Aura News, December

For various reasons that I won’t go into (they’re too numerous), the second Aura Lockhaven novel is not ready for publication this month. Alas, December, 2017 was my target. Perhaps, next year.

There are major developments, however.

The way I write a story is I create the skeleton with dialogue. Then, I add thin muscle and skin with description and enough narrative to hold it together. After I have a complete form, I go back and flesh it all out and make the language lyrical.

The Fires of Tallen Hall is currently 85,000 words long. It’s only two-thirds complete. And it’s still a skeleton with the barest of muscle and flesh. So, completed, and with the language I want, it will no doubt exceed 200,000 words.

That’s just too long for my tastes.

So, I split Tallen Hall. As much as a trilogy is a cliche’ it seems the best way to make the book affordable and small enough to read. I’d rather split the book myself than have it split itself in your hands. This also gives me the opportunity to build tension leading up to the revelation of the opening story’s villain, the one who manipulated Aura all through A Path of Stones. It also allows me time to build toward the climactic wizards’ duel that now takes place in book three.

The second book will still be called The Fires of Tallen Hall. The third is entitled Scarlet Cloak. Considering that both books are in the same stage of development, I should be able to release them concurrently, holding Scarlet Cloak until sales of Tallen Hall start to dwindle. That would be nice.

So, here’s to June, 2018.

Wish me the best.

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Aura Lockhaven Tactical

Over on DeviantArt, the Superheroine community recently hosted a Tactical Heroine Art Jam Challenge. Most superheroines wear skin-tight outfits designed to maximize movement in battle. But what if they wore body armor? I was tagged to participate, and the taggers wanted to see Aura Lockhaven.

That required some thought. Aura’s traditional red bikini serves a multitude of purposes. First, it’s sexy. Second, she is a nudist, but recognizes social customs. Third, it assists her power of seduction as an enchantress. Finally, it permits rapid movement. As a spellcaster, her best defense in a duel is to keep moving. That way, the opponent’s target keeps shifting. In a battle, her duties include serving as medium-range incendiary artillery, healer of the wounded, and counsel to generals. She darts from place to place.

Given Aura’s needs, the light-weight armor of the archer seemed best, instead of the heavy plate of sword or cavalry.

So, I present to you, Aura Lockhaven, Battle Mage.

Tactical Aura

Seriously, It’s Time to Get Serious!

It’s time to get serious about being a storyteller.

Please let me preface this by stating a few things up front.

First, I am a professional. I get paid for telling stories. Oh, not much. Yet. But it’s what I do. It’s who I am. I’m trained to be one, too, holding a BA in English an MA in Creative Writing (and I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, thank you very much — not bad for a guy whose grandfather was an illiterate sharecropper). I use both the language of the word and the image, because one conveys a story better than the other. It all depends on the story. The difference between an amateur and a professional is the amateur does it for love while the professional gets paid. I’m lucky. I get paid for doing what I love.

Second, I have a personality disorder. Some of you know that. I’m schizotypal. That’s just a clinical way of describing an eccentric kook. I don’t try to hide it. Heck, I consider it a personality order because diagnosis explained why I’ve had eighteen different careers in my life. Yep. Eighteen. Failed at all but two, and one was unceremoniously ripped out of my grasp. Why try to fit into an office cube when my brain isn’t wired for that? You would think I would have learned that at 25, but that was the 1980s, when a college graduate was supposed to be a successful businessman. I’m dense at times. Anyway, that fact isn’t just important to the ultimate goal of this post, but to say that if you have a “mental illness,” you aren’t alone. I have friendly ears. Talk to me before doing something rash, okay?

Third, schizotypal, unfortunately, comes with a host of nasty side-effects. In my case, it’s chronic depression and crippling social anxiety. The depression is managed. It isn’t controlled. It likes to slip by my doctor and kick me in the head. Anxiety has a mind of its own.

Fourth, I had a severe breakdown in May, 2013, from which I didn’t exactly come back. That was when anxiety decided to move in with me, and not pay rent. I’ve been apartment-bound ever since, unless my wife is home and can go out with me. You don’t want me alone in a crowd! You just don’t. Hence, the job that was ripped from my grasp. I’m also trained to be an English teacher at the community college level. Darn, and it was fun, too.

Fifth, I have hyperfocus. That means the room could be on fire and unless you tell me, I won’t notice.

Those are causative agents. Where am I going with this?

I’ve been working with Aura Lockhaven since 2010. To say she’s my favorite character is an understatement. She isn’t just my favorite character that I’ve created, she’s my favorite character of all time. I feel like Aura is a real woman, just invisible.

In January, 2013, after graduating with my MA, I decided to turn a tawdry, rather awful comic into a written novel. That was the Aura graphic novel that ultimately became A Path of Stones. If you want to read the entire process, it’s here on my website. A Path of Stones was published this past February. It took me four years to finish it and publish it because of that breakdown, depression, and hyperfocus.

The breakdown interrupted my efforts in 2013. It left me numb for the rest of the year. In January, 2014, I finally felt like doing something creative. But I was too depressed to write. So, I worked up a render that became “Barbarian Wall.” That led to the creation of the Sarethian Seven, and 200 pages of short stories. Because of hyperfocus, and seeing only the project at the end of my nose, the S7 took up two months. After that, I still didn’t feel like returning to Aura, so I wrote treatments for two novels that you don’t know about. One is an epic fantasy that reached chapter twenty. I’ll probably eventually finish that. The protagonist is a man (don’t faint!) who is a middle aged burnout of a college teacher. Gee, think he’s a bit of an avatar? The other is a horror story based on my render “Leopard Girl.” I told you that I based novels on renders! By the time I moved on from those, it was a year later. Hyperfocus.

In 2015, I finally forced myself to work on Aura again, and finished A Path of Stones by the end of that year. I got it to my beta reader, who read it and gave me her feedback. What happened? Depression again. Around April, 2016, I created the comic Dandelions. It was a pretty powerful story and I’m proud of it. That consumed most of my time until August, when I shook myself and finally got back to the novel and revised it. By February of this year, I had a hardback in my hands.

What have I done since then? Well, the sequel, The Fires of Tallen Hall is essentially where it was in March; three quarters finished. What happened? Depression again. Distraction again. Hyperfocus again. I became bogged down with a few new 3D characters. They threatened to create yet another storyline. Somehow, I found the discipline to say no to that idea (but it’s still lurking around in my head). Then came my latest, the superheroine comic, Valkyria. I have no complaints about that.

The thing is, between depression, distraction, and hyperfocus so extreme that I ignore everything except the project right in front of my eyes, I forget far too often that Aura Lockhaven is my main lady. She has a story for me to tell that spans sixteen novels. Only one is written. She’s been counting on me for five years. Now, we can add Katie, Stephanie, and Jessica Ashe to that, and Allyson and the Dandelions are still pacing in the corner of the room.

I can’t really speak for the total impact of Valkyria and Dandelions. Others know that better than I do. I can speak for the impact of A Path of Stones. Everyone who has read it and told me of their experience has dumbfounded me. It brought tears to one man’s eyes. Another is demanding the sequel, saying “We need that book right now!” It caused one young woman to realize she could still have faith after suffering extreme spiritual abuse. That’s heavy. I have a gut feeling that Valkyria and Dandelions can have the same level of impact, but in a different direction. In 2017 and probably next year, it is important to know, as Katie says, “the good guys can win!”

I’m sitting on three atomic bombs and I’ve been treating them like firecrackers!

That changed this morning. Is this my job or not? Is it more than a hobby? Is telling stories that entertain, educate, encourage, and edify my reason for existence? Yes, it is. Therefore, I am setting up a schedule. My desk will become my office. That isn’t easy for a guy who pretty much lives organically, but it has to happen if The Fires of Tallen Hall ever sees print, Valkyria advances to Book Two, and Dandelions is actually finished. At the moment, the Sarethian Seven is the project on hold. Besides, I don’t want to release it until I publish Aura Book Five as it’s tied directly to the Auraverse.

So, here we go.

Monday: Aura Lockhaven. This is primarily the novel but includes an Aura 3D art collaboration series I’m halfway into, as well as one-off art pieces. My goal is to write 2,000 words per day. That isn’t unreasonable. Most blogs are 1,000. This journal post is 1,600 words and I wrote it in an hour. That’s easy for a guy who has struck 10,000 words in one day.

Tuesday: Aura Lockhaven. 2,000 words per day, for two days, is 208,000 words per year. That is one novel, people! At my voracious output (when I actually work), and with that schedule, I should average two novels in one year.

Wednesday: Valkyria. This is primarily the comic, but also includes one-off art pieces. I figure two pages per week. Not a bad pace. I’m planning for a full tower comic production computer next year that should increase the page output per week.

Thursday: Valkyria. An planned Aura-Valkyria crossover will go here.

Friday: Dandelions. To start, one-off art pieces to refamiliarize myself with the characters, and also refont the comic so I can post it again.

Saturday and Sunday: Nothing Aura, Valkyria, or Dandelions related. If I do anything at all in DAZ while my wife is working on her jewelry-making, I’ll render something totally different.

At no time on the weekdays, do I work beyond 6 when my wife comes home. I do have a wife. I do have a life. It’s time to talk to her, play with the cats, and read something called a book. I’ve also been ignoring my spiritual practice, which isn’t healthy for a member of a minority, alternative religion. My heart is telling me that I’ve been sedentary for six years. Wow, time to actually exercise. And perhaps staring at a computer screen until 11 PM is why I have insomnia.

I’m building in permission to not write if depression strikes. However, instead of doing something totally random, I’ll focus on the subject of the day. That will keep things moving forward. It will also keep me from getting lost for another four months in yet another storyline.

This doesn’t mean that Aura, Katie, and Allyson will cease being fun. It just means I get more done that is fun, and actually has a purpose.

Now, the question is, can I keep this schedule? Well, we’re all about to find out.

The End of an Era

Hugh Hefner passed away today. He was 91.

Playboy was an institution, and so was Mr. Hefner. But it began dying when they took the staples out. It suffered catastrophic damage when Christie Hefner stepped down as CEO. Now, it’s just another lads mag, nothing like its robust creator had in mind when he was at the helm.

With Mr. Hefner dies the last embers of the Sexual Revolution. Unfortunately, the Prudes won.

Single-Slider Morph Transformation Technique

Transformation Test

To transform Katie Ashe from her petite civilian form into that of the superheroine Valkyria, I used single-slider morphs. It’s an easy technique that permits a wide variety of steps in a transformation process, without having to load multiple Vickis into the scene.

If you don’t know what a single-slider morph is, it’s the same thing a content creator like Fred Winkler uses. If you notice to get his Nadine for V7, you simply turn the sliders for Nadine in a G3F all the way up, and there she is.

This technique works for V4/M4, and any of the four Genesis generations. This assumes, of course, that you have a “normal” version of your character, and a superpowered version.

To create a single-slider morph, start with your character tweaked and ready to go. Remove all clothes, hair, geografts, etc. If you use HD morphs and muscularity, turn them off. It’s easier to turn them on when needed. Now, set your character’s resolution to Base Resolution, Subdivision 1. Export her (or him) as an object (obj) file. Save it to an easy to find folder, and just name it for your character. Use the scale DAZ (1 Unit = 1cm). Now, clear the scene and load a base figure; if your character is a V7, load a base G3F, etc. Set the Resolution to Base, SudDiv 1. Use Morph Loader Pro to load the object file to the base figure as a morph. From there, I follow the steps in this guide. It’s tricky at first, but if you make a mistake, just start over. Now, do the same for the other version.

You now have both a normal, secret identity version of your character and a superpowered heroine version, both set as single-slider morphs in the base figure, ready to go whenever you load the base figure.

Here’s how to use them for the character transformation. Or, how I did it.

Katie Ashe is a V6HD. She has four separate morphs total: two for her body (one for “Little Katie” and one for “Big Katie,” or Valkyria) and two for her face (again, one for “Little Katie” and one for “Big Katie”). The separate morphs for the face were necessitated by originally borrowing another character’s face for “Big Katie,” but it sure turned out to be a major boon to this process. It also allows me to give half her face to her sister permitting a family resemblance. Her hair as “Little Katie” is Elite Ponytail for G2F, and for “Big Katie” is Jazmine Hair for G3F.

The formula for the above transformation was:

Left to right:

1.         Katie Little Body = 100 %

Katie Big Body = 0 %

Katie Little Face = 100 %

Katie Big Face = 0 %

Muscle Volumes = 0 %

Scale = 95 %

Elite Ponytail (Opacity) = 100 %

Jazmine Hair (Opacity) = 0 %

 

2.         Katie Little Body = 75 %

Katie Big Body = 25 %

Katie Little Face = 100 %

Katie Big Face = 0 %

Muscle Volumes = 5 %

Scale = 95 %

Elite Ponytail = 100 %

Jazmine Hair = 0 %

 

3.         Katie Little Body = 50 %

Katie Big Body = 50 %

Katie Little Face = 75 %

Katie Big Face = 25 %

Muscle Volumes = 10 %

Scale = 96 %

Elite Ponytail = 100 %

Jazmine Hair = 10 %

 

4.         Katie Little Body = 25 %

Katie Big Body = 75 %

Katie Little Face = 50 %

Katie Big Face = 50 %

Muscle Volumes = 15 %

Scale = 98 %

Elite Ponytail = 100 %

Jazmine Hair = 50 %

 

5.         Katie Little Face = 0 %

Katie Big Body = 100 %

Katie Little Face = 0 %

Katie Big Face = 100 %

Muscle Volumes = 25 %

Scale = 100 %

Elite Ponytail = 0 %

Jazmine Hair = 100 %

 

There is absolutely no postwork in the above transformation image, other than to paste the five images onto one background. Little Katie just transformed into Big Katie without the need to bring a second V6 into the scene and hassle with multiple layers in postwork. Big Katie can transform back just as easily. I could conceivably have only one Katie model, fitted with both hair props and glasses (Little Katie is still nearsighted). The only trick is to remember the scale and muscle volumes settings.  Shaping presets for the various levels of transformation would take that pressure off. To get really fancy, I can use different makeup for Little and Big forms, switching the diffuse map in step 3.

As a byproduct, I’ve noticed that single-slider morphs of characters reduce the memory load sent to Iray. That’s helpful for those of us with smaller graphics cards.

Valkyria Superheroine Comic Underway!

I have entered the world of superheroine comics! If I’d known it was this much fun, I would have gotten involved years ago.

Meet Katie Ashe, also known as Valkyria.

Katie Ashe Character Card

Here is a turnaround of the Valkyria costume. It was her mother’s old Halloween costume. Katie is broke. The costume originally had a cape, but I discarded it. It was too difficult to make look right in dramatic poses.

Valkyria Costume Upgrade Turnaround

Valkyria will be a superheroine story for mature readers. It will feature nudity, violence, foul language, sexual themes, social commentary, and occasional bloodshed. It will be more along the lines of Budd Root’s Cavewoman and Dynamite’s Red Sonja than anything released by Marvel and DC. Obviously, it will be composed of 3D renders. I can’t draw.

I’m going to play Valkyria straight. As in, serious. That gives me a chance to comment on the world as I see it from my chair. It’s also my natural bent as a storyteller, as it allows me to develop fully-dimensional characters and add emotional poignancy. Already, the first chapter is pretty serious and dark.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be funny. The humor will come from Katie herself, being inept and incompetent as a superheroine, and realizing the real world does not behave, or respond, like it does in a comic book. There are semis on those roads she’s running on! With only one costume, she’s spending half her pay at the laundromat. Meaning, she’s making it up as she goes, often with chaotic results. Those chaotic results will include being stripped naked and tied up. Besides, her superlair is a backstreet hovel and her supervehicle is the city bus. This is one impoverished superheroine! Ralph Kramden is a lot funnier than Bruce Wayne.

It will be the same with the villains. Most were once decent folk who snapped because of the world they live in, and decided to turn against it by going evil – except they aren’t very good at it. Being evil in real life isn’t like it is in comics and movies. Trying to act like a comic book villain, in our world, only makes them look silly. If they succeed at all, it’s out of dumb luck. The one thing they’re good at is luring Katie, stripping her naked, and tying her up. There may be one or two who were rotten to begin with, and they will be the truly dangerous ones. Then, there will also be monsters.

I believe that humor is funnier, and more pointed, in a comic drama, than in a comedy. MASH was a comic drama, and the funny parts were more hilarious because they happened in a devastatingly unfunny situation. There is also great humor in the surreal, as in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But let’s face it. How much more surreal can you get than being transformed into a metahuman in about two minutes by a being that shouldn’t exist?

Katie will have allies, namely Katie’s mom, her little sister, and her uncle Robert, who is her contact at Parthenon PD. Her step-father is just an asshole! There may be other superpowered allies as the series progresses, but I haven’t though that far ahead yet. Right now, I have seven chapters outlined in my head, up through when Katie takes the name Valkyria. After that, like Aura has, Katie will tell me what happens.

And, of course, Katie doesn’t really know what she’s doing. Except attract cats.

Katie Ashe

Some days, Katie Ashe feels like she has a split personality. Between all the changing into “big” form to practice running, lifting, and jumping, and changing back into “little” form to carry on with her life, she’s starting to see herself.

Katies

“Aw, man!” Big Katie whined. “Do I hafta wear a bra? Like I even need it when I’m you. And I hate glasses! There are benefits to being superpowered, you know.”

“Screw you!” Little Katie snarled. “I have to go to work, and they won’t recognize me if I show up looking like you, Gargantua! Until you … we … I start making some money at this superheroine gig, I’m the only one paying for this dump.”

“You? Me? We? I am you. Oh, crap. I’m talking to myself! That’s it, I’m blowing the tips at the liquor store!”

She should be more careful when she runs on the sidewalk.

Running

She needs to remember to get undressed before changing out of her 5’0” “Little Katie” form into her superpowered “Big Katie” form.

Not Again

I will leave you with a closeup of Katie’s face.

Katie Portrait

Valkyria is going to be fun and exciting! I already have the first seven pages of chapter one completed. Other than DeviantArt, I’m not sure exactly where Valkyria will land for publication. Wherever it is, I’ll let you know.