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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

After Irma

If you follow me on Facebook, you've likely already seen these photos and read my updates throughout hurricane Irma. But, I wanted to share here, all in one place, now that we've made it through safe and sound.

Let me start at the beginning. I've lived in Florida my whole life. Yep forty-seven years spent in the Tampa area. We've seen a lot of storms. We've had plenty of hurricanes aimed right at us, but most of them veer away. This time, we got hit dead-on. Irma's eye literally passed over my house. Thank God, she was down to a low category two at that point.

We were prepared for worse, though. For the first time in all my years here, we boarded our windows.


By the time my husband got to Lowe's, they were out of plywood, so he grabbed some fence panels. Truth be told, these probably worked better. They sure fit our wide, tall windows better! And, they let a little light in, which was nice. Especially when it came through this board:


The fence is pressure-treated pine. My dad, a contractor, said it's the knots that do this, the way they get cut lengthwise. During the bright times of the day, this looked like it was on fire. So pretty!

Of course, the days didn't stay bright. The day Irma hit was dark, and obviously rainy and windy to say the least! We had power most of Sunday, until Irma moved into our area full-force that evening. We spent the day watching movies with my brother, who spent the weekend here to take shelter from the storm because he lives in a mobile home. After a couple of blips in the evening, around 10:30 pm the power finally went out completely. We all headed to bed.

We did not all sleep, however. Beastie 1 and I both were up half the night. I stayed in my room, reading on my Kindle until a little after 1:00 am...when all went silent. 

The eye had arrived. 

The storm was MUCH weaker on the other side of the eye, so I laid my Kindle on the nightstand and finally got some sleep. Not that it stayed that way, because the power being out and the house being so, so quiet meant every little sound was amplified. Beastie 2's hamster running on his wheel. And something started beeping at like 3 am. 

Still, I managed some sleep. And in the morning, all was good. No power, but we have a generator, so we hooked up the fridge to save all the food, and the coffee maker to save all our sanity, and the TV so we could keep track of everything. 


Don't ya just love it? All the tie-downs and boards bracing things, and the beach umbrella keeping the generator dry. Only in Florida, folks, only in Florida....

The thing is, we had so much to be thankful for. This was all we got from Irma:


Branches everywhere, but nothing more on our property and most of the properties around us. We spent Monday morning gathering and raking and loading branches onto our trailer and into garbage bags. And when our yard was done, we hit a few neighbors' yards. 

And now...things are almost back to normal. Our power came back Monday evening. (We sent the generator to my dad's so he could run his well pump and have water again.) My brother is back at his place with full power and water. Even my mom, who lives on a canal and drove to Orlando before the storm, has no damage at her place. Not everyone in our area is so lucky--still lots of power outages and a nearby river is rising and rising, flooding houses that line it. Members of my church teamed together to take those people supplies. 

We got started on homeschooling yesterday--both the Beasties dove in without me saying a word. I think they were just happy to be okay! Last night, we even went out to dinner. Cabin fever was setting in a bit, I think. 

We are so grateful that Irma was not what we expected. And still praying for those who did get hit harder than we did--yet grateful they didn't get harder than they did, which originally looked like a real possibility. Southern Florida is hurting, but if Irma had hit as a Category 5 as expected, it'd be devastating. 

I want to thank all of those of you who prayed for us specifically, for our area and state in general, and all the areas affected by Irma. And thank you to medical staff and the police and fire departments, who worked non-stop through all of this. Thank you to every worker out there working on power lines, to those clearing trees and debris, to those rescuing people and pets from flooded areas. Every thought, every good deed is appreciated!


Saturday, September 2, 2017

More

Sigh--it seems you just can't find captioned
 images online without typos.
I hate when blog posts start out this way--double hate when I'm the one starting them this way--but...

It's been weeks since I've posted here. Truth be told, this blog has suffered sorely from my neglect for the past year. Or two. Or more? Well, whatever, it's been a long time.

I'm not making promises that I can completely resuscitate it fully yet, or ever. But I am going to start spending more time here. I need to get my face out of Facebook, and I need to get back to my roots. Writing. Art. Actually expressing myself. I know I've spent most of my time on here just sharing things like book releases and giveaways and whatnot, and keeping myself to myself. Lately it's just been hard to put myself out there. So much going on in this world, so many people angry at each other, so much division. I've become the person who only ever shows the surface stuff anymore, at least in places like this.

That needs to end. I need to open up here more. I need to stop worrying about finding marketing opportunities and start producing more. Short stories. Artwork. Novels. And blog posts.

Am I gonna keep sharing releases and such? Of course. Like my short story that just came out in Cricket Magazine:


But I'm also going to share that this came out the same week I hit an all-time low in book sales that has had me considering giving up on writing altogether. Ironic, eh? Fortunately I have a lot of writer friends who came along and lifted me up with encouragement and love.

And all of this is the same week I'm watching news reports of the severe flooding in Houston and can't keep thinking how selfish it is for me to worry about losing book sales when people are losing their homes. I also had a dear friend lost both her teenage grandsons a few weeks ago. And friends going through surgery, or suffering from chronic pain. Kinda makes small sales numbers seem rather, well, small.

Just one of the many things Beastie 1 did during his summer job.
This is also the time of year we're gearing back up and starting our homeschooling. Beastie 1 is a senior this year. Beastie 2 is starting her first year of high school. I'm only four years from the end of this journey! It seems impossible. And incredible. I'm so looking forward to the next stage, seeing the Beasties use all this knowledge and experience to start their own lives. Beastie 1 actually had his first summer job this past summer, and they want him back next year. They actually want him to keep going now, but school comes first. Still, I'm so proud of him!

Also, I'm so proud of Beastie 2 for the way she's dug into her art. Just on her own, drawing and painting away for hours, her skills have seriously improved. This is her latest drawing. (My Chemical Romance fans will recognize this face.)


Seriously, I've given her almost no instruction--she's just practicing on her own. That's something we homeschoolers often do. I wasn't homeschooled, but I think one of the reasons I chose to homeschool my kids was that I tended to teach myself, research things on my own, dig into my interests all on my own, and both my kids are the same way.

Anyway, this year is bound to be full of ups and downs, and I hope to be more focused on sharing those here. 

That's it for today, though. Baby steps, right?

PS--I do need to leave you with a couple of links. I'm part of a big Instafreebie YA/teen fantasy giveaway that you can find HERE. And I've added quite a few items to my Etsy shop, which you can get shipped for free with coupon code DRAGONS. Click HERE to go to the shop and have the coupon applied automatically. 

 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Stories of Ink

During a Facebook conversation with some other writers on the topic of character description, someone pointed out that I have a lot of tattooed characters. Once I thought about it, I realized, yes. Well, maybe not a lot, but definitely my favorite characters.

In Finding Angel, Kalek Halvard is an Elven rocker who powers his electric guitar with magic instead of a cord. He has tattoos on both arms, visible between the ends of his tunic sleeves and the leather bands he wears around his wrists. I don't describe the tattoos, but he's a musician, so there is definitely some music-themed ink. Gorgeous, rich colors as well. (I am also assuming he has tats under that tunic, but he's never shown me.)

In Seeking Unseen, Melinda gets a magical tattoo--one that can be removed or re-positioned any time, as many times as she wants. It's perfect for her, because like me, she doesn't want something permanent. I've thought about getting one, but the hold-back for me is that I feel if I do it, it's got to really mean something. As an artist, I appreciate art for art's sake, but there is just something so personal about tattoos. Tattoos tell a story--the story of who we are.

Like Taela's tattoos in Legacy Rewound. She's an unusual Elven girl, with skin much fairer than the rest of her race. And she has tattoos covering both arms and both legs, and much of the rest of her. They're not at all typical, though--they weren't added to her with ink and needles, but rather magic itself. Her tattoos simply appear on her skin as a record of her life experiences. (You can read "Different," a short story about Taela, for free on p.22 of THIS ISSUE of Common Oddities.)

I can see Wraith having this one.
Wraith, the demon in my most recent release Relent, has tattoos covering him that tell his life story as well. If you can call what he has "life." He's a demon, after all--a fallen angel. And the tats on his human-form skin reflect that. Serpents and dragons entwine on his arms. The corners of bat-like wings poke up past the collar of his shirt--wings that match his real ones when he's in demon form.

Tattoos aren't just pictures. Even when they're the result of a drunken mistake, they tell a story. They hold memories and emotion. They record the lives of those who wear them, and serve as ways to keep something of loved ones.

The Dropkick Murphy's have a song that expresses that. "Rose Tattoo" is one of my favorites by them. Check out the video:


You can read the lyrics HERE.

Yes, tattoos are stories made of ink. And I love hearing the stories behind people's tattoos.

Do you have any stories behind your own tattoos? Or, if you're a writer, behind your character's? What inspired it? What significance does it hold?