Dragons are My Friend (from my Patreon Page)

As you know, I kind of like dragons.  Not only writing about them but reading about them.  To me they are the ultimate mythic beasts, almost God like in their influence over us mere mortals; however, anyone who is widely read in fantasy, or even science fiction, knows that dragons come in many forms.  They can be brutish beasts who’s only objective is to wreak havoc.  Or maybe, they are long-lived creatures full of wisdom to impart unto us lesser beings.  Or better yet, they are something in between.

I am currently re-reading Barbara Hambly’s “A Knight of the Demon Queen”, which features one of my favorite dragons Morkeleb the Black.  He is first portrayed as a force of nature that wreaks havoc on the kingdom of Bel in “Dragonsbane” but later you realize that he and his kin are immortal star travelers whose names are literally music.  After nearly being killed by John Aversin, the dragonsbane, he is rescued by Aversin’s lover and witch Jenny Waynest since he helped her save John.  His interaction with Jenny unlocks a hidden power within her that draws her to him.  Thus, for a time she decides to leave John and her children to become a dragon and explore time and life as a dragon does.

She later rejects this gift in favor of a human life and love.  You would think that was it; however, in a new trilogy of books started with “Dragonshadow” we encounter a changed Morkeleb who shuns the company of his brethren.  Like Jenny, he is haunted by the changes his contact with the her has opened within him or as he would say “Not a Thing of Dragons”.  As the story unfolds, you will see Morkeleb change from an aloof archmage to reluctant friend to a curious student of what it means to be human.  A depth of caring for those that have become surprisingly important to him will emerge as the trilogy unfolds.

Wow, multiple styles of dragon all wrapped up in one creature.  But this is only the tip of the iceberg for dragons in the fictional realm.  Take for example, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern dragons from the series of the same name.  They are genetically altered native creatures that were created by colonists to help them survive a devastating otherworldly attack.  They are at once intelligent and animal like in nature, more akin to very smart pets and just as loyal.

Then there are the dragons found in Melanie Rawn’s “Dragon Prince” and “Dragon Star” trilogies.  Creatures of immense power and moderate intelligence, they become mostly wild companions to several key figures in the series after first contact is made through magic.  They are unpredictable because of their more animal view of the world, but when harnessed, they are devastating weapons.

Finally, I give you the dragons that appear in Tad Williams’ trilogy “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” that are totally mysterious yet unavoidable.  We are never given clear insight into their intelligence, nature, or role in the world.  They are long-lived yet dormant most of the time.  Key figures in the world’s past and present have suffered grave damage from battling them; however, nothing more is revealed.  Oh what a tantalizing web left dangling before our eyes.  As for my own dragons, I tend to make them a mix of all these gnarly beasts.  They are cunning and shrewd and unknowable for the most part.  Then something happens to throw everything up in the air.  What could be more fun?

Is it Science Fiction or Fantasy (from my Patreon page)

As I have noted before, I don’t have a problem mixing non traditional/traditional fantasy ideas with science or science fiction.  My previous examples were of mixing religious views with scientific theories; now I want to mention the trilogy of short stories with the group title of “Dragon Dreams”.

These stories combined many traditional fantasy elements; dragons, magic, and monsters, along with Star Wars level science fiction tropes such as; space ships, aliens, and technology.  However, that is not all.  There is a strong underlying nod to a real scientific theory of parallel universes and extra dimensions.

I know there are many purists out there that do not like their fantasy mixed with their science fiction.  Believe me, I used to be one, but I have over time changed my mind after reading several good examples.  Yeah, I have seen some bad examples; unfortunately, that is part of any genre.  So, later this year when I start uploading the “Dragon Dreams” stories to my Patreon page, I hope you will consider reading my science fiction fantasy series.

P.S.  Anne McCaffery’s “Dragon Riders of Pern” series and Tracy Hickman’s and Margaret Weis’s “Death Gate” series are good examples of genre mixes.

Villainy or How to be Bad Without Really Trying (from my Patreon page)

Well, … huh.  I will admit that I tripped when approaching this subject.  I was going to say that I try to avoid making cardboard cut out villains, but then I remembered using the devil in several stories.  I also remembered that I don’t normally focus on the villain all that much because I usually delve into my character’s reaction to the villain, which may in some ways be a uniqueness to my stories that I did not intentionally strive for.

My characters universally fit into what I view as my reality.  They are people or aliens dealing with situations outside of their control where the villains are not clear-cut.  The villains most often were created beyond their knowledge base.  For instance, King Hadrian in “Sanity” was a manipulative leader used to being one step ahead of his opponents, maybe a little arrogant and foolhardy because of it.  He felt there was no one that could best him.  Unfortunately, he learns the hard way that the villains of this story can destroy his faith in his own abilities.  However, the story also shines a light on a another villain we all fall prey to, fear.  The Thrall, our bad guys in this one, reach into his mind and play with the fears at the core of his being.

In “Sorrow and Remembrance”, the novel I hope to pull together, the villains are the forces set into motion by overly proud and self-righteous people.  Forces that reach out far beyond the immediate area of conflict to engulf innocent bystanders.  Here the forces spread beyond defeating enemies in a war to steal years of life from some and to force others to destroy beauty to protect those they love.  For me this idea is very personal because of my interest in history.  How many of the problems we face today have been created by the choices of others?  How many decisions that we had no say in have become issues that we cannot afford to ignore?

Another enemy I have written about is ourselves.  I wrote a story for my collection called “Stubborn” which details the hellish world the protagonist becomes trapped in that is an externalization of the darker recesses of his mind.  Through the course of traveling this world, without memory, the character must confront the demons he thought he had overcome.  Demons of self loathing, weakness, and guilt.

Finally, in “The Devil’s in the Code”, the obvious villain, the devil, is actually not the villain.  The true villain of the story is human hubris.  Beelzebub is only the catalyst for our penchant for trouble making.  He leads people where they are so willing to go, such as playing with genetics for profit, and lets them hang themselves.  Hell is full of people who thought they were immune to the consequences of their actions, including a pair of investment bankers now living as crows among more powerful hell spawn.  So, yes some of my villains are not very developed in terms of personality, but they are different from the run of the mill.

World Creation (from my Patreon page)

One of the fun aspects of writing any story is creating the world or universe your characters live in.  For example, in “Sensu Learns a Lesson”, while I did not go in-depth into the politics and players of this story, I had to think about a universe that was full of aliens and political intrigue.  Also, I made a beginning into the living and social structures of the Altharians, they lived underground and looked like transparent blue slugs.  The Altharians live in underground structures carved out over millennia by the passage of their ancestors.  They are master spies (their society is completely focused on spying) because of their ability to shape change.  I also began to create a class structure through the mention of royal blood.  If I ever manage to expand this story, I will have to vigorously expand on all these choices.

Another example comes from my story “Lepidoptera” coming up next month.  By the way, for anyone that does not know, lepidoptera is the order name for butterflies (technically moths and butterflies).  I began the world by creating a society of elves similar to Tad William’s Sithi in the series “Memory, Thorn, and Sorrow”.  I wanted that mix of age, wisdom, and magic which his Sithi had.  I also wanted to give the sense that when you entered the lands of my Sindains, you entered a world separate from the rest of the world.  In their lands, the forests move and living spaces are made from the living plants around them.  When Sindains enter the Woods of Calling, the outside world disappears and time runs differently.  Basically, they live constantly with magic.

My final example comes from my story “Sanity”.  In this story I focused on a single world with lots of political intrigue between kingdoms and a powerful outside race that dabbles in this plotting for their own unfathomable reasons.  All the players know something about this race, but none have hard evidence of their goals or methods of achieving them only that they are powerful.  The race is non human, which leaves you wandering if they are part of the world or come from another.  The world in general is a metaphor for our political nature of playing for power where each dog thinks they are at the peak until some bigger dog takes them down.

Half the fun of writing a story is deciding what the underling facts of the universe is then seeing how these affect the interactions of the characters.  An example of world building that affects the actions of the characters is Brandon Sanderson’s Mist Born novels.  The principals set down for the universe are consistent and interesting.  Also, the world is not static as his new books in the series show, meaning that he introduces growth in the society with the introduction of technology.  However, the underlying magic still exists.  Mr. Sanderson seems to enjoy seeing how the invention of technology changes how society looks at those with magic.  How fun is that?

Concept Art Junkie (from my Patreon page)

I admit it whole heartily, I am a concept art junkie.  Movies, video games, and book covers, I love seeing the images that were part of the process in creating them.  Any major science fiction or fantasy movie is loaded with renderings of ideas considered for locations, creatures, and clothing.  “Lord of the Rings” directed by Peter Jackson is a great example of the amount of quality artwork produced to help visualize the story for other artists to create the sets, costumes, and digital creatures.  I love watching all of this on my extended edition extras.

One of my favorite games from my Xbox was “PowerDrome” released by Electronic Arts.  Besides being the best alternative on Xbox for Wipeout, one of the rewards for winning races was the opening of concept art files.  The art for the race track designs turned out to be some very nice science fiction art, in my opinion.  It was full of atmospheric renderings of alien worlds and futuristic race tracks, which were distinct for each world.  Not only were areas of the world worked out but the varying racetrack equipment and vehicles too.

Finally, being a fan of Michael Whelan, I have seen much of his work, including alternate versions of covers he created as part of the process of submitting book covers for approval.  One of my favorites was “Dragon on Board”, which was an alternate cover for Anne McCaffrey’s novel “All the Weyrs of Pern”.  Interestingly enough, this became the cover for another book I believe.  In addition, my collectible card sets art book for Michael Whelan contain several pencil sketches and color studies he did while pondering different projects.  I love looking at them all.  I highly recommend searching out concept artwork from your favorite sources of entertainment.  You might be surprised by what you find.

Color Pencil Study (New $5 reward on my Patreon Page)

This is the explanation of the image I attached for my $5 patrons.

Here is a drawing I did some time ago when I was trying to figure out color pencils over large areas.  This is one of the few color pencil drawings I worked on until completion.  Considering how long ago I made this piece, some parts actually hold up pretty well to what I am doing now, while others fall flat.

The image is from a magazine photo, don’t remember which, of a small bird grasping a branch.  The bird was the focal point with the background being out of focus.  I believe that the bird and branch turned out well, but trying to create the rest of the background over the remaining paper proved to be too challenging for me.

Working on this particular drawing, using the techniques I had learned with lead pencils, was not happening and is the reason so many of my color pencil drawings are left unfinished.  On small detail areas I am good but large areas stump me.  I have since seen many artists use color pencils to great results, but I am not one of them.  However, all in all, this is not a bad picture.  Unfortunately, it is also not a great picture.

Lighting the Scene (from my Patreon page)

I will admit that I am jealous of artists who can depict sources of light credibly in their artwork.  I am not talking about the sun, although this is challenging too, but mechanical forms of light.  Light strips, dial illumination, or screens are examples of what I am talking about.  Strong sources of light in situations where there are lots of reflections and/or atmospheric effects.  I remember many Michael Whelan paintings where the light source had a well-defined shape and yet still depicted the softness associated with the glow most light sources have.

I still work hard to achieve such effects in my paintings.  The easiest way of creating a bright light source is to take a light color and surround it with a very dark source.  But what do you do when you have a strong enough artificial light source to still be seen in a daylight situation?  I haven’t tried that yet, but I have been amazed by artists that can pull off such complex lighting.

I will share one trick that I have learned from using Gimp 2.8.  In my painting “Juliette and Josephus” the diffuse halo of light around the sun was achieved by painting the light color of the sun on a transparent layer above all the layers and then using the smudge tool to thin the color.  If you looked at the layer with a white background, you would hardly see anything.  However, if you put it against a very dark background like I did, you see a soft wash of bright color or a halo around the more solid image of the sun.  The contrast brings out the light color.  I hope to further explore using light washes on layers over different backgrounds after seeing how well this worked.