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.

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The Enchantress and the Warrior

I am pleased and honored to announce a collaboration with Zaki Asakura, known as Akizz on DeviantArt. We have followed each other for over a year, and developed a good working relationship. For some time, we’ve wondered what would happen if his character Viona, the Warrior of Beauty, met Aura Lockhaven.

We decided to find out.

To see what happens when Viona enters Aura’s world of the 11th Century, start here at this page: http://nathanomir.deviantart.com/art/The-Enchantress-and-the-Warrior-01-690670626

To see what happens when Aura enters Viona’s world of the 21st Century, start here at this page: http://nathanomir.deviantart.com/art/Early-days-690510555

“The Fires of Tallen Hall” Update

For weeks, I was stuck on the first chapter of The Fires of Tallen Hall, with only nine written. That first chapter was just too choppy. Not poetic enough.

My wife had a brilliant idea. She suggested I write the entire book. Just write it, as a skeleton. Then go back and flesh it out. That way, I progressed and would end up with at least an outlined complete story. Capital!

A skeleton for me is dialogue, action, and description. Then, I add the muscle (the expository that holds it together), and the skin (the lyrical language). I planned to focus on the skeleton, and ignore the muscle and skin.

I am happy to report that as of last Friday, I have completed nineteen chapters. They’re anemic and emaciated, but they have flesh and skin over the bones.

This is an interesting point in the story. I began Aura’s initial tale in 2010. It morphed through six different incarnations: the first graphic novel, and five novel versions. At no time did I ever complete it. From Chapter Twenty forward, I am in new territory.

It would be easy to say that I have the story outlined in my head. In fact, it’s outlined on a dry erase board to my left. However, it has changed. In Chapter Eleven, I wrote a few paragraphs to reintroduce a character from A Path of Stones so the reader wouldn’t forget he exists. Those few paragraphs radically altered what I planned to be a confrontation with the villain’s henchman. Based on those paragraphs, someone else will have to deal with him.

So, there is no telling what Chapter Thirty, or Twenty for that matter, will do to the ending.

To the Death

Duel

Ygraine Pagel looked up from her work table as Aura Lockhaven entered her chamber. She cast Aura a cold glare. She said, “I know who you are.”

Aura frowned. There was a note of cynicism in the sorceress’ voice. It was not that of a merchant receiving a customer. She said, “You should. I wrote you last week. I’m interested in the emerald sphere you have for sale.”

“Hmm,” the sorceress said. “We’re both initiated magicians. There is no need for subterfuge.” She looked Aura up and down, and sneered. “Crimson. I expected death to wear black, and reveal much less skin.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Feigning surprise is disingenuous of you. My order sent you here to assassinate me,” Ygraine said.

“Wait. Excuse me?” Aura asked. She couldn’t believe her ears. Rumors abounded that Ygraine had turned her cloak, surrendering to the lust for power that seduced some sorcerers. The idea that the Order of Sorcerers would send someone from another magical order to deal with one of their own was ridiculous. The mere thought that that someone would be an enchantress, a member of an over-wrought and far-too-sensitive order that the aristocratic and rib-numbing tightly-corseted sorcerers despised, was beyond absurd. The sorcerers had the best internal constabulary of all eight magical orders, and were notorious for dispensing swift justice against members who violated their oath of non-manipulation. If they wanted to execute Ygraine, then Aura would have found a week old corpse. Aura shivered at the thought that she may have just walked into an unpredictable situation. Still, Ygraine was the finest purveyor of magical crystals in all of Ayrdland. “I’m here to buy a stone, Ygraine. I am customer, not an assassin. I don’t kill.”

“Then, that shall be your downfall!”

With that, Ygraine launched herself at the young enchantress. Before Aura could brace herself, Ygraine knocked Aura’s staff from her hand. Then, she grabbed her by the throat. Aura did not need to ponder what the sorceress had in mind. She felt that intent in Ygraine’s right hand as a malignant spell poured down the woman’s arm and flooded Aura’s neck. Aura knew some of the sorcerers’ spells, but not enough to counter them. This one was new. She didn’t have to tighten her hand. The spell did the work for her. It felt like an iron vise upon soft pine wood. Aura felt her windpipe cramp.

“Ygraine,” Aura said with a gasp. “Let me go. You’re killing me!”

“That’s the whole idea, you stupid tart!” the sorceress said.

Aura grabbed Ygraine’s arm, trying her best to break the sorceress’ hold on her throat. Ygraine’s hand was fixed to her flesh as ivy to brick. All of Aura’s respect for elders vanished. The sorceress meant to murder her. She threw her considerable weight and height into Ygraine, but her hand and spell remained fixed. Around the chamber they danced their waltz of death, knocking over the bookcase, overturning a chair, then spilling a rack of tinctures. Dozens of small bottles shattered on the stone floor, their contents mixing in a bubbling brew. Then, Aura slammed Ygraine against her table, in an effort to knock the woman loose. It only served to upset the table, sending books, rats, and even a skull into flight. A lit candle fell onto the ruins of the tinctures. The mixture erupted in flame.

The inferno diverted Ygraine’s attention long enough. Aura employed an old tactic she used against boatmen who lusted for her budding breasts when she was younger. A woman lacked the necessary external appendages, but it would still hurt. She kneed the sorceress in the groin. With a yelp, Ygraine released Aura’s throat and fell back against the table.

“Ygraine,” Aura wheezed, trying to catch her breath. “We have to get out of here.”

“I shall. The only way you’re leaving is in a coffin, assassin!” With that, Ygraine advanced.

Oh, merciful heavens, Aura thought. Ygraine was mad. It was bad enough that she wanted to kill Aura. Now, she continued her murderous assault as fire spread the floor of the windowless chamber. Noxious smoke, the result of igniting tinctures that should never be mixed, filled the air. The flames would soon reach the wood of table and bookcase, and the chamber’s timbers. If the fight lasted much longer, both women would die.

Ygraine pounced. Aura turned, dashing toward the back of the chamber. The sorceress grabbed Aura’s cloak and pulled her backwards. Let her have the cloak, Aura thought, gripping the clasp and tearing it open. Ygraine threw the garment across the overturned chair, and dove toward Aura.

As the enchantress turned to flee around Ygraine, she slipped on broken glass and spilled potion. She went down on one knee. That was all the sorceress needed. Again, she gripped Aura by the throat. Again, the vicious spell poured into Aura’s neck. Again, her windpipe constricted. Aura tried her best to wrench free, but her boots kept slipping on the wet floor. If she fell, Ygraine would simply sit on her and kill her. She had to maintain her footing. To keep herself upright, she locked onto Ygraine’s leg with her own.

Black specks appeared in front of Aura’s eyes. The spell was strangling her, ending her life one failed breath after another. Her mind reeled in panic. Aura gasped for air. None came.

“Here’s a kiss for the leader of my order,” Ygraine said.

A ball of pure life force formed in Ygraine’s left hand. It was enough to turn a human inside out. This woman not only could cast one spell, while maintaining a second of a different type, but she cast both without a single incantation. Aura had to speak an incantation, and speech was now lost to her.

The Enchantress of Hartshorn had only moments left. She lashed out with her left hand. She grabbed Ygraine’s face. Claw her eyes! Tear her skin! Rip her mouth! Anything to get her to let go. Not enough. Her hand still grasped Aura’s neck, the vile spell pouring into her throat.

Aura felt her fear and desperation coalesce into a ball of pure vitality, will, and emotion. It formed on its own volition, without any conscious thought from the enchantress. It formed without an incantation. It rushed from her chest, and poured into her right arm. It erupted in her hand as the most lethal spell in her entire arsenal – the Divine Thunderbolt.

I don’t kill, Aura said only moments earlier. If Ygraine did not release her throat, then Aura would violate that statement by shoving the ball of solid light into the sorceress’ face. The woman’s skull would survive. At this range, her flesh would be incinerated. Aura knew, as entwined as they were, that she too would take the force of the spell. She would crawl away with massive burns, burns that could be healed tomorrow. If she did not launch the spell, there would be no tomorrow for healing anything. Aura gritted her teeth. Someone was about to die, and the determining judge was Aura Lockhaven herself.

DAZ Studio 4.9 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6.

This is not canon.

The Evolution of Aura Lockhaven

For the fun of it, I put all three of Aura Lockhaven’s 3D incarnations in the same scene. The result reveals her evolution as a 3D character, as well as serving as graphic touchstones of her evolution as a fictional character.

Left: Victoria 6 incarnation. Center: Victoria 7 incarnation. Right: Victoria 4 incarnation.

Auras II

Victoria 4 Incarnation (April, 2010 — January, 2013):  She wasn’t even Aura Lockhaven when I designed this character. She began as my feeble attempt to create a model based on Playboy Playmate Lindsey Vuolo. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, there is no resemblance between the figure and the Playmate. How she became Aura is chronicled on my website if you’re interested. This is the graphic novel version of Aura.

Victoria 6 Incarnation (January, 2013 — August, 2016): I suspended the graphic novel when I started grad school. Upon graduating, I decided to write a fantasy novel, using the graphic novel as the foundation. That required a new physical representation of my heroine. So, I chose Victoria 6. That base figure much more human like roundness than the earlier V4 (I skipped Victoria 5 completely). Her appearance is based on her written description, so there is no resemblance to the V4 counterpart. Around 2014, I decided the gold body jewelry was too blooming difficult to describe in a written narrative, and gave her the outfit worn by the V7 version.

Victoria 7 Incarnation (August, 2016 — Present): I refused to upgrade to Victoria 7 for an entire year. Eventually, the improved posing and sculpting systems won me over. I transferred Aura from V6 to V7, slider by slider. They don’t quite look alike. The V6 base face is more heart-shaped than V7’s, but the new version is close enough. I really like the new muscular body. Aura’s transfer from V6 to V7 occurred at the same time I determined to finish her first novel by the end of 2016 and publish it. It also happened at the time I cut the opening trilogy down to a duology. This is the incarnation who appears on the cover of A Path of Stones. It is how I see Aura at the end of the series, transformed from the unsure wizardess in the brown dress into the powerful enchantress who fights tyranny.

Most of us in 3DLand anticipate the release of Victoria 8 this June. I said no to Victoria 6 and Victoria 7. We see how well that resolve lasted. So, I shall see what Victoria 8 has to offer. She best impress me. As in, she needs to step off the computer screen, perform one heck of a lap dance, and build me a stiff Manhattan. If she does, I will once again, transfer Aura to a new rig.

This is what that one, silly, little Victoria 4 figure back in 2010 started.

The Fires of Tallen Hall

2017 hasn’t been friendly to writing.

I lost January and February to releasing A Path of Stones and the subsequent marketing campaign. March fell to a hard drive failure, and doing my best to keep the old computer running. April was consumed with learning the new computer, as well as a few bouts of depression.

It’s May.

Yesterday, I resumed work on The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. I am happy to report that it is 50% complete.

In honor of that mark, here is the first promotional image of the second novel.

TallenHallSM

Aura Lockhaven in Iray and Comics

Yes, you read that right. Aura Lockhaven comics!

I’ve been experimenting with the Iray rendering engine, and the results are beyond what was expected. So, I had to see what Aura looked like.

Usually, I render her in Reality-Luxrender. That texturing system and render engine gives me more control over the look, and has far greater textural fidelity than Iray. It is, however, slow. Luxrender is the Treebeard of the rendering world. It never does anything hasty. A six hour render is just too time consuming for a comic, or even an illustrated short story. A page of a comic per week is reasonable. One panel per week is not.

Iray, however, is lightning in pixels. I can expect a render to complete between 20 minutes and 90. Extremely complicated sets and lighting require more time, but that is usually limited to fine art pieces, not the panels of a comic.

So. Here is the first image of Aura, rendered in Iray.

AuraIraySM

Aura looks great! Her skin is fantastic, and comparable to Reality. The clothes, however! They’re too orange. I can control the colors better in Reality. She’s the “red enchantress,” not the Orange Bowl Queen. Well, they are three years old, and date from her incarnation as a Victoria 6 figure (she’s a Victoria 7 now). Time to give the lady a new wardrobe.

This scene was … interesting. Iray should have rendered her in 20 minutes or less. It’s just one figure, a few clothes, a simple set, and two lights. She took an hour to reach 15% completion! That is not acceptable. This required some drastic measures. I could only surmise that the issue lay in the fact that Aura is a custom made, slider-by-slider, character. All those morphs had to slow her down. So, I made a single character morph and applied to to a stock G3F. If you don’t know what that means, I essentially turned her into a character I can sell. Instead of ten different morphs for her mouth alone, I have just one that says Aura Lockhaven, and it controls both face and body. That cut load time in half, but did not significantly increase render time.

Oddly enough, I experimented by rendering her in the Beta edition of DAZ Studio 4.9, instead of the public release of 4.9.3. She rendered much faster. At eleven minutes, she had only reached 10% completion. Not great. Not good enough for a comic. Better than 15% after an hour. At that point, I stopped the render to check her pose. Satisfied, I resumed the render. Within four minutes, she shot from 10% to 55%.

What the heck! There is no difference between 4.9 Beta and 4.9.3. They are identical. Why would stopping and resuming the render cause that much of a speed increase? My wife speculates that stopping it freed tied up resources in either the cache or VRAM.

It does matter. I’d like to know the answers so I can correct them. However, this opens the door for Aura Lockhaven illustrated short stories and comics.

I plan a few short comics, as in ten to twelve pages. They will fill in the gaps between novels, and provide a bit of backstory to some of the characters and situations. They will be free, on my website. Why not? Give them away as promotional items, and as fun things to fans.

This also opens the door for the Sarethian Seven to be that series of illustrated short stories I’ve envisioned for three years.

I will leave you with a scene I call “Night of the Wraiths.” Aura seems to be in a wee bit of a predicament.

Wraiths

Reader Reviews of A Path of Stones

What readers are saying about A Path of Stones:

A Path of Stones is a marvelous testament to the human spirit and the ability to overcome one’s past. Filled with heart racing adventure, wondrous magic, and danger around every corner, it truly reflects the creativity and boundless imagination of the author. This book has led me down my own path of stones.” — L.J.

“This is not your basic genre book, a rehashing of the same story with different characters as so many of even my favorite series have become. This is uniquely well written. I like that it moves well, and especially that the main character is one I can relate to. It tells the story of a young girl who loses everything and is then betrayed by the only family she has left on top of that. It follows her self-discovery and how she learns to go from powerless to powerful, and then on to learn to control that power. There are a lot of layers beneath the surface of the story. If you like stories of the “supernatural” or “otherworldly” written for readers who like a story to teach as well as entertain, this might just be for you.”  — K.L.K.

Check it out at www.njbmedia.com.

 

 

Computers, Content, and Colds

March has been an interesting month.

It began with a hard drive crash on my trusty Sager laptop. Sigh. I replaced the hard drive, and then reinstalled my DAZ Studio content. One. Item. At. A. Time. That took ten days.

Then, my computer CPU spiked at 98C. Whoa! That’s almost at meltdown temperature. Well, Sager made a mistake with their technical manual. They didn’t say to replace the thermal compound every time I removed the heat sink. With all the brick dust in the air (I live next door to a brick factory), I have to remove the sinks once a month to clean the fins. New thermal compound brought the temperature down to a mere 68C. But the damage had been done. My CPU was wearing out.

Time for a new computer. I bought a new Sager 8156. It comes with an i7 7700 CPU, and 32G RAM, upgradeable to 128G (oh, yes, I will!). Not only that, but it has a geehonking big GTX-1060 graphics card with 6G VRAM. So, I can render in Iray as well as Reality.

Time to reinstall all that DAZ content. Again. This time, however, I popped the hard drive from the old machine into the external dock and ghosted the content folder over. That only took six hours.

My wife inherits my old computer. It will serve her well for several years, as long as she doesn’t render on it. No problem. As our content folders are synced, all she has to do is give me a saved scene on a flash drive, and I’ll render it on the new computer, while we sit back with a bowl of popcorn and some beers. The couple that renders together …

Still, it took close to a week to install all my programs and test out the new system.

As if that wasn’t enough, I caught a bad cold. The song lyric “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes” was written for Texas weather. Hot. Cold. Dry. Wet. Blah!

By Monday, I should be ready to resume writing The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. It is a third of the way done, so catching up won’t take too long.

In the meantime, I will leave you with the first piece of 3D art performed on the new Sager, in Iray. I call it Not That Easy … she just isn’t that easy to bring in, much less take out.

Not that Easy.