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As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story.
Description: the ability to place oneself deeply within another person’s experience to see their view of the world and better identify with their emotions, concerns, goals and life struggles. NOTE: this entry does not cover Empaths, which is a talent that goes beyond learned empathy.
Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: control over one’s emotions and being able to reject any personal bias that might get in the way of seeing life from another person’s view, perceptiveness and knowing what questions to ask, strong listening and communication skills, openness to new experiences and ideas, being comfortable enough to open up and share in kind
Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: curious, kind, understanding, objective, honest, calm, encouraging, fair, diplomatic, selfless, imaginative, compassionate, non-judgmental
Required Resources and Training: to hone one’s empathy, a character must open themselves to other people, their thoughts, perceptions and experiences, and be able to view these as having as much value as their own personal ones. Listening–really listening–means not rushing in with advice or expressing sympathy or pity. Empathy is acknowledging another person’s emotion as being valid, and seating oneself in their viewpoint to better experience their perspective.
Learning to be open-minded, and set aside one’s own experiences and interactions that can lead to unintentional bias can be difficult to achieve, but necessary to achieve true empathy. Training oneself to watch for physical cues and body language will help the character see if supportive questions might encourage a deeper sharing of emotions and experience, or if quiet listening is better in the situation. Being aware of body language and what it communicates will also allow the character to use their own to reinforce the message that they are open and engaged, and listening without judgement. Trying new experiences, identifying and then facing different personal challenges, and looking for deeper meaning in the world around will help the character open themselves to “trying on” different perspectives, making it easier to set aside their own feelings to better feel another’s.
Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:
The misconception that people with empathy are bleeding hearts who can’t make hard choices
People who show empathy build trust quickly
Empathy creates balanced leadership
People who feel strong empathy may also feel strong guilt if they are unable to bring about a needed change
Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful: in friendship and relationships, in careers that focus on social sciences, mental health and well-being, human advocacy groups, politics and leadership, communication and diplomacy, any job that requires strong interpersonal skills, people in an advisory role to those in power (using empathy skills to convey the need for change, reinforce balance and promote open communication)
You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.
Shelley Coriell dropped by the virtual offices to share a top 5 about her hero Hatch. Be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of The Buried!
Top 5 Things Hatch Won’t Leave Home Without by Shelley Coriell
This is a tough one because FBI Agent Hatch Hatcher, a sweet-talking southern charmer, is a travel-light kind of guy. But if I really stretch it, he’d always have:
2. No Regrets, his 36-foot sailboat
3. A wine opener
4. A smile
5. The wind in his hair
THE BURIED by Shelley Coriell (October 28, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $8.00)
“It’s cold. And dark. I can’t breathe.”
Successful, ambitious state prosecutor Grace Courtemanche is at the top of her game. Then she gets a chilling call from a young woman claiming to be buried alive. Desperate to find the victim before it’s too late, Grace will do whatever it takes . . . even if it means excavating the darkest secrets of her own past and turning to the one man she thought she would never see again. FBI agent Theodore “Hatch” Hatcher is a man without roots-and that’s the way he likes it. But when a grisly crime shatters Cyprus Bend, Florida, Hatch is dragged back to the small town-and the one woman-he hoped was in his rearview for good. Forced to confront the wreckage of their love affair, Hatch and Grace may just find that sometimes the deepest wounds leave the most beautiful scars-and that history repeating itself may just be what they need to stop a killer . . . and save their own hearts.
A former newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and restaurant reviewer. These days Shelley writes smart, funny novels for teens and big, edgy romantic suspense. A six-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist, she lives and loves in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue Weimaraner. When she’s not behind the keyboard, you’ll find her baking high-calorie, high-fat desserts and haunting local farmers markets for the perfect plum.
Hatch slid a hand along her spine, the column tightening and tingling. His fingers stopped at the base of her neck where he pressed softly.
“What are you doing?” Grace asked.
“Looking for the off switch,” Hatch said. “I’m tired of hearing that same old song.”
She probably did sound like a broken record. Even as a kid she’d been fiercely independent. Much to her mother’s horror, she began taking the family skiff out on her own at age nine. She’d tried doubles tennis, but excelled in singles, winning the state champion her senior year of high school. And after her divorce from Hatch, she’d thrown herself into her work, handling most of the casework on her own because at that time in her life, she wanted to be so busy she wouldn’t have time to think about how much her heart ached.
Hatch rubbed his knuckles across the top of Blue’s head. The old dog had been waiting on the top step for her. “Since your watchdog has a weakness for bacon, I want to poke around, make sure no bogeymen are hiding under your bed.”
Arguing with him would only prolong the moment, so she opened the door. A wave of hot air that reeked of musty wood and wet dog rolled over them. Wrinkling her nose, she threw open the windows and cracked the back door, hoping not too many bugs would sneak in. Or bad guys with pre-paid phones and blood red markers. She peered into the darkness stretching beyond her back porch but saw nothing.
In full FBI mode, Hatch searched the living room and kitchen area, and she could hear him checking her bedroom and bathroom. “No bogeymen,” he announced as he sauntered into the kitchen.
“Thank you, I was worried.” She dug through a drawer and took out a vanilla-scented candle, lit it, and placed it in the middle of her kitchen table.
“Planning a candlelit dinner with yours truly?”
“Planning to get rid of the Eau de Blue.”
Hatch sniffed and grimaced. “You might be better off getting a hotel room for a few days. I’m sure you can find a place that’ll take both you and your dog.”
“He’s not my dog.” Grace yanked the lid off an airtight container and dug out a giant scoop of dog chow. Hatch didn’t need to know she’d almost zeroed out her checking account to pay the next installment to her general contractor. “A breeze is picking up. It’ll be fine in a few minutes.”
She added warm water to the chow and sprinkled cooked bacon on top. The dog padded across the room to the bowl but raised his head and looked at her with big, droopy eyes.
“You are not getting two slices of bacon.”
With a chuckle, Hatch opened the refrigerator and poked around a half dozen cartons of takeout. “You do realize you talk to that dog all the time,” he said.
“I do not.”
He lifted his eyebrows, and she ducked under his arm, grabbing a carton of grilled grouper and hushpuppies. “I appreciate everything you’ve done, Hatch, really I do, but you can go now.”
Hatch handed her a bottle of her favorite hot sauce and grabbed a takeout box for himself. “Now, Counselor Courtemanche, you’re a lot smarter than that.” He set the carton on the table and dug into the drawer near her sink, which irritated her, that he knew where she kept her silverware. “I’m not going to leave you in this house alone with all the doors and windows open.”
Breathe in, two, three. Breathe out, two, three. “I don’t have an extra bed.”
“We can share.”
She shoved her takeout box in the microwave and jabbed the reheat button.
“Fine, Grace, I’ll crash there.” He aimed a bottle of tartar sauce at the small settee in the front room.
She pictured those long, golden limbs spilled across the tiny sofa. Hatch had a way of taking up space, in any room, and in her head. Today he’d been everywhere as they worked the case. Impressive. And effective. But that didn’t mean she needed him on her settee. “You’re too big for that thing. You’ll wake up with a backache.”
“Nice to know you still care.”
“I don’t c…” But she couldn’t finish. Less than an hour ago, they’d sat under a good-bye sun, and he’d run his magic fingers along her neck, chasing away hell. Hatch was one of the good guys. He was on her side, Lia’s side, and at one point in her life, he’d been her world. At some level, she’d always care about him.
Wow! Is it really time for another poem-a-day challenge? Feels like we just finished up April. Well, all I’ve got to say is…bring it on! Let’s poem!
For today’s prompt, write a game over poem. Our family spent a couple months putting together a haunted house in our garage for Halloween, and now that the holiday passed, I’ve got a bit of that game over feeling. People who play video games know about game over. And people who play other games, whether baseball, Monopoly, or poker. There’s a moment in every game at which it is game over–except maybe Minecraft, which may be why it’s so popular for so many.
2015 Poet’s Market
Get your poetry published!
Learn how to get your poetry published with the premiere book on publishing your poetry: the 2015 Poet’s Market, edited by the always lovable and encouraging Robert Lee Brewer.
This essential resource includes hundreds of listings for book publishers, magazines, journals, contests, grants, and so much more. Plus, there are articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry. Beyond that, there’s an hour-long webinar, a subscription to the poetry slice of WritersMarket.com, orginal poems, poet interviews, resources galore, and more-more-more!!!
He read the screen, hung his head, and departed
the arcade feeling defeated and buyer’s remorse
because those were his final quarters. But then,
he remembered what the screen asked after
informing him the game was over. It requested,
“Play again?” And darn it, he thought, if I won’t
play again. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow,
but I’ll be back, and I’ll be better than ever. I’ll play
until the game doesn’t end, or if it does, it will
have to say, “You win! You win! You freaking win!”
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.
This is his seventh year of hosting and participating in the November PAD (Poem-A-Day) Chapbook Challenge. He can’t wait to see what everyone creates this month–not only on a day-by-day basis, but when the chapbooks start arriving in December and January. Fun, fun, fun.
I vacation in a small town on a lovely bay in the northwestern corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula. This summer my stay coincided with the run-up to the state’s primary elections. One evening, just down the street from where I was staying, the local historical society hosted a candidates’ forum. Most of the incumbents and challengers spoke pragmatically of specific matters of local concern, of personal traits that would make them good officeholders, or of family traditions of public service they hoped to continue. Some promised to be allies in disputes with the state government in Lansing. One incumbent claimed to have persuaded the state department of environmental quality to drop its longstanding objections to a wing dam that would spare a marina costly dredging. But just when I was ready to conclude that the Tea Party movement had run its course, another candidate, who identified himself as a lawyer and an expert in constitutional history, used his time to develop the claim that bureaucracy was unAmerican and that as it grew so did liberty diminish. I may have seen fewer approving nods than followed the other candidate’s tale of the wing dam, but most in the audience appeared to agree with him.
Several historians have already engaged the popular antistatism I encountered that evening. Some have argued, as Progressives did in the early twentieth century, that, after the rise of vast and powerful corporations, public bureaucracies were needed to make freedom something other than the right to be subjected to the dominion of the economically powerful. Others have taken aim at the claim that bureaucracy was incompatible with America’s founding principles. The University of Michigan’s William Novak blasted this as “the myth of ‘weak’ American state.” Yale University’s Jerry Mashaw has recovered a lost century of American administrative law before the creation of the first independent federal regulatory commission in 1887.
What such accounts miss is a long tradition of antistatism and its shaping effect on American statebuilding. Alexis de Tocqueville was an early and influential expositor. Although Americans had centralized government, Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America that it lacked centralized administration. And that, he argued, was a very good thing: if citizens of a democratic republic like the United States ever became habituated to centralized administration, “a more insufferable despotism would prevail than any which now exists in the monarchical states of Europe.” The builders of the administrative state were not heedless of Tocqueville’s nightmare, but they were convinced that their political system was broken and had to be fixed. They believed they lived not in some Eden of individual liberty but in a fallen polity in which businessmen and political bosses bargained together while great social ills went unredressed.
The most important of the statebuilders was no wild-eyed reformer but an austere, moralistic corporation lawyer, Charles Evans Hughes, who, as Chief Justice of the United States, would later out-duel President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Neither Hughes nor anyone else thought that government would control itself. Instead, he and other judges reworked the ancient ideal of the rule of law to keep a necessary but potentially abusive government in check.
Tales of thoughtful people working out intelligent solutions to difficult problems are not, I know, everyone’s idea of a good read. I bet that candidate who imagined himself battling for liberty and against bureaucracy prefers more dramatic fare. Still, I think the story of how Americans reconciled bureaucracy and the rule of law might appeal to residents of that small Michigan town, once they remember that the same department of environmental quality that sometimes balks at wing dams also preserves the water, land, and air on which their economy and way of life depend.
Featured image credit: ‘Alexis de Tocqueville’ by Théodore Chassériau, painted in 1850. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
One hundred years ago today, far from the erupting battlefields of Europe, a small German force in the city of Tsingtau (Qingdao), Germany’s most important possession in China, was preparing for an impending siege. The small fishing village of Qingdao and the surrounding area had been reluctantly leased to the German Empire by the Chinese government for 99 years in 1898, and German colonists soon set about transforming this minor outpost into a vibrant city boasting many of the comforts of home, including the forerunner of the now-famous Tsingtao Brewery. By 1914, Qingdao had over 50,000 residents and was the primary trading port in the region. Given its further role as the base for the Far East Fleet of the Imperial German Navy, however, Qingdao was unable to avoid becoming caught up in the faraway European war.
The forces that besieged Qingdao in the autumn of 1914 were composed of troops from Britain and Japan, the latter entering the war against Germany in accord with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The Alliance had been agreed in 1902 amid growing anxiety in Britain regarding its interests in East Asia, and rapidly modernizing Japan was seen as a useful ally in the region. For Japanese leaders, the signing of such an agreement with the most powerful empire of the day was seen as a major diplomatic accomplishment and an acknowledgement of Japan’s arrival as one of the world’s great powers. More immediately, the Alliance effectively guaranteed the neutrality of third parties in Japan’s looming war with Russia, and Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 sent shockwaves across the globe as the first defeat of a great European empire by a non-Western country in a conventional modern war.
In Britain, Japan’s victory was celebrated as a confirmation of the strength of its Asian ally, and represented the peak of a fascination with Japan in Britain that marked the first decade of the twentieth century. This culminated in the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London, which saw over eight million visitors pass through during its six-month tenure. In contrast, before the 1890s, Japan had been portrayed in Britain primarily as a relatively backward yet culturally interesting nation, with artists and intellectuals displaying considerable interest in Japanese art and literature. Japan’s importance as a military force was first recognized during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and especially from the time of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan’s military prowess was popularly attributed to a supposedly ancient warrior spirit that was embodied in ‘bushido’, or the ‘way of the samurai’.
The ‘bushido’ ideal was popularized around the world especially through the prominent Japanese educator Nitobe Inazo’s (1862-1933) book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, which was originally published in English in 1900 and achieved global bestseller status around the time of the Russo-Japanese War (a Japanese translation first appeared in 1908). The British public took a positive view towards the ‘national spirit’ of its ally, and many saw Japan as a model for curing perceived social ills. Fabian Socialists such as Beatrice Webb (1858-1943) and Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) lauded the supposed collectivism of ‘bushido’, while Alfred Stead (1877-1933) and other promoters of the Efficiency Movement celebrated Japan’s rapid modernization. For his part, H.G. Wells 1905 novel A Modern Utopia included a ‘voluntary nobility’ called ‘samurai,’ who guided society from atop a governing structure that he compared to Plato’s ideal republic. At the same time, British writers lamented the supposed decline of European chivalry from an earlier ideal, contrasting it with the Japanese who had seemingly managed to turn their ‘knightly code’ into a national ethic followed by citizens of all social classes.
The ‘bushido boom’ in Britain was not mere Orientalization of a distant society, however, but was strongly influenced by contemporary Japanese discourse on the subject. The term ‘bushido’ only came into widespread use around 1900, and even a decade earlier most Japanese would have been bemused by the notion of a national ethic based on the former samurai class. Rather than being an ancient tradition, the modern ‘way of the samurai’ developed from a search for identity among Japanese intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth century. This process saw an increasing shift away from both Chinese and European thought towards supposedly native ideals, and the former samurai class provided a useful foundation. The construction of an ethic based on the ‘feudal’ samurai was given apparent legitimacy by the popularity of idealized chivalry and knighthood in nineteenth-century Europe, with the notion that English ‘gentlemanship’ was rooted in that nation’s ‘feudal knighthood’ proving especially influential. This early ‘bushido’ discourse profited from the nationalistic fervor following Japan’s victory over China in 1895, and the concept increasingly came to be portrayed as a unique and ancient martial ethic. At the same time, those theories that had drawn inspiration from European models came to be ignored, with one prominent Japanese promoter of ‘bushido’ deriding European chivalry as ‘mere woman-worship’.
In the first years of the twentieth century, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance contributed greatly to the positive reception in Britain of theories positing a Japanese ‘martial race’, and the fate of ‘bushido’ in the UK demonstrated the effect of geopolitics on theories of ‘national characteristics’. By 1914, British attitudes had begun to change amid increasing concern regarding Japan’s growing assertiveness. Even the Anglo-Japanese operation that finally captured Qingdao in November was marked by British distrust of Japanese aims in China, a sentiment that was strengthened by Japan’s excessive demands on China the following year. Following the war, Japan’s reluctance to return the captured territory to China caused British opposition to Japan’s China policy to increase, leading to the end of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1923. The two countries subsequently drifted even further apart, and by the 1930s, ‘bushido’ was popularly described in Britain as an ethic of treachery and cruelty, only regaining its positive status after 1945 through samurai films and other popular culture as Japan and Britain again became firm allies in the Cold War.
Headline image credit: Former German Governor’s Residence in Qingdao, by Brücke-Osteuropa. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Our native language is called Meänkieli -- the name literally means "our language".
Also known as Tornedal Finnish, it is spoken on both sides of the border between Finland and Sweden.
It has a conciliatory nature: even within the language itself, conflicts are avoided and concord is always sought.
It arose via early Finnish settlement to serve as a lingua franca between Finns and Sámi people.
Interesting that she turned East rather than West (though proximity certainly helped), as (in the early 1970s):
I was fifteen years old when I boarded the tourist coach to Murmansk, ready to encounter proper city folk and an urban lifestyle I only had a vague idea of, having grown up in a tiny village.
What is your favorite thing about GET HAPPY? I love the friendship that Minerva has with Fin. Even though she makes the mistake of letting her own problems distract her from being the best friend she could be, their history and their love is an absolute rock. Everybody should have at least one friend to count on.
As I was writing, every time Fin appeared in a scene, the room seemed to brighten. I hope that readers feel that as they’re reading. The process of creating characters and living with them for as long as it takes to write a book is an interesting one. I get attached to my favorite characters; and when the novel is done, I miss them.
Many writers will say that their characters feel “real” to them. I have that experience. I know that a character is imagined, but it also seems as if the character lives outside of my imagination.
What is your writing ritual like? Do you have one?
My writing day begins with meditation followed by a cup of tea and breakfast. Then go to my writing studio and open up all the shades and pour a few drops of eucalyptus oil into a little marble dish. I often enjoy working to music, and I have great speakers (if you can help it, never listen to music on computer speakers). I like using Pandora because it introduces me to new artists based on previous artists that I have liked. I write until lunchtime.
Before eating lunch, I grab my writer’s notebook and head out for a power walk. I walk the same path so that I don’t have to make any decisions about where to turn. This helps me to focus on my story. I just think through my story or a particular scene in my mind as I walk. During the time it takes to get from my house to the creek, I often come up with a plot solution or have an insight about a character. I stop and write down my thoughts. I never, ever trust myself to remember.
Typically, after my walk, I make my lunch and take it to my desk. I eat at my desk while I’m getting back into the writing. If I’m in a flow, I write until 4 or so. I do an afternoon meditation which sometimes morphs into a short nap. Often I get another insight or idea after this. I write until 5 or 6.If I get writer’s block, I take my notebook to the library or a coffee shop, just to get away. In those instances, I often work well in busy places. Somehow it takes the pressure off of me. I can’t quite explain it, but getting away from the desk can be helpful. I also break my routine to do skypes, school visits, or if I have appointments; but generally, I’m writing every day. The great part about this is that I love to write. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It just means it’s rewarding.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Get Happy by Mary Amato Hardcover EgmontUSA Released 10/28/2014
In this poignant, realistic, contemporary YA by a state master list star, perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Gayle Forman, a young songwriter builds a substitute family with her friends in place of the broken family she grew up with.
A hip high school girl who loves music, writes songs, and is desperate for a ukelele, learns to her shock that her father did not abandon her years ago and has been trying to keep in touch. She begins to investigate him, only to discover that he has a new life with a new family, including the perfect stepdaughter, a girl who Minerva despises.
Mary Amato is an award-winning children’s book author, poet, playwright, and songwriter. Her books have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for television, produced onstage, and have won the children’s choice awards in several states.
This highly acclaimed book is the first in a new list of books on writing craft from Finch Publishing, designed to complement our search for the best in Australian life writing through the Finch Memoir Prize. In Writing Without a Parachute respected writing teacher Barbara Turner-Vesselago shows both beginning and experienced writers how to get the […]
Doris Lessing (22 October 1919 – 17 November 2013) was an astonishing wordsmith, as any reader of her many novels, stories, plays, and poems would attest — and the genesis of this talent can be seen in her upbringing and surroundings.
She was five years old when her family emigrated in 1925 to what was then known as Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She was a sensitive, awkward child enduring a troubled relationship to her mother, who doted on her younger brother to Doris’s neglect.
The long boat journey had been difficult, exacerbated by her seasick father and her mother’s response, which was to throw herself into manic forms of distraction with her jolly new friend the Captain. In the celebrations that accompanied crossing the equator, young Doris had been thrown with her mother’s blessing into the sea, although she could not swim and had to be hooked out by a sailor.
By the time they disembarked Doris was one angry child. She was stealing small, pointless things like ribbons, having temper tantrums, and demanding a pair of scissors with which she planned to stab her nursemaid. And then they set out in a covered wagon drawn by sixteen oxen to find the land her parents had bought for farming. The strange new world around her had a magically soothing effect:
“We were five days and nights in the wagon, because of swollen rivers and the bad road, but there is only one memory, not of unhappiness and anger, but the beginnings of a different landscape; a hurricane lamp swings, swings, at the open back of the wagon, the dark bush on either side of the road, the starry sky.”
Beauty and cruelty
Africa’s searing heat branded sense memories onto her child’s skin. She grew up loving the bush, fascinated by its inhabitants, both animal and human, but horrified by the way its brutal laws of survival had infected its politics. That there should be masters and slaves, an unjust submission of an entire indigenous population by a minority of white invaders was something Doris felt deeply uneasy about, and then, as she grew into an adult understanding, incensed and outraged. She had been forced to submit to her dominant mother and came gradually to understand that this bullying was the measure of her mother’s insecurity and fear. She would attack such power-hungry relationships in all her writing. Her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, her Children of Violence quartet, the African short stories she wrote and, in later years, her memoir, all were concerned with the beauty of the land and the cruelty of the race bar in Rhodesia in the years up until the Second World War.
Africa gave Lessing a vast and evocative lexicon to play with. Nowhere is her pleasure in it more evident than in the first volume of her memoir, Under My Skin. Luxuriating in her descriptions, she details the flora and fauna of the region — the cedrillatoona trees, the musasa trees, the mafuti tree: “growing at its root was an excrescence, like a sea creature, coral sheaths where protruded the tender and brilliant claws of new leaves, and these were like green velvet.” There were pawpaws and guavas, moonflowers and poinsettias, in a landscape made out of kraals — enclosures for cattle and sheep; kopjes — small hills; veld — uncultivated grassland; and vlei — shallow pools. Running wild were different kinds of antelope: koodoos and duikers. The natural world was alive with sound:
“On the telephone wires the birds twittered and sang, sometimes it seemed in competition with the droning metal poles, and from the far trees came the clinking of hidden guineafowl flocks. The wind sang not only in the wires, but through the grasses, and if it was blowing strongly, made the wires vibrate and twang, and then the flock of birds took off into the sky, their wings fluttering or shrilling, and they sped off to the trees, or came circling back to try again. Dogs barked from the compound.”
There was another natural world, too, one of the black Africans Lessing lived alongside, where words often came with derogatory or offensive undertones. The following words are found in Lessing’s memoir Under My Skin, where she also talks about her horror at the treatment black workers received. There was the “kitchen kaffir” that they spoke, a sort of pidgin English. There was the “bossboy” who oversaw the workers on a farm, and then there were “skellums” or “skelms,” the word for a scoundrel, scamp or rogue, of whom there seemed to be a great deal. Doris’s own world of white immigrant farmers sat uneasily astride two cultures: the grand piano incongruous inside a pole and mud house with unplastered walls, furniture fashioned out of paraffin boxes, Doris forced to wear her hated Liberty bodice by day whilst at night she slept beneath an equally disliked “kaross” — a fur blanket that smelt too strongly of its original owner.
Part of the brilliance of Lessing’s writing comes from the world she creates so seamlessly around the reader, who is transported to a place that is not just different, but utterly alien in its terminology. In later novels, she would evoke other worlds that were just as strange and all-encompassing — the world of madness and emotional breakdown in The Golden Notebook, and the world of her science fiction quintet, Canopus in Argos. Creating a world with its own vocabulary was a skill that had quite literally crept under her skin in Africa.
Laying in a background color around a subject can be tricky, and it can be very frustrating, especially after taking the careful time to draw out all of your details. It can be approached loosely, or with a tight hand. I will demonstrate both.
Keep in mind, these are my methods, and by no means the ONLY way to go about it. Watercolor painting is a very personal in application. Trial and error are the best ways to learn the medium. The worst thing you can do for your painting is get furious and give up. Give yourself grace and have patience.
Okay, here we go.
Place your water, paper towel, and paints on the side you write with, keeping your painting in the middle. Grouping your supplies will help you grab what you need more efficiently.
Choose your brushes. I usually have three different sizes on hand. They are #2, #5, and a #12 (or around that). These are not my BEST kept brushes, and are typically used for events such as this.
Prepare enough paint to fill the space you're going to cover. Choose a transparent color, like my Sap Green here. It will allow light go travel through down to the white of the paper and back. Trust me. I have also chosen a color that will work well with the other colors I'm going to lay down, such as blues, yellows, and reds.
Painting Around the Subject The Tight Hand Approach
Choose the smallest of your brushes to start, but keep that medium size close by. You want it to be small enough to get into the tight spots, but large enough to hold a decent amount of paint/water mix. You can see I have placed it close to the face (most important to me) to ensure I'll be able to get in around the nose and lips with the point of the brush.
Scary part, start laying in the color. Charge (meaning fill the brush) with your color making sure it's full. Lay down next to the subject, but NOT along your line. Give yourself wiggle room. Make a little 'puddle' of paint, but don't over extend it. The idea is to keep plenty of wet paint sitting there, hence the 'puddle'.
Now pull from the puddle to your line with the color. Slow down here...it should all be wet enough to give you at least a moment to do this. It will take practice to find your sweet speed spot. Remember, give yourself grace.
To prevent unwanted lines, RIGHT after you do some of the face move to the other side of your puddle with a rinsed brush. Fade it out, this way, if it dries, you'll be able to paint and fade over it giving the illusion that you painted it all at once. ;) NOTICE I didn't do the entire face all the way down.
Work in little puddles/spots and work your way down and around, using the same method over and over again.
Again, fading out with a rinsed brush and clean water, getting rid of any unwanted crisp edges.
With this method I can confidently move away from my subject and begin to venture out. You may need to switch to your medium sized brush to have enough paint and water.
I will begin to add droplets of clean water in to help give my background texture, depth, and this will give the eye something to look at other than what I may have missed. Naturally, in my opinion, this is the most beautiful characteristic of watercolor, they're called blooms.
You can continue the entire painting with this approach.
Grab your big brush and charge it up. Lay down a good size puddle, but small enough that you still have a puddle (remember, don't over extend your paint). Also, don't go to your lines, you need the space between.
Rinse out your brush and return to the edge of your puddle, pulling the paint towards and OVER your line art. You are fading out the color on top of your subject.
Like with the tight approach, take your rinsed brush and fade out the back end of the puddle. Repeat.
In the tiniest of spots, take your smallest brush and pull the wet paint in. If it's dry charge your brush, but first dab it on your paper towel so that it won't over flow or bubble in the tight space you're painting. Try to match the intensity of the color.
If there are crisp edges you don't want...
...go back in with a rinsed brush and clean water, gently scrub and fade them out.
There are tiny little white spots left around the forehead and nose...see them?
Very lightly, and very gently, with your small brush, pull the paint left in the crisp edge onto the white. Go in, lightly do this, and get out. Too much scrubbing too aggressively will leave inconsistent marks you don't want.
Just to show I know what I'm talking about, once your first faded section is dry, go in to a new section and start again with a puddle.
Keep making puddles and scooting/painting them over the dry faded area. Once you've overlapped start to fade out your puddle with a rinsed brush. Again, might take some practice, so use light water droplets if you need to. ;)
Forty years after the middle- east dropped bombs on our country, we are now just starting to rebuild.
But a new danger threatens our small community.
A group of men we call The Takers, have returned to finish what they started ten years earlier.
So we leave.
My friends and I head to a safe house five days away where there is food a plenty and the hope of a fresh start.
But we never will be out of danger.
And my heart will never be safe, not around Lukas Green.
When I thought I couldn’t be broken any further, I fear Lukas will break the wall around my heart down so far, my heart won’t have a choice but to melt.
He really will be the death of me. My name is Skye Montgomery and this is my story.
L.L. Hunter is the author of over 20 published works, including The Legend of the Archangel Series and The Eden Chronicles. She has studied everything from veterinary nursing, forensic science, and dramatic arts, but has always known her true calling was to be an author. She has been writing since her teens – everything from fan fiction, to song lyrics, to plays and musicals. When not working on her next paranormal romance, she can be found at home in Australia, reading somewhere comfortable with one or both of her “fur babies.”
Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
by Katherine Applegate
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Clarion Books, 2014
The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.
In an accessible, narrative style, Katherine Applegate shares the story of the Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla with young readers in this nonfiction picture book. Many readers will be
What’s your favorite thing about Compulsion? It was so much fun to get to do a Gothic novel! I’ve loved seeing Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and The Lynburn Legacy bringing Gothics to a whole new batch of readers in a fresh way. Adding the Gothic elements to a Southern setting similar to Beautiful Creatures gave me such rich material to work with in COMPULSION. I've always adored books with exotically dangerous mansions, eccentric characters, and elements of magic, mystery, and suspense. The world of Watson Island, with its equally charming and ugly history, beautiful scenery, and unique mythology is a storyteller's dream. It has all the elements I love—a haunted past, regret, anger, continuing conflict, and questions of morality galore.
My favorite thing about COMPULSION, hands down, is the setting and how it shaped (and twisted) the characters and families who live there, including my main character, Barrie, who arrives not knowing that history. The island, and especially the Watson’s Landing plantation, became an integral character in the book.
What was your inspiration for writing this book? Some of the characters, setting, and history came from work I did for a short story anthology. I couldn’t let go of the ideas and my image of the plantation. Then one night I dreamed about a ball of fire drifting through the woods and setting a river aflame, which became the anchoring visual for the book. The rest all came from asking why the river was on fire and who was doing it.
Creating the mythology and history of Watson’s Landing, along with the family intrigue that resulted in the feud, the gifts, and the curse, was an absolute blast. There’s such a wealth of inspiration to draw from in the Charleston area. Early settlers, pirates, Native American tribes, slaves, and other travelers all brought their own mythologies, beliefs, magical systems and superstitions to the area, and I didn’t have to create a lot from scratch. A lot of people don't realize how some of those things connected historically in unexpected ways, and I'll be exploring that a lot more in the final two books. Getting the chance to stretch and bend that wealth of material into a trilogy was so much fun! And we’re only just touching the tip of the iceberg in COMPULSION.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
There are a lot of hard scenes in the book. I tend to write scenes where there are several things going on at once, so while there is something significant going on emotionally, for example, there may be a significant clue to the mystery going on in the background or vice versa. Every scene with Mark in it was hard on me emotionally. And the first kitchen scene with Pru and the attic scene were so hard to write that I kept going back to them. The one I probably rewrote the most was the first scene in the garden with Barrie and Eight, and the scene that I love the best is the nighttime beach scene with Barrie and Eight. But honestly? I love so many different scenes. Which doesn't mean that I feel like I nailed them all, just that I love what I see in my head. If I came close to achieving that on the page, I'll be delighted.
What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?
COMPULSION isn't exactly like anything else, I don't think. At its heart, it's a mystery, and it has a lot of the same kind of gothic elements and "real, not real" questions (to quote one of my favorite bookseller's) as Maggie Steifvater's The Raven Cycle and Sarah Rees Brennan's Lynburn Legacy trilogy, but it's Southern to the core, and there are a lot of strange characters, a lot of history, and a lot of questions of morality. It's both dark and hopeful, magical and about contemporary issues.
How long did you work on THE LAST CHANGELING?
Ha! This is the million-dollar question. I actually worked on the book for seven years. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked on a single novel (and I probably won’t be sharing the terrible early drafts any time soon!) but I’m really, really happy with how it turned out. This is definitely “the novel of my heart.” My labor of love. I put so much of myself into this book, and I’m so excited to share it with the world!
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
Write what only you can write, and make it bigger than you thought you could.
I write complicated stories. It's the way I think, and as I said, this is a gothic, so it's centered around a mystery--several mysteries, actually. Readers who skim are going to miss something important, so this is not really a book for readers who don't want to think about what they're reading. I had doubts about doing that, but at the same time, I wanted to give readers something rich to fall into.
There were moments when I thought the story was just too big for me to tell, that I didn't have the writing chops to pull off making something so big seem real.
But I think every writer gets scared by a story at some point. This story taught me to embrace the fear, to let it push me.
Does that make me any less insecure? Hell-to-the-no. But that is also part of being a writer. We just have to keep going and do the best we can to be true to our characters and our stories.
What do you hope readers will take away from COMPULSION?
That we can find our true families, even if they aren't necessarily connected to us by blood. And that we don't have to take what life gives us, we can forge our own destinies. We have to forge them--we have to do our best to live life out loud.
How long did you work on the book?
I began it in May of 2012 and sold it in June of 2013.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
I wrote for younger children when I first started writing, then I dipped my toe into writing an adult novel that really needed to be three separate books. Looking back, I can see SO many mistakes, but my biggest was giving up when my agent dumped me after reading the first messy draft. (Okay, there’s more to that story, but it sounds more interesting to say it that way. I’m a storyteller, right? : ))
Anyway, fast forward through two kids, a business I started, and more years than I want to think about, and I always wondered ‘what if’ — then one day, my daughter was old enough to read YA books. She has a learning disability, so to encourage her reading, I read them with her. I fell in love with the creativity, the freedom, the freshness, and the issues and problems in YA novels. I wrote two YA novels and outlined a third before staring Compulsion. I plan to get back to two of those, and maybe someday, I’ll come back to the third. One of the three books has never seen the light of day, one received some great suggestions from a couple agents that I wanted to address, and the one I’m not sure I’ll ever return to is about a topic that has just been done too often to sell right now.
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
I took a great writing workshop from Free Expressions Seminars and Literary Services, and literary agent Tracey Adams asked the class what characters from literature we loved the best. She listed them and then asked us to consider what they all had in common. You know what it was? All the characters drove the action--things didn't happen to them, things happened because they made them happen.
Barrie does things. Right or wrong, she charts a course of action and she follows it, because that's what she believes in. Some people may not agree with her choices, but honestly, they're the only choices she could make being who she is.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc? My writing ritual is pretty boring. I sit down with my laptop and I write. It doesn’t much matter where. I usually write for about twenty minutes, then take a five minute break, do some social media, get up and stretch, grab a refill on coffee or tea, then go back to the laptop. Rinse repeat for at least 8 hours a day, five or six days a week. I write very, very slowly. I edit even more slowly. I keep hoping that will speed up as I finally learn what the heck I'm doing.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers? Don’t give up. I’m living proof that knowing how to string a sentence together and being dedicated will pay off. In January 2010, I finished the first manuscript of a YA novel and decided I was going to work as hard as it took to get published. If I can do it, I truly believe that with luck and determination, it can happen. Yes, it does take luck—the right manuscript to the right person at the right time. But it won’t happen if that manuscript isn’t ready, isn’t marketable, and isn’t presented professionally to the agents and editors who are looking for that kind of material.
Apart from that, I do have one surefire secret formula for success. Want to hear it? Here it is:
Read a lot. Live a lot. Write. A lot.
What are you working on now? We’re finishing up edits on Persuasion, which is the sequel to Compulsion, and I’m plotting book three, which doesn’t have a title just yet. I'm also thinking very hard about a possible New Adult novel. : )
ABOUT THE BOOK
Compulsion by Martina Boone Hardcover Simon Pulse Released 10/28/2014
Beautiful Creatures meets The Body Finder in this spellbinding new trilogy.
Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.
All her life, Barrie Watson had been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lived with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.
Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.
Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. Her first teacher in the U.S. made fun of her for not pronouncing the "wh" sound right, so she set out to master "all the words”—she's still working on that! In the meantime she’s writing contemporary fantasy set in the kinds of magical places she'd love to visit.
If you like romance steeped in mystery, mayhem, Spanish moss, and a bit of magic, she hopes you'll look forward to meeting Barrie, Eight, Cassie, Pru, Seven and the other characters of Watson Island.
Jules Maroni has always worked in the circus. Jules, like her father, is a high-wire walker; her mother and her cousin Sam do dazzling work with the horses, and her grandmother used to fly on the trapeze. When her family joins the Cirque American, an old rivalry flares up between the Maronis and the Flying Garcias. Though she rarely falls off of the wire, Jules find herself falling for Remy, a Garcia boy - and she finds herself the target of threats and bad omens.
While she and Remy try to figure out who is behind these unwelcome acts, they also have to hide their relationship from their families. (A little bit of Romeo and Juliet, a little bit of Hatfields and McCoys, but with less bloodshed, thankfully. No suicide, just somersaults and pirouettes!) Meanwhile, Jules' fame rises as the circus travels across the country.
Bonus points for the main character's affection for classic films. It is lovely to see a teen character who has inherited an appreciation for the likes of Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck, clearly the influence of her grandmother, who is often found watching TCM (Turner Classic Movies). It's worth mentioning that all three of the Maroni adults - her mother, her father, and her grandfather - are all supportive figures who have raised Jules well and inspired different parts of her personality, her interests, and her talents.
Give this book to folks who like their mysteries with a touch of magic, and ask yourself: Would you dare to walk the high wire?
I have long admired the work of Glas, publishers of Russian literature in English translation for almost a quarter of a century now.
Only half a dozen (of their 75) titles are under review at the complete review, but they have been an invaluable leading source of Russian-literature-in-English over this period -- so it is very sad to hear that, as Phoebe Taplin reports at Russia Beyond the Headlines, Glas publishing house is suspending its activity.
Publisher Natasha Perova notes:
"I thought the world would gasp with admiration," says Perova, but "both publishers and the public were slow to appreciate contemporary Russian literature."
The cause of Russian literature in translation is not helped, Perova feels, by the recent rise of émigré Russian writers who "paint a more digestible picture of Russia."
Foreign publishers are scared, she says, of "Russia in the raw, with its miseries and struggles" and readers are spoiled by "smooth-moving, light fiction."
Perova explains that:
As a Russian publisher of works in English, Perova's project is not eligible for grants at home or abroad.
"I can't apply for help anywhere," she explains.
"Due to falling sales and rising costs ... it is no longer possible to publish translated literature without external support, which I have never had."
Is that really what it's come to, that fiction in translation is only publishable if it is subsidized, one way or another ?
How sad is that.
(And much as I am pleased about fiction in translation getting much more attention (or at least appearing to ...), if commercial viability (of any sort) is still so elusive ... not a good sign.)
Regular readers will remember all the excitement around creating the mural in Wakefield's new Central Library. It was a bit of a monster, so the job took a lot of getting my head round, especially as I had never done anything like it before.
But it was all worth it. Anyway, the brilliant news is that the feedback has been FANTASTIC. Everyone loves it. And one thing leads to another...
Turns out, there's another new children's area at Castleford Library and that needs a mural too! So, when I went to Castleford last week, to do the window-decoration workshop in the museum, I squeezed a meeting into my lunch break. It's the same local authority as Wakefield Library, so the people who commissioned me last time came down to chat about ideas and to show me the new space.
It's a very different kind of space this time. Instead of one long wall, it an entire room: the space above the bookcases all the way round. I took lots of photos of the walls and roughly joined them together, as you can see. It's not a huge room, but it's a complicated shape.
We batted about some themes. It turns out the local rugby team are The Castleford Tigers, so I am thinking 'Jungle Library', with tigers jumping on the bookshelves, books getting eaten and other kinds of exotic mayhem.
I am waiting for all the measurements to come through, then I have to try and work out how long it's going to take, to get some idea of what it will cost them. That's the worst bit!
We’ve been engaged in a rewatching of The X-Files here at Stately Beat Manor for the last few months and wow, does it hold up. Not only does it hold up, but it totally points the way forward to today’s golden age of television with superior acting, writing and production that strove to look different and not homogeneous. As great as a show like The Rockford Files or Cheers was, they were based on a template of how a TV show should act and move. The X-Files made its own template and changed the way everything would be done afterwards. Although Twin Peaks may have been the first show that truly broke the mold, it was also a victim of its own success. Chris Carter—and his crew of future show runners including Vince Gilligan—was able to stand out while keeping an audience on the always panicky fledgling Fox Network.
Aside from a few shoulder pads here and there and the lack of cel phones, The X-Files is as fresh and immediate as the day it aired. Many of the real life dangers it wove into conspiracies are just as threatening now; many of the mysteries just as unsolved. The writing is brilliant (okay we’re only up to season three) and the characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are new archetypes of the internet world to come. Dialed in, sometimes detached by the sheer flood of information, armed with information along with a gun.
The X-Files grew up with the internet, with rabid fan groups on usenet, and the birth of serious “shipping” that not only matched the obvious ones—Scully and Mudler— but alternates like Krycek and Mulder. The Lone Gunmen—three oddballs who knew how to surf on UNIX— were the first internet nerds, and the show adopted as its signature color the acid green of the flashing cursors of the first home computer screen.
As for Scully and Mulder, while it was obvious that someday they would hook up, they also stood for the most egalitarian duo in pop culture since…The African Queen? Each with quirks and backstory, Mulder revelled in his weirdness and Scully, instead of running away from her giant trenchcoat and perfect red lipstick, made it the sign of a competent, inquisitive FBI agent who could take care of herself and those around her in scores of crazy situations.
The X-Files is truly in the Halloween and the TV hall of fame.
What is your favorite thing about ETERNAL? My favorite thing about Eternal are the secrets that Della is unearthing and exposing. I think that every family usually has a secret they attempt to keep hidden. And Della’s family secret is a doozy. It has the potential to break her heart. Especially when she discovers that by uncovering the family secrets she could destroy someone she loves.
How long did you work on the book? Eternal took me about four months to write. That’s a little longer than usual, but I think it was because it has so many twists and turns. There are so many different little subplots in this book: the romance, Della’s family issues, Della’s relationship with Kylie, Miranda and the other Shadow Falls campers, and the ghost who is making her life hell.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc? By rituals, do you mean like baseball players wearing the same dirty socks . . . thinking it will help their game? Well, for sure, I change my socks. I’d never get any foot massages if I didn’t. No big writing rituals here; most days it’s climb out of bed, grab coffee, lots of coffee, answer emails while I wake up (which explains some of my emails) and write. I work too many hours, about eight to twelve a day, but I love my job, so I seldom complain.
Music? I can’t listen to music with lyrics because I stop and think about those words and not the words I’m imagining in my head. As for the place where I write . . . I’m one of those writers who can’t seem to produce much away from my office. I have writing friends who meet at Starbucks to write. If I’m at Starbucks, I’m too busy people-watching and eavesdropping on other patron’s conversations. Where else am I going to get my dialogue?
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers? I have two pieces of advice for new writers. First, remain positive and focused on your goal. What works for me is to do something each and every day to achieve that goal. It can be a little thing, such as researching something you need to know before you write a scene, or it can be something bigger, such as writing X number of pages. One thing I really believe in, is that keeping a positive outlook is vital to building a career as a writer. Surround yourself with people who share your positive outlook, and try to limit your contact with those who spread negativity.
My second piece of advice goes along with my first, and that is to work hard to become a better writer every day. Take a writing class or workshop or read a how-to book. Expand your horizons and read widely. Become a sponge and soak up as much about the writing craft as you can.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m plotting a new novella. Guess who? Not Kylie or Della, but Miranda. I think Miranda has been jealous because I’ve written two novellas for Della, and even one for Chase, but she’s finally getting her moment in the limelight. And let’s just say, it’s going to be exciting. She’s gonna discover some family secrets and Perry, her shapeshifter boyfriend, is going to get some stiff competition.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Eternal by C.C. Hunter Hardcover St. Martin's Griffin; Library Unabridged, Hardcover Edition edition Released 10/28/2014
All her life, Della's secret powers have made her feel separated from her human family. Now, she's where she belongs, at Shadow Falls. With the help of her best friends Kylie and Miranda, she’ll try to prove herself in the paranormal world as an investigator—all the while trying to figure out her own heart. Should she chose Chase, a powerful vampire with whom she shares a special bond? Or Steve, the hot shapeshifter whose kisses make her weak in the knees? When a person with dark connection to her past shows up, it’ll help her decide which guy to choose–and make her question everything she knows about herself.
From bestselling author C.C. Hunter comes Eternal—a must-read for fans of the Shadow Falls series—and the sequel to Reborn.
C.C. Hunter grew up in Alabama, where she caught lightning bugs, ran barefoot, and regularly rescued potential princes, in the form of Alabama bullfrogs, from her brothers. Today, she's still fascinated with lightning bugs, mostly wears shoes, but has turned her focus to rescuing mammals. She now lives in Texas with her four rescued cats, one dog, and a prince of a husband, who for the record, is so not a frog. When she's not writing, she's reading, spending time with her family, or is shooting things-with a camera, not a gun.
C.C. Hunter is a pseudonym. Her real name is Christie Craig and she also writes humorous romantic suspense romance novels for Grand Central. www.christie-craig.com
C.C. would love to hear from you. Because of deadlines, it may take her a day or so to get back with you, but she will reply. firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren-Susan Thomas currently illustrating children’s books, on the foggy Central Coast of California. She earned my BFA in Illustration at the University of Arizona, worked as an illustrator/designer since graduating in ’87’ and worked as a ‘Walt Disney Imagineer’ for 11 years creating themed dimensional graphics and illustrations from creatures under the sea mermaids to dinosaurs to ancient Tibetan ruins.
She has illustrated for, BabyBug magazine, Kids Reading Room LA TImes and an up coming book series, ‘Reid’s Amazing Universe’ the first of which is out on ibooks for children.
Here is Laura-Susan discussing her illustrating process:
I had to share Laura-Susan’s cute little studio. It is only a few yards from her house.
How long have you been illustrating?
I have been Illustrating since graduating from college, way back in 1987, but drawing since I was a kid. I doodled on my notebooks, school assignments and was forever thrilled when my elementary teachers uttered the word, Diorama. My dad would bring home reams of old spreadsheets from his work and I would draw on the backsides. My favorite thing to draw were characters and the worlds they inhabited in my imagination, which without realizing was a great primer for the storytelling and world building later at Disney and the children’s literature world.
What made you choose to you study art at the University of Arizona and get your BFA?
I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but I also loved archeology and the romance of ancient civilizations, so I chose U of A because they had a strong Fine Arts department and a renowned Archeology Department as well! I actually was able to combine some of my love for archeology and old civilizations with art and when I was at Disney Imagineering on some of the lands I worked on.
Have you taken any other art related courses after that?
Currently I am very excited and inspired, in August I started with EB Lewis in his “Visual Mentor” program. It has been such great opportunity and chance to learn and expand the feel and look of my artwork!
After graduation form college, I took some animation courses and many figure drawing courses. At Disney they encouraged their artists to keep learning and offered free Wednesday figure drawing sessions after work. I went back to school while at Disney in the evenings, for computer arts, learning vector based and digital based tools for the arts, photoshop and illustrator.
What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
The first legit paying gigs I had were in College. I created the character/mascot for a yearly triathlon in Tucson, A buff bike riding, running swimming frog and I painted the billboards for the drama theater on campus for a time and did some summer theater backstage work.
What type of job did you do right after you graduated?
I worked for a screen printer creating graphics and designs for surf wear and clothing.
How did you get the job with Disney?
I applied through an industry ad for a screen printing fine arts separator. It was my fine arts background and my first job in screen printing that helped me get the job at Disney Imagineering. Our department produced the final hand done separations and the fine arts Serigraphs and posters for the parks. From there I moved on and worked in the Graphic Design department as a comp/production artist, and later as a Designer and Illustrator. As an Imagineer you are part of creating essentially the worlds biggest stage sets. Being an artist at Imagineering was a fun, nontraditional, imaginative, job. As a designer, you had the honor of working with, Blue sky designers, writers, architects, interior designers, props, sculptors, robotics experts and more. I got to be part of creating all sorts of things, from themed ancient tibetan ruins, giant carved fish characters, to dinosaur paintings and mermaids, in Euro Disney, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Tokyo Disney Seas.
How did you decide you wanted to venture into freelance art projects?
In 1996, my husband, Hariette (our pet rabbit) and I took a a chance and an adventure and made our way from Los Angeles up to the little surf towns, ranches and rolling oak covered hills of the Central Coast of California. I continued to work for Disney full time from afar. I was one of their first full time telecommuters back in the age of dial up, conference calls and Fedex, painting away in my foggy studio. Our Fedex planes here were prop planes and our post office was actually in the back of hardware store and I admit many conference phone calls were done while working, wearing my “casual attire”. FaceTime did not exist yet thank goodness. It worked wonderfully and I would drive to LA once week and travel to job sites in Florida for many years. When my daughter and later my son arrived I took a break from travel and full time work, it seemed the perfect time to start working on a freelance basis.
Do you think Disney influenced your style?
Imagineering was all about backstory, telling the tale of the place through characters, through writing, props and themed space, that helped a guest believe they had gone from reality to another world. I think that idea greatly influenced my work and I love to be able to create art for books, that transports someone to a world they believe in and get to play in for awhile.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
I attended a Conference in Marian Del Rey when the SCBWI was SCBW and was hooked. I began collecting children books before I had kids. When my kids were school age, I jumped in full time. Five years ago. I Attended a conference in LA, met a circle of friends who later became our fantastic illustrators critique group! Between my critique group and all the amazing people I have met through the SCBWI, I am so excited to be a part of this community!
What are you doing to help connect with art directors and editors?
I have postcards and a website with childrensillustrators.com and Carbonmade, and try to keep up by reading industry blogs. Attending conferences and smaller SCBWI events and participating in portfolio reviews whenever they are offered and portfolio showcase through the LA conference.
Have you put together a portfolio and or a book dummy?
Definitely a portfolio online and a real world portfolio. I try to update both when I have new work. Sometimes I make small dummies for ideas I am working on. It is a interesting process and great way to really see how your work flows with the page turns.
Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?
I had the opportunity to do a cover illustration and a full spread for Babybug Magazine. As well as Magazine work, I produced illustrations for some of the short stories featured in the, Los Angeles Time’s Kids Reading Room. It is fast turnaround but fun to focus so intently and figure out how to tell a story in one illustration.
Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you? If not, would you like to find representation?
I don’t have an artists rep., but I would love to find representation.
What types of things do you do to find illustration work?
I tend to be a bit of a very shy, nerdy, introvert so Social media and self promotion are the hardest parts of children illustration for me. I know it is important though so I try and get out there at conferences and talk to people, make connections, get my work into portfolio reviews and such. Sending postcards, is an introverts best friend! A great way to reach out and have your work be seen from afar. So far I have only met wonderful nurturing people in this field, so for my fellow artists introverts, take the leap and put yourself out there and take chances, it does pay off!
What is your favorite medium to use?
For sketching I love regular old black ball point pens. The cheaper the better. I find when you sketch with a medium where there is no eraser and no “undo” it frees you up. I also love that you can get so much variation in line and shading with those old crummy pens. For finished work, I love to work in gouache. and pen and ink in the real world, Corel Painter and my Wacom in the digital world.
Has that changed over time?
Yes, Since the recent ebooks series I worked on was going to have some animation, I wanted to be able to manipulate the art on layers. I started using Corel painter and a wacom tablet. I love the way you can mimic real world art mediums and still maintain layers and experiment. I still start with those old crummy pens and pencil in the real world even when I am going digital. It still feels fresher to me.
What do you consider is your first big success?
BabyBug was exciting, to be able to do not just create a spread but also the cover art for a large publication was wonderful! It was happy dance day!
How did that come about?
I think getting your work out there with websites and postcards. The art director at Carus Publishing had seen some of my work and when a job came along that matched my style, she contacted me. I had missed the call, as I was out picking up kids, so she had left a message for me. I listened to the message three times, did a dance around the room with the kids, regained my demeanor and called her back, very excited to be working with them.
Do you ever want to write and illustrate a picture book?
Absolutely, I would love to get some of the worlds and the stories, rolling around in my imagination and my sketchbooks, onto the page and into a book! I am working on my writing craft along with my illustration.
Would you be open to working with an author who wants to self-publish a picture book?
It would depend on the story and situation. I have worked with one author, self publishing an ebook series, “Reid’s Amazing Universe”. Getting a book, out there and seen, seems to be an issue in self publishing, especially in the digital realm, competing with apps and more. The author and developer in this case, are very good at self promotion and marketing and had some good connections so it seemed like a good challenge. I think the challenge to self publishing for an illustrator specifically, is not having an Art Director. It is difficult to self edit your work and having a talented art director on board is invaluable.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
I get books from the library, google images and make big image boards for characters and setting and color palates. Right now my wall is filled with gorillas, smug kids, and downtown street scenes. I have a little mirror above my art table so I can make faces at myself, in order to get a great facial expression in my characters.
Have you done any work for educational publishers?
No, but I am interested in both this area and the Middle Grade areas, after hearing two great breakout sessions at the conference this summer in LA.
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
Music, I tend to work in different mediums and love my studio space, but I have about six different albums that play in the background when I work. It helps me to get lost in my drawings.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
I really believe keeping a good balance helps your creativity and with your life as a whole. I try hard to do this, even though I am an Artist-Mom/taxi driver of short people, I set aside around 5 to 6 hours each day during the week to sketch, paint, research and learn. If I have a deadline approaching then it is whatever it takes. That can mean, walking out to my studio at 4am in the quiet hours, or in the late evening hours, keeping the balance with my family’s daily life and get the deadline met. My kids love the studio. If I need to put in the extra time even as my kids get older, I will find myself working with someone reading a book under my art table and listening to my husband practice guitar in the house. It becomes creative time for everyone.
Do you have an agent? If yes, who? If not would you like to find one?
I don’t have an Agent, but yes, I’d love to have an agent. I think it can be a great partnership for an artist, to navigate the ins and outs of the children’s field and to help further their work.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
For artists I think the internet is fantastic! It allows us to share our work and inspiration and ideas and connect with other artists and people in our industry through Facebook, websites , Instagram and more. In my case, I Skype each week for the Visual Mentor program, and my critique group has maintained a strong bond and can help each other in an instant, even though we are from all different parts of the country. Once again internet a great tool for introverted artists!
Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?
For many years I used Photoshop, but I have become a Corel Painter fan. If I work digitally I tend to work in Corel with a Wacom tablet.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
I love my Bamboo Wacom tablet. it is as portable as a sketchbook!
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
My Career Dream, I would like to have been a part of creating books with humor and heart, that are worn on the edges, because they are the ones grabbed off the bookshelf over an over again to be read We on the couch at bedtime.
What are you working on now?
I’m starting to sketch on the third ebook series for “Reid’s Amazing Universe” and working on expanding my art and creating illustrations for a possible book in my Visual Mentor program.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.
I love sketching with ball point pens but also I have a few sets of warm and cool grays, and black Faber-Castell pens and tracing paper. They come in sets of warm and cool grey and black with different sized tips and brush pens. When I am working I will have several layers of tracing paper with different shading or trying out different gestures above the original sketch. I find my work is much looser if I am sketching by hand rather than on a screen. Later I will combine what is working either in the real world or in Corel Painter to form a final sketch before going on to the finished art.
For Art supplies we live in a small coastal area so Blicks online is my go to source for supplies.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
I am not nearly as far along as many of the creative and talented illustrators whom I admire, interviewed on this blog. As far as words of wisdom, I think to get where I am today with some success at being published and hopefully more opportunities in my future, for me it comes down to truly wanting to be a children’s illustrator, loving this field, and as an Artis/Mom, finding the time to truly work hard, getting your work out there to be seen.
Becoming a member of the SCBWI was an important step for me and an amazing organization with wonderful talented people. Everyone I have met has been willing to talk or help a new or emerging illustrator or writer to the find their way and welcome them into the children’s books community. It is where I have garnered friends, critique groups and contacts. Attend conferences and events through the SCBWI. Take classes, be open to opportunities!
Most importantly, find the time and the balance for your art or writing in your week and stick to it. Laundry will still be there tomorrow and I do believe Dust Bunnies qualify as pets, so give them a cute name, pat them on the head, and go sketch!