That Thing Where I Draw: Azrael

This sketch is for Natalie's Halloween Party/Contest. The contest closes tonight at 7 pm (MST), so you can still enter if you've got something that fits the fairly broad criteria:
I want to know what your characters (and/or you) are going as for Halloween—and you gotta be creative about it. Write me flash fiction (1k words max) about them at my awesome virtual Halloween Party. Or take a picture of you in your costume. Or draw your characters all dressed up and ready to groove. Whatever, just have fun with it.
Top two winners get to commission a drawing from Natalie. I've already won one such prize, so I kinda hope somebody else wins. At the same time I couldn't resist entering. Aside from the fact that I needed something to draw this week, I've got an air pirate who's very essence is Halloween...

Legends surround the dread pirate Azrael like a cloak. They say he can disable a ship's cannons with a look, that he can fly or freeze a man with his breath. They call him the angel of death and say he feeds on the souls of men.

Others say he's just a man in a cloak and painted face, but their voices are none too loud when they say it.

Azrael's career was brief but legendary. In the two and a half years he terrorized the skies, no one was safe. With his crew of heartless Savajes,* Azrael hit merchant convoys, luxury fareways, and even big Imperial warships. His bounty climbed as high as eighteen million, in the year before he disappeared.

The story goes that one of Azrael's treasures -- a stone that tells the future -- came with a curse, and it destroyed him. Many claim to have seen him since, perhaps searching for his lost bauble, but most dismiss these as ghost stories. Whether he lives or not, the Imperial bounty stands to this day, and will until the Navy finds proof of Azrael's death.

* Not "savages" -- these are folk from the islands of Savajinn.

In Search of the Perfect Utensil

For some, the perfect eating utensil is the most elegant, the most practical, or simply whatever they're used to. But me? I want a utensil that allows me to eat the most amount of food with the least amount of trouble. Let's begin.

(Also, this has absolutely nothing to do with writing. Don't worry. There's an Air Pirates sketch coming on Friday).

Like most Westerners, I grew up with the knife and fork. It's the perfect combination for a culture that eats primarily meat (although I'll never understand the common manners that dictate you switch hands for slicing and eating). Ideally suited for steak, the fork/knife can handle a wide variety of other foods. So it's good, but not the best. Let's look at some other options.

The chopsticks are the choice of the East. They are an elegant utensil, and you're super-cool if you can use them (in the West anyway). But cool as they are, they just don't make any sense for countries whose primary dish is rice. I mean, seriously guys, how am I supposed to eat this?

Next up is the spork. The scooping action makes it an ideal choice for rice and small pastas, and the tongs give it the versatility to spear larger chunks of food. The spork is almost perfect, but used alone, it is difficult to shove reluctant peas onto the shovel or to slice foods too big for one bite.

Enter Thailand. In Thailand, chopsticks are only used for noodle dishes (sometimes not even then). The preferred combination is a fork and spoon, but you'll have to throw out your Western mindset, and put the fork in your left hand. The spoon is your primary utensil.

The spoon allows you to carry much more food. The fork, meanwhile, provides the means to fill the spoon to overflowing with a minimum of effort. You can also use the fork and spoon in conjunction to cut almost anything except a tough steak. But then why are you eating tough steak anyway?

The fork-and-spoon is the best combination I've found yet, to the point where I often ask for a spoon when I visit the States. But there is one eating utensil that tops even these.

The tortilla! The tortilla is amazing in that it doubles as a plate, but you can eat it! Pile it with food, roll it up, and shove as much into your mouth as you can handle. The best part is, when you're done, there's nothing left to wash but your hands.

Geez, I could go for some Mexican food right now.

How about you? What do you like to eat with?

In Memoriam, Murdered Darlings

I'm more than halfway done with the 2nd Edit, and most of the major rewrites are finished. So now I'm mostly skimming through the remainder and changing references to things that no longer exist.

In doing so, I've had to delete bits I really liked. I'm putting some of them here in memoriam. I don't know how they'll come across out of context like this, but at least I'll know they're here, living forever in the internet.

This is from the first chapter, where Hagai goes to town to pick up the post for Aunt Booker. The village never figured very much in the novel, but I really liked the name.
Hagai hiked down the road to where the village stopped and the shady jungle began. It wasn't far. The village consisted of a dozen buildings on either side of the road. It didn't even have a real name. People called it Ontheway, because it was quicker than saying "those hovels you pass on the way to the Monastery." Hagai only had to walk past Moi's coffee shop, the restaurant that served Anican food, and Teresa's House of Virtue before he was in the relative cool of the jungle.

Originally, Hagai's father was not actually shown in the novel. Everything the reader learns about him, or Hagai's old life on the shipyard, came from little details like the one in this excerpt. Unfortunately, it had to go along with Aunt Booker.
"Who ever knows where they're going?" Aunt Booker turned to arrange some books. "What matters is how you get there."

"So how do I get there?" asked Hagai.

She laughed her loud, hearty laugh. "I ain't an augur, honey. Some things you just gotta figure out by yourself."

"Is that why my father sent me here?"

"Ha!" She whirled to face him. "Your father sent you here cuz you're a lazy, good-for-nothing lump who forgets to even eat 'less somebody tells him to."

Hagai frowned. "Those are his words, aren't they."

"No, they're mine," she said, not unkindly. "Keifer would've said it with more color."

From Sam's first chapter, in which we see him as a little boy asking why his father hasn't come back from the war yet. This was the chapter that got deleted, but I always liked the last line of this excerpt.
"Why're they fighting then?" Sam asked.

His mother sighed. "It's hard to explain. Somebody killed Justitia's emperor, then - "


"Who knows, love? But the Imperium got into it with Salvadora after that."

"I bet it was that piking bastard, Ignacio!" Sam drew his sword and made a couple of slashing motions for emphasis.

"Samuel Thomas Draper! Where did you learn such language?" She crossed her arms. "Is that how they talk in those picture stories of yours?"

"No," Sam lied.

"We'll see," which meant she would probably flip through his Reaper stories the next chance she got. Sam would have to remember to hide issue #8.

This last scene is also from Sam's past. He's older now, almost 18 years, and living in the big city. He works in a machinist shop by day, while by night he beats up on cruel factory owners and corrupt police. He also spends time in bars looking for information about the secret mission that killed his father.
"How'd you hear about this?" Sam asked the barkeep.

"Ain't no pub rumor, s'truth. A piking Imperial Commodore came in here the other day, poured the whole thing to me."

Sam was impressed. It was the first real bit of information he'd gotten since they moved to Grenon. He handed Alton another coin for his trouble. "So why'd he tell you all this?"

"Ah, now," Alton pinched the coin between two fingers, "man's gotta have some secrets. Else who'd pay me for my stories?"

"True enough." Sam took a sip from the cup that'd been getting warm in his hand. "You ain't getting rich from this piss, s'truth."

That Thing Where I Draw: Porco Rosso

Pastels are fun. They're like crayons for adults!

This is a scene, somewhat simplified, from one of my very favorite movies. Seaplanes, air pirates, and bounty hunters. How can you go wrong?

After messing around with pastels last week, I could tell they weren't really good for detail work, not like pencil or ink. But I was curious as to how inexact they really were, so I figured I'd try a cartoon. Turns out, if you're careful, you can still do a lot.

Pastels are so different from what I normally do. I hardly know anything about colors or shapes, preferring instead lines and shading (although I hardly know anything about shading either, now that I think about it). Among other things, it's forcing me to be looser with my drawing, which is a good thing. I normally get so stressed out over getting everything exactly right that drawing ceases to be fun. But doing this one was fun from the start, even in the sketching phase.

Maybe if I'm lucky, some of that freedom will shift into my writing process. Who knows? Anyway, my favorite part is the propeller.

Trust and Grace

Gosh, that title sounds like it belongs on my other blog. Anyway...

When we read something, anything, we want to know that we can trust the author. If we trust that the author knows what they're doing, we'll give them more grace when they make "mistakes" like using unnecessary adverbs or telling when they should be showing. We trust that eventually they'll explain whatever we don't understand.

Conversely, if we don't trust the author, those mistakes will stick out like they were written in sparkly red ink. If we don't understand something right away, rather than say, "I'm sure that's there for a good reason," we say, "That's stupid. It doesn't make any sense."

But trust is hard to come by, and worse, it's subjective.

We trust authors whose work we've read and liked before. We trust authors sold at Barnes & Noble more than self-pubbed authors peddling their works online. We trust authors recommended by friends.

We trust authors that we know personally. This is why referrals work. This is why agents and editors are nicer if you've met them in person. This is also why it's so hard to get honest criticism of our work, and why agents don't care if your mom and ten of your best friends said the manuscript was "better than Dan Brown."

So if you're unknown, unpublished (or self-published), and you don't know the reader personally, how do you get the reader to trust you? All you've got left, then, is your first impression.

Your first impression is your first sentence, first paragraph, first page, and in many cases, your query letter. This is why it's so important. It's not that the agent/editor won't read on if they suck, it's that they decide -- often subconsciously -- whether you're an amateur or professional based on the first thing they read. Everything they read afterward is colored by that.

If they see amateur mistakes straight off, then the fancy prose they see later might be seen as "trying too hard" or at best "potential." On the other hand, if they decide they're in the hands of a soon-to-be professional, then occasional sloppy prose they see later might be interpreted as "mistakes I can help them fix."

So don't tell them what your mom and ten best friends thought. Don't tell them you're the next Stephanie Meyer. Don't infodump. Don't try to describe every single character and subplot in a 250-word query.

Do find a critique group. Do read Nathan Bransford's comprehensive FAQ on publishing and getting published. Do read as many of the posts you can at Query Shark, Evil Editor, Miss Snark, and any number of other agents' and editors' blogs around the web. Do whatever it takes to find out what first impression you're making.

Then make a better one.


First off, thanks to everyone who hung out here for Positive Waves Week, and a special thanks to those who spread the love on their own blogs: MattDel, Stephanie Thornton, and Renee Pinner. I had fun. Next time I feel like crap, I'll do that again.

Now, those of you who follow the Works In Progress section on my sidebar* will notice I'm at chapter 12 of my "2nd Edit" of Air Pirates. Here's context for what that means:
  1. Brainstorming/Outlining/First Draft, in which I wrote the dang thing.
  2. 1st Edit, in which I identified the parts I wasn't happy with and fixed them.
  3. Beta Phase, in which my friends told me what they didn't like about it.
  4. 2nd Edit, in which I fix major problems and rewrite whole chapters.
  5. 3rd Edit, in which I fix minor problems and read through it again to make sure I didn't break anything.
  6. Beta Phase II (or as my mom would call it, the Gamma Phase), in which folks read it again, most hopefully for the first time.
  7. 4th Edit, in which I fix it yet again.
  8. Query, in which I discover how much I've learned since the last time.
So far, I've rewritten 1 chapter and a significant percentage of 7 others. I have at least one more scene and another chapter to rewrite, after which it's mostly tweaking the document for continuity.

It's hard work, but I'm learning firsthand how malleable my story really is. Like the other day, I had to delete a chapter. This was really hard for me because every chapter was originally there for a reason. But I was staring at this chapter for 2 days, and had attempted a couple of rewrites already, when I finally realized that (1) the chapter did nothing that couldn't be done elsewhere and (2) with the exception of 2 or 3 lines, I just didn't like it.

Once I did it (i.e. pressed the Delete key), I freaked out for a minute. Had I done the right thing? Did the chapter have some purpose I forgot about? What if deleting it broke something else?**

But it was also kind of liberating. I don't have to keep anything I don't like. I've come across scenes since then and recognized the same feeling: I don't like it, or something's not working with it, or I'm trying to force it in there because I like bits of it but those bits aren't worth bringing the rest of the story down. Those scenes have been rewritten.

All that said, I hope I never have to delete a chapter again. I mean, it's nice to know I can, but it will mean I didn't plan properly. And that... well that just doesn't happen.

Shut up, it doesn't.

* Which is none of you, I know. But I bet you're scrolling down to look for it now.

** Yes, I realize that the chapter was just an Undo away -- and in older saved versions, on backup drives and e-mails, on the hard drives of all my beta readers... Whoever thinks writers are sane doesn't know any.

That Thing Where I Draw Every Week and Then Show It To You: Roast Chicken

(Like my new feature title? It was the best I could come up with.* If you think you can do better, drop your idea in the comments.

I had a hard time deciding what to draw for Positive Waves Week. At first I thought I'd draw something that makes me happy, like a scene from Laputa or something. And I figured copying cartoons is a lot easier than copying from life, cuz all the lines are already there!

Well ten minutes into copying it, I realized I was stressing out. Copying cartoons is just as bad as copying from life; I'll know if it's wrong, and I won't be happy. (I also got a rejection letter during those ten minutes, so that didn't help. More negative waves!).

So I scrapped it and decided I was going to draw whatever the heck I wanted to draw. No reference pictures.** No laboring over every line, angle, and proportion.

I sketched something really fast, intending to go over it with color later and ditch the pencil lines. But when I pulled out the colored pencils, I remembered how that worked out for me the last time and put them away.

I couldn't leave the pencil lines in, so what to do? I remembered our oil pastels. To be fair, they didn't come out so well last time either, but I'd gotten some good tips, and anyway what better time to try new things than the day I decide I don't care!

ALL THAT TO SAY, this is what I drew this week:

And I had a lot of fun. I think I might keep messing with pastels for a while.

(This marks the end of Positive Waves Week at Author's Echo, but if you'd like to send positive waves on your own blog, feel free to drop a link in the comments. I'll follow every one.)

* "Roast Chicken" is what I called today's picture. It's not part of the feature title... though maybe it should be.

** Well, I did use a reference for the chicken.