Into the Dreamlands

With November coming up, I’ve taken on the challenge of writing non stop through the month on both the second book in the Corvus Rex series as well as the second book in the Arcadia series with partner Kenneth Mader. It’s a welcome challenge as I work toward regaining the prolific push I used to have. Along with this, I’m adding on one more challenge. Art. Lots of art.

It all started with a practice drawing of a special little boy, the son of a friend who posted a photo that begged me to give it a try in the style that has been floating in my head for a while: a simple ink line piece, leaving some of the sketchy guide lines in. Simple but enough.

“Tristan” – my first simple ink in a long time. Simple but capturing so much.

My attempt was to awaken a piece of the artist in me that has gone quite a bit dormant. I’ve done so much tight portrait work and character study in the last few years that I felt I’d lost my edge on figures, let alone landscape and architecture work. So I’ve been drawing new inspiration from one of my favorite children’s illustrators, Trina Schartt Hyman. Her beautiful and lush layouts filled me with wonder as a child and still do, and she was not afraid to depict the darker side of fairy tales in many of them. My small library of about ten of her books barely scratches the surface on how much work she put out there, winning various awards including the Caldecott Medal. I gladly admit she had a generous influence on some of my own early work when I drew my characters in full form, armored up or in actual scenes that had a sense of movement to them. With a little help from the spirit of Mrs. Hyman and also an architectural painting course I’m working on, I hope to rekindle that wonder. I think my style paired with her inspiration could generate some beautiful illustrations, so I’m going to just see where this takes me. Juggling in an illustration here or there in November adds to the challenge, but it’s a welcome one, and I hope to be sharing something soon as I pick some of my favorite scenes from Corvus Rex, many of which will depict the Dreamlands as I see them. I’ll share this journey as I go, perhaps some of the process steps from layout sketch to final. I will start out likely using colored pencils and maybe some gouache paint, and maybe eventually I’ll be brave enough to use water colors as TSH did in hers.

My goal, as with setting a plot for a novel, is to grow, reclaim the artist’s path I used to follow more, and beat a new path along the way.

From Snow White, Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

About that Instagram Blitzkrieg of Mine

Recently I started a rather crazy Instagram campaign to market Corvus Rex: The Substance of Darkness, especially since this October is the year anniversary of it’s release and, of course, Halloween is coming and since trick or treating is not on everyone’s table, an evening at home reading a Lovecraftian tome might be.

I’ve shared everything from art and book covers to screen captures from the book trailer and storyboard-to-screen comparisons that are just plain fun. I automatically cross post from IG to Facebook to Twitter to Tumbler (I hardly ever even look at Twitter or Tumbler) to save some time so I can get in a few minutes of social media a morning and hopefully get out quick so I can then focus on writing. It’s an aggressive campaign, it’s obnoxious, my friends may get sick of hearing about it, it may or may not sell books, but honestly, what I’m really getting out of it is a dose of self encouragement I’ve been needing all along.

I recently came to the realization that, given how long it’s been since I’ve read my own writing, I’m really quite good. I picked up Corvus Rex book one to read back through it and refresh on the text as I prep to start book two for NaNoWriMo this November. No, it isn’t always perfect, but I’m learning to let things go and not penalize myself on items that are not really penalty worthy. My self confidence as a writer started to bloom more than I think it ever has before.

That led me to this campaign on Instagram. It’s not so much whether books will sell as that I’m enjoying what I do again after a long last ten months affected by more than Covid-19. I am, at last, looking ahead, seeing a future for my work in all of my projects that have been patiently waiting for me to get my shit together. Those story-board-to-screen comparisons? They totally bolster me to work on a screenplay I’ve been plotting for a couple years now. Those book cover mock ups and character portraits being shared again and again? They keep me focused on the target and feeling like the future isn’t so dreadfully uncertain.

So, all of that taken into consideration, if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram and my blitzkrieg is starting to get a bit annoying, I apologize for absolutely nothing.

Reemerging and a new look at Lovecraft

The last six months have been a whirlwind of change, both within my personal world as well as the world around us all for obvious reasons.

My marriage unraveled a while back, leaving me to try to make sense of why, and the need for self-isolation over Covid-19 churned up a lot of soul searching and processing. I am still somewhat confused, but day by day more clarity comes and in the long run I’ve been coming to understand why it is, in the end, all for the best for both of us. We really were going in separate directions more than I acknowledged at the time. Now I’m finding my own path again and benefitting more than I’d have expected.

In my last post months ago, I expressed that I had an idea for a fun blogging project that I was going to undertake. That did not happen. It fell apart, ripped up like a bad manuscript by my then emotional storm, and it is perfectly fine that the desire went away given the heaps of projects I already have underway or planned. Book projects, film projects, art and everything in between. I’m good on projects, but I do need to get back to blogging a bit more, and I felt a need to kick it off by addressing situations in my work and how they are actually reflected in, or relate to, our society today.

It is important for me to consider obvious events in the world at large as I get back to these projects, and one in particular.

Corvus Rex is a novel series in which I use a young H.P. Lovecraft as a character. It is now no secret that Lovecraft was a raging racist for much of his life having left behind a written record of it in thousands of letters to colleagues and friends. We can say that he was a product of his times, and I do believe that it was somewhat programmed into him by his family from an early age as they viewed themselves as New England nobility and looked down not only on blacks but other nationalities and immigrants and the middle class in general. He lived in a time when the gross pseudoscience of eugenics was on the rise, influencing scores of simple minds eager to embrace support for their views and set back our evolution, and Lovecraft’s was one such mind.

I make no excuses for him. As an author, he had many opportunities to evolve and expand his world, and I believe he took at least a small step at one point in his life, which I will talk about more here later, but I am no apologist. I accepted this uncomfortable detail about him when I first undertook the Corvus Rex series as I feel his racist notions are a matter of history that should not be buried or sugar coated. I decided to take on the discomfort of it all as a challenge to myself as a writer. I recall how the first time his character used the “N” word in a casual way made me swallow a lump, take a deep breath, and press on, telling myself this is ugly, but it is unfortunately how he would have been and spoken. His views are actually mentioned in the opening chapter of the first novel. This was how uncomfortable it made me, that I nipped it in the bud from the start.

“I do not like this,” Yuri says to his companion, Kvasir, after having read young Howard Lovecraft’s mind to assess whether or not they should pursue using him as a sort of journalist for their tales. “His mind is a fragile mess, and he’s a bigot with an acute fear of foreigners and Negroes.”

The period is 1908, and Yuri Corvinus is a man who is not only 1,800 years old but a foreigner who is acutely aware that he will make his new audience squirm for reasons that do not always have to do with tales of terror. He does not like my accent, Yuri thinks as he starts to speak more to Howard, noting immediately that his own otherness (Eastern European) has provoked a scowl from the boy. Yuri’s attitude about racism is more or less to simply accept that it exists, whether he likes it or not, though occasionally he does counter it in his own way. He’s seen it for centuries and, at the opening of the series, when he witnesses it, especially in a seventeen year old man-child like Howard, his reaction is probably more likely to sigh and say to himself, “I’m too old for this shit.”

In the real and present world, we cannot be so dismissive. We need to actively stand up to it, embrace reform in ourselves and our society if we’re to grow. I have undertaken this project and I cannot change the choice I made in using Howard as a character, albeit a fictionalized one, nor will I as I feel it is important to show this disgusting side of history that has lingered too long and show it in this man whose works have now labeled him the father of modern horror. I choose to portray it for the absurdity of it all. Fictionally speaking, Yuri fights for humanity against things outside of our realm that could end us in a blink much like Thanos snapping his fingers in The Avengers: Infinity War. That he should have to witness the very humans he defends turning against each other over skin color or nationality would certainly be disillusioning and raise the question, “Why fight for them?”

As for the real Lovecraft that never met any such fantastical and immortal individual, he did leave us something to speculate on. He was friends with Robert H. Barlow, an author and anthropologist who was considerably younger than Howard and gay, who was named as Lovecraft’s executor of his estate. Whether Lovecraft was aware that Barlow was homosexual is another discussion entirely, but their friendship was interesting. More curiously, however, in 1924, he married Sonia Greene, a Jewish woman of Ukrainian descent. This is extraordinary and contradicts what we know of his anti-Semitism. Though that marriage did not last, it appears to have been partly over family interference (Lovecraft ended up living with his aunts who refused to allow Sonia to rejoin him) as well as Lovecraft’s growing xenophobia after living in New York and his unwillingness to pick up an actual trade other than writing (he did lament this later in life). Sonia divorced him and went on to live a long and presumably happy life. Lovecraft, on the other hand, would die of untreated stomach cancer in the spring of 1937 at the age of 46.

Lovecraft & Sonia Greene with Reinhart Kleiner

In the summer of 1936, in the gradually failing health of the last months of his life, he wrote an interesting commentary on the Great Depression, addressing his old views in a new light:

“I used to be a hide-bound Tory, simply for traditional and antiquarian reasons, and because I had never done any real thinking on civics and industry and the future. The Depression and its concomitant publicization of industrial, financial, and governmental problems, jolted me out of my lethargy and led me to reexamine the facts of history and the light of unsentimental scientific analysis; and it was not long before I realized what an ass I had been. The liberals at whom I used to laugh were the ones who were right, for they were living in the present while I had been living in the past. They had been using science, while I had been using romantic antiquarianism. At last I began to recognize something of the way in which capitalism works, always piling up concentrated wealth and impoverishing the bulk of the population until the strain becomes so intolerable as to force artificial reform.”

Lovecraft died a pauper and thus, ironically, on the same level of the classes his once elite family looked down upon, so his racist views saved him nothing. We all go to the grave and holding onto our hateful thoughts and regards for our fellow man will not prevent it.

Were it not for a handful of friends who persisted in publishing Lovecraft’s works, the great Cthulhu himself may have faded into obscurity along with his creator. Those contemporaries such as Frank Belknap Long, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth, founder of Arkham House Publishing, also wrote their own stories within the mythos that he inspired and not all shared his views of race and class, choosing instead to focus purely on his art and less on the man himself. Today it is impossible to name a horror author who was not inspired by his works from Stephen King and Clive Barker to Neil Gaimen and to my knowledge none of them have ever expressed anything other than a love of the mythos while completely distinguishing its original author’s views even when they rear their ugliness within some of his tales.

Given his marriage to Sonia, and his later changing views on capitalism, we can ponder whether these elements might have signaled a potential evolution and change in his thoughts on race had he lived longer, but that is all we can do, and as I said, I am no apologist. I would like to think that, but without certainty, all that remains is still purely speculation. I merely share all of this to make it clear how much more complicated the man was, but I would never use them as points of redemption where we have no solid answers.

Some associates of mine recently removed the description “Lovecraftian” from their own project. It was originally used more to describe a certain mood ascribed to the work and bore no relation to mention of any creatures in the storyline that are derived from Lovecraft’s mythos. The choice was made in protest to Lovecraft’s racist notions in the face of today’s trials and support for Black Lives Matter. I completely understand why they did it and support them on it. It is not so easy for me, however, as I most definitely am using a few of Lovecraft’s creations in my series, and just as importantly, Lovecraft himself. It is a case of it is what it is, but I will not pretend his attitudes were okay and I will never present them as okay.

Through this exercise, I will continue to step out of my comfort zone and thus challenge myself as a writer. Corvus Rex itself is meant to be an epic fantasy and horror romp in worlds unknown, but on the deeper side it is also a journey into our own very real dark psychological past, a thing we all need to face if we’re to evolve and, ultimately, preserve our humanity.

As was recently posted on the Facebook Page for the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society:

We grapple constantly with the challenge of reconciling apprehensions about the man with appreciation for his artistic creations. We strive to recontextualize those creations for a new era. We fully agree that Black lives matter. We can’t change Lovecraft, but we can help change our world. We must evaluate the past unflinchingly, see the present honestly, and embrace changes to create a future that brings justice and equality to everyone.

For reference:

H.P. Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (Full Documentary)

I Am Providence by S.T. Joshi (A massive biography)

The Complicated Friendship of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Barlow, One of His Biggest Fans

H.P. Lovecraft, His Racism in Context

The Mysterious Love of Sonia Greene for H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft: Letters to Reinhart Kleiner

Many of Lovecraft’s other letters to his contemporaries have also been collected and bound and are available through Amazon and other book sellers via Hippocampus Press and others such as the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Breaking Through Fear of the Unknown

Earlier this month my writing partner on the Arcadia Chronicles, Kenneth Mader, and I were scheduled for our first signing at the Barnes and Noble in Burbank, CA. Our high hopes for that event were somewhat, but not completely, dashed by the COVID-19 scare. It was all so bizarre experientially. I got on a plane from North Carolina to California on March 11th, using general recommended precautions, washing hands often, using a face mask when dashing through a crowded airport. My flights were comfortable and easy going. On my longer flight from Atlanta into Burbank, I sat with two young women who were off on an adventure together. They had left husbands and kids at home and were ready for some girl fun. We chatted a little, and I recommended a few places to eat such as Pink’s burgers in Hollywood, and what have you.

It was strange, upon landing, to discover how much had changed in the six hours that I had been traveling. It was as if the world had imploded. My sister-in-law picked me up at the airport and told me she had decided to postpone her spring wedding, a most upsetting matter for her, but also the responsible choice, but this was in part because the fears surrounding the spread of this virus had dialed up far more than could have ever been foreseen. Plans we had made to go to San Diego for a day changed, we chose to stay in as much as possible (a situation helped by a series of rainy days) and only dined out a handful of times compared to our usual foodie frenzy when visiting. The signing at Barnes and Noble that Saturday was not totally disappointing. While the store was something of a ghost town, Ken and I saw it as a good practice run in that we had an excellent panel talk with our handful of supportive attendees and wonderful discussions with our co-creators on the project, Debra and Gerald Hopkins. Ken also filmed that talk, and hopefully some sharing will happen soon.

Over the next couple days after, however, tension in the news began to rise even more. The virus was spreading in L.A. County, and that was when we all began to hear the term “social distancing” as a softer alternative to “quarantine”. I thought of those two young ladies on the plane who could not have expected this situation any more than I could have, because I’m sure it put a damper on their plans as well considering that Disneyland and other parks closed and businesses were dialing down how they operated. I hope they made it back home safely and well.

I myself decided to leave a day earlier than planned and came back to North Carolina where I only went back to my job for a couple days. Because of being in a “hot spot” as California became, I have since kept a distance from my mother, whose health is compromised for various reasons, and I’ve got a few more days of that before I’m cleared to actually be in the same room with her (so far, so good, no symptoms other than allergies).  As I’ve adhered to the recommendations, like everyone else, there is a level of stir crazy that can go with that, even as we are still allowed to get out and take walks and get fresh air. But with commerce as a whole grinding to a halt and only necessary businesses and emergency services staying open, it is another form of Lovecraft’s fear of the unknown at work here. We have no idea what’s to come in the days ahead for our health and how the economy will recover. That’s far scarier than any Outer God pursuing the hero of Corvus Rex with nefarious intentions or the creepy, slimy ghouls haunting the Realm of the Arcadia Chronicles.

I’ve discovered that willful isolation, even for an introvert such as myself, is more difficult than expected. I still love having experiences, and that is remedied by taking walks, but finally given time to sit down and actually write? I hit a wall. Too much time left my mind too wound up, unable to focus. I have so much I can work on. An interlude novella for Corvus Rex. Book two of Arcadia. Screenplays. Visuals for all of these projects have flitted through my mind and out again, so how to net those muses and sit their flighty butts down for a real creative conversation has been a challenge. Then, suddenly, an answer of a sort came to me in that kind of lightning inspiration that finally sticks and begins to break down writing block walls, and it is not at all what you would think.

For the moment, it is a little surprise, and in the next day or two I’ll reveal this technique and once you see it, I invite anyone to try it for themselves in their own way. You do not even have to be a creative to try this bit. I promise. The beauty of it is that after coming up with this idea, and planning and plotting bits and pieces of it out, the other muses are settling down again and finally seem to be ready to focus.

As they say, whatever it takes. Please stay tuned.

Signing at Barnes & Noble, Burbank today.

I am in town for the first launch “party” and signing of The Arcadia Chronicles with my partner in writing, Kenneth Mader at the Barnes & Noble in Burbank, CA. Today at noon we start signing and hope to see a decent turn out, but there is, of course, a great big catch to that.

We are amidst the craziness that has resulted from the COVID-19 scare. The trip out from North Carolina last Wednesday was quite surreal. I got on the plane over news of the general concerns of the virus, I got off the plane some six hours later to wiped out shelves, multiple institutions shutting down, Disneyland closing, and notices to consider self quarantining. The scenario has all of the early setup of a sci-fi thriller.

Thus, I cannot begrudge anyone who decides not to come in for our meet and greet. On the plus side, it is unlikely that our little event will be anything shoulder to shoulder, there will be some precautions in place, and we are still excited regardless. So if you should feel inclined, please come say Hi and check out The Arcadia Chronicles: Afterlife. If not, all good, please just stay safe and take care of yourself and your loved ones.

Listen to the Whispers

From my partner in writing on The Arcadia Chronicles.

KENNETH MADER

There are times in one’s life and career when something you’ve dreamt of and worked towards for many years comes to fruition, in a way that far exceeds your expectations and at the same time is exactly how you envisioned it. That time came for me last week.

It felt different than my film experiences since it truly is a first for me. I’ve been making movies since I was a wee lad, but book writing always seemed more fantasy than reality. A kind of “one day I’ll do that” goal that other commitments and life in general tended to get in the way of. That also ended last week.

For months we have been in the thick of edits and revisions on my upcoming book AFTERLIFE, but last week I received the final artwork for the cover, and I’ve got to say it rocked my world. 

Co-written…

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Behind the Scenes, dissecting a book trailer

When you realize your humanity just took a turn for the worst.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the trailer, but where is it in the book? I can say, without spoilers, that it’s actually a composite of two different scenes that take place at two different times thus making the situation more complicated. As an exercise, it was interesting to decide what elements to draw from the book and compress into a teaser. The spine thing started out as something of a joke (that is my husband’s chiropractic model spine which I was allowed to cover in blech), but it soon became serious business in the plot as new baby monster Zyraxes realizes he’s going to have to keep himself in check.

 

The Corvus Rex Journey, There and Still Going

I talk much about how I came to develop Corvus Rex in the afterword of my first book, The Substance of Darkness, so I do not aim to rehash all of that here, but I do want to discuss other elements, decisions I made along the way, etc. without much in the way of spoilers.

Book one is, essentially, an origin story and something of a slow burn. Our hero is born, grows into a warrior, goes through a horrific transformation, and establishes an arch nemesis.

He also happens to be having a conversation with a young H.P. Lovecraft.

Corvus Rex Book One

This element, which I have discussed elsewhere, is not new in terms of general concept, but it is a matter of how I’ve done it that will be different from other authors using Lovecraft as an historical character or elements of his works. To that end, I decided early on that I would not read any further stories set in Lovecraft’s overall mythos (Dream Cycle or Cthulhu Mythos) by modern authors, even those by my beloved Neil Gaiman, though there is one exception that only visits the mythos occasionally and even then it is almost more to spoof it than anything. Some day, when this is all over, I will go back to reading some of these newer, brilliant authors and enjoy their takes on H.P.’s works.

However, for now I will read Lovecraft’s contemporaries, those to whom he wrote many letters and encouraged to play in his universe, such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, or Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), and I read some of Lovecraft’s inspirations such as Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert E. Chambers (The King in Yellow) to name a few, because these have some historical bearing on my story.

This decision was partly because I did not want to second guess myself on some of my plot devices. I didn’t want to find myself saying “Well, so-and-so already did that,” or, “But that’s like (insert plot element) in (insert title).” I also, to a certain degree, stopped sharing my story plans with friends. This all goes back to the old adage that there is nothing new under the sun. It’s true, and there are no new ideas, but I could shield myself from feeling derailed before I got to what made my presentation different from all of the others. In the past, if I shared an idea, ultimately a friend who had read some other novel would say, “Oh, like in such-in-such,” and I would say “No, this is not that.” People have an instinct to compare elements, and that’s not a bad thing, really, but you can’t convince them of the differences without sitting them down and having a come to Jesus talk.

I have to say that taking this course has been quite a break-through, and I’ve felt more free to explore this world I’m playing in and share my interpretation without too many stalls. Now, almost the entire series is developed, with a few holes to fill in and questions to answer, but it is a relief to know where it is all going and how it will get there.

Corvus Rex: The Substance of Darkness will finally be available in print this weekend in a gorgeous 6×9 matte copy, and yes, it is an independent publiscation. This print version has been run through the proverbial wringer in terms of proofing and the Kindle copy will be updated to match this quality and prior Kindle purchasers can access these updates in their Amazon libraries. I believe in honesty, and I would be remiss to not admit that stuff was missed when I published the ebook. In fact, I right drove myself crazy the moment I discovered just one typo in the Kindle version… and then another… and then… What happened? I asked myself. It is possible that I uploaded an incorrect file, or Word failed at some point to save one of my comb-throughs. Whatever the case, I’m happy to say that it’s fixed now and I’ve actually stumbled upon a great method to edit from now on for both me and my other proof readers, and it is this method by which I will operate with the next four books.

Is it unprofessional for me to admit to these mistakes? I don’t think so, honestly. I’ve read professionally published works that were full of missed typos (once even encountered a publisher who had left a partial paragraph from another novel accidentally pasted into the wrong work). When I commented on my typos to one of my proof readers, she was surprised and said, “Well, it goes to show that we were more caught up in the story than catching typos.”

Okay, I’ll accept that. As long as I’ve presented a good story that people are enjoying, that makes me very happy indeed.

The Substance of Darkness trade paperback goes live this Saturday on Amazon, and I am pleased to say how proud I am of it even after stumbling over a few stubborn booboos.

It is done… and more is coming.

The first complete draft of Corvus Rex: The Substance of Darkness is done. I hesitate to call it a first draft as so many chunks of it have been through edits, re-edits, and experiments that it is more like draft four and a half. At last I pushed through to the end, and while it is now time to turn it over to a few beta readers and take a step back, I resist the urge to go back and start edits myself on those last couple of chapters. For one, my eyes are a little burned out and I need to refresh and focus for now on a piece for The Arcadia Chronicles. Continue reading “It is done… and more is coming.”