I’m very happy to announce that I’ll be doing the puppet design for a production of Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston, Texas. This adaptation is by Robert Kimbro. He and I have worked together on other projects in the past and I’m incredibly excited to be involved in this world premiere.
It’s scheduled for May of 2011. I’ll keep you posted as more details develop.
I have a serious disadvantage as an author. Back in college, I was an art major and still do the occasional book design gig. Why is this a disadvantage? Because that part of my brain doesn’t get to play with the cover of my book but it thinks it knows what it is doing.
Look, every person who thinks they can design is going to have ideas of how to do something. The thing is, that though I’ve done book design, I’m too close to my novel to be able to do anything intelligent with it. When I needed a logo for my puppetry company, I hired someone else to design it for me.
The cover isn’t about how I see Shades of Milk and Honey, it’s about how we want other people to see it so that they’ll pick it up.
So, let me talk about the way I interact with a cover. I have three possible brains that I can use here. The designer brain, the author brain, and the reader brain. Of those, the only one that’s appropriate for me to use when looking is the reader brain.
Why? Because my designer brain is too darn close to the story to be able to back away and see the big picture and the market. I didn’t ever doodle any images or even try to imagine what the cover would look like so that my designer brain wouldn’t think it got a say. There are people who design books full time and are very good.
My author brain? That would have been caught up with trying to find people who looked like the main character, which doesn’t matter. The cover’s job is to get you to pick it up. It also needs to give you a sense of what the story inside will be like so that you don’t feel lied to when you start reading, but first and foremost it needs to get you to pick the book up.
The only question I need to ask my reader brain is, “Would I pick this book up?” The answer is, yes. Yes, I would. It promises that if I buy it, I’ll be reading Jane Austen, with magic.
Now, if the answer had been “no, I wouldn’t pick this up” or “no, this feels like a completely different novel” then I could use the other two brains to phrase my communication with my editor but otherwise, they don’t really serve a useful function.
As it happens, both my designer brain and my author brain are also very happy with the cover. I think that Terry Rohrbach, the designer of the Shades of Milk and Honey cover, did a beautiful job here.
I was working on updating my portfolio today and chatting with someone who didn’t know that I built things. Puppeteer, yes. But the fact that, in my case, the word puppeteer also includes designing and building, in addition to performing, was new information.
Sometimes when dealing with props I can’t find the real thing or even a replica of it, so I just have to make it. In this case, we needed a Pictish helmet as one of the apparitions in MacBeth. The halloween stores had loads of helmets, but were strangely lacking in anything Pictish. Spartan on the other hand… those were everywhere. So I picked up the helmet in the photo for $9.00. It’s cheap vacuformed plastic and only vaguely the right shape.
The nice thing about this type of material is that it cuts easily. I began be trimming it into the shape that I needed, which was pretty easy to do with a pair of scissors
Next up, I used basic braid to create the decorative flourishes from my reference photo. The spiral patterns I did with a judicious use of hot glue as a design element.
Meanwhile, inside the helmet, I ran a hoop of armature wire to stiffen it and get rid of the woogedy-woogedy movement. Seriously, if you’re a warrior, you don’t want your helmet quivering.
To finish it off, I spray painted the whole thing bronze and then spattered it with a little black to give it a patina of age. Ah… I love it when a plan comes together.
I spent the afternoon and much of the evening with Michael Schupbach, the puppet designer for MacBeth, as we did last touches on the puppets. I am pleased to say that, barring disaster, we are finished.
We went out for dinner afterwards and a much-deserved beer. I think both of us felt like we’d been leaning into a galeforce wind that got suddenly switched off. Sure, I have other things on my plate, but I’m actually not pressed against a deadline for the moment. It’s liberating but also disconcerting. I keep feeling like trying to correct for that wind and losing my balance, you know?
One of the interesting things, for me, about building or designing is that it uses the same part of my brain as writing does. It’s the part that solves problems and tries to come up with a coherent language for whatever story I’m trying to tell, whether it’s physical or a verbal. I’ve noticed before that my productivity in writing goes way down when I’m designing but not when I’m performing. It’s not that I can’t write, but the creative drive is being spent elsewhere. You know?
When I’m writing, I walk to the subway and I’m thinking, “How do I get him out of this…?” but when I’m designing, I’m thinking, “How can I make this stand up…?”
A director once said to me, “I want you to start with a blank stage and then create the universe.” That’s the creation process in both fields in a nutshell, isn’t it.
One of the most interesting panels at this year’s Readercon was an exploration of the steampunk design movement, as it emerged into the mainstream with May’s New York Times Style article. Writer/puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal, YA fantasy novelist Holly Black, Tor editor Liz Gorinsky, and speculative fiction writer Sarah Micklem gathered to show off their steampunk creations, discuss steampunk’s literary origins, share their favorite steampunk websites … and, of course, to design a Gibson chair for the fannish masses.
I told someone that I had been tempted to take an easel and pad and draw the chair as we designed it, using a Morris Chair ((The title of the panel relates to Gibson Girls, William Gibson and the Morris Chair)) as the base. Ha! Like I’d have been able to do that and participate in the discussion at the same time.
But… I did do it this morning over breakfast, after a commenter in the thread at io9 suggested that such a thing might be made if only there were a design.
I’m designing props and masks for The Odyssey Experience for McCarter Theatre’s education department. Here are the drawings I’m sending up to them for review.
The idea is that rather than masks, each character has a helm which they wear, to signify which character they are. Athena has her classic helm, which I want to be silvered to make her really shine.
Athena’s shield plays with the look of Greek vases. However, that is the most unfortunate Gorgon that I’ve ever seen. I was working from an actual vase and yet somehow I’ve wound up with Betty Boop.
Again, using the lines of a vase, but here, for the Eagle, it is batiked on China silk and used like a ribbon dancer.
For Poseidon’s helm, I’m using the shape of his beard to suggest waves. I also want to make this one look like copper with a heavy blue-green patina in the beard. From the crest I want something that has the shape of a classic Spartan plume, but can double as a wave about to crash down.
Finally, Zeus. Here I see weathered bronze and gilding.
I’ve got no idea if the director will accept these or not, but I’ll keep you posted.
Early next year, Subterranean Press will give birth to a new imprint, Far Territories, one that focuses on popularly priced trade paperbacks and hardcovers, with distribution in the chain and independent bookstories.
My business and creative partner, Jodi Eichelberger, has been doing some podcasts. Here’s the description of his latest:
From August of 1994 through the spring of 1997 Mary and I toured a production of â€œPied Piperâ€ with Tears of Joy Theatre. We were particularly close to this show because Mary designed it and I wrote the book, music, and lyrics. We had lots of adventures during this tour: towing a truck through a blizzard on the Bear Mountains, being taken from a hotel room in the middle of the night by Officer Monty, losing my big toenail during a performance…but be careful when dealing with the Piper; you never know what might get charmed away. On the morning of April 16, 1996 the â€œPied Piperâ€ disappeared, along with our van and all its contents.
I’m doing the cover design for Realms, the anthology of Clarkesworld Magazine. There is a poll to see which of the three versions people respond to most. Please hop over to the Wyrm Publishing webpage and cast your vote.
Whew. Already I feel better. I just dropped my computer off with Karl Swan, who not only promised to have it back to me within 48 hours, but also pulled some files off for me right then. Though I’d done a backup on the 27th, I’d also done a significant amount of work between then and when the computer imploded on the 29th.
So, I now have the current draft of my novel, current drafts of the two short stories I had been working on, and the logo design that had just been approved when things went pfffht. Everything else, I have on the backup.
We decided to go with a system wipe and restore. He made me feel like I was not an idiot, which was nice. When I get my computer back, it will be clean and with my documents already loaded on. So, I will not have to continue going crazy trying to fix it.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]