A Fish Tale

"A Strange Light" 4"x 6" watercolor

“A Strange Light” 4″x 6″ watercolor

I think this fisherman is in for a bigger surprise than he’s already had. Based on lessons from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s latest Dreamscapes book.

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Book Review: Stitching Snow

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis is a science fiction adaptation of “Snow White.” From the readers’ perspective, however, clear connections to the fairy tale don’t appear till about a third of the way through the book. This is just one method Lewis uses to make the story appear in an entirely different light. Stitching Snow could also be read as a YA space opera thriller.

Stitching Snow opens with Essie, whom we later discover to be our Snow White, cage fighting miners. Essie is also talented at circuitry, programming, and robotics, which she collectively refers to as “stitching.” Her drones, such as Dimwit and Cusser, follow her around exhibiting their namesakes and regularly reminding me of Star Wars. Perhaps as a balance to Essie’s wonder skills, or perhaps simply to continue to carry out the theme of defying expectations, Essie is incredibly brusque. I never could quite bring myself to like her. Yet, the rough princess with brains and brawn, and no mention of beauty and grace (although her desirability is made clear through other means), is refreshing in the canon of fairy tale literature.

A handsome man crash lands in Essie’s home mining territory. He avoids sharing why he’s there, but it eventually comes to light that he’s seeking the missing Princess Snow, who plays an important role in an interplanetary struggle of politics and warfare. Stitching Snow contains action, betrayal, abuse, love (twisted and innocent), and the desire to take responsibility.  This is not a sweet retelling.

Action and space opera fans can let the fairy tale elements take a back seat. Meanwhile, fairy tale aficionados will find plenty of details to think on, such as the way within Stitching Snow that the miners leave Essie at home to work for them. Or a different unwholesome reason why a stepmother might suddenly feel threatened by her stepdaughter. Or how Essie’s parents decided they wanted her to have hair as white as snow–and how this type of arbitrary parental expectation is significant of a deeper problem. Stitching Snow is not one of my favorite retellings, but I’m glad I read it, and I’m happy to see fairy tales continue to be recreated.

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Posted in Book Review, Fairy Tale Tagged , ,

Book Review: The Clockwork Dagger

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

I found Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger to be a refreshingly magical take on steampunk. Octavia Leander is leaving Miss Percival’s academy on her first assignment as a formally trained medician–a magical medicine worker. While a very proper lady, Octavia begins deviating from her instructions on page one, which made me like her at once (despite her initial actions being naive). She is a lovely combination of bold and soft, continually defending her right to make her own choices and use her own strength. A steampunk adventure ensues with airships, assassins, warring countries, an unlikely princess, and a tiny gremlin. (I really liked the princess and gremlin!) There’s an original magical system with arboreal roots to back up Octavia’s healing arts and a budding romance with a man who may not be whom he seems. The juxtaposition of danger and propriety keeps the novel feeling light and fun. Underlying feminist notes add appreciated depth. I read the bulk of the story after returning home from a medical procedure and feeling altogether awful: The Clockwork Dagger was just the medicine I needed.

The sequel, The Clockwork Crown, will be released on June 9th.

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The Invisible Princess of Donkeyskin

Donkeyskin

“The Invisible Princess” from Donkeyskin, 20 x 20 cm watercolor & ink

Fairy tale people know “Donkeyskin,” but people who have based most of their fairy tale knowledge on Disney films are unfamiliar with the story. When they hear it’s one of my favorite fairy tales, sometimes they ask me to tell it to them. If they really want to hear it, I comply. The inevitable response: Why in the world would you like that story?

“Donkeyskin” makes people uncomfortable. There’s plenty of unsavory in the story. Yet “Donkeyskin” is a fairy tale that resonates. The person who is supposed to be the princess’s greatest support and the place that is supposed to be her safest haven both transform into great danger. The princess seeks safety by giving up everything she knows, running, and hiding. She transforms.

One of the things that has always struck me about “Donkeyskin” is that even though the princess is beautiful, arguably the most beautiful woman in the world–or perhaps because she is beautiful–people do not see her. Rather than being a person, she is a lovely face, a trophy expected to surrender all agency and endure any abuse. Following her fairy godmother’s advice, the princess attempts to dissuade her enemy by asking for unattainable gowns. Princesses requesting beautiful gowns is quite acceptable. However, the unmake-able beauty of the celestial gowns is made. Repeatedly. Wearing these astonishing gowns, the princess becomes more invisible than ever. But this invisibility is not the kind that will save her. Instead she appears profusely symbolic of the beauty that others wish to possess. When the princess wraps herself in the dirty, freshly skinned donkey hide, she vanishes in an altogether new way. There are some things, such as poverty, filth, and abuse, that people do not wish to see.

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Posted in Art, Fairy Tale Tagged , , ,

Kitsune with Lantern 2

Kitsune watercolor

Kitsune watercolor

I gave the foxes a second try with a slightly altered color scheme. You can compare to the first here. If I keep going with the kitsune, I should start adding tails. :)

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Agent Announcement

The Sea of the Moon in French Polynesia

The Sea of the Moon in French Polynesia

I’m delighted to announce that I’m now represented by Leon Husock, a literary agent with the L. Perkins Agency. I’m very much looking forward to our working together. My first novel Leon will be promoting is The Wish Givers, a Polynesian-inspired fantasy.

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Kitsune with Lantern

Here's my first attempt. Painting instructions for "Illumination" can be found in Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's book Dreamscapes Fantasy Worlds

Here’s my first attempt. Painting instructions for “Illumination” can be found in Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s book Dreamscapes Fantasy Worlds

I just received Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s fourth painting book, Dreamscapes Fantasy Worlds, which focuses on scenes and landscapes. I have really enjoyed all of her books so far. As an absolute beginner, I used her first book to learn how to work with watercolors. I’ve found her step-by-step lessons ideal for building skills and confidence. While the complete book set offers quite a lot to keep you busy with, the techniques shown in each lesson are easily transferable to your own original works.

Dreamscapes Fantasy Worlds has a brief entry on composition creation and a two-page spread on contrast, with succinct explanations of contrast by color, light, intensity, focus, or a combination of those techniques. The brevity of this initial lesson is supported by the entire book of projects which serve as examples. I really appreciate these methods being shown so categorically. I’m sure I’ll be able to create better pieces by pointedly using this advice. Also, the book is full of beautiful pieces. I can hardly wait to try them out!

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Posted in Art, Book Review Tagged , ,

Painted Cherry Blossoms

Falling Petal, 8"x 8" watercolor

Falling Petal, 8″ x 8″ watercolor

I wanted to paint cherry blossoms without petal outlines since part of their fluffy fascination is how glowing, soft, and line-less they look. My background was too stark and empty, though. My first plan was a nice spiderweb with thin, glistening lines, but I couldn’t see what I could attach it to within the picture and keep the image balanced. I decided a full web spread across the background with no clear attachment points would look overly abstract rather than natural. So, I fell back on the rain lines, which are less than ideal in this close-up as they appear more like threads than falling water. Maybe they’re the work of a mad spider after all.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

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Book Review: Havoc

Havoc by Ann Aguirre; Cover art by Scott Fischer

Havoc by Ann Aguirre; Cover art by Scott Fischer

Ann Aguirre’s Havoc is the second book in The Dred Chronicles, a series that takes place on prison space ship, Perdition, where the most dangerous criminals have been locked away. If you’re new to the series, the place to start is Perdition, which introduces readers to the harsh reality of the prison ship as Jael, a mercenary with a secret ability, is unloaded along with a new shipment of prisoners. Dred, known as the “Dread Queen,” is the leader of one of the internal factions and an area of the ship named Queensland. She gambles with betrayal as she works to recruit Jael and maintain her grasp on power and survival. Surrounded by chaos, killers, and limited provisions, only those who can make themselves the fittest for Perdition will survive. Trust is in limited supply.

Havoc brings new troubles from the inmates of Perdition. The Conglomerate has sent armed mercenaries to exterminate all of the remaining prisoners on the prison ship. Armed with only the homemade weapons they’ve managed to scrap together themselves, the Queenslanders commence a desperate guerilla warfare. Unfortunately, the factions of cannibals and death worshippers see the invasion as a prime opportunity to take out their old foes. Also, the mercenaries have offered a sweet reward to anyone willing to betray their own, and betrayal comes easy in Perdition. Survival becomes harder than ever before.

The Dred Chronicles’ vibrant setting is somewhat reminiscent of a Reavers’ spaceship from Firefly combined with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The setting flavors everything about this book. There’s a lot grisly and dark going on, so if you find that bothersome, then this series isn’t for you. However, Aguirre uses all of that darkness to highlight prettier ideals. Survival is connected with life and valuing life. All of the characters have huge trust issues–but you see these trust issues, especially in Havoc, turning in a positive direction. I liked Havoc more than Perdition, particularly because of how character relations were handled. Above all else, though, I’d call this a book of action.

Breakout, the third installment of The Dred Chronicles, is scheduled to be released on August 25, 2015.

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Dickinson Introduces Death

yellow skull, Fellissimo colored pencils

yellow skull, Fellissimo colored pencils

Within literature, Death has worn a myriad of faces. As the Grim Reaper he appears as a terrifying murderer, harvesting ripe lives still mature with promise and vitality and leaving pallid corpses behind. Humanity has long feared the unknown, and death is one of life’s most guarded secrets. Those who look upon death with curiosity are considered morbid. Those who view it with calm collection are sometimes feared and sometimes revered. In “Because I could not stop for Death,” poet Emily Dickinson uses personification, extended metaphor, and imagery to reveal Death as civil, courteous, and serene. Dickinson creates contrasts between readers’ expectations and her own vision to allow readers to see death as an eternal continuation of life.

Dickinson’s poem opens with a dependent clause that encapsulates modern life and its juxtaposition with death: “Because I could not stop for Death–”. In Dickinson’s time as well as now, upright society hums with busyness. Each reader can promptly identify with the lack of time available for certain tasks, especially undesirable ones. Yet, how very egotistical of humanity to view death as something that can be brushed aside due to packed schedules. However, courteousness dictates that if someone seems too pressed for time to complete a task, especially in the case of maintaining social connections, then a good neighbor would assist in that task’s completion. The speaker in Dickinson’s poem depicts Death as “kindly” performing a courteous house call. Rather than stopping in as a visitor, Death takes on the active role of host by picking up the speaker in his carriage. The arrangement feels particularly cozy, with the speaker and Death sharing the intimate space within the carriage. The additional passenger, “Immortality,” triply emphasized by being set off with a dash, occupying a lone line, and ending the first stanza, works to contradict the closed-in space of the carriage. Immortality is expansive and endless. The proximity of Immortality and Death link the opposites into a unified, slightly disconcerting, concept. Dickinson wishes readers to see Immortality and Death combined.

The second stanza continues the active progress of the carriage ride, countering the notion of death as a stopping point. Instead, the speaker emphasizes Death’s “Civility,” not only with a capital letter, but with Death’s mannerly pace. While in life the speaker “could not stop,” now she has “put away” her activities as if they were excessive. Her action is presented in the past perfect, as something that happened prior to the carriage driving slowly. I find it easy to picture the speaker riding calmly with her hands placed in her lap, all other actions having happened previously. Yet, within her stillness, she continues to move forward, her progress accentuated by the thrice repeated “We passed.” The third stanza, delineating points that her carriage, or rather Death’s carriage, is passing, represents the stages of life, from childhood to the setting sun. Perhaps this is a reference to one’s life passing before one’s eyes upon death, or perhaps, as touched upon by “the Ring” at recess, Dickinson wants us to see the circular, cyclic nature of life, which links to death. Not only will the children at school one day meet death, but so will the fields of grain and all other living things.

After the sun sets, the poem grows colder. Death has been so courteous and present. The fourth stanza turns towards Death’s separateness. Suddenly the speaker is part of “Us,” as opposed to Death, who remains the subjective “He.” Death continues to be active. The speaker is not dressed for the “Chill,” leading the reader to imagine both the cold of a corpse and a grave. Her funereal attire of “Gossamer” and “Tulle” connect her with spiderwebs and death shrouds. The imagery has transitioned from Romantic to Gothic. Within the extended metaphor of her carriage ride, the speaker has arrived at a “House.” Since the “Cornice,” or ceiling molding, of the house rests “in the Ground,” its location preceded by an eerie pause induced by another dash, we know this new house to be her burial chamber. However, since the “Roof” of the house is “scarcely visible,” Dickinson has returned to the expansive spaciousness of death that she first introduced along with “Immortality.” The frightening, “quivering” imagery that makes the reader wonder what might burst from that “Swelling of the Ground” drops away as her final stanza returns to the openness of great expanses of time without time’s weight: “Since then — ‘tis Centuries — and yet / Feels shorter than the Day.” Time, similar to Death, can be seen as heavy with burden or light with possibility. Since the speaker mentions that she “first surmised” something, the reader knows that she continues to be actively thinking and present–death does not remove one’s sensibilities or mind. A reference to the speaker noticing the direction the horses were headed returns the readers to the carriage and its steady progress. A destination has disappeared. Instead, hundreds of years pass, as we move “toward” infinite time. The speaker, time, and action are all in progress. Death, once more, has become a serene journey.

Whether or not someone wishes to stop for Death, eventually Death will stop for each person. Dickinson reframes this eventuality as the arrival of a courteous gentleman and the continuation of a long enduring cycle. As a passenger, one does not control the carriage, but neither does one regress into victimization. Dickinson offers graceful acceptance over ineffectual fear and flight. I am reminded of T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and the poem’s promise that “There will be time, there will be time,” despite the clear fear that there may, indeed, not be time. The speaker within “Because I could not stop for Death” continues on, but she sets aside the tasks she had been pursuing. Dickinson’s suggestion of perpetuation offers the reader a journey that remains eternal even after the arrival of death, but still the peregrination requires a change of objectives. Within the active stillness of a passenger rests an enduring mystery that one is urged to meet with grace and calm.

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Posted in Myth Tagged