26 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

(c) Graphic Stock
I hope everyone is having a warm and wonderful holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Belated Winter Solstice, Happy Belated Birthday Emperor Akihito, Happy Belated Day of Reconciliation, and Happy Festivus for the Rest of Us! 

I believe I've covered the major December holidays. If I missed any, I hope it was wonderful for all of you. 

And here's hoping the upcoming new year will be a great one!

17 December 2013

Author Online: Spiffing it Up with Images and Art

(c) Graphic Stock.
Here's the second article in my series Author Online, where I share with you what I've learned over the years as someone who's designed and maintained my own author website.

This is probably my favorite thing about blogging design--using images and artwork to spruce up the website as well as blog posts. I love playing around with these things and I'm happy to share with you some of my sources.

But first...

UNDERSTANDING IMAGES AND COPYRIGHT

I'm not a lawyer and I don't have any legal training whatsoever, so if you want 100% clearance and understanding on the subject of copyright, you must consult someone in the legal profession. What I can share with you is my own personal experience navigating copyright while securing images for my site. 

Some key things to know:
  • A work is automatically copyrighted upon its creation.
  • The creator of the work is the owner of the copyright.
  • You must have written permission from the copyright holder to use his or her work. 
  • If you do not have permission, YOU HAVE VIOLATED COPYRIGHT AND ARE SUBJECT TO LEGAL PENALTIES.   
"But wait," you say, "people on the internet do BLAH BLAH BLAH for images" or something to that effect. Let me press this upon you: Most of the people on the internet are breaking copyright laws on nearly every level. Some of them are unaware because they don't understand the rules, but most of them know they didn't bother to do the right thing. Just because they haven't been "caught" doesn't mean they won't.

(c) Graphic Stock
Content thieves can really destroy an artist or author's livelihood when they help themselves to someone else's creation. People who steal images are taking the hard work and hours the creator has spent and spitting in the face of that effort. It's how artists and writers are taken advantage of when they're told they have to work for free because there's a precedent of work being stolen or automatically assumed it is free to the public simply because it exists. 

Let's break this down further. You have your image and:
  • You downloaded it from Google Image search.  
  • You right-clicked on your mouse and "saved as" to use the image.
  • You couldn't right-click and save so you took a screen shot of the image.
  • You put the image on your site by using the "picture from URL" function (hotlinking).
  • You wrote "Image from ___" and credited the website where you found the picture.
  • You wrote "Artwork is not mine. Credit goes to original artist." 
  • You wrote, "Art by ____" and listed the original artist's name. (You should automatically be doing this no matter what, anyway!)
  • You wrote, "Image is Fair Use because I do not profit from this." 
Guess what: ALL OF THE ABOVE IS STILL STEALING!!!!!! Why? You did not get written permission from the artist to use his or her work.   

In some instances, the artist is easy to contact for permissions because they've provided direct information in order to do so. But for the most part, requesting copyright permission directly with the artist is perceived as being a challenge or inconvenience. 

Thank goodness for licenses, right? 

Licenses are the "written permission from the artist" you get to see right up front when you wish to secure images that aren't your own. Probably the most user-friendly licenses out there are Creative Commons Licenses.  Creative Commons is an actual nonprofit organization that decided to make the web a more accessible place for everyone by using plain-English licenses. These licenses permit the public to use certain works without having to financially compensate the people who created them. Or, in their own words, "Creative Commons is a non-profit that offers an alternative to full copyright."

Just because Creative Commons Licensing gives you the access to free images does not mean you can forgo the rules listed with each type of license. The license chosen will specify whether or not a work can be altered, commercialized, published, or transmitted, and you have to follow these rules. By using a CC-licensed work, you are making a legal agreement to adhere to the images' specific requirements. Failure to do so pretty much takes you right back to the level of stealing, for which there are consequences.

Probably a major item overlooked when using a CC-licensed work is that the artist maintains their original rights. Which means, even if you do 100% of what the license requires of you, the artist still has the right to order you to remove their content.

IN ALL CASES: As long as the artist owns the copyright, they can grant and revoke the rights to their images as they see fit.

The other type of image licensing is the kind you receive when you actually purchase an image from a resources like iStock, Getty Images, Shutterstock, etc. When you purchase an image from a royalty-free stock site, you pay a one-time fee to use the image per the rules listed in the license. There are licenses for commercial use as well as personal use, and there are licenses that dictate how often you can use an image in a work. The nice thing about these websites is you can pick and choose exactly what you need to do--the point is, know what you're looking for and what you plan to do with it.

Now that you have (I hope!) a better understanding of copyright and licensing, let's dive into how and where you can secure images!

IMAGE RESOURCES 

Creative Commons Images

  • Creative Commons has a special search feature that allows you to choose CC-licensed images from a wide variety of internet sources, like Flickr, Fotopedia, and Google Images.
The licensing can be found in the right-hand
corner on the screen, near the comments.
  • Wikimedia Commons is another wonderful resource, containing both CC-licensed as well as public domain media files that anyone can use. 
  • Deviant Art is a great resource for original artwork and photography. Unfortunately there is no specific search option for CC-licensed content; you'll have to use their search engine only to look up content by topic. To see whether or not a work is under full copyright or a CC-license, you will have to click on the image, then look for the licensing information included in the Details and Stats section of the gallery. If it is CC-licensed, it'll look like the screenshot I've posted (source). If not, it will have a traditional (c) symbol with the phrase, All Rights Reserved. Which means, as awesome as the art is, you can't use it unless you contact the artist and ask for written permission.
Free Images

  • The Library of Congress offers the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for scholars and artists. A quick word of note, though--the LOC cannot formally state that the images are public domain, but they are available free for use and for downloading. Here's where you can find their explanation on the rights to the works. 
  • Unsplash.com offers absolutely beautiful high-resolution photographs for free. Created by the Montreal design company ooomf, these images definitely add a bit of artsiness to your blog.

Royalty-Free Image Sites with Freebies

What do I mean by "with freebies"? Each of the sites listed below are ones of which I am a member (although I'm positive there are more stock companies out there who do this). Just for joining the website (no purchase necessary) and signing up for email notifications, I get FREE high-quality images sent to me, as frequently as once-a-week. I download every image they send to me just so I have it (they're only free for a limited time) because I never know when I might need to use one of them in a post. Once I download them, I have the licensed rights to them.

(c) Graphic Stock
The rest of the images on these sites can be purchased directly a la carte, as part of a monthly payment plan, or through a credit-purchase plan. It is fun to get free artwork from these websites, too, but I've also purchased the rights to many other images. The quality and selections on stock websites are tough to rival and they've published such beautiful content that I've had no qualms about spending a little money here and there. Sign up for the freebies, but stay and support your fellow artists. 

  • Graphic Stock is one of the newest kids on the block and I absolutely love them. Right now they're running a one-week trial membership where you can download 20 images a day for free for a full seven days. They usually offer special deals for new customers around the time the free trial is about to end that discounts a monthly or yearly membership. If you forget to cancel your membership, though, it's $49 a month for unlimited downloads and they auto-deduct it. Can you tell I'm speaking from experience? I forgot to cancel my free trial and when it expired, $49 flew from my account (I'm a part-time minimum wage worker who can't afford a $49 per month membership). But since the month was already paid for, I've been downloading images like crazy and I have to say, I love a lot of what they have to offer.  When you pay the normal membership fee, the downloads are absolutely, 100% unlimited. I'm loading up right before I cancel, and maybe when I can afford it, I'll rejoin.
  • Thinkstock by Getty Images pulls an arsenal of photos and illustrations from both the Getty Images and iStock sites (and affiliates) and offers them to you as part of a monthly plan or credit pack plan. Just for creating an account and signing up for emails, you get access to the free image of the week.
  • iStock is one of the major stock resources on the web, filled with tons of incredible images that are easily searchable by price range, topic, image type (photo, vector illustration, etc). Once again, when you create an account and get their emails, you get access to free media of the week
  • Shutterstock is another top-notch resource. I haven't spent any money with them (yet) but I think they've offered the best freebies out of all of the sites so far. You get one vector illustration and one photograph each week, and they're often variations of a specific theme, which is quite awesome. You have to have an account with them to even have access to see the freebies, but it's worth it. Their vector illustrations are some of my absolute favorites.
  • Creative Market is a bit like the "Etsy" of the graphics design world. It's an indie market that offers anything from fonts to web templates and more. If you create an account, you have access to their exclusive free downloads of the week, which can include images, fonts, web templates, and more. Because you're working with actual designers on these websites, there's often excellent pricing ($2 fonts! I'm in love!), very unique concepts, and you are directly helping out your fellow artists.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

Here are links to some excellent articles about copyright:

I hope you found this post helpful and that you've discovered some great resources for keeping your websites and blog posts interesting. If you have further recommendations or questions, feel free to comment below. Thank you!

~*~

Additional articles in the Author Online series:

06 December 2013

Author Online: Choosing a Blog Site, Domain Name, and Favicon

(c) Graphic Stock.
CHOOSING A BLOG HOST

In 2010, I began my graduate studies at Seton Hill University in the Writing Popular Fiction program. One of the requirements for our classes was to set up a blog and post public essays regarding our class readings, and to also respond to our peers' websites by leaving comments.

When I set up this website (which became a .com in 2011), I didn't know anything about setting up websites. Ultimately I chose Blogger to host my blog simply because that was what most of my classmates chose to do. With most of us on the same blogging platform, it was very easy to leave comments, link our blogs (as followers), and stay connected.  Because the majority of students opted for Blogger, many of my other classmates who chose to make sites through Wordpress were left in the dust...which is really too bad, because Wordpress allows for the creation of some beautiful websites.

I mention the above to you not so much as to claim superiority of either blog hosting platform, but to illustrate a point that you want to consider when choosing to set up a blog: Who is your audience? Who do you want to connect with? If your site is meant for the general public, then it doesn't matter necessarily who you choose as your platform. But if networking between fellow authors or industry professionals is important to you, you should probably spend time researching who uses what. Each blogging site is designed to work best with another user on the same platform. If your professional peers are using Blogger, you may want to hop on that bandwagon. If your peers use Wordpress, perhaps you should consider setting up with them.

HOWEVER, that certainly isn't the only way to stay connected to your audience and peers. These websites offer widgets and enhancements that allow you to include your social media on your site--you can feature
Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc. Since social media widgets can be added to any blog, it may not even matter to you if your friends use Blogger or Wordpress, because the connectivity you seek can come from social media that anyone and everyone uses.

One of the advantages I do find with Blogger, though, is the fact that it's a Google property. Which means it can seamlessly integrate with other Google properties--Google +, YouTube, AdSense, etc. Your site's pages will also be indexed, and therefore pop up on Google's search engines pretty quickly.

Blogger is also really easy to set up, and they offer some quality design choices, from backgrounds, templates, and fonts, which you can choose from when you play in the Design, Template, and Layout headings in your Settings.

BUT! As I've developed my skills over time and had greater ambitions for my website, I noticed Blogger has been harder to work with. Personalizing this website has been difficult because I don't think it allows a lot of options; and the site isn't image friendly--especially when you try to apply pictures to your posts. (I'm not a coder; I can't write in HTML or use CSS, so this is speaking directly from the experience of someone who relies on Blogger's interfaces to let me set things up).

Because of this desire to personalize the blog and really play with design, I decided to give Wordpress a try. I created my Writerlicious site (now defunct) with Wordpress, and although it was a huge change for me initially, I figured out posting and design in Wordpress quite easily.

Their selection of templates and designs Wordpress definitely knocks the socks off of Blogger. I also felt like I had tons more freedom with how I could design a post. And, overall, I've found that the majority of third-party widgets available online are designed to work with Wordpress, and many independent artists and designers can create Wordpress templates for you (Creative Market is a great source for this).

Downside: You have to pay more money for more customization.  Part of the reason why I shuttered my Writerlicious site had to do with upkeep--I couldn't keep up with posting, and I definitely couldn't keep up with the expense of running it.

My overall verdict: If you want plenty of creative control, choose Wordpress. If you prefer the social media and SEO advantage, choose Blogger.

If money is your overall qualifier, I can say from my personal experience and design goals (which may indeed vary from yours) that Blogger is really affordable compared to Wordpress. $10 a year is hard for me to walk away from.

If my opinion doesn't suffice, here is a well-written article chronicling the two blogging sites: Blogger vs Wordpress: The Best Blogging Platform. Author Tehmina Zaman breaks both sites down with specific examples and straightforward explanations.

SETTING UP YOUR DOMAIN NAME

When you sign up with Blogger or Wordpress, you get the domain XXX.blogspot.com or XXX.wordpress.com. Because the world of publishing has changed, not only is your writing a product, but you YOURSELF are a product. Which means you should take your author name and make it your domain. Not only does this convey professionalism and personal ownership, but it also helps to protect your name from being taken or abused by others on the web (by cybersquatters, for example).

Blogger and Wordpress both offer assistance with the creation your own personal domain name--in other words, you'll continue to use their platform and have them host your site, but you'll be your own dot-com on the web.

Blogger used to allow the purchase of domain names directly through them, but have recently changed their policy and you'll have to use a third-party site to create a domain name. Luckily they offer information in their Help section about how to do this. Get started!

If you use Wordpress, it costs $18 a year to create and maintain your own domain name. They offer it as part of a website upgrade, so you'll actually work with them directly to secure your domain.  Get started!

When you set up a domain name, there are some things to consider...particularly the end of the website address. Domain name setups allow you to choose whatever you want, and here are the most common options:

  • .com = commercial website 
  • .edu = for institutions of higher education
  • .net = network  
  • .org = for nonprofit as well as for-profit organizations
  • .gov = official government websites (local, state, and federal levels)
You need to consider the above when making your decisions about your domain name. For example, if your domain name has been taken already, the hosting site may suggest you use another name besides .com in order to keep the original website title. I strongly suggest you find another way to stick with .com. It's the most popular domain, and even though you're a writer and artist, you are still marketing yourself and creating works for commercial purposes. If for whatever reason you don't want to use .com, tread very carefully when you consider other domains. You do not want to mislead the public by choosing a domain (.edu or .org, for example) that communicates something you are not. If you can't use a .com for whatever reason, .net is a suitable runner-up.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE: FAVICONS!

What the heck are favicons, you ask? In the screenshot I took on my computer, I've circled various favicons that pop up on the tabs and browsers for various websites. A favicon is basically a tiny visual stamp you can put on your website and broadcast across the web through someone's Internet browser.

If you have a website through Blogger or Wordpress (or any other site),  usually the favicon that pops up will be the company's logo or their own favicon. But if you own your own domain, you can create your own favicon to go with your website! **Update: The awesome +Kitsune Hazard has pointed out that you can still use favicons in Blogger without having to create your own domain name. So, fellow .blogspot.com users, feel free to favicon away!***

Favicons are a fun way to personalize your site!
But first, how do you make a favicon? Here's an article you can read if you like...but before I had Photoshop or any nifty software, I had to rely on a third-party website to create my own favicon. The website IconJ is a free site in which you can create, download, and/or host your own personal favicons. I have several different images I use (especially if I do site redesigns) and I've made all of them through IconJ. They're really simple to make...my only recommendations are to pick a simple image and to experiment and preview with multiple images for your site to see what looks best in terms of size, and how well the favicon conveys your website or author personality to others.

DO NOT USE COPYRIGHTED IMAGES FOR FAVICONS. Do NOT do a Google image search and then download an image you find and reuse it as a favicon. Do NOT hotlink an image you found (pull the image from another website by having your blog use the site's URL). FINDING IMAGES AND EVEN GIVING CREDIT FOR THEM DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE LEGAL RIGHTS TO THE IMAGE. 

Getting images the legal way:

Once you've chosen your image and have created your favicon, installing it into your website is easy-peasy. In Blogger, all you have to do is go to the Layout section, and the upper right-hand corner of the screen will include a place for favicons--simply upload the file. Wordpress will let you download one of their plugins, allowing you to install your own favicon on their site.Ta-da!

~*~

Check out the other entries of Author Online, your guide to creating an author website and your internet personality:

05 December 2013

80,000 Views!

(c) Graphic Stock
Maintaining a personal author website is certainly tricky, as I've mentioned many times before.

But today is a special day, because today the site has cracked 80,000 page views, coinciding with my umpteenth website redesign.

I'm utterly gobsmacked!

I've been on quite the web journey and  to coincide with the two-year anniversary of KristinaElyseButke.com and the 80,000 pageview milestone, over the next few journals I'm going to specifically focus on what I've learned about creating and maintaining a website. Hopefully these nuggets of information help you out in some way.

Stay tuned!

02 December 2013

I'm having a hell of a time redoing this blog!

I felt like I wanted to change the image of this website again (I know, what's wrong with me?) to better reflect what I write (as opposed to my own personality).

I spent HOURS creating custom art from images I legally obtained from Graphic Stock...and at last, when I tried to upload them to this website, Blogger punches me in the face. Redesigning on this site is SOOO difficult.

I thought I'd do this quick post to let you know that I'm likely to change the layout of this site five more times since this post until I have it the way I want it.

Thanks for your patience!

08 November 2013

Reality Check: This is harder than I thought!

If you read my previous post, I wrote a fairly decent pep talk about what was going to be my first Nanowrimo. I mentioned that the biggest thing to hold me back from completing the program would likely be my perfectionism. 

To my surprise, time management has been extremely difficult so far. But maybe I should clarify "to my surprise." Time management has never really been something I'm good at, especially since I'm a pantser as opposed to plotter. Even with my graduate thesis I often wrote by the seat of my pants, and I was a tremendous amount behind on my work right up until the deadline, when I pumped out almost twenty pages a day. 

For some reason, a last-minute deadline is what jump-starts my brain, which is blissfully exciting and terribly annoying at the same time. For Nanowrimo, I've tried very, very hard to avoid doing this. For the first time, I'm trying to fit writing in as much as possible during a busy day--I've brought my iPad to work to use on lunch breaks; I've tucked in a notebook in my purse to scribble things when I can. I come home from work and...

...fall asleep in my computer chair just as I've started typing. 

WHAT?

What an unexpected turn of events! It's been a while since I've worked because I've been in graduate school all this time, and now that I've got a job (even though it's only 30 hours a week), for some reason I am extremely exhausted as soon as I get home. I go to sit at my computer and maybe make it a half-hour into writing before I start nodding off. I leave to do things to try and wake me up, but then I sort of surrender and just go to bed for the night. 

It's frustrating that I'm using up valuable writing time for sleep, so now I'm trying to rethink my Nanowrimo writing strategy, and I'm stumped on what to do to make up for lost time. 

I should be writing 2,000 words a day, and according to one of my emails from Joel Friedlander, in order to meet my deadline I should have a little over 13,000 words completed by now. 

I'm just short of 5,000. (AHHH!)

I don't know if this is a health issue or if I'm just unaccustomed to working and standing on my feet for seven hours daily, but it has me super bummed. Do any of you have any suggestions for making up for lost time? How about time management for Nano?

26 October 2013

My first NaNoWriMo!

Image (c) NaNoWriMo.org
I've known about NaNoWriMo for a very long time, but never had the interest (or nerve!) to even consider participating until now.

For those who haven't heard of the fun, NaNoWriMo refers to November as the National Novel Writing Month,  in which ANYONE and EVERYONE is encouraged to fulfill the lifelong dream of writing a novel...

...in 30 days. 

Since a novel's word count can vary depending on the genre and market requirements, NaNoWriMo has helpfully dictated that the word count requirement is 50,000 words in order to win the event.

Until I enrolled in graduate school, those kind of numbers terrified me. As a playwright, I never thought in word counts, but page counts, and my maximum page count was just above 90 pages to equal a show that clocked in at just over an hour and a half. So a number like 50,000 seemed completely unfathomable to me.

My degree requirement--the completion of a market-ready novel--has changed my perception of the numbers used in fiction. My MFA required me to write a minimum of 80,000 words. My final draft (in Times New Roman, double-spaced, 12-point font) was just over 84,400 words and totaled 248 pages.

After producing something of that nature, 50,000 words (or, 145 pages) seems significantly smaller and more reasonable. Thus I've decided to give NaNoWriMo a shot for the first time in my life, knowing that I've already written a book that beats the 50,000 word count.

BUT!

I have to take into consideration that I had a whopping three years to produce my thesis novel. Much of that consisted of many false starts and unnecessary drafts, as well as "perfectionism" revisions, as I like to call them, where I just hacked away at the manuscript for too long instead of moving forward to the next important thing.

So the challenge of this year's NaNoWriMo is not producing the word count, but being able to LET GO in order to meet the 30-day deadline. And letting go, for a perfectionist like me, will not be easy. I'm used to fixing problems and rereading my work while I'm writing, which is a big time-suck and makes hitting deadlines far more difficult. For some reason I've always thought that if I didn't fix a mistake as soon as I caught it, I'd forget about it and the world would somehow collapse on itself.

The little voice of perfectionism can be pretty annoying!
Image (c) Graphic Stock.
Which is really silly, because the joy of writing is the joy of seeing your words on paper or on the screen right in front of you. So...a mistake that was there before will still be there, waiting happily for you to correct it later. Leaving mistakes (and drafts) alone will likely be my major challenge and what will make-or-break my NaNoWriMo experience.

As for my NaNoWriMo project, it's going to be my companion novel to The Name and the Key. I wrote the first chapter of The Step and the Walk almost one year ago and never came back to the book because I had The Name and the Key to finish for school. The Step and the Walk has been waiting patiently for me to finish it. Now I'm done with school, and I'm going to use NaNoWriMo to help me get back into the book again, and with a clear goal and timeline in mind, the only thing to hold me back from making it is my inability to let a rough draft be a rough draft.

A book in 30 days is supposed to be a huge, crazy mess. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to complete a novel in 30 days. To start at Once Upon A Time on November 1st and finish with The End on November 30th.  That's it. It shouldn't be any more complicated than that.

Are any of you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have any advice to share?

15 October 2013

It's October, but it feels like....

...Spring?

Even though the leaves are changing, we still have temperatures in the late 60s and 70s, and lovely, sunny weather.

And it seems I've also decided to do some spring cleaning. At least, a major organization overhaul. I've been going through my desk and tossing out old office supplies, while installing new organizer compartments to hold the things I still want to use.

I've gone crazy with making lists so I don't forget anything and to do the work in proper order. Which means I'm aware that this website, as well as Writerlicious, is in a sore need of a proper update. I also have six projects on deviantART not related to my comic that I need to work on. My TEFL online classes expire in a month, so I need to hop to it. And I can't keep forgetting that even though I have graduated from Seton Hill, I am actually still enrolled in one course (Grammar Essentials for Fiction Writers) with quizzes and assignments due before every Friday.

The JET Program has finally posted its application for 2014, and everything is due November 26th, so I'll REALLY have to hustle on this. It's a lot of paperwork to go through and I once again have to find people for recommendations. There's also a health assessment you have to take if you have a history of certain types of diagnoses. I was hoping to not be a total fat ass for the assessment, but seeing as how I fell off the wagon with bad behaviors right after I graduated means I have undone, again, a lot of the good choices I made for myself.

Normally I'd find a way to work through everything, even it was up to the last minute, but now that I have a job (part-time and minimum wage, *tears*) I don't have much time to work with like I used to, so I have to take advantage of lists and schedules to try and get everything done while I'm working

Now take all of the above and add on to the list that I'm still trying to be a published author. I'm postponing query letters and the second book just because I'm sick of it, which is really not a good idea...I should be doing something about it at least, but I'm still like "la la la, I'm busy."

Yet I always find that once I go through and de-clutter things, my brain feels shiny and new, and I feel more motivated to take on my responsibilities. It's like a reset, you know?

Here's hoping I make all my deadlines and time-budgeting work!

I'll keep you posted, and I hope with something legitimately exciting next time.

23 September 2013

Creating a Comic Series is Hard.

Image (cc) by Michael Maggs
I've been really lucky, I think, to have had the opportunity to study comics creation in both an academic and workshop setting, learning from great artist-authors like Paul Hornschemier and Wayne Wise.

Because otherwise, I'm pretty sure I'd be completely lost on my project, Son of the Siren. Now I'm only mostly-lost.

Son of the Siren sprouted from my brain in March right when I was finishing up my novel, The Name and the Key.  I was SO TEMPTED to start working on it then, because I was nearing burnout mode on the book, and I wanted to make something else. But I held off.

After graduating from SHU and sending out queries to agents (and beginning the next two books in the series), I did reach full burnout mode and decided to temporarily shelve work on the trilogy. I figure if you're starting to hate your books, you need to pull away, fast.

And thus I began work on Son of the Siren--a project to keep my brain creative, my fingers moving, and fill the nothingness of my schedule while I wait for agent responses and potential employer responses.

I remembered the importance of drawing thumbnails (storyboards) the art for the comic from a three-hour comics module I took with Wayne Wise. I grabbed a GIANT artist portfolio notebook ( 12 x 8 inches), flipped it on its side, and got to work.

At first, I wanted to draw characters that looked like characters. That was the perfectionist in me trying to take over. But I realized when you're storyboarding and plotting, little sketchy shapes will do just fine. It took me a few squares to figure that out, but once I got over myself, (and got messy!) I started working faster.

Starting to ink in Manga Studio, whee!
Image (c) KEB.
After drafting 45 thumbnails, I got a little antsy and tried to get a full-fledged page completed.  It took me about twelve hours to do this, because I am a total newbie and honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time.

I am unable to draw people without using references for their body, so luckily deviantArt has Senshi Stock, a resource of photographs with different poses for artists to reference. I'm pretty sure until I get better, my comic series will be full of Senshi Stock people.

When I draw, I have more of an interest in people than I do backgrounds or scenery. I also am incapable of drawing realistically or clean on any level. For a bit, I beat myself up about this, and being unable to understand things like perspective or anatomy (d'oh!) that "real" artists understand.

But then I remembered Paul Hornschemier's words from the Thurber House workshop: you don't have to be a great artist to create a comic. You have to have a good story. 

Because my self-confidence has taken a bit of a hit lately, I felt like I needed this concept to be validated by my artistic peers. I ran a poll on my deviantArt page asking what people look for when they pick up a comic. 81% said it was the promise of a good story that ensured whether or not they'd give a comic or manga a chance.

I found that data to be very encouraging, which gave me enough of a boost to get the series up and running. I'm happy to say I just completed the first page of the story, which only took... uh...ten hours, maybe? And although I can look at the art and realize that I've made technical mistakes a pro would be able to overcome,  I have to tell myself that I've got a great story here, and my artwork is a bit more stylized, and totally how I do things. Since the comic is a fantasy, I figure I can get away with a little bit more. :)


I'm happy with the first page of the comic. If you're interested in keeping tabs on the story, click the picture and it'll take you to deviantArt, which is where I'll be submitting it. If interest increases, or if enough of the comic is posted, I'll probably expand it to a place like SmackJeeves or Manga Magazine (for free). 

I'll keep you updated on the creative process, and if there's any resources or tips I uncover while I work on this, I'll let you know. 

07 September 2013

Rejections, Rejections

Pikachu knows how it feels.
gif from Kotaku 
Well, readers, the time has come for responses to come in from all of the initial query letters I sent out to agents.

As a recap, my novel, The Name and the Key, doubled as my graduate thesis for my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill.

When the iron was hot I re-proofed the entire manuscript, then fired off a few queries to agents; specifically agents who allowed pages from the book to be sent along with the query.

My first agent rejection was the creme-de-la-creme. Believe it or not, there is a bizarre hierarchy of rejections to receive (since rejections are almost an automatic in the publishing business, especially when you're a newbie), and my first rejection letter was amazing because of the following:

  • The rejection was personalized
  • The rejection contained compliments on the manuscript
  • The rejection contained reasons why it was passed over
  • The rejection contained advice on what to do to as I continue to submit to other agents
The rejection was also sent to me about two weeks after I submitted pages to the agent, which is really fast! After a rejection like that, I felt high as a kite, because this is a "good rejection." It means that the agent was engaged in the work; it means, "you're close, but not quite." For a first rejection, this blew my mind, and I automatically thought, Things will only go up from here!  Poor, naive me started actively believing that life goes in a straight line, and since I got a perfect rejection, an agent would come knocking soon. Writers, please don't be this silly. Try not to expect anything.

The other agents to whom I submitted pages described on their websites that their average turn-around time would be eight weeks or so. After I submitted queries along with pages (larger samples this time: 25 and 50 pages, woo!) I twiddled my thumbs and got back to work on various projects: plotting the rest of The Step and the Walk, doing additional research for the other novels and at last, correcting The Name and the Key for continuity errors,since it will be part of a trilogy. Later I rewrote the ending to The Name and the Key because I wasn't happy with it. And after that, I took my manuscript and had it bound and printed (privately!) as a manuscript just for family members to read since they had been waiting since APRIL to read the book, and most don't have access to digital files.

For proofing The Name and the Key for what feels like the nine billionth time, it didn't matter that my book-bound version of the manuscript looked professional and lovely. Everyone in the family has found a ton of errors I never caught. GRR! After learning of this, I immediately got paranoid that I turned inadvertently sloppy work to agents, and that it possibly could cause me rejections.

This paranoia erupted right around the eight-week mark, where I knew I'd start to get responses from agents. First response back: a rejection. A form letter rejection. On the hierarchy of rejections, this is at the bottom. It means, "thanks, but no thanks." So I started laughing, because now I've experienced the very best and very worst of rejections, and I thought that the next rejections coming should be right in between the two. Writers, please don't be this silly. Try not to expect anything.
(c) Graphic Stock

Actually, I'm still waiting to hear from more agents, so I have no idea what they'll say. This is a healthier way to look at it, I think, instead of trying to predict responses. And usually I take criticism and rejection well, but I'm feeling a bit down because I'm also being simultaneously rejected in another area: employment.

So, Kristina can't get an agent and can't get a job at the moment. When you put those two together, I think my feeling dejected is pretty reasonable.

What's my advice to counter all of this? STAY CREATIVE, STAY BUSY. And maybe weirdly enough, DREAM BIGGER. 

Since I'm sick of my book and have been proofing it and tweaking it far too much, I've stepped away from it. I should be getting on with The Step and the Walk, but it involves the same characters, so the thing feels like the same old, same old. I'm a bit burnt out. It's probably why I keep missing really obvious mistakes in my manuscripts.

To keep myself busy, I'm working on The Son of the Siren, an enormous project that will take up a lot of time because it's a comic series. That means I'm drawing and writing. It's not my book, but it's still creative, and drawing well (including ink and color) takes me much longer to do. I've been working on the book cover, and so far I've devoted ten hours to it. I'm nowhere near done, but it's taking up my free time, helping me concentrate, and keeping me excited with the creative process.

I'm still looking for employment, but since I've gotten rejections for work I thought I'd be really good for, I thought, As long as I'm getting rejections anyway, I should apply for jobs that are a little bit crazier. A little bit more adventurous. There are some writing fellowships I found that I'd like to apply for, which would help me nab the opportunity to teach as well as write. But the most ambitious job I'm considering is teaching English as a foreign language. I signed up for TEFL courses in preparation for this, and my ultimate goal (or maybe just my first goal) is to apply for the JET Program: The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.

Applications aren't available yet on the JET site but nonetheless, I've been preparing myself. I've been studying the history and culture of Japan; researching alumni experiences from JET teachers; talking to friends from SHU who have experience teaching English abroad; and I've been trying to learn to speak Japanese with some friendly iPad apps. And with the help of watching tons of subtitled anime (Yeah ATTACK ON TITAN!). There's enough repetition in dialogue that I can pick up words and phrases on my own. I don't know if I'll ever be able to read anything in Japanese, but I at least want to be able to speak enough to get by, and learn how to read numbers at the very minimum.

Creating a comic series + learning a foreign language + continuing to apply for work in a variety of jobs = STAYING CREATIVE, BUSY, and DREAMING BIGGER.

So, fellow writers, when rejection gets you down, keep your brain moving, your dreams big and your spirits high.  Just keep working!

As always, I'll keep you updated on the agent search, the job search, and the JET program, as well as all of my creative endeavours. Thanks for reading!

14 August 2013

Social Media Kaboom!

Image (c) iStock.
Alrighty, everyone. If you previously recall on this blog, I had a nasty shock of finding a website pretending very hard to be me...I'm still trying to figure out how to take care of this issue and trust me, I've contacted many groups and consulted the ICANN site for digital domain dispute info...my situation's kinda weird so I don't know how much non-legal (aka FREE) help I can get.

In the meantime, it was a call to arms for me to protect my online identity and author persona, so I joined as many social media sites as possible before the fake me could try to be the real me.

I also decided to try out Brand Yourself, a less-expensive option for online reputation management. To help pull attention away from the false website, Brand Yourself will promote links that I provide to them to help boost my search engine results, essentially (and hopefully) burying the problematic website. They've also generated a handy-dandy new online profile that gathers all my online social media together in one spot.

Now that I'm on...uh...TEN (!) social media sites (and will likely join more), another thing occurred to me: the more people who find me on the web, the more I have to do to ensure that I'm promoting positivity, professionalism, and all-around awesomeness. Which means I have to put forth much more effort into this website and all of my other online profiles.

Thinking about all of this makes me a little crazy, but I hope my decision to spread my presence further around the web will pay off,

As always, I'll keep you posted with website and social media news! Thanks, all!



06 August 2013

Voice-Cast Your Characters!

Original image here.
This post is inspired by sci-fi author Heidi Ruby Miller's awesome blog series, CAST YOUR CHARACTERS, in which she gets talented, published authors to visualize a cast list of actors for the characters in their books. It's incredibly fun and one of my favorite things to read on her website.

I thought I'd give my own book a try, but it's difficult for me to find Hollywood actors who resemble the characters in my novel The Name and the Key. So I thought I'd take a different approach and address the question:

What do my characters sound like in my head as I write them?

I thought I'd use voice actors to cast my characters for this exercise so you can get an idea of what I think they sound like when I picture them in my mind. And thanks to my epic anime watchlist,  I've got a large pool of actors to choose from!

Admittedly, the audio quality for these videos is sucktastic. It was very difficult for me to find audio snippets of voice actors where they didn't have dialogue with another character, let alone an example of the type of "voice" they use that would suit the book. These little 10-second videos I made involved me standing close to a TV and recording audio on my iPhone, then smacking that sound to an image in Windows Movie Maker. Since this was really time consuming, I only did the voice clips for the book's leads, although I may update this post as I go. In the meantime I have no idea how to clean the sound and remove interference, so...yup. But bear with me--it's just enough to give you an idea of what I imagine each character's voice to be.

If I had the clout and the means, I'd have a dramatic reading of The Name and the Key instead of a traditional audiobook and hire these people on the spot!

LILY  

Dialogue from the book:  "I was scared when you came to Mariner, because I thought you'd be a total stranger to me, and the boy I met all those years ago would be gone. But he's here. The boy who showed me magic, who pulled me from the marshes, who carried me home in spite of his pain--that's the type of person you are. What you did for Grandma--what you've done for Laney, for me--I don't know how I'll ever repay you. You've helped me in every way, and I'm grateful for it."

Voice Actor:  Laura Bailey


ANDRESH 

Dialogue from the book:  "If  there's no difference between above and below; and if one and all are exactly the same; then anything can be possible. [But] there still has to be order. Nothing out of balance can function for very long. [...] You could call it a law of nature. Everything is created to be in harmony with each other. And if something--if someone violates that order, then [...] Nature corrects. [It] punishes, too. It forces change; but that change ensures harmony. Even if it comes at a high price."

Voice Actor: David Matranga

Let me explain:  I stumbled across Kamisama Dolls, which I had never ever heard of, and impulsively started watching it so I could add it to my Watchlist.  I fell out of my chair when the character Aki Kuga showed up. I'd say he's the most fascinating character from Kamisama Dolls; he's introduced as the villian but as we know in anime, things are a lot more complicated than that; he's also really messed up for some pretty good reasons. Anyway, what blew my mind the most was how perfect David Matranga's voice is for Andresh.  If you remove the snarkiness in the tone of voice he uses for bad boy Aki, it's a freaky cosmic fit. Andresh is in no way a villain, but he definitely has a darkness to him that I think Matranga could work perfectly.  Try to imagine the dialogue quoted above with the audio below. Ta-dah!


LANEY

Dialogue from the book: "Contrary to what you might think, [Andresh is]  not my first love. I know what that feels like. I've liked plenty of boys before, I've just been able to control myself and keep it from everyone. That's why I know that this is different. Because I can't hide it. I can't control myself. I can't stop thinking about him. This is true love!"

Voice Actor: Laura Bailey

Let me explain: Laura Bailey's an incredibly talented performer with an arsenal of voices and acting credits under her belt. The reason why I'd use her again is because siblings sometimes sound similar to one another in real life. To have her use a voice closer to her real one for Lily, and then a younger-sounding voice for Laney, would make it very plausible that the two were sisters--similar enough to be related, but clearly distinguishable from one another.





~*~

The rest of these actors popped in my head but I haven't found audio samples for them yet...I'll update this article with media and character details when I can.

GRANDMA VIOLLCA 

???

KALE   

Jamieson Price (example: his role as the Count in Gankutsuou: the Count of Monte Cristo)

UNCLE ZURCA 

Christopher Sabat (example: his role as Cross Marion in D. Gray Man)

MR. MARXHAM 

Vic Mignogna (example: most of his roles feature a character freak-out now and then, like Spirit Albarn in Soul Eater or Edward Elric when he's impersonating the military in the first Fullmetal Alchemist series. Anyway, the freak-out/silly/tantrum voice is perfect for Marxham.)

ESTELLA 
 ????

DARKLIS 

Jamie Marchi (example: her role as a contractor in Darker than Black)

ZIMINA 

Luci Christian (example: her role as Medusa in Soul Eater)

THE GUARDIAN 

Crispin Freeman (example: his role as Alucard in Hellsing)

~*~

This was a really fun post to put together! And now that I'm working on The Step and the Walk (and plotting a third book with these characters, The Eye and the Storm), I'll probably do additional voice acting posts for those novels, too. 

If you could cast actors (from live-action or voice-acting) to perform the roles in your own book (or your favorite book), who would you choose?  Let me know in the comments!

11 July 2013

And thus ends one of the busiest pockets of time.

Huzzah! I've graduated!
I knew June would be insane...particularly June going into July. But I had no idea how crazy it could get!

Here's what happened:

Colossalcon smashed into Seton Hill, which smashed into residency and graduation, which smashed into a small vacation with family in Maryland. I only just got back yesterday and slept from 6pm to 9am.

I had a great time doing everything, but I feel like I've not had a genuine break since the last week of May, and to be honest, I've done a sucky job of updating this website in the meantime. I'm behind, and I mean REALLY behind, on many posts.

But for the sake of sharing something different (beyond the multiple admissions re: lateness), I'd like to announce that I have my Master in Fine Arts now, and am crazy-happy about it.

Apparently I couldn't keep a straight face during the graduation ceremony and made the same goofy, ecstatic expression over and over again in almost all of my pictures (like the one of me walking up the aisle at the start of commencement).

Let this tide you over until I get caught up on everything. Hope you're all having a good summer so far!

27 June 2013

Hello from SHU!

(c) Seton Hill University
I thought I'd take a brief moment to let you guys know that I'm in Pennsylvania right now, on campus at Seton Hill University in the computer lab!

First day of classes here and everything is good so far. I woke up at 5:30am for some unholy reason, but that meant I had plenty of time to get ready for classes and do homework that I hadn't completed yet.

Probably the most helpful thing I picked up from today's modules is my practice pitch. I got up in front of the classroom and winged what I'd say to a prospective agent and the class seemed very interested in my book, The Name and the Key. I was very encouraged by my classmates and friends, especially since I will be pitching my book to agent Suzie Townsend of the New Leaf Literary Agency. If I do what I did in class today, I think I'll have a positive experience.

In other news, we got our Seton Hill graduating class yearbooks today. They look ridiculously awesome!

My project for the graduating class is our student programs. Seton Hill publishes an official commencement program that communicates the bare bones about the graduating students--our names, the name of our theses, etc.

I made this year's student graduation programs! (c) KEB
The student program goes into a little bit more detail about us. I collected headshots, small biographies, and then had everyone write me a biography of their thesis project. The booklet's like 12 pages long, and unfortunately I worked on it up until the last minute...my poor family had to do all of the work for me, assembling the programs after picking it up from Office Max.

On the plus side, here's a photo of the covers. I tried to do an art-nouveau theme (if you notice, the font is the same one from American Horror Story, tee hee!) that I hope looks elegant and funky.
Meanwhile, I'm killing time in the computer lab until I leave at 5:00pm to listen to my friend Sami read from her thesis, Married to the Wind. 

I know I owe this website SO MANY updates...hopefully when I'm done with school I'll have a chance to get to the fun stuff, like my super-late review of Colossalcon!

17 June 2013

This website is pretending to be me. Help!!!!!

Image (cc) Wikimedia Commons
I must be really climbing the ladder of success if I'm already having people try to impersonate me online.

I do try to keep tabs on my name and my visibility on the web, so imagine my surprise when I Googled my name and came across a ridiculous-sounding website called 

"Kristina Elyse Buttrueke." 

That part doesn't bother me, because obviously it isn't me.

What pisses me off is that the website claims to be "the official website of fantasy author Kristina Elyse Butke" and the person who set it up used my post tags and labels to generate content that could plausibly pass for topics I would write about.

They even use tags for the names of my novels!! Here are some photos of the offending site, with my comments added in red. Click the pics to read:


The site is powered by Wordpress but because it's a registered domain I would have to contact the owner of the website to complain. Worpress doesn't actually deal with content anyway; they're just hosts so that can't do anything.

Of course, the owner of the website has not published his or her info for them to be contacted.

Also, they have disable comments, which also prevents me from contacting them and complaining. 

What truly sucks about this is now that I know people are impersonating me, I am now FORCED to join more social media platforms than I'd like to in order to PROTECT MY IDENTITY.  That means I'm going to have to be on motherfapping Facebook again. 

Puke puke puke puke. 

Has this every happened to any of you before? Do you have any helpful suggestions for me? What should I do? 

16 June 2013

Wie spät ist es?

Photo (cc) by Snuf75x
I'm a little time-scrambled ever since Colossalcon, and things are a little off-kilter as I try to catch up on all the things I've fallen behind on since finishing The Name and the Key. 

Right after my book was due, all of my final papers were due. Then I tried to get ready for Colossalcon in addition to helping out at my cousin's wedding, doing projects for family, and hand-sewing my cosplay.

I feel like I haven't had a real break since April, and I knew June would be a very rough month. We're halfway through it and I'm burned out again!

In TEN DAYS I'll be at my last residency at Seton Hill. In FIFTEEN DAYS I'll have my MFA degree in hand, and then I'll drive to Maryland to visit my sister and her fiance for a few days. Busy, busy, busy!

Here's all the stuff I have to do:

  • Write Colossalcon post (trust me, these posts take me forever to do!)
  • Finish "voice actor" book post
  • Do contest art on DA that I've owed since April
  • Email Writer Toolkits to all the panel attendees at Colossalcon who signed up for them
  • Finish cleaning up my book (mostly editing but one new chapter)
  • Burn it to disc and submit as formal thesis
  • Critique six manuscripts for school
  • Pitch my book to New Leaf Literary Agency
  • Prepare my costume for the Princess Bride Ball at school
  • Finish composing song for animation project
  • Get mentor presents and farewell cards
  • Finish graduation ceremony student programs
  • Respond to all the direct messages I got on dA (like six of them)
  • Follow-up with artists who owe me commissions 
  • Continue storyboarding Son of the Siren
  • Continue writing The Step and the Walk
  • Finish updating this website
  • Review Michael Montoure's book Counting From Ten --I got a free copy and I owe him a review
  • Review Jeannie Lin's The Sword Dancer --I won this from Goodreads and I owe them a review 
I don't know how long all of this will take me, but it definitely seems like I need to get the majority of it done in ten days, which is insanity. 

Wish me luck, and stay tuned for fun updates!

14 June 2013

I owe you guys some updates!!!

Holy moly!!

I've been very, very busy. I can't wait to type up my Colossalcon recap, plus I have some posts in pending that I need to finish and publish...not updating since May is very, very wrong of me!

In the meantime, here's a photo to tide you over until posts of substance take hold:

Male and Female Gankutsuo: The Count of Monte Cristo

Yep! On Friday I ran into a man properly cosplaying Gankutsuou and I had to get a picture with him. He nailed the cosplay--he's very close to the animated character, sans the blue...whereas I'm a creative interpretation of the character.

Don't we look awesome? Many thanks to his lovely lady who took this photo for me from my iPhone.

29 May 2013

Brought to you by the color blue.

Photo (cc) by D. Sharon Pruitt
I don't have a lot of things to post at the moment because I'm trying to finish up Colossalcon stuff, as well as getting to finish reading the books I promised I'd review on Goodreads. But I'm sick and tired of looking at the same old post I've had up for almost two weeks now...

So here are some Colossalcon updates: 

1... I'm doing custom artwork for the Writer Toolkits my panel attendees will receive. Here's the first bit of art, the amazing Alucard from the anime Hellsing Ultimate, who's my representative for the horror genre for Give Good Spec! This is officially my favorite digital work and I think my new personal best. Yay for improvement!

Tonight is Truly a Beautiful Night
by Kristina Elyse Butke (cc) 2013
2... I still have a lot of sewing to do for my Gankutsuou cosplay (nothing is done yet) but I thought I'd do a costume and makeup test-run so I can feel like I accomplished something in that regard. Here it is:

Lady Gankutsuou: The Countess of Monte Cristo
by Kristina Elyse Butke (c) 2013
My hand is up like that to show off the one sleeve I finished...and to hide the fact that I was too lazy to put blue makeup on my neck. It looks white, doesn't it? I used Ben Nye's "Blue Spirit" but it seems to wash out under bright lights. Oh well! I'm pretty pleased, but I instantaneously sweat to death when I put on the wig and the coat. I'm going to have to figure out a way to keep cool somehow!

3... ONLINE SCHEDULE IS POSTED! LOOKEE HERE!

And other news, not Colossalcon-related...

Anime Watchlist: I'm working through Darker than Black at the moment, after finishing Hellsing and Hellsing Ultimate (episodes 1-8 are in English, the final episodes 9 & 10 haven't been released yet, so I've been left hanging! AGGH!). I also completed Kamisama Dolls, which is another series that just "ends" because its second season didn't get picked up or whatever. So...permanently left hanging with that show, too. Grrr. I hate it when I get engrossed in a show that doesn't resolve its storyline properly, blehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Oh, and I also was bored one night and checked out a couple episodes of Death Note, which I like so far but I won't let myself continue until I finish Darker than Black

The BOOK! I am definitely still cleaning up the book. And, as a special bonus as a graduating student, I've been given the option to pitch The Name and the Key to Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary Agency at residency in June. I'm super-terrified about it but I hope something good will come from the experience.

I'm busy, busy, busy but I hope to update again soon with something a little more substantial. Nighty night, folks!