creative life

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Dear Writers: Please Read (A Book)

Published October 11, 2017 by admin

We’re back to some practical advice for this month, so pull up a chair and let’s dish.

About a year ago, I was guesting at a convention and was hanging out with some other authors. The topic of books came up (duh), and what we were reading, and I heard something which was utterly offensive to my poor ears which you think would be cynical to stuff like this by now.

“Oh, I don’t read, I don’t have time. I just write books.”

Or something. I’m paraphrasing. I think my ears are still crying.

Look at that sentence. Look at it!

If you write or want to write, I want you to stare long and hard at that sentence, and never, ever, do that. 

Look, I get some of you probably think this is bottom of the barrel basic knowledge and a waste of a blog post, but I also didn’t think I’d hear an author who was there giving out advice admit they didn’t read books.

And they weren’t the only one. 

I think I stared and was probably lifted up and carried off before I could open my big mouth.

Here’s the thing: to write well, you have to read. You just do. You don’t learn about different voices in action, or structure, or different takes on genre, or well…anything unless you’re actively seeing what all is out there.

And when I say read, I mean read everything. Everything ever written. Right now.

Okay, okay, that may be a slightly tall order. Definitely read, and please diversify. Don’t read only what you write to try to get a leg up, because you aren’t all those other people, and by time you think of the perfect idea to write to market, the market’s gonna change. You don’t read just to imitate people or try to sell. You read to become a more well-rounded artist and person. You may agree with how some people write and not others, and that’s fair. That’s cool…but you also won’t even know what you agree with and why if you don’t start flipping some pages.

Some of the most frustrating conversations I’ve ever had are with fantasy authors who only read like three other fantasy authors. Or people whose sense of the horror genre starts and ends with Stephen King. The problem is that 1) that gives you an extremely limited range and 2) If you are put in the position of sitting on panels or giving workshops, you are then going to be giving people limited and bad information.

Seriously, don’t be that person. Don’t be the “expert” who doesn’t know at least what some of the subgenres of the basics are. Don’t get so stuck in the romantic aspect of young adult stories that you forget other types of plots are a thing, despite having a huge chunk of titles proving you wrong. No one is going to know everything (no, you’re not), but at least get a feel for things that aren’t just your preference. Know some different mediums. Know what you don’t know. Then go read that.

I look at it like this: if I didn’t read nonfiction, I wouldn’t stumble onto some really fascinating things I could use in some of my titles. If I didn’t read folk stories, Olde School never would’ve gotten written. If I hadn’t started reading manga, I wouldn’t be nearly as brave to try new structures and tangent my plots and do different things. Reading graphc novels has taught me the beauty of trying to streamline and be concise. Anthologies have shown me just what you can do with a theme (and a set word count). Ray Bradbury is a master class of short stories, but his essays are equally important. I spent my entire time in college reading a huge range of plays (some required reading, others things that were loaned to me). All of them shaped the type of artist I’m becoming and my sense of story and action in different ways.

Articles, memoirs, poems, speeches, plays – you can gain something from all of these, whether you’re directly applying it into your work or not.

And, yes, you also learn what not to do. Or, you learn what works for you and what isn’t in your comfort zone or isn’t one of your strengths.

And, honestly, if you aren’t taking the time as an author to read, than I’m going to assume you’re writing for very different reasons than I am. If you can’t make time to support the art that you yourself are pursuing, than how do I know you’re developing your craft? How do I know you have any real respect for how hard everyone else is working? No one starts out fully formed and in a vacuum and there is always something to learn. Actors still take acting classes, artists still learn new techniques. Probably one of the most important things you can do if you’re a writer or want to get published is to get thee to your local library (because libraries are awesome) and see what’s up.

Seriously. Read a book. Then another. And another. Rinse, repeat.

So how about you? If you write, how important is reading to you? Do you stay in your comfort zone or read different things? Talk to me about the pros and cons!

 

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Costume-palooza: Batgirl

Published October 3, 2017 by admin

It’s one of those weeks where I’ve got nothin’ new goin’ on, so let’s go to the archives and see what we can talk about. And since it’s Halloween and my daily artistic life is costumes, guess what another theme this month is…

Pssst, it’s costumes. Totally costumes.

At the moment I’ll stick with stuff I’ve done for myself, because I’m still going through the 9 million possible portfolio shots I’ve taken in my lifetime of other stuff that I have yet to edit and arrange (seriously. So great with documentation, not so great about doing stuff with it). I also like showing stuff I’ve done for myself, because some years I pull out all the stops and other years I am tired and lazy and end up being a car lot noodle (and you think I’m kidding).

This one falls somewhat between extremes, and is admittedly one of my faves. Babs Gordon/Batgirl somehow ended up as like a giant beacon of a role model for me as a kid. I grew up watching reruns of the old Adam West show, I vaguely remember reading comics during church choir practice when I was supposed to be paying attention (I guess I felt I wouldn’t be allowed to borrow them from my guy friends, so I have no idea. It seems silly that I was hiding that habit, now). Of course, as I grew up and really delved into her storyline, it just blew me away. The fact that this character could go through intense trauma, be forced to give up the one of the things that made her who she was, and then come blazing back as Oracle has always stuck with me through my own changes and growth. And sorry, I do not accept non-Oracle plotline Babs. Not gonna happen.

It was the animated series, though, that really grabbed me by the nostrils as a teen. That whole show had an artistic sensibility and design that I really hadn’t seen up to that point. The storylines blended humor with some really serious plot points, and kept the characters fairly true to their roots. I can’t help but think that I learned a lot about story development from that show, as well as episodic fiction, because I just straight up devoured it as long as it was on. Beyond the Tim Burton movies or anything else that I’d grown up on, Batman TAS was and will always be my Batman. So years ago when I was part of a group costume challenge where we decided the theme was cartoons, after some brief debate, I went with Batgirl.  Admittedly I had to go with the redesign because I was also working a ton of hours building Halloween event stuff, but I’m pretty in love with the outcome.

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The basic suit was actually done with cuddleduds – they have a nice sheen and honestly with my body proportions (long torso, wide hips, short legs), I didn’t have the time or desire to build my own catsuit (and I likely would have had to. I’ve had some bad moments with store-bought catsuits). The tops are usually pretty long, so if I keep it pulled under the belt, you really don’t notice from a distance that it’s not all one piece.

The cape was fairly easy to do out of stretch jersey, and it took some off and on googling to figure out which bat was the right bat for that uniform. Admittedly the belt isn’t completely right (I think it’s actually like a series of circles). At the time I could only find partial views of her head to toe (or mid-move where things were blocked), so I went off the original belt a litle bit combined with what I could see, but I don’t really mind it. I was going for a purposefully cartoon look to match the TAS feel, so I used car upholstry liner as the base then covered it with fabric. Gloves and boots are bought because I don’t hate myself that much, and I made gauntlets to go over the gloves out of a yellow party satin and more car liner. The mask is spandex and involved me sitting still for it to be draped to the shape of my head – the one thing I didn’t do (and should have) is put the wig on for that (it may have still been in transit, actually), so the fit is a smidge off, but nothing too bad. The mask was the thing that did take me a while to do since I wasn’t the one draping it. Figuring out how far the darts had to go and positioning the holes did give me some fits, but it was definitely worth it. I think, all in all, I got this done for a little over 150 – for as simple as it looks it did take a little bit to pull off.

 

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Obviously I don’t have fun with this one at all.

 

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Want a creepy read for Halloween? I’ve got ya covered! Check out Mooner, my historical vampire tale, or try any of the genre-defying shorts in Lost in the Shadows! Not into horror? No prob, check out all the other fun titles I’ve written!

 

 

2nd Look: Library Livin’

Published September 27, 2017 by admin

Besides teachers, I think sometimes we take for granted how much libraries and the communities they foster can really, truly encourage people, especially kids. So today’s look back deals with some of the libraries in my life.

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I’ve talked about it off and on in interviews and the like, but I cannot stress how big of an influence libraries have had on me. I still remember going into my first one as a kid. It was built into a former residence in a small Illinois town, the librarian still lived above it, and it was magic. Rooms chock full of shelves, a lovely, open front room with homey windows and dark wood, just the stuff of story books. The very first book I ever was allowed to take home was There’s a Nightmare in my Closet, and even though I already knew the plot, the thought of plucking it from a shelf (it was misplaced in the adult shelves so that made it even more important-seeming) and taking it home all by myself was a beautiful feeling. I went on to do the summer reading programs there, get vacation packets for long car trips there, I was even able to check out puppets there, something that I’m sure fed my love of the art form early on.

My mom made a point of taking me to the library any time I was interested in something, and I give her a lot of credit for my voracious love of reading today. After every Reading Rainbow episode, we made a list of titles to go searching for. Anything that I wasn’t allowed to buy on the Scholastic book forms we put on the library list. There were times during the summer when we were there every other day. I was encouraged to read anything that took my fancy, although she quickly had to put a cap on the number of titles I could get at one time (I may still have problems with limiting my TBR pile…).

That was also the library where I was accidentally locked in during the librarian’s lunch hour.The children’s room was in the very back of the place, time got away, and there I was with my mother, completely panicked that I’d never get home again…for the first five minutes until I realized that I had All. The. Books. to myself (even if I had to share with my mother). I have a vague recollection of compiling a massive stack in the amount of time it took for her to fetch the librarian’s niece, convince her that we weren’t hiding downstairs on purpose, and get her to fetch her aunt so she could let us out.

To read on, click here

Find Your Definition of Success (Things I’d Wish I’d Known)

Published September 21, 2017 by admin

So I was going to do a post about Dayjobs, but things have kind of segued into something that should probably come first. We’ll start basic and go nitty gritty later on.

You’ve decided you want to work in the arts. Yay, you! Welcome! It’s going to be a wild ride, however you decide to do things. That being said, one thing that really wasn’t a conversation when I was first starting out was something incredibly simple, something that you’re going to need to hang onto as you navigate your art and your career, but mostly personal interactions with others.

Those are always interesting. It’s one thing to talk to other artists/creatives – that’s pretty easy, and even though there may be some clashing with people at different points in their career, you at least kind of speak the same language and can find a common ground.

With other people, however,  things can go a little something like this. For me, somehow this usually happens when out and about, dating, or at (non industry/creative) dinner parties, so this type of person is forever branded in my brain as:

Dinner Party Person: So, what do you do?

Me: Oh I’m in costumes and design/I’m a writer/I’m (insert whatever I felt would be better to navigate these conversational waters here. There’s a reason I hate this question, and moments like this are likely why).

Dinner Party Person: Yeah, but what do you really do?

Me: Uh, I’m in costumes and design – right now I’m working at (insert place/gig here), I’ve got a few things lined up-

or

Me: Well, I’ve got this book out that I’m promoting, I’ve been doing some guest posting and podcasts while I submit, I’m working on an idea that-

Dinner Party Person: No, I mean how do you make your money? Your real job?

At this point, if we were talking costumes, I’d usually saucilly offer to pull out my tax returns, but whatev. To be fair, there are some people who regard my career stories as entertainment (I’m not lying when I say I’ve used stories to get out of dinner parties), and that’s usually fine. I can be that person. No one would believe my autobiography at this point. Writing is harder, because people are either way impressed that you’re published, or they know enough to start asking what type of publishing (I escape this somewhat because I’ve mostly worked through publishers), or how much you actually sell.

There’ are always people who are looking for an opening in these conversations to prove to themselves for some reason that everyone who chooses a creative path is a weird bohemian who lives with 37 other people and paints actual cats or something and is destined to face their lives alone living in a box. It’s like they want to watch you give up on yourself in real time and think that one conversation over food is going to turn on a light bulb and make you go “Oh my god, you’re right, you’re so much better than me! If only I’d been an investment banker! If only I’d not let art into my life! Shame on me!” as you curl into a ball and have the breakdown they expect you to have at some point. Okay, I may be exaggerating a little, but still.  It is all too easy to feel less than coming out of those conversations.

Take social media. Somehow Facebook’s real power is to put you in touch with everyone who is better than you and perpetually throw their accomplishments in your face at your most vulnerable moments. You may love those people, you may be happy for them, but I guarantee at some point you’re going to be scrolling and wonder why your life is a shambling ruins when everyone else is getting contracts or working on amazing things (and they feel the same way, too. It’s all relative). Both of these situations also don’t take personal circumstances into account, so we just assume that we’re obviously not doing something right or we’re not good enough, and on and on.

The point is, we’ve got this idea in our heads that a person isn’t successful unless their face is on Entertainment Tonight all the time, or unless they’re like Stephen King or JK Rowling. Here’s the thing: There are an awful lot of working artists/writers making a living who fall into neither of those categories.  And by this being the prevailing, subconscious viewpoint, that puts a ton of pressure on feeling like things have to be all or nothing. There are a lot of options between those two extremes, and there’s nothing wrong with falling into that big, giant category. People in that middle ground accomplish stuff, yo, there is nothing to be ashamed of!

Your artistic career is not going to be all or nothing. It’s going to change. A lot. You may have to go do something else for a while, then come back to things. You may achieve instantaneous fame and glory and then have to figure out how to not crash and burn. You may, because of location or means, be somewhat of an unrecognized working artist your whole life. This falls back on why you have to decide why you want to do this, because you have to make up your mind constantly if you can live with that or if you’re always chasing an image.

However, it is still your career. Your projects. Your baby. Your dream, your soul, your thing. So you also need to figure out what success means to you. If you’re an actor, is it only being on Broadway or starring on a hit TV series? What’s that going to mean if you get tours or regional gigs or guest star a lot, but can’t quite get that final bit to happen? Are you cool with just doing side event performance work while you do something else? As a writer, are you only going to be happy if you have a huge film franchise built off your work? Are you cool with just putting out a free blog, or are you somewhere in between?

Things can change, goals can change, your definition of success is completely personal and can absolutely change.

I’m not saying don’t shoot for the stars, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not there yet. This is your personal happiness we’re talking, here, and if you’re continually judging yourself on something that’s likely to be elusive, you’re going to miss out on a lot in the meantime. You want to make sure that you’re appreciating what you are doing, celebrating the successes you have obtained. I’ve had to remind people that while I haven’t had Harry Potter or Twilight-level success, I’ve also put out some books which I’m very proud of, and networking with some amazing people, and determined to keep going so this can be my career. With costumes, I’ve worked alongside some incredible companies and done stuff that I never would have dreamed I could accomplish when I was in my late teens and early twenties and likely still have far to go on that path, as well.

It’s okay to lighten up on yourself and appreciate all your successes, whatever they may be. It’s not going to be all or nothing. If you need someone to tell you, then I am telling you right now: not hitting the highest of highs does not make you a failure. You don’t have to hit that mark to prove anything to anyone, be it yourself, former teachers, family, or those obnoxious dinner party people.

Enjoy the journey in all it’s wild, crazy glory. Enjoy what you learn and what you’re creating, because that’s kind of the point. Enjoy all your successes, no matter what level, because they are yours and they are awesome.

2nd Look: Of Stories and General Jerkishness

Published September 20, 2017 by admin

Another look back at the teachers who have helped to shape my life and kindle the creative spark. This time, we’re going to junior high English class.

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So to truly kick of this whole new world for you and me   direction where I discuss craft and influences a little bit more, I did hunker down and think a lot about where to begin. I’ve talked in the past about my mom being very pro-books, being a library fanatic to the point of getting locked in one as a kid, and growing up a Reading Rainbow addict.

There are other people, though, who may or may not realize the part they’ve played, who may or may not accept the role they played in not only my love of reading, but the formation of the gloriously weird person that I’ve turned into. Yeah, like I’m totally going to claim all of that as my fault. Please. I’m also not going to name names, because I feel like if people don’t have a public personality, sometimes shining a beacon on them is the last thing that they’d actually want, especially if they’re part of something as vast and sundry as the public education system. I’ll leave it up to them to call me out in the comments section or something, heh.

Back in Jr. High, I went through what one might have called a phase of being something of a royal jerk. We all have those phases, and it seems that the twelve and thirteen-year-old bracket is ripe for this part of personality development. Granted, my version of jerkishness was probably tame in comparison to a lot of other people, but I definitely had those smart-alecky moments. I don’t know if growing up a minister’s kid or if growing up in a community where my parents would know what I’d been up to by dinner finally made me lash out a bit at certain points. I don’t know if I was enabled by certain friends,…honestly there’s no point really blaming anyone or anything. It was a part of my growing up, and for the most part, I’ve grown out of it.

Granted, I can still rock the sarcasm when I need to, but I consider that a life skill.

There was one English teacher, in particular, my snark got leveled at. I have no clue why. I don’t know if it was because he was younger than a lot of my other teachers if he just seemed to rise to the occasion more, or if I was just that cranky by that point in the afternoon. Maybe it was because at that point in life I liked to get the last word, maybe it was because a certain friend and I both had him as a teacher, or maybe it was the sheer fact that he didn’t know my parents so the likelihood of me hearing about what a weirdo I was at dinner every night was less likely with that class.

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Project Pics: My Little Trenty

Published September 16, 2017 by admin

Alright, something fun for the weekend!

So, I am blessed and cursed to have friends that forget nothing and love to never let me forget anything, either.

Yeah, I now have photographic evidence of the time I made a Closer-era Trent Reznor My Little Pony for a friend’s birthday ten million years ago.

I would like to take time to heartfeltly apologize for bringing this into existence.

No, I am never doing this again (unless heavily, heavily bribed). Mostly because (at least at the time, maybe circa 2004-2006) that small of scale got to me. Now, maybe if I did something more to my liking, I might be alright. I’d have to test it out again, but I remember this specific project being pretty tedious. I’m sure part of it is I’m used to a much larger scale (usually human and above), but I think part of it is that the more modern MLPs are just that hard to work with (at least for a novice like me). It took me at least two goes, because in order to change out the hair you have to slit the head off, and I remember slipping enough the first time that the head wouldn’t fit back onto the body, and it was just a mess.

Yep.

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So, basically, I boiled the original hair out of the head, and made sort of a larger-scale needle threader to pull the hair through the existing holes. It’s about as much fun as you think. The tail was somewhat easier because it’s basically one bunch and it’s enough to actually grab onto. I can’t remember, but I may have scalped a doll from a craft store or a generic dollar store Barbie for the hair. Yeah, I know, I feel horrible just typing that.

Eyebrows, eye color changes, the NIN cutie mark/tramp stamp, and I think the boots were all done with model paint (maybe the silver boot detail with silver sharpie – that stuff is pretty magical). I just couldn’t get the hang of the molding I’ve seen on a lot of other custom ponies, and I was working on a schedule, so I played to my strengths and what I had on hand. Plus, back in my day, MLPs wore actual fabric clothes, so I’m a purist.

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If you have never tried patterning out a vinyl coat & pants and fishnet shirt for a freakin’ miniature toy horse, you’re missing out on a life experience. Granted, my original MLPs are some of the few things that have made it in tact through the years, so I likely patterned off some of the clothes I had for them as a kid (God bless the 80s). I think the shirt was the easiest part – I either crocheted or knit that on a really loose gauge then seamed it up on the body of the pony. the bandages on the forelegs are just muslin, I can’t remember if I bothered to hem the raw edges, but it appears that I did. The vinyl for the coat and pants is something I had on hand, so I did my best off of stills from the Closer music video. Because that is apparently what I was doing with my free time back then.

I never really figured out a great way to do the goggles on that scale, so point deducted for that, I guess. But yes, this exists, probably to be immortalized for all time now. It is honestly pretty cute and seeing it after all these years does amuse me, but man oh man did it take some finger gymnastics to get this thing done.

2nd Look: Dropping the Mask and Exposing the Spirit

Published September 15, 2017 by admin

What can I say – I’m back from vacation this week and the wireless has been cutting out on me. At any rate, I wanted to do a second look at this post, because I think it warrants it. It’s probably the only serious post I’ll ever do under the Lost Manuscripts tag (usually reserved for horribly illustrated stuff I did as a kid, hilarious school projects, and pages of my angst journals). I’m also getting back into Jung, and everything seems to point to that sort of undercurrent lately: Clarissa Pinkola Estes keeps showing up in my social media, The Unwritten series with the whole Leviathan symbolism, and I was given a copy of the reader’s edition of The Red Book last Christmas (still working through that beast). My fascination with this kind of thing is fairly personal and probably goes back to my teen years. It may even go back to this very project.

So, without further adieu, click here to read all about that time I did a gigantic 2 volume school project on my personal interpretation of the masks people wear in society. And my parents wondered why it was hard for me to date as a teen…