Final Draft!

Yesterday I finished the second-to-last draft of The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine, which brings me into the final push to get the book published by December. I have a number of readers helping me proofread and polish the manuscript right now; while they comment on the book, I’m going to spend most of November working on illustrations. I’ll fly through the final draft in the last week or two of November, since hopefully I’ll only have small adjustments to make at that point, and then I’ll be ready to start putting it all together! It’s going to be a whirlwind ride, but I’ve always worked best with a deadline, and I’m determined to have the book available well before Christmas.

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the first chapter and the first illustration!

Chapter One

I stepped down from the hansom cab into an ankle-deep slush of snow, soot, and horse leavings. Exactly what my boots needed this morning. “Sorry about that, miss,” said the cabby.

“It’s all right.” With the snow piled in the gutter, he couldn’t have pulled close enough for me to step directly to the sidewalk. I handed him my fare before pulling my boots free of the slush and hopping up onto the clean pavement. The cabby tipped his hat to me and drove away into the dark with one wheel squeaking every time it turned.

“Excuse me, miss,” said someone, and I sidestepped to let a shopkeeper drag a bright-colored display rack onto the sidewalk outside his door. It was about half past seven, and the city was just waking up. I liked starting my day early. In summer, I usually walked to work and watched the shops open on my way, but the chilly winds and lack of sunlight this time of year made taking a cab far more appealing.

“Morning paper, fresh off the press,” called a voice from overhead. Fairy wings buzzed above the streetlamp, glittering as they caught the light, and I flicked a penny in that direction. I heard the paper-boy’s fingers snap it out of the air. He was getting better at catching.

“Morning, Pip,” I said as the fairy boy dropped into the circle of light cast by the streetlight. 

“Morning, Miss Beka.” He landed with a thump and tucked the penny into the pouch around his neck. He’d been growing this winter: he’d match my admittedly unimpressive height if he stopped slouching. I noticed that he’d added mustard-colored fingerless gloves to his usual getup. They clashed with his faded puce jacket and made him look grubbier than usual.

“Let’s have it, then,” I said. “I don’t want to be late for work.”

“You’re an hour early, Miss Beka,” he said with a smile, but he dug a rolled copy of the Eastern Informer from his satchel and handed it over. “It’s all full of that Lord Donovan’s fancy talk,” he said. “Not worth a penny, if you ask me.”

“Maybe not,” I agreed. I tucked the paper under my arm and added, “But be careful who you say that to.” Most people liked Lord Donovan’s “fancy talk,” and most people wouldn’t want to hear a fairy’s opinion about it.

The antennae above Pip’s pointed ears twitched. He opened his mouth, then thought better of whatever he meant to say. “Have a good day, Miss Beka,” he said, then tugged the brim of his shapeless cap and sprang back into the air. His wings spread in a humming silvery blur behind him, and he darted up the street, vanishing in the dark for a moment before reappearing dimly above the next streetlamp.

Release Dates!

Ever since my decision to self-publish, I’ve been working hard on editing and illustrating my current writing project, and I’ve finally been able to nail down release dates! It’s a daunting step to make the plan public and lock myself into the schedule I’ve set, but here we go.

First I’ll be releasing a short story, “Magic and Motor-Cars, or How a Fairy Moved Up in the World.” Pretty Pinchworth, a young fairy girl from a poor family, is determined to do whatever it takes to learn how to drive a newly invented magical motor-car and earn a better place for herself in life. Along the way, she gains more than just a new skill. The text version of this story will be available for free on Kindle and on my website on October 3, just two weeks from today! The audio recording will be available for free on Audible on October 17.

At the end of the year, I’ll be releasing my first novel, The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine. Steam technology is being replaced by powerful new engines fueled by dragon bones and operated by fairies. But change never comes easily. When a dragon-bone locomotive mysteriously explodes, the Royal Investigative Service sends Agents Beka Finley and Lester Donovan to find the culprit. Their investigation leads them into a maze of corporate rivalries, politics, and fairy rights activism, and they quickly realize that the destruction of a train is only the beginning of a much larger chain of events. If everything goes to plan, the Kindle and print versions of this novel will be for sale on Amazon starting December 5, with the Audible version available for purchase on December 19.

I’m really excited to finally finish a writing project and send it out into the world! I’ll be posting previews of illustrations and updates about my final draft, layout, and audio recording process on social media. If you’re interested in keeping up with my progress, follow my writing on facebook or instagram.

On Publication

After years of practice writing and partial drafts, I finally have a complete book that’s (almost) ready to go out into the world, so I’ve been thinking a lot about publication recently. In particular, I’ve been looking at the big dilemma that authors face these days: do I submit to publishing companies or do I self-publish? Self-publishing used to be a less legitimate and less successful option, but the industry has changed a great deal, and plenty of authors have had great success publishing on Amazon and similar platforms.

After a lot of research, I realized that the big advantages of traditional publishing aren’t as big as they used to be. A publishing house ensures that your book ends up on bookstore shelves — but less than 30% of book sales take place in physical bookstores these days. A publishing house markets your book — but only a little bit, and in most cases still expects the author to handle the book’s publicity. A publishing house gives you a chance at becoming an official bestseller — but bestseller lists are curated and don’t always reflect actual sales numbers. A publishing house does your formatting and cover design for you — but as an artist, I’d really prefer to do all that myself.

In a way, self-publishing is a lot more work. It means I’ll be entirely responsible for editing, formatting, cover design, release schedule, publicity, social media, marketing, talking to local bookstores about carrying copies, and more. But it also means I won’t have to wait months to hear back from publishers, I won’t have to worry about contract details or deadlines, and I won’t have to get permission from my publisher to release excerpts, details, or extra material from my stories. It might be harder to sell large numbers of books on my own, but I’ll get a much higher percentage of the sale price for each book.

It’s hard to let go of the sense of legitimacy that still accompanies traditional publication, and it’s daunting to commit to the amount of work required for self-publication. But after looking at all the pros and cons, double checking my research, and praying over the options (and checking my research again, and second-guessing myself, and doing just a little more research) I’ve decided to take a shot at self-publication. If it doesn’t work out, I can always try submitting later books to publishing houses, but for now, I’m pressing forward on my own.

I’m starting to get really excited about the process. I’ve been working hard on my current, hopefully penultimate, draft and started looking for a final set of beta readers. (If you’re interested in beta reading, let me know!) I’ve started scheduling and setting deadlines for releasing my book. I’ve already had experience doing editing, layout, and cover design for other self-published authors, so I know what to do on that front. Running my art business these past few years has taught me a lot about publicity and finding my audience, so I have a lot of ideas for that side of things. I think I’m as ready as I’m ever likely to be, so here goes!

Style Quest

I had the incredible privilege this past weekend of receiving some critique and advice on my artwork from the amazing artists Dan dos Santos and Howard Lyon when I met them at Jordan Con. One of the biggest things they said was that I need to find my style or my artistic language: I’ve been exploring various media and styles, and as a result my art looks like the work of several different artists. They advised me to find the style that appeals to me most powerfully and pursue it with more rigour and focus.

So I’ve decided to sit down and look at some of my favorite paintings in hopes of pinning down what specific aspects I admire and want to emulate. I’ll start with a few examples of Dan and Howard’s work that I particularly like.

These are all realistic portraits with less realistic poses. I find Vev and the Dragon Empress especially appealing in this regard. Neither is making a natural gesture: both are clearly posed, but in very meaningful ways. I love the iconographic look of the Vev image, with her symbolic objects in her hands, while the Dragon Empress is using exaggerated body language to reveal character.

I’m also strongly drawn to the contrast of darkness with bright, saturated colours. The blue glow and red hair in the Angel of Finality, the yellow framing Jesus in From Fear to Faith, and the light shining through the Dragon Empress’ ears keep catching my eye. The chiaroscuro in Shiva’s Crown is a very different effect, but equally striking. I also love the contrast formed not only by the black and white/prismatic parts of Lightweaver, but also by the realistic and abstract/geometric parts. This is my favourite of the six images above, and I think it’s because it mixes very realistic and very minimalistic styles.

I also find that I prefer the extremely simple (or, in the case of Shiva’s Crown, nonexistent) backgrounds in Dan dos Santos’ pieces, and of the backgrounds in Howard’s pieces, my favorite is the relatively simple and very geometric pillars and window around Vev.

Here are a handful of others pictures that have caught my attention over the past few years.

Again, it seems I’ve been drawn to realistic portraits with dramatised, character-revealing poses. A lot of these are very dark with bright splashes of color, and several have either minimal or abstracted backgrounds. I’ve always loved Caravaggio’s use of light and color; I’ve also always enjoyed the deliberate and symbolic poses in medieval iconography.

Finally, here are a few of my own pictures that other people have selected as my best work. The first one is several years old and has its share of issues, but people continue to tell me it’s one of my more striking pieces. The others are recent, and the third one, Dan dos Santos and Howard Lyon both pointed out as being far better than anything else in my display at Jordan Con.

And what do you know, all of these are portraits, the middle one with a very dramatic pose, all of them are mainly dark with bright contrasting colors or lighting, and all of them have simple backgrounds. Incidentally, all three of these are also digital paintings. I spend so much time playing with different media, styles, and colors, but I think it’s time to focus a little more closely on the stylistic aspects that both appeal to me in other people’s art and seem most successful in my own art. I’m going to start working on a series of images, some digital and some in traditional media, that specifically incorporate these stylistic aspects I’ve identified. Hopefully, I’ll end up more clearly identifying and beginning to refine my distinct art style.