Additional Paintings: Landscapes

Greetings, everyone. I haven’t been doing as much writing as I’d like, but there are more paintings I have done. People have even started giving me paid commissions. Commissions!

Six months ago, if you told me I’d be getting commissions for paintings, I wouldn’t have found it the least bit believable. Life seems rather full of surprises like that. By the way, if you’d like to commission a painting, my email address is to the right.

Here are some of the landscape paintings I’ve done these past few months. All of my paintings so far have been done with acrylics.

"Fourteeners." 8 x 10 inches.

“Fourteeners.” 8 x 10 inches.

"Sturdy." 4 x 6 inches.

“Sturdy.” 4 x 6 inches.

"Colorado Dawn." 2.75 inches square.

“Colorado Dawn.” 2.75 inches square.

Untitled. 2.75 inches square.

Untitled. 2.75 inches square.

A miniature version of "Fourteeners." 4 x 6 inches.

A miniature version of “Fourteeners.” 4 x 6 inches.

"Lakeside." 4 x 5 inches.

“Lakeside.” 4 x 5 inches.

"Rocky Mountain Retreat." 4 x 6 inches.

“Rocky Mountain Retreat.” 4 x 6 inches.

This last one, “Wild Colorado,” is being auctioned off for Crosses for Losses. They are an organization that’s doing incredible work to support Black Forest, Colorado after the fires last June.

"Wild Colorado." 4 x 6 inches.

“Wild Colorado.” 4 x 6 inches.

Thank you very much for your time, everyone. The writing is getting back on track, slowly but surely. Take care!

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Painting Auction: “Colorado Moonlight” for Hope Home

UPDATE: 12/16: The auction is closed, with a total of $25.00 raised for the Hope Home. In the future, I would enjoy putting up other paintings for auction. Thanks for your time.

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The Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend is somewhat ironic in America, a time people can be grateful for what they have, yet ravenous for what they think they need. This is hardly a novel observation. It’s worth remembering, but do we spend our time wisely by bemoaning how people aren’t thankful enough? Not usually, no.

Not all of us have the blessings of enough money and time to join the Black Friday mob, or a dining table creaking under the bulk of a Godzilla-sized turkey while friends and family join us. I thank God for what I have been provided with. But that same God instructs us to care for others in need, which can be done in innumerable ways. It can be money (which I don’t have a lot of), a hug, cooking a meal, words of encouragement, and thousands of other ways. In this case, I decided to paint.

"Colorado Moonlight." Acrylics on watercolor paper. 5 x 7 inches. This is roughly 4 hours of work.

“Colorado Moonlight.” Acrylics on watercolor paper. 5 x 7 inches. This is roughly 4 hours of work.

I’ll explain. Dev Sarkar, a missionary friend of mine, has been running a small home for children in need in Calcutta, India called Hope Home. He’s been working at it for years, against many setbacks and struggles, from government bureaucracy to flooding. And though I don’t have a lot of finances, I have been learning to paint. So why not auction off a work and get some help for Hope Home that way?

If you or someone you know would like to have this painting and send some money to a good cause, then would you consider placing a bid? You can email me (under my profile picture to the right) or go to my author/artist page on Facebook and send me a private message to let me know if you’re interested.

AUCTION RULES

1. Bidding starts now and will close on December 12 at 11:59 pm. The starting bid will be $15. I will update on my Twitter feed (to the right of this text) if/when higher bids come in.

2. If you would like to bid, send me a private message with your dollar amount, phone number, and home address. If you win the auction and are outside the Black Forest/Colorado Springs area, I will ship it to you at my own cost. If you win and you’re local, I can just meet up with you.

3. Again, your entire bid will go to Hope Home. 100%. All of it. And the donation is tax deductible!

4. Checks or online donations only, please. Paying your bid online can be done at vvcc.net. If you’re writing a check, clearly designate it for “Hope Home Calcutta” and send it to this address:

Verde Valley Christian Church 

406 South 6th Street

Cottonwood, AZ 86326

When I receive confirmation that the bid has gone to Hope Home, I’ll send or deliver the painting, and it’s all yours!

Thanks for your time, everyone. I hope your weekend goes well, and have a Merry Christmas, too!

Flames Over Black Forest

I have been absent for a long while, and that is due in part to a fire that broke out in the Black Forest neighborhood. My home. I still remember standing in my driveway and feeling a flake of ash drift into my eye.

I could see the glow of flames from my house as we were evacuating.

I could see the glow of flames from my house as we were evacuating.

As I am writing this, the fire is 85% contained, but has done plenty of damage. It was human-caused, but we have no word yet as to whether it was accidental or deliberate. Two people were killed. It spread across 14,000 acres. Over 500 homes have burned, more than in any other fire in Colorado’s history.

WP_001115

Many of the places that have been a regular part of my life have been destroyed, while others still stand (fortunately, R&R Coffee is among those homes away from home that is still there). I myself had to be evacuated, but God be thanked, we are back in our house right now. Many of my friends weren’t so lucky, and they’ve lost their homes.

Kind of surreal seeing it so close to home.

Kind of surreal seeing it so close to home.

Please do keep your prayers with everyone who is still evacuated or has lost their home in the wake of this disaster.

There may have been a tremendous amount of damage wrought by these flames, but we will rebuild. Black Forest, CO is a wonderful community, and its spirit shall never be crushed. May God bless everyone, protect them, and lead them through this rough time.

A great deal of unexpected rain showed up over the next few days, and helped contain the fire. Thank you, God.

A great deal of unexpected rain showed up over the next few days, and helped contain the fire. Thank you, God.

If you want to help out or need some assistance, you can go here to learn more.

A Bumper Crop of Author Promotions

Putting that Kindle story on hold for a moment, to share something much more important with you, dear reader.

The more I’ve gotten into the writing scene, the more amazing authors I have encountered. They are gifted with stories to stir the emotions — inspiration, humor, terror, tragedy, wonder, love, delight, and a thousand others. Imaginings are their pigments, the mind their canvas, and they work in miracles.

And now it’s time for me to introduce you to some of them. I’ll be glad to introduce more of them later. Most of the ones I’m going to mention here are attending my weekly writing workshop, but I’ll work in a couple of others I’ve had the privilege of meeting.

Please do check them out. We authors need all the help we can get.

First, my good friend and writer of character-driven zombie fiction, Rob Killam. His upcoming Apocalypse Springs novel has survivors who have to slay their own personal demons as well as the ghouls banging down their door. It’s got more heart and brains (heehee) than any other zombie-related work I’ve yet seen. You’d be doing yourself a favor in checking him out.

Next, Jason P. Henry has a funny way with words. A very funny way, and twisted in the best possible sense. Plus he sets up tension like nobody’s business when he decides to get serious.

Ashley Bazer is proof that it’s possible to be a stay-at-home mom and a novelist at the same time. Her science fiction novel Asylum: The Circeae Tales came out just last year, and though I haven’t yet read it, I’m impressed with the quality on display at the writer’s workshop we attend. Did I mention she’s a duchess?

Jackie Hames offers a ton of sound and friendly writing advice, and we’ve had a lot of productive discussions. Plus her defense of speculative fiction is worth some serious thought, and I’m quite enthusiastic to read her upcoming fiction projects.

Genuine rocket scientist and modern renaissance man Grant McKenzie applies extensive knowledge and forethought into each piece he writes. He’s working on historical fiction and a YA fantasy novel, plus he’s one of the few people I know who can create a good rhyming poem in ten minutes or less, and he has a great deal of thought to offer on how the relationships between characters can enrich your work.

A.W. Hartoin is getting quite popular these days, as a writer of mysteries and fairy fantasy who just got her first audiobook! She excels at getting readers invested in a character, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Last but not least, Angel Smits has published five books, most of which are more of the romantic variety, including a couple of Harlequin Romances. She’s got a knack for good characterization and immersing the reader in a protagonist’s thoughts. Highly recommended.

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Quite aside from that, I have gotten an author’s page on Facebook that I confess I’m pretty happy with. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, check it out if you “Like.”

Ooh, and though I have encountered a couple of delays in getting my first Kindle story published, I’m still going to release it, and you’ll all be the first to know. Thanks for your time, everyone!

Apocalypse Springs: A Zombie Novel With A Twist

Lots of writers and artists like using Kickstarter as a platform to get people excited and spread the word about their project, and to fund it financially. And now my longtime friend and fellow writer Rob Killam has begun a new Kickstarter project, a zombie novel unlike any I’ve ever heard of.

The title: Apocalypse Springs: Reanimation

The pitch: “The apocalypse comes to Colorado Springs, and a crippled, mentally unwell man may be the only hope its survivors have.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something I want to read!

In our writing group he has read aloud several excerpts from this book. The writing and character development are solid, it has a much stronger basis in hard science than most zombie books (Rob is a meticulous researcher), and he plans on telling an epic story through several more volumes.

Not only is Rob a great man, he is a writer committed to telling the best story possible. Every little bit will help him bring this incredible story to life. Or rather, make it undead.

I’ll be backing this project as soon as I have the requisite cash. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in contributing to, be sure to visit his page and check it out. Lots of goodies are promised to the backers of the project, which doesn’t hurt. So, what do you say? Bring the zombies to the foot of Pikes Peak, and help out an author at the same time. It’s a good investment.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1513414342/apocalypse-springs-reanimation-a-long-form-novel

Double Review: The Never Prayer, and The Whitefire Crossing

On the Colorado writing scene, there are many fine talents and local stars. I have had the great privilege to read two of the books on that scene in recent months: The Never Prayer by Aaron Michael Ritchey, and The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer. Today, I finally get to review them for you.

In short, both novels are excellent, and I highly recommend them if they sound like your kind of books.

The Never Prayer by Aaron Michael Ritchey is a YA urban fantasy novel that hits harder than most in that genre. Teenager Lena’s parents died in the aftermath of a car crash, and she is trying to support her little brother in a small Colorado town that is facing hard times of its own. Lena is desperate to bring in money, even if it means being courier for some drugs at her high school. Things go from bad to worse when she winds up in a tug-of-war between a demon and a “fallen” angel as they try to influence humans, pushing them toward good or evil.

I liked how Ritchey keeps Lena’s head above water in terms of social status. She’s unique, and a lot of people feel sorry for her or don’t like her, but she’s not a complete outcast, and can adapt well enough to move through the various cliques of her school. He also does a terrific job at giving us reason after reason to care for Lena’s plight without turning her into a pitiful mess. She is simply trying as hard as possible to provide for what’s left of her family, and that makes her a character worth cheering on.

You also have to admire his willingness to admit that doing the right thing is often the most painful. There are consequences you may not want when you make the right choice, and he pulls no punches in having his characters glean that lesson. The book is kept intriguing along its journey, even when you realize the trajectory it’s taking, and it hit me with a strong ending I did not expect, but played fair with the rules Ritchey had established.

If there was a complaint I had, it’s a minor one. Lena seems very quick to accept that she’s part of a supernatural conflict. Even though the angel is revealed in a dramatic fashion right beforehand, most likely she would still have a harder time taking in the change of circumstances.  But that’s hardly anything but a nitpick, so don’t let it stop you from picking up a copy of Ritchey’s remarkable debut novel. This book is dark, thrilling, and thought-provoking, and I am more than happy to recommend it to you. I can’t wait to see what else Aaron has in store.

It can be a tricky situation if your freshman novel is an epic fantasy. Most of the time in that situation, an author succeeds by coasting on a few great strengths, but the book’s quality is dragged down through equally strong weaknesses (for example, you might get a book with great dialogue and worldbuilding, but its characters are flat and the storyline is confusing). And it’s easy to make the work derivative, giving regular readers of the genre very little reason to pay you any attention.

Thankfully, none of that is an issue with Courtney Schafer’s debut The Whitefire Crossing. This is a book I cannot recommend enough. Seriously, if you read fantasy books, please read this one. Pretty much every aspect of it sings with quality and dedication. The story is one that hooks you right from page one and keeps you invested through the next three hundred, the worldbuilding is excellent when it comes into play, and the characters are absolutely satisfying in their depth and choices.

The story has two viewpoint characters, equally captivating and relatable. First there’s Dev, a smuggler who takes magical charms from the city of Ninavel, across the Whitefire Mountains and into the country of Alathia. Mages rule Ninavel like sin rules Las Vegas, but in Alathia almost all magic is outlawed, so Dev finds steady work in “clandestine imports” of magical items. Only problem is, he’s been cheated out of his money, and he’s taking anything he can get to fulfill a friend’s dying wish. The second viewpoint character is Kiran, a mage who is desperate to hire Dev to smuggle him across the mountains and into Alathia, the one place in the world where Kiran can escape and hide from a vicious authority figure.

To call this an “adventure novel” might be downplaying the tough journey Dev and Kiran take together. They suffer through this story, and no decision is an easy one. Normally I don’t care for novels that are quite so ruthless toward their characters, but Whitefire was such an enrapturing, detailed, and fast-paced book I had to keep turning the pages.

One of the best strengths in this book is the magic system Schafer has set up. Based around simple or familiar things in fantasy magic, like blood, charms, runes, and metals, she constructs one of the most intelligently built magic systems you’re likely to find. For a worldbuilding nut like me, it’s a delight to see her lay out the rules of magic, usually in bite-sized chunks that don’t slow down or halt the story. She keeps things moving, and gives you a chance to learn a lot of her world along the way.

If I told you anymore, I’d probably risk contaminating the enjoyment and level of surprise that this book delivers. Schafer’s debut is a strong one, and she is certainly an author to watch in the coming years. Plus her sequel The Tainted City has just been released, and I can’t wait to get my copy to continue Dev and Kiran’s story.

Villains, Punishment, and Fiction

Electric Chair photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I decided to offer some thoughts closely related to another recent post, about how we view evil and punishment in fiction. Generally we are fine with the bad guy getting what he deserves, except in cases when the villain wins for the purposes of the story and the character development. But there is an opinion I’ve seen floating around pockets of the blogosphere that looks at punishment itself as if it is barbarism, even when a fictional character gets his just desserts.

Everyone’s still reeling from the massacre in Aurora, CO. My prayers go to the families and friends of all the victims. I can’t imagine how hard it will be for them to find comfort and acceptance in the face of this indescribable horror. It’s heartbreaking when we hear of another shooting. We have a hard time contemplating the kind of acidic evil it takes to point a gun at a crowd and shoot indiscriminately, a jolt of recoil ending the life of someone’s daughter or son. We recognize a need for the perpetrator to face justice because of their actions.

I have seen and heard of many dark things, and still I cannot picture the kind of monstrous transformation I would have to go through before I did something similar to what James Holmes did. Make no mistake: all of us are capable of such evil. All too often I underestimate the darkness that resides in my heart and think I couldn’t possibly become James Holmes or Charles Manson.

It’s not a question of “Can I?” but “Will I?” There but for the grace of God go I, as the saying goes. Even though we have a conscience and can choose good, the potential for evil is always there. It’s not restricted to sociopaths, the mentally disturbed, or people who subscribe to a different worldview. The key lies with human choice.

And since I think good fiction is true to life, I believe we should integrate that understanding into fiction — the realization that tremendous evil can come from anyone. Maybe that realization is why the notion of punishing others makes some people squeamish. Almost no one wants punishment for a crime to catch up with them, after all. By nature, punishment is rough, hard, and always should be treated as a somber affair. Some people are so perturbed by punishment, they start talking as if it shouldn’t even be delivered.

Even with fictional villains, some don’t like the idea of a villain receiving it. I won’t name names, but I know of three or four specific people (though I am sure there are many others) who have a sneering disdain for “good vs. evil” stories when good curb-stomps evil. As if these stories were crafted to appeal to people with anger management issues. They prefer stories where the ideals of forgiveness and mercy are always going to have the last say; good triumphs over evil by mercy, or diplomatic talk, or using something abstract but attractive (like beauty or decency) to entice someone away from dark intentions. They’re very emotionally disturbed every time the side of good throws a fist.

Or a hammer. I just had to use this photo again.

They think beauty can save the world. They can’t imagine a version of the Joker who isn’t just misunderstood and won’t be wiled away from his anarchy by the right painting or poem. Every bad guy becomes Darth Vader, bad on the outside but with a good streak on the inside that will surely enlighten them in the right circumstances.

To their mind, seeking punishment makes you a vengeful, vindictive, even cruel individual. Even when you honestly look for justice and not petty revenge, they can’t tell the difference. Most likely, a lot of these people don’t know what it really means to be the victim of true evil, never knowing what the need for justice tastes like to someone who has been beaten into the ground. I don’t know what it tastes like, either. I haven’t had to face that kind of darkness just yet. But there is more to punishment than getting even.

This romanticized view of human nature, that evil men surely will listen to diplomacy and kindness, crumbles away when we look at the implacable evils in the real world. I can already hear Alfred Pennyworth’s speech from The Dark Knight:

“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

That’s why punishment is needed. That’s why it has a vital place in fiction. Because some men and women can’t be talked out of their depravity and injustice, and will not seek forgiveness. We should forgive them anyway, but forgiveness is not antithetical to ensuring they are punished.

Of course, not every story needs or benefits from villains. Some have their focus elsewhere. Sometimes it is best to show a villain mercy, or gently lead them away from their evil. And sometimes when there is a villain, they get away with everything. We need those stories as well, of course. But we also need to keep seeing villains punished in some stories, to remind us of the need to punish them in real life. If we keep saying “Oh, how sad,” at every single tragedy, and silence the inner cry for a penalty for a senseless and evil act, we will inevitably look for solutions to human evil in the wrong place.

Again, the need for punishment arises out of human choice. Mercy and forgiveness form a beautiful language, one I wish everyone understood and spoke. But some people refuse to learn it.