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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Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Carol Phillips

I’m sometimes asked how I come up with the various characters that populate my books. That’s a tough question to answer, and, if you present two different authors with the same question, you’ll get two entirely different responses. Personally, I don’t have a set process for creating characters. Some come from external inspiration (Thomasina the 19th of Waam was inspired by my grandmother), while others are pieced together over a long period of time (Lady Sammidoran of Monama took a lot of thought and genesis). Others hit me all at once–in just an instant I know everything about them (Lt. Kilos of Tusck is such a character).

I think of all the various characters I’ve toyed with over 8 League of Elder books now, the mysterious Grand Dame from Calvert, Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, EVoR is one of the most challenging, both to the other characters in the books, and to myself as the author. She never fails to surprise and impress.

THE PROFESSOR’S ADVERSARY:

In the early days of the League of Elder, the resident egghead was clearly The Professor, the nameless husband of Lt. Kilos, a man with the seemingly demonic ability to get answers to questions.

The thing with the Professor, he was always a foil, a tool to provide timely information. He was never intended to drive a plotline. Right around Book V, I decided to add a touch of flavor to him. I began speaking of The Hertogs, a group of disaffected scholars and artesans with a bone to pick with the Sisterhood of Light. I hint that the Professor had a “rival” within the Hertogs, an opposite number who was his equal in many ways. This rival matched him in intellect and in the ability to find answers to difficult questions. This rival exceeded him in regards to contacts, resources, plugability, tenacity and overall ruthlessness. That’s all I really had, just a vague concept for a character that was my version of the Kingpin with her little hooks into everything. That was the shadowy, formless beginnings of Hannah-Ben Shurlamp.

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

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

THE GENESIS OF HANNAH-BEN:

Oftentimes, dreaming up the unpublished backstory of your fantasy world is the most fun part of the creative process. A lot of that stuff never makes it to the page, but provides an important foundation to place a story upon; you don’t really see it, but it gives the author confidence to write boldly.

I thought about this person, this unnamed scholar who was to be the Professor’s nemesis. The character seemed to be female in my head, so I went with it. I imagined her dressed from tip to top in frothy white, like an ice princess. As a boy visiting my grandmother’s house in Texas, I recalled a time where a garter snake had somehow gotten into her flour tin, and she wanted it dead. I tipped the tin over and the snake came out and raced across the floor, white like a snowflake until the flour rubbed off and revealed the black scales beneath (BTW-the snake got away to the safety of the backyard). That memory hit me in the face. I pictured my lady as strong and swarthy with an olive skin tone powdered into white perfection. As a child, I always found C.S. Lewis’ White Witch very imposing and threatening, and I wanted a similar vibe for my scholar. I imagined her with a great head of long, bumpy black hair. As my current heroine, Lady Sammidoran of Monama had a similar look, I decided to cram her black hair into a towering white wig with only a few hints of black locks spilling out here and there. So, with a white gown and a white wig with powdered features and hints of raven, I had my lady’s look. I threw in a wand-like system controller glyph as an added touch to give her a witchy quality.

Now, for her name. As the Professor doesn’t get to have a name (why, I don’t know), his wigged and powdered opposite number would have a grand, tangible name to provide a bit of contrast. I wanted her name to sound smart, something concrete and full of cultured bravado. I wanted a name that could be hoisted up in glittering lights. It took me awhile to come up with it–attaching names to characters can be a chore.

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, as a One-Mile high hologram with the ever-present picture of her husband by Carol Phillips

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, as a One-Mile high hologram with the ever-present picture of her husband. by Carol Phillips

I had a Black Hat I’d dreamed up in Book 4, Wilhella Cormand-Grande, the Mad Black Hat of Waam. I liked that name and thought about “re-assigning” to my scholar, but, for continuity’s sake, I left it where it was. I toyed with the idea of calling her St. Edna the Beasley. I figured this scholar has every title, degree, accolade and appellation available in the League attached to her, so why not saint as well?? I mean, if you’re going to do something, do it big. (BTW–I have a thing for the name Beasley. I have a book of Cthulhu adventures that I love, and in one of the stories, the bad guys were the Beasley Brothers. I’ve always wanted to use the Beasley name in my works, but always have a change of heart at the end. In Book 7, the band of evil robotic brothers were originally named Beasleys, so Book 7 was almost titled: Against the Beasleys, instead of the more-salty-sounding Druries).

So, anyway, the name Edna and Beasley for that matter simply wasn’t kick-ass and cool enough, therefore I moved on.

While inspecting the Ruins of Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois, I discovered the usual symbol for knowledge and learning is a lamp; a lamp illuminates, a lamp lights the way and throws aside darkness. Lamps were carved in stone all over Chanute, which was a training base. I knew that I wanted the word “lamp” in her name. A key is also associated with learning, to “unlock” the potential of young minds, so I batted around the idea of calling her “Keylamp“. Hmmm, I didn’t know. There’s an idiomatic phrase in Spanish that applies to the name Keylamp: no tiene chiste. It means: it doesn’t have any oomph, no pizazz. Keylamp just didn’t have the right sound. It had no chiste (lol, not really a correct word to use, but whatever) and I wanted my lady to have lots of chiste, so I got rid of the key part and kept the lamp.

I recalled once getting yelled at by a customer by the name of “Ms. Shurlbutt”. I recall this person having an indomitable will, not afraid to make a public scene and really giving me the business. That’s how I wanted my scholar to be: a tower of will. I thought to combine “Shurlbutt” with “lamp”, and got “Shurlamp“. Seemed to be what I was looking for. For her given name, I decided early on, I wanted to add the tag -Ben. I realize “ben” in Hebrew means “son of“, so what’s -Ben doing tacked onto a lady’s name?? I wanted that touch of masculinity in her name to give her an air of macho prowess and bravado. As for the Hannah part, I just picked that out of a hat and found no fault with it.

So, I had her name: Hannah-Ben Shurlamp.

Sketch of Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Sarah Smith

Sketch of Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, by Sarah Smith

HANNAH-BEN’S TITLES:

As she is a Professor at the University of Dee in Calvert, Hannah-Ben Shurlamp has a number of post-graduate degrees attached to her name. Her full range of titles and degrees is vast:

Grand Dame Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, Professor Emeritus, University of Dee. EVoR, QrduP. NvPhD. Gran-Sequitor Hobanis-Realis and Knight of Bazz.

Though she was born into the Vith Household of Bloodstein, she married a man from Calvert and lost her title of Lady, instead being referred to as Grand Dame, as Calvert ladies are.

The EvoR is the degree she’s most commonly referred to. The E degree is like a bachelor of arts degree. The vo is akin to a masters, and the R is my version of a PhD. It takes around 200 years to earn an EvoR, so clearly, she’s quite old, though, in standard Elder fashion, she doesn’t show her age physically. All the rest of the titles and degrees, I just made up and haven’t explored much further.

HANNAH-BEN’S HUSBAND:
Professor Shurlamp, by any reckoning, is a buxom and beautiful woman with intellect and wealth that knows few rivals. It strikes people as odd that she chose to marry a singularly average teetotaler from Calvert. She towers over this man in terms of wealth, intellect and sophistication, and he is entirely unaware of the underworld forces his wife commands or the number of people she enriches and ruins on a daily basis. People speculate on the reasoning for the marriage: was it blackmail, a cuckold, a political arrangement?? There had to be something. The reasoning is quite simple: she loves him, she continues to adore him and his picture is never far wherever she goes. And he, of all the people in the League, is the only person safe from her wrath.

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp appears in LoE Book 8: The Shadow tech Goddess and in upcoming Book 9: Stenibelle, both from loconeal Publications.

copyright 2014, Ren Garcia, Carol Phillips, Eve Ventrue and Sarah Smith