fuzzy Dogwood face

March was, truly, The Longest Month.

At the beginning of it, I was halfway through my fundraiser, just focused on raising the money to do my art. Working with my cover artist. Starting to make publishing plans. Feverishly writing project updates to keep up the momentum.

By the middle, I’d secured my funding but was in limbo waiting to receive it, while having to shift my focus to changing how we go about our daily lives in the midst of a growing pandemic. I threw myself into formatting the novel for printing, researching art supplies for backer rewards, and of course following the news as it changed by the hour.

By the end, we were fighting to figure out how to protect my husband at work, because he doesn’t get to stop going just because there’s a deadly disease tearing through the world community. Still waiting for my funding after what felt like an eternity of processing time. Wondering how we’ll manage without my income for the foreseeable future, because no one needs a dog walker when they’re stuck at home. Like everyone, struggling to obtain necessary supplies in the post-apocalyptic landscape that our grocery stores have now become. Trying to help my husband figure out how or if he’s going to be able to make the movie he was supposed to start filming this summer. Square into survival mode.

All the while, the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head in the form of a non-COVID-19 health issue that I’m not able to get treated for right now because local health services are closed to everything but emergencies. When will my thing become one? Big shrug. Who knows. The minutes tick on.

And now that we’re four days into another month (my birthday month, incidentally,) it already feels like March was a lifetime ago. An eternity of waiting, of wondering, of holding patterns and hope and disappointment and sudden loss that we’re all experiencing together, in our own ways. Planning is one thing that’s especially painful for an autistic person to have to give up on. Indefinite uncertainty is not something I do well. All we get to do right now is react and that’s… exhausting.

That’s why we’re all so tired.

Already I can’t remember what my larger point was going to be when I decided to write this post. I had one. But that was half an hour ago, and in April 2020 time, that’s like at least a week. All I can remember is that I wanted to share something good with you in the midst of all of… this.

I wanted to show you this lovely thing that was made for me by my wonderful artist daughter-in-law, Katelynn Cuciak.

Last year (by which I mean 2019, not March,) when I was getting ready to publish Mornnovin, it was my intention to secure a logo for my publishing imprint before the book went to press. That didn’t end up happening in time, but now it is my absolute delight to present to you the logo of Dogwood House LLC, the publishing house of The Way of the Falling Star:

Dogwood House logo badge border

You may recognize the handsome model.

model

Hento basking in the sunlight under his favorite window.

I think she did an absolutely stellar job of turning my beautiful buddy into a lasting icon. From now on, this excellent face will be appearing on all of my books.

And that’s what I wanted to leave you with on this the nine hundredth day of the year C-19. Stuff is scary right now, and weird, and there’s so much to worry about — and I still, still don’t have my funding (although I tentatively expect to see it hit my account on Monday.) I’m off to go sew some homemade face masks because that’s apparently what we’re doing now in this dystopian timeline, but first I wanted to give you something nice: the fuzzy face of Dogwood House.

Stay safe, stay healthy. Stay home.

WE DID IT!

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Wednesday, March 11th, 2020:

Fireworks of various colors bursting against a black background

Wow, so obviously yesterday was a big day. Here I was, watching the numbers, hoping we would hit that $3200 mark so I could do an update about the Autumn Festival masks like I promised. Instead, thanks to four incredibly lovely people, we just sailed right tf to the total goal and now we’re fully funded.

We’re going to publish a book, you guys!

The campaign ends next Wednesday morning (3/18) at 10 a.m. Eastern DST, so if you wanted to essentially preorder your copy of Trajelon and secure that backer credit on the special thanks page, you still have some time to sneak in a little pledge.

Thank you so much to everyone who got the fundraiser to this point. Your belief in me, in supporting indie artists, in getting diverse fantasy into the market, or simply in hot elf action is inspirational and I love you all. Thank you. Thank you.

And now, because we’ve earned it, let’s look at some pretty masks!

As the leaves turn in Evlédíen and the fall harvest comes in, as the air crispens and the days lengthen, the capital city dons its annual red and gold adornments and the elves of the Valley put on fantastical disguises. Beginning at dusk of a night in mid-Autumn, the entire city of Efrondel becomes one massive party until the dawn three nights later.

Last year, I rewarded my two $500-tier backers by crafting them a custom Autumn Festival mask of the sort that would be worn by the elves of Evlédíen in their revels.

One backer requested a peacock, which absolutely delighted me. It was the very best sort of challenge and I had so much fun bringing this lovely creature into existence.

I spent some time at the start of the project hemming and hawing over whether to work from a mask blank or whether to create one myself from a plaster cast (a skill that, weirdly, I have been carrying around without practical application since elementary school art class.) At the craft supply store, I stumbled on this birdish blank and felt that I could do something with it, so I snapped it up.

zero 1.sm

Obviously, it needed a LOT of work. More beak, at the very least. And the paper was a nice heavy weight, but I wanted the finished product to be a lot more durable. I built a beak and some brow contour out of papier mâché, gave it a good sanding, smoothed it over with an application of acrylic texture medium, sanded that, and gave the whole thing a seal coat.

Ready to prettify.

mache sanded 6.sm

Pleased with the final beak.

This is where it got really fun.

One of the most delightful things about peacocks is of course the almost holographic quality of their feathers. The complexity of the colors. (This is also, unfortunately, something that makes this mask a bit difficult to accurately capture on camera.) No simple flat application of a single color would do for this fellow; I gave it several layers of several colors, ending up with this.

painted 3.sm

Really hard to capture an accurate impression of the paint effect in a static image. I tried to give it real depth and complexity.

And because there was no way I was going to escape this project without gold-leafing something (I really love gold-leafing things), this also happened before I headed into the final embellishment phase.

leafed 1.sm

Then it was just a matter of asking the question, “How much stuff can I get on this mask before it collapses under the weight of its own opulence?” The answer was probably a bit more than what I gave it, but I didn’t want to kill it after all.

mosaic

I hand-strung those beads myself.

IMG_20190310_000647.sm

I was so in love with this mask that I held onto it for several weeks with the permission of its recipient in the hope that I’d be able to deliver it in person, fearful of the damage it might suffer in transit. Sadly, that never happened, and eventually I had to very carefully load this pretty bird into the post. Fortunately, it arrived unscathed and its wearer was able to be a gorgeous peacock for Halloween.

The second mask was a bit more of a challenge, and I spent some time thinking about it before even beginning to work on it. That’s because its recipient simply gave me the guideline of “Red. Just… make it red.”

Well that could mean a lot of things.

What finally got me out of the indecisive conceptual phase was coming across this flamey mask blank.

blank mask

Suddenly, a firebirdy sort of concept came to me. But because the idea was so simple, I wanted to focus on doing something really interesting, really flamey, with the texture.

This mask, from the beginning, wanted to be difficult. Difficult to plan, difficult to fabricate, difficult to bend to my will. The papier mâché absolutely refused, across several attempts, to play nicely with the material of the mask blank. The acrylic texture medium refused to come to a uniform texture. The paint refused to blend in the precise proportions that I wanted it to. The gold leaf refused to stay where I told it to. There were no red feathers to be found in any local craft store anywhere. Even the tube of glue I bought for the red gems was a dud. Oh, the whole thing was a disaster.

And yet somehow, in the end, it was also a thing of sublime beauty.

IMG_20190430_201133.sm

Post-paint, pre-feather.

finished mask collage

I ended up painting those feathers myself.

Fitting that the phoenix mask had to be born of such struggle. Could it really have been any other way?

And so, my friends, I leave you this evening with these gorgeous photos and my thanks for your support. When the campaign ends next Wednesday, it will go into a processing phase before Kickstarter releases the funds to me. This can take up to two weeks. During the wait, and now that I no longer have to be focused on fundraising, I’ll be working on formatting the text file of the novel to send to the printer. We already have a lovely piece of art from Scott Baucan all ready to be turned into a cover and the Trajelon bookmarks are in the works.

In other words, I’m ready to hit the ground running. Thanks to you.

 

 

We’re about to hit $3000 and that calls for a Festival

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2: Monday, March 9th 2020:

You know what? We’re closing in on $3000, which is incredibly exciting. Just $724 left to go, total! And with just over a week left in this campaign, we’re running out of time for me to spoil you with worldbuilding tidbits.

When I was fundraising for Mornnovin, I shared a quick primer of the history of Asrellion. (Parts One and Two.)

I unveiled the fancy new world map.

I gave a teaser of the sort of jewelry I’d be making for backers (which I’ve since shown you here,) giving you a sense of the elven aesthetic.

I introduced our cast of heroes one by one (or sometimes two by two): SovoqatsuVíelleSefaroBryant and LynAlyra and her brother DairinnColeNaoise, and Loralíenasa.

I even talked a bit about conlangs and gave a brief history of the construction of the Elven language I’ve created for the elves of Asrellion.

And then of course I shared an entire massive book with you (and some of you even got your hands on an additional short story, which is still available to anyone who can message me to show that they’ve shared this campaign to at least two social media platforms.)

I feel like you’re starting to get to know me and the world of Asrellion pretty well by now.

Now you’re getting a sneak peak at some new faces – although there are still more which must of necessity remain a secret until they appear in Trajelon. You’ll see why when you get there. But something else you might like to hear more about – that has maybe been shrouded in some degree of mystery until now – is this Autumn Festival thing I keep mentioning.

Festival makes a brief but useful appearance in Mornnovin. Loríen and a group of concerned elves use the cover provided by the occasion to hold a secret, subversive meeting. But what is Festival?

From Mornnovin, Chapter Eleven:

———————–

Long ago, in the early days of the Homeland, Festival had been an event that came only once every six years – a special, rare occasion when elves gathered together to celebrate Vaian’s Creation. After the War of Exile and the many years of suffering that followed, it had been Loralíenasa’s father, King Andras, who decreed that Festival would become an annual affair. Their people sorely needed the diversion from their sorrow.

And because they needed it, because the rest of the year was devoted to mourning what had been lost, the elves took Festival and its rules seriously. People would do things on these three nights and the two days between them that would fly in the face of who they were. For some it would mean standing before a crowd at a tea or khala house and reciting poetry. For others it would mean entertainment of an altogether darker and more carnal character. What happened behind Festival masks was never spoken of again.

———————–

So, yeah. The short version is that elves are incredibly uptight and Festival is the only time they let themselves have fun. And they take their fun very, very seriously.

Because they’re so serious about Festival not just for its entertainment value but for its – for lack of a better term – religious significance, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure that Festival is accessible to all elves. Through a lottery system, everyone has to take turns running the necessary services over the course of those three nights and the two days between them. No one is exempt. Instead of currency, everyone is given a stipend of Festival credits to spend, which is also good throughout the year for artisans who specialize in Festival costumery. (Hoarding costumes after the event is discouraged but not outlawed – it’s considered polite to return an especially gorgeous work of costume art back into circulation for others to use next year.)

All in all, for a holiday that seems so free-wheeling when it’s in motion, Festival is highly ritualized. But really, the most important rules are these:

  1. Do not ask names.
  2. Do not give names.
  3. What happens at Festival stays at Festival.

And so a particular sort of holiday has come to be. I mean, just try to imagine if Vulcans were allowed to cut loose and do whatever they want for two days and three nights, no judgment, no repercussions, none of the usual rules about controlling their emotions.

spock

Now that’s a party.

75%: Let’s meet Lanas

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Saturday March 7th 2020:

Are you excited? I’m excited. Because we’ve got over a week left and only $904 still to raise now. We’re at 75% funded right this minute. The end is in sight!

When we cross the $3200 mark and have only $500 left to go, I will show you the absolutely stunningly gorgeous Autumn Festival masks that it was my joy to make for my two big backers of Mornnovin. And to be honest I almost can’t wait to show you, because they might just be the most beautiful things I’ve ever made.

Today I’m going to present another character we met in Mornnovin who didn’t get his own introduction during the last fundraiser, but who is very important to our heroine.

Friends, meet Lanoralas Galvan (Lah-NOR-ah-lahs GAHL-vahn.)

Lanoralas

I don’t know who this is. Hair model? Couldn’t find a name. But that sure is some hair.

A few days ago, we met the vivacious Víara Galvan; Lanoralas is her uncle, but he’s actually not all that much older than her.

From a young age, Lanas has been a prodigy with a blade. He studied at the prestigious Voromé School of Combat, following the time-honored curriculum established by its illustrious founder, but honestly he was teaching his teachers from pretty early on. It has always been like the sword is a living extension of his own flesh.

Far from being haughty about this, or seeking to use his prowess to bully or gain power, Lanas has always been a calm, quiet, steadying influence on everyone around him. He knows who he is and what he wants out of life (which is honestly just to hone the skill of his body and the discipline of his mind) and has no need to prove anything to anyone.

Because of that – and because of the loyalty he showed during a crucial time in young Tomanasíl Maiantar’s regency – he was the obvious choice to fill the vacant position when the old Captain of the Guard retired. Despite his youth at the time of the appointment, he has been nothing but a responsible professional from his first day in the post.

Except, arguably, after Loralíenasa Raia showed up in his life.

When the young princess wished to learn swordfighting, Lanas was again the obvious choice to be her teacher both for his excellence, and for his good humor and unruffled demeanor. Her guardian felt that Lanas would be a good influence on her. It… seems to have gone in the other direction. Lanas somehow finds himself having to do the occasional foolish thing under her headstrong influence. And even though he has to put up a show of being the face of law and order, he doesn’t actually mind all that much. Having an excuse to enact a tiny rebellion now and then is good for the soul. Besides, sometimes the rules are wrong.

Loralíenasa and Lanoralas have never had anything but tremendous fondness – even love – for one another. (He was briefly her first romantic fling before they mutually agreed they didn’t have that sort of relationship.) There’s really no one she trusts more, except perhaps Naoise Raynesley.

Lanas is into swordfighting (obviously), proper sword care, physical training, military history, the elven strategy board game sují, and attending the occasional horse race. He values loyalty, friendship, courage, competence, and a healthy sense of humor, and strives to live these qualities himself.

Look what we can do

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Friday March 6th 2020:

Something has occurred to me. Probably belatedly. For all this time that I’ve been asking you to help me publish Trajelon, I’ve been talking about the content, which is all well and good and I’m certainly proud of it, but that part is done already. What we’re trying to do here together – the reason we need to raise capital – is to put out a physical copy of the novel, and maybe you’d like to see what that would look like.

And because we’ve already done this once before, with Book 1, I can show you!

I have to tell you that, as an author, there’s nothing in the world like actually holding a print copy of a story you’ve written. A real, live, solid, honest-to-goodness book, with my name on it and everything. When my first proof of Mornnovin arrived, and I saw that book-shaped package sitting on my doorstep, I let out a genuine squeak. It was very undignified. Luckily, no one was there to witness it but my dog, and Hento doesn’t judge. There may also have been some slight hyperventilation when I opened the package and saw the spine of the book with my name right there in fancy print.

From there it just got more surreal. My cover. My map. My story. My Elven glossary. THAT’S ME ON THE “ABOUT THE AUTHOR” PAGE! There it all was, just like I’d sent it to the printer. It would turn out, of course, that there were some things to tweak and fix about that first proof so it wasn’t a perfect specimen or anything, but having it in my hands was… an experience.

It took a couple tries to get it right. I was brand-spanking-new to publishing, and with IngramSpark I am my own layout designer, cover designer, editor, typesetter – the whole enchilada. All they do is print exactly what I send them, exactly how I send it. The learning curve was steep. I’m happy to report, though, that I did learn.

And this is what I’m capable of giving you.

Mornnovin is a 6 x 9 trade paperback with matte laminate cover and cream interior, 496 pages in total. It weighs, if you’re curious, approximately 1.6 lbs, and is just over 1 inch thick in the spine.

Let’s all take another minute to appreciate Scott Baucan’s beautiful cover art.

Have you ever tried to write a back cover blurb? Ugh.

I can’t even tell you how many hours I spent looking at fonts online, hunting down the perfect specimen.

We have a map!

It’s a book! For real!

Spoilers.

Yep — this is a conlang glossary sort of book!

I felt strongly enough about the overall quality of Mornnovin that I entered it into the 27th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. It scored a perfect 5/5 on Production Quality and Cover Design.

As proud as I am of the trade paperback, though, I want to show you something even prettier.

Exactly three hardcover copies of Mornnovin exist in all the world: two for my wonderful $500-backers, and one for my amazing husband who happens to be my biggest fan and supporter. I threw this reward in almost as an afterthought last time, (and went through some unexpected headaches getting it made,) and then ended up being completely blindsided by just how much I loved the finished product.

I mean. It’s just gorgeous.

Look at that gloss. That shine. The solidity of it.

Shiny.

Hento insisted that I include this photo.

Currently, I have exactly one pledge for Trajelon at the $500-level, which means that as things stand I will be printing just two hardcover copies of this book, ever, when the fundraiser ends. TWO! That seems like a shame, wouldn’t you say?

At any rate, I hope you agree that the product is gorgeous and well worth what we’re doing here with this campaign. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hold Trajelon and see it sitting next to Mornnovin on my bookshelf!

Wake up call with another introduction

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Thursday March 5th 2020:

Here we are. The doldrums. The Ides of the Fundraiser. 18 days in with 12 days to go. Head down, hands on knees, catching our breath because we know we still need to rally for the fourth quarter. We’ve come a long way, and the finish line is still far enough out to look daunting.

This seems like a good day to introduce you to someone with a little verve.

Meet Víara Galvan.

Brandi Rhodes

Brandi Rhodes as Víara Galvan. It’s those eyes.

For a confluence of reasons, Loralíenasa Raia had a fairly isolated childhood. One problem? An unlucky shortage of children who happened to be close to her age. Víara Galvan was the one exception. Once the two discovered each other, they proceeded to get into all sorts of trouble together. Their friendship was an ongoing headache for Loríen’s guardian Tomanasíl, but he couldn’t exactly forbid her from spending time with the one child in her age group from all of the Eleven Noble Houses.

At the beginning of Mornnovin, Víara and Loríen are in the middle of an irresponsible scheme that almost ends terribly for Loríen. When Tomanasíl finds out, there is hell to pay for both of them for a long time but it doesn’t dampen their friendship (or inclination toward mischief when put together.)

Víara has a larger-than-life personality and almost mythic levels of confidence, and likes to be the center of attention whenever possible. She’s a performer of many stripes – singer, dancer, occasional actor when the role is interesting enough – as dashing and philandering as Neldorí Chalaqar and then some. It would probably be scandalous except that she has a way of carrying herself with a sort of unfussy dignity that implies things become correct when she does them.

She’s into the arts, snarkiness, being flashy, and romantic exploits of every imaginable kind with every imaginable partner.

I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Víara because so have I. If you want to see more of her, we’re going to have to get this campaign funded! Kickstarter tells me that the success rate jumps exponentially for fundraisers that manage to cross the 66% threshold, which is why I’d really love it (and would sleep better tonight) if we could shoot past that. We only need $143 to get there, so I know we can do it.

Stick with me! We’re going to bust out of the middle of this thing for a strong finish! And the next time I update, I’ll show you what we can all have when we do.

Click here to see my puppy

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2Tuesday March 3rd 2020:

First things first: I think we all deserve this photo of my dog Hento, who is adorable and believes in us:

Hento face

Hento loves you. ❤

Second, things are getting serious now. We’re down to our last two weeks. As I write this update, we’re sitting at 62% with $1379 still to go. It would take just $143 to bump us up to a nice 2/3 of the way to our goal. Keep talking up this series to the readers and indie art patrons in your lives!

As a reminder, the free short story “Family Holiday” is still on offer if you can show me via DM that you’ve shared this campaign to two social media platforms, AND the eBook of Mornnovin is still available for just 99¢ through March 5th. That’s Thursday! If you’ve been thinking about snagging it, don’t wait!

While you’re here, how about I introduce you to another new face?

jrm as Neldori

Jonathan Rhys Meyers doing a decent Neldorí Chalaqar impression.

Neldorí Chalaqar (Nel-DOR-ee SHAH-la-kar) isn’t exactly new to the social scene in Efrondel, but the Crown Princess has managed to escape his attentions until now because she has been too young and yes, he’s that sort of creeper. Too handsome, too charming, too witty, too wealthy, too perceptive, too pampered – everything has been easy for him his entire life and there’s nothing he can’t have if he decides he wants it. This has made him indolent. Bored, cynical, searching for amusements in socially unacceptable ways. The hypocrisy of polite elven society both entertains and disgusts him and he delights in operating outside the bounds of decency.

Some people think he’s dangerous. Some think he’s a mostly harmless knave. More ultra-proper elf women have made his intimate acquaintance than would ever admit to it. What Loralíenasa can be sure of is that, above all else, everything he does is in service of his own ends. Trust him? Better not. Be distracted by him as she tries to get on with the business of assuming the throne and getting on with her reign? She might not have any say about that.