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!


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!

16 May 2013

How 'bout a quickie?

(cc) by Robert van der Steeg
I just properly looked at a calendar for the first time in a few weeks and realized I don't have as much time to work on things as I'd like.

Family and friends are waiting for a copy of my manuscript to read and I'm still going through it and correcting the mistakes I discovered after submitting it to my mentors. If they were small issues, I'd let them slide, but they're not, so I've got to clean it up.

Friday I have ten pages due for residency for workshops. Because I'm graduating, it's optional for me to submit, but I want to--it'll be the last time I have eyes on my work at SHU. Problem is, I don't have anything to submit. So I need to write something FAST in order to get it turned in the end of this week.
Looking good, but so much work to do still!
Photo from my Twitter stream

It's also three weeks until Colossalcon. I'm making progress on my cosplay, but I'm not sewing fast enough.

Probably what should concern me more is the fact that I don't have any of the writing toolkits put together for my panels yet. Those are very time-consuming to make but for some reason the cosplay is my priority at the moment and I'm "la la la" about everything else. I have to finish decorating the coat, make the cravat, and then sew lining into my cape (which I don't know how to do, exactly).  Blehh!

I'm behind on Deviantart again. I owe contest art to people still, plus requests...and I'm back to being 10,000 messages behind.

And probably the most important thing I need to do above all else: continue writing The Step and the Walk.

The list goes ever on and on....

13 May 2013

Fantastic Settings & Real-Life Inspirations: Mariner

My novel, The Name and the Key, is set in a fictional universe that really is an echo of our own. I wanted the setting to be plausible and realistic for the reader in order to accomplish the suspension of disbelief integral to speculative fiction. I've taken inspiration from real-life places I've loved in order to create the world of The Name and the Key.


Mariner is the main setting in the novel where the protagonist Lily Camlo lives with her family.
The Lower Quarter faded into the dark rocky cliffs on which Mariner was built, as well as the ancient stone wall that surrounded the town for centuries. It was a strange, smoky smudge of a city...until you got to Highgate, that is. The streets criss-crossed each other as you climbed further up the wall of rock, and as soon as you passed through the barbican, you ended up on the white-stoned esplanade that circled the rosy-hued homes of Mariner's upper echelons.

The Lower Quarter 

South Street Seaport
Images from Wikimedia Commons (I, II)
I'm originally from Queens and am lucky to have spent so much time in NYC over the years. One of my favorite places to visit is the South Street Seaport. It's basically a little touristy spot, with shops and restaurants, which I don't really care about. I'm there for the history.

There's a unique buzz of life that I find permeates seaports and coastal towns, and I'm sure the ocean plays a major part of it. But there's something about older buildings and great ships against the lovely background of the sea that gets me in the heart every time. I LOVE places like this.

So it's only natural that Mariner would take a good deal of influence from South Street Seaport. The larger ships are docked here (clipper ships, schooners, sloops, etc.) which has helped me visualize the kind of ships that are mentioned in the novel: the Djullanar, a two-masted schooner, Derceto, a frigate, and the Atargatis, a three-masted schooner.

The historical buildings at South Street Seaport, now filled with higher-end shops and boutiques, have shaped how I imagine the layout and construction of the shops in Mariner. In the book, the rows of shops face the ocean and piers directly, as opposed to a side street like the one shown in the photo.

The color scheme for the buildings of the lower quarter came to me from Tenby, Wales (Dinbych-y-Pysgod for all my lovely Welsh speakers out there). I proudly lived in Wales for a term at university and visited all over the country and nearby England. Tenby was one of my favorite places to visit--I think I stayed there three times at least--so the majority of my inspiration for Mariner comes from Tenby.

Old Stables off of Julian Street, Tenby.
(cc) by Ray Jones
There are little spots in Tenby where the stone is colored with green doors or green shutters. I never made it to the stables near Julian Street, but noticed the color scheme for the first time walking along the stone walls. My friend and I found a round door we lovingly called "The Hobbit Hole" and later found out on a ghost tour that it's the door to the old town mortuary and the area on the walkway leading to it are the Dead House Steps. Nice.

The Lower Quarter color scheme is nothing but dark stone (closer to the slate houses in Blaenau Ffestiniog)  and green doors and window shutters. All of the buildings of the Lower Quarter are connected like row houses and are identical to each other.

Tudor Merchant House, Tenby
Image (cc) Robert Edwards
In my book, Lily and her family live in a merchant house with a store that takes up a little more than half of the first floor. The inspiration for their home came from a visit to Tenby's Tudor Merchant House. When my mother visited me in Wales during my spring break, I took her to Tenby, and she chose the Merchant House as one of the places we should visit while she was there. The three-story house dates from the 15th century (!!) and is an example of the type of living space a merchant during the Tudor period could afford.

My book doesn't outwardly state the time period, but it is modelled after the Regency period in England, so any historical clues I drop point to that era. Even though the Tudor Merchant House would be far too ancient dwelling for Lily and her family, in my mind only the exterior of the building resembled the Tudor Merchant House. The inside would be much newer and larger, closer to something from the first decade of the 19th century.

The photo of the Tudor Merchant House is more like the back end of Lily's home. The rear entrance would lead straight into the kitchen, and a set of stairs just outside of it would lead to the second floor, where Lily's father Kale and her grandmother Viollca would have rooms. Lily and her sister Laney would live on the third floor in their own rooms, and each floor would have their own bath.

Rose & Co. Apothecary
Image (cc) Betty Longbottom
The front of the house would face the pier and the sea, and would also house the family's shop, Bellamy Mercantile. The store has a little bit of everything in terms of material goods, but the family prospers the most from the sale of silk for the Season, the peak time for tourism in Mariner.  During the Season, many parties, dances, and concerts are held, the most fashionable being held at Highgate. Everyone is expected to wear new clothes for the balls during the Season, so Bellamy Mercantile sells silk for gowns.

The storefront for the Rose & Co . Apothecary is one place in this post I actually haven't been to, but it's the best example of what the Bellamy Mercantile storefront would look like. The Rose & Co. Apothecary is located in Bradford, England. Sadly, I never made it anywhere near these places when I went abroad, but thanks to the goodness of Wikimedia Commons, I was able to locate a photo that best resembles the Bellamy Mercantile I see in my head.


Tenby also serves as a major influence for Highgate, the upper half of Mariner where the rich live. References in the book to an ancient wall that surrounds the city, the barbican, and the esplanade, all come from Tenby.
Images from Wikimedia Commons
Just like Tenby, Mariner is built on rocks and cliffs high above the sea. But in the novel, Mariner is one of the largest cities in the country, so the land mass upon which the city is built is substantially bigger and taller, with more structures and ships than any photo of Tenby could depict. Tenby's population is around 5,000, while the fictional city of Mariner has a population of about 100,000, comparable to the population of London in 1801.

The Holburne Museum, Bath
Image (cc) by 126 Club 
Moving from the Lower Quarter and up into Highgate makes for a somewhat significant climb up the hill via narrow winding streets.  The area is gated once the esplanade is reached. The barbican gate must be crossed to get into Highgate, and then the architecture significantly changes. The streets are of white stone, and the buildings are predominantly pastels, mostly rose-colored.

Highgate's buildings resembles the Georgian architecture of Bath, England, which I visited when I lived overseas.  What a great city! For those who read Jane Austen, Bath was the hot-to-trot place to visit during the time period, and her books reference the city often.

I stayed mostly in the historic parts of Bath, near the cathedral and the old Roman baths and the Assembly Rooms, so I didn't make it to a place like the Holburne Museum. Nonetheless, this photo is a perfect example of the Georgian architecture that comprises the fictional area of Highgate. Plus, this was the pinkest-looking building I could find (although I think when you enlarge it the color looks a bit more golden) out of all the photos of Bath I looked at.


Stay tuned for our next feature, which discusses another important setting in The Name and the Key: Rookwood, and its real-life counterparts!

10 May 2013

Douglas Clegg's "Neverland"

The April 2010 Cover.

The Darker Side of Childhood;
 The Darker Side of Imagination

Douglas Clegg's Neverland weaves together a story of family secrets,  the loss of innocence, and unfettered imagination in a unique Southern gothic masterpiece.

When I read Neverland, I thought of another work of dark fiction, Brom's The Child Thief. The Child Thief utilizes J. M. Barrie's' Peter Pan as its source material, and reimagines the titular character as an impulsive, troubled,  violent young boy who steals children away to a Neverland that resembles our darkest dreams. When Brom explained his reinterpretation, he noted that when he read Barrie's Peter Pan,  the Boy Who Never Grew Up was  a joyful, plucky childhood trickster who also had elements of cruelty and an occasional thirst for blood. 

"Here is a quote from the original Peter Pan," Brom writes on his website. ''The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out […].' Thins them out? Huh? What does that mean? […] How many children had Peter stolen, how many had died, how many had been thinned out? Peter himself said, 'To die will be an awfully big adventure.'" 

If Barrie's Neverland is the place of enduring childhood, then it's reasonable to assume that joy and playfulness will exist there eternally, as well as cruelty and danger. Douglas Clegg's Neverland is a work that speaks to the harsh truth of childhood:  children can be cruel, deadly, and dangerous, and a child's imagination can accommodate both the beautiful and the obscene.

Neverland opens with ten-year old Beau, who travels with his family every summer to Gull Island, North Carolina, to vacation at his Grammy Weenie's decrepit Victorian house.  The vacation serves as a family reunion every year, where Beau's parents, grandmother, and sisters share the house with his aunt, uncle, and cousin. Except every year, tensions between family members grow stronger, everyone argues with each other, and relationships start to fall apart.

The "Peter Pan" of this story would be Sumter, Beau's cousin and a young, peculiar boy who has christened an abandoned shed in the forest "Neverland." It's the ultimate clubhouse--isolated, filled with old junk and trinkets, superstitions, and an air of mystery.  And its number one rule is no grown-ups allowed.  It's the perfect safe haven for Beau and Sumter whenever the adults squabble and drink; a place they can truly call their own. 

When Sumter invites Beau to Neverland for the first time, it's to share a secret. Sumter claims he has found "god" in the shed, a spirit he calls "Lucy." From that moment on, the book dives into an intense, disturbing journey where childhood games become dark rituals, dreams become nightmares, and a child 's imagination knows no boundaries. 

Clegg is a master of characterization and creates an authentic voice with his depictions of Beau, Sumter, and the other children in the novel. He absolutely nails the dialogue between these characters. I never once doubted their age or their behavior, and I felt a sense of youthful nostalgia when I read their interactions with each other. 

"Rundown Shack" (pd) by Oven Fresh
Beau and Sumter are well-rounded characters, and although Beau is the more sympathetic of the two, I still cared for Sumter even though he is more emblematic of the hyper, mischievous child who doesn't know when to quit. It's hard to love or pity a child who should be kept in permanent time-out; the fact that I cared for Sumter despite this is a tribute to Clegg's ability to give his characters a sense of depth and humanity.
The suspense and tempo of the novel is well-measured. Between scenes of genuine horror are small moments filled with micro-tension, courtesy of the messed-up family dynamic in Grammy Weenie's house. There's a constant sense of unraveling at work here, so the stakes always feel high; there's always something to lose. 

But the horrific moments are truly memorable. Neverland  has conjured images I will never  be able to forget. A child's imagination is of the purest kind, in that there is no agenda or logic or rules--it is unadulterated thought and emotion. To construct nightmarish visions with that same kind of purity leaves me breathless. I can't stress how genuinely freakish and bizarre some of the imagery is in this book, images that grew from the mind of a child…images that grew from the mind of an author who is aware and open to the power of a child's mind.

Neverland  is a haunting work that explores the darker regions of childhood, of play and ritualism, and the pure, limitless power of imagination. When there are no boundaries--when there's no such thing as Never--anything can, and will happen.

Update: Author Douglas Clegg  found my review and shared it on Facebook! *fangasm*

02 May 2013

The Name and the Key

Lily and Andresh: Butterfly Touch
by Valsharea (c) 2013
I'm pleased to announce that my first novel, The Name and the Key, has been completed and submitted for approval as my graduate thesis at Seton Hill University. The book clocks in at 83,263 words with a grand total of 386 pages.

About the story

When Lily Camlo discovers her mother's body in the marshes, she violates the ancestral taboos of the dead, enabling a horrific curse that follows her through mirror and glass. Six years later, Lily reunites with her childhood friend Andresh, a powerful magician in his own right. He may hold the key to breaking the curse, but his own secrets may destroy them both first.

About the genre 

The book is dark fantasy, a genre that blends elements of the fantastic with elements of the horrific. It is a genre that seeks to promote specific emotional reactions from its readers: the sense of wonder, and the sense of terror. As a sub-genre of fantasy, it must dwell in a realm of impossibility, where things that cannot happen in our world are fair game in a fantastical one. In dark fantasy, however, there is the additional requirement of taking a reader to hidden places that may frighten them, disturb them, and challenge them

I write dark fantasy that takes its influence from fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, for which I've had a lifelong adoration. My stories are character-driven with an emphasis on personal relationships and self-discovery; often the personal journey will be the recognition or reconciliation of the darker, hidden aspects of the self. Horror and the supernatural; magic and religion; love, sex, violence, and fear--nothing is off limits. And yet darkness is nothing without light--the further into the shadows we go, rest assured that there will be some light at the end of the journey.

 About the author

KRISTINA ELYSE BUTKE was born in Flushing, Queens but grew up in Ohio, where she still resides. She started writing for the theater at an early age, and made the transition to fiction as a student at Seton Hill University, where in June she will have completed a Master of Fine Arts in their renowned Writing Popular Fiction program. This is her first novel.  

01 May 2013

The Next Book Adventure: Looking for Agents

from Public Domain Pictures
My first book is finished and I don't want to sit on it. I've learned the hard way that taking a "break" pretty much makes life harder for me as a writer by...oh, let's say, 300%. I started formatting the manuscript to make a special .pdf for my friends and family to read on their eReaders, and as I sifted through the text I found SO MANY MISTAKES that I want to scream. I duplicated chapter numbers as many as four times. I had numerous tense shifts in the text. There were continuity errors that I didn't catch after removing substantial chunks of the novel, so my characters referenced things that no longer happened.

While I clean up my manuscript for the millionth time, I'm going to query literary agents. This terrifies me. 

I shouldn't be so intimidated, but I am. The query letter is your one shot at grabbing an agency's attention. Most agents won't even look at a manuscript unless your query garners interest.  So no pressure, right? 

Here's the thing. I am quite confident that when an agent reads my manuscript, they'll enjoy it. But I doubt my abilities to draft a strong query to get my foot in the door in the first place. 

from Writer's Digest Books
Last night I opened up my fresh copy of Writer's Digest's 2013 Guide to Literary Agents and grabbed a highlighter, specifically looking for agencies that were open to receiving queries regarding fantasy novels. I have to admit, after reading over and over again "Does not want fantasy or science fiction" from the majority of agencies, I began to feel a bit discouraged. I spent hours sifting through the book, and through hundreds of pages, the majority of agencies are not cool with receiving speculative fiction queries. 

I'm trying to be optimistic about it: Hey, it means you'll have an easier time going through the list. You won't have to query hundreds of agencies!  But at the same time, the agencies that were friendly to fantasy authors either weren't open to cold queries or admittedly "rarely accepted work from new authors," preferring recommendations from other agencies and publishers first. 

How is a new writer supposed to get their foot in the door? It feels like there's so much working against me, but I can understand at the same time that publishing is a business and they have to be very careful when they takes risks on newbie authors. I know that there's a lot financially at stake, and publishers have been losing money for a while. It's a strange, new world where change is the only consistency.

I'm going to keep trying though. Every agent listing offered the same advice: "Don't give up. If it's good, we'll want it." As nervous as I feel, I know that agents want success for writers as much as they want it for themselves. They're not out to discourage new writers; they are just seeking a mutually beneficial partnership. So I know exactly what to do--I'll keep querying when I get rejected, and I'll make sure that what I submit is my very best, cleanest work. 
Image (c) iStock

The game plan is to start at the "impossible" and work my way down the list. That means I'll submit queries to the bigger agencies first, like The Knight Agency or Donald Maas Literary Agency. I know that my chances of getting in are slim, but there's no harm in trying. Then I'll go further down my list and submit elsewhere. I'm definitely not ruling out new agents, either. I'm trying to cast an open net and see who grabs first!

The other thing that I'm working on has come up over and over again from agents in the 2013 Guide: the writer platform. I've also heard this phrase over and over again throughout my graduate program at Seton Hill. A writer platform is basically a construct of your author identity and how you make that identity to visible to others. It's your marketing campaign for yourself in addition to your work. 

Why does this matter? Again, it goes back to finances and risk. You are helping yourself, your agent, and your publisher out by establishing a presence. With so many books (published and self-published), it's hard to get readers to find out who you are and to get them to look at your work. Writers are expected to market themselves as opposed to the good old days, when publishers used to do that for you. There's just not the same kind of money to work with anymore. So it falls on you to do a lot of the work yourself. And that's where the writing platform comes in.  

From Webdesignledger.com
Free icons here!
I'm slowly but surely building a presence for myself online. I've been working this website for a while, but I also realized (through my grad school program pushing me) that I needed to get reacquainted with social media again. I took a significant absence from it (like five years!!!) as I tried to work through some of my health stuff. But in order for people to see me, I have to put myself out there. Here's what I'm on so far:
I have the best website presence (that includes interaction with the public) on deviantArt, this website, and Twitter. I'm still looking to grow.  I want to avoid Facebook as long as I can, so I'm thinking the next place I'll go is possibly Tumblr. I also hope to submit my website to more listings and databases to drive more traffic here. 

The other thing that's an important part of your author platform is building your visibility through public interactions. That means conventions and conferences! I'll be at ColossalCon for my second year teaching writing panels...this is what you should get out there and do. I'm hesitant to apply as a panelist for major conferences like World Fantasy or the AWP, since I'm a noob. 

If you don't have a lot of experience, the best place you can get practice is at awesomely fun pop culture conventions--think along the lines of Comic Con or Otakon. Every state, and almost every major city, has their own version of these types of conventions. They're especially great if you write sci fi, fantasy, or horror, because those genres are thoroughly represented in anime, gaming, and comics. There's no publishing requirement at these cons--you're chosen on the strength of your panel outline, followed by any background you wish to include with your panel sub. 

You have the greatest opportunity to network with fellow attendees and fans, you gain valuable experience as a public speaker, and great practice with teaching writing workshops. I can't recommend it enough. I love ColossalCon and am thrilled to be back this year, and I hope have it become my go-con every year and make a piece of it my home.  

All of this--querying, building an author platform--takes a lot of work, but I know that it can be incredibly beneficial, especially for new authors. If people know who you are, then they'll be more interested in what you do. And if you don't have experience when you look for an agent, at least you can show them you're taking the writing life seriously by already working with publicity and marketing. If they know you're working to build an audience, then they'll know you're in it for the long haul. 

I'm super nervous about all of this. Please wish me luck, and as always, I'll let you know how it goes on my author journey!