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SJ Reads: Steal Like an Artist/Show Your Work

Published November 6, 2017 by admin

Since so many people are doing Nanowrimo, I thought it might be interesting to focus SJ Reads this month on books about writing and creating. I know, way to get original, amirite?

Anywho, let’s start with something light and easy.

I’d had the books of Austin Kleon recommended to me before, but because I am a stubborn beast, I put off reading them. Which I shouldn’t have, because they’re really easy to get through. Deceptively so. They’re the type of books that you can read in a sitting, then immediately have to reread so you can get the full effect.

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I really like how empowering this book is, plus his unique approach to his own art and writing is really fun to look at. Kleon discusses how he came upon his technique, plus he walks people through what it really means to be an artist with the obvious experience of someone who’s been there. There are some nuts and bolts things, but there’s also a lot of positivity and encouragement, something that artists of all types just don’t always get enough of. Based on an address to college students, this book is filled with great material that a reader can go back to over and over again. The words are also the graphics, so there’s a lot to take in visually from an actual artistic perspective, as well. This is something that’s really nice for people who are starting to get into their career, or who may need a pick-me-up.  It’s nothing to do with specific technique so much as it is helping you lay out your journey and not feel so alone. Get it here!

show your work

This one is more about marketing (though it’s not really based around that concept). This leads with the idea that generosity and using a network trump networking. Admittedly, this one has been harder to stay with, not because I necessarily disagree with it, but either I haven’t been in the right frame of mind each time I go to read it, or it just doesn’t flow as well as the first book. It does feel like there’s a little more nitty gritty to this one, so it’s a title I plan on going back to. Definitely worth a look, as well. Get it here!

 

 

 

 

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SJ Reads: Hester

Published October 30, 2017 by admin

Time to round out the month with another nostalgic Halloween read! This week’s pick will be one of my favorites from when I was a kidlet, and likely one that only people who date back to bronze age (like me) will remember. I give you: Hester.

 

Hester

 

Hester is an alligator who’s getting ready for her Halloween party, but has time to spare. She goes out trick-or-treating, but ends up at a house that is owned by a very nice older lady and her friends. Since this book isn’t easy to find and has been out forever, spoilers ahead:

Hester totally trick or treats at a haunted house, but it’s full of nice monsters who are happy to have a visitor (and if memory serves, they let her in because she’s dressed as a witch, herself). There’s also a vignette where she helps the older lady (a witch) with some broom issues.

This is a super-cute book with some really vibrant and vivid illustrations. I remember checking out this particular title all year round as a kid, because I had a thing for exploring haunted houses (and this book is probably responsible for me thinking that any inhabitants of such houses would be a friendly delight, setting up my childhood mind to get wrecked by adverts for horror movies later on). The illustrations really give you room to explore – there’s some good detail which led to a great deal of imagining on my part as a kid.

I like this story because it’s somewhat gentle, with Hester soothing and helping out the haunted house inhabitants. They’re never really referred to as anything other than a nice old lady/nice people, so the book relies fully on the illustrations to convey the “joke.” Still, if you also look at it from the standpoint that they could very well be nice people except for the prejudices that are put on them (thanks horror genre), it’s interesting from that angle, as well.

Over all, a cute, fun, Halloween read that will give kids a lot to explore and give adults a chuckle. Unfortunately, it’s out of print, and while it’s a little easier to find than last week’s title, you’re going to end up paying for it.  I would definitely recommend checking out your local library system for it, because it is definitely worth a flip through.

 

 

Guest Post: Dusk’s Warriors by Emerian Rich

Published October 25, 2017 by admin

So today we’re bringin’ back the guest post for one of my favoite fiends, Emerian Rich!

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What would you do if you could create anything your imagination could think up?
I don’t know about you, but as an artist, I’m often frustrated at the fact that I can’t create exactly what I see in my head. The disconnect between what we can imagine and what my artistic limitations are is something I struggle with as much as the next artist. No wonder artists create one master piece per 3-5 duds that are kept in the workshop, never to see the light of day (or possible purchased by mom).

I was so excited when I decided the gods of my world in Dusk’s Warriors would be able to conjure whatever their imaginations could think up. At last! I would be able to create out of nothing, everything I imagined. But as I sat in front of my blank page and attempted to put those words to paper, I drew a blank. Is the perfection of having carte blanche too much freedom? And how was I to now create in words what I could not create in art?

Once I slapped myself for putting too much pressure on, I figured out a way to bring the joy of conjuring to life. I closed my eyes, turned on my phone voice recorder, and pretended I was Severina, standing in front of her new world. As I imagined conjuring the land of Dusk in my imagination, I spoke aloud what I was seeing in my mind’s eye. I’ve placed an excerpt of conjuring from the book below.

So next time you are struggling with a project, be it art, writing, or music… Take a moment and think about it in another way. Could you write a poem about the piece to convey the emotion you feel? Can you create a song about a writing project? And when you go back after trying it another way, will it come more easily?

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Dusk’s Warriors by Emerian Rich

Heaven has opened up and welcomed the vampires of Night’s Knights into a new reality. As they struggle to find their place in their new world, trouble brews on Earth.

Demon servant, Ridge, is causing havoc by gathering up all the souls on Earth that have been touched by immortality. When he injures one of the Night’s Knights crew, he launches a war between the vampires of Heaven, the Big Bad in Hell, and a mortal street gang of vigilante misfits.

Will Julien, Markham, and Reidar be able to defeat the evil that’s returned, or will they once again need Jespa’s help?

Praise for Dusk’s Warriors:

“All hail, the queen of Night’s Knights has returned! Emerian Rich’s unique take on vampires delights my black little heart.” ~Dan Shuarette, Lilith’s Love

“A world of horror with realistic characters in a fast paced thriller you won’t be able to put down.”

~David Watson, The All Night Library

Praise for Night’s Knights:

“Fresh, original, and thoroughly entertaining.” ~Mark Eller, Traitor

“Emerian brought the Vampire Novel back from the dead.” ~C. E. Dorsett, Shine Like Thunder

Available now at Amazon.com in print and eBook

https://www.amazon.com/Dusks-Warriors-Nights-Knights-Vampire/dp/1544628803

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Emerian Rich is an artist, horror host, and author of the vampire series, Night’s Knights. She is the hostess of the internationally acclaimed podcast, HorrorAddicts.net. Under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal, she writes the musical romance series, Sweet Dreams and she’s the Editorial Director for the Bay Area magazine, SEARCH. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

 

 

SJ Reads: Harriet’s Halloween Candy

Published October 9, 2017 by admin

Alright, time to cutesie this thing back up.

You can’t have Halloween without candy, and if we’re being honest, then that’s just buckets and buckets of candy. So much candy. As a kid, I’d dream of getting enough Hallowen candy to swim in it like Scrooge McDuck in his money. I had some good hauls back in the day, and I’m ancient enough to remember when more than the ocassional person gave out full size candy bars and really special neighbors who we knew wouldn’t murder us would give us cookies and candy apples and stuff like that. My mom always had juice bottles for little kids, and through the years we made it a point to have non-food options decades before teal pumpkins were a thing.

And every year, I had to check out and read this book.

harriet

 

I don’t know if I identified with the being the older sibling aspect (which I’m not sure, because I didn’t start out life as the elder sibling – that didn’t happen til somewhat late in the game, considering). I don’t know if the detailed art just really appealed to me (I definitely loved looking at all the little details as a kid and identifying the types of candy).  Maybe it was because, for a kid’s book, Harriet struck me as a character who actually acted like the way I felt half the time.

The story is that Harriet goes trick or treating, but her baby brother is too young, so she has to share her candy. And of course she’s not going to because she worked hard for that, yo! After hiding it different places and getting worried, she decides that the only way to make sure she gets all her candy is to eat it all Right. Now.

You know where this is going.

The moment where she starts to feel sick and pivots towards sharing more is priceless – kids can see it coming from a mile away and giggle about it. The art is fun and friendly and accessible. I loved all of Nancy Carlson’s books growing up, but Harriet was my favorite character.

I got to hear her talk about her books as a teen (and she was kind and lovely.  However, by the time she got to our library for a signing she was freakin’ out of this book and I am STILL upset about that. I mean sure, I love Harriet and the Roller Coaster as much as anybody, but THIS WAS MY FAVORITE HARRIET BOOK AND A HALLOWEEN NECESSITY AND INNER CHILD SJ IS STILL SAD SHE DOESN’T HAVE A SIGNED COPY.

So obviously I learned the ‘sharing/letting other people have things you like is good’ lesson really well.

I actually checked this out last year, and like a lot of books from my childhood, I’m surprised by how short it is. I don’t know why I thought it was longer, but it seemed like this whole big thing when I read it as a kidlet. I tend to think part of it were the illustrations – I was much more prone to sprawling on the floor and immersing myself in picture books as a kid than I am now that I am…uh, not. And I think the funny moments just tickled me so much I probably just kept reading them.

So if you want a cute trick or treat down memory lane or want to see if your children learn to share better than I apparently did, definitely check out this book. 

 

SJ Reads: Space Case

Published October 2, 2017 by admin

 

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It’s that glorious, wonderful, macabre, spooky, creepy, magnificent time of the year! And of course I’ll be reading creepy stuff all the way through it. For this month’s SJ reads, though, I thought I’d do something a little different and heap a big ol’ spoonful of nostalgia on this month’s pics (Don’t worry, I’ll likely throw in a few posts of horror stuff here and there, too, because it’s me).

Growing up, I loved Halloween books. It was hard for my mom to keep them designated to one time of year (and to her credit, she was adept at using them for bribes other times of the year). In remembering some of my favorites, it’s not that hard to see how I grew up to become the person I am. So let’s look at my cute/creepy title of the week!

Anyone who remembers Reading Rainbow should remember Space Case. I mean, anyone who was growing up in the eighties and in school at the time should remember it. This was one of the titles that my mom gave in and bought for me in the school book order program, and I was beyond ecstatic when it came.

It’s a simple story: A thing from outer space visits a boy while trick or treating. The boy passes the thing off as a friend, they get a lot of candy, and the next day the thing comes to the boy’s rescue at school. Still, the pictures are still quirky and plain fun – I found this in the basement a couple months ago while cleaning and admittedly fell into it again. There’s something really approachable about the work of Edward and James Marshall. It’s not too cutesy, it’s not mean, there’s just enough suspense for a little kid, and it’s fun. I think there is actually a follow-up book, but I can’t begin to tell you what it is off the top of my head.

I think this appealed to me because I really wanted some sort of strange adventure to happen while I was trick or treating growing up in the worst way. The thought of an alien just coming by to say hey and tagging along with me was just the greatest thing ever at the time. As an adult, it’s an admittedly quick read, but titles like this also make me slow down and appreciate the art more, appreciate the beats of the story more. I’m kind of in awe of children’s writers, because it takes a lot to tell a full story with so little. The pictures really remind me of something I’d want to be able to draw as a kid – they look approachable and not super hard (which I’m sure is deceptive), and they have a fun humor to them that invites you to sit and stare at the little details.

This title also still feels really Halloweeny to me, even with a distinct sci-fi vibe. Plus, it’s kind of cool how it doesn’t just end on Halloween but carries over into the next day – what kid doesn’t know the feeling of being tired and forgetting something at school after a night of trick or treating?

Whether you remember this from your own past or have kids, this is a super-cute, non-intense read for the season!

 

 

 

SJ Reads: 20th Century Boys

Published September 18, 2017 by admin

 

 

20thcentury

 

I want to continue the theme this month of stuff I like, because it’s still my bday month, and I said so.

Take the kid-gang aspects of It or Stand by Me and plunk them in Japan. Add some flashbacks and time jumps and a cult. Throw in germ warfare, an attempt at killer robots, some maybe-ressurections, and possible aliens (though not really).

My friends (heh), if you haven’t read 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa, oh my gawd you are missing out.

This is probably tied for my favorite manga, definitely my favorite non-shojo manga. While so many in the form tangent and use subplots that feel like they’re buying time, this story makes everything work for it.

Disclaimer: I still have the last 2 end-cap volumes (titled 21st Century Boys), but because I don’t care about spoilers, I know the full ending, and I’m satisfied with it. I don’t know that any ending could match the immense build-up, but in this case I’m pretty at peace.

Kenji and his friends are pre-teens in 1969 Japan, and they spend a summer hiding out in their secret fort, avoiding bullies, dreaming about going to the World Expo, and making up stories about how they’d save the world from ultimate evil.

Jump to when the characters are in their 30s-40s, and they all have grown up, have typical jobs, and are somewhat dissatisfied with their lives. Kenji is running his father’s store with his mom and taking care of his niece, Kanna, after his sister dumps her off one night.

Then one of the old gang commits suicide. But does he?

And suddenly there is this person called Friend making waves and using the symbol that Kenji’s crew adopted as kids…and using their stories to slowly take over the world.

The first major arc deals with trying to figure out who is Friend, leading to a showdown on New Year’s Eve, 1999.

Time jump again, and this time Kanna is the lead, trying to continue on her uncle’s work while dealing with the appearance of strange abilities.

It’s impossible to convey in a post like this how cool this series is. For one, this is one of the rare ensemble pieces that I’ve read that really treats nearly all of the cast as equals. They all get screentime in some form. There are some bold, bold choices (Kenji, himself, disappears for a majority of the title, so a lot of what you’re learning about him is through flashbacks and people’s opinions and memories). The characters are just so good. Kanna embodies the teen girl in the apocalypse without making you want to hate her. The character of Otcho is so unbelievably badass I really want a spinoff with him. Even the typical “weaker” members like Yoshitsune get to do some awesome things. Characters that you think are just written off in the beginning show up again, you gain new insight through new additions…this is just SO well thought out I can’t stand it. Plus, the constant time-jumping back and forth between eras and past and present mean that a lot is constantly revealed and explained, so you’re never quite banking on one big reveal moment. It’s a pretty savvy move, and works well, especially in the medium.

While the way the world is conquered is unlikely to happen (and a lot is made of that, because hi, this is a group of people using the plans of 10-year-olds), it’s really fascinating to watch the motivation behind people in the Friends, and the reactions of typical citizens. I feel like the books get this so very, incredibly right in a lot of ways. And even if it’s not possible, it seems believable in this world.

For me, this does what titles like Deathnote don’t do: it keeps my attention and makes me really care about the people involved, as well as being a cool idea. You get your themes and rants and posturing, but it’s not so incredibly heavy-handed.

The only real down point to this series is that at times the pacing feels slow. I nearly put it down early on, but I’m here to tell you KEEP GOING. What really makes this sing is that all the little things that you think are slowing things down fit into important plot points later on. So it’s not necessarily a pacing problem as it is that there’s just so much IN this series.

This is also a title that really conveys the feeling of Japan at different points in time for me. I love the use of western music influencing Kenji throughout the whole thing. There’s one specific sequence where the boys are daydreaming about how they’ll be greeted at the UN for saving the world, and all you can see is their legs…if you’re familiar with the T-Rex song the series takes its title from, you can just hear it thrumming in rhythm to the panels. And then when this sequence is played out for real, the carpet is yanked out from under you in the best way. I still don’t know if it was a really sly, purposeful move or if it’s serendipity, but the first few lines of the song tell you a lot. And that’s all I’ll say.

The greatest thing for me is, though, that this is really a title about saving the world on your own terms. This isn’t more zombie fighting or a military-based fight series. These people (outside of Otcho) aren’t really action heroes, and if they are that doesn’t necessarily mean they get anywhere with those skills past a certain point. Kenji, himself, is banking on the power of his guitar and eventually finding an audience to save the world. And somehow, it all comes together.

I never would have believed this could work in a million years. I was totally proven wrong. Read this one. Trust me. It’s amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SJ Reads: Natsume’s Book of Friends

Published September 11, 2017 by admin

 

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Today I want to hit another of my favorite, recent titles, this time in manga. While recovering from respiratory issues this winter and trying to deal with a case of sudden existential dread, I started reading a lot of manga again. I hadn’t really gone on a binge like that in years, and I was amazed at the different types of titles I was finding. The one closest to my heart at the moment, though, is Natsume’s Book of Friends. 

It’s nice to find a shojo title that isn’t romance-centric, and I really like the episodic feel of this one, too. Although there is some plot progression through the series, the author does a fantastic job of recapping the main issues of the series at the start of each volume, so you really could pick it up anywhere.

Natsume is an orphan who has been bounced from relative to relative and doesn’t have a lot of friends because people think he’s antisocial and weird. In reality, he can see and communicate with yokai (there’s a big debate as to what this term actually refers to, but think spirits and supernatural creatures/events). At the start of the series he’s moved in with relatives who are trying to connect with him, and is being hunted by yokai that have mistaken him for his deceased grandmother. It turns out that Reiko (his grandmother), trapped a lot of yokai by their names in a book. Natsume comes to the decision that he’s going to give these names back, so most of the series is him either attempting this or running from more predatory yokai. Pretty early in the series he runs into the yokai Marada, who he calls Nyanko-sensei because he tends to take the form of a lucky cat.

I really like how the foster parents in this series really want to include Natsume, and a good portion of the stories are him trying to relate to his family and his new friends at school, some of which, as it turns out, have also had interactions with the supernatural. The whole series has a nice, slightly autumnal/melancholy feel that really hits a nice nostalgia/coming of age vibe. Everything feels temporary as Natsume learns lessons the more he interacts with different people and spirits. He’s very much between two worlds, and there’s always the silent question lurking as to whether he’s going to have to choose one.

Nyanko-Sensei is also a brilliant character who provides a lot of quirky comic relief. Parts of these books are really just so funny (without feeling intrusive or out of nowhere), and it gave me a much-needed lift. He’s definitely my favorite character, and I love the differences in his art depending on which form he’s in. There’s always a lot of great banter between him and Natsume (he’s guarding Natsume until he can get the book for himself, in theory, though they grow to be friends as the series goes along). There’s also some interesting bits as new characters like several exorcists are introduced, and the sheer different personality types of various yokai are really nice. This is less like the booga booga style ghosts we’re used to, and more like they’re just separate entities, doing what they do and trying to figure out what their lives are now.

The artwork is gorgeous, and each volume is so easy to relax into. I’m at volume 19 so far, and it doesn’t look like it’s over yet, so that makes me extremely happy.

Get the first volume here