Preparing for 2015

Thirteen days. Thirteen days until the calendar flips and the year 2014 joins 1936, 1811, 1602, and 734 as the past. With the seasonal giants of Yule and Christmas still casting their red and green lights from the future onto today, why am I writing about the new year? Because I’m preparing to watch the numeral 4 fall into the trash can, replaced by the numeral 5. It will take me the next thirteen days to finish those preparations, so I’m taking the rest of 2014 off to focus on them.

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The major preparation is already underway. I’m writing an almanac for Aura Lockhaven. It’s more for me than for her. This way, I’ll have everything in one binder that I need: the names of her days and months, a full description of her zodiac sign, the deities in her pantheon, maps of her town and country, etc. No more searching through a menagerie of assorted folders in Word to locate the list of her holy days! The more details like that I include, the more tangible her world will feel to the reader. That project alone will take up the next thirteen days as I tend to get somewhat detailed.

I gave Aura her own calendar. If I’m going to design a new world, it’s going to make sense somewhere, and this it that place. Her year is composed of 360 days (who came up with 365 1/4 days!) of twelve months of 30 days each (no short sheeted poor February). The names of the months are based on old Saxon English words for the folk names we still use, such as Berrymont for Berry Moon and Langnitmont for Moon of Long Nights. You did know our word month comes from the old Saxon word for moon, right? This follows my philosophy of making her world seem familiar at the same time it feels exotic.

As a polytheistic pagan, and a magician, Aura needed a Wheel of the Year. Like ours, hers corresponds to the agricultural cycles. The solar days (solstices and equinoxes) are based on Saxon words. Stead means day. Sunstead is our Midsummer, and Nightstead is our Yule. The lunar fire festivals (marking the first day of the new season) are based on Celtic words. Her Parin corresponds to our Beltane, and her Tyrfin to our Samhain. If you notice, the solar events mark the middle of the seasons, not the beginnings.

wheel of the year

Aura also receives her own Wheel of the Zodiac. Being a magician, she would follow it. Like ours, her zodiac has twelve signs. Unlike ours, her signs change around the 11th of the month (give or take a few days based on the size of the constellation). Also unlike ours, her wheel represents six elements, not four. Philosophers in her world recognize seven elements: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Metal, Lightning, and Spirit. Metal and Lightning will be familiar to anyone who has studied Eastern traditions or read manga. As Spirit is the center of all living things, it does not receive a sign. Every other element receives two signs, one active and one passive. The active form is the agent of change (similar to our cardinal), while the passive form is the agent of steadfastness (similar to our fixed). The sign representing the active form of the element lies across the wheel from its passive counterpart. I crafted the names from Greek words, using the suffix -US for masculine, -A for feminine, and -O for plural. The only one that doesn’t fit is Fysarus. The name is based on the Greek word for Bellows. I thought that was too obscure, changed it to Bell, but kept the name. Besides, I couldn’t find any free stock clip-art for a bellows. Remember that tiny piece of trivia should this series become famous.

Zodiac

Aura was born on Haemmont 1, so she is an Erasto. That is very similar to our Taurus. This allows me to fix her personality in a much more natural way. Aura will respond to events in a certain, somewhat predictable, manner. As Erasto is tactile and sensual, she likes the way food tastes (hence, why she drinks too much), the way the wind feels on her skin (why she’s a nudist), the way music sounds (why she sings to herself). Her inclinations will be to act as an Eraston at all times, unless she deliberately changes (being an Earth, she will change at the pace of a stone becoming sand). Her erratic inconsistencies bothered me. Now, her inconsistencies will be consistent.

I will spend the next few days fleshing out the twelve signs. Then, I can have foundations for the personalities of even minor characters. How would a Fysarus act in a fire? What would a Drakynus say to a grieving neighbor? What would a typical Skyria wear to a formal dance? Certainly, there are plenty of mitigating factors, such as past traumas and deliberately trying to avoid the negative traits associated with a sign. But it is helpful to use a set personality theory in designing characters. The astrological theory fits a magical world much better than the Meyer-Briggs (that one is perfect for science-fiction and horror).

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As I like to make 3D renders of her to illustrate concepts, I overhauled Aura’s DAZ Studio character. She now has new skin and new hair. Again. Her new hair is actually the hair I used in the middle set of illustrations (she’s had three hair models: 3Duniverse’s Mitsu from 2010 through 2013, Mairy3dream’s Gregoria for the first half of 2014, and EmmaAndJordi’s Sirea for the last half of 2014). I always preferred Gregoria hair. It looked natural and had an array of movements to make it dramatic. It also had an annoying lock under her right chin that I could not eliminate. Finally, after much experimentation, I figured out how to eliminate it. So, Gregoria is back, with normal maps instead of bump maps, giving it a more realistic look.

A nude study I made of Aura forced me to find the new skin texture. That render was beautiful. It was flawless. That was the problem. It was flawless. No human has flawless skin! I hate the airbrushed magazine look. Peruse any magazine of the 1970s and early 1980s, from Glamour to National Geographic to Playboy, and you see freckles and moles. So, using Shadermap’s ability to blend textures, I took the two most imperfect, blemished (realistic?) skin textures in my arsenal and combined them with the best overall looking texture. For those who are interested, I used 25% Zillah by Surreality, 25% Ariadne by Raiya, and 50% Belle (the classic Victoria 6 skin). Now, Aura has variegated skin complete with freckles, blemishes, and moles. They aren’t obnoxious, just typical of a healthy 22 year old. Too small to be visible in full figure scenes, I’ll still know they are there.

I’m going to spend the remainder of December running a few of these for my website, illustrating Aura’s wardrobe and moments from her life leading up to the first book. The render below is a close up of Aura with the new skin and hair. That is the exact same character model shown in the Yule post. It’s amazing how much hair changes appearance. I like this picture of her, although her eyes are supposed to be emerald green.

aura closeup

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The website will receive yet another overhaul. If nothing else, I need to update the copyright to 2015.

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I don’t make resolutions. I make goals. There is a difference. Resolutions inherently carry a negative connotation, at least through the usual way of phrasing, as in “I resolve to stop smoking.” Goals, however, are positive. One must move forward to reach them. They are achieved through incremental daily achievement, not massive acts of will. My goals for 2015 are:

  1. To have completed at least two novels. At the top of the list are the first Aura Lockhaven books, The Valley of the Mystic Moon and The Fires of Tallenburgh Hall, with The Enchantress of Hartshorn a distinct possibility for the third should I progress to that point.
  2. To be forty pounds lighter, a heck of a lot more fit, and look ten years younger. Notice, I did not say my goal was to lose forty pounds. I’m focusing on my health, not my weight.
  3. To live in a state that is healthier physically, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. Texas is an awesome state and a wonderful place for many people. I’m just not one of those people.
  4. To read half the books in my library. This one is already underway.

As my movements are somewhat glacial, it will take the next thirteen days for me to stoke enough of a fire underneath myself to take even the first step of this new path. Meaning, it’s time to stop blogging today and get to work.

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