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.
Hi all! After a few months' hiatus, the blog is back, with a fresh and more orderly outlook on life. Starting in January, I will be posting once-a-month content, geared toward one of three audiences: artists, writers, and readers of my work. Content may include art videos and tutorials, writing and publishing tips, and bonus content from my books. Additionally, each post will contain:
This is a post I’ve been planning for months, ever since I attended a local school’s career day and geeked out with a bunch of middle-school artists about fandoms and fantasy. When I told them their sketchbooks reminded me of mine at that age, they exclaimed that I should post re-draws of some of my old art. I told them I would—but of course, between then and now, I’ve had a full manuscript to re-write and an eighteen-chapter middle grade novel to illustrate, on top of my day job and maintaining the illusion of being a competent parent. Now, in the brief inhale between projects, I have just enough time to finally follow through on this post.
There was no question as to which work I should redo, particularly not after I got my hands on Megan Whalen Turner’s Thick as Thieves, the fifth book in the Queen’s Thief series. I’ve posted twice before about the impact MWT has had on me and my art and writing, but the cliff notes version is--a lot of impact. I read the first book shortly after it came out in 1996, and from day one the protagonists started appearing in my childhood drawings. From sketchbook to sketchbook, through the rise and fall of other obsessions, Eugenides was a constant face—he appears at least once, and usually much more, in all fourteen of my high school sketchbooks. And Turner’s storytelling has been driving my own since I first started scribbling stories in spiral-bounds at age ten—right around the same time I first read The Thief.
So it’s fitting, I think, for this post to be half art-redraws and half testament to my longest-running, longest-beloved fandom.
I wish I had some of the earliest pieces I drew in elementary and middle school, but unfortunately, most of that art is gone now. The plastic portfolio I was keeping many of them in got wet at some point in my parents’ basement and mildewed beyond recognition. So sadly, the earliest work I have is from around 2005, when I was a junior in high school and nine years into my relationship with MWT’s work.
Based on context clues from the surrounding pages in my sketchbook, at that time I was hashing out the plot for my 7th spiral-bound novel and in the first real fever-pitch of my obsession with Lord of the Rings. I had the time and brainspace in those days for two obsessions at once, and sure enough, in the midst of cropping off movie-Legolas’ blonde locks and drawing weird winged cat creatures, Gen and his companions pop up, complete with awkward posing and a cartoonishly villainous Ambiades.
My style in those days tended toward oversized heads and undersized necks, and noses that extended halfway up foreheads. I was learning from old Internet mainstays like Tealin and Makani, trading my ill-formed pseudo-anime for their Disneyesque style. I still draw my heads too big and my necks too long, so even though the below redraw was done in 2015, I tweaked it a little to fix some of those errors.
Half a sketchbook later, in the summer of 2005, amid the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Gen was back, this time with Helen, who is obviously telling him off about something. Gen still has his long hair, so I like to think of this as Helen coming to find him after the events of The Thief.
At the time I was not a fan of Irene, thinking of her as soulless and cruel, but the thing I love most about MWT’s work is that it has aged with me. Now I love the sharp vulnerability and complexity of Irene’s character and how both she and Helen use every ounce of their resources to direct their lives and their countries.
As a strange interlude—this was around the same time I started watching the Marx Brothers, too, which my brain somehow fused irrevocably into a moment from Thick as Thieves, when we learn Gen re-introduces himself to the Mede ambassador every time they meet.
Near the end of high school I started teaching myself to work digitally. I’ve lost a lot of my earliest work—it’s probably on some ancient floppy disk or fifty-meg thumb drive, but I’ve yet to find it. The oldest digital Thief piece I can find is from around 2007, when I was a freshman in college and re-reading the series for the umpteenth time. By this point I had developed a basic proficiency in Photoshop, though my egregious use of a single jarring background texture leaves something to be desired, demonstrated here as Pol threatens Gen to keep his mouth shut. Judging from Pol’s exaggerated Bruce Timm torso, this was around the time I was watching a lot of animated Justice League and Justice League Unlimited
My college sketchbooks were dominated once again by Lord of the Rings, my own novels, and new faces from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but Gen still sneaks in once in a while, accompanied now by Costis and Sophos. The “Are you out of your mind?” exchange in Queen of Attolia is probably my most-illustrated scene, showing up in 2006 and 2007, and again here in 2010—the year I got married and started my first position with the National Park Service.
“What would I have done if Attolia had caught you, cut you up into little pieces, and sent the pieces back to me?”
With the birth of my daughters, my time to draw dwindled, and as I wrote and queried Woodwalker, my time vanished almost completely. Any sketching went to character development for my novels, and finished digital work went to promo material for their publication. And yet. In 2015, despite having less personal time than I’d ever had before in my life, guess who pops up right in the middle of paintings of Mae and Mona?
2015 was only two years ago, and while I produced some good art I still like, the piece below was not my greatest. I was practicing my speedpainting, trying to force myself to work looser and faster, and I still hadn’t gained full confidence in the process, leaving my colors over-saturated and my proportions a bit too stretched. I solved this in the repaint by using practically no color at all, which you might recognize as cheating, but in the spirit of the thing I decided to keep to a speedpaint, focusing more on correcting the wacky proportions and garish lighting.
Now, in 2017, I’m working on muting my palette, making myself work within a narrower range on the spectrum. I’m hoping this moves me toward a more mature look, as my current aesthetic tends to lead folks to assume my novels are middle-grade unicorn fantasies. I’m embracing a little softer style and, as always, fighting for good depth. It’s fun to dive into my cringey old sketchbooks and see where I’ve come from. Maybe soon I’ll do some more redraws. Maybe in another few years I’ll redo some of the ones in this post.
At any rate, it’s safe to assume Eugenides will still be right there with me.
It's summer again, which means it's time to take the flat hat out of storage and head into the wilderness for four months. I will be spending my summer working with the National Park Service again, and my WiFi will be limited. I am working to keep my social media feeds updated, but blog posts will be few and far between. Please follow me elsewhere for updates throughout the summer!
Projects I'll be tackling:
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@EmilyBeeMartin) to keep up with all this and more!
It's ghost season!
I've shared with you that fireflies are sacred to Mae's culture, but of all the species that live in the Silverwood Mountains, the blue ghost fireflies are among the most revered, and the ones that Mae misses most during her exile.
Blue ghosts are a real thing (Phausis reticulata), about as close to magic as we can get in our world. They don't flash or blink--- they glow a steady, moonlight-blue color, and they float a few inches off the ground, like a silent fairy slow-dance. They're found only in a small region of southern Appalachia. April and May are great times to look for them---if you live near Great Smoky Mountains National Park or any one of the state or national forests in the area (Pisgah or DuPont especially), you can look for them yourself. I've also seen them along the Chattooga River and near Jones Gap State Park (SC). Ask a ranger if they know of good places to look. They like damp, dark places under the trees (the bugs, not the rangers), so close to creeks or rivers is a good bet.
But please! If you do find some, stay out of the area they're flying. The females don't fly, and trying to catch the males mean you can easily step on the females. (Mae is setting a bad example here. Stay on the path, Mae!) Keep light to a minimum; put red cellophane over your flashlight or headlamp to avoid disturbing them and killing your night vision.
Great Smokies also has an annual Firefly Festival that will be coming up later in the spring, which is a fantastic place to see the ghosts and another incredible species--- the synchronous fireflies. I'll be back in the ranger hat again, helping host the event, one of my favorite parts of working in the Smokies. Suffice to say, nature is awesome and magic is real!
I had a whole bulleted list typed up categorizing my undying love for author Megan Whalen Turner’s work, but I’ve already annoyed Twitter enough with my fangirling, so I’ll keep it brief.
I’ve posted about MWT’s Queen’s Thief series before, so you can understand how excited I was to get an advanced copy of her newest book, Thick as Thieves. For those unfamiliar with this series, the first book came out in 1996. The book currently releasing is book five. Needless to say, Thief fans are accustomed to long, agonizing waits between books. Regardless, I’ve been a staunch fan of Turner and her protagonist, Eugenides, for a solid twenty years. Each of her books reveals something different upon every re-read, and her characters have a way of making you retroactively fall in love with them, sometimes several books later.
Turner has had more impact on my writing voice and my love for storytelling than any other author, and Thick as Thieves did not disappoint. Even knowing Turner’s hallmark style of a slow, simmering story building up to a thunderbolt moment at the end, she still managed to surprise me. She never wastes a character, or a scene, or a sentence. Her books don’t talk down to the reader—they’re smart and subtle and poignant, often disguised as wit or blunder. Which, come to think of it, is Eugenides’ style as well.
I’m excited to see this series having a renaissance, to see Thief fans crawling out of the woodwork as we do every five or six years. Only this time it’s different, because now we can all find each other on social media. And it’s different for me, because now I have my own books published—by the same publisher as Turner, no less—books that have been directly influenced by her work.
The advanced copy of this book came to me at exactly the right time (largely because I suspect my best friend Caitlin is not just my unofficial publicist, but my guardian angel as well). I’ve been feeling very down and overwhelmed by my work and life in general, and at first I felt guilty for reading Thick as Thieves rather than buckling down on my pressing deadlines. But slipping back into Turner’s world was the right choice—it reminded me, as it always does, why I love storytelling. Why I started writing in the first place, and the kind of smart, nuanced writing I aspire to. I still haven’t fully found my feet again, but Turner and her protagonist have given me a shove in the right direction.
So of course I procrastinated longer by illustrating a scene.
If you’re a fan of this series and trying to stay unspoiled for this book, click away now and come back to it after release day. If not, carry on. It doesn’t give away much beyond the fact that Gen is too clever for anyone’s good, which any reader of the series could tell you.
I found him... wholly changed, in fact, but for the scar on his face and that smile. Or perhaps, I thought, he has not changed. Perhaps it is just the world that has changed. Perhaps he was only by accident at the edge of this court and had slowly and inevitably drawn all of it into orbit around him.
Family is such a comfort. There's your blood family and then there's the family you create through shared experiences. There's no better shared experience than writing, and many of the authors from Harper Voyager have become close. We love to support each other.
And we love to do things together! Like chat about science fiction and fantasy books.
And super lucky for readers, we like to give away books together, too!
See the giveaway details below the jump!
Hey all! Tomorrow (2/23) several HarperCollins authors and myself will be holding a Twitter chat to talk about books that inspire us and what releases we're looking forward to in 2017! Come join us at 3 PM and 8 PM EST under the hashtag #SFFChat to share YOUR favorites! And feel free to bring questions about writing and publishing.
We have less than one month until Ashes to Fire releases in paperback! Starting next week, I'll be posting some fun new features here on my website, including another interactive map!
We are t-minus ONE WEEK from the e-release of ASHES TO FIRE! The e-book launches next Tuesday, January 31, 2017, and the paperback will follow a few weeks later. Woohoo! Readers will get to follow Mae, Mona, and the other characters from WOODWALKER on a new adventure--new stakes, new country, and new characters! Let's take a look...
Ah, Mister Rou. His real name is Theophilius Roubideaux, but he thinks that's pretentious. Queen Mona describes him alternately as "indecent and asinine" and "insufferably likable." Part savvy diplomat, part impulsive swamp bandit, Rou has the distinct ability to charm his way out of most (self-wrought) sticky situations. He is a diametric opposite to cool, composed Mona, so obviously there could be absolutely no chemistry whatsoever between the two of them...........
See more illustrations of Rou in my Portfolio!
Rou's twin brother Lyle, however, couldn't be more different. Rou describes him to Mona as "downright surly on a good day... balancing long chemical reactions is his idea of a two-way conversation." But what he lacks in his twin's charisma, he makes up for in academic brilliance--Lyle is a wickedly talented chemist and engineer... and it can't be denied that Mona needs a tactical advantage over her enemies. Could Lyle be her ticket to finally protecting Lumen Lake from the threat of Alcoro?
To see a little progress video of Lyle's illustration, see my Videos page!
And after all, Alcoro is indeed a threat, led by their ruthless, tyrannical... quiet and compassionate Queen Gemma? Mona has no idea what to make of her enemy queen, partner to the despotic Seventh King Celeno who ordered the invasion of Lumen Lake four years previously. First impressions give way to second and third impressions, which eventually leave Mona wondering if she knows anything at all about the country that overthrew hers. One thing is for sure---it won't do to underestimate Gemma's role in this conflict, for good or bad.
See these three illustrations alongside the other protagonists on my Characters page!
(DRAMATIC ORCHESTRA STING)
So, there are three of your new characters in ASHES TO FIRE. I will be posting a video in a day or two with more information about the book release, including some details on the launch party and what readers of WOODWALKER can expect in book two. Look for it on my Facebook page (I won't post it on my Videos page because it features my face instead of artwork).
Thanks for following along on this adventure! Don't forget you can pre-order the e-book so you get it right on January 31, and you will be able to pre-order the paperback starting in February!
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator