Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Question . . .

So I have a question for all of you. I am putting together plans for the next couple of giveaways. And I was noticing all over again how many of you are writers! Would there be interest among you for a Fan Fiction contest in the spirit of the Fan Art contest recently hosted?

Fan fiction would include all sorts of fiction: short stories, poetry, vignettes, etc. Comics, even! An opportunity for you to express yourselves creatively in the written word and possibly win free books (including Starflower) in the process!

If I get at least six responses, I'll host it this summer. What do you think? Are you interested?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Your Weekly Fairy

Iubdan and Bebo

Those of you who have read the Tales of Goldstone Wood will recognize these names. But did you know that Iubdan and Bebo have an ancient and magical literary history that goes far beyond my own small works?

That's right! The King and Queen of Rudiobus from my world have in fact ruled the Wee Folk of Celtic mythology for generations! But they were not always quite so noble back then (though really, who are we to judge the "nobility" of fey folk?).

Here is the beginning of their story:

"In the kingdom of Lepra and the Lepracaun, which lies in the far, fair north, the saying was, at the time, 'A noble king is Iubdan, one whose form undergoes no change, and who has no need to strive for wisdom.' Alone, of all the people of Lepra, their king had jet-black hair . . . Bebo the queen, loveliest of the women of Lepra, whose goodly talk held nothing of arrogance, though much of mischief and play, sat on the king's right hand. She called her husband 'the Dark Man.' Her own yellow-gold hair hung to her ankles in thick braids threaded with jewels."
"The Story of Iubdan, King of the Lepra and the Lepracaun"

Iubdan is a terrible braggart. As a mighty king, and an immortal, he thought himself the biggest, brightest, bravest that ever lived.

Inclined to talk, the king stood up.
"Have you," he said, looking about him, "ever seen a king better than myself?"
"We have not!" They spoke with one accord.
"Men of battle, who ride a bridle-wearing army of strong, headlong horses, have you ever seen better than those here tonight?"
"By our word! We never have!"

But Iubdan's chief poet (yes, he has a chief poet!), decides that Iubdan might need to be taught a lesson.

The chief poet burst out laughing, and his poet's wand made a merry, scornful sound. Surprised and angered, the king turned to him. "Eshirt!" There was silence in the hall. "Eshirt, why do you laugh?"

The poet Eshirt goes on to tell his king of a land in the north that is full of giants. Surely the king of these giants must be mightier by far than Iubdan of the Wee Folk!

Determined to see these sights for himself, Iubdan sets out with Queen Bebo at his side to investigate the world of these giants and, specifically, to try the porridge of King Fergus Mac Leda. Unfortunately, Iubdan takes a tumble right into that bowl of porridge:

Desperately, Iubdan calls out to his wife: "O fair-haired woman of desire, gyves hold me in this viscous mass. Bebo! Fly from here. Dawn is at hand. My leg sticks in the doughy remnant. If you stay here, you are foolish, Bebo. Fly now, to the land of the Lepracaun. Take back my horse."

But Bebo called to him, "Never! I will surely not depart until I see what turn events shall take for you."

So come morning, both Iubdan and Bebo are captured by King Fergus. No amount of ransom offered can move this mortal king to release his fairy captives. But the Wee Folk were not about to take this insult lying down. They began to plague the mortals of that realm. Milk became scarce, rivers and wells were polluted, mills burned, and at night, the hair of men and women was entirely cut off! After a year and a day (I do love that literary type, seen also in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and my own Veiled Rose),  they even marched out to demand their king's release!

Headed, I'm sure, by: "Glomar, son of Glas, the greatest warrior in the land, whose feat it was to hew down a thistle at a single stroke." A brave soldier is Glomar!

But Fergus, despite these threats and provocations, agreed only to give up Iubdan in exchange for Iubdan's great treasure, a pair of magic, golden shoes: "Whoever wore these shoes was able to travel across the surface of water as if walking on dry land, and when Fergus Mac Leda put them on they grew to fit his feet exactly."

Though reluctant, Iubdan agreed, and was at last returned, along with Queen Bebo, to his own home.

There are so many elements of this legend that have found their way into my own incarnation of Iubdan and Bebo, and those of you who have read Moonblood will recognize many. The king and queen themselves, of course. But also, many of you will recognize Poet Eshirt:

Yes, he is the original inspiration of my own, rather cheeky, Poet Eanrin, chief poet of Iubdan, and my own personal favorite character. I did not much care for the name Eshirt (thus the change to Eanrin), but the basic character remains the same . . . with the addition of his ability to take the form of a golden cat!

Other features that will be familiar include Iubdan's horse:

". . . the animal came ashore and galloped toward them, and it had four green legs, and a long tail that floated away in wavy crimson curls. Two red flashing eyes and an exquisite pure crimson mane, and on its head was a golden jewel-encrusted bridle."

In the original story, this horse is so small, no one believes they can ride it . . . but when they mount, they find they fit perfectly, and Iubdan's steed can bear their weight and far, far more with ease!

Iubdan has made his way through the fictional world in several iterations. One version of him (renamed "King Brian") is found in the Disney film Darby O'Gill and the Little People. Just like in the original story, when this Lepra King is kidnapped, terrible things begin to happen throughout the mortal world as the Leprachauns strive to get him back!

 Here is the hall of the Lepra King. Perhaps an inspiration for my own Ruaine Hall in Rudiobus?

You can watch the Wee Folk dancing here, if you like.

And keep your eyes open for King Iubdan and Queen Bebo. They will emerge in surprising places, for Celtic mythology permeates our literary culture . . . often in ways we could never begin guess. Feel free to nab them and use them for your own stories, extending their fictional reach farther still. Is that not the beauty of fiction and literature? This opportunity to stretch out our hands and touch ancient days through stories?

For fairies and fairy tales will live on long after we are gone . . .

Monday, May 28, 2012

And We Have a Winner

I am quite certain you are all on the edges of your subsequent seats to learn the winner of this last week's name-drawing.

So, without further ado, the young woman who won a free autographed copy of Moonblood is . . . .


And I do have to say, I smiled big when her name came up on the randomizer! Doesn't this picture just make you want to giggle?

So go ahead and email me your mailing address, Tea, and I'll get your winnings off to you shortly. Say a quick congrats to our winner, and thanks to everyone for your submissions! There were a bunch of adorable images submitted!

Keep your eyes open for more fun giveaways I'll be hosting this summer. LOTS of opportunities to win free books coming up.

Enjoy your Memorial Day, my dears, and don't forget to thank those brave men and women who serve our nation and to remember those who've lost their lives for your freedom.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Oh! The Randomness of Research

Those of you who write probably know what I'm talking about already.

Those of you who don't, well . . . let me give you some insight into the strange workings of the Writer's Life. Specifically, research. Very specifically, research for a fantasy novel.

I have never written a historical, but I have a fairly good idea what that looks like. While I was growing up, my mother pursued a successful career as a short historical romance novelist (you can see some of her works listed here). I have vivid memories of her seated on the couch with piles of research books all around her and a notepad in her lap. I remember the eye-widening horror that crossed her face during some of the reading (Wow, those Tudors were crazy folks!), or the bursts of sudden laughter at others (looking-for-love letters in 1800s are at least as funny as online dating profiles today!).

This type of research made a lot of sense. You get your story idea; you select a time period that suits it; you order the books, you make your notes, you write your story and, hey presto! You have a book.

Just not quite how it works in the fantasy world, is it?

Not that I haven't pulled out my own piles of research books. For my recently-written Book 5, Dragonwitch (working title), I had out books on the Norman Conquest, James Frazer's The Golden Bough, a work or two on the life medieval peasants (which I didn't end up using), and others. But do you know what ended up being one of the most interesting bits of research I did for this novel?

Night terrors.

This weird sleep phenomenon possibly runs in families, though the mind in sleep is difficult to research, so no one knows for certain. Members of my family get them, some more regularly than others. I had them myself as a child, but nothing quite like what I've experienced in recent history!

Night terrors are a dream state, different from nightmares in that they happen during the first few hours of sleep, the NREM stage (non-rapid eye movement stage). While nightmares happen fairly often for most people, only 1% of adults experience night terrors in their lifetime!

What it is, on a broad scale, is an overwhelming feeling of utter terror that comes upon a sleeper in the night, without provocation, but with very, very real sensations that often include hallucinations. Many people scream when they experience them. Most people don't recall ever having them and simply feel unrested the morning after. But there those precious few who remain completely lucid through the whole thing.

I am one of those. Lucky me!

Actually, odd as it may sound, I ended up being rather grateful recently when I experienced the second of my lucid night terrors. During the episode, I was more terrified than I have ever been in my entire life. My heart rate must have been through the roof, and it was sore in my chest the whole of the next day. During the episode, I felt what seemed to be electric explosions in the front of my brain. I was so terrified, beyond all reason terrified, that I opened my mouth and tried to scream. But my throat closed up. I was literally scared speechless.

Then it passed. I was awake. My husband slept sweetly beside me. There was nothing in the room to fear. Nothing whatsoever.

I lay for some time, my heart racing out of control, and I thought to myself, "Wow. That's just what I need to make that one plot point in Dragonwitch believable."

Yeah. Such a writer.

But, as many of you who have read my series know, dreams are a very important, recurring element of my work. The Lady of Dreams Realized and her brother, the Death of Dreams, are my primary two antagonists. So you know what? Night terrors. Research! Fantastic research, just what I needed for my novel!

I got up the next day and read up on this parasomnia disorder (isn't that an intimidating phrase?), talked to family members to see who among them have experienced it as well. This was the practical side of research. But I have found for my work, the actual live experience, while not always as much fun, often produces the best results when it comes to writing "convincing fantasy."

This was true when it came time for those fencing scenes in Heartless. Sure, I could read up on fencing and pour over famous swashbuckler novels. But it was in the going and doing of the sport that I felt I was able to bring an authenticity to those scenes in my novel.

The problem with fantasy is that there are so many otherworldly elements that you really can't go out and experience firsthand. This makes it even more important to be sensitive to your daily experiences, to see the supernatural in the everyday, to know how to take and twist (just a little bit) something completely ordinary so that you can see the extraordinary within.

Well, I suppose night terrors are in and of themselves plenty extraordinary . . . The point is not to take experiences like that and say, "That stinks. I hope that never happens again," but instead to say, "Wow! What an interesting thing just happened to me that I would rather not happen again but, hey! I can use that!"

Bad experiences like heartbreak, like loss of a job, like an ornery sibling, like a broken limb, like . . . you name it! These are the things that, once taken and reoriented slightly, will make a fantasy story--with all its dragons and magic and other worlds--sing with honest realism.

So your turn. What sort of "random research" have you experienced? What interesting, odd, or unfortunate happenings have played into your work? I'm very curious!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Your Weekly Fairy

Jenny Greenteeth

The time has come, my friends, to meet one of the more horrible fairies. Queen Mab is an odd one, and Tinkerbell has her temper. But neither of them hold a candle to the malevolent evil that is Jenny Greenteeth!

Dangerous water fairies, mermaids, and sirens are popular figures in mythologies and folklore. We are familiar with these beauties, seductive and aluring. Jenny Greenteeth, however, is not among their number!

An ugly hag-like being, Jenny skulks through English folklore, lying in wait beneath lakes, ponds, or riverbeds to pull unsuspecting children or the elderly to their deaths!


She came into being originally, some say, as a warning to children to keep them away from treacherous waters. To this day, Jenny Greenteeth is another name for pondweed, which forms a mat over the surface of still water, misleading the unwary into thinking it is solid ground . . . a wet and possibly deadly mistake to make! What terrible legacy for this fairy to leave behind.

One of Jenny's counterparts is the Slavic Rusalka:

But Rusalka is supposed to be a type of ghost, while Jenny is no ghost but her own horrible person. Another counterpart might be the Japanese Kappa:

This scaly fairy is far less human than the hag-like Jenny, however. Even less like her is the Aboriginal Bunyip, yet another creature of folklore that lurks in dangerous waters.

But Jenny is distinct from all of these. Perhaps, rather than a mere story to scare away children, she is instead a remnant memory of darker times in English history, ancient times when sacrifices were made to fierce entities? She may be more like the Grendel's ogre mother from Beowulf than like any other fairy beast we know!

Jenny Greenteeth has made several more recent appearances in fiction. She made quite a sight of herself in the Ridley Scott film, Legend, under the name "Meg Mucklebones." You can see her moment of creepy glory for yourself here!

How disappointing to be slain by Tom Cruise in a gold disco dress . . .

Jenny also swam onto the pages of Sir Terry Pratchett's wonderful The Wee Free Men, where our bold heroine, Tiffany Aching, does a number on her with a frying pan. (Take that, any and all who try to pick on a heroine's baby brother . . . no matter how sticky and annoying that baby brother may be!)

All this to say, do be careful, my dears, when you approach the water. Those ripples you see drawing near? That might not be a fish or turtle!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Who Likes Free Books? -- Moonblood Name-Drawing

Hello, dear readers! I think the time has come for another name-drawing, don't you?

Anyone who would like to participate, it's REALLY simple this time. All you have to do is email me a picture of yourself reading one of the Tales of Goldstone Wood in an interesting place. This can be your favorite reading window, up a tree, some historical location in your town, a coffee shop . . . anywhere at all!


1. Don't participate if you don't want your picture going up on my blog. I will post at least the winner and his/her first name only. (If it makes you more comfortable, you don't have to show your face!)

2. This is not a contest, just a name-drawing, so have fun and no stress!

3. The winner will receive a signed copy of Moonblood.

4. You have one week to participate! The winner will be announced Monday, May 28th. So get those pictures too me:

Camera made my eyes a little red . . .

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Drawing for Kathleen

Kathleen, our second place winner from the Fan Art Contest, asked me recently for some drawing tips. Well, it's hard to give tips in words only, so I thought, "Hey! Why not draw her a picture?"

It's been some time since I sat down and did any art whatsoever, so my skills are a bit rough. However, I thought I would share with you (and especially you, Kathleen) a little bit of what I know about the beautiful, wonderful world of illustration.

I decided to do an illustrative portrait of my heroine in the upcoming novel Starflower. First of all, I brainstormed for ideas.

These little sketches are called "thumbnail sketches." They are tiny and rough, with almost no details. They are simply ideas for how I might like to arrange my picture and what elements I might like to include. Never spend more than a minute or two on your thumbnail sketches!

The first two up top I didn't like so well. The bottom two, however, look a little more interesting.

Again, the two on the far right just don't quite do it for me. But hey, worth the try, right?

Wow, this last one has some real drama! And it stands out from the others for being horizontal rather than vertical.

After this stage, I pick a couple that I like and sketch them on a larger scale with more detail.

Now I can make some more definite decisions on what I like and what I don't before committing to a project.

#1: I like the composition, but I'm not wild about the girl's pose. She looks too "Tough Girl," almost Superwoman. While my heroine is a strong cookie, she's not a "tough girl" per se. So that one . . . nah.

#2: I really love the drama of her face there! It's very focused on my heroine and her vulnerability. However, I feel I've lost her sense of strength. She is very vulnerable through most of this story, but she's strong too, and I'd like a portrait to reflect that.

I decided to do two more.

#3: I tried one of the thumbnails I didn't care for as much . . . after all, I might like it better on a larger scale! Turns out I don't, however. Too focused on the wolf, and the girl looks a little "posy" again, not natural.

#4: I really like this one! Very focused on her, vulnerable, yet strong. The position is natural. The sense that she's looking over her shoulder gives a bit of tension--like she's unwillingly turning her back on something, perhaps. The composition is pretty good too. I think I'll go with this one!

Now it's time to prep my paper--give myself half-inch margins--and sketch in "blobs."

When you're beginning to arrange your composition on your page, you don't want to waste a lot of time in details that will most likely need to be erased! So sketch blobs of roughly the correct size and shape where you're going to want your figures. I had to move mine around a little bit, and I was glad that I DREW VERY LIGHTLY with a HB pencil so that I left no marks when I needed to erase.

Always draw lightly until you're certain you have what you want!

Now I begin very carefully defining my shapes. I do this more with shadows than with actual lines. You see the shape of the shadow under her chin and around the side of her face? Because I darkened that, the line of her face pops out and becomes defined, but I didn't have to actually draw that line.  This is a great trick for creating depth (not to mention accuracy) in your sketches.

Remember again, draw lightly!!!

Here you see a little more definition. I manipulated the photo so that you could see more clearly, but in reality, I sketched in her features very, very lightly (have I emphasized that enough yet?). I don't get caught up in this stage working on too many details for her. There is a LOT of picture yet to go, and I want to get it all roughed in before I start detailing!

Oooh, our big bad wolf is taking shape! Again, you'll notice that I use very few actual lines to define him. I use my pencil almost like a paint brush, quickly applying large areas of shadow and letting the shadows define his shape. Because I want to create a sense of rugged wildness in this character, I use a very loose, sketchy stroke as well. Nothing is too neat.

Hmmm, but his eyes are looking a wee bit close together, aren't they?

There. I've changed the shape of the Wolf Lord's ears . . . not accurate to my photo, but more "fantasy" looking, I think. Photos are for reference, but you don't have to follow them exactly! I've added some mysterious woods in the background. Again, notice how light and sketchy they are. No defined lines. There is no one way to draw a tree, so I feel it's best to keep them very loose and almost ragged looking. Creates a more natural sense.

Along the bottom, you can see a little swirly-motif. This is a design I came up with my sophomore year of college, and I like to use it in my illustrations as a little stylistic signature. I also decided--since this is an illustrative portrait--to add a title in that empty space using a loose, natural-looking script that matches the natural pencil lines of her hair, the wolf's fur, and the swirls.

All right, here you see me actually committing to these shadows! I'm still only using a 2B pencil, however. It looks dark compared to how light everything else is, but it's still light enough that I can erase if I choose too.

The key to a really convincing piece is finding your darkest places and pushing those darks as far as you can. That leaves lots of room for variation in your shadows. Look at all the different shades going on in the Wolf Lord. Because I pushed the darkest places so dark, there are lots of medium tones and then his eyes pop out for being white.

Developing her hair. Because her hair is black and the background is as well, I could run into problems of definition. But because I use a very fluid, long line for her hair, it stands out from the jagged dark background. I also am careful to leave strong highlights in her hair so that it has a glossy texture.

Here you can see the text beginning to emerge. And the swirlies are getting lots of fun definition! I like them. I used to decorate the edges of all my notebook pages with those swirls.

The fade-to-black background works here because of the jagged lines I used to create a sense of texture even though, technically, it's "just dark." You don't want to lose the wild ruggedness that is so part of the mood. Even your backdrop needs to fit with the theme! So experiment with lots of varied directions and widths of line while filling in dark patches. Try cross-hatching, even. Avoid "smudging" as much as possible since that can just look messy.

Keep your pencil sharp. It's much easier to work with!

Also, to protect your picture from your own hand smearing the graphite, use a paper towel and place it under your drawing hand as you work. Makes a big difference, believe me, and you don't have to erase nearly as many smudges!

All right! This is as far as I've taken it for now. This is still only using an HB through a 2B pencil, which is not very dark. If I was a little less lazy (ahem!), I could take this piece through many more levels of shading, up to a 8B or even a 12B pencil, which is a VERY soft led that is practically ink black. I might still do that with this piece, but . . . not today!

From beginning to end, this took me about 3 1/2 hours (I'm out of practice!). The piece itself is not very big, only 9"x12".

The main things to take away from this little art lesson are the following:

1. Thumbnail ideas before committing to a project. Solves a lot of composition problems before they happen!

2. Use "blobs" to arrange all your key elements on your page before beginning to sketch actual objects.

3. Draw LIGHTLY!!!!!! Because the fact is, you will make mistakes! And you will want to fix them! So draw lightly so that you can erase without leaving marks.

4. When you're certain you've got things where you want them, then go for it with your shadows. Put those darkest shadows in place first and keep darkening them throughout the process as you add more and lighter shadows.

5. Use shadows to create shape. Don't depend on line alone.

6. Photo references are a tool to help you . . . but you do not have to make your picture look exactly like the photo (unless you're doing a portrait in which case, well, maybe a little more so).

That was for you, Kathleen! And for the rest of you as well. Let me know if you have any questions at all about this piece or my process. It's been a couple years now since I taught art classes, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeve!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Your Weekly Fairy

Sugar Plum Fairy

This dainty beauty has become a familiar figure for Christmastime festivities, accompanied always (in my mind at least) by the most wonderful theme song a fairy ever had! After all, what other fairy (save for the evil fairy from Sleeping Beauty) can boast a theme song written by the incomparable Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky?

I first became familiar with the Sugar Plum Fairy's haunting theme when I was a child via Disney's beautiful animated short. Here we do not see the Sugar Plum Fairy herself, but rather many colorful flower fairies, lighting up a garden of flowers with dewdrop lights. As a little girl, I found it thoroughly engrossing, and I give much credit to this short for the deep-rooted love of Tchaikovsky I know today. (And can you believe how gorgeous this hand-drawn animation is?)

The little fairies were cute . . .

 if rather poorly dressed . . .

It was years later before I encountered the Sugar Plum Fairy herself, however. She is a wondrous, otherworldly creature, one of the best-known and best-loved  fairies to this day. Every year at Christmas, thousands upon thousands of people experience her beauty and grace via Tchaikovsky's magical Nutcracker Ballet.

I have seen this incarnation of her (represented by the lovely Margaret Severin-Hansen) twice at the Carolina Ballet. Though I know the music by heart, I never cease to be amazed hearing Tchaikovsky's work. It takes my breath away to see the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing with her cavalier to this magnificent song. It starts out softly enough . . . but oh, how it builds in majesty and romantic grandeur! Take a few minutes out of your day and listen to it for yourself.

Handsome and me, dressed up to attend
the Nutcracker performance!

This fairy's story is simple enough. When brave young Clara rescues the Nutcracker Prince from the evil Mouse King's spell, all of the Land of Sweets celebrate the victory! Led by the Sugar Plum Fairy herself, they dance and perform in Clara's honor. And none is so beautiful as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

My other childhood memory of this beauty came when I was a little older, nine years old perhaps. The present I wanted More Than Anything that Christmas was the gorgeous Sugar Plum Fairy Barbie doll being promoted that year. Oh, how I longed for her!

This was rather odd, for I was far more inclined to play G.I. Joes with my brothers than with Barbie Dolls. But really, looking at that stunning doll above, can you blame me? She lived for many, many years on display in my room, long after I had grown "too old" for dolls. What a loved fairy she was!

That being said, I never did watch the Barbie Nutcracker movie. I'm sure it was adorable, but Barbie movies have never been so much for me!

So tell me, dear readers, have you ever had the opportunity to see the Sugar Plum Fairy fly across a ballet stage? If so, do tell me about it!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fan Art Submissions: Tenth Selection

Here, my friends, we have the last of the submissions sent in for this fan art contest. And, I must admit, these are among my very favorites!

Time to Think
Acrylic on Paper
Artist: Ameri
Age 15

Una's Faces
Graphite on Paper
Artist: Anna
Age 29

What Mousehand Saw
Colored Pencil
Artist: Erin
Age 28

And so it ends.

I do hope you all enjoyed this last week and a half of beautiful, quirky, humorous, and imaginative creativity. This has been a fun contest for me, and I hope it was for all of you as well!

Keep your eyes open for more Tales of Goldstone Wood giveaways in the future . . .

In the meanwhile, I'll be getting back to the Your Weekly Fairy series at long last! Watch for it next Tuesday.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fan Art Submissions: Ninth Selection

I must admit, I think it's wonderful that one artist took me up on the challenge to submit stick figures! And these are, you have to admit, some pretty fabulous stick figures . . .