Saturday, October 11, 2008

Attention! Any Writers Out there? Here's Your Big Chance!

Here's an early version of the cover for Issue Two. You've seen quite a bit of my work from Swill if you've been following the site -- having to illustrate the son of a bitch is the main reason I'm back in the visual arts.

Swill magazine
is now eagerly awaiting your submissions. If you write fiction please give us your consideration. Swill is a feisty literary magazine and while it is small of press it is large of publication -- it's printed at magazine size and carries as much wordage as a decent-sized book.

There is no payment. I've been working on this thing for three years now and I haven't seen dime one and probably never will. That's not what the magazine's for...

Swill has received praise from both the literary and the genre fiction communities and is part of the permanent collection at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

We did get a bad review once but they complained about things like gratuitous violence (if someone could explain to me how something as inherently rewarding as violence could ever be gratuitous I'd be interested in hearing your position) and plot while another review said that while we published some genre fiction we were a "necessary corrective" to the current literary scene.

Here's what we're looking for. First and foremost we like stories. Stories with characters, plots, settings, themes, beginnings, middles, and ends. This is why we've been accused of genre-ism -- genre is the last true bastion of conventional fiction.

Look, the moment of quiet epiphany has its place. No doubt. But to see it dominate literary fiction to the degree that it has reminds me strongly of the stranglehold superheroes have in the comic book world -- and a lot of the time people invested in literary or academic fiction respond to a story driven by plot and character the way a lot of comic book fans respond to a work that doesn't feature steroid freaks and boob jobs wearing leotards.

And it's not as if that's all we publish. If we like your piece we'll publish it -- we've published experimental fiction and poetry quite cheerfully.

What do we like? Action isn't a bad thing. Make us laugh and you've won our hearts. Mean what you write. Transgression is always popular with me and Rob -- the best story in our first issue got in partially because it offended both of us, which is quite a trick.

If you're interested go to the site and check out the submission guidelines. (For some reason -- probably having to do with frames -- I can't link directly.) You might want to take a peek at the section labeled "Sean Speaks" as well. If you're a fiction writer it should confirm all your worst fears about what happens to your story once you put it in the mail...

And if you're a reader go wander around. I swear, Swill ain't half bad. I recently wrote to Rob and asked him why doing Swill has turned out to be one of the smartest things we've ever done.

He sent an internet sigh. "It's not like it has much competition."

Fair enough.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Anomalocaris canadensis Part Three: Start of Illustrator Shapes

Well, Illustrator is being uncooperative. Note the two shapes in the above sketch that are just hairlines? I can't select the things. Probably have to draw them over again. And I got the direction of the curves wrong in the sketch of the far 'jaw.' And I don't have time to finish the other 'jaw' before I head out to class in about fifteen minutes.

And I'm almost done with the next chapter of the novel -- and I had to send out this weeks submission a few minutes ago.

Nothing like petty frustrations. Think I'll take some time out this evening and really start flagellating myself over my inability to perform up to my self-imposed standards. Thankfully they're impossible so I'll never have to stop beating myself up.

I'm thinking about doing a little hit-whoring as well. Since the Jurassic Fight Club review is the thing that's gotten me the most attention I'm thinking of doing another TV show review just to see what happens. I'd hate to make a habit of it but hey. If it works...

Look at the time. Guess I better go pull my boots on and hop on the bike...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Anomalocaris canadensis Part Two: Revised Sketch

I lost more than twenty percent of my body weight overnight! Ask me how I did it!

So on the advice of Sam Gon III over at The Anomalocaris Homepage (see my links -- I really, really need to figure out how to do links inside a post but I think that might involve HTML and the very thought makes my blood run cold) I've trimmed down old Anomalocaris and while I was at it I changed the attachment of the fins.

I've got a grim feeling that this is going to make it more difficult to render in Illustrator, which likes nice clean seperate shapes. I may have to render them as seperate shapes, then blend them using color. We'll see...

The fins represent a bit of an issue in that they seem to have been stiff but they were not made of/covered in shell. (Sclerotized is the word for this. Thanks for the new word, Sam!) I can't quite get a mental grip on the texture of them. They weren't soft like a squid or a nudibranch, they weren't hard like an arthropod... I wish I knew more about the textures of invertebrates. I should spend an afternoon fondling creeping things.

But the tail was sclerotized (I'm assuming the word comes from sclerotin, which is the hard part of an arthropod's armor as contrasted with chitin which is flexible and forms the joints -- and is also the structural material in mushrooms. I wonder if the taste of seafood-flavored mushrooms like oyster or lobster mushrooms has anything to do with this?) so I can think of it as being something like the tail of a prawn.

Now it's back to the novel.

A Disturbing Little Chat with the Missus

Well, it's five in the morning, I've been up since one, I need to trim down my Anomalocaris and make Matt and the Deacon quit dicking around and get back to the story...

But first here's a conversation I had with the missus yesterday afternoon.

Me: I'm thinking about going back on supplements.

She: I wish you would. You're a lot easier to get along with.

Me: I've just been nervous ever since I read about the increased death rate for people who take nutritional supplements. And it seems like nobody really knows what's going on with nutrition. I have no idea where to go for information.

She: You could talk to my nutritionist...

Me: That's the thing -- you've been to a bunch of nutritionists and they all give you totally different advice. Without a consensus what's your basis for making a decision?

She: You could do the hair analysis.

Me: Well, that's better than spit dowsing but I still don't trust it. I gotta do something, though. The crazy has been biting bad the last few months.

She: No fooling.

Me: It does seem like the vitamins help. Fuck it; it's probably worth losing a few years of life.

She: Yes.

(A quick post-conversation scan of the internet suggested that B, C, and a number of mineral deficiencies can cause mental illness -- but if you don't have a deficiency then there's no point in taking supplements. I'm gonna try taking a C supplement and eating nutritional yeast for a while, maybe try a manganese supplement. It's kind of a drag -- the yeast is tasty but it gives me breath that smells like a fart, which is why I stopped eating it before. Of course if you're intolerable there's no point in having breath as sweet as the zephyrs of May, now is there?)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Anomalocaris canadensis Part One: Sketch

And in this corner, the bastard of the Burgess, sixty centimeters of spineless savagery, Anomalocaris canadensis!

Here's the first entry in my next series of prints. The initial goal is to do one animal from each of the main geological periods with the finished prints showing the animals at roughly life-size. I'm starting with the Cambrian but then I'll be jumping to the Permian for a Lycaenops, a yard-long gorgonopsian.

While I do want to do a dinosaur or two, part of the reason for the project is to show off some animals that don't get the same kind of love the dinosaurs do. I might do a simiosaurian from the Triassic... Heck, maybe I should skip dinosaurs entirely. But I want to do a psitticosaurus and a small maniraptor and... Decisions, decisions.

That said, I know there have been a lot of reconstructions of Anomalocaris done over the years. But hey -- what else in the Cambrian is big enough to make a good art print? Huh? Huh?

So now it's time to take this pup into Illustrator and start rendering it. I just hope I'm able to do all the final color rendering in Illustrator but there's a good chance I'll need to do some finishing work in Photoshop as I did with the Pterygotus buffaloensis drawing...

I Can't Possibly Be The Only One Thinking This...

Okay. With luck -- or rather, draftsmanship -- on my side I'll be posting a sketch of Anomalocaris canadensis later today. But just in case, here's a little political raving to keep things from slowing down too badly. Please feel free to ignore this; and remember, these are the opinions of a raving nutbar.

Right now the economy is a central issue in all our lives. Exactly why is America's economy in the shitter? We're conducting a war -- to conduct a war and ruin an economy at the same time seems like some sort of magic trick.

I'm no economist, I'm woefully ignorant of politics. But it seems to me that when you run a war you have to fucking well run a war. That means paying for the war, not just sending people off to battle.

It means victory gardens, scrap metal drives, war bonds. It means that the civilian population has to throw its support behind the military.

The current administration paid for the Iraq war (or, currently, occupation) with credit cards.

Your credit cards.

To conduct a war and cut taxes at the same time means that the war has to be paid for by going into debt. This is profoundly foolish.

Worse than that much of the money funneled into both the war and anti-terrorism efforts turned out to be straight-up pork. "No-bid contracts?" Wiretapping? Give me a break -- these were excuses to move money from public to private pockets. And given the administration's connections with companies like Halliburton it is difficult not to read this as a case of a bunch of war criminals plundering one nation while bombing another.

If this government had actually conducted the war on a fiscally responsible basis they would have needed cooperation from the nation as a whole. Which means they would have had to justify the whole shebang. Which they could not do.

So they ran the country into debt while a handful of private interests almost choked themselves to death on the flood of dollars cascaded down their throats -- and that money had to come from somewhere.

Whoever comes into office next is going to be reaping the harvest of the last eight years -- or rather, the accumulated harvest of every administration from Reagan on. That's when the deregulazation of the financial industry began and things have been going downhill ever since.

Of course the American people are also responsible for this. By allowing ourselves to be controlled by fear, by listening to the Big Lie over and over again, by simply being selfish and short-sighted we have helped to bring this situation to pass. Shame on us.

Interesting that the bill is coming due just as Bush is on his way out of the White House. I really, really hope there is some legal recourse we can take to bring him, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of that bloody-snouted herd of anthropophagous swine to some kind of justice.

But I doubt it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Speculative Biology of the Limbus Part One: A Desperate, Pathetic Plea for Thoughts and Inspiration

Another linoleum cut, this one based on a dried piranha I picked up at a flea market.

I'm asking for some inspiration regarding a certain element of the novel. Even if I don't get any response I'm sure that just laying it out will give me a chance to think about things in a different way.

So here's the official Spoiler Warning! If you might want to read the novel at some point, be warned that you're getting inside information here. My own thought is that if knowing this stuff ruins the reading experience for you than I haven't written a good enough book -- but others are more sensitive to these things than I am.

One of the most difficult aspects of writing the novel has been the ongoing process of conceiving the... Well, in this story it's a facet of the afterlife but you can think of it as Fairyland, Oz, Middle Earth, the Enchanted Forest, the Monster Zone.

It's called the Limbus. I chose the name after searching randomly through the dictionary. I needed a name for the place between life and the real afterlife, the place where souls got a chance to let go of their attachments to life before moving on.

Later I found out that in Medieval theology the Limbus was a place between Heaven and Hell, while in biology a limbus is an indeterminate area of tissue between two organs. This was interesting because if you put those two concepts together, well, that's what the Limbus is in the novel.

(For the record, my official position is to deny the existence of souls and the afterlife and any type of Easter Bunny stuff at all. My honest position is a lot spookier and more complicated and will be the subject of an upcoming essay.

But for the novel I'm proposing an unusual version of life after death that plays into cultural expectations and messes with them at the same time...)

Anyway. The Limbus is just a part of the natural world, of the cycle of life energies that extends far beyond our perceived existence. And it originated as part of the Earth before it grew into the Limbus.

It started out as a farm in Florida and the first sign that it was becoming something other than a patch of land was when the living things both plant and animal began to change.

In the Limbus organisms can change shape to match the desires and fears they have for their bodies. This notion was originally in place to allow for some metamorphoses on the parts of the lead characters but then I realized that if that was a natural law of the land it would affect the plants and animals in the Limbus as well.

Another aspect of the Limbus is that time passes there much more quickly than it does on Earth and the difference in rates is continually increasing.

I put those two things together and realized that I had inadvertantly dunked chocolate into peanut butter and the result was an environment where Lamarckian evolution (a discredited model of evolution based on the idea of purposeful change) would take place while the characters were watching -- where the ecology as well as the species would change drastically over the course of the novel in a way that would support the story.

So here's the question: What kinds of animals would evolve out of the population living on a subistance farm in Florida in the early eighteen-hundreds?

I'll post further information on the environment next time but here's a taste of what I've got down so far and frankly I'm thinking my imagination is a bit lame.

A hill of monstrous animal bodies joined together in a single mass as though they’re devouring each other or are locked in coitus or both. Pressed in between a wingless rooster ten feet tall with scimitar spurs and a hog with the legs of a racehorse and jaws like an alligator I see a familiar shape. It’s human. I wonder if it’s someone I know.


Then the sound of a branch snapping came from the woods. I looked over and saw that a tree was shaking; the motion died. Then I saw a treetop pull away from me. There was another snap and the tree lashed back into place. I saw something reddish-brown in the treetops.

As I got closer I could hear chewing sounds, see more of the animals. I shouldn’t have approached them but I could not for the life of me figure out what they were. They had the heads of cattle, horns neatly curled in front of their ears. A beautiful dark roan with white bellies and white stripes at the haunches, they were six feet at the shoulder with another three feet of neck; their backs sloped sharply, rear legs distinctly shorter than their forelegs. Long tufted tails whipped at insects; they looked like cows trying to be giraffes.

I stood still and watched them feed, wrapping their long prehensile tongues around small branches and pulling them loose from the tree. There was a surge in the music and I snapped back into consciousness and started backing away.

There was a snort from the brush in front of me, deep and powerful, and a clot of dirt and grass arched through the air. I’d been looking up and the bull was close to the ground. Built like a pig with a narrow muzzle made for grubbing in the dirt, it was far more massive than the cows, thick neck holding a head easily two feet across. One horn hooked down below its jaw and it dug it into the dirt and threw another clod into the air. The other horn curved out and forward, more than a yard long. The bull was sideways to me; it glanced at me, arched its back and shook its head.


“Just give me your story, son, and I’ll decide if I think you’re lying. But half a moment.” He stuck the fingers of his free hand in his mouth and whistled loud, one short, one long, one short. I heard the sound of something big galloping towards us.

It was a dog, a fox-faced yellow dog the size of a quarter horse. His long bushy tail curled up over his back. He had a saddle and blanket on its back but no bridle.


The watercourse was broken up by huge boulders and overhung by trees. They had white trunks and broad hand-shaped leaves, their trunks almost hand-shaped as well with a broad mass laying on the ground and fingers a couple of feet thick thrust up from one edge, the opposite edge rooted in the ground. I had no idea what they were; some kind of sycamore?


Something that looked like a dragonfly with soft droopy wings and a body loosely dangled between them was working a cascade of tiny pale-yellow blossoms on a tree; it was at least three inches long and as bulky as a mouse. With a buzz and thwap it was dropped from the air by a beetle as long as my hand and as thick as a cigar. It folded its wings under their green cases and began to loudly munch the nectar-eating dragonfly.


As I got in the water I noticed the water-skimmers at the water’s edge. Like the other insects I’d seen this trip they were oversized, too big to skim the water. Instead, they stuck close to the shore and waded. I’d bet real American dollars that there was some extra oxygen in the air if the bugs were getting this big.


The Deacon’s new dogs didn’t look the same as Tap. One had a saddle, one loaded with gear, they were gray as ash with just a sandy hint of yellow over the ribs. They were longer and rangier than Tap had been, easily six feet at the shoulder but still narrow enough to straddle, their fur sleek and close to the body. Their paws were broader, the toes spread wide as if for gripping, and they had the easy lope of a Rhodesian ridgeback.

But it was their demeanor that had the real difference. I didn’t look in their eyes, didn’t look directly at them. They returned the favor and pretended I wasn’t there. They weren’t interested in me at the moment and I knew better than to approach animals of that temperament. They had the vibe of a bad Doberman along with the skittish wildness of a wolf cross. They were one-man dogs — for as long as that man could maintain dominance.

So there's a taste of it. I'll have more on the environment tomorrow. Yeah, this is definitely a fantasy novel -- but there are aspects of it that I'm treating as if they were Golden Age science fiction, where an admittedly unscientific premise is given a dose of rigorous speculation...

What the hell am I doing, anyway?