Showing posts with label Beauty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beauty. Show all posts

Monday, January 25, 2021

God, Darkness, & Wonder: An Interview with Byron Leavitt

 This post is synchronized with a simulcast on BlackGate.com (Jan 25, 2021 posting).

Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses.  These interviews engage contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate have included Darrell Schweitzer, Sebastian JonesCharles Gramlich, Anna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg. This one features Byron Leavitt, novelist and game-author for Diemension Games. 

Byron Leavitt is also the author of the bizarre children’s novel The Fish in Jonah’s Puddle (To Say Nothing of the Demon) and the non-fiction book Of Hope and Cancer: One Man’s Story of God, Darkness, and Wonder, as well as the story content for the board game Deep Madness and its accompanying book Shattered Seas (recently reviewed on BlackGate). Byron is currently working on the storybooks for the forthcoming Deep Madness prequel Dawn of Madness, a story-driven horror experience in a board game.

“Darkness. Light. Wonder. Beauty. God. Tentacles. Those who know me best would say that pretty well sums me up.” - Byron Leavitt

Interview Table of Contents/Links

  1. WHAT’S THE SCOOP WITH YOUR ICONIC FEDORA?
  2. BODY HORROR, MUTATIONS & CANCER
  3. FINDING BEAUTY IN DARK PLACES
  4. DO YOU THINK GOD ENJOYS HORROR?
  5. RELIGION IN WEIRD ART
  6. YOUR CHARACTERS
  7. WORKING ON A TEAM, IN A SHARED UNIVERSE
  8. WHAT SCARES YOU? IS IT BEAUTIFUL?
  9. OTHER DARK ARTS, YOUR DRAWINGS
  10. MOVIE INFLUENCES
  11. FUTURE WORKS

(1) WHAT’S THE SCOOP WITH YOUR ICONIC FEDORA? IS IT HIDING TENTACLES?

BL: Definitely. Actually, I never used to like hats. But then one of my characters, who I thought was a really cool guy, wore a fedora, so I decided maybe hats weren’t so bad. I bought a fedora on a trip and have been wearing them ever since. I suppose that’s an instance of life imitating art.

Dawn of Madness - Emily Hawkins Mutations

(2) BODY HORROR, MUTATIONS & CANCER

SE: You went into remission from recurring Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and a bone marrow transplant, which you discuss in your book Of Hope and Cancer. Considering that, and your penchant for mutating characters in Deep Madness (in which characters mutate into tentacled creatures) and Dawn of Madness (in which every character/wanderer has three alternate versions of his or herself; see inset images of Emily and Lynas’s malformations), we have to delve into how your condition affected your writing. Please tell us how your cancer experience shaped your art (nightmares)?

BL: That’s an excellent question! To be perfectly honest, though, I don’t think my experiences there influenced me that much. I know that’s a boring answer, but I was pretty weird before I got cancer. Plus, I really can’t take credit for a lot of the ideas in Deep and Dawn. Roger Ho, Cherry Li, and the Diemension Games team formed the basics for most of the characters before bringing them to me to flesh out.

I can think of one area that may have impacted me, though – or at least skewed me even further in a specific direction. I’ve always loved monsters and felt a strong connection to them, but I think my experience deepened those feelings. People tend to treat you differently when you have cancer (or likely any serious disease or condition). Or, rather, they don’t know how to treat you. You become diseased, unusual, and scary to them. You transform into an outsider, and others lose all sense of how to handle this “new you.” They don’t mean anything by it, and it’s not even necessarily a conscious action, but looking at you is just too close to staring at their own mortality. So, in a sense, you become a monster to them: a cautionary tale that is easiest to deal with if avoided, or a dark specter they know is real but which they want to put out of their minds. I think it’s very likely that this influenced me, drawing me even closer to empathizing with those on the fringes: the outsiders – and the monsters.

(3) FINDING BEAUTY IN DARK PLACES

SE: I post an excerpt from your book Of Hope and Cancer in which you describe finding beauty from places everyone else runs from. Given this, and your passion for horror, can you speak on the appeal of art that many may feel is repulsive? What joy do you get from playing in bloody rain?

Beauty in the Rain: Oftentimes when it begins to rain, I will decide it is time to go for a walk. I will put on my coat and my hat, and as everyone else flees indoors I will step out into the downpour and tumult to begin the trek down our long gravel driveway. I smell the freshly cleaned air. I hear the rain colliding with the leaves, the branches, the road. And I feel the beauty of something greater than me. I find myself steeping in awe, being consumed by wonder. … Don’t get me wrong: I know that the rain is wet and cold and at times even oppressive. I understand why people would want to avoid it. I even do myself sometimes. But I also think that by not stepping out into the rain, by not taking that chance of getting wet, we sometimes miss out on the beauty that is as fresh as a glistering raindrop on a flower.” - Byron Leavitt

BL: I have a dirty secret: my main goal is not to scare people with my writing. (Except for Dawn of Madness – though even that one has layers.) I am much more interested in taking readers to places they’ve never been and filling them with a sense of wonder and awe. Then, any other emotions or feelings accompanying those two sensations are a bonus that comes with the territory. I have heard other authors and creators who I respect say something like this as well. Junji Ito comes immediately to mind (who everyone should read whether they like manga or not.) In the realm of film, Guillermo del Toro has expressed similar sentiments. I think Lovecraft himself must have felt similarly to some degree, which is one reason why I believe his stories still resonate with people despite all the hang-ups and roadblocks that now exist between him and new readers. He took you to places you had never seen before. He stole your breath away first with the setting, the adventure, and the dazzling, wondrous “what if.” Then he crushed your lungs with the massive, incomprehensible otherworldliness of it all when you finally realized what was going on. This is the kind of horror that really gets me: the stuff that causes its reader to say, “Whoa…” before it makes her yelp, “GAH!” And if the two can be intertwined along the way, all the better. (The movie Annihilation is one of my favorites for this very reason.)

I am implacably drawn to awe. I feel like my life’s mission is, in a sense, to cultivate wonder. And I think these emotions are almost always tied to discovery, which very often plumbs life’s uncharted dark fringes. Exploring the unknown can be a truly exhilarating, life-changing (or affirming) experience. But it’s also one of the things that scare us the most. A massive chunk of horror revolves around the fear of the unknown and what exists in that nebulous, uncharted place – whether that place is the woods, the ocean, another planet, a long-forgotten temple, or just in the darkness itself. What exists beyond our solid, everyday walls of concrete and steel? What happens when you peel back the skin of what we perceive as reality and peer underneath? It’s very easy when exploring to find something absolutely breathtaking. But, at the very next moment, that same beautiful discovery can reveal its wild unearthly underbelly and send a thrill of terror shivering down your spine.

Dawn of Madness - Lynas Gershwin Priest Character

(4) DO YOU THINK GOD ENJOYS HORROR?

SE: You have written that you see God as “co-authoring” your destiny/fate. So it seems you have a spiritual god/muse who likes to write. Many may laugh at that, and it is funny I suppose, but many horror writers are not promoting violence or wishing fear on others.  So why would God want to write in the horror genre?

BL: Writing is a form of creation, and the Judeo-Christian Bible starts with God doing just that: creating. And I don’t personally think he was just forming what we would typically consider beautiful: He was fashioning the dark, squirmy things like the angler fish, the eel, and the spider. And I consider that a comforting thought. In fact, when I was growing up, the two things that made me think I wasn’t wholly deranged were deep-sea life and the book of Revelation from the Bible.

Some things are absolutely terrifying to us without being innately evil or devious in themselves: they’re just not a part of our framework or within our comfort zone. For example, the book of Revelation is chock full of uncanny, horrifying beings – and most of them are the good guys. Actually, the stuff in there (as well as in other places, like Isaiah and Ezekiel) is so extreme that some people think I’m borderline blasphemous when I discuss it with them. For instance, there are angelic beings (possibly the Seraphim or their relatives, though they aren’t explicitly named) who are entirely covered with eyes. As in, they have dozens (or hundreds) of eyes blinking all over their bodies and six wings. Plus, only one of them has a human face, and I’m not sure any of them has a human shape. Then there’s Jesus, who is depicted in several ways. One is as a lamb who has been cut open – who also happens to have seven eyes and seven horns. He takes and holds a scroll, too, making me think he must have hands. And it further seems likely to me that he must be standing on two legs as he opens and reads the sealed scroll. Then, in another place, he has white hair that glistens like snow, eyes that burn like flames, a face as bright as the sun, and a literal sword for a tongue. He holds seven burning stars in his hand and, when he speaks, his voice is as loud and layered as multiple rivers rushing at once. “Meek and mild” my butt.

To actually answer your question, though, I don’t know that God so much likes to write in horror as that he just specializes in the strange and unexpected. Having said that, I have often felt like watching horror has brought me closer to God, or at least made me consider the world in a different way. I know that sounds patently ridiculous, but hear me out. Horror is, in my opinion, the genre most likely to step beyond the bounds of normalcy – even more so than science fiction or fantasy (though both of those can and do.) And it’s outside of that space where I am most likely to experience something beyond myself. So, I am more likely to see or consider something that makes me look at things in a different way while watching horror. (This is not always the case, obviously, and it might not even be the truth most of the time. No one has ever had an epiphany while watching a Jason movie, for instance.) It also doesn’t hurt that many horror movies have what I would call a spiritual component. Some are more blatant – and more of a gut punch – than others. The Conjuring films come immediately to mind, and so does The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Or the indie movie Ink. Or the Japanese picture Re-Cycle. Even The Exorcist itself (and certainly The Excorcist TV show.) There’s also the Showtime show Penny Dreadful. Alternatively, in books, many of Stephen King’s works have a spiritual aspect, such as The Stand. I’m not saying these things are common in horror, but they may be more common than in any other genre right now.

Light is most discernable in darkness. So, in my mind, the darkest genre can be a wonderful place to find (or create) sparks of light. I guess I’ve always just seen “wondrous” and “terrifying” as siblings, or two sides of the same coin – much like light and dark. And I can easily draw one out of the other. Furthermore, if the Bible is to be believed, then so can God: “…Darkness was over the face of the deep… And God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

(5) RELIGION IN WEIRD ART

SE: Sticking with the religion theme. Your website has a tab for Weird Church that is awaiting content, and Shattered Seas features an Irish priest with Connor Durham...and Dawn of Madness will feature Lynas! Please discuss how/why you feature religion in your work?

BL: Religion is a huge part of me, and so is weirdness. I felt for a long time like I was living in two worlds: in one I had to fit in a square hole, and in the other I was pushed into a round one. The problem is, I’m more of an octopus shape. Octopuses are good at squeezing into a variety of spaces, but every once in a while they just want to be an octopus. So, Weird Church is going to be my attempt to unite those two worlds. A lot of my writing, too, is really me trying to merge those two realms, or at least play in both at once. I don’t think they have to be exclusive domains. In fact, I think in many ways they are surprisingly complimentary.

Lynas actually was a creation of the team, so I can’t take credit for him. Connor, however, is entirely mine. Whether I create them or not, though, I usually seem to find anchor characters in most projects I work on who can kind of ground me in whatever I’m doing. Connor was that character in Shattered Seas for me. Samuel was that investigator in the main Deep Madness game. And Lynas is probably that wanderer in Dawn of Madness. Beyond that, though, I often try to interweve themes into my stories like redemption and sacrifice, or things that will offer glimmers of light in the claustrophobic emptiness. Those foundational Judeo-Christian bedrocks are what often makes a character and a story compelling to me. That doesn’t mean things always go well: actually, it seems like they normally go pretty terribly. But having those flickers of hope in the darkness and seeing how the characters respond to adversity is, for me at least, what gives the work a depth it would otherwise lack.

There is a mystery, a sacredness, that I feel is missing from our world today. We have lost that weighty sense of Other in our largely empty materialistic lives. I find the wonder, the beauty, we have lost in religion and myth. That isn’t to say I discount science or anything of the like: I love studying science. But I do have a major problem with materialism. It is very hard for something to nourish the soul when it doesn’t believe or acknowledge that the soul exists. I believe religion and the sacred fill that cavernous void left by the yawning emptiness of our materialistic worldviews.  

(6) YOUR CHARACTERS

SE: Which character do you identify most with? The writer in Dawn of Madness?  Connor Durham or Lucas Kane from Shattered Seas? And I need to learn more about Dr. William West who emerges as the most interesting non-playable character and even antagonist in Shattered Seas, the core Deep Madness story and its Oracle’s Betrayal expansion. He obviously resonates with you. Tell us about him.

BL: There’s a little bit of me in most of my characters, and I love just about all of them for different reasons. My favorite for Shattered Seas is probably Connor Durham, though Charles Ryan (the closest I’ll likely ever come to combining Jason Momoa and a Bioshock Big Daddy) is definitely up there, too. After them, probably Min Wang and Mitsuko Takenaka, and then maybe Regan Waite and William West.

William was a creation of the team (as were all of the Deep Madness investigators,) and they had the basic structure for him in place before I came along. But he’s definitely a fun character to play with. Roger Ho (Diemension’s lead designer/creative director/CEO/fearless leader) was a little surprised by how evil William ended up being in Shattered Seas, but he’s always been that level of monster in my mind. It’s always a kick playing with a character who is simultaneously brilliant, deranged, and deluded like William. It’s also fun playing with characters who are in more of a grey area, like Regan Waite. I don’t think I’ve really done more than scrape the surface with her. I’m honestly still not entirely sure if she’s good or evil, and I think that’s probably a good thing.

(7) WORKING ON A TEAM/SHARED UNIVERSE

SE: With Shattered Seas Leavitt extends the world created by the Diemension Game team (with designers Roger Ho, Cherry Li, Chauncey, and Yichuan Wang, whom Byron dedicated the book to… in addition to the KS backers).  How does the creative process work with the team (game designers, artists, writer/you, your backers)? Like, do you have any input on character design or creation, or just the story? Can we expect more novels associated with Diemension Games?

BL: Working with Roger, Cherry, and the gang is fantastic. It’s certainly the best experience I’ve had working on a team. Most of the time, the characters are created by Roger and Cherry and then sent to me to flesh out. I work closely with Roger to make sure the stories are in-line with their vision, and usually put a bit of my own spin on it. One barrier we have is that we live in different countries, so it can be difficult for us all to follow along with every step. But we manage.

As for if there will be more Diemension Games novels, I certainly hope so. We have a lot on our plate right now between Dawn of Madness and Celestial, but I would certainly love to dig deeper into our different worlds in the future if the chance presents itself.

(8) WHAT SCARES YOU? IS IT BEAUTIFUL?

BL: A number of things make me cringe or tense up, but I think the thing that actually scares me is probably the idea of oblivion: Specifically, the idea that, behind everything, there is ultimately nothing but true unending emptiness. I think it’s an easy thing to romanticize and treat as beautiful, and I’ve seen many people attempt to do it. But to me it’s not. By its very definition, it would be cold, empty, and void. It would be anti-being. The very idea of beauty is meaningless there, and so is everything else. I think this should scare every intellectually honest person, and if the nihility itself doesn’t then the lines of thought birthed from its implications certainly should.

(9) OTHER DARK ARTS: YOUR DRAWINGS

SE: Do you practice other arts other than writing (spellcasting counts)? If so, can we share them (i.e., images of fine or graphic art) or mp3s/videos (of music). Likewise, can you discuss how art can from one medium can inform/inspire another?

BL: Ha! I don’t know that I’d call anything I’ve done “fine art.” I create a lot of different things, but the only one I would consider myself even halfway passable at is writing. What makes it even worse, perhaps, is that most of my work outside of writing has been the product of necessity. I don’t know, maybe that makes it more forgivable, but regardless, I’m definitely all about that guerilla DIY and duct tape.

Having said that, I do many things (even if not very many of them well.) I love creating in whatever form presents itself at the time. I’ve dabbled with art, mixed media, book design, web design, graphic design, sculpture, miniature painting, and other stuff. I sing, but I don’t have any instrument that I can say I’m particularly good at. I would love to get significantly better at many of these things I’ve mentioned. I guess time will tell if I succeed or not. Having said that, you asked, so here are a couple of sketches I made for my upcoming book The Fish in Jonah’s Puddle (To Say Nothing of the Demon). Like I said, they’re pretty mediocre. But hopefully the subject matter will at least be interesting.

As far as how different mediums can influence one another, I find that I’m an awful lot like a sponge. When I’m writing, I absorb stuff from wherever I can and then squeeze it back out into the story. Sometimes it’s from a board game miniature, or an art book, or a movie, or a video game. I can’t tell you how many items I ”sponged” for Shattered Seas, but there were a ton, including the video game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, a book of sketches used in Alien: Covenant, both the movie and the book Annihilation, the movies Silent Hill and Prometheus, bits and bobs from Guillermo del Toro, the news (part of it was written during the pandemic’s early days), and a bunch of miniatures (both Diemension Games stuff and others.) Furthermore, I’m constantly listening to music when I’m writing. Interestingly, when I don’t listen to music, my output is almost always significantly lower than when I am. It’s almost like I must have something going in to get something out. I know there are some writers who have to work in utter quiet. I am not one of those writers. In fact, I almost can’t do it.

(10) MOVIE INFLUENCES

SE: Reading Shattered Seas, there is a scene that evoked the 1980 Superman 2 movie with Christopher Reeve. The villains (General Zod, Ursa and Non) were banished from Krypton into a 2D plane called the Phantom Zone. Also, the exhuming of the mysterious, submerged Sphere in Deep Madness reminded me of the 1987 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s “Sphere.” How have movies affected your work?

BL: Oh, man. I almost can’t quantify to what degree movies have influenced my work. They’re huge for me – and for the rest of the Diemension Games team, too. I don’t know that anyone actually has an accurate count of the number of references and influences there are in the Deep Madness board game. I think we regretted some of them later on, specifically when we decided we wanted to go in a more serious direction and expand the game’s setting into its own universe. But it doesn’t change the fact that those influences are all over the place.

Personally, I’m influenced immensely by a variety of directors and films. My favorite director is Guillermo del Toro, not just for his films but also for his take on monsters and some of his views on life and art. I think of him as a kindred spirit in many ways. I’m also influenced by many other directors and films. I love Darren Aronofsky, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, and anyone or anything that is weird and awesome. The list of movies that have inspired me is too long to write down for this interview.

As for Sphere, that reference is certainly intentional, though I’ve tried to steer us away from straight-up mimicry of it. (Whether I’ve succeeded or not is up to others to decide.) Sadly, the Superman 2 similarity is purely coincidental, as I’ve never seen it.

1980 Superman 2 Movie Snapshot

(11) Future Works

Outside of Diemension Games, your website mentions a world of Alayaka, and has a tab for Weird Church. Do tell! Or perhaps stay in the Diemension Games scope and tell us about your part in Celestial or Twisted Fables.

BL: On the personal side, Weird Church is currently a little Facebook group I’m starting for those geeks, artists, nerds, and weirdos who also want to pursue God, wonder, weirdness, and something beyond ourselves. It’s not actually a church, but it is definitely weird. Apart from that, the next novel I’m going to release will be the previously mentioned The Fish in Jonah’s Puddle (To Say Nothing of the Demon), which is a very strange, quirky little book about a boy named Jonah and a talking salmon named Stuart who strike out across the dimensions to stop the demon responsible for eating Jonah’s parents. After that, I hope to release my epic novel Alayaka, which is kind of a cross between dark fantasy, steampunk, body horror, and The Chronicles of Narnia. (A lot of writers have that one book they’ve obsessed over for years, and Alayaka is that for me.) I also have a bunch of short stories I’d like to get out if I can, including one of my favorite stories called “The Dance of the Krakens.” We’ll see how all of that goes.

On the Diemension Games side, our big projects right now are Dawn of Madness and Celestial. Dawn of Madness is a story-driven horror game that we hope will actually scare people (which I’m writing a bunch of books for), and Celestial is an epic game for 1-2 players that I like to describe as a cross between Chinese mythology, cyberpunk, steampunk, Lovecraftian horror, and Game of Thrones. Twisted Fables is a smaller 2 or 4-player fighting game that features reimagined fairytale heroines such as Red Riding Hood the cybernetic assassin and Little Mermaid the harbinger of the Kraken. It’s currently being manufactured. We’re also hoping to expand on our first game, Deep Madness, in the near future.

If you’d like to learn more about Diemension Games’ projects, you can find us on our website at https://diemensiongames.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/diemensiongames. If you’d like to follow me specifically, then you can find me on my website at https://byronleavitt.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ByronCLeavitt. You can also email me at byron@diemensiongames.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Last of all, I just wanted to say thanks, Seth, for the chance to do this interview. It’s been a blast!

Thank go to you, Byron, for sharing!


Friday, August 31, 2018

Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul

Note this is Part of a series:



#3:  Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul (you are here) 

#4) Weird, Dark Art Design: Implicit vs. Explicit Gore and Horror

Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul
Sixteenth century apothecaries sourced both medicine to physicians and raw materials to artists; the former treating souls with medicine, the latter manufacturing their own paint so they could portray the divine (as there were no art supply stores then, nor industrial means to mass produce it).   Artists, alchemists, and early physicians would also convene within the dissection chambers.  Anatomical artists had to grapple with documenting macabre scenes of opened bodies while remaining 'artistic'.  For the dignity of the specimens and to satisfy the surgeons' needs, artists often found harmony by posing their subjects.  Many artists captured or imparted a bit of the lost soul into their dead subjects.  Perhaps most famous are Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina (1491), Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), and Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks (~ 1452-1519).   Recent compilations like The Quick and the Dead and Spectacular Bodies ii are fantastic resources on this subject.
 
The prevailing Church did not permit the dissection of innocent believers, so criminals or 'sinners' were often used.  Then, the notion of the four humors prevailed.  Bodies were considered divinely sacred and were thus difficult to obtain and dissect; those corpses deemed acceptable could not be refrigerated, so one had to work fast!  Nor were there cameras or video to capture the observations!  Artists and alchemists partnered to explore, and document the microcosm of life.  Leonardo Da Vinci provided detailed notes along with his drawings:

"I have dissected more than ten human bodies, destroying all the various members and removing the minutest particles of flesh which surrounded these veins, without causing any effusion of blood other than the imperceptible bleeding of the capillary veins.  And as one single body did not suffice for so long a time, it was necessary to proceed in stages with so many bodies as would render my knowledge complete; this I repeated twice in order to discover the differences.  And though you should have a love for such things you may perhaps be deterred by natural repugnance, and if this does not prevent you, you may perhaps be deterred by fear of passing the night hours in the company of these corpses, quartered and flayed and horrible to behold; and if this does not deter you, then perhaps you may lack the skill in drawing, essential for such representation; and if you had the skill in drawing, it may not be combined with the knowledge of perspective; and if it so combined you may not understand the methods of geometrical demonstration and the method of estimating the forces and strength of muscle; or perhaps you may be wanting in patience so that you will not be diligent." iii
How brutally, and beautifully, clear he was in describing what was necessary to follow his muse.   Corpses were given personality, soul if you will, through artificial poses and theatrical, emotional countenances.  Da Vinci determined through his dissections that the senses were linked to a 'common sense' that led to the brain.  But no actual soul was discovered. He yielded the goal of managing the soul to religion.   Below, from his treatise on painting, he spoke how the artist must deal with this and impart the soul into its subjects otherwise:
"A good painter has two chief objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul; the former is easy, the later hard because he has to represent it by the attitudes and movements of the limbs. "iv 

Interactive Book Link
With the most promising connection to our souls being the senses, it follows that the next great promise of discovery came when the technology of optics allowed scientists to see, and draw, new worlds.  Astronomers were anxious to probe the heavens and documented the heavens; for instance, Galileo's Starry Messenger (1610).  Pioneering microscopists had to capture their views with pen and parchment.   In 1664, Robert Hooke published a large treatise entitled Micrographia, containing an encyclopedia of detailed drawings of his microscopic views.   To have these reproduced in print, each drawing had to be converted into an engraving!  From this, Hooke is credited for coining the word 'cell' to describe the pores in cork.   In his preface, he explains to the reader that optics have enabled a spiritual quest:

The next care to be taken, in respect of the senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with instruments, and, as it were, the adding of artificial organs to the natural; this in one of them has been of late years accomplished with prodigious benefit to all sorts of useful knowledge, by the invention of optical glasses.  By the means of telescopes, there is nothing so far distant but may be represented to our view; and by the help of microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible world discovered to the understanding.  By this means the heavens are opened, and a vast number of new stars, and new motions, and new productions appear in them, to which all the ancient astronomers were utterly strangers.  v
There are two key points: one, the spiritual creative process occurs when artistry, science, and spiritualism coincide; and two, the soul has never found.  Despite how far we see into space with telescopes, or how well we resolve structures with microscopes, the soul still eludes us.  

Ernest Haeckel (1834-1919) was a famous artist-scientist fascinated with the aesthetics of nature and the elusiveness of the soul.  His 1904 set of lithographs Art Forms in Naturevi  brilliantly exhibit his obsession with the symmetrical beauty of biological microstructures, and his extensions into comparative embryology brought him controversy.   He argued this in his support of his own monistic religion that scientific adventures continually uncovered the beautiful designs inherent in nature (monism generally supports that "body and soul" are one connected entity, not separate as many dualistic religions profess):

The remarkable expansion of our knowledge of nature, and the discovery of countless beautiful forms of life, which it includes, have awakened quite a new aesthetic sense in our generation, and thus given a new tone to painting and sculpture.  Numerous scientific voyages and expeditions for the exploration of unknown lands and seas, partly in earlier centuries, but more especially in the nineteenth, have  brought to light an undreamed abundance of new organic forms...affording an entirely new inspiration for painting, sculpture, architecture, and technical art.  vii

In 1900, Haeckel published his scientific, spiritual book Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century in which he explains his monistic philosophies.  Within this he has elegant discussions about the soul's lack of participation in the "Laws of Substance" (conservation of mass and energy); below, he discusses how many related the nonexistent soul to that which is tangible:
Thus invisibility comes to be regarded as a most important attribute of the soul.  Some, in fact, compare the soul with ether, and regard it, like ether, as an extremely subtle, light, and highly elastic material, an imponderable agency, that fills the intervals between the ponderable particles in the living organism, other compare the soul with the wind, and so give it a gaseous nature; and it is this simile which first found favor with the primitive peoples, and led in time to the familiar dualistic conception.  When a man died, the body remained as a lifeless corpse, but the immortal soul "flew out of it with the last breath." viii
Many beautiful rituals evolved since souls could not be truly located or measured after a body died; many myths persist that cannot be readily falsified.  The notion of relics is common across cultures and time. It assumes that the soul is a contagion remaining attached to the body postmortem.  Hence, the power of a Saint could be absorbed if one obtained his or her bones; this gave rise to the theft and desecration of many crypts and catacombs.  Many crypts remain with the bodily relics are on display:  the crypt of Saint Munditia of Munich and the Vienna Imperial Crypts are fine examples.

More bizarre, and beautiful, is the notion that souls could be deified by creating architecture with the bones of the deceased.  Here the artist would convene with the spiritualist in a funerary chamber and temple.  Famous examples include: the shrines of Capuchin monks in Rome and Palermo, Sicily (these catacombs contain 6,000 to 8,000 bodies); and the Kostnice 'Church of Bones, Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary, Prague, (containing remains of forty thousand people); lastly, the impressive catacombs of Paris (l'Ossuaire Municipal) in which several condemned cemeteries were collocated in the 18th century and countless skulls comprise the walls.  
If one can make architecture from our bodies, can one make pigments or paint from them?  Organic matter played a strong role in the history of art technology.  Parchment, vellum, was manufactured from the hides of animals before wood based paper was available.  Size, a gluey substance used to prepare surfaces or harden gesso, was made from boiling skin and bone.  Many medieval pigments were iron based (blue, red, black iron oxides) or were derived from living material (dried blood, sintered black bone, and many binders were protein based (milk casein, egg yolk).   Calcined bone is used as a white pigment.  Gallstones were sometimes used as a source of yellow color in the Middle ages.  Bile was used for some greens.  Caput mortem was a mysterious pigment that may have been just iron oxide or, if the ghoulish rumors are true, powder from pulverized mummies.

If the sourcing of material was a spiritual motivation of alchemical artists, as the Mappae Clavicula indicates, would the sourcing of material for a self portrait be most genuine if the elements to manufacture it were provided by our ancestors?   This notion was in the inspiration for the Inheritance Rite of the Picts in Lords of Dyscrasia.

Petherbridge, D. J., Ludmilla (1997). The Quick and the Dead Artists and Anatomy. Los Angeles, University of California Press.
ii Kemp, M. W., Marina (2000). Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now. Los Angeles, University of California Press.
iii Da Vinci, L., Ed. (1998). The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Oxford World's Classics New York, N.Y., Oxford University Press.  p151
iv Da Vinci, L., Ed. (1998). The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Oxford World's Classics New York, N.Y., Oxford University Press.  p178
v Hooke, R. (2007). The Preface, Micrographia or Some Physiological Description of Minute Bodies. New York, NY, Cosimo, Inc. section d-e
vi Haeckel, E. (2008). Art Forms in Nature - the prints of Ernst Haeckel. New York, Prestel.
vii Haeckel, E. (1900). Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century (Die Weltraethsel). New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers. p341
viii Haeckel, E. (1900). Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century (Die Weltraethsel). New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers. p199


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shedding Light On The Resurrectionist - E.B.Hudspeth Interview by S.E.Lindberg

E.B.Hudspeth: Author & Illustrator of "The Ressurectionist"
E.B.Hudspeth: Author & Illustrator of "The Ressurectionist"

E.B. Hudspeth’s novel/art-book combination “The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black” chronicles an artist/scientist as he “revives or brings to light again (aka resurrect)” a dormant beauty inside humanity.  With a horrific tale complementing beautiful anatomical drawings of hybrid creatures, he invites us to reconsider the boundaries (if any) between man & animal…between art & science.  We appreciate E.B.Hudspeth taking the time to “bring to light” the beauty in his art with this interview:

Motivations & Muses: Did a muse similar to Mary Shelly's affect you? Where you terrified by muses?

With The Modern Prometheus (1818), Mary Bryce Shelly grappled with the themes of Science, Art, and Spirit.   Her character Victor Frankenstein, the infamous artist and scientist, pieced together materials from cemeteries to create life via alchemy.  In her prologue, she described how her muse worked though her:
“My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw-with shut eyes, but acute mental vision-I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.  I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.   Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.  His success would terrify the artist.” - Mary Shelly ~1818

EBH: No, it sounds like Shelly’s muse would have terrified anyone. The whole thing came about as a simple curiosity. I wanted to know how the anatomy of a winged human would work. It was originally a study for a sculpture but then it turned into something more comprehensive. The artwork came first. After I had a pretty clear idea of the art direction, that’s when I worked on the story, focusing on the nineteenth century. I wanted the artist to have believed in this work, not just a piece of fantasy, to me, that’s where the heart of it is. You know immediately that who ever drew this took it seriously and that provokes a pretty interesting question.


The Process of Creation: Did the process of making the book further evolve your own philosophy on art or beauty?  

Spencer Black learned a lot about himself and humanity during his life, especially when he tried to produce new forms.  Did your views of art change as you realized your vision of the book?
EBH: Yes, my views on art are always changing and they change faster than I can improve as an artist. I feel as though the more I learn, the more respect and appreciation I gain and the more I need to improve. One thing I try not to take for granted in art is the history of esthetics. Their origins, the centuries required to refine them and then their tragic disappearance. There are curves and shapes and line weights that can be lost if we don’t pay attention. Looking back into the 19th century to research certain styles was a wonderful thing to do and a little sad. I am proud of my penmanship but it is nothing compared to the ornate flourish and decoration used commonly in letters.


E.B.Hudspeth: Author & Illustrator of "The Ressurectionist"

Art vs. the Artist: How much of E.B. Hudspeth is reflected in the character Dr. Spencer Black?

We know Dr. Black struggled to reveal dormant/recessive beauty to the public.  The below quote from Spencer seems to echo your motivation: 
"I hear them marvel at my work—my indignant science. I hear them call out in fear of what they see. And there are some gentlemen who doubt what I will tell them. They call me a liar and a charlatan or a quack. But in time the methods of science that I now employ to convince people will surely set them free—alas, this I cannot explain to the angry fools."
I assume you see beauty in the horrific drawings you produced (I do); how do you respond to those who need help seeing the beauty?   Can you help “bring to light” awareness. 
EBH: I am not sure how much of myself comes out in a character. There are certainly going to be things that I write that I am relating to personally. I think it’s common to feel like there is something special and powerful within us that we have a difficult time expressing. Dr. Black is giving the world something that he feels is no less valuable than food, but they won’t eat. I think this sense of rejection is something we all feel at some point in life. 
I wonder if beauty is only in the eye of the beholder. I am not trying to convince anyone. We all love different things and it would be terrible if we all agreed on what beauty was. I personally love the shape and form of organic life. Every specimen is a beautiful mystery, visually and intellectually.
I wanted the artwork in the book to play out as a character. You never really sympathize with Spencer Black until you see his drawings. It isn’t the context that makes you understand him, it’s the sincerity. There are things that artwork can do that other mediums cannot. The same is true for the other mediums i.e., music, writing, dance, etc., they all have their special traits.

  http://ebhudspeth.com/
E.B.Huspeth: Author & Illustrator of "The Resurrectionist"

Bounds of Humanity: Where does man begin and animal end?

There are real life analogues to the fictitious Spencer. Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) comes to mind. A dedicated, philosophical scientist with outstanding artistic skills, he documented thousands of life forms and published his beautiful plates in “Art Forms in Nature” (translated from German: Kunstforman der Natur). But then his fascination with Art-Nature caused an uproar when he tweaked his drawings of embryos in 1874. 

The setting in “The Resurrectionist” is ideal for redefining the nature of “man.” The turn of the 19th century was rich with advances in evolutionary theory, science, and even speculative fiction. Anatomists, philosophers, and scientists ruminated on how far to extrapolate Darwin’s assertions. Most understood that all vertebrates shared a common skeletal structure; but if animals and man were connected in their development, was it not reasonable to reconsider the existence of creatures termed mythological? Were centaurs real? Harpies? Demons? Spencer Black needed to know. You seemed to use him to lure us on this quest.  So, are there distinctions between man and animal?  

EBH: To get into the real scientific answers to this question you would need to ask someone else, someone far more qualified. I am happy to offer my observations, whatever they are worth. Your question is where a lot of the story was able to breathe. The oceans, so vast and mysterious and still unexplored… what lives in it? Today we entertain the possibility of weird or imagined creatures living somewhere in the world, image what it was like 150 years ago?

Anatomically, it is astounding what similarities occur in animals. The bones following remarkably similar patterns, hands become wings, feet become elongated lower legs etc. Eyes, teeth patterns, and reproductive systems all follow predictable rules. Among all of the animals there are a great deal of similarities. Scientists like Ernst Haeckel were amazing for their times. He did doctor his own work, which isn’t uncommon, especially if you believe in the work and its future— competition was fierce, as I am sure it still is today.

The nineteenth century was a good place to exploit the questions of what is the true origin of man. A question that we still aren’t 100%. It’s that 1% uncertainty where doctors like Spencer Black look for answers.
As far as distinctions, they exist in everything. This is how we quantify our world, we measure and name and make distinctions—there is nothing wrong with this. The danger is when we place values on everything.


More Art: Are there more resurrections in the future (i.e. more horrors to shed light on)? Can we expect more history of the Black family to be revealed?

EBH:  I am working on a sequel. It’s taking longer than I had hoped, but that’s only because I am very excited about it and I want it to be right. There will be more about the Black family. The first book was written and designed with a sequel in mind.
Stay tuned by following this site and checking out the author's website: http://ebhudspeth.com/

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Art, Beauty, and Fantasy Fiction: An Interview with Janet E. Morris

I have been fascinated with many Horror/Fantasy writers' view on the themes of "Beauty" and "Art" (see essay Undercurrent of Dark Muses in Weird Fiction ). In short, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, R.E. Howard...even Edgar Allen Poe...wrote essays/letters in which they professed their fiction as being Art with a level of Beauty. For them Beauty was defined more of an emotive-experience rather than something "pretty" or related to "sex/gender." These authors are interestingly (a) all men, and (b) rarely wrote about heroines, or from the female perspective.  

Via the Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads-com, I engaged author Janet Morris (JEM) about these themes. JEM has pushed people's expectations of sexuality and the role of women in fantasy fiction since 1976; she has since published more than 20 novels, many co-authored with her husband Chris Morris (including the Sacred Band of Stepsons of the Thieves World series; she also created and edited the Bangsian fantasy series Heroes in Hell).  She is still writing, recently contributing to Writing Fantasy Heroes: Powerful Advice from the ProsIncidentally, her expanded editions of her Sacred Band books are being re-released now (Video Trailer).  She frequently interacts in the Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads-com, which is currently running a Groupread on Heroines (everyone is invited, so feel welcome to join).  Her below comment suggested she had a lot more to share:
"Men in woman-suits do not women make, and the novel's purpose in the world is to create story to carry forth common values and shared ethos; when those values are deformed, and that deformation taken for true, we all suffer." Janet E. Morris - 2013
JEM kindly agreed to an interview and simply overwhelmed me with her response.  She is a font of information, and her responses should appeal to readers and aspiring authors (incidentally, Alexandra Butcher recently posted an insightful, interview with JEM on a broader range of topics).  She shared loads of insights and inspirational messages, I highlighted a few in blue.  Thank you JEM for your continued passion for writing, and for sharing your philospohy on Beauty and Art in Fantasy Fiction:  

  1. Were you aiming to recast/redefine the definition of beauty at all in your work? If so, would the Silistra series be the most representative? Link to JEM's answer-1
  2. How exactly did you strategize writing fiction featuring a powerful woman without pandering to stereotypes (i.e. chic's in chainmail) or making her wear a "man-suit"?  Link to JEM's answer-2 
  3. Have you ever thought of your own fiction as beautiful art? Link to JEM's answer-3 


Intro) JEM: Art is the process and Beauty the goal

Herein we’ll briefly explore Art and Beauty in fantastical literature, which may include fantasy and horror for purposes of discussion, not only historically, but how this single core issue is changing today: is Art and its associated Beauty still a valid goal in modern fiction, despite the vast quantity of fiction written by those aiming to capture the lowest common denominator of readership?
1) Was Estri & Silistra strategically conceived to create a new sort of female hero?
JEM: When I wrote High Couch of Silistra, I was twenty-five and loved being female; my body and mind were my laboratory, and I wanted to write the book I couldn’t find to read: not a book that was a clumsy attempt to treat a woman as a man, or as an enemy or competitor of men, or as a victim of men, but as someone powerful in a different society for genetic and political reasons; a protagonist whose sensuality and sexuality are at the heart of her world, and whose travails are self-created, so that I could explore the genetics of behavior: Estri, protagonist, is a courtesan and an adventuress, but not a sword-swinging hero tougher than any man around her. The books explore the differences and complementarities between men and women and the exercise of power, both personal and societal; they aren’t about a man who happens to live in a woman’s body. The Silistra Quartet is well discussed by Kaler in The Picara, where she compares the Silistra Quartet to the Picara model, from which it does purposely diverge.
My strategy was simply to write a book that spoke for a unique viewpoint, not for the “woman’s movement” (who were offended that it diverged from their politics) or the conservative male-backlash audience. Like Disraeli, I always write the book I want to read. In Silistra, all stereotypes are turned on their heads; emotion rules; sexuality is sometimes graphic as it pertains to power among and between sexes: it’s a book about people balancing free will against their hard-wired natures, not about women in man-suits or men in woman-suits. At the end of Wind from the Abyss, the third in the series, Estri’s counterpart Sereth reminds us, “We are all bound, the highest no less than the meanest.” Human extravagances and limitations are what, for me, Silistra is about, but it is not a series for the erotically-averse, or the intellectually timid.
Boris Vallejo - High Couch of Silistra Cover
Vallejo - High Couch of Silistra Cover Art
None of our heroines have ever worn chain mail:  Estri's chains are on her wait and sometimes on her writs; Shebat Kerrion, our science fantasy heroine of the Dream Dancer/Kerrion Consortium trilogy, is a newcomer to the space-faring culture where she wanders and a catalyst for change; the various Sacred Band of Stepsons heroines include Jihan, who has scale armor and a few supernatural powers appropriate to the daughter of the god of wind and wave; Kama has leather and linen armor, just like the men she serves among  (she wants to be a man so her father will respect her, but is a poet most of all); Cime wears god-forged armor or doeskin leathers, is a sorcerer-slayer by vocation, is also picaresque, and rules Tempus' heart and by extension, the Sacred Band at times.  It's not their weapons or outfits or special powers that make them heroic, but their goals and deeds, hopes and dreams.  When I saw the Boris High Couch cover for the first time, I was insulted that anyone could have derived the brass bra and Gucci boots image from my work. 
(this next paragraph is paraphrased from her Goodreads.com comment): I was a fine arts major in school. My first cover was the Boris High Couch, commissioned by Bantam for High Couch of Silistra. I didn't think it matched the description, so I got Bantam to arrange for me to talk to him and request changes (feathered wings to non-feathered, etc). He didn't like that. So we changed to someone else thereafter. I had always loved the Frazetta covers, and in Germany I had Chris Achilleos for the German versions of the Silistra series, then Frazetta for the German Tempus. But now that I have cover control, I'm choosing Rubens and ancient art that truly moves me. The new cover for Tempus, and The Sacred Band cover, and the Beyond sub-series with Rubens covera, are pleasing me because I can look at them for hours and always see something that evokes the heart of the stories within. Matching books to cover, when centuries separate book and cover creation, has been an adventure. Strangest experience was finding the three Rubens we're using for Beyond Sanctuary, Beyond the Veil, and Beyond Wizardwall and realizing that each of those three paintings fit one of the three books nearly perfectly.
SEL asks whether I’m aiming to recast/redefine the definition of beauty in my work and, if so, would the Silistra series be the most representative? The answer to that is simple: like everyone concerned with writing Art, I am always striving, always hoping to improve, always experimenting, pushing my limits, trying to reach Homeric heights – but for me in my time, not by copying him in his. What is most beautiful about literature as Art is its ability to transport, to materialize a vision, whole cloth, in the reader’s mind, and I’m still working on doing that. The most representative of my books is probably my most recent novel, written with Chris Morris, The Sacred Band, grappling as it does with what is common to all, and unique in some: taking hold of mythos and ethos, sexuality of every sort, and exploring power and emotion at their best and worst. My favorite of my books is  I, the Sun, biographical novel of Suppiluliumas, Great King of Hatti, because his own words set my soul afire, and the task – flavoring my style with his writings, creating a relative chronology, and bringing so many historical people to life – was unparalleled in its demands on my ability. My favorite science fiction book, Outpassage, written with Chris Morris, is my greatest success so far with writing a group of futuristic, strong, heroic and villainous female characters.

My female characters, no more or less than my male characters, speak for themselves, not for a grand plan to redress centuries of perceived grievances, or to be role models for a future of retributive bile, where men and women are retaught their roles, and those roles are precisely the same. If, indeed, Art is the process and Beauty the goal, and if ‘common values’ can still be transferred to future generations through literature, then only reality and its study can yield fantasy worth reading, and making women into men and men into women won’t have my desired result: a book that satisfies me, since I must go first into any adventure I write, and live there. 
2) Have you ever thought of your own fiction as beautiful art?
JEM: My answer is simple: Of course I do. And of course it is valid to consciously strive for greatness in any art-form, and literature most of all, since literature carries our culture forward, gives voice to our inner selves most directly, speaks for us in no uncertain terms to a future yet unformed.  I think of my own work as a search for Art and strive for beauty in every line: for power, lyricism, brutality, mythos and ethos, and I do this by invoking character, not diatribe. 
3) Is Art and Beauty present in classic fantasy?
JEM: Certainly each man’s essays and letters (i.e. from Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, & Poe) reveal their intent to create Art with a level of Beauty in their fiction. Consider these among other writers equally persuaded that they were writing Art with Beauty. The Western Canon, and back to the earliest myths of Gilgamesh, give us fantasy and horror stories with Art and Beauty: since these are ‘literature’, we don’t refer to them as Horror or Fantasy anymore, despite the faeries in Spenser, the witches and ghosts in Shakespeare, the devils and demons in Milton.

Art with a level of Beauty (where Beauty is emotional impact and Art is a process of transcendent composition) does not exist in every piece of fiction, but it exists in many more fictions than today’s pernicious genre-fication would lead one to believe, or the ghetto-izers of literature would prefer. However, look sharp: if the book is really good, people will not call it Horror or Fantasy very long. For instance, is Moby Dick Horrific Fantasy? To me it is. Does Conan carry the flag of fantastical creation forward, and even include the emotional context and kick necessary in Art? Absolutely, although the non-Howard Conan stories written by others so far do not.

If Art is, as Zola famously observed, life seen through a temperament, then Howard’s Conan is Art. The spare prose and raw power of that work stimulated many to try to copy it whole cloth, resulting in a cripplingly limited vision of how Howard emplaces impact that has created a genre of crude imitators. No matter: Conan can take one’s breath away, and replace it with his own. The loaded style of Poe is peerless, in his darkly forsaken world, as much an echo of New England’s own inherent darkness as of the phantasms he evokes. Arthur Conan Doyle observed through the mouth of Sherlock Holmes that: ‘Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.’ Writing fantasy (whether one may become the next Dante or Poe or Homer), or reading it, requires imagination, and creating Art and Beauty is the goal of an informed imagination.

Now, what do we mean by Beauty? The most beautiful line I have ever read is from Hamlet: “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” In Poe, it’s “Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore! Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’” Howard stabs for your heart with his Beauty, evoking a barbarian soul in “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women”, but consider Howard’s “Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky. But Crom is your god, Crom and he lives in the earth. Once, giants lived in the earth, Conan. And in the darkness of chaos, they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered. And the Earth shook. Fire and wind struck down these giants, and they threw their bodies into the waters, but in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel and left it on the battlefield. We who found it are just men. Not gods. Not giants. Just men. The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one – no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts.” In my own work I can show you my strivings for Art and Beauty more easily, since I know it best: “The chapel is dim, full of the god. So many of Tempus’ own ghosts are here. He bows his head and greets them one by one. Shades and revenants from years gone by crowd in, murmuring like the dead he carries in his heart. A gilded chariot gleams in the chapel’s soft light: a prop for a show he disdains, in these days when it is so hard for him to keep man and god separate, distinct from one another; when so many, many wraiths come with him, walk with him, ride with him from battlefield to battlefield, war to war.” or: “Woe betide the soul who loves too much, wants too much, dares too much. Soon now comes the hour of doom for some, victory for others.”
"Beauty requires that we breathe into our characters a unique view of the human condition, and show how that character experiences and suffers the world around him (her)."  Janet E. Morris - 2013

So where does Art reside, and where Beauty? Art is the process and Beauty the result. These together reside in the totality of thought; in the dark of the soul; in the voice of your Muse and, finally, if you are very lucky, on the page. If you are male or female, and writing fantasy fiction today, are you at an advantage or a disadvantage in the marketplace? The answer should be ‘no,’ but now and previously, may be ‘yes,’ depending on how separate you can keep yourself from political correctness and societal pressure to write trite stereotypes, not characters. Is the first great fantasy writer “J” from the Old Testament? Probably. Harold Bloom thinks “J” was female, and says so. What makes Bloom think so? A lifetime of scholarship. I recommend to you his “The Book of J” so you can find out for yourself. Where does the Art and Beauty reside in the Old Testament? Try the oldest translation you can find of the ‘burning bush’ scene. Homer’s Iliad, the most male of tales, changed the world because Alexander of Macedon considered its treatise on war-fighting so much his inspiration that he carried it with him on campaign. Before the Iliad, the myths of powerful women in Greek, and before them in Hittite and Egyptian and Akkadian mythologies, abounded. After Homer, the age of early male heroes increasingly defined literature, but these heroes were aided and abetted by female goddesses, muses, nereids, all more powerful than the men who served them. Then came the inscription at Delphi: “Keep woman under rule.” Why? Perhaps women sibyls and rulers had abused their men, perhaps the warlord overcame the sorceress. After Constantine and his New Testament redactions, modern patriarchy took hold with a vengeance, eradicating not only the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, but much else that made women and men equally important – in the eyes of literature, at least.

"Today, the writer, be that author male or female, makes a choice, at the outset: to reach for greatness and challenge an audience, or even change them; or to please a common denominator of audience by writing a familiar tale told artlessly. It is rare to attempt both, even rarer to achieve both.
So why try for Art and Beauty, when what most people want is a short, easy read, simple and direct? For some, Art is its own reward, and Beauty brings Art to the life in the mind. Before these art-seeking souls today, a wilderness stretches: many more craftsmen exist than artists, and the good, invariably, is the enemy of the great." Janet E. Morris - 2013






Thursday, February 10, 2011

Anatomy: Lessons from Aikido, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Monks

Aikido
Could I become a better artist by being thrown around like a sock puppet?   Newby Aikido students (myself included) quickly gain a new perspective of anatomy as they attempt to "roll properly"...only to flounder like a fish-out-of-water.  Being more aware of posing, posture, and balance is allowing me (to my surprise and delight) to enhance my approach toward composing figures.

In Cincinnati there is an local interest in Aikido, a martial art that focuses on rolling, momentum balances, and defense rather than stereotypical punching and kicking.  At the World Fantasy Convention 36 in Columbus this past Oct. I introduced myself to a local fantasy writer Stephen Leigh Farrell  (author of The Nessantico Cycle and The Cloud Mages Trilogy) -- a coworker teaches Aikido with him so I had a story to introduce myself.  Stephen  was clearly as enthusiastic about "throwing" people as much as he was encouraging them to write.  Turns out, another co-worker/friend of mine teaches Aikido so I signed up and am being thrown on a weekly basis now ("I am so a white belt" as my niece once said proudly about her own martial art expertise).

I am far from being an Aikido expert, but a key to "proper rolling" seems to be considering your body a set of axes (a "x") such that you can roll across one of them (thus limiting damage to your spine and transferring momentum across your body).  Below I illustrate this by sharing an image from the oft-reference book of Westbrook and Ratti called Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, an illustrated introduction: I draw over the image of a man rolling with  primary and secondary axes indicated.


This "primary and secondary axis" approach toward understanding and composing figures is nicely explained by Jim Pavelec (fantasy illustrator and author of Hell Beasts, a guide for drawing evil creatures).  I met him also this October in Columbus at theWorld Fantasy Convention 36 .  In his Hell Beasts book he details "Gesture" as:
"Gesture, or the overall movement and pose of a figure, is the foundation of any good composition, giving your drawings the fluidity and force necessary to capture the viewer's eye.  You can set the mood for an entire piece by first laying out a simple gesture drawing consisting of only a few lines...There are two types of gesture lines: primary and secondary.  The primary gesture line is the fluid mark that runs along the figure's centerline.  For example, when looking at the humanoid figure from the front, the primary gesture line goes from the head, through the center abdomen, then to the pelvis, where it sifts into either the action leg or the weight-bearing leg....Secondary gesture lines,or rythym lines, are lines that flow through the form connecting secondary body parts such as limbs, tails, wings, and tentacles..." p14

This zombie is about to roll!
http://www.jimpavelec.com/books/hell-beasts/