While I can often come up with content for my “For Writers” and “For Artists” blog posts, I sometimes have trouble figuring out what readers are interested in. Do you want character sketches? Deleted passages? JK Rowling-style exposés on secret and possibly irrelevant backstory?
This month, instead of guessing, I decided to let you all tell me what you’re looking for. I finished out September with an Instagram Ask Me Anything, which I promised to answer in this month’s blog post. See your questions and their answers below!
It should go without saying, but there are MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS for the entire trilogy below--continue at your own risk!
So you know how I said last month that I was finally getting a Wacom Cintiq to replace my external Intuos tablet? Well, I did it! It wasn't an entirely seamless process, complete with the gutting realization that the Cintiq wasn't compatible with my current laptop, but after some setbacks I got it set up in the past week and have started tinkering with it. And with June's blog structured for readers of my trilogy, what better way to break it in than by drawing a bunch of pictures of my protagonists!
While romance isn't the central part of the Creatures of Light trilogy, it's a strong current throughout all three books. Partnerships--both platonic and romantic--play a big role in driving the plot and upping the stakes. And the romances, be they past or present or on the rise, are not simple, sweet things. They're messy, and bittersweet, and at times very, very hard. Some fall apart over the course of the trilogy, some bloom. But they all have an impact, leaving characters different people from who they were before.
So this blog post features an illustrated snippet from each protagonist's first meaningful interaction with their significant other. Some are right there in the text, and some are only hinted at. Obviously, there are spoilers ahead! But I've arranged and labeled them by book, so if you've only read Woodwalker, you can stop without spoiling the rest; likewise for Ashes to Fire. If you haven't read any of them.... get out now while you still can!(Shameless link to book one in the series here!)
See them all after the jump!
The Creatures of Light trilogy is complete! Help celebrate the last book in the series by participating in the Creatures of Light Coloring Contest! One randomly-drawn winner will receive a full trilogy set, with author-illustrated title pages and matching bookmarks!
The contest runs from March 12 to April 15, 2018. Get all the details, rules, and, of course, coloring pages in the Coloring tab!
Hey all! Tomorrow (2/23) several HarperCollins authors and myself will be holding a Twitter chat to talk about books that inspire us and what releases we're looking forward to in 2017! Come join us at 3 PM and 8 PM EST under the hashtag #SFFChat to share YOUR favorites! And feel free to bring questions about writing and publishing.
We have less than one month until Ashes to Fire releases in paperback! Starting next week, I'll be posting some fun new features here on my website, including another interactive map!
We are t-minus ONE WEEK from the e-release of ASHES TO FIRE! The e-book launches next Tuesday, January 31, 2017, and the paperback will follow a few weeks later. Woohoo! Readers will get to follow Mae, Mona, and the other characters from WOODWALKER on a new adventure--new stakes, new country, and new characters! Let's take a look...
Ah, Mister Rou. His real name is Theophilius Roubideaux, but he thinks that's pretentious. Queen Mona describes him alternately as "indecent and asinine" and "insufferably likable." Part savvy diplomat, part impulsive swamp bandit, Rou has the distinct ability to charm his way out of most (self-wrought) sticky situations. He is a diametric opposite to cool, composed Mona, so obviously there could be absolutely no chemistry whatsoever between the two of them...........
See more illustrations of Rou in my Portfolio!
Rou's twin brother Lyle, however, couldn't be more different. Rou describes him to Mona as "downright surly on a good day... balancing long chemical reactions is his idea of a two-way conversation." But what he lacks in his twin's charisma, he makes up for in academic brilliance--Lyle is a wickedly talented chemist and engineer... and it can't be denied that Mona needs a tactical advantage over her enemies. Could Lyle be her ticket to finally protecting Lumen Lake from the threat of Alcoro?
To see a little progress video of Lyle's illustration, see my Videos page!
And after all, Alcoro is indeed a threat, led by their ruthless, tyrannical... quiet and compassionate Queen Gemma? Mona has no idea what to make of her enemy queen, partner to the despotic Seventh King Celeno who ordered the invasion of Lumen Lake four years previously. First impressions give way to second and third impressions, which eventually leave Mona wondering if she knows anything at all about the country that overthrew hers. One thing is for sure---it won't do to underestimate Gemma's role in this conflict, for good or bad.
See these three illustrations alongside the other protagonists on my Characters page!
(DRAMATIC ORCHESTRA STING)
So, there are three of your new characters in ASHES TO FIRE. I will be posting a video in a day or two with more information about the book release, including some details on the launch party and what readers of WOODWALKER can expect in book two. Look for it on my Facebook page (I won't post it on my Videos page because it features my face instead of artwork).
Thanks for following along on this adventure! Don't forget you can pre-order the e-book so you get it right on January 31, and you will be able to pre-order the paperback starting in February!
A lot of you have heard me talk about the follow-up novels (emphasis on novels, plural) to Woodwalker as if they were a done deal. Thing was, my editor only originally signed me for two, with the understanding that if my second wasn't unintelligible garbage, he would consider signing me for the third and final installment.
Well, as of today, I can officially share the good news...
HarperVoyager has signed me for CREATURES OF LIGHT, the third and final follow-up to Woodwalker! This book is narrated by Gemma, a character readers will get to know in Mona's forthcoming book, Ashes to Fire.
The manuscript itself is almost complete, though it still needs several rounds of hardcore editing. I hope readers will find it a satisfying finale to this series.
But let's not forget that before we get too worked up about Creatures of Light, we have something much more tangible and imminent---Ashes to Fire releases in less than two months! In between drafting the manuscript for Creatures of Light, I've been putting together some sweet new material for book 2's release. Expect lots of new illustrations and interactive media in January and February! In the meantime, you can go ahead and pre-order the Ashes to Fire ebook, with the paperback launching shortly afterward.
Thanks for all your support! Without the love you've all shown Woodwalker, book 3 never would have seen the light of day. Happy holidays!
"What else did you bring?" I asked. "Tell me you brought something besides traveling tunics.”
Mae glared at me. “In case you’d forgotten, we left the Silverwood in a bit of a hurry after a night of no sleep. I packed for battle, not tea and cookies.”
“Rivers to the sea.” I pushed back my chair and stood. “You’ll have to borrow something of mine.”
“Three reasons.” She pointed to her breasts. “One. Two.” She slapped her hips. “Three. And you’d have to hem about a foot off the bottom.”
I went to my trunk. “We’ll make it work.”
“You doubt my sewing skills.”
“I do. You’re not a miracle worker. Just let me wear my uniform.”
“I saw it when we met with Atria. The knees are filthy. Tell me, what color is the cleanest pair of breeches you brought?”
She sighed and propped her boots up on the end of her bunk. “Probably brown. Most of them are brown.”
“Do you have gray?”
“No, I don’t have gray. What does it matter?”
“Brown’s a bad color for you. Muddies you.”
She fanned herself in mock distress. “Oh, you cruel thing. To think I’ve gone this far in life not knowing…”
I pulled out the richest color I had brought, a midnight blue gown with a square neckline. “You should consider wearing reds, or pastels.”
“Pastels?” She spit the word out as if it tasted bad.
“Something other than olive drab and brown.”
“Maybe I’ll just go naked, so Celeno’s not offended,” she said vehemently. “And don’t slam green—it’s the color of our banner.”
“Then let it stay on the banner. Get up,” I said, dragging a chair into the middle of the floor. “Let’s get to work.”
“I thought we were supposed to be talking about something practical?” she said.
“On the chair.”
-Ashes to Fire
One of my favorite exchanges between Mae and Mona in Ashes to Fire! I really love how the relationship between these two grows and changes through the two books. After the events of Woodwalker, they're able to appreciate and trust the other a lot more, leading to some great dialogue and action between them.
Ashes to Fire releases as an e-book on January 31, 2017! The paperback will follow a few weeks later. You can pre-order the e-book through HarperCollins for just $3.99.
There are three new prints for sale in my INPRNT shop. The first two are pen-and-ink illustrations done as part of the Inktober challenge, when artists post ink drawings every day of October. The first is the now-beloved mantra of Mae in Woodwalker, while the second is the mantra of book two, Ashes to Fire!
The third one is a pencil sketch done during a book signing a few weeks ago, once again featuring Mae and her favorite saying!
To celebrate these new prints and the month of October in general, you can now take 10% off any purchase of my prints between today (October 7, 2016) and next Friday, October 14, 2016. Just use the code AZQASUII when checking out! Know someone who needs to remember to take things one crisis at a time? Get those holiday gifts purchased early! Maybe you need such a reminder plastered above your bed? Treat yo'self!
Ready for a descent into madness?
When I wrote Woodwalker, I had the title pretty well set from the get-go. Short, relevant, evocative of the protagonist’s past, present, and future goals. As soon as I had given a name to Mae’s office, it naturally morphed into the title of the book. My agent and editor liked it. Easy peasey.
The cover was the thing I got stuck on. It was important to me to get it right, and I didn’t always trust myself during the process (for the whole story, see my Evolution of a Cover post). It took a lot of pinning, redrawing, late-night crying, and faltering emails to get it to a place I felt comfortable. But the relieving thing was, once that design was set, I knew it would be no problem to design the other covers in the series.
And I was right. I started the cover for Woodwalker’s follow-up novel shortly after finishing the first, mimicking the theme and altering the imagery to fit Mona’s story. Everything came very easily—her determined posture, the dramatic lighting, the stylistic fire overlay. I had a decent draft pretty well in hand before my editor ever got hold of the manuscript.
However, the thing didn’t have a title.
It was early, I reasoned. I had months before the manuscript would come up in my editor’s hopper. Plenty of time to ponder and pull apart the symbolism in the story, or to contrive some meaningful name from the dialogue. I didn’t worry about it, focusing instead on wrestling with the third manuscript—which, incidentally, does have a working title, as well as a mental draft of the cover.
Time passed. I got angry at my third manuscript and started something new. That hit an unexpected wall and was replaced by another story. I focused on promotion for Woodwalker. I took on a bunch of art commissions for people. I did some book signings. I put on my park ranger hat and chased elk, and they chased me back. All the while, in the back of my mind, I was sure that one day, that elusive title for book 2 would effortlessly pop into my head.
Spoiler: it didn’t.
And so came that fateful day that my editor emailed me asking for a draft of my cover and the title I had in mind.
Oh. The title. That I had in mind. About that…
With nothing to send to him on that front, I started doing some title worksheets, teasing apart the main themes and struggles of the protagonists, writing down the imagery woven throughout and what it represented.
And I’ll tell you what, the results I got were a glorious pile of steaming offal. I mean, they were terrible. When they weren’t terrible, they were obnoxiously cliché, things like “Fire and Water” and other names I really don’t want to write down because they are terrible.
I tried a few more worksheets, copying the styles of famous titles using the imagery in my book. I tried re-wording certain passages in the book to force a meaningful string of words out of them. I even approached it like I approach my ranger programs, making lists of the tangible, intangible, and universal concepts present in the story.
I appealed to my agent and editor, who both suggested I might be overthinking things. I didn’t know how else to approach it, though. I had tried not thinking for about four months, and that did no good.
As with the cover rigmarole for Woodwalker, I brought the matter to my husband, and we began a sort of hilarious late-night quest deep through Thesaurus.com, searching for words to describe Mona’s physical and emotional journey. This produced some quality gems that would have probably necessitated having Fabio on the cover alongside Mona—things like Smoldering Ember, Virgin Flame, and Vestal Smoke.
“Swank!” my husband cried, now half an hour deep in the thesaurus. “Swank is a colloquial synonym for ‘new!’ Swank Blaze!”
“God, I don’t know what to do,” I said.
After extensive note-taking and telling my husband I would include Swank Blaze on my list (I didn’t), I wound up with a page of titles I disliked less than others. Embarrassed at their poor quality, I sent it out to my beta readers for feedback. At the very bottom of the list was:
“Ashes to Fire (okay, I lied, I hate this one, but it sucks less than some others)”
I did not like Ashes to Fire. To me it screamed melodrama—intense, meaningless words with a nonsensical article thrown in between them. Boo, you piece of crap title. I went to bed angry at words in general.
I woke up with an email from one of my beta readers. This particular reader I can always trust to hone in on the symbolism and heart of the narrative. Okay, so it was my mom. She had zeroed in on Ashes to Fire.
“I like this one best,” she wrote. “It’s a paradox—how do you go from ashes to fire? You can coax a fire from ashes if there are still embers burning.”
She had, in essence, summed up Mona’s emotional journey, the political intrigue, and the spirituality of book 2’s narrative in one short sentence. Ashes to Fire turned from being a string of meaningless words into a short, dynamic summation of the heart of the book.
(As an aside: many authors I talk to are surprised that several of my beta readers are my immediate family. They say they’d never send their unpublished work to their family members. For my part, I can’t imagine not sending mine to them. This is, in part, why: my family is pretty fly.)
I sent the title to my agent, who sent it to my editor, who responded quickly that he liked it, and that was that. I got him the final draft of the cover, and within a few days, he sent it back with that title slapped across the top.
This publishing world is weird. Some things create massive drama, some barely cause a whisper. I have gotten far more worked up over these manuscripts than I have over parenting (“what? Oh, here, slap a Band-Aid on it and have a cookie.”). I described myself as an over-emotional pudding cup to Twitter during one particular meltdown, despite having assisted in search and rescue and solo-backpacking 40 miles through New Mexico. This is just how it is. This is just how I am. This is how I create and write.
Nothing arrives on paper fully-formed. Every book or painting or other masterpiece is the result of effort and a lifetime of work. And I know I, personally, couldn’t do it without my pool of supportive family, friends, community of authors, and bastion of literary professionals helping me keep up the appearance of sanity.
On that note, I hope my husband will forgive me some day.
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator