December 2013

2013: So That Was A Thing That Happened

Yup, it’s time for a year-end wrap up post! Brace yourselves for bullet points, as we play “Ursula Attempts To Make Herself Feel Better About The Fact She Probably Didn’t Accomplish Nearly Enough Last Year!”

So! In 2013…

In the garden:

  • I ID’d a number of exciting new species in the yard, including cranefly orchid, American carrion beetle, the Agreeable Tiger Moth and more!
  • We cracked 300 species on the yard list!
  • I built a very large raised bed. Out of stone. Which I moved myself. Uphill, both ways.
  • Mulch mulch mulch
  • Watched fifteen(!) different baby birds get raised in the garden and immediate vicinity. (A banner year!)
  • I grew beans, tomatillos, basil, peas, and some runty little tomatoes
  • I dried beans
  • Kevin put the beans in chili.
  • They were delicious.
  • I discovered the existence of lawn crayfish. My world will never be the same.

At work:

  • 31 paintings
  • 4 art dolls
  • 4 sculptures
  • 195 book illustrations
  • 4 book covers (one wraparound!)
  • finished and sold the witch book (65K)
  • wrote Dragonbreath 10 (15K, already sold)
  • finished Nine Goblins (3K)
  • self-pubbed Nine Goblins
  • sold over a thousand copies of Nine Goblins
  • Sundry progress on other works-in-progress, probably totalling 30K or more, no clear estimates
  • Sold a short story
  • Wrote and drew a short kid’s comic for Random House (It’ll be out eventually…)
  • Sold a poem (That’s a first!)
  • Worked very hard on a StoryNexus game that will someday be finished
  • Edited too many things
  • Went on a book tour
  • Won the Sequoyah Award for Dragonbreath
  • Won the Mythopoeic Award for Digger
  • Contributed to the Digger Kickstarter, although frankly, that was really mostly Sofawolf
  • Signed thousands and thousands of Kickstarter books
  • Started a new podcast
  • Kept up with the old podcast
  • Did something like twenty-four gardening columns for Beautiful Wildlife Garden
  • Had the website overhauled (which was both an accomplishment and a lot of work for a number of people!)

I traveled to:

  • Oklahoma (Ardmore is surprisingly cool)
  • Texas Hill Country (great birding)
  • San Jose
  • San Antonio (Worldcon, where my buddy Mur won the Campbell Award! Woo!)
  • Florida
  • Disneyworld (not the same as Florida. Trust me on this one.)
  • Cape Cod
  • Baltimore
  • Richmond
  • Seattle
  • Victoria BC
  • Sundry Chunks of Alaska As Seen By Cruise Ship
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh (as always)
  • Upper Peninsula Michigan
  • The Twin Cities
  • A Random Castle In The Middle Of Ohio
  • New York City

I saw:

  • Tundra swans
  • Killer whales
  • Laysen albatross
  • Gray-cheeked thrush
  • American pipit
  • Olive sparrow
  • More vireos that you can shake a stick at
  • Humpback whales
  • Blackpoll warblers
  • Northern lapwing
  • A bunch of other birds, but the list is getting long. I cracked 400 life birds, though!
  • Also a tufted titmouse ate out of my hand

Life in general:

  • We lost my beloved cat Ben, whom I still miss.
  • We rehomed Marv the cat
  • We acquired our villainous one-eyed blue Sergei
  • We moved the studios around (a week-long process)
  • Was scared some, cried some, freaked out some
  • Laughed a lot. Like lunatics.
  • Took multiple hot baths with good books
  • Ate some really mind-blowing meals
  • There was something else…
  • I’ll think of it in a minute…
  • It’s on the tip of my tongue…
  • OH YEAH!
  • I got married to Kevin!

…you know, as I suspected might happen, that’s not a bad total for a year when I look at it like that. I wish I’d gotten more paintings done–I didn’t even manage one a week!–but given that I had a lot of illos and wrote probably 100K words on various projects, plus traveled at a rate well over one multi-day trip per month…yeah, 2013 wasn’t wasted.

Next year, I want to travel less. I love seeing new places, don’t get me wrong, but I felt like a lot of this last year was spent with trips looming on the horizon, as if I was frantically trying to shove productivity in between running to the airport, and I wasn’t ever at home long enough to get into the groove. So I’m hoping for a year that is frantic with work, not frantic with travel. I’m good at work frantic. Travel frantic wears me down. I’d like to move to a schedule where I travel maybe six times a year instead of fifteen.

But the most important things were all there. I laughed, I loved, I had fun…

And I finally got that goddamn patio done.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Or at least the, y’know, mild enthusiasm.

I pick up this old manuscript and remember how much I love it. And I could finish it! And self-publish it, even, since no publisher will ever buy “Four Extremely Broken People Have An Adventure!” But I am convinced on some level that it must suck because I started it in 2006 and I must be much better now and so it must really be awful and I must be feeling some kind of weird starry-eyed nostalgia.

I carried this feeling around for years and then sometime today I went “Hang on, I started a comic in 2004 that won a Hugo, and I couldn’t go back and edit it.”


The brain makes a valid point there.

Actually, I started the goblin thing around the same time.


And then I think a bit more and think “How often do I look back at my super old art and go think anything other than “Urrrgh?”

Mm. Well, occasionally. Certainly not by default. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s any good, either. Half of this book is Serious Business, trail of bodies, the horror, the horror and then the rest is snark. The snark is great but I don’t know if it grafts gracefully on top of the rest.

And there’s a romance–it’s the one with the paladin and the ninja accountant–and I am just ass at writing romance. I start to feel all giddy and weird like I’m writing fan fic and what comes out is probably not romantic at all and goddamn these people are broken and if I have to write a sex scene I will probably drop dead.

I think I’m afraid I love them too much. It’s dangerous to love a character. I attempted to explain this to Kevin…


ME: It can be a problem. It’s like Dobby the house-elf.


ME: You’re all “Yay! I love this character sooooo much!” and the readers are all “OH MY GOD KILL IT WITH FIRE NO ONE LIKES YOU DOBBY JUST DIE ALREADY.”

KEVIN: Meesa undastanda, Anakin!


KEVIN: Gotcha.

I will make him read it. And try not to hover over him twitching while he does, because 75K is a lot to read while someone hovers and twitches.

And then I’d probably have to finish the book anyway.


I must remind myself–

they can’t tell that I didn’t write this bit immediately after that one

the six months where I ignored the manuscript are not visible to the naked eye

the bit where I put my head in my hands and muttered “I have no idea what I’m doing” takes place in the single space between the period and the next capital letter.

As soon as I shove that character in, she has always been there

and someone will probably say that she’s the emotional center

and the book couldn’t have been written without her

and nobody will know that I thought of her three thousand words from the end and scrolled up and shoehorned in a couple of paragraphs near the beginning because, for whatever reason, the story needed an elderly nun

she was almost the cook

and for about ten minutes she was the earnest young village priest

and now she has been there since you started reading.

I am sanding down the places where my editor found splinters

kicking up a fine dust of adjectives and dropped phrases

(Wear a breath mask. Work in a well-ventilated area. Have you seen what excess commas can do to your lungs?)

and eventually it will all be polished to a high shine

and hopefully when someone looks into it

they’ll see their own face reflected back

instead of mine.

D&D: Someone For Everyone, More Or Less

We were fighting Briar Witch Dryads (We named them Holly and Tannenbaum) in the temple of Vecna when a thought suddenly occurred to Rooster the (well-meaning, not very bright) paladin.

ROOSTER: “Heyyyyyy, ladies…you know, we have a friendly wood-woad back home at the castle…all you’d have to do is renounce evil and I’d be happy to introduce you…”

(This is true. We befriended him some years ago, thereby derailing a great deal of plot. He lives in the orchard now.)

GM: “No. Just no. No. Anyway, you’ll have to wait until your turn.”

ME: “But I can roll Diplomacy on my turn?”

GM: “Fine, sure, whatever.”

Rooster’s turn rolls around…

ROOSTER: “So! Let me tell you about my friend Woad-Bob! He has his own wasp nest! Very…um…sexy bark? With…err…great…big..boles…”

GM: “I guess that’s versus will, but…”

ME: (rolls high) “You know I have +19 to Diplomacy, right?”

GM: “…oh, you’re f’ing kidding me!”

*pause for gentle sounds of GM head meeting keyboard*

GM: (grimly) “Tannenbaum would like to hear more about Woad-Bob.”

ROOSTER: “I have a picture in my wallet!”

RANGER: “…why do you have pictures of the wood-woad in your wallet?”

ROOSTER: “It’s not weird. I have everybody’s picture. Drow-Bob…Woad-Bob…that one kobold with the thing on his head…the Hydra…You know, in case I meet a nice young monster looking to settle down.”

RANGER: “How is that not weird?”

ROOSTER: *carefully hides the ranger’s picture* “Check out Woad-Bob! Look at those branches! And his own orchard!”

GM: “The dryad leaves combat and is waiting to go back to the castle with you. Why. What is this. What. How?”

In Which I Gush About Frozen For A Few Minutes

Yesterday Kevin and I went to see the Disney movie “Frozen.” It is a Disney Princess movie, a genre of which I am generally skeptical.

And there were a couple of the usual problematic elements that Disney never seems able to fix–everybody’s whiter than white and the princesses generally have a waist thinner than my wrist. I have a dream that we will get beyond this some day, but today was not that day.

There was also entirely too much singing for my taste: two really good songs, one cloying one, and at least one scene where I wanted to yell “Stop singing and talk to each other, goddamnit! Attempting to work through your respective communication issues will not be made easier by trying to rhyme!”

And all that said…



Spoilers are going to happen here, so if you haven’t seen it and want to, stop reading. I will attempt to make sure nothing jumps out at anyone by including this picture of a corgi.





I have been trying to figure out since yesterday why this movie kicked me so hard in the chest–I am effectively an only child, as my kid brother was not born until I was in my twenties and certainly I have never had a sister (nor wished for one.) You would think that “Brave” would hit me much harder, since, y’know, I did have a very nice mom and all, and that was about a relationship I’d actually had, and anyway, most of us have kicked at the societal traces until our feet are sore.*

And “Tangled” was objectively probably a better movie.

And still…dude, “Frozen.” Wow. Way to take a Disney princess movie and hang a lantern on it. (The thing with Hans! I knew it and then I thought “Oh, don’t be stupid, it’s a Disney movie, they’ll never do that.”)

It was Elsa, of course. The younger sister was a cool heroine, perfectly happy with her, nice kid, but dude, the Snow Queen. The ice palace! Yes, “Let It Go” is in my iTunes right now, and I can’t think of the last time I bought a song from a movie soundtrack. (Okay, yes, fine, it was “Despicable Me.” And…um….the theme from “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.” And the Minas Morgul music from LOTR. Hmm, I have eclectic tastes. Anyway.)

We got a princess who was powerful. Like really powerful! Not “I could be so much more if the world would let me” ala “Brave” or “I have a totally socially acceptable nice little power” like “Little Mermaid” and “Tangled.” Not even “I am pretty powerful, but someone’s going to come along and whomp me flat.”

We didn’t even stay stuck on “I wish I didn’t have these powers and I could be normal” which is so damn default that I am beyond sick of it. After the initial concealment was off, she was like “Yes! Finally! I’m so relieved I don’t have to hide that any more! This is so much better! Let me make a ginormous ice castle and a snow golem servant and sing a really kickass song and you know, I think this place needs some more flying buttresses…”

They never let you be glad to be powerful! You’re supposed to hate it and wish you were normal! Girls aren’t allowed to go “Hot damn, I am the shit! Look at my ice palace!” But they did! She got a musical number about it! Usually only villains get musical numbers where they do awesome magic!

Hell, usually only villains even get to do awesome magic! Dude! I am running out of exclamation points!

And more than that! (Had one left.) When was the last time you can think of a mainstream female lead being given extraordinary power and getting to keep it? Generally you gotta nuke that stuff. The spectrum runs from Carrie to Rapunzel, (rather extreme ends, I grant you) but whether you destroy yourself or somebody else de-magicks your totally benign powers for your own good, you never get to stay magic. Competent magic women are way too dangerous to run around loose.** Throw a bucket of water on that witch, quick! (Okay, there was another in the bottom of the bucket.)

Only in books are you allowed to stay awesome, and even then it’s rare.

By every law of Disney-esque narrative, she ought to have had a mechanism to sacrifice her powers forever to save her sister and go back to being normal and that should have been the happy ending.”Look, I’m not powerful and scary any more!” (Found another bucket.)

Also, she should probably have had a love interest. And her magical pet definitely should not have been a twenty-foot snow golem named Marshmallow.

I was counting the minutes to get back to Elsa. (Don’t get me wrong, loved Kristoff too. I’m sympathetic to cranky snarky people who like animals. Still.) For all us women who are powerful and freakish and creative and do weird glorious things that make other people go “Are you sure you should be doing this?” and “Dude, why can’t you at least try to act normal?” Elsa was–god, way beyond a breath of fresh air. I came out of that movie with my chest feeling looser.  It was like having a really good cry.

It shouldn’t matter so much. It’s Disney. I am cynical and cool and an artist and I go to Disneyland and admire the character design and the carvings on the underside of the ceiling and the speed with which they handle dead rats. Tinkerbell’s fairy dust makes me sneeze and will prompt a ten minute lecture on everything wrong with Peter Pan.

If I was as cool as I like to pretend I might someday be, it wouldn’t work on me. Having Disney, our arbiter of modern myth, say “This is okay. This is allowed. This is perfectly acceptable,” wouldn’t matter.

But, y’know.

Still does.


*My ultimate mix of delight and dissatisfaction with “Brave” is perhaps better left to another post.

**Except for Mary Poppins who, as Kevin points out, would be ruling the earth with a gloved fist if she were slightly less rigorously ethical.

Slice of Life: Electronic Delivery Edition

We are down in Kevin’s office when I glance out the window and see the Fed-Ex guy lugging a very large computer box up the walk. The new server has arrived.*

I open the door and we make small talk while I sign. Then Kevin finishes putting his shoes on and come out onto the porch…

KEVIN: (overcome with tech lust) Oh baby, I’ve been waitin’ for youuu…

ME: ….


ME: Uh, he’s talking to the machine.

FEDEX GUY: (with mock-chagrin) Well, damn!

Well played, Fed-Ex Guy. Well played.


*There was a large sale and something about business expenses and infrastructure upgrades and then a sound as if my credit card cried out and was suddenly silenced…

The Further Adventures of Artemis Thing

The Art Thing is now known as Artemis Thing, because…err…it wasn’t an Arthur.


Paint got added! A lot of PITT pen, some acrylic paint in Unbleached Titanium, Titanium White, and Transparent Raw Sienna.


Angus would like to assist in this process.


Artemis Thing gets a leather tunic. I soaked it first—it’s vegetable tanned leather—and then shaped it over the body and tied it in place. There are undoubtedly going to be rubber band marks on the final leather, but I’m okay with that. I like the natural leather color, but will probably want to add a little paint to play it up–or I’ll suddenly decide to paint it red or something

I, uh, have no idea if I can get the leather off once it’s dry, but I’ll try. It’s a really thin gauge leather that I bought on accident, so it’s nice to get some use out of it.


My plan all along is to make this a wall-mounted piece—I don’t really know what to do with dolls and there’s no way it’ll stand up on its own. So I put a board up on my easel and stuck a nail in it and hung the Art Thing so that I had some idea how it was going to work on the wall.


Art Thing In Progress

I feel weird making a blog post to point to a Tumblr post, but in case any of you aren’t following me there, I didn’t want anybody to miss out–and frankly, if anyone has any questions, it’s MUCH easier for me to answer them here than there, what with the comment system as all. (Much as I fear for the longevity of LJ, it’s comments can’t be beat!)

Art Thing In Progress


Christmas Orders!

Hey gang, we are doing a somewhat abbreviated order season this year, because Ursula is tired and under deadline.

December 8th: End of International Orders having any hope of arriving by Christmas. (We do our best, but this is Beyond Our Control and I don’t want people to be disappointed if it’s not under the tree!)

December 13th: End of US orders arriving by Christmas. (Possibly sooner, if the ice storms wracking the country don’t settle down.)

December 20: Orders after this date may be delayed, as I am taking Christmas Week off to lay in the bottom of the wombat lair and croon the words to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” to myself. Possibly there will be gentle rocking. Fetal position is something of a given. I have a vague dream of getting to make art for myself during this time, but let’s not jinx it.

Jan 2nd: Life returns to normal.*

That said, if you absolutely positively must have a print for your Grandma who is at death’s door and her dying wish is a Biting Pear print and money is no object and also Grandma is a great humanitarian and possibly also a nun** and single-handedly saved fifty baby platypi from a burning orphanage that specialized in platypus rescue, send me an e-mail and I’ll do my best.


*Or what passes for it around here.

**Grandma had a complicated life…

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