Making Art as a Way of Dealing With Bad News

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It has been quite the week, and I cannot imagine what it’s been like for those of you who have been active online. Even the little bit of news, both personal and political, has been depressing as hell. That, topped off with multiple viruses and other day-to-day crap, can get to be too much very quickly. In fact, it can downright stall your ability to write, revise, edit, sketch, etc. It might even feel selfish to make art on spec (e.g. without a contract); or, you might have convinced yourself there’s too many terrible things going on in the world, so why does your story matter? Why bother?

Often, we downplay how much we give of ourselves to our art. Our joys, our sorrows, fears, pain are often wrapped up into one painting, game, story, comic, etc. Sometimes, we might even create a piece of art to help someone feel that much needed sense of relief. Other times, we might make something because the act of creation is not something anyone can take away from us. You, and only you, made that piece of art or collaborated with other people on it. That’s amazing, and that’s very, very important–especially right now. We may not be able to save the world, but we can tap into people’s emotions and move them through our art. I used to think that was just entertainment, and I was wrong. It’s more than that. It’s our point of connection, our way of showing the truth in a more palatable (or brutal) fashion, our reminder that we’re all human.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to think about the importance of making art when the bad news doesn’t stop. It’s not the one thing, of course, it’s the death by a thousand cuts. When it’s personal, it’s one passive-aggressive comment after the other about what you’re not doing, what you should’ve been doing, what you need to do, what you’re not. When it’s not, your faith in your government and your country is shaken. You hear the dogs of war barking–and aren’t sure if they’re real or imagined. You feel helpless. Fear, fear, fear, anxiety, fear. And it adds up. Oh, does it ever!

At some point, you’re probably going to shut down. Then, in that darkest of spaces, you do the one thing you’ve convinced yourself needs to happen: you wait for more bad news. Now, you might even be looking for it, because your boundaries have eroded. Bad news is now something you expect, and it’s something you’re unwittingly using as a survival mechanism. That bad news is familiar, it’s how you cope, it’s all you know. Your worldview might even shift in the process. Suddenly, things that were once enjoyable aren’t anymore. Small things are meaningless, and making art is an afterthought. The bad news, that’s what is really important–right?

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: life continues. Even at the worst of times, someone bakes bread or plants flowers or pets the cat or flies a kite with their kids. Think about all the shit I’ve been through; I’ve been bullied, doxed, harassed, threatened, etc. multiple times over and I am still standing. I am still here. And, I am still making art. A little slower than usual this week? Yep, unfortunately I’m coming off of a cold this week and Ny-Quil does strange things to my creativity. But, regardless, I am still at it even if progress is slow. Sometimes, the best I can do is take it one step at a time.

It wasn’t always this way, and the stars-only-know I’m not perfect. Like you, I do the best I can. Yes, there have been a few times where I have gotten so sucked in, because everywhere I turned people were either talking about politics, protesting, or negatively affected by the fractional “us vs. them” everywhere. It felt as if I had no escape, and it was hard for me–and many other creators like myself–to focus. I saw yellow journalism happen right in front of my face. I felt powerless to stop people from getting hurt, and all I could do was get out there and vote. Then, when it was all over… I felt like I was hungover, and I was angry for many reasons. I had been consumed. We had all been eaten up by what was happening, and despite our best efforts many people were definitely not being heard.

There was another reason why I was angry, though. I was mad at myself. At the end of the day, when you make art for a living or a hobby you lose a lot when you aren’t creating. Not only do you lose time, you also lose your purpose for being. I am not a doctor or a lawyer or a politician. I’m an artist. And that means, that in order for me to do my job to the best of my ability, I have to keep making art regardless of the thousand and one reasons out there that make me feel as if I don’t matter. That, dear reader, is my definition of persistence.

The title of today’s post was “Making art as a way of dealing with bad news.” So, here’s the deal: I have some bad news for you today. I do. I’m worried that you’re going to be overwhelmed by all the bad news that’s surrounding you and you won’t make art. It’s true. It is easier to stop making art than to keep at it, but don’t give in. Take the harder path, because that one? That’s usually a sign you’re headed in the right direction. Fight. Know that you are not alone. If you can’t make art for yourself, do it for your future self. Or, make art for someone you haven’t met yet. You never know how powerful and transformative your art can be unless you keep going. One brush, one word, one sketch might not seem like much, but that’s all I’m asking for right now. It’s the only way to fight back the darkness, and to firmly and loudly proclaim that you are still here despite the odds.

Please, I know it’s hard right now. Don’t give up hope. “It can’t rain all the time.”

    Mood: Weird. Hot and sneezy. Summer already?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee has health benefits. Right?
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Light walking
    In My Ears: Stupid fan
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2. Found the bloody chocobo dungeon and the bloody underwhelming chocobo. Huzzah!
    Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming in May.



Friendly Friday: Unstealthiest Ninja, Bear Cats, and Studio DoOoMcat

Unstealthiest Ninja At The Beach by Studio DoOoMcat for Shirts at woot.com

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of making sure money flows to the artist. Often, I get super frustrated when it comes to T-shirts, because there’s a lot of designs being taken from DeviantArt or uploaded from an artist’s website — even at big box stores. For this reason, I often try to buy shirts when I know the source of the art; it does get even more complicated when adding in rights to actor’s likenesses and properties, too. Mind you, I’m trying not to hit you with the Hammer o’ Preachin’, but as someone who advocates for artists whenever possible I feel like I have to practice what I cheer for.

Enter Shirts on Woot.com, and its pro-artist attitude. They feature the artists who submit work to them, and you can learn more about them. That, dear reader, is how I discovered the super cute collection of Unstealthiest Ninja T-shirts illustrated by husband-and-wife team Studio DoOomcat. I love this aesthetic, and there are tons of great T-shirts by Studio DoOomcat that go beyond the clumsy ninjas. I dig the Unraveller of Worlds and the cuddly octopus RAWR!.

While on the site, I discovered that one of the artists, Alison Acton, also has a cute webcomic called Bear Nuts, too. She takes commissions, which are super cheap, and this studio has a ton of options if you’re interested in their aesthetic. I know I will be; I just have to figure out what I want!

For more about Studio DoOomcat, check out the Bear Cats Webcomic site and poke around some. In addition to the webcomic, both artists have done a lot of work elsewhere. There’s a lot to explore and read!

    Mood: Scrambling now that I’m not sick anymore!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: NOT MANAGED
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Ummmm… Does typing count?
    In My Ears: Dragon Age: Inquisition soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2. You have any idea how frustrating it is to find that bloody chocobo dungeon?
    Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming in May.



Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs, A Zombie Short Story Excerpt

The Zombie Feed Volume 1“Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs” is an interesting zombie story for me, because it represented a lot of “first’s”. It was the focus of my first reading, it generated requests for a sequel, I wrote a gospel song while writing it, and it was also my first reprint in Extreme Zombies, too!

Published by Apex Book Company, you can find “Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs” in The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1, which is the original collection filled with stories by Lucien Soulban, Maggie Slater, Simon McCaffrey and more! Extreme Zombies is also available through Prime Books and features really awesome writers like George R.R. Martin, Nancy A. Collins, and Joe R. Lansdale. Both collections are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold.

Here’s a bite of the story! Enjoy the braaaaaaaiiiiiiiinnnnnnnssssssss…

Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs Excerpt

Midnight. The hour when flesh walks and good, little children are stashed away like stolen diamonds. The hour when the feast begins: skin-ripping hair-raising bone-cracking crunch, crunch, crunches. The hour when my thunder stick comes out, zap, zap zapping all the way ’til dawn.

Go on down. Down to the ri-ver. Go on down and wash a-way.

One-thirty. Dog tired. Got a call from headquarters. Had to exterminate a nest out by a gas station. Was worried I was going to run out of ammo. Pause. Rewind. That’s right. I didn’t need to re-load. Long battery life. Couldn’t use the stick like I wanted. There were too many of ’em and not enough of me. So I introduced them to my best friend and mortal enemy–C4. Crickle-crackle snap, snap, snap. Orange flames licked the corpses, ate their rotting flesh right down to the bone. Smelled like my momma’s church picnic. Hungry. Nothing to eat. Found an energy shot. Slammed two of them. Made my belly hurt even more.

Come to the ri-ver. Wash, wash, wash your sins and pray.

Fell asleep at the wheel. Phone woke me up. Three a.m. Witching hour. Sergeant’s on the line saying something about domestic abuse. Tell her it could wait ’til daylight. Man beats a woman down, that’s bad. Man eats a woman’s brain? That’s the guy I’m coming for.

“Officer Mike….” Sergeant’s got that disapproving tone in her voice, like she’s my mother. My momma was a preacher, but she died in a fire, along with the rest of the parish. Don’t know much about Sarge or how she survived. Then I remember. She sticks to the rules, because it’s all she’s got. It’s like her feelings dried up and they were replaced with a pile of useless laws. Like my appendix. Don’t know what I need it for, but it’s still there.

Maybe the law is all I got, too. “Yes, sir?”

“We got a biter.” Fuck. “She’s twelve.” Double fuck. I’ve been on this job too long, but not long enough. Three years. Shitty pay. Crappy benefits. Divorced. No kids. That was before the dead rose up out of their graves. Some folk thought it was the Rapture, welcomed the dearly departed back into church with open arms. Then the dead took over, gnawing on people like they were Thanksgiving leftovers. Told myself this had nothing to do with God or Jesus or the devil. This reeked of greed, something man-made, and it was up to me to find out who’s responsible.

“I’ll be there.”

MANW Check-In Week 19: Fun Work Isn’t Necessarily Free

Make Art Not War May Participant

We’re now a little over four months into my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge, and I’d like to start talking about aspects of the craft assuming that you are continuing to make art either for personal or professional reasons. Today’s post ties into JOY, which is this month’s theme, and talks about some psychological aspects of making art and getting paid for our efforts.

Why tackle this? Well, there are deep, deep psychological associations between art and commercialism. Besides the myth that you must be mentally ill, impoverished, or suffering to make art, there are also ideas attached to making money. An author who has a best-selling novel is a “sell-out”, for example, because their book is too commercial. That often leads to a comment about what should and shouldn’t make money based on its quality or the nature of the artist, too. Good books that don’t sell are then a tragedy — especially if the author is a nice person! Good books that do sell if the author is an asshole is often believed to be forgivable to an extent Sound familiar? This isn’t new. It’s tied to our beliefs about money and who “deserves” it.

Many, many people who are smarter than I am have often discussed the psychology of being wealthy and poor. If someone is wealthy clearly they deserve that blessing and, if they made art to become successful, then they “did it all themselves”, fueling the myth that anyone can make it without help. And, there are deeply-rooted beliefs in the idea that a wealthy person must clearly be better in some way, shape, or form than someone who’s poor. If you are poor, then you can simply work harder or make better decisions to no longer suffer — which is so asinine and not at all the reality of being broke.

Making Art Is Work

I’m sure you have your own ideas about art and commercialism; I don’t think I’ve met an artist who hasn’t. The aspect of this topic I want to focus on, however, is the idea that making art isn’t work–because it’s so much fun! On a simplistic level, the notion that work cannot be enjoyable for it to be work is tied to a line of thinking that goes something like this: since capitalism is bad, the pursuit of money is evil. Ergo, if I enjoy myself in my work and expect to get paid, then I might become evil, too.

The idea that money has a good or bad alignment is extremely toxic to artists, because it is neither. It is a tool that many of us need to survive and thrive. The system of capitalism is also neither good nor bad, too. Simply, people use a tool (money) within a framework (capitalism) to further their goals. These goals can be very self-centered, and we have seen what happens with respect to corruption and the like, but a desire to be paid for the work you do shouldn’t be an outrageous concept. Nor, should it generate responses that you’re “greedy” for wanting to be compensated.

Okay, this leads to the question of whether or not making art is work. Is it? Here’s (one of) many definitions about work courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

Work is an “activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something”.

Based on this, and multiple takes on the definition of work, making art is definitely considered work. What these definitions don’t include, is the financial component and emotional aspects. You do not have to be paid for your efforts to be considered work; your state of mind and your feelings do not change its definition, either. Whether you’re happy or not, work is simply work.

Commercialism Adds Complexity

Hopefully by now you’ve realized that making art is work. With me so far? Here’s the not-so-fun part. The financial component is infinitely harder, because once you attach a monetary value to something you create you’re dealing with perceived value, cost of materials, distribution, etc. It is extremely complex to figure out not only what to make, but how often to produce, when to sell it, what places are good to do business with, etc. This level of complexity, dear reader, is why I believe many artists undervalue their work and often give a lot away. It takes time to learn business, and often it’s so intimidating that many artists don’t. Instead, they treat their art as a hobby until it “takes off” and they’re forced to think more deeply about it.

There are a million roads in between “I’m New” and “I’m a Best-Selling Artist”. Visibility, popularity, reception, and number of copies sold aren’t predictable and business planning is the exact opposite of that. There are some factors you can control, like production, and that’s what I focus on. I also think this idea of being embarrassed to ask for money has something to do with the joy we feel when making art. If it doesn’t feel like work, for example, then we feel guilty asking for money or other forms of payment. We might even feel small, because we aren’t a Very Famous ArtistTM, and talk ourselves down claiming our art isn’t worth anything because art produced by a VFA will be better.

Value Yourself

Valuing yourself and your art can be difficult to do, especially since the weight of “other people’s opinions” can drag you down, but it is an important first step in a longer process. I find that the first step to being taken seriously as an artist, is to take yourself seriously. Your time, creativity, and talent are valuable, and I feel being new only affects you so much. What is new, anyway? You may be new to selling your work, or certain forms of it, but you’ve probably been making art for a while.

I am hugely sympathetic if you’re feeling down or know you’re too hard on yourself. After you agree that yes, your art is work and yes, you would like some form of payment you can then learn more about the business aspects to make better, informed decisions. That process is hugely transformative, and I personally feel you shouldn’t have to wait to sell your first piece of art to ask questions. And yes, in case you’re wondering? You’re totally worth it! After all, if you undermine and undervalue your work — then why should someone pay for all that great work you’re doing?

    Mood: Recovery. (I have a chest cold.)
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Managed
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Living room to kitchen. Make tea. Rinse and repeat a thousand times.
    In My Ears: Lucy soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2
    Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: ONCE: Upon a Time
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming in May.



Redwing’s Gambit Sale, Novella Excerpt, and Design Essays

Today, I am pleased to announce that Redwing’s Gambit, which takes place in the fun, romping Bulldogs! universe, is on sale through Saturday, May 13th at DriveThruFiction.com. Written in 2012, this novella is an earlier look at my storytelling — perfect if you’re waiting for my upcoming stories to come out! When Redwing’s Gambit first debuted, I wrote notes on the story’s and setting’s design, and am re-sharing those here in addition to one of my favorite scenes.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to Redwing’s Gambit on DriveThruFiction.com. The story is formatted in ePub and PDF; you receive both when you order the file. Additionally, I pulled some links to design essays I wrote about the novella for you, too!

  • Constructing Redwing’s Gambit: Research and Background Part 1 of 5 – The first question I asked myself was not about what story I wanted to write, but how I wanted to present the tale in such a way that felt more like Fate than d20. In my mind, the Fate rules really emphasizes and focuses on relationships or the ties that connect and bind the characters to one another.
  • Constructing Redwing’s Gambit: Characters and Treatment – Part 2 of 5 – The treatment evolved from the original concept for a number of reasons. At the time, I thought the story required one perspective, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. One mystery in a closed environment was “okay,” but it wasn’t enough for the readers to get a feel of what makes Bulldogs! a cool science fiction setting. Initially, my thinking was that an observant character could really dig into and tell a tale, highlighting the different aspects of the alien races and the worlds. Boy, was that ever wrong! While that technique sounds good, it didn’t work when I started writing it because I bored myself going on and on and on…
  • Constructing Redwing’s Gambit: Structure and Plot – Part 3 of 5 – After I had an approved story and treatment, I went to work writing the first and second draft. My inclination was not to offer one perspective, but to offer several. A mystery just did not work from an observer’s point-of-view because I had a lot of characters and they’re all not physically located in the same place on the ship. The logistics of having Dan sneak around like a ninja were not only boring — but creepy and Clueish. So, I added in other perspectives straight off the bat. I knew multiple viewpoints (there are three) was outside of how I normally write, but I felt it was necessary for a good story.
  • Constructing Redwing’s Gambit: Revisions and Cut Text – Part 4 of 5 – I have about 7 to 10,000 words of cut text that I removed from Redwing’s Gambit during the revisions process. Once I erased Dan Daget’s character, I restructured the flow of the different perspectives and ensured that they read correctly. The biggest reason for the revisions, however, was to reduce any extraneous worldbuilding or plot hooks to keep the pace strong. With this being a novella, that meant minimizing certain aspects and also changing the strength of the relationship between Violet and the security chief to one of hidden, but mutual, feelings for one another. This first bit was altered because the spying robots was less important than Xax or Edna’s kidnapping.

Redwing’s Gambit Excerpt

One of the characters that readers really enjoyed was an angry teddy bear/mercenary named “Fang”. This short scene is Fang’s debut! The angry bear is a stowaway on board the ship, and he’s facing off against a feline robot.


Deep within the bowels of the cruiser, a small bear-like creature crawled through a grimy pipe and dropped down through a narrow opening. He wiggled his way down, down, down until he landed on the floor of a sooty vent.

The animal bared his teeth, hunting for signs of the enemy, but could not see his prey.

Turning a corner, he came face-to-face with a cat. It nudged its cool body against him and purred.

The mechanical noise grated his ears. It wasn’t a cat, it was cat-like. A robo-cat. And it was colored a bizarre shade. Watered down red. No, pink. An albino cat?

“Out of my way,” the creature hissed. “You will move for Fang.”

A clicking sound. Then, a high-pitched squeal. An antenna poked out of the metallic cat’s mouth, its red tip blinked urgently.

“Move. Now.”

The small bear stepped forward, but the robo-cat would not budge.

“Stupid cat.” Fang grabbed the robo-cat’s antenna and yanked back hard. The pink robot yelped in pain, its head spun faster and faster until a thin plume of smoke escaped from its pointy ears. Crouching low, Fang swept his foot and knocked the cat on its back. Then, the creature pulled out the robo-cat’s leg and beat its rosy body with it until he was satisfied.

It was an empty victory.

Redwing’s Gambit is available at DriveThruFiction.com.

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