Baby’s First Author Event

Following the photo shoot, the author was heard to shout "now give me back my goddamn whiskey, or you're getting written into the novel."

Following the photo shoot, the author was heard to shout “now give me back my goddamn whiskey, or you’re getting written into the novel.”

As previously advertised, yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of speaking at VCU on a panel about research for creative writing. The weather here wasn’t blizzard-in-Atlanta bad, but the university opened late, it was cold, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we’d had no attendees at all. Instead, there were more audience members than panelists. It was like a dream come true. The panelists warmed up by swapping stories with each other about encounters with vermin, after which historical and market research were a breeze.

My co-panelists were a lively and interesting bunch, each with great tips and stories to tell. Lindsay Chudzik talked about how much is too much, up to and including a detailed discussion of when and how to engage with seedy hotels, and what they can teach. Mary-Chris Escobar discussed writing close to home, as well as dropping a lot of knowledge about what’s actually involved in becoming your own publisher. Mark Meier talked about the treadmill of freelancing, and he warmed my librarian heart by talking about using both microfilm and government documents to add verisimilitude. Sarah Pezzat detailed deep-diving into your subject and interviewing people, as well as talking about when and why it is appropriate to taste-test celluloid.

Like a lot of things in life, it didn’t start with a flourish of trumpets or end with a crash of cymbals, but it was the first event where I appeared as an author with billing. Of course, given it was at the university where I work, I was juggling hats a little bit, but I’m getting more comfortable with that. On which note, let me don one more hat and say that if you’re in the Richmond and want to learn about self-publishing, check out JRW‘s January Writing Show, Great Expectations: The Realities of Self-Publishing, at The Camel at 6:30.

For the curious, here’s the flier we used to advertise, along with a few basic research resources: rev.handouts.

Research for Creative Writers

If you’re in the Richmond, Virginia area tomorrow, January 29th, come to VCU and hear writers talk about their research! Lindsay Chudzik, Mary-Chris Escobar, Sarah Pezzat, Mark Meier, and I will conduct a panel discussion on using research in both fiction and non-fiction creative writing. Free and open to the public. At VCU’s University Student Commons, Forum Room, 907 Floyd Ave, at 4:30 p.m. Curious for more about research & writing? Check out this post about research by Mark Meier.

The Art of Making Magic

This week my vocation and my avocations synchronized perfectly when Charles Vess came (back) to Richmond to speak at an event hosted by the library where I work. He spoke at the Grace Street Theater to a large, enthusiastic crowd of people from around Richmond and the region. He talked about his development as an artist and illustrator, his loves and taste as a reader, his time as a student at VCU, the joys and pains of making art before you become successful (and what happens when you do), working with Neil Gaiman, and many more things having to do with making art.

The talk was accompanied by a wide array of images, some of his work and some of his past; my favorites were his personal work, blown up to screen size. I love seeing the work of artists in their full power listening only to their muse. Afterward I bumped into a friend who said that it was the best lecture he’d ever seen at VCU. While I haven’t been a student there, I’ve seen many lectures, and his conversational, open, and direct style of address made for a great evening.

Questions from the audience included such topics as how one can succeed as an illustrator, his favorite Miyazaki films, what he finds inspirational or restorative, the nature of contemporary illustration, and more. I asked about his views on drawing from imagination versus drawing from life. I’d misunderstood something he said about using the real world in his work (some leaves, etc.), and he said that he does not, in fact, draw from life. He studies and is inspired by nature, but he doesn’t want to get all of the information onto the page. This was a comfort to me on many levels.

Over the last year I’ve been studying painters and draftsmen who most work from the model or direct observation, have been taking art classes that revolve around the same, and have been reading art instruction material that slants that way, too. That actually goes double for fantasy illustration. In an effort to bring naturalism to their work, many illustrators and artists of the fantastic use techniques that are closely tied to academic painting and 20th century illustration practices. This is all well and good, and I appreciate those methods and the works produced using them, but I do sometimes get restless working from observation. The painting I’m working on right now is in some measure an homage to Erol Otus, and while I could use maquettes, lighting, etc., I’m mostly painting from my imagination.

I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with Vess before the event, and I did my best to say concisely what his work has meant to me. Long story short, aside from appreciating his work for many years, I ran across photos of his studio on Terri Windling’s blog at a time when I was doing (same as it ever was) too much soul-searching about writing vs. making art, and how to integrate the two. Seeing photos of his studio was like a swift kick in the ass from a monk at the end of koan, reminding me that the two need not be separate. I bought a pile of books at the event, having forgotten to bring Sandman, etc. stuff along, and he was kind enough to inscribe & draw on the flyleaf from Drawing Down the Moon.

Drawing Down the Moon by Charles Vess

Inscription & drawing on the flyleaf of Drawing Down the Moon