Short Story Coming to a JordanCon Near You!

An image of the JordanCon 2023 Anthology Cover: The Leaf Does No Harm, featuring a classic looking painting of a girl in a broad brimmed hat hoisting a horned monster with giant teeth and a flower crown.
Kind of excited my name made the cover, not going to lie…

So these past couple years I have been diving back into the world of writing, an aspect of self I’d let languish for far too long after an unfortunate stint as a content writer for an ill-fated content mill. Roleplay with friends reinvigorated the love of writing creatively, and I dusted off a ten year old unfinished manuscript, read it, scowled at it, and rewrote it into a 165K draft that is still sitting in time out and thinking about what it’s done.

In the midst of that draft, I was preparing for my first JordanCon. I’d gotten into the art show, and it was going to be my first convention back from the pandemic shutdown. Even without the shutdown, it had been a while since I was last in a hanging show as opposed to a dealer’s room situation, so I was nervous in a lot of different directions and I wanted to create some cool new things for it.

In pursuit of ideas, I scribbled several very rough thumbnails and one caught my eye: a rough figure with big ears and a stack of books. I played around with the composition until I had a pose I liked and began roughing in some features, bringing the figure more in line with my vision for my favorite fey creature, the puca. But the composition was missing something, some element of focus to tie it back together. I like a lot of my illustrations to feature some kind of relationship, some story between two characters or at the very least a character and a tasty looking pastry. So I added a mouse on his shoulder. No idea why. I just felt like there needed to be a mouse maybe and also that the mouse would be holding a quill.

But as I continued refining details and adding costuming and color, these two characters started gripping me further and I found myself musing on their possible story. By the time I finished the piece, generically titled “Book Hoarder” in my files, I had the beginnings of their story in my head. As I searched for names, that story solidified and begged to be told.

It took me another couple of months to finish the novel draft I was working on before my mind was free and clear enough to think on any other subject matter. But when I put the draft away and started considering some short stories, there they were waiting for me.

And now, a little less than a year after they came to life for this convention, they have been accepted into the 2023 anthology! I think it only fitting that the publication where these characters make their debut is connected to the convention that is, at least tangentially, responsible for their existence. I am so excited to introduce these two characters who have demanded a significant portion of my brain’s real estate for the past year.

Pre-orders for the anthology are available here: https://www.jordancon.org/product/jordancon-2023-anthology/
Do note that they are not shipping these, but rather ordering them for pickup at the convention. It’s a great convention and I highly recommend it, but if you are unable to go it’ll be a matter of waiting to see if there are extra copies that they’ll be selling online. I’ll likely be releasing the story at some future date in a different format, so you won’t miss it entirely, but the anthology has the benefit of getting to read a lot of different writers and see some incredible artwork. I don’t have the full list of authors and artists represented, but Madolyn Locke, mentioned on the cover, is a friend and phenomenal fantasy photographer and always worth a view!

Meet the Character: Pooka

When the isolation of quarantine began to really take its toll, my friends and I turned to the saving grace of nerds everywhere: role-playing. In this particular instance, we turned to Elder Scrolls Online and Discord.

It’s a unique roleplaying experience we’ve put together. Unlike D&D, we have minimal combat focus and no dice usage. Unlike the other roleplay groups we’ve found in ESO, we don’t do many walk-on scenes or tavern discussions. We’re essentially telling a continuing story, paragraph by paragraph, by each piloting a character. Our characters have their independent goals, but we are also seeking an overarching story goal: build and pilot Tamriel’s first pirate airship.

An early iteration of the crew. It’s undergone many changes since.

Pooka was born in Senchal to a master silversmith and a competent tailor. Her birth was unexpected and put her parents in a financial bind. Her mother’s silver craft was the center of her universe, so her father hired on with one of the many merchant ships that sailed from Senchal’s ports for more sustainable income to send home to the family.

Pooka learned self-control before she fully mastered speech, as her mother’s patience was short for anything that distracted from her craft. Pooka became quiet, compliant, and helpful, running business errands almost as soon as she could walk.

Their home was part of a poorly-constructed community dwelling near the Black Kiergo district of Senchal. Pooka’s favorite memories of home include watching the stars through the slats of her walls, holding a tarp over her mother’s work when it rained, and sneaking off from the market stall to listen to a Moon-Singer weave their tale.

Everything changed when the Knahaten Flu reached Senchal, roaring through the Black Kiergo district and spreading from there to the rest of the city. The ports closed, and her father was stuck at sea. The Black Kiergo burned in an attempt to contain the illness by any means, and their home only escaped the fires by the vigilant organization of their fellow residents.

The markets closed, and her mother lost the silversmithing business. Without her art, she lost all grip on her identity and reality. She and Pooka escaped the flu, but she did not escape addiction. The skooma market was still strong, and Pooka would travel through the sickened streets to collect the drug for her mother from what remained of the Black Kiergo. As her mother slipped further into the skooma addiction, it became the only way to keep her happy and calm. Unfortunately, the closed ports and the heavily diminished population led to lower-quality and dangerous skooma. Pooka lost her mother and her home, surviving as best she could on the disease-ridden streets until the ports once again opened and her father was able to find her.

Her father brought her onto his ship, to the chagrin of the rest of his crew, but the captain valued his tailoring skills and allowed it. Pooka was kept belowdecks, out of everyone’s way, but long experience with hunger drew her curious little self to the ship’s cook time and time again.

The cook was an Argonian named Tyrosyna who had escaped life among the Dunmer, but had lost her connection to the Hist. Pooka slowly endeared herself to Tyrosyna by helping with small tasks, until the short-tempered chef took her under her wing, teaching her not only cooking but her peculiar brand of magic. Pooka learned to call ice by telling herself stories that evoked stillness or cold until she could “feel it in her bones” and make it real.

She stayed on the ship for more than a decade, but even as she grew old enough to be a regular crew member, her father insisted that she remain belowdecks and just help Tyrosyna by cleaning on port days. This lasted until the captain grew frustrated with her limited use, and insisted that she aid the crew with the port labor. During this first gig, she learned that her father had been hiding that the ship smuggled skooma among its more honest mercantile goods.

She hadn’t told her father what happened in Senchal, letting him believe that the flu was the cause of her mother’s death, so she had no reasonable vent for her anger and ended up causing an ice storm in the galley. Tyrosyna was poorly equipped to help her, and simply suggested she take some time away from the ship until she could control her feelings and talk reasonably to her father. With Tyrosyna’s help, she snuck out at the port of Solitude.

Pooka spent nearly a year in Skyrim, working odd jobs in and around Solitude and occasionally traveling with a Khajiit caravan when it was in the area, but she didn’t dare travel far in case reply missives came from her father’s ship. Finally, the spring after she’d left, she got word redirected from Senchal that the ship had sunk in the northern seas. With no more family and no more ties, she decided to walk back to Senchal.

In her attempts to avoid the battlegrounds of the Three Banners War, she ended up lost on the Gold Coast and heard half-stories and whispered rumors of a fiery pirate with an unusual moral code and a thirst for Dwemer artifacts.

Since she was already lost, she decided to veer off in search of this captain and find the ending to the half-finished tales she’d been hearing. To her surprise, however, she ended up getting hired on as a cook after a short interview with the mercurial captain (played by my partner).

Her arrival spurred him to make progress on a long-held dream of putting together an airship and a new crew. He set off to find a shipwright and came back with Brels Drelas (played by my dear friend Lyndsay). Of the gathering crew members, Brels has had the greatest impact on Pooka with his unique ability to pull out the anger from her meek persona.

With a crew around her and a surly mentor by her side, perhaps Pooka can finally overcome her belief that she must be useful to be worthwhile and pursue her dream of becoming a Moon-Singer.

Our story is ongoing, but I have compiled and edited the first part of it from the early part of quarantine, with credit to the other writers who were working on it at that time. I owe Pooka and my fellow creators for my reignited passion for writing, as well as providing the opportunity to stretch my character design muscles. I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into Pooka’s past, and I’ll be back next month with another Meet the Character.

Convention Report: The FWA 2022 Artist Alley Experience

I’m taking a nice slow week after the big push for FWA this past weekend, mostly focusing on teaching and catching up on a few things, but I wanted to pop in and wax exuberant about the experience.

FWA is one of the most unique conventions in my lineup, both from a vending standpoint and as a participant. I love how much of the fandom is built upon original creations and personal expression. After spending the past couple years cooped up in familiar spaces and routines, being around so much creativity and variety was a balm to the soul. It remains one of the most genuinely friendly and delightful conventions I have ever attended. I loved getting to see friends I hadn’t seen since 2019 and making new ones.

I was on the first come, first served Artist Alley list this year. Since I barely understand Telegram, I missed the new raffle system entirely. Luckily, this did not end up being a problem. I was able to get a table each day without difficulty. I am, however, definitely feeling the years of sedentary living and not enough convention/art show hauling after four days of moving my stuff back and forth on public transit.

In spite of the limitations of the daily set-up-and-tear-down system and the need to carry everything (display and product) each day, this remains my best convention by far. I got to draw so many wonderful characters, and I’ll be restocking prints for the next couple months. My box of small prints is almost empty now!

I had planned to ramp up production significantly in 2020, but then the world shut down. Now that I have had two successful shows in a row I’m once more in a position to take some risks and make some bigger investments into some product expansions. I’m excited to get my plans in motion once again!

My next show is not until July, so I have a bit of time to prepare and dive into some bigger projects and learning experiments. Aside from my summer camp obligations and my ongoing character design job, I’m planning to create a couple of new products and start working on some art books to try to have one or two ready for next year’s FWA. I also want to play more with animation practice.

Thank you to everyone who stopped by my table this past weekend, and extra thanks to those of you who let me draw your characters or stuck around for conversation. I’m looking forward to keeping up with you all throughout the year and seeing you again next year!

If you’re here from the con and want to find me in other places, here’s the list of spots I haunt:

https://www.instagram.com/carmandaartsthings/

https://www.facebook.com/CarmandaArtsThings

https://www.furaffinity.net/user/carmandaartsthings/

The Return from the Goblin Cave

This past weekend was JordanCon. It was my first convention since 2019 (second show- I had a one-day Goblin Market last November that was an incredible experience, but first convention and multi-day show), and my first time at JordanCon ever.

As a return to the convention scene, this was about as ideal as I could hope for. I was in the art show rather than the Dealer’s Hall this time, which meant it was a silent auction rather than a sale that required me to be behind a table. For the first time in… maybe five years? I was able to actually go to a convention and sit in on panels. It was a lovely way to dip my feet back into the world outside of my goblin hovel. The Writing Track in particular was an absolute delight, filled with insightful people giving entertaining and educational talks on the topics I’m passionate about.

The pandemic has been… an interesting time. On its surface, the opportunity to spend several months at home while the art center was shut down and shows were canceled seemed like a strange sort of gift. Open time to achieve anything you want to, the freelancer’s dream! But, absent the external structures of a show schedule and required outside interactive time, a lot of the scaffolding I’d put up to keep my motivations and focus moving forward fell apart both dramatically and unexpectedly. Add to that the general stress of the news and the specific stress of a few folk being trapped in a house together for all the hours for the first time… it took a while to even start regain my footing in the new world.

Online interactions and self-promotion are both weak points of mine, and admittedly these did not get all that much stronger for much of the pandemic as I flailed about wondering who am I if not a teacher and a convention artist. But over time, I grew a little bolder, a little more capable of talking to strangers on the internet without wanting to hide after every phrase I typed. I’ve joined creative support groups, made friends among strangers, and rekindled friendships that distance and busyness had stifled for so long.

Within that framework, I’ve rediscovered parts of myself that had also been buried within the hustle and panic framework of, frankly, most of my adult life. In particular, the love for writing rekindled. I dragged an old manuscript out of the drawer and typed it up, then set about replacing almost all of its 60,000 words with (currently) about 140,000 new words that, while still not good are at least better than they were.

And drawing never stopped. My focus for it shifted somewhat, though. Without conventions to attend I was no longer creating work “to sell” and instead started creating work to experiment. I learned to make animated gifs to bring characters and moments to life. I practiced character design and shapes language. I took online classes to push my understanding of lighting and composition. And… I drew for fun, and only for fun. I think somewhere in there I finished a whole short webcomic for webtoons.

See? I’m bad at self promotion. But I’m good at making stuff.

And now, after JordanCon, I am reinvigorated for the business side of things. To make things for people again, to connect with folk, and to push myself in different directions. I don’t want to lose that fun that I found over the last couple of years, but I think I’ve found the right balance. I found new motivations, and new structures so that I’m no longer operating like my school days, where my inattentive mind would grasp onto a due date and work myself into the ground to meet it at the last minute. I have a spreadsheet and little clicky timers and a whole self-perpetuating system to keep track of things even if there isn’t external structure in place anymore.

Now I have a show schedule set up for the year. The external motivation is back, but the internal structures are stronger. I’m excited for what lies ahead. I’m excited to see more of the people on the circuit I’ve missed for the past several years, and I’m excited to push myself further in several directions.

This is perhaps a bit of a rambling blog, but I’m trying not to be scared of that anymore. If I let go of that fear, I can use my voice a little more frequently and live the philosophy that I teach my students: a thing does not need to be perfect to be good and worth doing. Whatever gets the words out, do that thing.

It’s good to be back, and thank you all.