Dear God, Where Does The Time Go?

I don’t know either. It’s October. How did it get to be October? I did not agree to it being October!

So in the last few months, Digger won a Hugo Award (yeah, I know! How ’bout that?) I did a couple paintings, and I’ve got a new Dragonbreath book out! Check it out!

So that’s what I’ve been up to. You know, not much. Keepin’ on keepin’ on.  How’ve you been, internet?

Saint of Dogs

8 x 16 mixed media

I have been fooling around with various techniques halfway to forever, of course, but a bunch of them really came together on this one. This painting started life as a thumbnail sketch on brown paper, which was about an inch and a half wide. I scanned it, blew it by a couple hundred percent—given the chance, I always work from my original sketch, because once I have to redraw the bloody thing, it almost always dies in the process, don’t know why—and that left me with a large (but blurry!) digital image.

At that point, I started drawing on it in Painter, adding white and black over top of the sketch, throwing some random squares and squiggles in the background to give it a little more texture. It was still pretty scribbly, as you can see:

Digitalification!

Printed that out, sealed it to a piece of cradled clayboard with matte super heavy gel, then slathered clear gesso over top. When that had dried, I did a wash of turquoise ink over it, worked it over in neutral gray acrylic (with a little turquoise added) and titan buff liquid acrylic. Another coat of clear gesso and then it was all colored pencil and PITT pen work. (Tuscan Red, Deco Aqua, Jade Green, Sky Blue Light, and Muted Turquoise Prismacolor.)

This is pretty similar to what I’ve done with some past pieces, except that parts of this one stayed semi-transparent, to keep the best of the sketchy bits, while others got layered into opacity. I was really happy with the result. A kind of sketchiness, but with solidity.

It’s a weird fact of my life that I do not make the kind of art I like, if that makes any sense—not that I dislike my own art, or am not proud of it, but the kind of art that is on my walls is very different from the kind of paintings I have generally done. I am getting much better about moving toward making the kind of art I’d hang in my own house, but it often seems like my skills and my subjects lag behind my tastes.

But occasionally—rarely!—I will do a painting and go “Yup. If that were in a show and I saw it, I would buy it.” So I was pretty darn happy with this one, and definitely gotta spend some more time with that technique.

Original is going to Further Confusion, barring one heckuva offer-I-can’t-refuse.  Prints available, as always: http://www.redwombatstudio.com/wpg2?g2_itemId=1808

Decor Wars

I will make you an admission, O Book of My Confessions—I am deeply amused by hysterical flame-wars fought in the comments on decorating sites.

When I am feeling the need for house porn, I wander over to Houzz.com, which is addictive and allows me to save the best bits to an on-site folder to drool over later. This is perfect for those times of year when I can’t get out in the garden, or have the flu or am in that weird MUST CHANGE ENTIRE LIFESTYLE mood that strikes occasionally. It’s also a lot cheaper than buying decor porn magazines, and I don’t have to find storage for them afterwards.

For the most part, this is a harmless and uncontroversial pastime. Most of the homes are pretty dull granite-countertop McMansion affairs, which I ignore, but occasionally they drag out the nifty Santa Fe pueblos or the funky cottages and I drool a bit.

The ones that are really funny, though, are when somebody posts a house that has brightly colored walls or weird knick-knacks, and the crazy people come out of the walls.

Seriously. You get five hundred generic houses with “Oh, nice counters,” or “What is that paint color in the bathroom?” and then somebody posts an artist’s studio and people lose their shit. All caps everywhere—“I FOUND THIS HOUSE TO BE REUPUNGNANT (sic) IN EVERY WAY.” People demanding that the site take down images and apologize for having posted them. “This is a hovel. It isn’t decorating, it’s unbounded filth and perversity.”

(At this point I tend to go back and look at the photos to see if I missed the tentacle porn shot. Hmm. No, not finding it. Apparently someone is very VERY upset that the site allowed a photo of a cat on a countertop to be shown on the site, as this is proof of filth, horror, depravity, doom, and possibly a incipient rain of chickens.)

Lots of demands that various places be de-cluttered to the commenter’s specifications (often couched as “I want to come in and edit that for you…”) that no one can live there, and that it must be filthy because…err…reasons. “How do they dust!?” people demand to know, with the air of one asking “But what kind of life will he have?” over someone with no brain activity and a pickaxe in their sternum.

Another place had shockingly vivid wall paintings, murals, and hand-made wallpaper. Not so much my thing, perhaps—I like vivid color, but I tend to like it in solid blocks. But the fact that this house exists and has such walls does not actually impact my life in any significant way, and I love what they’ve done with the kitchen.

Oh dear god, the screaming. The anguish over what paint had done to that poor innocent furniture. The concern trolling taken to levels generally reserved for discussions of breast-feeding. “I am a licensed COLOR THERAPIST and I am SO WORRIED about these POOR PEOPLE living in this house who will be driven TO MADNESS AND PSYCHOSIS because BRIGHT COLORS WILL MAKE YOU INSANE!!1!”

Don’t have taxidermy on the walls. Ever. Even if you explain ten times that you fished them out of a dumpster because you felt it dishonored the animal to throw them away like that, people will scream that you would chop the heads off their pets if left alone in the room for five minutes. (No word as to whether said pets would have to be on the counters.)

I love this stuff.

Really, I do. Not that people are nasty and hysterical on the internet, but I love the knowledge that there is no form of human endeavor so placid and personal that people will not FLIP THEIR SHIT IN ALL CAPS over it. It’s a train wreck with impeccable curtains and rather nice wainscoting.

Accusations of wallpaper-induced schizophrenia. (And it wasn’t even yellow wallpaper!) Accusations of perversity, because we all know that tile mosaics in the bathrooms is the gateway drug that leads to buggering dingos. Accusations of destroying the resale value (a sin significantly worse than dingo-buggering.) Accusations of hoarding.

Now, I have known hoarders. I have packed up houses that were deeply and profoundly filthy. (Occasionally I will help friends move and they will apologize, and I always shrug and say that I’ve seen worse, because I have.) Having excessive art on the walls is not hoarding. Having a great many kitchen spoons is not hoarding, unless they are piled ankle deep and you weep when someone throws one out. Trust me, if you have actually encountered hoarding, you will not call anyone who allows their home to be photographed for a home decor site a hoarder ever again.

Nevertheless, wander through the comments on some of these, and you will find the enthusiastic, the polite-but-not-for-me, and then you will find the rabid and offended that such a place dare exist as an affront to all that is right and good with the world.

I have a theory about this strange and baffling excess of emotion. (Ok, I have two theories, but one involves IKEA controlling people with birch-laminate mind rays, and I have no proof of that one.)

The first bit is that decor, like cooking and fashion (which I imagine also engenders such rage) are deeply personal. You live with it every single day. It is the next thing after the clothes against your skin. It is the one chunk of your environment you get to control absolutely. And yet, (second bit) like so many aspects of human endeavor, we believe on some level that we are Probably Doing It Wrong, and thus when we find something we think is Right, that which does not conform must be Wrong or else we ourselves might be Wrong, and therefore those who are Wrong must be told so, at increasing and hysterical volume, because…uh…

Okay, theory falls down a bit there. I do not actually care what goes on at other people’s houses, so long as they do not infect me with bedbugs or leprosy. Their wall colors do not reflect on my self-worth. But then again, I am not a Color Therapist On The Internet.

Does it make me a bad person to take such joy in hysterical internet rage? Oh, probably. Partly it’s because I can imagine these people going stark staring mad in my home, which has brightly colored walls, excessive art, and cats on the mantlepiece. (To say nothing of the skull collection, or the standard Artist Studio Decor of “Crap Tacked To The Walls Because I Might Want To Look At It Later.”)

Partly, though, it’s simply a pleasure to know that we scream at each other for such profoundly unimportant things, which makes all the screaming that goes on on a daily basis about politics, religion, whatever seem much less scary and much more like “THESE COUNTERTOPS ARE THE SIGN OF AN UNHEALTHY MIND!”

The Things, They Change…

So Andre Norton’s back catalog seems to be mostly out in digital form these days—really out, and not in the shady iBook editions that had me going “I kinda wonder what’s up with that.” And while I re-read The Crystal Gryphon approximately eleventy million times as a pre-teen, I had not read most of the other Witch World books. (I think I remember “Gate of the Cat” vaguely.) So I picked up a couple in the High Hallack series (that being where Crystal Gryphon fits in) and started with Year of the Unicorn, which is supposed to be the first one and which I had to actually order in paperback.

I think I might have read this before. Did not remember the entire second half, but parts of it sound really really really familiar, and furthermore, there is a long ago piece of writing (now lost, owing to the great kindness of the gods of teenage writing) that I did that sure reads as if I had just read the first half of this book and gone OH MY GOD, YES! and went and wrote something with arranged marriages and magic and werewolves.

(Tangentially, arranged marriages are catnip to a significant subsection of pre-teen girls, a fact that I have been aware of for quite some time—possibly since I was one—and yet which I hardly ever see remarked upon. My stab in the dark would be that they are the socially acceptable intersection of rape fantasies and true luuuuv and since most of us haven’t got the sense god gave an avocado at that point, it hits a whole lot of buttons. We could also make a case for It Totally Looks Like Sex But Marriage Is Involved So It’s Okay, for those of us who had Good Christian Upbringing.* Other theories actively solicited.)

Ahem. Anyway! To continue, though, what I found myself thinking reading Year of the Unicorn was “Hoo, boy, you couldn’t publish this now if you stuck a twenty between every page.”

Well, it’s been just shy of fifty years since it came out. The language shift, though, is dramatic. I can’t think of anybody writing today who sounds like that—McKillip and Nancy Springer, maybe, and I haven’t read either of them recently, so I won’t swear that it’s still similar. Early Dennis McKiernan, before he got better at filing off serial numbers.

I’m not saying it’s bad, just that it’s much more stiff and formal writing than anything I’ve seen on a shelf in a very long time. I’m no editor, so maybe there’s somebody out there wishing that they’d get this style of prose in the slush pile—or possibly there’s a thriving vein of it, and I’m wandering past it going “La la la—ooh, bunnies!” But if it’s there, I am in ignorance.

Even Brust’s Phoenix Guards doesn’t bear a significant resemblance—it’s too sly. There is no slyness here, it’s all very sincere and straightforward and there are some really marvelous set pieces (and a couple other bits where I would have gone “Oh, for god’s sake, get thee to an editor, I’ll give you two out of body experiences but now you’re just wallowing,” but we could say that about anybody’s work, and the woman’s career spanned seventy goddamn years, so it would be unkind to nitpick at a novel closer to the beginning than the end.)

Obviously tones change, languages change, what publishing wants changes. But I find it surprising, re-reading, that things changed so much since then.

(There’s also a compelling argument to be made on re-reading that by the way, the Were-Riders have enchanted a dozen women who were, arguably sold into slavery unwillingly by their male relatives and are keeping them in a weird brainwashed illusion for the purposes of gettin’ lucky, and y’all just rode off and left after proving that the Were-Riders Really Kind Of Suck As People and never stopped and said “Does anybody think that’s creepy? I kinda think that’s creepy,” but maybe that’s covered in a sequel.)

I’m curious to see whether or not Crystal Gryphon holds up. It’s still got arranged marriages and my inner pre-teen totally had a thing for Kerovan, so, y’know, we’ll find out.

 

*Not that I can recall actually spending one iota of time being appalled at anyone in a book having sex outside of marriage, which is why I question this one’s utility. Mind you, my soul was a glass mountain and Christianity never made it more than a few feet up the side.

Martha

digital, Painter 7

 

Martha was annoyed to discover that the #7 bus, instead of taking her to bridge club, had dropped her in yet another damn fantasy world.

The fauns in the last one had been very polite, but she’d had to fight that thing with the tentacles off with her handbag.

 

Martha showed up in a sketch, but the guy with the recycling really makes it for me. I really need to start physical art for FC, but felt like doing something silly and digital first.

Prints available, as always.

The First Book of the Rest of Your Life

So as it turns out, there’s one small problem with winning a Hugo.

(Other than the fact that it hasn’t actually arrived yet, which we are trying to track down. I am assured that Hugos do NOT go missing, and the very nice woman in charge has vowed that I shall have it, but I admit to a bit of trepidation.)

No, the small problem is that at some point in the next month, your treacherous brain sits up and says “Well. Now what?”

You may be doing something as innocuous as mulching the garden, or laying out the burlap over the area that you’re going to turn into a path, and you straighten up with your hands full of landscape pins and go “….um.”

This is not as simple a question as it could be, particularly when you are moving mulch around and wondering vaguely why the one story you thought you were writing, which was mostly Snow White, has now turned into a thing about truffle pigs.

It is lovely to have won a Hugo. It is like getting a note from the teacher to excuse you from having to worry about whether you have talent in Particular Art Form X.

But.

I am done with Digger. I am not, probably, done with comics in perpetuity (never say what spring you won’t drink from, as some clever Greek gentleman said!) but I am not working on them right now. When I think of The Next Project, I rarely think comics. And to a certain extent, getting a Hugo feels like the grace note there—job well done, that’s a wrap, what’s next?

And so then you spend the next few loads of mulch going “Well?”

The Dragonbreath books are awesome. Hamster Princess, I think, is going to be even more awesome yet. But they’re also a fairly narrowly marketed beast, and while other people read and enjoy them (I hope!) they’re basically fluffy kid’s books.

Now, this is not me disparaging my work. I think fluff is an extraordinarily important genre that gets no respect. If the Dragonbreath books didn’t manage to be both engaging and not-intimidating, they would fail their target audience. And I get e-mails every couple of weeks from parents going “My kid is not a reader, and this is the first book they’ve ever asked me to go get the sequels–THANK YOU.”

You get an e-mail like that, you put it with the turtles you’ve helped across the road and the bats you’ve unhooked from drop ceilings as “Stuff I Hope Counts In My Favor When I Die.”

So I’d like to keep doing the kid’s books, but that’s not the thing that I think of when I think “Well? What next?”

And what I realized, somewhere around the fifth load of mulch (which contains traces of dog vomit slime-mold, which are out in force this year) is that the book I really really want to write is the one that sits on the comfort shelf. The book that somebody picks up when they’re in bed with the flu, when their boyfriend dumped them, when they’re sick or sad or tired or beaten down.

I have dozens of those books. Lots of them are YA, or I found when I was a YA myself.  Jinian Footseer, which I read when I was fifteen and which works for me as well now as it did then. The Grand Sophy. The Crystal Gryphon. Bridge of Birds. Most of Pratchett, particularly stuff with the witches. Lots of McKinley. When I was eight or nine, I read The Hero And The Crown about eight hundred times. I checked it out from the library over and over. Most of her books end up on that shelf—Rose Daughter and Deerskin and Spindle’s End and The Blue Sword.  A couple of Star Trek novels. The Wounded Sky. My Enemy, My Ally. Uhura’s Song. Chain of Attack (which is comfort reading to no one else on earth, but it was the book I had with me in the hospital and read over and over again when my grandmother was dead in all the important ways and what was left was hooked up to machines, which ought to be a goddamn war crime.) Diane Duane’s Young Wizard books. Curse of Chalion. Sharon Shinn. Juliet Marillier. Hodgell’s God Stalk (though not the sequels so much, but the first one is still magic.)  Tombs of Atuan (but not Wizard of Earthsea, go figure.) Henry Miller’s Earthman columns, which I read when I had swine flu and vowed that if I had to die some day (which seems likely) I wanted it to be in the garden with dirt on my hands, as he had.

There are books that were comfort reading when I was young that I don’t dare go re-read because part of growing up without breaking is learning to judge your younger self kindly. There are many good and great and glorious books that I admire. I loved Perdido Street Station. Every other page I went “DAMN I wish I’d thought of that.”  Barbara Kingsolver’s dialog is better than mine will ever be. American Gods is a masterwork, no doubt about it. But those are not the sort of books that I want to write right now.

Unfortunately “makes me feel better” is not really a genre, unless you count that Chicken Soup crap. Even if you get rid of the outliers (we’ll ditch Chain of Attack and Earthman) the common factors wander around a bit.  But yeah. That’s the shelf I wanna be on.

Whatever the hell that shelf is.