An interview with Shannon Valentine

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Shannon Valentine does some of the most beautiful fantasy art I’ve ever seen. If you have one of my bookmarks, you’ll recognize the style; she designed and created them for me. She also did some drawings “from the notebooks of David Evans,” my artist character from Finding Zach, which I was able to give out at GayRomLit last October. I have hopes of maybe getting a cover from her one of these old days…!!

Please welcome Shannon Valentine…

Okay, since I’m a writer and I get this question all the time, I get to ask you: Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are all around me.  I find them in books, movies, magazines and art.  I sometimes actively search for ideas by looking around me and seeing something that interests me.  Most of the time the ideas just come me.  It can be very random – ranging from a tree’s silhouette to cracks in the sidewalk to people interacting with each other.   I’ve had very casual doodles turn into finished pieces by just letting my hand keep moving and building up a drawing.  As the drawing builds, so do the ideas.  Those are the most fun.

What draws you to specific themes and ideas?  How do they reflect your dreams and personality?  What inspires you?

I’m hugely inspired by nature and fantasy. I’m both a dreamer and idealist.  The ideal world exists in fantasy.  Science fiction, fairy tales and mythology helped me become the well-rounded geek I am today.

I love watching things grow.  It’s both fascinating and beautiful.  Nature as a theme can be so broad so I search for meanings in things like flowers and animals to focus more on an idea.  For instance, butterflies have been associated with the human soul and are featured in many of my works.

The human figure is also a central theme in my art.  Since the figure is usually central in my work, the natural world around them have to relate to them somehow.  Since this world is usually some fanciful, ideal world, I include elements that would be construed as ‘fantasy’. Color is very important for establishing the mood.  Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always associated blue with ‘fantasy’.

How old were you when you decided to be an artist?  What made you think that this was what you wanted to do?

I honestly cannot recall a time when I didn’t consider myself an artist.  As a kid, I would tell people that I would grow up to be a children’s book illustrator or Disney animator.  I still have the spiral notebooks that I would fill with my fantasy drawings.  I took art classes on the weekends.  I doodled constantly.

I eventually earned my BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  And through the years, my career has led me down many diverse paths but I’ve always turned to art.  It’s just in me.

Your art is so airy and delicate.  What kinds of materials do you work in?  What makes you pick one method or another?  What is your creative process?

My current tools of the trade are watercolor and colored pencil.  I love the soft, translucent quality of watercolor and the textual qualities of pencil.  Both mediums allow me to layer color upon color and build up the surface.  I enjoy the somewhat meditative process of building up these layers.

I’ve been focusing more on watercolor this past year due to the very unforgiving nature of the paint and my need to master this medium.  On the other hand, I find pencil work to be very easy to control and less stressful.

For all of its airiness, some of your pieces have a darker esthetic.  What are you trying to say with these darker, edgier pieces?  Are you planning more in this style, or are these inspired by something particular that speaks to you at the moment?

I’ve always been attracted to dark art.  I remember as a kid standing in the horror section of our local video store just so I could look at all the gruesome cover art.  I have a somewhat morbid sense of curiosity.  Horror fits perfectly in my fantasy world.  The ending to any horror story is always happy.  I like this.  It’s both thrilling and romantic.

The first artist to really influence me as a child was Eyvind Earle and his stylization of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  The film’s look was must darker than any cartoon I saw at the time – very gothic.  I never outgrew my love and attraction to that very graphic, angular, gothic, dark look.

And some questions about you.  What kinds of hobbies do you have, and do they contribute to your art?  How?

I’m an active member of the SCA, a medieval recreational group.  I’ve adopted the persona of a 14th century scribe.  The scribal arts allows me to continue to create decorative, detailed work and learn a bit of history, too.  I’ve met so many wonderful and creative people in the SCA (including my husband, Jay)!

I also love working in my gardens.  I’ve been building up my flower beds with each passing year.  I can’t stand being inside the house between the months of March and October.  In the summer, I’m constantly out around the house checking up on my ‘babies’ and keeping their beds free of grass and weeks.

What is your favorite TV show or movie?  Why?

I can’t really say I have a favorite TV show or movie.  I’m currently enjoying the constant running of NCIS on TV.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seasonal runs of the following shows: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Star Trek Next Generation, Frasier, X-Files, and Miami Ink.

Favorite movies are Disney’ Sleeping Beauty, The Last Unicorn, Poltergeist, Ghostbusters, Lord of the Rings trilogy, all the Harry Potter Movies, Star Wars episodes 4-6 (to name just a few)

What kind of books do you like to read?  Do you think they influence you as well?  If so, how?

I love a good mystery!  Historical fiction and manga also take up a good portion of my shelf space.  The very visual qualities of manga definitely provides inspiration.  When I’m reading, I’m in the author’s world.  I get drawn into the story they are telling and I carry away from it a different viewpoint and a myriad of feelings.  When I’m working on my art, I’m then in my world, which has been shaped by these experiences and stories.  Did I also mention how much I love a good, happy ending?  J

Can people buy your stuff?  Where?

Yes! You can find me on Etsy:  www.ShannonValentine.etsy.com

My professional website: www.ShannonValentineArt.com

I can also be found at art shows throughout the year.  I announce upcoming shows on my Facebook Page:  www.facebook.com/ShannonValentineArt

Thanks so much, Shannon! And best of luck with your shop and shows!

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Posted in Views, News and Interviews | 3 Comments

That sinking feeling…

Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  I don’t know why I care, except that it gives me a title for this post, which I otherwise wouldn’t have, since it’s not really about anything. I’m just writing so I can avoid working on The WIP That Will Not Die. Two years, people! Two years I’ve been working on this book–or rather, avoiding working on this book. I am determined to finish it by the end of May at the latest. I sort of promised it to a publisher way back last fall, and am feeling very guilty about it.

     I reread it up until the part where it starts to go off the rails, and I like pretty much all of it to that point. I don’t know why it’s taking so long. I like the characters, I like the writing, I like the story, and I pretty much know what’s going to happen. WHY is it being so difficult? Every time I start to work on it it becomes a matter of… look, a squirrel!  Roadblock.

     This weekend I’m getting officially apprenticed to Sarafina, a Laurel in the art of sewing. The idea is for me to actually get better at pattern-drafting and period sewing techniques. A lot of SCA garb gets made on the machine, which is fine, but I like hand sewing, so I’m trying to work on the period styles. I want to make a Tudor outfit using solely period techniques. The only problem with that is it requires I make a corset to fit me.

     I am so not a corset type. I don’t want to wear a corset. Roadblock.

     Seems I keep running into them. Or maybe, it’s really an issue of me putting them up. Probably a pshrink would say I’m afraid of failure or afraid of success, when really I’m a fred a staires. (rimshot)

     The editing process for The Florentine Treasure, the novella coming out June 1st from Dreamspinner, continues apace. I sent in the form for the cover art (which isn’t custom cover art, since it’s only a novella) and the picture that inspired me. I wish they could include it on the cover, but it’s Michael Stipe from REM.

     Here it is.

He looks exactly like a Renaissance angel to me. Amazingly beautiful. It’s an old picture from when they were first getting started, so naturally he no longer looks like this, but boy, was he something back then.

     So, that’s what Giacopo looks like, except his eyes are jade green. You’ll read more about him when The Florentine Treasure comes out. Hopefully.

     ‘Til then, I’m going back to writi… LOOK! A CHICKEN!!

 

Posted in Bookstuff, In progress, Rambling, SCA | 1 Comment

Oh, I forgot…

     Did I mention I’m a little frantic today?

    Anyway, I meant to mention that Finding Zach is now available as an audiobook through Dreamspinner Press. It’s also being translated into German, as well as Spanish, Italian, Pig Latin and Esperanto.

     Okay, I’m lying, but I won’t tell you what about. 🙂

Posted in Bookstuff, On Zach | 4 Comments

I love traveling… oh, wait. No, I don’t…

     I travel probably at least as much as the average person, though probably not more in total miles, as most of my travelage is weekend trips via automobile to various SCA events. But every once in a while I get to Travel–that is, turn my fate over to total strangers who may or may not have my safety as one of their priorities. That’s not the part that bothers me. No, what bothers me is getting to the place where I turn my life over into their hands.

     Going to NOLA for GayRomLit was more fun for me because I traveled by train, which was simply a matter of calling a cab to drop me off at the local Amtrak station, a trip of about twenty minutes (well, thirty-five, because for some reason the cabbies in the suburb tend to take on more than one passenger at a time, so we had a couple of stops in between. Fortunately, for reasons I shall explain later, I allowed myself extra time. If I had been driving, it would have been twenty minutes or less) and walking into the station hauling my hellaciously heavy suitcase. I did not have to stand in line in my stockinged feet while my back took up its throbbing refrain and my arches sank slowing into the west. I did not have to empty out my carryon bags into insufficiently large dishtubs, displaying my collection of shampoo and moisturizer to the wide world. I didn’t have to stand in front of an x-ray machine and wonder if my fat rolls would hide my naughty bits from the leering TSA agent. Nope, I walked into the elderly adobe train station, sat down on an equally elderly wood bench, and chatted with the station agent through her plexiglass window, which she’d decorated with hand-lettered announcements and pictures of her grandchildren. It was nice.

    I didn’t go through the usual panicked hysteria pre-trip with that one; I could focus on organizing swag (not enough and too much) and making sure I had enough to entertain myself for the 19-hour ride. I didn’t have to worry about the fact that for some reason, although the TSA strictly forbids gel insoles on airplanes, almost every insole on the market has gel in them–at least the ones that have a hope of actually helping my aforesaid fallen arches. Amtrak, like the honey badger, don’t care. I didn’t have to worry about checking a bag and having it get lost, or trying to cram everything into two too-small carryons. I didn’t have to get there two hours early (although I was almost an hour early, but That’s Just Me).

     I have this weird terror of being late for anything. I like driving places because I can control the timing of my arrival–sometimes within four minutes of my estimate. When I first started working downtown a few years ago, having to adhere to a train schedule made me nuts for months until I got the routine down. As it was, for the first couple of years I would always try to make the earlier train just in case I ran late. Most of my life runs that way–I am almost always very early for events. This is why I carry my Kindle with me always–because when I’m an hour early for something, I can always find a quiet parking lot to read in. But being early isn’t the only thing. I need to know that things will run smoothly, that I will be prepared in case of strange things happening to disturb my meticulous plans.

     Tomorrow I’m flying to New York for the Rainbow Book Fair and a workshop that Dreamspinner is putting on for its authors. JP Barnaby is traveling with me, and I have sent her into paroxysms of hysterical laughter with my “preparations.” Which include printing multiple copies of every possible associated piece of paperwork, packing and repacking three times, going into frantic mode about the bus station we will be traveling to O’Hare (O’HARE!!!) Airport from (I never fly out of O’Hare. Midway’s bad enough, but O’Hare is a Sartrean vision of Hell), and, last night, having a complete meltdown on Twitter. Oh, and did I mention I have been up almost non-stop since 4 am yesterday? Yeah, insomnia is one of the other side-effects of air travel.

     And the silliest thing is that I am packed and ready to travel (well, except for coloring my hair, which I’ll do tonight, just before I take the sleepy pills so that I can sleep straight through until 4 am–again–when I have to get up to travel to the bus station). I’m organized and have everything possible I might need–if the plane gets hijacked through an interdimensional wormhole and we have to survive on roasted airline peanuts and the contents of my carryon.

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Bonus post

My God – two posts in two days?!!  I must be sick. Or something. But I’m not, I’m fine. Well, aside from the upset stomach from taking too many Excedrin yesterday battling a severe case of FMS, but that’s over now, and I’m feeling better. Except for the stomach. But anyway, that’s not what I’m posting about.

     (At least I’m in better shape than my poor Aunt Bunnie, who fell Tuesday and broke her arm and dislocated her shoulder. A normal person would have sat on the concrete and called for an ambulance. Nope, Bunnie is a Finley Girl, and they do not admit to pain. So she went home, and refused a trip to the ER when my brother wanted to take her. Then she went to the Urgent Care place the next day, and they SENT her to the hospital. That’s Bunnie. She’s home now, and allegedly comfortable, although she wouldn’t tell you if she wasn’t.)

     A couple of announcements – I have FINISHED the time travel romance short story that is due the fifteenth, or at least the first draft of it. Sadly, about 3,297 words are going to have to be cut. I will do that this weekend. I’m waiting to see if my beta reader can review the rough draft so I can see if it’s worth working on. I think it will be, with some clean up. It’s a bit art-history heavy, but that’s what it’s ABOUT, so…

     ALSO!  I am officially registered for GayRomLit 2012, to be held in Albuquerque October 18-21st. (I forgot to mention that the other day in discussing my upcoming travels. How could I forget that???) The lovely and delightful JP Barnaby will again be my traveling companion, and we will probably do some kind of author event together. Gay porn stars may be involved. (Hers, not mine, but what the hell.) We have a little time to work something up. There will be lots of stuff going on, and I’m really looking forward to it. Registration is limited to 400 and tickets are going fast!!

     And third, but no less important, I got an email today that said that Kindred Hearts is entering the process of being translated to Italian. This is nice enough news, but it came on the heels of my finishing my story (set in Italy) and reading a CupOPorn post written about living in Rome (also in Italy, for those who have been living under a rock or, you know, were educated in certain public school systems in the U.S.). So there is definitely an Italian theme going on here today…

     Maybe I need to book a trip to Italy, too…

Posted in GayRomLit, In progress, Kindred Hearts, Rambling | 1 Comment

Where the heck did winter go?

Okay, not that I’m complaining, or anything, ’cause I’m not stupid, you know. And frankly, cold weather plays billy-hell with my fibromyalgia, so cold winters are horrendous. But it’s going to be fifty-five degrees tomorrow, the last day of February.  In Chicago.

     It’s been like this all winter. On New Year’s Eve, I went out without a coat.  On February 2nd, it was 60 degrees. My gas bill, usually about $300 by now, is $113. I think the water I keep in my car most of the rest of the year has frozen exactly twice.

     We still have March to go through, but for now I’m liking this milder weather. I hope it keeps up so when I go to New York for the Rainbow Book Fair at the end of the month I won’t have to wear a bulky coat on the plane.

     Speaking of which–one of my New Year’s resolutions–actually my ONLY resolution–was to travel less. So far this year I’ve been to St. Louis and to Kalamazoo, will be going to New York at the end of March, and in November–Turkey. Yep, Turkey. I’m skipping Pennsic this year, but that’s still a lot of traveling for someone who said she was going to travel less. Oh well. That’ll teach me to make resolutions.

     But…  Turkey!  This is going to be really awesome. Me and Mom, exploring the Topkapi Palace, and Hagia Sofia, and Troy and Ephesus and Pergamon–where they invented parchment!–and Anatolia, which I guess is just a region of Turkey but for some reason like “Istanbul” and “Samarkand” fills me with visions of romance and mystery. Hopefully I’ll get some story ideas out of this–or at the very least, a hella lot of pictures.

     But first, I gotta get rid of this plantar fasciitis…

Posted in Rambling | Leave a comment

Bad Blogger Blues

I admit it. I am the world’s worst blogger. The whole point of these things is to keep sort of a daily journal or something, isn’t it? A log, like the Captain’s Log on Star Trek. Or the one that that Julie person did about making all the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook. I have that cookbook–well, I have The French Chef and Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1, and I think it was one of those. I bought them for $2 each on the sale rack at my library and it turned out that she died the same day. I don’t cook AT ALL, so I think my purchase of those books is what killed her. Sorry. Couldn’t have been because she was like ninety or something. Anyway, I don’t cook but I love cookbooks. I bought someone who shall be nameless ’til at least after Christmas the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook and had a real hard time giving it to him. I may have to buy a copy myself, if only for an offensive weapon. I think it weighed about fourteen pounds.

     And why isn’t “til” a valid word? I mean, come on. Who says “until” every time? And having to remember to put that stupid apostrophe in front makes me crazy. And I tend to be a grammar anachronist, so that’s saying something.

     So, anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, being a bad blogger. I’ve probably lost the three subscribers I did have, but if not:  “Hello!  Happy Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, Happy WhateverYourHolidayIsIfAnything!  I aten’t dead yet!”

     That last is of course, borrowed from Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett–scuze me, Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Best books ever. There was a rumor going around yesterday that Jon Bon Jovi was dead, and today there’s a photo going around of him holding a sign that basically said he wasn’t. I think he should have made up a big one that says “I ATEN’T DEAD” like Granny uses when she goes head-hopping.

This is the cover of my Christmas story for this year. It came out on Sunday and is available at Amazon. I like it. It’s cute and sweet, despite the bad beginning (bad in the sense of something bad happens to one of Our Heroes, not in the sense that it was badly written. In my opinion, anyway).  Will is a college student who’s accidentally outed to his conservative father, who beats the shit out of him and kicks him out a week before Christmas. He hikes back to his college, where he figures he’ll live out the rest of the year in his dorm room before they kick him out too. But he stops at a church to rest, and his roommate Quinn, who’s practicing in the choir there, finds him and takes him under his wing. I’m sort of a little in love with Quinn, but I usually am. At any rate, he’s cute, and you can get the story from the Amber Allure website or from Amazon.

    I’m actually working on another blog post that I’ll do next week, hopefully. It’s to showcase my friend, the fantasy artist Shannon Valentine. She’s the one who painted the original of my bookmark, and she did some line drawings for GayRomLit for me, of characters in Finding Zach. She is an incredibly talented woman, and I’ll have pictures to prove it. Stay tuned…

Posted in Bookstuff, Rambling | 2 Comments