Recently I’ve given several programs on the power of fan art, and during these programs, I always make sure to stress that the same value applies to fanfiction as well. There’s a good reason for that—most of my completed manuscripts prior to Woodwalker’s publication were fanfiction. The most significant of these, at least in relationship to my published work, is a 67,000 word fic set in the world and events of The Hobbit (in comparison, Woodwalker is 72k words). I wrote it after the first Hobbit movie came out and made me mad with how little it held to the spirit of the book, keeping me awake at night with all the potential that had been lost. It ended up becoming the first of a duology, with the second installment set during The Lord of the Rings.
Nobody has read these fics, not even my best friend and beta reader, who’s read almost everything else I’ve ever written. And they’re not my only LotR fics—I wrote one in undergrad that topped 115k words and encompassed about 500 years of Middle Earth history. But the one set during The Hobbit is the most special to me for several reasons—first, because The Hobbit defined my childhood and ignited my love of fantasy, quests, and worldbuilding. Second, because it was the fic I was writing when my husband finally found out, after four years of marriage, that all the typing I was doing on my computer wasn’t just social media, but fiction writing. And third, because without it, I wouldn’t have conceived of the character of Mae and the plot of Woodwalker.
Warning: Big plot spoilers for Woodwalker below (but none for books 2 and 3). Read them all after the jump!
This month, I am so stoked to bring you an extra-special guest post PLUS the biggest Creatures of Light giveaway yet! As many of you saw, earlier this month I attended Electric City Comicon, hosted by the Anderson County Library System in South Carolina. There I got to moderate a panel with three fantastic SFF authors, judge the Fan Art Contest, and do some super-fun live-drawing for an excitable peanut gallery. It was a great event, but the biggest thrill for me, hands down, was seeing the legendary Sadie by Design cosplay Queen Mona.
Look at this gown! Look at it! Look at her crown! Her pendant! Her hair! Her freckles! From the moment Sadie told me she was thinking of cosplaying Mona, I knew she would be absolutely perfect, but I never expected to be this blown away by her work. Her friend and fellow cosplayer Virginia also showed up in a spot-on rendition of Mae.
My heart, y’all. I think many authors would agree that the ultimate dream is seeing artwork inspired by our books. I spent the day in a sort of foggy high, grinning and clapping every time Sadie glided elegantly through the event. Unsurprisingly, she won second place in the Adult Cosplay Contest. And now she’s been gracious enough to break down her process for you and provide some insights into how she meticulously and lovingly created such fantastic cosplay.
And to make things EXTRA special, we’ve collaborated to bring you the epic CREATURES OF LIGHT PRIZE PACK GIVEAWAY! One lucky winner will receive a signed trilogy set from me, two stunning photo prints of Sadie’s cosplay, and a handful of CoL bookmarks and stickers. Check out all the details and enter to win at the end of this post!
Now it’s my honor to introduce Sadie from Sadie by Design---take it all in below the jump!
My name is Brian Robeson and I am thirteen years old and I am alone in the north woods of Canada.
When I was in seventh grade, during the dawn of dial-up Internet and Angelfire websites, I wrote a fan letter to Gary Paulsen telling him how much I loved his adventure books. He replied with a signed typewritten letter and a Polaroid photo of him on a sailboat in a gray Alaskan inlet. The postscript of the letter went like this:
Read all the time; read when they tell you not to read, read with a flashlight under the covers, read on the bus, standing on the corner, waiting for a friend, in the dentist’s waiting room. Read every minute you can. Read like a wolf eats. READ.
I followed Gary Paulsen’s advice up until I reached grad school, when my life was overtaken by academia and, later, motherhood. But now, with two kids eager to devour the same adventures and worlds I did, and with my re-entry into the world of literature as an author, not just a reader, I’m happily rediscovering his wise advice to thirteen-year-old me. Reading isn’t just a pastime; it’s a gateway and lifeline to a broader human experience. Would I be a park ranger today if I hadn’t been transported to Brian Robeson’s L-shaped lake in northern Canada?
Hatchet was a foundational book for a lot of the scouts, rangers, and outdoorsfolk I hang out with—the story of a kid like us, a city boy from a stressful household, who finds himself lost in the rugged wilderness with a small hatchet as his only tool. It was equally captivating and terrifying to stumble along with Brian as he guesses his way through survival, relying on memories of action movies and shipwreck stories, giving childish names to the things he comes to rely on—gut cherries, foolbirds, food fish. And Hatchet certainly isn’t Gary Paulsen’s only survival story. Most of his work—even his autobiography and sci-fi work—is threaded with themes of struggle and cohesion with nature.
Survival remains one of my favorite tropes in literature. From childhood favorites like Island of the Blue Dolphins (O’Dell) and The Sign of the Beaver (Speare) to recent favorites like The Moor’s Account (Lalami) and In the Heart of the Sea (Philbrick), I’m a sucker for a story that throws a character into a wild unknown and forces them to adapt. And now that I’m a published author, I’m not just a sucker for reading these characters, but writing them, too. In fact, I’m mere paragraphs away in my current manuscript from stripping every bit of gear from my protagonists and pushing them into a fifty-mile expanse of waterless desert. Granted, I’m not sure how I’m going to get them across, but at this point they’re cleverer than me, and I expect they’ll show me.
Part one of “So Your Hero is Roughing It” focused on equipping your characters with the most basic gear they might need to survive a quest. This installment focuses instead on what happens when you take all that stuff away. I’ll make the same disclaimer here as I made in Part One: this is not a survival guide. Don’t screenshot this blog and head off into the Yukon. This is a resource for writers and role-players looking for plot nuggets and worldbuilding ideas. I’ve kept things relatively generic on purpose—a lot of your details will depend on what environment your characters are traveling through. Finding medicinal plants in a temperate rainforest is going to be a heck of a lot different from finding medicinal plants in high steppes. This is just a framework, not an in-depth guide.
Read more after the jump!
So you know how I said last month that I was finally getting a Wacom Cintiq to replace my external Intuos tablet? Well, I did it! It wasn't an entirely seamless process, complete with the gutting realization that the Cintiq wasn't compatible with my current laptop, but after some setbacks I got it set up in the past week and have started tinkering with it. And with June's blog structured for readers of my trilogy, what better way to break it in than by drawing a bunch of pictures of my protagonists!
While romance isn't the central part of the Creatures of Light trilogy, it's a strong current throughout all three books. Partnerships--both platonic and romantic--play a big role in driving the plot and upping the stakes. And the romances, be they past or present or on the rise, are not simple, sweet things. They're messy, and bittersweet, and at times very, very hard. Some fall apart over the course of the trilogy, some bloom. But they all have an impact, leaving characters different people from who they were before.
So this blog post features an illustrated snippet from each protagonist's first meaningful interaction with their significant other. Some are right there in the text, and some are only hinted at. Obviously, there are spoilers ahead! But I've arranged and labeled them by book, so if you've only read Woodwalker, you can stop without spoiling the rest; likewise for Ashes to Fire. If you haven't read any of them.... get out now while you still can!(Shameless link to book one in the series here!)
See them all after the jump!
I've said it before and I'll say it again: fan art--and fan fiction--gets a bad rap, despite having this amazing power to build community, support other creators, and expand an artist or writer's skills. It took me a long time to stop feeling embarrassed about creating fan art and -fiction--now I can look back and see all the strides I've made because I was inspired by my favorite books or movies to draw and write, and I can safely say I wouldn't be at the same place, technically or stylistically, without sketchbooks and Word documents full of fan-fueled creations.
It's timely, then, that I'll be giving two presentations this summer on the power and value of fan art! I'll be sharing some work that has made a difference in my career and doing a live-drawing demonstration of a popular character the audience will help me pick (for more info, see my Events page). To get ready for these programs, I asked my Facebook and Twitter followers to vote on a character I should draw for my May blog post. Out of a poll of four cool young women, Katara beat out Hermione, Eowyn, and Moana!
I got into Avatar: The Last Airbender in undergrad, which at the time felt way too old to be watching a kid's anime, but now I love referencing it as an example of masterful storytelling, worldbuilding, and character arcs. And I hadn't drawn Katara in so long! So here she is---check out her progress video and art tutorial below the jump!
“What are you doing, Mrs. Beaver?” exclaimed Susan.
Ah, the quest—a staple of fantasy literature both classic and modern. Rugged journeys through wild lands, relying on wit and luck and the kindness of strangers. Quests and survivalism remain some of my favorite tropes to both read and write.
However, I have to admit, when I read a quest where there’s no mention of packs or bags—or more blatantly, when there’s a movie adaptation and no depiction of characters carrying gear—the ranger in me convulses a little. You, human, hiking through the wilderness—where’s your water bottle? Your map? Your fire kit? Your blanket?
I get it—bulky packs look silly (which is why Samwise carries one for comic relief), and too much time spent on travel minutiae can bog down a story’s pacing. But in fantasy worldbuilding, it’s often the mundane details juxtaposed with fantastic elements that create a complex, lived-in world. Seeing Hermione trying to stew mushrooms in a billy can in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shows us how dire things can get, even for wizards. And seeing Mrs. Beaver determined to pack a few necessities despite the complaints of the others show that while strange and wonderful, Narnia is still a dangerous place for the unprepared.
This is one of two segments I’m planning to write on the topic of quest practicality—in this post I’ll focus on the most basic gear a typical human might need to survive in the wilderness, while the second installment will be on improvising the rest from the surrounding environment, like first aid, shelter, and clean water. This is all written for like-minded authors collecting ideas to flesh out their world- and character-building, not for adventurers looking to pull a Christopher McCandless and strike out into the wild. We can have that conversation another time, when I’m wearing my ranger hat.
Read more after the jump!
Some of you know that Creatures of Light had to be almost entirely rewritten just a few months before publication--particularly if you were lucky enough to follow along my slow deterioration into temporary insanity while on deadline last summer. The book as it exists now was written in about three and a half months. While there are a few snippets that remained the same from the first incarnation to the next--like some of the travel through the cave system, and a bit of the interaction with Gemma's mother--most of it is completely different. Different characters died, different characters fell in love, different countries ended up with alternative political systems. And almost none of it revolved around the protagonist, Gemma--which became the main reason the story needed a complete reorientation.
The book is much stronger now, thanks to the guidance from my agent and editor and feedback from my betas. And one of the many gifts the rewrite has given me is an entire manuscript of unpublished material. Most of it is irrelevant now, but the prologue below still could have happened within the canon of the current book. In it, we see Mona, Mae, Rou, and Colm a few weeks after the end of Ashes to Fire, with Mona sick in bed and still trying to get stuff done anyway. I never truly loved this prologue, because unlike the first two books, it didn't add any extra layers to the story--and again, none of it revolves around the protagonist at all. But it's got a few little fun snippets, and probably still happened in the interlude between books 2 and 3. Check it out below the jump!
Warning: There are some spoilers for Woodwalker and Ashes to Fire included, so proceed at your own discretion!
The Creatures of Light trilogy is complete! Help celebrate the last book in the series by participating in the Creatures of Light Coloring Contest! One randomly-drawn winner will receive a full trilogy set, with author-illustrated title pages and matching bookmarks!
The contest runs from March 12 to April 15, 2018. Get all the details, rules, and, of course, coloring pages in the Coloring tab!
This month, in the lead-up to the Creatures of Light paperback release, I've been producing all kinds of bonus content--including character profiles for a few final main characters. The most significant, of course, is Celeno, Seventh King of Alcoro and sort of the unwitting epicenter of all the messes everybody's sorting through in the series. His character design has remained fairly constant from my early drafts--my mom fan-cast him as Oscar Isaac pretty early on, which has given me a good stable design foundation (as well as a phone gallery full of Poe Dameron screencaps).
For Celeno's official character portrait, I took a video of my Photoshop process, from sketch to finished product. Check it out below the jump:
Quick, when I say Harry Potter, what’s the visual image that springs to your mind?
It’s probably a picture of the protagonists decked out with wands and robes, right? But is that all? Are they drifting in a void? Or do you see the setting around them—vast, mischievous Hogwarts castle, with its shifting staircases and moving portraits? The mysterious library, the murky lake, the rolling grounds?
As writers, we hear a lot about worldbuilding—the art of creating a deep, well-rounded world that provides the physical and cultural setting for our plot. When this is done well, any mention of a story instantly gives the reader a vivid mental picture. But worldbuilding can go a step further! Instead of just being a setting or backdrop for your characters to move through, it can become almost another side character—something that your characters don’t just react to, but interact with. Something that gives heft to the plot and affects the story.
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator