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Jennifer Miller Guest Blog

(I’m thrilled to have Jennifer Miller as today’s guest blogger.  Jennifer is a wonderful artist and one NRP is honored to work with.  So let’s give her a warm welcome — Amanda)

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Hello! I should do a quick introduction. My name is Jennifer Miller, and I am (now) a professional artist. There, that was pretty quick, right?

When Amanda approached me to write a blog entry for you all to read, I found myself nervously pondering just what on earth I could write about. When writing in my own blog, I know I am writing to fellow artists and art enthusiasts… or, at the least, someone that is interested in what I do on some level.  Writing a blog entry for a publisher left me wringing my hands, wondering what I could say that would be of value or interest.

So, I chose to write about something that I think all creative professionals struggle with… especially those of us that do Freelance.

Freelance is a zainy thing for those that aspire to see their work published. For some, the stars align just so and things seem to work out. Jobs come in, your name gets published alongside a Thing that you made, and times are good. If you are doing really well, you can even pay a few bills that way. Then there are the rest of us that fight tooth and nail to get somewhere, and just when you think that something is going well, it’s yanked from under you.

I think that many artists, writers, musicians, actors… give up somewhere along the line. “This isn’t working out,” they think, and feel crushed that their dreams are not going as planned. I know that I have felt this way more than I care to admit. And sometimes, this works out for the best, because not everyone will enjoy the madness that is Freelance and getting Somewhere. Some people will be much happier and healthier when their talents stay an enjoyable hobby instead of a constant scramble to find work and get a few bucks. And that is totally okay too.

But… ah, the sweet, sweet feeling that you get when something does finally work out. Seeing your name (painting, etc) on that shelf in the bookstore… or even next to the title in the e-store… that’s something else. Everything feels glowingly worth it in those moments. And while for some surely there is a sense of fame and glory in this, for many (including myself) it’s more personal than that. There is a sense of self-worth that we often deny (or are scared to admit) that becomes gratified when we get published. The time, the grief, the struggle and rejections all become wonderfully worth it in that moment. And, more than anything, it is encouragement to continue to create, which is a winning situation for both the artist/writer, and the person that would continue to enjoy the works of the creator.

Instead of blathering on for pages about the balance between struggle to make it and the joy of making it, I’ll instead bore you with a short tale of how the world is Greatly Ironic in regards to my own career.

I’ve been doing art for as long as I can recall, and have been making lines on paper to resemble things probably since I was able to hold a jumbo-crayon or sidewalk chalk. I’ve been doing art with the ambition of doing it as a career full time since 2004… so, about seven years. From the start, I had visions of painting dragons and the like for book covers, tabletop RPGs, and so on.

With sparkle in my eyes and great enthusiasm, I set to work creating a large portfolio of my best paintings. I spent weeks of time and no small amount buying book references on how to approach and submit to every place under the sun where I felt my art could be used. My eyes firmly on publishers and game companies, I still explored every venue that uses my type of artwork… from greeting cards to magazines, tabletop RPG companies to clothing companies. At no small expense I assembled tear sheets, portfolios, resumes, and self-addressed stamped envelopes and started submitting, following each company’s unique submission process as necessary. For some years I submitted well over what I will guess to be 200 packets.

It was a good day when I got a rejection letter.

Most of the time my submissions were met with deafening silence. To be fair, many companies, especially larger ones, do get swamped with submissions and don’t have the time or resources to respond individually to each (which is why I love smaller places such as Naked Reader). Still, it does not exactly put one on cloud nine, and follow-ups were often even more discouraging when I was able to get in touch with someone. During this time, I did a lot of small individual commissions to pay the bills, and eventually got a part-time job doing something nearly unrelated to my own work, helping out a fantasy sculpture company. I enjoyed my work with them well enough, but it wasn’t my work and the nasty Troll of Discouragement was kicking me soundly in the rear end. At one point, like most artists, I threw my hands up in disgust over all the time, money, and effort I thought I had wasted, and gave up on chasing freelance.

Which, of course, is when the freelance jobs started rolling in… randomly, and from completely unexpected places. All of which had absolutely zero to do with all the hard work, preparation, and submissions I had put in over the past several years. My friend calls this “coyote luck”. I call it confusing and backwards (but very welcome!).

The first was a completely out of the blue email I received from Nickelodeon (yes, that Nickelodeon), needing a fantasy painting. I nearly deleted the email as spam or a joke, because it seemed so utterly impossible that Nickelodeon was sending me a generic looking email, asking for artwork. But it was legitimate and first in the line of jobs that came out of the blue, and only started happening once I had stopped actively searching. Go figure!

Seeing my artwork in publication for the first time was a surreal feeling. There was this strange sort of disconnect; is that really mine? I did that! Then, of course, is something nearly all artists do: stare at the mistakes! Aaagh. Surely there is something strangely wired in our brains for it to switch from utter elation and reward  of “I have finally made it! I am worthwhile! Other people will actually see this and one of them might actually like it!” to… “Oh no, did I really paint the dorsal spines of the dragon at such a strange angle? What is wrong with me! The subsurface scattering is all wrong on that beak…”

Surely, not everyone is haunted by subsurface scattering or off-angle dragon spines. If you find that you are, I welcome you over to have a cup of tea so that we may properly discuss them.

But, I digress! At the end of the day, it all comes together and is so worth it. It’s a heck of a rollercoaster ride, and I’ve only just begun, but I sure do enjoy the trip.

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You can find out more about Jennifer and see some of her wonderful art here.

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Grist for the Mill by Jay Caselberg

I am a writer. So what do I do when I haven’t got my rear firmly welded to a chair somewhere in the middle of Europe tapping away at my keyboard or on endless conference calls for the day job? I travel. In fact, I travel fairly extensively. In the next few weeks I will be in the UK, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and China, with maybe some others thrown in. In the last year the list extends to many others, Japan, Israel, Hong Kong, South Africa, Korea and then a few more. All of that is great material, background for world-building, insights into various cultures and mere observation about how different people interact. All of it feeds the lizard brain and helps shape worlds, characters and story. Things happen along the way, and these too hang around in the back of my head and, from time to time, pop out onto the page when I least expect it.

Would that I had the luxury to do all that under my own steam, but it’s all part of that day job that does things like keep the rent paid and allows little side excursions when I’m on the road. That brings me to the next thing I do. I read. I do so pretty broadly, across genre, mainstream fiction and mysteries and crime. I love short stories. Immersing yourself in the field gives you access to what’s happening in fiction, also the mechanics of what works in storytelling and what does not. I was one of those kids with a book and a torch under the blankets at night. For a while there, I could not read properly for pleasure, because I was so bound up in the mechanics that it was impossible to remove myself from sentence structure, word choice, all sorts of things that interfered with proper immersion in the story itself.

Thankfully, I got over that. Not having anything to read is like the ache of a missing limb. Technology is advancing at a pace, and the electronic form, for both short and longer fiction makes my life a joy. Personally, I own a Kindle. Before that, for a while, I used to read on my Palm. Being on the road, having a reader is the greatest blessing. A library of hundreds of books and stories at my fingertips, but without the weight. The sheer practicality of it all. At home, I have shelves and shelves of solid, material books, but e-books are really starting to come into their own, and I am thankful. I need to be able to read wherever I am and whenever I feel like it. I’ve long been a proponent of the electronic form, and you can find older stories and novels of mine all over the place online. They’ve been there for a while. Hopefully, they will always be there.

I don’t watch television. Well, not strictIy true. The only television I do watch is in hotel rooms when I’m just too brain dead to do anything else. I don’t own one. Television, not fear, is the little death for a writer. The big death is online gaming, but that’s another story.

One of the joys of stories, of reading, is that it’s interactive. The writer gives you images and scenes, but as a reader you add your own colour, shape and texture to them. You draw from your own experiences, picture the character, hear the voices, have your own image in your mind and join in the creative process thereby. It’s more intimate. With television, it’s just there, shoved into your face, and all you have to do is sit back and absorb.

Reading, however, reading helps you create.

In the end, it helps me create, and that’s what matters.

 

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NRP will be publishing Jay’s short story, Want, this April. For more information about Jay, check out his website.

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How Human is Your Alien

Today is the first in what will become an ongoing series of guest blogs by our authors and artists.  Enjoy!

How Human is Your Alien
by
Pam Uphoff

How Human is Your Alien?

Well, it depends on why you have an alien in your story.

In my Martian stories, ahem, well, I started out making fun of a lawyer friend on a SF bulletin board. I didn’t think about anything but making lawyers into scaly little reptiles. The story turned, as stories tend to do, into a series of novellas that built up to what an advanced civilization was likely to do in the face of a severe environmental disaster. Only the presence of lawyers was sufficient to maintain the light and humorous feel. I mean, who cares if the lawyers all die, right?

Despite the scales and tails, they remained quite human.

Now in another (unpublished) novel, I tried for a very alien Alien. Amphibious, external fertilization, carnivorous. Sheesh. Can’t seduce them, and they want to eat you. I made their children unintelligent in their early stages, requiring capture and taming for virtual slave labor until their brains matured. I gave them no pack or herding  instinct what-so-ever. They have no government. Everything is run by independent companies. Generally small companies. One adult and all the pre-intelligent workers he needs. Sort of a Libertarian Paradise, except the losers getting eaten.

Despite the diet and lifestyle, they remained quite human.

Do we have a problem, anthropomorphizing other critters? Look at any dog or horse story. Or sheep, for that matter.

How about movie monsters? We still have the Big Momma Alien defending her kids. Predators that “play fair” and don’t attack the unarmed civilians.

Do we need semi-human aliens to look at our own flaws? Will they help us cross a gap of incomprehension, when we meet real aliens?

Can we make an alien incomprehensible without reducing it to an impersonal challenge? We don’t ask an asteroid why it’s going to kill all of us. We don’t ask a coral reef to stop hosting sharks and morays. We do wonder what we did that was so bad we deserved an earthquake, but we don’t ask the earthquake for specifics.

My corner of Texas is currently being invaded by the Chinaberry tree. Attractive tree, drops gunk all over every fall, spreads like wildfire. Nothing eats it, no one wants more than one, and quickly comes to regret it. But I can’t comprehend its battle plans. It arrived in a neighbor’s yard, and is threatening to take over mine. I can’t reason with it. I kill its scouts, its colonists as fast as they appear, but they keep coming. Why isn’t diplomacy working?

Makes a really boring book. Which is why, no matter what they look like, fictional aliens tend to be comprehensible, and thus, quite human.

Although I may have gone too far with the Martian Lizard Lawyers . . . .

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Lawyers of Mars will be available February 21st.

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