Scribbly scribbly scribbly…

A weird monochromatic figure. I’m not sure what it is–an outgrowth of the masked figures I’m drawing–but once I doodled it, I had to do a painting. I cannot help but feel that this is the sort of thing that appears silently in the woods or on the moors or something, and scares the ever-loving crap out of you, but doesn’t actually DO anything, just looks at you sadly for awhile and then drifts away.

You get the feeling there’s probably a few varieties, too…well, I do, anyway.

12 x 24. It's a big 'un!

Zillions of layers of scribbled PITT pen and colored pencil on gessoboard. Original is for sale, drop a line, and we do have prints!

Food Review, Take Two!

More reviews of pre-packaged food! This week we cover Taste of India’s Korma Curry and Butter Chicken sauce (for the intermediate cook) and for the raging neophyte, we have Annie Chun’s Hot & Sour noodle soup and a heat-and-eat Palak Paneer.  (Heavy on the Indian food this time!) Plus we discuss the joy of rice cookers, answer reader comments, and why a beagle food review may not be tenable.

Take two

Suggestions for names for this…thing…welcome, as we have fun doing it, and may continue to do so until we get bored or the hate mail reaches untenable levels. (I kinda liked “Irregular Food,” although “Pre-Packaged Podcast” was good, too. Unfortunately, that sounds like a just-add-water podcasting system, so I dunno…)

Were-Wiener Day!

Today is the day Dragonbreath: Curse of the Were-Wiener hits stores!

People have been reporting them coming in from Amazon for a coupla days, and there was a big stack at the Bookmarks festival, so it’s not a strict release deadline, but nevertheless, if you go to your local bookstore, they may well have a copy!* And this one’s also available on kindle, which is interesting–I don’t have a kindle, so if anybody orders it that way, please let me know how it looks!

I’m really proud of this one. That’s not to say that the others suck or anything, but I feel like Were-Wiener is really stand out. And the potato salad returns!

*Just to clarify for people who have asked occasionally–pre-orders on Amazon are helpful for determining print numbers, which is good, but I also get paid less than half the royalties for things sold via Amazon.  So pre-orders on Amazon are good, but once it’s released, all else being equal, picking the book up at a brick-and-mortar store is better for the author. (We’re talking like fifty cents, so it’s not that big a deal–you note I link to the Amazon page above!–and you should feel no guilt for ordering from Amazon, but people have occasionally asked what gets the author the biggest chunk.)

Two Small Things

I am continuing to wait on edits on book five–Ghostbreath–and I can’t even start the art because the workflow’s getting sorted out for the new color stuff–but they could come back for stuff to be done AT ANY MOMENT, so I am unable to embark on any major projects, and anyway I am feeling jittery and restless and the longer it takes, the more like I start to feel like an unemployed schlub than an author.

Also they don’t give me money while we sit and edit, so I pretty much just sit and watch my bank balance ebb slowly, the financial tide going out and exposing the small scuttling crabs of debt and extravagance.

So I do small paintings, which just about hold my attention span and keep me vaguely amused. Then I inflict them on you guys.

"More Masks" 4 x 12, mixed media on canvas

I had a 4 x 12 canvas, and started fooling with it. Then I remembered that I hate canvas, so I glue chipboard to it, and then paper, and then more paper, and there was some acrylic medium and some other stuff, and the end result is small and untidy and has weird little critters. Prints available!

"Inu" 5 x 5 mixed media

I don’t know if enough of the background manga page is visible on this one for somebody to identify it, the way there was the last time I did something like this. I have no idea what it is. I just tore out a page at random that I was pretty sure wasn’t Dragonball Z (although it still could be.) The dog design showed up in a doodle in my sketchbook, and I liked it enough I figured I should put it somewhere…

Both pieces are for sale, both are ready to hang, if anybody’s interested, drop a line as always. (Seriously, they don’t always sell immediately–I realize people assume that the art is gone long before they see it, but I swear, lots of times they don’t. It’s worth asking!)

Divorce Memoirs

“Would you look at that?” said my grandmother, once upon a time. “Says here that more couples get divorced than get married.” She and her boyfriend/chief worshiper were sitting around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper, a ritual they conducted every morning.

Being eight, I did not question the statistical difficulties with this, but accepted that, as Grandma seemed to think, this was a harbinger of the collapse of civilization. Grandma was exceedingly clever but not terribly good at higher math.

The irony here was that if anybody was contributing to the divorce rate, it was Grandma, who went through husbands the way a dog goes through chew toys. She had been a regular Rosie the Riveter type during the war–married at sixteen, a mother at seventeen, and widowed at eighteen, as the saying goes. After that, she had decided three years was about the active shelf-life of a husband, and had proceeded to marry, marry, and marry again. (In fairness, I think she would have liked them to last longer, but she tended to burn them out along the way. It’s hard to marry a goddess.) Generally she got divorced afterwards, although occasionally they died, which grieved her terribly but did save paperwork.

All this makes her sound like a terrible person, so the thing I have to point out here is that the men were mostly not complaining. It wasn’t just that she was compassionate, warm, and big-hearted. Grandma had charisma. She wasn’t just conventionally likable, she was slightly more than human. When you were around her, you were on a grand and absurdly fun adventure. Going to the grocery store with her was better than going to Six Flags with lesser mortals. She had the mojo.

So the ex-husbands that piled up tended to be exhausted, but hopeful. Occasionally she would marry the same one twice. On at least one occasion, several of them went in together and bought her a house.  She really was more like a goddess with worshipers than anything else, although being a devout Catholic, she would have denied any such comparison.*

I mention all this, partly because I love talking about my grandmother–the world lost a great power when she died–but also because I have found that recently my reading tastes have expanded to include that weird sub-genre of–is it chick lit? I suppose it’s chick lit, which reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s statement “‘Chick lit’ is NEVER meant as a compliment”–of memoirs written by clever, funny women who have just had awful divorces.  (I mentioned this to my buddy Otter, who gave me a Look and said “Gee. I wonder why that could be.” )

I would buy condoms from a nun with less shame than I feel purchasing such things, but nevertheless, I devour the few I have located. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure where to find more–“Funny Divorce Memoir” is not exactly a standard shelf label, and so “Eat Pray Love” and “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress” have been the only two I’ve located recently, along with the Sweet Potato Queen books, which are particularly funny if you live in the South and have some small experience with local cuisine and backstabbing.

Thing is, I’m not looking for self-help. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. I do not need to cope with my grief through the power of Jesus–I coped with my grief through the power of antidepressants and staying busy, a system I recommend highly to anyone in such a situation. I do not particularly need to be inspired. I am not looking to find a man–I have a very good one. I just want to be amused and occasionally go “Preach it, sister!”

Book recommendations welcomed.

*The trick for how she got all those marriages annulled was equally impressive, and required finding an impressionable young priest and weeping on his shoulder about how she’d thought it had been anulled, but apparently it hadn’t and oh god, she was a bigamist and going to hell now and what could she doooo? The priest, no more immune to the mojo than anybody else, would immediately promise to fix this terrible muddle for the nice lady.  This trick only worked once per priest, but Grandma moved a lot.

Random art dump

A few random art pieces that I finally got around to scanning…

8 x 24 mixed media on gessoboard

I have been fooling with this horsehead design for years. I’m not sure what to do with it now I’ve got it.

6 x 12 mixed media on board

Cats cradle are such a pain when all you have are flippers. (Original is for sale. It would be ready to hang, except that I put the things on upside down, so it’d probably need either fun with a drill or a frame. Send a note either way…)

Anyway, prints available for both Sunhorse and The String, originals available on both, just noodling around here at the art ranch…

Kevin & Ursula Review Cheap Pre-Packaged Food

…so you don’t have to!

Kevin and I have been saying for over a year that we should do a blog or something where we review cheap pre-packaged food, because we eat a LOT of it, and there’s tons of it out there and we are both voracious and talkative, and surely the amount of ramen we have consumed in our lifetimes can be put to some ultimate good use.

Finally Kevin just set up a microphone and we ramble for twenty minutes about our two frozen foodstuffs–frozen perogies and a bowl of Simply Asia microwave noodles, with detours involving heritage turkeys, crappy forks and the beagle.

There may never be another one, but it was entertaining.


Bookmarks, Billy Collins, and two great truths

So I was out at Bookmarks Book Festival in Winston-Salem this morning, which was awesome–if you ever get a chance to visit, or better yet, be an author there, they take excellent care of you, can’t recommend ’em highly enough, had a great time speaking, and hopefully the people who came out to see the Ursula & Her Amazing Rambling Diatribe Show were not terribly disappointed. Great to meet some fans and peeps, glad you all could come out, very glad I did not have swine flu this year!

The highlight for me, however, was a chance to see Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate, speak, and to give you some indication of how much I love Billy Collins, I got up at 6 AM to drive there so as to make his presentation on time. There are few poets I really love, and Collins is the only one who has not been dead for more than a century.

And it was indeed awesome to hear him read his poems, he was a hysterically funny speaker, but the best bit for me was during the Q & A, when he uttered two great truths, one of which I have known for some time, and the other one of which was wonderful and I had not considered in such a light before.

The question asked was “How do you know if a poem is any good or not?”

And the answer, quite unexpected, was to reference another poet, (the name has of course escaped me) who had just written one of his best-known poems, and read it over, and realized that good or not, for better or for worse, it was a poem that only he could have written.

And that’s the important bit.

Well. There ya go, then. I would have been happy with just hearing him read “Hangover” and “Litany” but this particular statement rocked my world and made me laugh because it was so obviously true.  (Of course, as Thomas Huxley supposedly said upon hearing the theory of natural selection, “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” Some of the best truths are blatantly obvious once somebody points them out.)

This, I think, can be applied to art or writing or frankly any of the other creative pursuits–perhaps the point is not necessarily that you create the most brilliant work the world has ever seen, but simply that you create the works that only you can create.

Certainly it’s the reason I stopped reading cookie-cutter fantasy…there are so many books that it seems anybody could have written, given Generic Fantasy Template #8 and a can of spray-glitter.  But I’ll still lay out money for hardcovers from any number of writers, flawed  and angry or grim and frustrating as they occasionally are–Sheri Tepper, Robin Hobb, Stephen Grundy, I’m lookin’ in your direction!–because for better or worse, they’re the only ones that can write those books, and you know when you’ve finished who you just read.

I’ve often said that you can only do what you can do–usually when the dog has crapped on the floor and the cat is throwing up and the toilet is overflowing and all of my bras are currently in the dryer and somebody wants to know why I have not done X in my copious spare time–but I had not previously framed it in my head as “and you should only do what you can do.”

And of course this could be a bit of a trap, as one obsesses neurotically about one’s own originality and finding one’s voice and all these sources of creative panic, but then came the follow-up question–“So how do you find that original voice?”

And here is where Collins uttered the second great truth, which is one that I actually knew, because artists say it to each other all the time, and occasionally we even listen to ourselves when we talk.

When we talk about finding ones voice, or pursuing one’s original vision or any of the other obtuse verbage you hang about the question of “What do I sound like?” and “What story am I telling?” and “How do I say this so anyone cares?”, it sounds remarkably self-involved, as if you go into deep meditation and navel gazing and sink a bore-hole into some personal creative well and possibly the serpent Kundalini rises up your spine bearing a small, exquisitely monogrammed invitation from your creative self.

Of course, this is a load of crap.

Originality is not something you get from within. You actually beg, borrow and steal it, generally from other people, frequently motivated by being gnawingly jealous of how much better they are than you.*

If you’re a poet, says Collins, you read all the poets on the shelf and I would extend it to say that if you’re an artist, you look at as much other art as you can cram in your eyeballs and if you’re a writer you read. A lot.

Then you shove every influence into a blender and hit puree.

The point is not that you are the only cook who has ever used these ingredients, it is that nobody has ever combined them quite like you. “What is that?” they say, sampling your stew, “I can’t quite place the flavor…” and of course it’ s the saffron you nicked from Rumi and the splash of brandy from Georgette Heyer and Lovecraft’s cryptic and ill-omened root vegetable and the single perfect quail egg you swiped from one of Basho’s poems. “How original!” they say, right before the laudanum from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle takes effect and then you go through their pockets and drag them out of the room by the heels.

Ahem. That metaphor kinda got away from me there. Still, you get the point. Nobody wastes time genetically engineering their own spices, they find novel ways to combine them. Or they just do it better or richer or stronger or with more heavy cream or Guinness reduction glaze.

…and now I’m hungry, and I just ate. Anyway. Two great truths. And if those don’t work for you, just go read some Billy Collins poetry, and we’ll call it good enough.


*I didn’t say this was a pretty truth.

Small Odd Things

3.5 x 5, mixed media. Too small for normal prints, but original is for sale, and I might be able to do a mini-print.

Crowns are one of those symbols I hardly ever use, and I couldn’t really tell you why. I think the polar bear in Polar Court had a tiara, but that’s the only one I can think of off-hand. They may just be too Fraught With Symbolism for my taste. I prefer eggs to roses. Nobody’s ever sure what’s up with the gg.

Possibly it’s that I never went through the princess phase as a little girl. I wanted to be a shapechanging Vulcan diplomat. (Come to think of it, adult me still thinks that would be pretty cool…) No crowns for me, thanks.

I also find it amusing to reflect that I can do these little guys now, and I couldn’t have ten years ago. Not because they’re particularly complex or difficult, but because they aren’t. Ten years ago, while I could have done the drawings, I would have been terrified that if I did something so minimal, somebody might think I didn’t know how to draw!

So I would probably have hung it all over with swords and knapsacks and pouches and given it detailed muscle-y bits and whatnot, because lord knows, my self-esteem could not have handled some stranger on the internet thinking for a second that my skills were not up to snuff.

Like so many things, it took awhile for me to beat into my thick skull that short stories could be as valuable as epics,* and small images are worthwhile in their own right, and the art doesn’t really care about my ego, sometimes it just wants to exist as what it is.

I still have no idea what these things are, or why this one has a crown. Perhaps he is the prince of small odd things, or maybe he just found it somewhere and is not entirely sure why he is wearing it.

*Case in point–I can’t remember a damn thing about Robert Jordan’s books which I slogged through for weeks of my life, but I still occasionally mutter to myself about how somebody deserves to be sent away to the cornfield, and don’t get me started on yellow wallpaper.

Stupid Oysters

I have been a little off lately…not bad, just not terribly enthusiastic about anything, and it seems frequently thwarted by life. But today was different! Today I woke up charged and cheerful and ready to go! The sun was shining, the weather was glorious, the birds were singing! The world was my oyster!

I promptly fell down the back steps and wrenched my ankle. (The good ankle, not the trick ankle. Except after today it may also be a trick ankle. I assume that if they’re both that way, they’re not “trick” you just have lousy ankles. Getting old sucks.)

Not broken, not swelling appreciably. Hurts though, and inclined to stiffen up quickly and hurt more. I took some Aleve. Kevin says he’ll pick me an ankle wrap, so I’ll wrap up like a bargain-basement race horse and cope.

The world is still glorious! The birds are still singing! And the nice thing about oysters is that they’re stationary and it doesn’t matter how slowly I hobble after them, they can’t run away!