Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bye-Bye, Etsy: Jumping Rails is Jumping Ship

You may have noticed something different about my blog. Probably not, because let's face it, if you actually do follow me, I haven't been posting here enough to draw attention to any changes. So, instead of making you guess (if the title of this post wasn't obvious enough), I'll point it out. Over to the right, in the sidebar, there used to be a little button that said, "I sell on Etsy!" I was so excited the day I added that button. I loved that I was getting into my painting and wand-making enough to justify joining the ranks of Etsy sellers. I was so excited to have come up with the name Jumping Rails for my shop -- a name that reflected my tendency to constantly jump from one art form to another.

The image that represented Jumping Rails.
But two days ago, I closed my shop. Jumping Rails is no more.

"Why?" you ask.

The biggest reason is that I'm tired of paying listing fees for items that don't sell online. They sell, sure, but in person. It's not like I'm off doing art shows every weekend or anything, but the few I do per year are the places where my art sales happen. Online, not so much. It may have looked like it because I used an Etsy app to mark off the things I had listed when I sold them, but those sales did not come about because of Etsy. So why should I list them there at all? Why pay them fees for what I'm doing myself, in person?

Am I blaming Etsy? No. Well, not exactly. I do think they've allowed certain products to be sold there that don't fit with their original vision and that has made the marketplace a bit unwieldy. And there are just so many sellers now. But I take full responsibility for the fact that I've done very little to promote my shop. Art is something I love, marketing is not. Which actually ties into another life decision I've made but won't go into in detail here. Suffice it to say, I've come to grips with the fact that my art and my writing must be hobbies right now because homeschooling my now-teenagers takes top priority.

What I want to say is, I'm not just giving up on art, and I'm not going to stop having my art available for purchase outside live events. You can follow me on Facebook and see the work I post. If something suits your fancy, message me. I always have matted prints of many of my paintings (4x6 prints in 5x7 mats) for $10 including shipping, and generally if I don't have one on hand I can print it quickly. You can purchase various sized prints of some of my work on FineArtAmerica.

So, while Jumping Rails has jumped the Etsy ship, I've not left completely. And maybe someday, things will have changed (either with Etsy or with me, or there will be a whole different ship to board) and Jumping Rails will be revived.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Angels in Fiction

How could I discuss angels and not use a weeping angel?
Also, ironic that the Bible always refers to angels as male,
yet they are usually depicted as female in art.
Well, it's finally happened. I've been called blasphemous. Okay, no, let me restate that: Someone on Facebook said that stories involving romance between humans and angels is blasphemy. The comment was part of a discussion that was at least partially in response to my novel, Relent, which features  Simone, who is half-angel. Despite the Bible going into very little detail about the nature of angels, many (most?) Christians believe that angels and humans cannot, um, join in that way.

Imagine the response if the conversation moved into other parts of the story. Like the fact that it was Simone's mother who was the angel, when angels are always referred to as male in the Bible. Oh, and Simone's closest relationship for years is with a demon named Wraith. No, they're not lovers, more like best-frenemies, but he is the person she turns to when everything hits the fan.

To be honest, I agree with the commenter, in the sense that I don't believe any of these situations are biblical. I'm not sure if angels ever take truly corporeal human form. And if they do, I've no idea if they can hook up. And if they could, I have no clue whether or not it'd actually make a baby. (At least, not hook up *and* get to stay angels.) I find it very doubtful that any of those things would or could happen for real. The Bible always speaks of angels in the masculine, but I'm not sure angels are gendered at all. And I absolutely don't believe angels and demons could be friends, or even frenemies.

But Relent is a story. It's fiction. It's pure "what if?" My intent was never to be biblical about it. Relent is not a Christian spiritual warfare novel a la Frank Peretti. It's not an attempt in any way to create an accurate account of angels and demons in our very real world. It's hyperbole, an exaggeration. It's an illustration of someone having the worst happen--part of them falling as an angel falls, beyond redemption. It's allegory using actual Christian creatures as though they were mythical/fantasy creatures.

Many Christian readers are fine with the idea of vampires or werewolves or Elves finding redemption because they're pure myth. But angels and demons are real. I get it. I really do. But I've created my own lore in Relent. Yes, God is God, and heaven is heaven, and angels are angels, and demons are demons; but I take vast artistic liberties with all of it because I want to tell a specific story with a specific message and I need it to step out of reality to do what I want it to do.

No, I'm not going to spell out that message here. That would defeat the purpose of me writing the book. The whole point is to go about it through story, a speculative story. The whole point is to take everything out of reality as we know it and look at it in a different way. And to be honest, if you're someone who feels that all of those things have to stay rooted in reality in fiction, this novel was not written with you in mind as a reader.

And that's OKAY! It really is. I knew there would be Christians out there who'd have serious issues with Relent. Just as I'll likely have non-Christian readers who balk at certain elements as well. It's what happens when you refuse to write inside the box.

But is it blasphemy? Heresy? Feel free to think as you wish. I won't take it personally. I also won't push you to read Relent if any element of it makes you uncomfortable. That wasn't my goal in writing it. And honestly, I love that the whole idea has spurred a discussion, and I have enjoyed reading all the comments (which I unfortunately can't share here because it's a private group), and I look forward to even more viewpoints on the topic.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Black Friday / Cyber Monday Book Blitz

If you are looking for some awesome speculative fiction ebooks to load your Kindle, Nook, or other devices, check out THIS PAGE on Lasers, Dragons, and Keyboards. You'll find fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, urban fantasy, steampunk, for ages middle grade through adult, including these titles:

For these and even more, go now! Click, click, click
Promo prices only guaranteed from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, but may be active before or after, so head on over and grab some early deals. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

From Costume-Hating to Cosplay Happiness

When I was a kid, I only ever dressed in costume for Halloween. And that consisted of going to the local Kmart and picking out one of those plastic suits that went over your clothes and tied at the back of your neck like a hospital gown. They came with a matching mask--a mask that had eye holes in the wrong place and tiny little "nostril" holes you could barely breathe through. So, you ended up breathing through your mouth a lot, which meant your breath condensed on the inside of the mask.

Image result for halloween costumes from the 70s

BTW, that is just a random photo I found online. I have no idea who those kids are. I grabbed the image, though, because it looks so, so much like the photos of my brother and I when we were kids dressed up for Halloween.

Add to all the misery above the fact that I lived in Florida, where it's either steamy-hot or wet-cold in October, and you can understand why the only thing that excited me about Halloween was the candy. And why I didn't exactly jump on the cosplay bandwagon until very recently.

Sure, I went to a party with my husband once where we dressed as cave people, because cheap and easy. Many years later I found a witch's dress on clearance and snagged it, and I've worn that to a couple of Halloween events. But both are so far away from what we know as cosplay today.

Five years ago, though, was the first time I for realz cosplayed. I dressed as River Song for the award banquet at the first ever Realm Makers conference. (You can read about my experience making her gun holster here.) After that, I went with Professor Trelawney from the Harry Potter series. (A great excuse to use one of my handmade wands!) And my favorite was the year I dressed up as a gender-bent Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, complete with handmade Audrey 2.

Audrey 2 now sits proudly on my dresser next to my answering machine. Wish I could teach him to answer the phone and scare off telemarketers.

No, that's not where he is now, but this is a better shot. 

The past two years I've gone a bit more...generic. At last year's Necronomicon and this year's Realm Makers, I just dressed in Medieval clothing. And then at this year's Necronomicon, I decided to go very basic Steampunk.

Yep, I had to sneak in a little plug for the anthology, Victorian Venus, that contains one of my short stories.

Anyway, you might notice, although probably not, that the shirt I'm wearing for my Steampunk outfit is the same one I wore as Seymour. That's because I'm a firm believer in re-purposing. I'm also all about thrift shop bargains for costumes, which is where the shirt came from. As did the Steampunk boots, Seymour's vest, my dress for Trelawney, and the hideous purse I used to fashion the holster for River Song's gun. (Again, check out the link I gave you for details on that.) Most of the other clothing is from my closet or the clearance rack. It's really the hunt that makes this fun. And frustrating at times.

My favorite part, though, is the prop-making. In every costume, I have something completely made from scratch.

For River Song, it was the holster.
For Trelawney, it was my wand.
For Seymour, it was Audrey 2.
For the Medieval outfit, it was the cloak. (And technically a staff that wasn't in the photo.)
For the Steampunk outfit, it was the gun that I made from a dollar store ray gun:

Unfortunately I didn't take a pic of the final-final product. Once I got into costume at Necronomicon, I stuck a tea light (the base of which I'd spray-painted to match the gun) on the end.

So, now, it's on to the next idea. What will that be? Oh, I'm not telling! But in a few months, when it's all finished, I promise there will be pictures. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Shakespeare's Sonnet

One of the coolest characters in Toch Island Chronicles is Gregor's cat, Shakespeare. The reason he's so cool is that he's a real cat. My best friend's cat. This is Shakespeare:

Unlike humans, cats don't get offended by being portrayed in stories exactly as they are. Cats are not humble, and don't pretend to be. The Toch Island Shakespeare is 100% the same as the real-life Shakespeare. He looks just like this. He demands the same kind of attention. He fully knows his awesomeness.

Sadly, the real Shakespeare passed away a few months ago. And ever since, I've had an idea blossoming in my head. You see, he's Shakespeare's namesake--the person Shakespeare, that is. And that Shakespeare wrote sonnets. His most famous is Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

If you're not familiar with the meaning of Sonnet 18, it's basically Shakespeare telling his love that she is more beautiful than a summer's day, than all of summer really--and not only that, she is unlike summer because summer will pass away, but she will not, because she has been immortalized in this very poem.

Kinda like Shakespeare the cat in my books.

So...I present "Shakespeare's Sonnet."

Shall I compare thee to the mythic beast?
Thou art more regal and more loved than they.
Their greatness reaches summit at thy least;
Thy greatness, words alone cannot convey.
A dragon's slay'd by mortal hands of knight,
A unicorn is but a horse with spire,
A griffin, nothing, lest he be in flight,
And phoenix dies and births from ash and fire.
But thy eternal magic shall not fade,
For it is registered forevermore.
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When pages of a book contain thy lore.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives Toch, and Toch gives life to thee.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Trees of Toch Island

Trees play a big role in my Toch Island Chronicles books. In Finding Angel, Angel's friend and rescuer, Gregor, has the ability to make gateways using trees, magically connecting two different places and allowing him to travel great distances in seconds. I can't say for sure where the idea for that came from. I'm thinking that on some subconscious level it comes from my childhood.

When I was a kid, I lived out in the country. My yard had a lot of trees (great for pretending you're exploring an enchanted forest), and one in particular was my favorite. It slanted at about a 30-40 degree angle from the ground. I have no idea how it got that way--it looked as if it were partially knocked over and somehow re-rooted. The top of the tree had been cut off, and there was only a single large branch growing from its trunk, which because of the trunk angle grew straight up. (If you've read Finding Angel, you'll recognize that tree from Angel's back yard.)

That tree was where I spent many hours of my childhood. I loved walking up the trunk, turning around, and leaning against the upright branch. I listened to music like that, or read books, or simply sat and daydreamed. In a way, that tree transported me to other worlds, just as Gregor's Talent could transport him.

But it's not just Gregor's magic that makes the trees in Toch Island special. Many of the trees have magic of their own, and that magic comes from metal veining that runs through their wood. Why metal? That answer I don't have to speculate about. I made them that way intentionally. There is a very powerful tree on Toch Island called a platinum oak. Obviously, its veining is platinum. And its magic property is that of healing nearly any physical ailment. I created the platinum oak in my story world to represent the platinum-based chemotherapy that played a huge role in my conquering cancer. (That chemo is called cisplatin, and it's nasty stuff. But I'm here, and cancer-free for 13 years!) I gave other trees different magical properties, many of them related to the metals running through them.

Another special role trees play on Toch Island is that of marking the graves, and the lives, of the Elven once they have passed away. I can't really give details about this without spoilers, but suffice it to say they represent life after death. The tree chosen for each grave is representative of the person buried there as well. Trees are quite special to the Elven, as is everything in nature, and the forest of Toch Island is full of ancient ones--you never know which grew there on their own, and which mark the graves of Elven ancestors.

Ultimately, though, trees are simply what make up forests, and forests have an energy, a feeling that is like no other for me. There is just something about being among all the trees, sheltered by the canopy, knowing life is all around you, hidden, sometimes unheard in the dense silence. Being in the forest calms me and reminds me what our world is supposed to be. Also, I always have the sensation that fairies really do make their homes there...

Images like those I've posted here make me want to wander off into the forest for an adventure. To see more like them, visit my Pinterest board "Follow Me Into the Forest."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Kalek's Song

My promise to myself before Irma hit was that I would focus more on blogging and writing and art, and less on following social media and stressing over book sales numbers. Of course, during Irma, all I did was stress over Irma and follow the news. It has made recalibrating a bit difficult. 

A bit how I imagine Kalek.
Kalek's hair is much curlier, though. 
So, today, I'll use a post I made on Facebook as a springboard. While waiting out Irma, a certain song played over and over in my mind. It's the same song I imagine Kalek, my Elven rocker from Toch Island Chronicles, playing in Finding Angel. There is a scene where Angel meets him for the first time, and she experiences his magic Talent, which is to play the songs of the stars.

Kalek's Talent was inspired by Psalm 19: 1-4, which says, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world." (NIV)

In Finding Angel, Gregor takes Angel to a clearing in the forest, in the center of which stands the ruins of an enormous temple. Kalek and his band are setting up on the giant portico. Gregor asks Kalek if they can watch the band practice.

Here is a snippet:

One of the Elves appeared from behind a column and leaned his shoulder against it, ankles crossed, peering out through the mass of stringy curls that hung down either side of his long face. His lean arms threaded through studded armbands and ended with long graceful hands. Musician’s hands.  
Like the others, he wore an oversized tunic, belted at the waist, and suede boots. A dagger was tucked in a sheath strapped around the leather pants that stretched over his thigh. It wasn’t until he turned his head that Angel noticed the point of an ear poking out of his tangled curls. She bit her lip, heart skipping. Elves—really! 
“Sure, why not?” he said coolly. “Maybe we’ll autograph a picture for you when we’re done.”  
The other Elves laughed, and then three of them scrambled to take their places with Kalek on the platform at the top of the stairs.  
Angel hadn’t seen any of them carrying anything when they climbed onstage, but in the blink of an eye, they each were in place with a different instrument. One Elven guy stood behind a tall, narrow harp, another held some sort of large flute, and the third sat astride a stool behind what Angel assumed was a percussion set. The drums were all the same height, but of varying widths and looked like solid posts of polished wood with silver grain. Kalek held what appeared to be an ordinary electric guitar. He positioned his hand in front of the strings and spoke. 
“One, two, three…”  
The music took Angel’s breath away. It didn’t come directly from the instruments, and there were no microphones or speakers to direct it elsewhere. It emanated from the surrounding forest, the very trees themselves, and drifted down from the sky. Angel could feel vibration in her feet—it even rang from the grass and rocks on which she stood.  
The leaves on the trees and bushes changed color before her eyes, from green to red to gold and back, sparkling in the brilliant sunshine. Butterflies swarmed out from the forest, fluttering in yellow clouds around the flowers in the clearing. The music seeped all the way into Angel’s bones, stirring her soul.  
The Elven band played slow and soulful at first, and Angel involuntarily closed her eyes. The darkness behind her eyelids brightened to a soft glow, which dispersed and swirled, and then coalesced into images of a savannah that was as real to her as the forest in which she stood. 

From here, Angel experiences visions brought on by Kalek's music. Kalek plays different songs that create different visions or experiences for those who listen. In this particular case, the visions are derived directly from a passage in Job (38:39-41:34) detailing many of the creatures God created.

Now, to the song. This is what I imagine Kalek singing during this scene:

"How Great is Our God" is a really special song for me. The first time I heard it, I was pretty blown away because it was an acoustic performance by a teenager at the church I attended at the time (which was over ten years ago, so he's now a grown man, married, with a new baby). And yeah, I admit I took a couple of physical characteristics from that teenager and gave them to Kalek--the tall, thin frame, the long, curly hair. Everything else is all imagination, though. Anyway, the vision Angel experiences shows God's greatness through His creation, thus why I imagine Kalek singing this song.

Anyway, all through Irma, I heard this song in my head. It wasn't Chris Tomlin singing it, however. It was Kalek, and I was standing in that clearing in front of the temple ruins, safe and secure in the knowledge that God was greater than any storm.