been announced, check out the latest post for more info! Thanks everyone for your support!

Celebrating Diversity, Not Killing It.

I've been thinking about a lot of things related to our society lately, to the point where my brain has officially overflowed. I suppose I'll begin emptying it slowly by writing about it. I don't even know how this particular post is going to end up. We'll see, but be warned, this will be a true, flat-out ramble, so here goes.

I've been increasingly concerned with the state of our world in the last couple of years, and I don't know what to do about it. It seems like humanity is going to doom itself no matter what the few try to do. Violence, war, hate, disdain, anger, prejudice, and bigotry run rampant everywhere I look. What is it about being human that makes this okay? How has the world not stopped and said, "Hey, whoa. What's going on here? This isn't how things should be, let's fix this!"? Sure, over time there have been tons of individuals that say exactly this, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, and others. (Note: they were all murdered.) Why is it only the people who truly care about what is right are labeled as "outspoken"? Shouldn't the violent ones, the hateful people of the world be the "outspoken" ones? What's wrong with us?

My review of Chuck Wendig's DOUBLE DEAD. Goretastic. Goregasmic? Go to church to Goreship?

Double Dead
by Chuck Wendig

5 out of 5 stars. Imagine them.

First off, I'm gonna tell you all that Double Dead is not for the faint of heart. If you suffer from a severely overactive gag reflex, heart murmurs, are a nun, or you're just straight up noodle-necked (not a real thing), stay well back. If you don't fall into those categories, pick up the dang book. I give Double Dead 5 solid stars, and it deserves it.

Published Author Interview with Bryce Moore, the man behind VODNIK, available March 28th through Tu Books!

Out March 28th 2012!
Alright, I know March's Writer Interview is really late, but I have a good reason, I promise! Just give me a moment to explain! Last year I had the opportunity to meet Bryce Moore at Conduit 2011 (where I also met Peter Orullian, another author interviewee of mine who you can read up on here). We chatted a bit about his book Vodnik, which (I believe) he had contracted recently. A year later, it's finally coming out! Last month I contacted Bryce about doing an interview to help publicize Vodnik to some of my readers, and he agreed, 'cause he's a cool guy like that. He provided me with the ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) so I could familiarize myself with it, which I did enthusiastically. You can read my review here. We decided to hold off on releasing the interview itself until Vodnik was closer to being available, in order to help with the initial sales effort. You all know how important the first few weeks of a book's release are, right? Right? 'Cause a book's first month is huge in determining the continued support of marketing dollars, and plays a large roll in how many retailers want to stock it.

Anyway, Vodnik is great; probably my favorite book of this last year. It's different than most others I've read, and totally refreshing. But I'll let you read my full review yourselves. Make sure to check out the link Bryce provided at the bottom of the interview, where you can purchase the Kindle version right now (in case you didn't know, most smartphones, definitely the iPhone, have Kindle apps. FYI). The hardcover of Vodnik will be officially released on March 28th. So pick it up; it's totally worth it.

A review of Bryce Moore's VODNIK. In short? Excellent.

My unofficial rating.

Every once in a while, I read a book that ends up being the equivalent to a tall, icy glass of water. Or better yet, Sprite. Just refreshing. I can think of several in my own reading experience (just to name a few): Harry Potter, Fablehaven, and most recently, Vodnik by Bryce Moore. Now don't mistake me, I'm not comparing these books to each other, or even grouping them up under some category, I'm simply saying they all gave me the same sense of excitement; the feeling that I was reading something new. With Harry Potter I was blown away in part because it was one of the first true Urban Fantasies I had read (not to mention a million other things, love that series). Fablehaven was bursting with simple imagination and adventure, something I really needed at the time I read it. Vodnik smacked me in my face and showed me that true wit, sarcasm, earnest story-telling, multi-layered plotting, grit, and fairy tales can all inhabit the same book.

Partial review of THE MUPPETS, focused on one specific area.

The Muppets seemed to be the perfect candidate with which to study narrative structure. After all, a beloved children’s franchise famous for also entertaining adults was more than likely to contain a Hollywood-style composition. It didn’t fail to deliver. It has most of what makes a good screenplay: conflict, clarity of plot, and a storybook climax. However, it lacks one very important thing, split into three subcategories: resolution against a believable, scary antagonist with clear motivations. This missing piece was its undoing, destroying the rest of the film and trivializing the conflict.
The story of The Muppets begins with a lighthearted montage highlighting the relationship between two brothers: one a puppet character named Walter who dreams of becoming a Muppet someday, the other a human named Gary played by Jason Segel. It establishes their appreciation of each other, and sets up one of the main conflicts: Walter’s growing dissatisfaction with his differences. Over the next few chunks of movie, we learn that they are setting out on a trip to visit Los Angeles for Gary and his girlfriend Mary’s ten-year anniversary, Walter in tow. The young puppet is thrilled to have the chance to visit the Muppet Studios where all the episodes of The Muppet Show were recorded decades ago.
Unfortunately, when they arrive they find the studio shut down, derelict, covered in dust, and strung with spiderwebs. Only a single, disgruntled tour guide remains, who takes them unenthusiastically to Kermit the Frog’s former office. We learn that the Muppets have been out of style for years, and after drifting apart, they were forgotten.
Walter wanders off and happens to overhear a convenient conversation between three suited figures, one of which is Tex Richman. He and his cronies discuss a plan to take over the Muppet Studios due to a small article within the “standard Rich and Famous” contract Kermit signed years ago. It states that Tex Richman has the rights to the property by a certain date, if the Muppets are unable to come up with ten million dollars. This is the point where we learn that Tex is the “bad guy”. Walter learns of the dastardly villain’s plot to level the studios and drill for oil (which is strange, considering the studios are located in the middle of the city…). Walter, of course, then sets out on a journey to reunite the Muppets so they can put on one last show, raise the money, and buy their studio back.
This seems like a relatively reasonable set up for the film that follows, seeing as most audiences would be accepting of such a simple plot. However, Tex Richman fails to live up to the image the film makers want him to have. He is never scary, seldom intimidating, and last of all, he has no reason to be doing what he is doing.
For a short time after the character is first introduced, Tex appears to be nice, pretending to be converting the Muppet Studios into a Muppet museum. Walter soon finds the real reason for the takeover by listening in secretly, at which point Tex tells his henchmen to perform a “maniacal laugh”. They do so, to the audience’s confusion. Much later in the movie, we discover that the reason for this is because of Tex Richman’s own inability to laugh, maniacally or otherwise. It’s an interesting quirk to give a villain, but the late reveal defeats the effectiveness, essentially robbing the audience of something to identify the antagonist with for the majority of the movie.
The only real encounter the Muppets have face to face with Tex is well before the climax, in the billionaire’s office, where a ridiculously embarrassing hip hop number takes place featuring the villain himself, rapping about how he does anything and everything he wants, because he is rich. Kermit sits bemused, while the audience covers their faces in shame. Any smidgen of intimidation previously present is very suddenly gone.
Even the climax of the film is lackluster (though it does have one of the only instances of much appreciated nostalgia). Tex attempts to shut down the power to the studio while the Muppets are filming a telethon meant to save them and raise ten million dollars. He rams his car into a power pole, severs a main power line, and eventually tries to cut live wires on top of the building with nothing but bolt cutters (never mind how deadly it would be if he succeeded). Through all of this, there is no contact with the heroes of the story. Eventually one of his own “turned-leaf” henchmen takes the bolt cutters from him, and essentially knocks him out by accident. The entire sequence only serves to make Tex look childish, incompetent, and utterly un-threatening.
One of the main downfalls of the entire plot was the lack of motivation Tex Richman had for doing what he does. By openly acknowledging the fact that even the film makers don’t know why he is such a bad guy, the audience is given nothing with which to reconcile the events taking place. We are told that Tex is bad because that is his nature, which only works for faceless Evil Overlords in their towers, not men in business suits. To essentially tell the audience, “Laugh with us, ‘cause Tex being a bad dude just ‘because’ is a joke,” doesn’t work. Mainly because it has been done before (and better) in The Great Muppet Caper, when Kermit asks Steve Martin’s character, “Why are you doing this?” to which the villain replies charmingly, “Because I’m a villain!”.
Also, the city of Los Angeles would definitely not allow oil drilling efforts to take place directly on top of the oil deposit. The red tape, zoning issues, and most of all, the local public’s involvement in the inevitable protests would be impossible to surmount. At very least, Tex would have to introduce an angled system to allow a long drill and line to access the oil from outside city limits, thus leaving the Muppet Studio untouched. This would be his only option, and hardly feasible. Thus the entire conflict of the story is fundamentally flawed in a large, very noticeable way.
All of the above aside, the conflict fails to resolve properly. Tex is not defeated or even shown up by the Muppets and friends (they fail to get the ten million dollars by the time limit). There are several resolutions across the board, from Walter’s inclusion into the ranks of the Muppets, Kermit’s reconcile with Miss Piggy, Gary’s proposal to Mary, to the resurgence of the Muppet’s relevance in modern media. However, they do nothing to overcome Tex’s “evil”, there is no comeuppance, and there is no resolution to his involvement. Almost as an afterthought, the film maker’s have Gonzo hit the (somehow) defeated villain with a bowling ball on accident, loosening a laugh from him for the first time, after which Tex decides to give the Muppets back their studio. It’s shoddy writing, and a huge let down, trivializing the efforts of all the characters involved.
Many people might say that all of these facts are pointless when applied to a kid’s movie. That a movie like The Muppets isn’t intended to wrap one’s mind in layers of mystery and plot. It’s meant to enjoyed, simply and quickly. Well, it came close to accomplishing that goal. But since the Muppets are famous for entertaining all age groups with different levels of humor and quality writing, it’s an excuse that doesn’t hold up. With just a little tweaking of the antagonist in three key areas, it could have ended as a much better film. Hopefully future Muppet movies take a cue from their older predecessors and focus on a good story first, and gimmicky characters last.

My World's Map. By Your's Truly.

I made this after attending a panel on mapmaking by Isaac Stewart at LTUE. Thought it might be fun to post. If you haven't realized, it's also my background.

Writing Is Uncertainty.

DISCLAIMER: I am not half as depressed as this makes me sound. Just keep that in mind.

I've been thinking lately about how I compare to other writers out there. I can't help but feel like I'm somehow different, broken, wrong. I always hear authors talk about how they doubted themselves back when they were writing their first five novels, but learned to get past it for the manuscript's sake. Kinda like a paralyzed dude triumphantly standing up from his wheelchair at the end of an inspirational movie. But then they leave it at that.

Well, I'm sorry to say, I'm not satisfied with that. I feel like I need to know more. I need to know if their pain (wow that's dramatic) is anything like mine, if their doubt is as soul-consuming. Do they struggle to understand their own writing's worth, like me? I'd like to someday see one of the authors I respect write about their issues, to really see if I'm so different and destined for failure.

Who knows if I'll ever get that wish. I guess they have a reputation to maintain, and such things would hurt it. Well, I don't have a reputation, so for what it's worth, here's my little list of things that I struggle with. If anything resonates with you, or you feel the same way, let me know, please.

I have no idea if I can write worth a crap.

When I write, the sentences often make me cringe.

I often hate my own imagination.

There are times when I look back at my day's writing, and feel a pit form in my stomach; I know I'll have to throw it all away.

I don't know who my characters are. I just hope to god someone else will. We talk all the time about building a strong personality with flaws and quirks, but at the end of the day, it means nothing to my brain.

As far as my own plot goes, it's all over my head, no matter how much I outline. I fly by the seat of my pants, praying I'll end up somewhere safe.

The concept of pacing completely eludes me.

I have no idea if my book is even the slightest bit original.

I don't know if my potential readers will get even the smallest bit of excitement from my action scenes.

When I try to write emotions, I feel they come off as corny and contrived.

When I post about writing, I feel like everyone is laughing at me. "Look at that idiot, he thinks he's an author!"

I don't know a damn about making people laugh.

I will never be a part of the "published author" community.

I don't have what it takes to get an agent or editor to like my books.

No one will ever want to read what I write.

Only spambots visit my blog.

When I look at all the people around me selling books, I know I'll never be as good as them. There are thousands of people writing, right now. I have no chance.

I'm wasting my life, doing this whole writing thing.

Everyone will lie to me when they read my book, tell me it's good. They most likely never read all the way through it.

I often feel like my family, of all people, care less than the strangers.

It's easy to end this by telling all of you to not let these things get you down. To keep going, and all that. I wish I could tell myself the same, and believe it. I won't stop writing any time soon, but I shudder to think that it will always be this way. Am I ready for a life of uncertainty?

Sprucing up a character.

I'm doing this right now. Hopefully some of my ramblings will make sense, possibly even be helpful if you're having the same problems as me. As most of you know, I'm in the middle of a second version of my book The Sometimes Sword. One of the main things I wanted to do this time around was inject more personality into everyone. I feel like so far I've been doing well. Most every aspect is a hundred times better than the first version: plot, descriptions, character voice, action, creepiness, etc. I can do even better though. I'm about halfway through with 61k words complete, but before I go any further, I want to go through and spruce up my main character Astrid.

She's always been the weak link. I've always been so focused on making her likable and relate-able. As I've been reading other books lately, I've been struck by how directly related character personality is linked to their foibles. They walk hand in hand. Therefore, it stands to reason that if Astrid lacks the proper amount of flaws, she also lacks an equal amount of personality. So I'm taking her back to the drawing board, re-evaluating her, and adding in some crap. We'll see how it goes.

Non-Fiction: A Study of Five Pieces of Art and Their Periods.

The Calling of St. Matthew was painted from 1599 to 1600 by an artist known as Caravaggio, and was the piece that won him lasting fame. I chose this work because the dramatic lighting and easily identifiable emotions on the subjects’ faces are common qualities of the Baroque style. It highlights several new techniques and ideas of the times, and endures as an impressive work, even today. The figure of Christ is placed on the edge of the painting, only his head and upraised arm visible, emerging from deep shadows. This positioning is directly contrary to the Renaissance practice of placing the most important figure in the center of a work. A robed man stands next to Christ, possibly a disciple or apostle. A group of well-dressed money-lenders sit at a table counting coins and poring over ledgers, two of which fail to see Christ’s arrival. St. Matthew is one of these, his head bowed as his hands greedily separate gold coins. One of the lenders points to himself wonderingly, mistaking Christ’s pointed finger as intended for him. A dynamism to the figures’ arrangement and form speaks of the tension of the event, with the lenders looking on in confusion at the solemn face of Christ. Warm light spills from a high window, casting complicated shadows from limbs and folds of clothing. The palette is narrow, mostly earthy browns and yellows, but saturated reds and even greens can be seen.

While difficult to assign a specific set of characteristics to, the Baroque period certainly saw painters emphasizing realistic depictions of un-realistic subjects in everyday situations. For example, Caravaggio took this well-known scene from the Bible and placed the fantastic event (Christ calling a sinner from his greed to join Him in his ministry) into a very human and naturalistic setting. His subjects are relatable, not idealized, shown in believable positions, not contrived postures. The pronounced chiaroscuro (called tenebrism) of the lighting and darkened background, painstakingly rendered through real-world observation in his studio, was a stylistic breakthrough and influenced many artists of the Baroque period and later. It brought a new level of three-dimensionality and a theatrical quality to art.

This scene is more than just a depiction of a biblical story. It also serves as an allegorical warning. By placing the figures in contemporary clothing (of the time), Caravaggio gives the viewer pause, perhaps in an attempt to spark a thoughtful and emotional reaction in them. The meaning is clear: we are all sinners and slaves to greed. Only Christ can save us, if we but listen to his call.

The Calling of St. Matthew brought a new standard to painting, challenging artists to observe and recreate the reality of the natural world. Its subjects, blemishes and all, brought art closer to the common people, inviting everyone to benefit from its message, not just the aristocracy. This humanization of biblical figures was no doubt an instrumental influence on the later works of Realists, beginning a tradition that eventually led to the Impressionist movement and the popularity of candid photography.

Parnassus was painted in 1761, a work by Anton Raphael Mengs. I chose this piece because of its solid embodiment of the Neo-Classical ideals of simplicity, harmony, and order. The clothing stays firmly within the expected Neo-Classical palette of primary colors, and the figures within the careful framing pose with decorum, formed with severe idealism. The clear connection to the tenants of the Neo-Classical movement is thorough and plain.

The scene depicts Apollo (the god of music, intellectual inquiry, and poetry) surrounded by muses. He stands as a vitruvian nude, save for a drape across his shoulders. A wreath of laurels crown his head and another is clutched in his formally upraised hand, perhaps intended as a gift. A lyre rests on his hip, calling to mind his role of dominion over music. The muses surrounding him are arrayed in colorful clothing from antiquity, dancing, composing music (or poetry), and posing with elements of the theatre. Aspects of Classical architecture are evident in the fluting of the small corinthian column and Apollo’s sandals. The collection of figures calls to mind a sculptural frieze, with little attempt at creating a sense of depth or three-dimensionality. Little to no ornamentation shows the Neo-Classic reaction to the gaudiness of the Rococo, and the calm, almost sedated expressions of the subjects defy the emotionalism of the Baroque.

The laurel leaves symbolize accomplishment, and combined with the elements of dance, performance, and music, is meant to convey worldly achievements in the arts. The message is nearly didactic in its overt depiction of excellence, championing the merits of the Classical era and adherence to tradition (the use of Classical orders and ornamentation in art and architecture), suggesting that the viewer also, should claim such virtues as honor and restraint.

Paintings such as Parnassus contributed much to the growth of Neo-Classicism, influencing later works that in turn brought a renewed interest in the ideals, or virtues, of the classical past. With its noble air and simple execution, Parnassus helped bring about the development of many new styles, some complimentary, others in direct opposition to Neo-Classicism.


Romanticism was a direct reaction to the values of Neo-Classicism, replacing didactic pieces featuring reason, primary colors, and statuesque figures with the strange and fanciful, portraying feeling and imagination. Johann Henry Füseli embraced this rebellion when he painted The Nightmare in 1781. The subject of this painting is that of dreams, specifically nightmares. It gives an fantastical portrayal, going so far as to show the dreamer within the composition, side-by-side the ghouls she dreams of. A young woman lays draped upon a bed, her upper torso and arms falling over the side, long tresses of wavy hair cascading toward the ground. She is dressed in clothing reminiscent of the Classical past: a simple but well-made garment of filmy white material. The contours of her body show through sensuously, revealing an idealized form not unlike those within Neo-Classical pieces. A nightstand plays host to several jars and perfume bottles, while the carved wood and gold-trimmed tassels speak of wealth. Her face might be that of a former lover from Füseli’s own life.

Upon the dreamer’s stomach perches a sinister incubus, caught in the motion of turning to face the viewer, his bulging, darkened eyes piercing through the surface of the painting. Thick limbs and stocky legs give it a sense of immense weight, as do the shadows cast across the majority of its body, pinning the woman to her bed. This could well be a reference to the sensation many report feeling while experiencing nightmares: being unable to move despite the clawing desperation of fear. It is said that the incubus’s grim face bears a resemblance to Füseli himself, a fact that if true, casts the portrayal of a former lover as the dreamer in a new, disturbing light. In the background, the night mare pushes its head through the thick red drapes, nostrils flared, teeth jutting, and eyes rolling wildly.

The prominent shadows, reminiscent of tenebrism, dictate the use of copious blacks, highlighted dramatically by light source from beyond the frame that makes the pure white of the dreamer’s gown glow. Deep red drapes and blankets add color, as do the browns of the incubus’s corrupted skin. Paint is applied with less attention to detail than previous works; the lack of defined outlines representing rather than describing details.

The fantasy with which this supernatural piece is painted, along with the dark elements of fear and the indiscernible madness of the horse draw the viewer in, eliciting an emotional response, a primary goal of Romantic art. The beauty of the dreamer’s form and the grotesque features of the incubus are shoved side-by-side, displaying a juxtaposition that was thought to lead to the Sublime, a state of great admiration and awe.

Romanticism isn’t one particular style, or even collection of styles. It is an approach that attempts to find truth in intense emotions and experiences, be they exquisite or ghastly. The Nightmare contains elements of both, though the painting as a whole leans to the disturbing. The meaning of the work is ambiguous, though some conclusions can be drawn: the inclusion of recognizable features from the artist’s own life can be interpreted as a venting of negative feelings after being shunned. Even so, the meaning of the piece remains subjective rather than reasonable and easily interpreted, another tenant of Romanticism.


Claude Monet’s Impression: Soleil Levant (Sunrise) was the first true Impressionistic painting, created in 1873. It was painted as one of many works intended for exhibit outside of the accepted Salon system in order to rebel against the Académie. Thirty oft-rejected artists sought to engage the art viewing public directly, bypassing the critics. The reviews of the resulting works were generally positive, but one man named Louis Leroy, dubbed Monet’s contribution scathingly as impressionistic because of its obvious brushstrokes and unfinished look, not knowing that the term would stick, and eventually come to represent an entire art movement (Stokstad et al 984). It was this rebellion against the Salon system that brought about the modern art age. Monet uses colors exclusively to represent the scene. A small boat drifts in a harbor, the two men inside mere silhouettes against the rising sun. In the background to the right a group of masted ships ride at anchor, their bulk barely visible as a collection of vertical and diagonal lines of color. To the other side we see the tall smoke stacks of industry, plumes of smoke hovering in the air, partially obscuring the sun. This scene would have been absolutely common in his time, making this a modern-life painting.

Monet uses pure pigments in this work, with little mixing of paints, instead relying on the science of optics and color theory to create the proper hues. Blues, purples, oranges, and yellows are all applied with care and purpose. The palette lacks any blacks, whites, or grays, utilizing varying saturation of pigments to represent light and shadow. Brushstrokes themselves also play a role in the forming of shapes, using differently sized swathes of color to create a “feeling” of the objects, as opposed to plainly describing them.

One of the main components of Impressionism is realism, in that objects and people are represented as they are, true to life. Many artists, such as Monet, employed the practice of plein-aire painting (open air paintings, where the subject is directly observed). Because of this, casual subjects such as the harbor in Impression: Sunrise became popular, in part from the growing popularity of photography, a relatively candid art form. The realist ideas of the Impressionism movement eliminated symbolism and iconography within paintings, instead focusing on communication of moments-in-time to a viewer. The depiction of casual events led to the idea of “art for art’s sake”, the thought that making art is its own motivation, without any extrinsic need for symbols or religious meaning. Impression: Sunrise wasn’t the first work to feature objects suggested with paint (not explicitly depicted), and it wasn’t the last. However, it does hold a place in history as the painting that sparked a new era of art, leading into modern day. Monet’s work directly influenced the styles of Modern painters like Henri Matisse with their focus on color and shape, not line. Impression: Sunrise is still greatly admired for its simplicity of detail and complexity of artistic composition.


The Triumph of Death is a work by Pieter Bruegal the Elder, completed in 1562. I chose it because of its clear separation from the naturalism and idealism of the High Renaissance. Unnatural color tints, elongated proportions, and a high emotional content all make this piece a prime subject for study as a Northern Mannerist piece. The Triumph of Death was an unusual painting in its time, and can still illicit a fair amount of unease from viewers today.

Death is the focus of this scene, both allegorically and literally. The terror of sickness and plague was not far from anyone’s thoughts in this era, and brought such devastation that towns and cities were wiped out in less than a year. This fear and despair is depicted here with gruesome detail. Hundreds of figures fill the frame, some mortals, others the harbingers of death. Skeletons, withered corpses, and grotesques cavort in black delight as they wantonly slaughter men and women alike for sport. The carnage is complete and nearly pornographic in the amount of delight it takes from itself.

Everywhere horrors abound: gaping wounds pour blood, naked men are netted like fish and herded into the depths of hell, and bodies are spitted by spikes. Men are tossed into a pool with millstones tied to their necks while the grim parody of a fanfare is played by the bodies of the dead dressed in the robes of the church. All around lies the sickly green of plague upon the ground, poisoning the very air, mixing with the smoke of bodies burned alive. In the lower-middle foreground, a bound man’s throat is slit by a robed ghoul, and on the far right a skeleton gropes a woman dressed in fine clothes from behind, and toward the bottom edge a skeletal dog eats the face from a baby. A kingly figure in the robes of office and expensive armor lies dying upon the ground, oblivious to the figure of death propping him up, his own short life dwindling within an hourglass clutched by spidery fingers.

The Christian symbol of the Crucifix stand impotently as the host of the dead march over the land. This speaks clearly of the terror so many useless prayers would have brought. Two figures ring a large bell, announcing the coming of death, possibly even an advance on the viewer’s life. The visceral quality of the victims’ faces (screams, disbelief, and weeping), are direct connections to the emotional centers of the viewer, bypassing the intellectual from the start. Mannerist form is also observed: long-limbed skeletons and twisted corpses exist within irrational spacial relationships, putting the viewer on edge.

The color palette is comprised of browns, burnt reds, deep blacks, infectious yellows, and malignant greens. While incorporating many different hues, the general range of color stays relatively narrow, as Bruegal uses secondary colors in place of the typical Renaissance primaries. The resulting effect is an overall feeling of dread and distaste, once again bringing the viewer’s emotions into play.

It is works such as this that began the movement toward the macabre, filtering down the centuries. It also openly addressed the fears of the people of its time, assisting in the development of self-awareness that society required. Without The Triumph of Death and others like it, art might have shied away from such subjects as death and horror. The Mannerist practice of irrationality vs rationality was instrumental to the breadth of styles and art forms we enjoy today.

Non-Fiction: Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora

Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora is a portrait by French painter Marie-Louise-Elisabeth

Vigee le Brun (1755-1842). Painted in 1799, this 53 1/2 x 38 inch oil-on-canvas depicts the Russian “Princess de Minuit” in the likeness of the goddess Flora from classical myth (South 34). The painting is one of many le Brun produced during her twelve-year exile from France during the French Revolution and was originally shown at the Exhibition of Russian Portraits at the Taurida Palace in St. Petersburg (Nickerson 7). The painting is not recorded among le Brun’s lists or memoirs, despite the obvious inspiration and fantasy with which it was painted (Nikolenko “Russian Portraits”). This work was gifted to its current home by Mr. Val A. Browning (South 34).

I first viewed this piece amid many other 18th Century European paintings and sculptures at an exhibition of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on November 26, 2011. I had intended to write about another of Elisabeth le Brun’s paintings, but it was not on exhibit and I went searching for another piece. I was pleasantly surprised to come across the portrait of Princess Galitzine while wandering the display hall, and found myself admiring it more than my first choice. I already admired le Brun’s representation of female faces (particularly the eyes), and recognized her style at once. I ultimately chose this painting as the subject of my research because its mix of bright primary colors and the soft luminosity of light revealing the subject’s features was unique within the exhibit hall. It immediately stood out among the dark Baroque and early Renaissance pieces nearby, one of which was a rather grim depiction of the Deposition of Christ. A definite femininity was present, a quality I often find lacking in paintings of women from the Renaissance to the Rococo era. I have since learned this femininity is a hallmark of le Brun’s portraiture style, and is characteristic of her many paintings (Auricchio, “Women Painters”).

In the painting, a young woman stands in the foreground, dominating the distant landscape with her presence. A woven basket of pink roses sits atop her darkly curled hair, balanced easily by a casual hand. In her other hand she clutches a branch of fruit-bearing leaves. Her clothing is sophisticated, simple in cut, and colorful: saturated blues and reds contrast nicely with a white undergarment banded with gold. The filmy fabrics and plentiful folds of her drape give volumetric presence, while an unseen sun creates a soft glow upon her skin.

A delicate system of shading serves as a tool for creating three dimensionality, granting weight and realism to the young woman’s limbs and face. Her striking eyes are dark brown, with catch lights emphasizing the clarity of the irises. She bears a small smile, exuding peace and happiness, as if greeting a close acquaintance or friend.

Beyond the subject, soft green hills and a brown road are visible behind and below, slowly making way for cold blue mountains along the horizon. The corner of a classically-inspired building peeks into the frame, instantly recognizable by its pediment and surrounding portico of columns. Trees and bushes accent its outline, partially hiding a distant body of water painted in silver-blue.

Elisabeth le Brun’s use of atmospheric perspective heightens the sense of realism and creates a sharp illusion of depth, firmly placing the subject in the forefront. The light shading and yellow coloring of the clouds gives the piece a further sense of distance, as the viewer imagines them extending out from the painting to hang over their own head.

A wide variety of colors form the palette, ranging from the saturated blues of her dress to the pale yellows of the sunset-lit sky behind her. With red accents and shawl, le Brun breaks the potential monotony of the palette by complimenting the soft greens, flesh tones, and blues, making the figure leap from the surface (Nickerson 7).

Despite the natural posture of the Princess, this painting is not simply a depiction of a single, or candid moment in time. The details are arranged and represented with deliberate care. The subject’s pose is purposefully positioned, with her crooked arm subtly pointing behind her, moving the viewer’s eye to the background details, including the Greek Temple. Her state of dress indicates wealth and station, instantly identifying her as a member of the aristocracy (Nickerson 7). The roses in the basket on her head symbolize beauty, the worship of mythical goddesses, and are considered to be the flower of Venus. The olive branch in her hand represents peace and love, and the fruit it bears suggests fertility.

The portrait is a stunning example of how Elisabeth Vigee le Brun successfully blended the Neo-Classical and Romantic styles in her portraiture. More than anything, Le Brun favored a Romantic portrait style “aimed at seizing the subject in an intimate, unselfconscious and introspective moment of reflection” (May 136). Katheryn Gallitz suggests that the emotion and imagination of Romanticism came in response to disillusionment with the reason and order of the Enlightenment in the aftermath of the French Revolution. She goes on to state that, “This interest in the individual and subjective—at odds with eighteenth-century rationalism—is mirrored in the Romantic approach to portraiture. Traditionally records of individual likeness, portraits became vehicles for expressing a range of psychological and emotional states in the hands of Romantic painters” (Gallitz “Romanticism”).

The portrait is Neo-Classical in design, with elements of Romanticism in its execution. This romanticism is evidenced in the relaxed position of the subject, the peaceful cast of her eyes, the dramatic beauty of the landscape, and the billowing folds of her drape (South 34). The beauty of these elements complement the bright, classical clothing and Greek temple that embody the Neo-Classical ideals of simplicity and proportion.

This portrait bears a marked resemblance to Julie le Brun as Flora, a portrait le Brun painted of her own daughter, also in 1799. Both sitters are portrayed as the goddess Flora in similar poses and clothing. Both bear a basket of roses atop their heads and leafy branches in their hands. In her daughter’s portrait, however, le Brun arranges the leaves in a heart-shaped wreath, symbolizing love and peace. The Italian landscape in her daughter's portrait is also altered, and her daughter’s clothes are composed and colored differently than Princess Galitzine's. The portrait of Princess Galitzine is rendered with more attention to the visual representation of detail, and shows the subject in a more natural pose and relaxed manner (Nikolenko, “Russian Portraits”).

Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora was finished two years after the Russian princess’s sister, Elizabeth Vladmirovna, commissioned her own portrait by le Brun (South 34). The resulting works are very similar, and a marked family resemblance is present. In fact, most of le Brun’s female portraits share physical similarities: soft skin, a delicately shaped mouth, large eyes, and delicate limbs. This style is especially noticeable in the the many portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette, who greatly favored le Brun (“Elizabeth Vigee-le Brun: Oxford Dictionary of Art”).

Several influences from earlier artists’ works are evident. The red shawl reflects le Brun’s admiration of Rafael’s Madonnas, which she often emulated in her portraits of female subjects. She also draws stylistic techniques from Peter Paul Rubens, giving her female subjects “supple flesh tones” and a soft luminosity achieved with the use of several layers of glaze (South 34).

Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee le Brun was quite famous in her own time, and was a welcome dignitary in many court circles. Because of this, her style and works enjoyed a relatively wide viewership outside of France, and she amassed a not un-large personal fortune (South 34).

However, Elisabeth Vigee le Brun was more than just a talented portraitist. She embodied a stark change in the way the world thought of men's and women's roles in art and society at large. Brun was accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture on May 31, 1783, a particularly impressive distinction considering the protests of some of its members because of her gender. She also regularly exhibited in the biennial Salons (Auricchio, “Women Painters”).

Her style was so distinctive that, “the simultaneous admission of [fellow female painter] Labille-Guiard and Vigée Le Brun [to the Académie Royale] caused a stir in the art world and beyond, and the press immediately cast them as rivals, pitting Vigée Le Brun's ‘feminine’ style (loose brushstrokes, high-toned color, and flattering renderings of her sitters against the ‘masculine’ characteristics (crisp handling, muted tones, and truth to nature) of Labille-Guiard's paintings” (Auricchio, “Women Painters”).

Elisabeth Vigee le Brun has done much to change the art world, from developing unique blends of Neo-Classical and Romantic styles, to displaying a distinctly feminine touch while painting women, and finally, by becoming (at the time) one of the few female members of the Académie Royale.

Though she enjoyed great status and powerful friends, she still fought against the ideas of her time. During her lifetime, none of her portraits were displayed in France, the land she called home. It wasn’t until after her death that her work was widely shown in France, when her niece donated two inherited pieces to the Louvre. This was only the first step, and soon, her art would spread, even crossing the ocean to America. “Overcoming all odds, Vigée Le Brun has finally had the last word and gained her passport to immortality, for her paintings now hang in all the leading art museums of the world” (May 203).

Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora was only one of many portraits and paintings produced by le Brun, and while her characteristic style and manner of presenting women is remarkable in and of itself, it is her overall work that begs our attention. One can only imagine the breadth and scope of the very real impact Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee le Brun has had on the world. She, and women like her, have done society an undeniable service by fighting archaic views of gender roles. Without such ambition and perseverance, the current art, political, and professional worlds would be very different places.

Works Cited

Auricchio, Luara. "Eighteenth-Century Women Painters in France.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Web. 3 December 2011.

"Elisabeth Vigee-le Brun: The Oxford Dictionary of Art." ENotes - Literature Study Guides, Lesson Plans, and More. Web. 3 December 2011.

Gallitz, Katheryn. "Romanticism.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Web. 3 December 2011.

Nickerson, Melissa. Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora Lesson. Women Artists Lesson Plan for Educators. University of Utah Printing Services (28 October 1998): 7. Print.

Nikolenko, Lada. “The Russian Portraits of Madame Vigee le Brun.” Reprinted from the Gazette des Beaux Arts. Web. 3 December 2011.

May, Gita. Elisabeth Vigee le Brun : The Odyssey of an Artist in an Age of Revolution. Yale University Press (2005): 136-202. Print.

South, Will. The Val. A Browning Memorial Collection of 500 Years of European Masterworks. University of Utah Printing Services (1995): 34. Print.

I'm still alive, I promise!

Working on a lot of things right now, glad to have too much to do, rather than too little. But I thought I'd drop by and give you all an update on what's going on. First off, this next month's interviewee will also be my second published author! (You can check out the first one here.) Bryce Moore (@bmoorebooks) has agreed to have a few questions thrown at him, which is great, cause he's a really amazing writer. His book Vodnik will be out soon, and I'm excited for all of you to read it. I've already had the pleasure of reading it pre-release, and it's amazing! More on that later though.

On a related note, my monthly Aspiring Writer Interview series will no longer be called such. I will be dropping the "aspiring" bit, because if a person writes, they're a writer. Period. There are good writers and there are bad writers, but that's another issue.

Right now I'm deep in developing plot within the second version of my own book, even as I write. It's kind of counter intuitive, but that's how I roll. I just passed the 52k word mark, which if my expectations are correct, means I'm just now over the halfway point. Woot! I know I have a lot of revision to do, but that's something I've come to terms with. I'm a messy first draft-er.

One last thing, if you haven't already, feel free to follow me on Twitter, as I've become a little more active there lately (@SometimesSword).


Saladin Ahmed's first published novel just came out on February 7th of this year, and I have to say that I was very excited for it. Saladin had been featured on the Writing Excuses podcast sometime last year, so I was somewhat familiar with what he hoped to accomplish with this book, and have been following him on Twitter ever since. Quite some time later, I heard that the novel was finally close to coming out, and began looking into it further. I read several pre-release reviews and a synopsis, and found myself eager to dive in. I even somehow managed to mistake the release date for the last day of January, and found myself disappointed once I rushed over to the Apple Bookstore. After waiting a whole week, I was finally able to purchase and download the ebook. Here's what I thought:

My unofficial rating.

This is the sort of book that stands out from a crowd. When you first see the cover, it strikes you with the back of it's hand and tells you to pay attention. The image is thick with color and the clean lines of a comic book, its subjects captured in an explosion of motion, Marvel Comics style. Unconventional clothing and weapon styles instantly tell you that this is no European-style fantasy, something that really excited me. Don't get me wrong, I love the traditional sword and sorcery stuff that's been coming out for decades, but just like eating too much ice-cream, it can sometimes leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Saladin's book smacks of many different cultures, from Egyptian to the classical Arabic turban-and-camel-riding nomadic tribes we see in movies. I'm no expert, and I probably just offended someone there, but Saladin pulls everything together in a truly unique world that I've never seen in Fantasy. He doesn't just dress the traditional S&S in a turban and hand it a scimitar, he works his way up from a solid foundation of unique culture, infusing every aspect of the book with the traditions of his world. The food they eat, the tea they drink, even their curse words and oaths are steeped in their culture. The characters themselves have their very personalities and self-identities shaped by the specific views on religion and family present in this blend of pseudo-Arabic cultures (once again, if I'm using the wrong terms, please forgive me). Also, I want to use the word "culture" one more time. Culture.

Beyond the unusual setting, Saladin brings some other great aspects into play. Unlike many books of the same genre, Throne's main protagonist is a 60 year-old man named Adoulla, a ghul hunter who just wants to retire and get married. (The point of view is shared by several people over the course of the book.) It's pretty amusing to be inside this semi-crusty old man's head as he watches youth wasted on the young, even forgetting the author himself isn't exactly what you would call old. If I had my way, more time would be spent on The Doctor's point of view, he's really a great character.

The story is easily followed, with plot points popping out to say "hi", not trying particularly hard to stay hidden. In my mind, this was a good thing. Most of the events take place in a huge, shining city, forgoing the normal hero-on-a-quest format. The action is short and to the point, with a few gruesome bits thrown in for good measure, which I like. The book features some pretty cool magic, and a seriously bad-ass bad guy. Creepy stuff.

Finally, I have two complaints about this book, and they are small:

First off, it's short. For an adult fantasy novel, it tops out at an unusual 288 pages, leaving me wanting more. Before you get all up in arms, let me clarify: I don't believe that every fantasy needs to be a 240k word behemoth, nor do I think Saladin was lacking in proper story-telling technique. Everything wraps up satisfactorily, and his descriptions are more than adequate. The experience was simply over too soon. I wanted to keep reading, because this unique world and characters felt like they had more to give me. Hopefully there are more books to come.

Next, and this is my only major issue, I felt like two of the younger characters were underdeveloped, not individually, but in relation to each other. SPOILER ALERT! I think it comes as no surprise that there is a "B" story in this book, centered around the budding romance (if it can be called that) between a young zealot and a teenage tribeswoman. By the end of the book, the word "love" is used, and I honestly didn't see the proper build up to it. It almost seemed like they fell in love because they were supposed to. Did it ruin the story? No. Is it the reason I gave the book four stars instead of five? Yes. Combined with the fact that I only give five stars to books that totally blow my mind away (which is hard to do). That being said, four stars is stellar, and I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good fantasy adventure. Go buy it here!

I've been interviewed! Also a bit about why I haven't posted in a while.

Hey all, it's been a lean couple of weeks post-wise, so sorry about that. I wanted to touch base real quick, and let you know that I'm still alive! First off, Leigh Covington interviewed me on her blog, which you can visit here. So click that link! It's worth it.

Also, the reason I haven't been doing much on the blog is because I've been writing. Yeah I know, right? I've actually been picking up the pace, and aside from the last three days (LTUE), I've been getting at least 1k words knocked out per day. On Wednesday I actually hit 3k in one day, so yeah, I figure I can forgive myself.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to get a good post up here soon!