Saturday, June 30, 2012

Organization and Using Word

I am a compulsive list maker. I don’t feel as if I can wrap my mind around a subject until I’ve made at least one list on it. And I say “at least one” meaning that it’s often more like two or three. It keeps me pretty organized. I have lists for research topics, lists for the things I want to know about each topic, etc. You know what makes all those lists easier?

Hyperlinks in Word!! I have just discovered the best use of these things, ever. You can link to your own documents! So, I can make a list on any topic (or of my other lists), and then pull up the individual .docs, .pdfs, etc., just by hitting control and clicking on them! How was I missing this? It’s wonderful!

I now have a master list of all my stories and I can just ctrl + click and bring up the file just like that! Got a paper I need to write using various research references? (Which I actually do…) Make a list with hyperlinks! Okay, so this is really geeky and probably a bit OCD, but … lists!

Okay, I’m going to go now… *hangs head* …Back to my lists! Hee.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Steampunk

Okay, so I've been showing restraint and not posting every cover that I've been working on, BUT this is my first Steampunk cover, and I'm a little in love with it, so I'm going to post it here. *nods* It's for Inventing Love, by Killarney Sheffield--which you should soon be able to pre-order from MuseItUp!

I've also updated the Book Cover page! Working on some more posts, too! Oh, no! Maybe it's a sign of the Zombie Apocalypse. *nods*

Monday, June 18, 2012

Basic Agriculture: Types of Crops

Types of Crops

Not all cultures grow wheat. Wheat is not a requirement for a low-tech culture. Starch, however, is. But there are many ways to get starch. From barley to arro root to rice to corn and on and on. I think the best way to figure out what your culture would be eating is to take a look at our own cultures. But, that's not always a perfect indicator, because there are some plants that just happened to evolve in a specific area and never had the chance to spread. If they'd had the opportunity, they might have become prolific, or they might not have. So, don't just focus on a single area. Focus on a given environment. If conditions are similar in two different areas, but those areas are on opposite sides of the Earth, they're usually going to have different types of plants. However, your area can have both.

That doesn't mean you should just toss in plants at random, of course. Crops may begin as wild growth, but the difference between "gathering" and "agriculture" is cultivation. Your culture chose to seed these plants, year after year. They chose to do the hard labor of making room for them and tending to them because these plants gave your culture something. Food or shelter or necessary raw materials. Agriculture isn't random. The most valuable crops are the most versatile crops or the ones that are most vital.

These are the ones that get the most space, the most time, the most attention. If you can make a lot of different things out of it, or you absolutely have to have it, you grow it in as much quantity as you can. For instance, when doing the worldbuilding for Born of this Soil, I was looking up similar environments. River delta, fertile soil, near the ocean, with a warm and moist climate. In researching I came across a list of crops grown in such an environment and saw 'persimmon.' It piqued my interest. I've never had a persimmon. I've heard of them, of course, but I really had no idea what they were.

So I did some research; you can make so much stuff from persimmons! Seriously: breads, coffee(ish), tea(ish), beer, molasses, pies, jellies, candies, wine, brandy. Pickle them, dry them, grind them into fine powder and sprinkle them on other stuff. And I thought—much as I'm sure many among my culture would have—well, that takes care of half my needs right there! And I liked the idea of the persimmon, versatile little weirdo that it is, being their favorite fruit. They're considered an acquired taste, and because the Andoli have been conquered and are living under the rule of another culture, I wanted them to have things that were very distinctly theirs. The ruling Ephendri think it's a horrible taste, but since they profit from the sale of it, they have no reason to want to stop persimmon growth or sale. My Andoli characters even make and drink bootleg persimmon brandy, wine, and beer. It's something they share with one another, something which does not get offered or given to the Ephendri characters—for the most part, although there is one (maybe two) with whom it's a point of symbolism.

So, choose your crops with the same care that your culture would. Really think about what their needs will be and how they can satisfy them. Crops have to be grown and harvested, and that takes time. Some crops can be harvested more often than others, some provide more bounty than others, and some take more care and attention than others. You don't have to know the entire evolutionary history of a crop in order to use it well—although, you know I won't stop you if you want to know!—but you should have an idea of when they can have it, how long they can store it, how much they can do with it, and how much of it they'll need. Oh, and who's harvesting it and when!

Plants and Description

However, even if you're making up your own fruits, vegetables and grains, or making use of something we don't to any large extent, you might also consider tying it to something familiar. If you don't want your culture or species to feel completely alien to the reader, having them enjoy something that is familiar can help. Of course, you have to be careful with this. On the one hand, there are words you can use to describe the taste that aren't references to our own world—such as sweet, bitter, sour, spicy, rich—and then there are words that relate to substances that may or may not exist in your background—salty, sugary, peppery, nutty, buttery.

It is possible that your world contains these things, but each world is different. Even if they're on your world, it's possible that your culture or species doesn't have or use them, or they're too expensive for most people. Knowing where these things come from, how and where they're most likely to be found, or how they are made allows you determine where they are and aren't.

This is another reason to consider a climate rather than a specific area. You can take plants from similar climates (the more similar the better, in fact) even if they do not belong to the same small geographical region. If you're worried that taking two different plants from radically different places will confuse the reader and make them unsure what they should be picturing, don't name the plant. Describe it instead. Can you name every tree you walk past? I can spot an oak, a magnolia, a dogwood, a crepe myrtle, a linden, a cypress, a birch, but I can't tell you want a maple looks like. I can't tell you the names of half the bushes I see just walking down the street. You don't have to name everything, name the ones that you think your readers will be able to picture and describe the rest.

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Note: Yes, I know I said more on sentient plants next, but this needed less writing and I am slammed, so agriculture it is! Besides, maybe your wheat is secretly plotting to take over the world! :-D

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fantasy Artwork

I warned you it was coming. *nods* This guy was so much fun to work on! The little tendrils on his face and neck were probably the most intensive part. I had a blast playing with his coloration and skin texture, and I love his expression!

I'm going through my files for artwork to use on some pre-made covers and I couldn't resist this guy. It will be a fantasy or SF cover, but I haven't decide which yet. I suppose it depends on what strikes my fancy while making it! Right now I'm leaning toward the fantasy, if only because I haven't gotten a chance to play with a high fantasy cover in a bit.

Still plugging away on Sings the Distant Heart. These things take me *ages*, yeah? But I think I'm close and I plan to have it read for submission by the end of the month!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Computer Meltdowns and Cover Art

Sorry I've been basically drive-by posting. My computer had a meltdown a couple of days ago and it took forever to get all my software reinstalled! That's a freakin' nightmare, let me tell you. Also, there's a new kitten in the household. He was rescued from the middle of the road and he was a holy terror for the first few nights. Would not stop yowling! He's fine now, after a bath and some food. Now, he's exploring and playing and sleeping on my hand while I try to work in photoshop. (He's just too cute to move.) But! I'm back up and running again, and hopefully I'll be getting around to comments, doing another worldbuilding post (sentient plants again! Then, I think more agriculture, and then back to the desert for culture building!). I've got a ton of projects all going at once (Note to self: send chapters to Chrys!!) and I'm bouncing between them all. Which is a lot of fun, but also pretty hectic! Oh, well. I work well under pressure.

This *points to cover* is my latest assignment from MuseItUp! It's Trixie's Hot Box, by R.L. Courtright, and I had such fun with it! I love working with light and shadows, and the neon was a blast to do. Other than the cover art, I'm working on some other pieces, all fantasy and science fiction, which are totally my favorites. Big surprise, right? :-D Two for my own books, and some others just because I wanted to. Always fun. Expect to see some of that soon, too! Plus, I totally have to redo the blog. My monitor has a different resolution now and my non-repeating background does not stretch. *glares at it* Stretch, damn you! Er, yeah. Perhaps a little too much caffeine? More than enough rambling, at any rate!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Music While Writing

While I generally listen to music while writing, I don’t make playlists or anything for my books. I think it’s because I like to listen to songs I know really well, songs that fade into the background when I’m really into what I’m doing, only popping into my awareness when I’m sitting back to consider a scene. Even then, I don’t want to be distracted. I might get up and do something, but it’s always the kind of thing that won’t take up too much of my brain. Washing dishes, straightening up, feeding the cats, taking a short walk. Things you can do while half on auto-pilot.

I suppose I like to listen to “auto-pilot” music, too. Songs I can sing along to without having to think about the words. Because there’s always something going on in the back of my brain when I’m writing. It may not be conscious, but it’s still there, and it’s still taking up brain power. Which is why, when I come back to the writing, I can often start typing away, whatever I was considering having been resolved.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Just a Fly-By about Dialogue and Characterization

You know what my favorite part of a story is? The dialogue. Seriously, because when it’s well done, it’s just so much fun to read. At least, I think so. Give me a good conversation and I am totally hooked. I love the interplay between characters, the back and forth that tells you so much about who they are and how they relate, to the person they’re talking to, to the world they’re in, to the story.

I love it when characters argue, or have a discussion where they’re at cross purposes. I love it when one character is saying one thing—and the reader knows it—and another character is hearing another—and the reader knows that, too—because I think it shows the depth of understanding the author has for the characters, and has given the reader. You know? You can’t have two different characters, talking about two different things, but thinking they’re talking about the same thing unless you know how they think!

Did that make any sense? The point was, I love it when an author knows a character so well that the words coming out of their mouths make real sense, because we—the readers—understand that character, because they’ve been explained to us by the author. (Although, hopefully through the cunning use of characterization and not because they’ve literally been explained.) Dialogue takes on a whole new depth when the reader really gets what the character is trying to say, regardless of the words they’re actually saying.