On Introducing the Carnivorous Dahlias

These guys were quite fun to draw. They’re only appear in two paragraphs of chapter seventeen in the first book of the Standingground Chronicles – The House of Petunia, but creating them was enormous fun. These are dahlias which the hamadryads have persuaded to wear fake joke vampire fangs and pretend to be dangerous. As you can see, they’re throwing themselves into the part with enthusiasm and starting to enjoy themselves WAY too much.

They sulked when Petunia took their fangs away…

Carniverous Dahlias

On Character Reveal Number Two Which Supposed To Be Number One Except Things Got a Little Confused.

May I introduce another character in the Standingground Chronicles. Petunia Standingground has two aunts that are her legal guardians and also make her life miserable. They are called Aunt Dresden and Aunt Mopsy.

This is Aunt Dresden.

Aunt Dresden

Aunt Dresden is known in polite society as ‘a formidable woman’. She is know in less polite society as ‘an interfering harpy’. When she was little Petunia once saw a book entitled “She Who Must Be Obeyed”. She thought it was about Aunt Dresden.

On New Strings to Bows

pencils

Again, its been a while…

I have been tired… very tired… The kind of tired where you can’t even get out of your own way and the thought of trying to use your brain, let alone trying to be creative is… well…

Ugh.

You know the feeling.

Never the less strange unexpected things grow in these kinds of places and the inspiration arose to try out a skill that I thought had been left behind at high school.

I decided to start illustrating.

I took art to 7th Form level in high school (thats either 12th Grade or Year 13 in current speak, I think) and when I graduated it seemed to get packed in a suitcase under the bed and never used again. Until lately…

I got out the metaphorical suitcase, dusted off my skills and had a go at drawing some of the characters in The Standingground Chronicles. I started off with Grumble which may or may not have been a good idea. Grumble is a griffin which meant I had to learn to draw an eagle head… then a lion body… then wings… Then assemble them all together like some outlandish exercise in drawing lego. Then I hit upon the idea of posting them here. It’ll give you some idea of what my brain has come up with. They may never get into my published work but this is a special treat for my potential fans. Just follow the link or click on the page ‘Character Art’.

And so I reveal my first character: Ta Dah

Grumble

Grumble von Humboltshire, Knight of the Second Order of the Talon Gard, is the guardian of the Standingground family. He takes his position seriously. Perhaps a little too seriously because of traumatic past experiences.  He gets rather paranoid about Petunia’s safety which results in the unfortunate habit of him shoving Petunia under his wing and sitting on her whenever he gets in a panic. Still, he is a fearsome guardian. He first appears in Book 1 – the House of Petunia, and will take quite an important role in book 4 of the Standingground Chronicles – The House of Scathland.

More character art will be forthcoming soon. (When I get ’em finished and figure out how to work this benighted sketch program I’ve downloaded…)

 

On Revisiting Old Friends

 

Belgariad cast

Well I’m back. Still querying The House of Petunia. Currently editing The House of Motokazu.

I have successfully added in pixies. They are suitably belligerent.

But today the blog is not about writing. Today is about what I’m reading because what you read influences how you write. Lately I’ve been visiting a very old friend, namely David Eddings.

Well he’s not strictly a friend, but I feel like I’ve known his stories for most of my life. He’s now deceased but for those of you unfamiliar with his work David Eddings is best known for his two epic fantasy sagas The Belgariad, and the follow on, The Mallorean. I keep waiting for these to be turned into a movie, or a TV Series. Waaaaaay better than Game of Thones in my opinion. More humour. Less nudity and ridiculous violence. Humans more likable. A series where being a hero and not a douch-bag actually pays off.

At the moment I’m re-reading through Edding’s entire Belgariad/Mallorean epic saga with a bit of Belgarath the Sorcerer and Pologara the Sorceress on the side.  Thankfully I haven’t succumbed to the ‘I loved this when I was a kid but now I’m an adult I can see just how utterly terrible it is’. ‘Jana of the Jungle’ did that to me. ‘G-Force: Defenders of Space’ did that to me. David Eddings has not. Thank you David! The Belgariad has a clear bill of ‘I still really enjoy this’.

So, for the uninitiated, the world of the Belgariad is your standard medieval universe which seems to remain perpetually medieval in spite of having over seven thousand years to develop historically.

Seems odd, but never mind.

It’s divided into different nations which all share distinctive characteristics. Chereks resemble vikings, Sendarians are practical farm folk, Tolnedrans are kind of Roman and like money etc. Someone has suggested that this makes everything a bit flat and 2D. All I can say is that it never bothered me… The Angaraks are the baddies (divided into Nadraks, Thulls and Murgos) and yes, okay, giving them asian characteristics could be interpreted as racist, but I think the Mallorean softens that somewhat. Your nation would be a nasty one as well if it suffered for millenia under a horrible Grolim priesthood.

Human sacrifice, people. Nuff sed.

The story itself revolves around Garion, an orphan farm boy who is raised in obscurity by his mysterious Aunt Pol in remote Sendaria. He has no idea who he really is or his role in fulfilling ancient prophecy.

Cue ‘coming of age story’ peppered with magic, baddies, prophecy, grumpy sorcerers, spoiled princesses, uppity and overly superior sorceresses, barbarians, horse lords, spies, faithful blacksmiths, brainless knights, a ridiculously powerful and slightly silly orb and a rather smug talking Prophecy and any number of fantasy tropes you care to throw in and you have a rollicking good tale well told which is also FUNNY.  The scene in Guardians of the West when the pregnant Ce’Nedra goes into labour and Garion goes into panic still makes me laugh. Polgara’s threat to feed everyone boiled hay for a week if anyone dared call her ‘Polly’ I shamelessly stole and directed towards Grumble, my griffin character.

Its interesting reading this from my new writer’s perspective. David Eddings isn’t completely perfect. Firstly the Mallorean is a salutory lesson in ‘crutch words’. Crutch words are words or phrases that a writer unconsciously falls back on continually. For instance one author had her characters ‘cross their arms over their chest’ so frequently I wanted to scream. You have to watch for them because they ruin good writing. David Eddings, not so much in the Belgariad and definitely in The Mallorean, has all his characters saying ‘sort of’ with alarming regularity. It irritated me more than Silk’s constant needling or Ce’Nedra’s histrionics. ‘Really’ came in a close second.

Yes David, it really did.

Secondly Eddings tends to get bogged down in detail when he gets to battles and sieges. They go on for pages and pages and pages. I skipped most of the battle of Thull Mardu in Enchanters End Game and most of the seige of Rheon in Guardians of the West. Its the reason I gave up on is later series The Elder Gods. All he DID was describe battles and sieges.

Why me?

I’ve now got as far as The Sorceress of Darshiva in the Mallorean so my David Eddings journey is nearly at an end. I may be inspired to try The Elenium, I may go on to something different. Who knows?

 

Why Me?

It ain’t easy being the chosen one…

 

On banana’s in August…

 

bananas

I love writing but…

I especially love writing silly things but…

My latest absurdity is describing pixie culture in The House of Motokazu. Pixies, among other things, are horribly easy to offend. They have a philosophical objections to socks and are deeply suspicious of bananas.

This sort of ridiculous can keep me happily writing for weeks but lately I’ve found an increasingly frustrating tendency to sit at my computer and blow raspberries at it.

You see, its winter here in the Southern Hemisphere. August marks the final month before Spring. Its been rainy, in biblical proportions, cold and drear. I’m desperately sick of it. I’m tired and weary and trying to write anything seems like trying to slog through knee deep mud. I know I’m not alone. Many of my writers guild colleagues are suffering the same gloom.

Trying to produce anything with my usual verve seems like trying to grow bananas in August (not that you can actually grow bananas in New Zealand, I’m just trying to make the banana metaphor stretch). I’m even starting to hate the work I’ve actually finished. When you get to that stage you know its time to back away from the computer before you delete the work of years in a fit of pique.

In the words of Monty Python, “and now for something completely different”.

Writing is both equal parts inspiration and discipline, but you have to acknowledge when it’s time to stop forcing the issue and take a writing sabbatical for a month or so. So to that end I’m putting the lot in the metaphorical drawer and leaving it. I’m querying at the moment, which is a process of ‘hurry up and wait’. So while I’m waiting to hear back (if at all) I’ve decided to fuel my imagination with some self directed study.

There are a couple of books that have sat in my ‘to be read’ pile, for a while. Now is the time to dust them off. Just for the record, these are non-fiction study books which require concentration, not novels.

So, here’s the lineup… this should keep me out of trouble for a while…

The mind of the spiritBedeThe element encyclopedia of fairies

Well maybe just one novel …

moominland midwinter

The last one is because I’m feeling very metaphorical about winter at the moment and this charming little story by Tove Jansson seems just the ticket.

I am also knitting a poncho out of an old, stupidly long, scarf.

Hopefully I will be back to my silly best soon. In the meantime The House of Petunia is still being queried… fingers crossed…

On Happy Discoveries…

Today’s happy discovery is Breaking Cat News by Georgia Dunn. Its a cartoon about cats and when I discovered it I binge-read the archives and GOT NO WRITING DONE!!!

Breaking cat news

Breaking Cat News follows the news career of (from the left) Elvis (grumpy siamese reporter), Lupin (manic anchorman) and Puck (sweet and sensitive cat in the field). They cover the news that is pertinent to cats like Kibble Spill In the Kitchen, Its Fuzzy Blanket Season, There is a Strange Cat in the Yard and Pot Plants: Why Do You Do This To Yourself Woman. I love it because it’s quirky, funny and engages in brilliant story telling. The water colour is fantastic as well.

The latest story line about a trip to the vet is hilarious. Click and check it out.

Georgia, if you ever read this humble blog, please be my illustrator!!

BCN lamp

On Critiquing Tamora Pierce…

Nothing produces more bowel knotting terror in an author, than having their work critiqued.

For those of you who have no desire to produce any kind of prose, it is difficult to describe just how precious a piece of writing becomes when you have slaved and sweated and spent countless hours staring at a computer screen. Its almost like producing a child.

You know what happens to a Mamma her offspring are threatened…

dragon

But writing is not a sport for the soft of skin needing their ego’s stroked. If you want your work to improve you have to toughen up, buttercup, and take it on the chin when someone,( who knows what they’re talking about that is), tells you that some piece of your work isn’t working. Kinda like submitting your carefully crafted dish of food before the Masterchef judges.

I did mention the bowel knotting terror didn’t I? Just making sure…

But critiquing is a two-edged sword. When I joined the writing site Scribophile I was expected to critique other people’s work.

You end up doing this quite a lot. It takes a LOT of concentration, so much so, that you can sometimes find yourself going cross eyed with the effort.

It also starts doing weird things to your brain…

At the end of an afternoon of critiquing prose for fellow writers, I took a break to eat some food and read a book for fun. I was doing some comfort reading because my brain had flopped into a gooey sludge from ALL THAT CONCENTRATION! My book of choice was Tricksters Choice by Tamora Pierce.

I started reading.

Hm, she needs to tighten up that sentence…. things seem to be moving a little slowly here…Oh thats and effective metaphor… Yeah, I’d reword that…

0_0

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME??!!!

Holy Cow I’m critiquing Tamora Pierce!!!!!!!

Arrrrgh!!!

I often wondered if the Masterchef judges have spoiled their palette’s so much with fine dining that they’re incapable of sitting down to a plate of ordinary egg and chips without feeling the need to critique the consistency of the egg and whether the flavours blend effectively.

Thankfully it wore off.

Like a mosquito bite…

So dear reader we can learn two things from this week’s scrawling.

  1. Always be thankful for any critique you get (even the mean ones – they still have a truth buried in the manure somewhere) because a lot of time and effort has gone into it.
  2. Never read a book right after you’ve been critiquing other peoples work. Watch Pokemon instead…

On Needing More Pling…

Because it’s silly….

And I like silly things…

Lu Tze:   “Is it not written, ‘theres more ways to choke a dhang dhang than stuffing it with pling’ lad’.

Lobsang: “Is there?”

Lu Tze:  “Oh yes. If you’ve got enough pling…”

The Thief of Time, Terry Pratchett

Lu-tze

On Being An Author When I Grow Up…

My plot is thickening

This is the official relaunch of Sillylicious.

For those of you who were brave enough to follow my ridiculousness, you may have wondered where I’d gone. Let me explain…

I started writing this blog in 2011. Back then I was in the middle of a theological degree, working part time at Farmers and coping with earthquakes. My blog was a great way to write about the silly things that cropped up in Christian culture, partly inspired by Jon Acuff’s blog ‘Stuff Christians Like’. It was tremendous fun but as time progressed my degree demanded more and more time and life got steadily less and less silly. My blog kinda petered out. But something new starting poking little green shoots through the soil.

I had started writing my first novel…

I’d always had authorial aspirations. I’d made several attempts at writing one at when I was twelve. Then I started another one which sputtered to a stop and never really started again. Then I started The House of Petunia on the white fire of inspiration back when I was a Music Pastor in the early 2000. It had gone for two chapters than stopped because life started happening the way it does sometimes. Then one evening several years later one of my friends, at the homegroup I was going to at the time, started praying about my creativity.

I guess we know who to blame for what followed Rob…

Within the next week I had dusted off the first two chapters of The House of Petunia and reacquainted myself with my main character Petunia, and the mysterious Mr Triptych. A monster named Norman was discovered in the basement. He ate plates.  Chapter three was up and running and kept going, and going and going and behold! The Standingground Chronicles were born.

I discovered that I still wanted to be an author when I grew up.

So where are we now?

I’ve finished my theological degree and still work part time at Farmers so that I can write. I’ve finished my first novel but discovered that, due to writing by the seat of my pants what I actually had was not one book, but THREE books. This means I’m currently at work on hammering out the story arcs of the first three books in the Standingground Chronicles as well as writing my first stand alone novel, The Cat’s Tale.

This means the nature of the site will be changing.

Don’t worry. I haven’t become a frog worshipper and no, a theological education did not turn me into a liberal… I still like God a heap but, in the interests of appealing to a wider audience, the overtly Christian content will be located at Thoughtitudity.wordpress.com. This site will be dedicated to the true and noble pursuit of writing and on my authorial journey.

Make that hard out hike through knee high mud…

Wearing very, very, very big backpack…

And so it begins…

On Amish Romances

autumns_custom-45a0675ba8598135c8fec930ec6f105c8432b39c-s6-c30Over the last few years I have discovered the joys of owning a kindle. It’s like walking around with a whole library in your purse.

Recently a friend put me onto a website called Inspired Reads. Its fantastic if you want to pick up cheap Christian eBooks and you certainly do find some good classics and gems. However over the past few weeks I’ve been receiving their daily email I have been plunged again into the strange little world of ‘Christian Fiction’.

Firstly I noticed that four out of five of the books were ‘Christian Romances’. Florid titles pronouncing A Kiss for Cade, The Lightkeepers Bride, Highcountry Bride, The Displaced Belle…

Frankenstein’s Bride.

I made that last one up…

Will Florence/Chastity/ Wilhemina who has been ( badly hurt/widowed/shut away from the world/can’t cook) escape her( small town/ controlling mother or brother/abusive past/poverty stricken background/Baptist church) and find love with the (handsome stranger/close friend/non-Christian/circus clown) and find God’s will for her life..?

I thought God’s will for our lives was to follow Jesus and live and act out his Kingdom here on earth, involving more than just finding the man/woman/snowman/emperor penguine/ dalek of our dreams…

Ugh…

I then noticed that half of these romances or stories were set in Amish communities.

Hold on… it seemed like the genre of Christian Fiction had its own little sub-genre i.e Amish Romances. I didn’t know the Amish had so much time on their hands to write all these books seeing as they don’t use computers. Truly their output is prodigious…

It was getting so bad that every second cover had a woman on the front wearing a white cap looking either serene, uncertain, or wistful (never a guy, besides guys can’t really pull off looking serene or uncertain or wistful).  This Amish woman always manages to look stunningly beautiful despite the fact that the Amish don’t wear make-up… She always seemed to face a dilemma of who to marry, or the temptation of leaving the community for the affections of some handsome Englisher that has just stumbled in out of the cold…

Today I just looked and found a book entitled: What the Amish can Teach us About the Simple Life.

Now the Amish have developed self-help books. How nice…

A quick surf of the internet revealed that the genre of Amish Romances is huge in the States, something that is hugely puzzling to this simple Kiwi girl. They have apparently been dubbed ‘Bonnet Rippers’.  I remember when the dreadful Twighlight series set off a plague of books about teenage Vampires (yech). Likewise one Amish Romance has multiplied into a Literary Amish Zombie Apocalypse…

Flee… Flee for your lives!!

Now please don’t think I’m objecting to the Amish in particular. They’re chosen lifestyle is certainly interesting but I don’t think they are the ones who are writing all the Amish Romances. The Amish theme has become quite a lucrative franchise. I suppose one can’t really write about the Monastic Lifestyle because vows of celibacy tend to put a dampener on Romance.

My all time favourite fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones once wrote A Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which was a brilliant Mickey Take on her own genre. This book was almost like a Lonely Planet guide to navigating your standard Fantasy universe:  Don’t drink the water near a Dark Citadel or else you may be turned into something purple, that kind of thing… In the same way the Amish lifestyle has become a Christian fantasyland complete with formula just ripe of the mass production of fantasy novels (cough) I mean serious Christian literature…

Let me explain…If you have experienced the kind of Christianity that objects to Kung Fu Panda because it promotes Chinese Spirituality and the Narnia Chronicles because it encourages ideas of reincarnation ( see my previous post ) then I’m sure the imagination is in starvation mode. C S Lewis talked out how the mind craves stories and flights of fancy. The Amish Communities, then, represent a sanitised fantasy world and a way for the ‘Christian’ imagination to take flight in a ‘safe’ ‘Christian’ way free from Pernicious Ponies, Wizards and Smurfs. Kind of like a spiritual Middle Earth without the Orcs. Oh wait… maybe that’s the English…

I can almost imagine troops of Christian Questers (I mean pilgrims) from the outside world bedecked in white caps, long dresses and dark hats and dark suits, armed with wooden spoons and scythes trooping through Amish country enquiring directions to the nearest Romance or taking it in turns to master the butter churn.

My point?

Enough with the Amish already!!

Surely us Christian writers can be more creative than this…?