I have, I think, over a thousand sketches, drawings and paintings of the various scenes and characters in my books. I love commissioning artwork–it’s a bit of an addiction, I think.  When I was a kid I loved all the illustrations in my Chronicles of Narnia books. I’d stare at the pictures by British artist Pauline Baynes for hours. Baynes also illustrated JRR Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham, which I also loved.

A manga painting of Sygillis of Metatron by Bea Kimera

A manga painting of Sygillis of Metatron by Bea Kimera

I swore if I ever managed to collect the crazy ideas in my head into an actual book I’d have it plastered with illustrations.

Flash forward about thirty years. I made good on my promise. With an average of twenty-five maps and illustrations per book, I’ve got over 200 in print and counting.

A Picture is worth … a thousand less words.

The practice of adding illustrations to the interior of books seems to have vanished in modern times. When folks pick up my books to have a look at them, they almost always fan through the pages–what are they looking for??  Most books don’t have anything but printing in the interior and checking the pages for them usually comes up with nothing. But, imagine their surprise when they flip through my books and come to a page with a beautiful  illustration. It’s a genuine moment.

Illustrations are also helpful when you’re dealing with a fantastic, completely made-up world like what I write. You have to describe everything, and that can derail the plot. Modern readers don’t like that, plot is very important Instead of spending a couple thousand words going over one of my whacky creations,  why not toss in a cool picture and go a little lighter on the descriptions?

Princess Marilith Covered Up_001

Princess Marilith of Xandarr, by Carol Phillips

A Creative Symbiosis

I usually give my artists a lot of freedom when they create an illustration. Some authors can be quite exacting in what they expect, me, I’m easy. I rather enjoy seeing how the artist interprets the subject. If I see something I really like, I’ll often add it into the writing, it’s only natural to do so.

Take this image of Princess Marilith of Xandarr by Carol Phillips. This is one of the first commissions I got from Carol, going all the way back to Book 1. As you can see, it’s a nude. I don’t recall asking Carol for a nude. Princess Marilith is an angry, spurned, blue-haired woman, heartbroken and vengeful. However, my early visualizations of her were fully clothed. Carol’s painting of her captured those various feelings–you can see how upset she is in her painted face. Her unexpectedly nude body is strong and beautiful. I was captivated by what I saw. Inspired, I went through and re-wrote the Princess, making her essentially nude in the story. She comes from Xandarr, a very hot and dry place, so it seemed to follow. Wearing only light veils or nothing at all, daring you to look her in the eye, has been her trademark ever since.

An early painting of Professor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp,  by Eve Ventrue

An early painting of Professor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Eve Ventrue

Revving-Up my Creative Process

I usually come up with an idea or a character years before they actually appear on the page.  Typically, as the image clarifies in my head, I get all excited and commission a drawing of it. Seeing the finished artwork gets me going every time and influences what happens in the books.

Take Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, EVoR. I was sitting at a Burger King several years back when I came up with a foil and opposite number for The Professor–Lt Kilos’ brainy husband. I imagined a tall, rather swarthy woman dressed all in white, her skin powdered to pearly perfection, her raven hair tucked up into a large white wig. I immediately sent a note to my friend, the amazing Eve Ventrue, gave her the details and waited a week or two to see the results.

Eve came up with Hannah-Ben sitting in an opulent padded study. As usual, I incorporated her study into the writing, the image of Professor Shurlamp sitting in her fine red room is her standard calling card.

That first painting of Hannah-Ben was stunning, she was beautiful, but I thought she was missing a little something.  She was too demure, too unassuming. Professor Shurlamp is anything but unassuming–everything she does is big and bold and in-your-face.

Professor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp as a mile-high hologram on the planet Eng (Carol Phillips)

Professor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp as a mile-high hologram on the planet Eng (Carol Phillips)

Not enough wig, not enough eyebrow and piercing stare. I wanted something beautiful, yet sort of horrible as well, rather like Gerald Scarfe’s work on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Just like that. I wanted something cool, but a little creepy.

Enter Carol Phillips, the Queen of the League of Elder who has contributed probably 40% of my massive art inventory. Carol went to work and produced the second painting of Hannah-Ben.

Working with Carol for so long, she is often able to pop my head open, pull out the mess that’s inside and paint beautiful things with it. The painting Carol created of Professor Shurlamp was absolutely perfect. She was a mile high, she had the wig, the eyebrow, the “You are nothing to me” expression … everything was perfect. Even her snowy white gown was perfect–look at the frills, the buttons, the tight waistline and the bows. So many bows …

Seeing this thrilling painting gave me the added “oomph!” to finish The Shadow tech Goddess, a tome that had taken me four years to write.

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Carol Phillips

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Carol Phillips

And then came Stenibelle, another book where Hannah-Ben Shurlamp makes a notable appearance.

I wanted another image of Hannah-Ben for the book, I thought it would be a nice touch, and this time, Carol came up with a true masterpiece–the ultimate image of Professor Shurlamp holding her Glyph with scores of data orbiting her head. This image gave me chills when I first saw it (really–no kidding!!)

Seeing that giant wig, those curls, that glyph-wand in her hand helped me figure out the various twists and turns in the story that had been giving me a few minor fits.

So, when in doubt, get a piece of artwork and let it fire your imagination, you’ll be glad you did.

Copyright 2015, Ren Garcia, Carol Phillips and Eve Ventrue 

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The Gender Reversal in Fandom

September 29, 2014

I’m not quite certain when it came into my head.

Stenibelle, by Eve Ventrue

Stenibelle, by Eve Ventrue

I think it was about four years ago. I had been thinking about ways to spice up my character Paymaster Stenstrom, the Lord of Belmont. Oh, I liked him well-enough, I was simply looking for ways alter the mood, to change him up a little and create some cool stories. I hit upon the idea of alternate realities and creating differing versions of him inhabiting differing realities. I allowed my thoughts to percolate, I imagined him as a rogue, a robot, a spirit creature of sort some, as an animal, and … as a woman.

A female Paymaster Stenstrom??

Eventually, I jettisoned most of the alternate ideas, focusing mostly on Paymaster Stenstrom with differing female companions, however, the thought of him as a woman stayed with me and I commissioned Eve Ventrue to paint a portrait of her. The portrait was amazing, and with that, I began writing. Three years and a pot-full of re-imaging later, I’m done and Book 9 of the League of Elder series, Stenibelle, is finished and under post-production.

A female Green Hornet and Kato at the Nashville Comic Con

A female Green Hornet and Kato at the Nashville Comic Con

I’d thought that changing the gender of my already established character was a pretty original thought, however, I might be mistaken. Going to all the Cons that I do across the Mid-West (GenCon, various Comic Cons) I see people Cosplaying characters of another gender all the time. The trend seems to have picked up steam in the last few years.

Mostly, you see ladies wearing “female-lized” versions of male costumes. You see lots of ladies dressed up like Captain America, Iron Man, Spiderman, Superman and a host of others, all customized to be tastefully feminine. Some of the female-lized costumes rolling around the cons are quite striking. Occasionally, but not as often, you see men wearing female costumes, the big difference being the men do not usually attempt to “Masculine” the female costume much.

I take this trend to be an embodiment of a new boldness and freedom that I see all over, that these characters (mine included) are for everyone with the drive and inclination to embrace. Did I come up with the idea of a female Stenstrom all on my own, or I did see something at a Con or on the streets and unconsciously build upon it into a realized work??

Book 9 Cover Concept (Carol Phillips)

Book 9 Cover Concept (Carol Phillips)

Who knows. Doesn’t make a difference. I just think it’s really cool.

Bowl naked

RG

LoE Book 9 “Stenibelle” will be available in mid-2015 from Loconeal Publishing.

copyright 2014, Ren Garcia, Eve Ventrue and Carol Phillips

“Stenstrom, Lord of Belmont-South Tyrol” by Eve Ventrue

Lord Stenstrom of Belmont-South Tyrol is the main character of the upcoming LoE Book VI: The Sands of the Solar Empire.

“Bel” is a very different sort of fellow from his predecessors, Captain Davage and Lord Kabyl.

He is of mixed Zenon and Esther/Tyrol heritage and is the youngest of thirty Belmont children (and the only male). Though the Zenons are potent in the Gifts, his Esther blood has robbed him of Gifts of the Mind. His mother, Lady Jubilee of Tyrol, taught him the ways of Tyrol Sorcery, which consists of mundane learning, such as herbal lore, chemistry, Sleight of Hand and lock-picking. It also covers more arcane subjects: Demonology, Cabalism, alchemy and sympathetic magic. He is said to be able to Walk in the Shadows, passing unseen. Bel carries two LosCapricos Weapons: The NTH’s of his father’s line, and the MARZABLE from his mother’s. The NTH’s are a mystical set of pistols that can kill anything: living, dead, undead, machine and intangible.The MARZABLE is a potent dagger that mystically replenishes itself. With the MARZABLE, he can never be completely disarmed.

“Bel” by Carol Phillips

Bel gave his heart early on to Lady Lillian of Gamboa, a talented artist from the east. Lilly was very strong-willed and helped guide Bel as he grew into young man-hood. Unfortunately, Lilly would not commit herself to Bel and insisted they share a “cooling off” period lasting five years. During that time, he ended up having a number of affairs with: Lady Alitrix of Zama, Grand Dame Miranda of Rosell, Crewman Kaly of Figg, and Christiana of Z-Encarr. He has also participated in the Sisters’ Program over thirty times. He is said to possess the rare Pel Programmability.

He wears a long green coat formerly worn by members of the Hoban Royal Navy. Within his “HRN” he places many bits of his arcane equipment. The HRN appears to have certain mystical properties of its own, as the coat never shows wear or damage and always keeps Bel perfectly comfortable no matter how cold or hot it is.

Bel is also a well-known eccentric, wearing his HRN coat, his Vith triangle hat and a small mask, which nobody quite knows what to make of. He also never joined the Fleet, though his Programmability is high and his Father, Stenstrom the Older is a long-standing Warbird captain. Instead Bel became a Fleet Paymaster: essentially a clerk and shipboard civilian.

Bel, if anything, is a man of many secrets.

LoE Book VI: The Sands of the Solar Empire will be out July, 2012 from Loconeal Publishing

copyright 2012, Ren Garcia, Eve Ventrue and Carol Phillips

Lord Stenstrom of Belmont grew up under the heavy hand of his rather domineering mother. Many times he yearned to be free of her. But, as many young men do (most without knowing it) he selected as his choice of bride a strong-willed and forceful lady very similar to his mother. Lord Stenstrom gave his heart to Lillian of Gamboa, in essence replacing one domineering woman in his life with another.

"Lilly" by Eve Ventrue

Lillian, or “Lilly” as he calls her, is a socialite and artist from the land-locked Esther city of Gamboa. Though generally considered in the Esther social circles to be a rather unattractive and stork-like woman, Stenstrom found her to be tall and perfectly formed, blonde-headed and extremely attractive. Lilly is also quite talented. She is an artist whose paintings and sculptures were looked upon with high regard and she owned a small but profitable gallery in Gamboa.

Stenstrom was introduced to Lilly by his mother, Lady Jubilee. Always in her son’s business, she searched high and low for a suitable match for him. She had to be of the proper stock, have the proper pedigree and, above all else, she had to be normal and mundane. Given Stenstrom’s training as a Tyrol Sorcerer, it was very important to his mother that he have a mundane, well-grounded wife to counter-balance his forays into the occult. Lilly fit the profile to a tee and Lady Jubilee was very keen on her son taking up with her.

She summoned Lilly to see Stenstrom in the Chalk House on the manor grounds three times. On the first two occasions, Stenstrom refused to see her as he resented his mother’s intrusions. On the third time, however, his mother summoned a demon who was promised his flesh if he didn’t see her. Choosing the Lady over the Demon, Stenstrom met with Lilly in the Chalk House and found, to his surprise, that he liked her.

After that, he was smitten and Lilly grew to control every aspect of his maturing adulthood. She suggested he go to school in Bern. When he was lonely at school, she would always arrive in her coach to cheer him up. She suggested his join the Bones Club. She picked his friends for him. She picked his choice of occupation. She even, eventually, selected his “uniform”, his HRN coat that would become his personal trademark.

And, years later as Stenstrom made his way through space in a powerless, scuttled Seeker thousands of stellar miles from Kana and crawling with demons, who emerged from the lightless bowels of the ship carrying an arcane lantern … Lilly.

Normal, mundane Lilly …

copyright 2012, Ren Garcia and Eve Ventrue