& You’ll Be in a World of Pure Imagination (or, a brief workspace tour)

Things happen when you sprain an ankle and have a hard time hobbling anywhere – they pile up. Things pile up on desks and chairs and the floor and by the time you can walk easily again, your once-organized chaos has reverted back to a simpler form: catastrophe. Now that my foot has healed, I buckled down to clear out and re-organize my workspace so I can paint, draw, and write without using a ball of string to find my way out again. Since I love seeing tours (be they in video or picture form) of art studios and workspaces, I decided to make a small tour of my own. Commence away!


I need to keep my space whimsical but functional, with bits and pieces that inspire me. It all tends to gravitate toward the magical; like ‘if Gandalf had been a Ravenclaw Professor.’ Probably teaching the History of Magic and Charms.

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On the right side of my desk I have a box containing all my watercolors (the top is decorated with a Celtic-style sun/moon emblem, made by my friend Ian). On top of that is a box that holds the pencils and pens I use for my artwork. Standing on the box are a little brass leprechaun from my friend Hannah George, and a rat skull from a coffee shop in Omaha. Sitting on the waterproofed slab of wood are various jars holding sea salt, water, dip pens, paintbrushes, feathers, rulers, and two magic wands for all my painting + spell-casting needs.

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To the right of my desk, siting on my vintage steamer trunk, is the printer (covered with rabbit fur to help it match the rest of the room) and a letter tray; the letter tray holds all my ink bottles, water droppers, watercolor tins, tape, and odds and ends. It also features another jar of feathers, a volcanic stone mortar + pestle, a hornet’s nest, Boba Fett, the Ancient One, a Predator, a Galor-class Kardassian Warship, and AARRRGH! from Trollhunters (my favorite show in the world next to Prison Break).

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On the left side of my desk I have a stack of Chinese calligraphy paper upon which sits some vellum envelopes, a box of colored pencils, a stack of leather-bound journals, a wooden raven, several bottles of glitter, my crystals, and Vortigern, the skull I use when give art lessons. (Leaning against the pencil box is George’s foot. George is a decorative skeleton whose body resides in Florida. George’s foot is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Don’t ask me why.)

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After that comes the crate with my various pads of art paper, sketchbooks, envelopes, and extra journals. It’s guarded by Jareth, Newt, and Snart; as well as Gringott’s. Also seen are my waxes and seals, and two jars of miscellany, including my pipe and a fan (printed with samurai. It doesn’t get much cooler, iron war fans excepted).

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Underneath my desk lies the rest of the artistic miscellany – the leather folder in which I stuff my completed artwork; old sketchbooks, jars of magic things (from Melody, who gifted me George’s foot), old sketchbooks, paper cutters, and the like. I also have my favorite art + design books lined up; John Howe, Alan Lee, Tony Diterlizzi, Ed Org, Alphonse Mucha, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, and others. Sitting on top of ‘The Hobbit: Art & Design’ is my Loch Ness Monster, Vincent; a gift from my bro Lauren and knitted by her sister. (His name is Vincent because he’s dark blue + glittery and therefore starry.)

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The walls feature a unicorn, masks, Thorin’s map, a Carnival poster from when my dad was a sophomore in high school, a painting of Big Ben (painted by my sister), Studio Ghibli prints, keys, lights, and some paintings I’ve done for myself – Frankenstein’s Creature (specifically Luke Goss’s portrayal from the BBC Miniseries), Jareth the Goblin King, Prince Nuada, and Reylo.

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And there you have it! My workspace keeps me inspired; not only because I curate things I love but because so much of what you see was given to me by friends and family (seriously I think maybe half of what you see was bought by me + for me).

What does your workspace look like? Please let me know in the comments!

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Books that Created an Awesome Monstrosity, Namely Me

We all have that stack of books that shaped us, the ones we stayed up late reading and re-reading, the ones we took with us on car trips, the ones we were loathed to lend out to anyone, no matter how trustworthy. (Granted, I even hate lending books I don’t particularly like, but that’s a personal flaw and does not reflect itself on every borrower. Ahem.)

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For me these books/stories were, in no exact order:

• The Book of Virtues/The Moral Compass by William Bennett.

I remember reading every story, every poem in these hefty volumes. They were so full of anything and everything that they became my go-to reading material during mandatory nap times (or ‘reading times’) or whenever I wanted to read anything non-specific. This is where I learned of Damon and Pythias, of Damocles, of Aesop and countless other classics.

• A Wrinkle in Time

My mother would read this every autumn, so naturally one autumn as soon as I was old enough, she gave it to me. I devoured the bizarre, touching tale of love, stars, and devoured planets, and I’m pretty sure it lent a large hand to my ‘I KNOW it’s weird, I want to write it anyway’ attitude.

• The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings

I was familiar with these books before I actually read them all at age twelve. (I was sick when I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, with nothing else to do, I knocked all three books out in three days.) They were always sitting around the house because Mom was reading them – the first real scene I read was Gollum attacking Frodo and Sam for the first time. I remember that vividly, because that’s when my interest in the books went from mild, childish curiosity to a Strong Desire to Read This Now.

• Mythology

We had a beautiful, illustrated volume full of mythology – mainly Greek, mingled with some fairy tales and – Jackie Robinson? What is Genre, anyway. Each story featured brave protagonists – from boys who went up against giants to Theseus and the Minotaur and Oedipus (I didn’t KNOW about the complex yet, okay) solving the Sphinx’s riddle.

• Any Horse Book by C. W. Anderson

His books enchanted me, and I read every copy I could get my hands on. I don’t remember the stories as much as the illustrations – illustrations which evoked such great love and feeling in me that not only did he greatly influence my artwork, but he fanned the sparks of an equine obsession into undying flames. Without C. W. Anderson, I might never have learned to ride, or trained my favorite ornery idiot horse, or experienced anything other than a typical little girl’s love of horses.

• I Can’t Remember the Name of This One

I still have it somewhere, but currently it’s packed so I can’t check the title. It was about a young, redheaded girl who was taken by Indians, but it wasn’t the frequent ‘LET’S SIMULTANEOUSLY VILIFY AND ROMANTICIZE NATIVE AMERICANS’ tripe. I read this book countless times and once I find it (if I remember) I’ll be sure and add the title here.

• Pilgrim’s Progress/Christiania

We had tiny, square, illustrated, paperback versions of various classics grown up, and I was simultaneously horrified and fascinated by these stories. They had everything I wanted – danger at every turn, man-eating giants, unexpected friends, symbolism out the wazoo, and illustrations both beautiful and grotesque. The illustrations of Apollyon alone inspired dozens of monster designs from my small self.

• A Book of Puzzles

My dad used to keep a large book of puzzles and brain games in his office, and sometimes I would take it out and try to solve something. I was too young at the time, and the puzzles were beyond me, but I remember being vividly caught by one particular page. Illustrated in blue tones was a picture of a beautiful young woman trapped in a large tube of liquid. According to the opposing page, if I couldn’t solve the puzzle within a certain amount of time, the Supervillain who had kidnapped the girl would let her suffocate and die. I remember sitting and not trying to solve the puzzle so much as having the realization that this puzzle was Too Real and had made me feel personally responsible for the life or death of this person. Not only that, but I could only fail her – I never did solve that puzzle. I’m pretty sure this influenced my subconscious and manifests itself in my writing.

• Peter Pan

I read Peter Pan until the cover wore out. This book fascinated me to no end, and I never tired of it – the way they spelled check cheque, Peter so-very-nearly dying from a stab wound but being saved by a nest at the last minute, the pirates and the mermaids and the gleeful otherness of it all.

• Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass

This comes as no surprise to anybody, but Alice was a close childhood companion. From the caucus race to the Hatter and the March Hare to the White Queen pricking her finger in the future, this book is so exactly like reading  a dream that it kept me reading and re-reading. It also lent me an odd sense of humor.

• Betsy-Tacy-Tibb

I swear I thought there was something magical about these books, even when I got older and realized they were historical fiction with no actual magic involved. They had that peculiar quality of seeming to be from Somewhere Else while remaining more-or-less-firmly grounded inn reality.

• Eight Cousins

This was always my favorite Alcott book, by far. Uncle Alec was my girlhood hero, and I wanted to be him when I grew up. (I still might.) Much like Betsy-Tacy-Tibb, it’s a book with no magic that manages to feel almost entirely magical.

• Narnia

I say ‘Narnia’ rather than a single book title because each book influenced me as much as all the rest, although The Silver Chair remains my favorite. I remember the first time Mom brought the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe home and told us she was going to read it aloud, and I vividly recall being miffed when she skipped the battle with the Hag and the Werewolf in Prince Caspian (and naturally I had to find the book and go read it myself).

• Beatrix Potter

While Apollyon illustrations influenced me greatly, so did Beatrix Potter’s enchanting mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, cats, and other various creatures. More than the other books, Mrs. Tiggywinkle stood out as my favorite – I never was sure why, but I think it had something to do with the tiny bucket collecting rainwater.


I could probably carry this post on for several years, but I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say, books (moreso than any people, with the exception of my parents) were the guiding force in shaping who I was and who I became. Now I’m all nostalgic – maybe I won’t wait until autumn to read A Wrinkle in Time again.

What books influenced your childhood?

A Thought About Opinions

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Do you feel like everyone on your Facebook feed is angry? Is everybody you follow on Instagram posting empowering quotes with political hashtags you may or may not agree with? Do you feel like people who used to be fun are now social justice warriors who – let’s face it – won’t shut up?

I’m right there with ya. I think we all feel like this in one way or another – social media is overflowing with overnight ‘experts’ and people we meet up with for coffee can only talk about Trump or the Women’s March. Pick a topic, any topic – everyone has an opinion. Probably more than one.

I was on the home page of a website I frequent, staring at their new post about what the Affordable Care Act means for me. I’ll be honest – I was annoyed. Politics have their place, but this was a lifestyle website, for Pete’s sake. They’re supposed to write articles about food, fashion, careers, and how to stop procrastinating.

So I sat cross-legged with my coffee in hand, frowning and attempting to ignore the tsunami of clamoring opinions across the web, wondering whether I should take to Facebook or Tumblr and state exactly how annoyed I was. Immediately a single thought crossed my mind – God doesn’t care about your opinion.

‘Excuse YOU,’ I thought, indignant, but that was as far as I got. My mind raced back through a lifetime of studying the Bible – and trying to live it as well as I can – and I came up with zilch. I couldn’t remember a single passage that claimed God cared about my opinion. I couldn’t even remember a verse vaguely hinting at the idea. We’re asked to pray for what we need and want, to listen, hope, have faith, and to live with truth and love.

Never once are we told that our opinions matter. Never once are we told to go forth and rant on Facebook. Never once are we told to spread the good news of Exactly How We Feel.

We aren’t told not to have opinions (I love a good opinion) but neither are we told to go around throwing them at everyone who disagrees with us. It can be so tempting, though, can’t it? To get caught up in the minutae of the moment – of the arguments, the statements, the posts and tweets that we just. Can’t. Leave. Alone.

We’re told to cast our cares on God, to hand them over because he cares enough to take them, to help us deal with them, to nudge us past them. And for those of us who feel very strongly about many things, opinions can definitely be a burden. We feel a little like Doctor Horrible, paraphrased – the world is a mess, and we just need to fix it.

And stating our opinion as fact and triumphantly hitting ‘enter’ is definitely going to fix everything, right? Well, probably not. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, that comment you made stating your opinion (and potentially sparking a heated argument) did nothing but cause momentary friction before fading into the vast abyss of moments wasted, of time you could have spent sending someone an encouraging thought or an uplifting quote. You could have said a quick prayer or read a page in a novel. You could have done so many things – things that help or improve someone or something. We could have done something better, something productive.

Someone said ‘Growing up means realizing how many conversations don’t require your opinion,’ and if that’s true, then we live in a world sadly lacking in ‘grown-ups.’

So the next time something sparks my annoyance, the next time I’m tempted to rattle off my obviously necessary opinion where it won’t matter anyway, I’m going to take a moment. I’m going to throw my opinion at the feet of my savior, and chances are, it won’t get tossed back to me. And that’s okay.

I’m pretty sure I can find a better way to spend three minutes anyway.

 

Interview with the Author

When I first met Eli online several years ago, he became one of a very select group: those whom I immediately like. He’s an intelligent, friendly, well-read conversation partner and has proved himself an excellent friend, and I am incredibly proud to know him. Through the years we’ve shared bits of writing with each other (his read-through of Paper Crowns provided me with invaluable help), and when he announced that his novel Albion Academy had a publisher, I was thrilled. The book is a fresh take on many mythological facets I know and love (King Arthur? Puck? Valkyries? Triple check!), and so here I present an interview with the one and only Elijah David.

—ONE: You obviously have a very strong attachment to legends and mythology. When did you first develop these interests?

Well, I can remember watching Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin from a very young age, so that’s probably the beginning of it all. I loved fairy tales all through childhood (and still do). I also remember reading a book of Greek myths in elementary school and being fascinated by all the different creatures and heroes featured in those stories. (The gods on the other hand were mostly confusing or maddening, with the rare exception of Hermes.) As far as developing the interest in legend and myth, I’d say that really started in late elementary and early middle school, around the time I discovered Narnia and began to read fantasy of a broader scope than had been my wont. It’s still something I’m developing, as there are always new old myths to explore.

—TWO: You explore many different types of myth in Albion Academy – which mythological being was your favorite to write?

The Valkyries and other Asgardians. Hands down. Bryn’s addition to the novel (as a narrator) was one of the best things that happened to this book. She was such a different perspective to write, and most of her chapters were completely new material. (A little backstory here: the book was originally told solely from Merlin’s point of view. Then, after reading through my first full draft, I realized I wasn’t telling the whole story, so Mortimer and Bryn joined Merlin as narrators. This necessitated rewriting of whole chapters, excising now-irrelevant sections, and inventing mostly from scratch several new chapters.) Bryn’s chapters allowed me to dig into Norse mythology and shed some light on the larger cosmology of the Albionverse. And I loved every minute of it.

—THREE: We probably shouldn’t have favorite children, but we all have favorite characters. Which characters were your favorites to write?

I’m so glad you said characters, plural. Bryn, obviously, because her perspective was so fresh. Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) because he’s wild and important and a little bit scary. Bryn’s sisters, who are Norns but maybe a bit more than that. Belchor, the talking not-bookshelf, whose snark will be returning full force in the sequel. There aren’t many of the major characters (and in this novel, I’m close to your view that there are no minor characters) who weren’t my favorite when I was writing them.

—FOUR: What were your biggest writing influences, the authors who made you want to take up the pen and create something?

C.S. Lewis is without doubt the biggest influence. I started writing seriously in middle school when I decided I wanted to write something that would impact other people the way Narnia had impacted me. J.R.R. Tolkien is another big influence, if only for the way he builds a universe and hangs it on everyday heroism. Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was another early inspiration, and Tad Williams’ trilogy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has left indelible traces in my novelverse (though none in Albion Academy that I’ve spotted). Diana Wynne Jones, J.K. Rowling, and T.H. White all had their say in some way or another. I’m sure there are others, but with few exceptions it is difficult to say exactly which authors shaped my writing in specific ways.

—FIVE: What was the hardest part of the writing process, and what was the easiest?

The hardest parts: finishing a book that was 5 years going from idea to first draft; editing that first draft; making the opening work for the third or fourth time.

The easiest parts: writing Bryn’s chapters, writing Gabriel’s last few interludes, inserting new myths (and yes, this can be a case of too much of a good thing is a bad thing, if you aren’t careful).

—SIX: What are your thoughts on the blending of originally ‘pagan’ material with a Christian worldview?

It’s a tradition going back as long as Christianity. Even Paul used “pagan” poetry in one of his sermons. I see it as part of the Christian purview to redeem the culture around us; sometimes that redemption comes through stories. It’s what Lewis and Tolkien do in their works, or what you do with Cernunnos in Paper Crowns. (Incidentally, old Cerny is trying to weasel his way into one of the Albion sequels, so keep a weather eye out.) There’s nothing to be feared in bringing these stories under the umbrella of a Christian worldview. While some might criticize this as a sort of whitewashing of myth, I’d argue that it’s giving the myths new life in a new form, which is how myths survive after all.

—SEVEN: What’s next in your writing life?

Currently, I’m doing battle with Albion Apparent, book two in the quartet. If I can finish it in a timely manner, I may try to finish some other projects, like my cyberpunk-ish Wizard of Oz retelling from a couple years back. Then there are always books three and four of Albion, and some side stories in the Albionverse that have been clamoring to be told.

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Is a Djinni just a trickster? Can a wizard only learn magic? Must a Valkyrie always ferry the dead?

For Mortimer, Merlin, and Bryn, it seems the fates have already written the ends of their stories. When Mortimer asks unorthodox questions, the Djinni Elders exile him to a human school of magic—Albion Academy. Merlin’s friendship with a mortal only increases his mother’s determination for him to live up to the heritage of his ancestors. And Bryn’s prophetic sisters outright declare that her fate is tethered to Mortimer, Merlin, and the mysterious door in the school’s basement.

As the three of them struggle against the constraints of their families’ expectations, they find themselves inexorably drawn into a conflict that encompasses rogue Faeries, dangerous mortals, and sorcerers hidden in Albion Academy itself. Defying their fates might be the only way they survive their first year at . . .

Albion Academy.

Albion Academy is available from Amazon in both PAPERBACK and KINDLE format.

Ten Tips For Budding Bloggers

A question landed in my inbox a couple weeks ago. An acquaintance wanted to start a blog, and wondered if I had any tips. I told him I’d write a blog post about it as it was the second time in a week I’d been asked that question. If you’re thinking about starting a blog – or if you’re subscribed to my blog and will get this in your inbox anyway – grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a quick history lesson.

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My first blogging venture began in the abyss called ‘LiveJournal,’ a platform that has since gone the way of the dinosaur and Myspace. As an internet newbie in the tender throes of my thirteenth year, I had no idea what I was doing. I quickly discovered that Good and Evil are very much present on the internet; from the user called ‘thefacelessevil’ (I remember you, buddy) who called me a ‘f*cking, Bible-thumping bitch’ to the kind user who came after and told me not to feed the trolls.

I then realized that the internet was a magical place – I could either get dragged into heated ‘Eowyn the Slut vs. Arwen the Perfect’ arguments (yes, they were real back in the day and yes, they were utterly ridiculous) or I could use my slice of webspace to help and encourage however I could.

I turn twenty-three in three months, which means soon I’ll have a full decade of blogging under my belt. I’ve learned a thing or two in those years – they’ve seen me progress from LiveJournal to Blogger to WordPress, from constant ‘blog parties’ and facepalm-worthy writing to advice-doling and coherence (amazing!). I have roughly 700 subscribers, which is pretty decent for a non-monetized blog (and very, very tiny for a monetized blog. Seriously. Have you SEEN what those babies can do) – in short, I kinda, sorta know what I’m doing now.

  1. Don’t skimp when it comes to blog design. Tossing up the first theme from the ‘free themes’ section is a surefire way to kill your blog before it starts. You want your website to look inviting, accessible, and attractive, so go the extra mile.
  2. Let other blogs inspire you, but don’t copy. If you’re brand new to blogging, it can be tempting to fashion your blog after another cool one you love, but don’t do it. Several things can happen – a) the blogger notices (while I’ve never been intentionally guilty of this, I have experienced copiers), b) your blog ‘sticks’ that way by accident (your mom warned you that if you made that blog it’d stick that way, doll), or c) it sets you off on the wrong foot. I know – this is new territory, and that can be scary, but it’s okay! Trial and error, babe. Trial and error.
  3. Find your niche. This is very important if you’re aiming for professionalism, but less important if you just want a web diary. Still, it’s imperative that you find YOUR blogging style and stick with it. People don’t want ‘the next Hannah Gale’ or, I don’t know, ‘the next Matt Walsh.’ They want NEW. That’s you.
  4. Be open to change. Your blogging style & preferences will evolve as you figure out what you’re doing. It’ll go through several awkward puberties (RIP internet hormones) and that’s okay.
  5. Reply to comments. As a fledgling blogger, nothing put stars in my eyes like having a blogger I admired respond to me in person. I still admire bloggers who take the time to show personal interest in their readers. (Granted, there may come a time when this simply isn’t feasible, but don’t worry. That’s a looong way off.)
  6. DO NOT EVER take a month-long blogging break without announcing a hiatus. This is irresponsible blogging and can make your readers feel unimportant, which means you lose followers + general interest. Bad.
  7. Let your voice come through. No matter what you have to say, make sure your personality is front and center! Are you bubblier than a glass of champagne? Bubble away! Are you unable to speak without biting sarcasm? Bite away! As long your writing is an accurate representation of you, you won’t lose originality.
  8. Don’t clutter. I remember the days when I had not one, but TWO sidebars full of buttons, links, and useless little widgets (click the mouse over the tank to feed the fish!). You don’t want your readers to feel like they opened a broom closet and had the contents fall on their heads. Trust me.
  9. PICTURES. And not just ‘I snapped this blurry photo in the basement last night which is why you can’t really see anything due to the lack of actual light’ pictures. I’m talking crisp, shiny, staged pictures. Flatlays! Still life! Etcetera, etcetera. Aesthetic, people. Aesthetic.
  10. Don’t post at night. I learned this through trial and error – don’t do it. Did you write a stream of consciousness at 12:14 a.m.? Schedule it. Optimal posting time is morning -I like to schedule my blog posts to go live between 7:30-10:30 in the morning. It’s early enough that most of my readership has time to see the post in their inbox, or read it during their morning catch-up. If you post it at night, chances are people are asleep and your post will go unnoticed. Timing is key.

I hope this list is helpful to any aspiring bloggers out there, but don’t take me as your sole Blogging Guru! Fellow bloggers, what tips would YOU offer a blogging bobbin? Leave your advice in the comments!