May 22, 2018

Lino Prints by Harris

        Deborah Harris (USA) is a block print artist with a distinctive style that simplifies subjects, emphasizes graphic qualities, exaggerates distinctive elements, and makes wonderful use of the drama of black and white.  Harris does some interesting political pieces which I may share another day, but today I’m sharing a couple of my favorite of her lovely plants and animals because I need the joy.
        First up, a charming billy goat.  Notice how wonderfully hairy he is around the edges.  In places his hair blends right into the texture of the background, which is also quite full of hairy little lines.  I also really love the flowers in his background, as if he’s posed regally before damask hangings - or perhaps a lush meadow is equally regal.  I might be afraid to put a busily detailed foreground in front of a busily detailed background, but Harris makes it work beautifully.
        This snake is very dramatic indeed, popping off its own shadow, framed in a spotlight.  The shadow makes our eyes read this snake as active, head raised, instead of lying peacefully basking in the hot, white sunlight.  The saw-toothed edges add to the drama.
        Equally dramatic but with a very different effect is what I identify as lilies-of-the-valley.  They certainly aren’t botanically accurate, but Harris has exaggerated the distinctive forms of the plant.  This time the lighting is only in the center, with the edges disappearing into thin outlines around black on black.  Her little monogram makes an attractive part of the design, balanced by the small silhouetted crane, which looks like another sort of seal or symbol.
        And finally, some chrysanthemums with another background full of carved lines.  The background and the petals have the same sorts of lines, but Harris has given the composition enough pure black and pure white to make everything pop.
        I find Harris’s work interesting to study how she uses light and texture, but they’re also just really pleasing!

[Pictures: Billy Goat, linoleum block print by Deborah Harris;
Snake, linoleum block print by Harris, 2008;
untitled, block print by Harris;

Chrysanthemums, linoleum block print by Harris (Images from]

May 18, 2018

Spring Magic

        It’s time for another fantasy poem, so here is Alzuna by Alfred Noyes (UK, 1880-1958).  

The forest of Alzuna hides a pool.
Beside that pool, a shadowy tree up-towers.
High on that tree, a bough most beautiful
Bends with the fragrant burden of its flowers.
Among those flowers a nest is buried deep.
Warm in that nest, there lies a freckled shell.
Packed in that shell, a bird is fast asleep.
This is the incantation and the spell.

For, when the north wind blows, the bird will cry,
“Warm in my freckled shell, I lie asleep.
The freckled shell is in the nest on high.
The nest among the flowers is buried deep.
The flowers are on a bough most beautiful.
The bough is on a tree no axe can fell.
The sky is at its feet in yonder pool.
This is the incantation and the spell!”

        This is an odd poem, but I think a fun one.  Using the chain structure of many simple, silly children’s rhymes (such as The House that Jack Built), it manages to sound a little more Serious and Significant.  With a symmetrical structure that works its way in and then all the way back out again to end where it began, it manages to sound as if it’s  actually getting Deeper and Deeper.  The whole sound of it is rather like an incantation and a spell, but what, in fact, is the magic?  As I sit here with the robin nesting in the holly bush outside my window, the mere ordinary spring fact of a bird packed warmly in an egg in a nest in a flowering tree seems like as mystical and magical a thing as the world could possibly need.

[Picture: Preface heading, wood engraving by Charlton Nesbit from Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds, Vol. 1, 1797 (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]

May 15, 2018

More Printmaking Classes

        Here are just a smattering of pieces that I happened to photograph, made by artists in my adult ed printmaking class in March-April.  I offer them with a few observations about the differences between the work of these adults and the children in my summer classes.
        1.  Adults are quite happy with black and white, while children want as many different colors of ink as possible.  In the adult class I only once was asked for ink other than black, while the kids ask me for 6 colors a day (the most I can put out at a time).  Plus sometimes I wash plates and change out the colors multiple times during a 3-hour class, and often the kids want to mix colors or make ombre colors, as well.  (For the colors on the pieces shown here, the artist watercolored paper at home and brought it to class to print on top… with black ink.)
        2. Adults are more willing to embrace the beauty of unplanned carved lines in the backgrounds, while children tend to want their backgrounds cleaned up to pure, blank white.
        3.  Children tend to have difficulty with - or just impatience for carving - lots of texture and pattern.  They are much more likely to stick with outlines and areas that are solid black or solid white.  Adults spend much more time adding details of pattern and texture.
        4.  Adults also spend much more time reworking blocks: testing, carving a bit more, testing, carving a bit more…  while most children don’t go through more than one or two iterations of testing and tweaking.
        5.  Adults make more interesting, complex compositions.  This isn’t just about printmaking, of course, but is the developmental stage in all visual arts.  Children until about age 11-12-ish tend not to overlap elements in their pictures, not to put them off-center or crop them,
not to use unusual viewpoints.  They generally like all their elements neatly centered, with blank space framing them, each element clearly visible in its entirety (which is why it’s fun to push them a bit with the foreground/background project.)
        For me its always fun to see both - what children do and then what adults do.  So I’ll be teaching an adult class again in the fall, but first, there are still spaces in my summer printmaking classes for children currently in grades 4-8.  So if you have any arts-and-crafts-loving children who want to join the printmaking fun, be sure to sign them up for either session in Needham Community Education’s Summer Explorations program.

[Pictures: Three pieces with watercolor backgrounds, rubber block prints by NA, 2018;
Egyptian falcon, rubber block print by SB, 2018;
Poppies, rubber block print by PL, 2018;
Brocade design, rubber block print by RG, 2018;
Friend’s dog, rubber block print by MH, 2018;
Trout, rubber block print by NB, 2018;
Faithful dog?, rubber block print by PG, 2018.]

May 11, 2018

Here's Something Cool: Mechanical Birds

        It’s time for another selection of gorgeous steampunky sculptures, and this time I have for you two artists whose birds come out quite different in style, but who both assemble their sculptures from very specific found objects.
        Jeremy Mayer made these swallows entirely from parts of old typewriters.  They include absolutely nothing that isn’t from the typewriters - not even glue or solder.  The outer stretch of the wings can fan in and out, which makes them seem that much more like robots or automatons rather than mere objects d’art.  What’s so much fun about them is that the typewriter parts are not in any way disguised or transformed, they’re very clearly still recognizable typewriter parts, and yet when assembled in this way they simultaneously become 100% swallows.
        Matt Wilson (aka Airtight Artwork), on the other hand, builds his birds almost entirely from silverware, adding only a bit of wire and sometimes other bits of scrap metal, and mounting them on wood.  These are certainly art sculptures, not robots(!), but they share with Mayer’s swallows that incredible property of reusing objects intended for something entirely different, and yet making them seem as if they must have been designed precisely for
their current spot.  The curves of spoons, the serrations of knife blades, the feathers - I mean
tines - of the forks…  Wilson’s birds are also amazing for what they don’t include.  There is often quite a bit of negative space in his designs, hollow areas, details left out, and yet they include everything necessary to capture the perfect essence of titmouse, nuthatch, or wren.  The other thing I find great about them is that they’re made from very ordinary, junky silverware.  I’ve seen plenty of lovely things made from lovely antique silver spoons, but it’s all the more wonderful to make such objects of beauty from something that really doesn’t seem at all beautiful before its transformation.
        Both of these artists have the wonderful gift of seeing the beautiful potential in something not very beautiful, and of course they also both have the gift of being able to make that transformation so that the rest of us can see it, too.  Charms, transfiguration, or illusion, it’s surely some kind of magic.

        (See some previously posted cool Mechanical Treasures here.)

[Pictures: Typewriter part swallows, assembled sculptures by Jeremy Mayer, c 2013 (Images from Colossal);
Silverware birds, sculptures by Matt Wilson, c 2017 (Images from Colossal and My Modern Met).]

May 8, 2018

A-Z Reflections

        Well, I don’t generally publish my reflections about my blogging because why should anyone care?  But this year they’re asking that the Reflections post be linked in order to tally up everyone who completed the A-Z Challenge, so here are a few thoughts so that I dutifully have reflections to link:
     - I should have included a one-sentence intro at the top of each post reiterating what my theme was, so that people who dipped in here and there would understand what they were finding.
     - I wish the spreadsheet of the links for each day was searchable (or maybe it was, and I just didn’t know how.)  Also that it included the title of each post.
     - My speed would definitely be to do the alphabet over two months instead of just one, but I certainly enjoyed coming up with all the posts, and managed to keep ahead of the days better this year than last (although that probably had more to do with my theme than with my somehow getting better at blog challenges).
        And now I shall share something a little more interesting for all you alphabet lovers.  This alphabet, illustrated with hand-colored woodcuts, comes from The Hobby-Horse, or the High Road to Learning from 1820.  There are some really interesting details, especially considering that this was most definitely intended to be educational for children.  What children’s alphabet today would include “D - was a Drunkard” or “G - was a Gamester”?  What educational book would teach children that the Robber should be whipped, the Oyster-wench is a scold, and the Vintner is a sot?  And notice that we're missing the letters I and U; they were often considered mere variants of J and V.  (Plus it's easier to arrange 24 letters than 26... and would have made April's challenge a little easier, too.)
        There are some pretty amusing details, as well, such as the King governing a mouse, for no apparent reason other than making a rhyme, which presumably also explains why on earth an archer should shoot a frog.  There’s the elegant Lady dressed in such current fashion that you can date the book from her attire alone.  There’s the Quaker who looks extremely un-Quakerly, apparently refusing to bow not because of a belief in equality but because of sheer overwhelming snobbery.
        These particular wood block prints are certainly not my favorite style, although some of the people’s expressions are skillfully done like political cartoons, and the hand coloring in this edition, though I tend to prefer my woodcuts uncolored, is exceptionally high quality.  Mostly, though, this alphabet is a fascinating demonstration of how children’s books illuminate their own time and agenda with remarkable clarity… and that’s surely amusing and educational.

[Pictures: “A was an Archer” alphabet from The Hobby-Horse, or the High Road to Learning, published by J. Harris and Son, 1820 (Images from A Nursery Companion by Iona and Peter Opie, 1980).]

May 4, 2018

First Experiments

        During the April A-Z Blog Challenge I was teaching a community ed block printing class with adults, and I couldn’t post any of their work because the April blog was entirely booked.  But now A-Z is over and it’s time to switch gears and share some fun rubber block prints.
        This is the introductory project of the class: the chance to start getting a feel for the rubber, how to get different effects, what the patterns look like when they’re inked and printed, and generally just dig in and see what happens.  Each artist began with a small rubber block, 3x4 inches, divided the space into several areas, and experimented with different patterns and textures in the different areas.  The idea was inspired by Zentangle doodling, but the purpose is very different.  It’s a chance for beginning printmakers to get the hang of this whole relief print thing before starting on a block for which they have grand plans and the potential for disappointment.  For example, how do you make each little carved line end exactly where you want it?  What’s the most comfortable and controlled way to carve curves
and circles?  What’s with that whole backwards thing where the more you carve the lighter an area gets?  How do you get the contrasts and patterns you want?
        I had nine artists in my class, and, as usual, they brought a range of experience, a range of taste and style, a range of ideas and inspirations.  As this was my first class of adults, I was also quite amused and interested to note how adults differ from children in the way they approach the projects.  Anyway, since I have only seven projects pictured here today, there are clearly two I didn’t manage to photograph, but nevertheless you get the idea of some of the range of patterns and effects the class produced.  It should be noted that these blocks were mostly just roughly inked and printed to get the idea, so they are not perfect impressions.  Some were worked further afterwards, others were declared finished, and we went on to the next block.
        Thanks to all my students - I had a great time and hope you did, too!
        And an ANNOUNCEMENT to anyone local: this weekend is Needham Open Studios - the 20th year of NOS, no less.  This anniversary year there are over 45 artists in 15 locations all around Needham, showing a variety of art in all sorts of media and styles.  It should be a lovely weekend to get out and about and enjoy some really inspiring art.  I’ll be showing at First Baptist Church on Great Plain Avenue, along with 6 other
artists.  In fact, the car is already packed and I’m about to go set up the space.  I hope to see you there on Saturday or Sunday!

[Pictures: Experimental patterns, rubber blocks by seven artists, 2018.]

April 30, 2018

Z is for Zenon

        In a plain white-painted room, with plain stackable tables and chairs, a nondescript man in khaki scrubs sat with another man who looked somewhat similar, but was noticeably handsomer.  Where the first man was average height and average build, the younger one was taller, more muscular.  Where the first had average light skin, the second was a little tanner.  Where the first had average brown hair, the younger man’s was a little darker and a little wavier.
        It was visiting hours at the prison, and all around the two men prisoners and their visitors sat at the tables talking and sharing food from the vending machines.  Guards watched over the room, but paid little attention to individual conversations.
        Zenon Blank was saying, “I can drive up to Boston this week.  Give me the address where they have one of those books you told me about, and I can have you out of here next time I visit.”
        Ammon Blank shook his head.  “Slow down.  I don’t want to be here a day longer than I have to, but it would be stupid to mess this up.  If we don’t do it right the first time, we’ll end up getting ourselves in bigger trouble.  So first of all, it won’t do us any good to steal the Books in Boston or Cleveland.  Those people know about the connection between the Books and as soon as you steal one, they’ll go through the portal from the other and find you.  You need to steal the Book that’s in London.”
        “London!  Are you gonna pay to fly me to London?”
        “What happened to all the money I gave you last month?”  Ammon sighed.  “Fine.  I’ll make arrangements to get you an airplane ticket.  The Book is at the Christopher Wren Museum.”
        “You’re sending me to rob a museum instead of a private house?  And this is your idea of a safer job?”
        “Keep your voice down, Zenon!  You do remember we’re in a prison, right?  It’s a pretty small museum and I don’t think it has a major security system.  I’ll see if I can do a little research from here, but you’re going to have to do some work yourself for once, Zenon.”
        Zenon scowled for a moment, then shrugged and smiled his charmingly handsome smile.  “Okay, big bro.  I got this.”

        Zenon Blank from The Extraordinary Salamander Door, the in-progress sequel to upper middle-grade fantasy The Extraordinary Book of Doors.

[Picture: created by photoshopping from model.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter Z.

        In addition to being the last post of the A-Z Challenge, today is also the last post of the month, and that means it’s time for a Word of the Month.  In honor of the Extraordinary Book of Doors, here is a fun door-related word:
        Tomason - an architectural feature that has lost its purpose and become useless, but still remains, making a sort of inadvertent sculptural element.
        One type of Tomason is doors that open onto air in a high place, precisely one of the things that Chen worries about in the book, and which indeed one of the doors turns out to be.  Other common types of Tomason are stairs to nowhere and bricked-up windows, but any sort of no-longer-functional architectural element is fair game.  The word was coined by Japanese architect Akasegawa Genpei after baseball player Gary Thomasson, who received an enormous contract in 1981 and then never played much (or well).  Because of this derivation the word is also sometimes spelled Thomasson or
        So keep your eyes open and enjoy any Tomason you may notice - just be careful when stepping through unfamiliar doors.

[Pictures: Elevated door (Image from shuusukeshiroi);
Staircase from the demolished Winston Churchill Bridge in Strasbourg, France (Image from Messy Nessy).]

April 28, 2018

Y is for Yunib

        After they had ridden north for a while in silence, Svarnil said, “It almost seems as if we’re on a road.  Have you noticed that there are blocks and mounds on either side, but this straight line we travel is quite smooth?”
        Yunib looked around critically and nodded.  “It would be a reasonable place for a road to have been – connecting the city with the Ring of Gods.”
        “If so,” Imruk-Black said thoughtfully, “We would seem to be heading away from the center of the city.  But if this storm came from the nameless gods, then we should expect to find some sign of it at the Ring of Gods, rather than in the ruins of the city.”
        Nulif objected, “For myself, I do not believe that those statues are anything other than stone.”  He glanced at Svarnil with a slight smile.  “They are no gods.  If magic powers were loosed here in Edah I think it no more likely they came from a few statues as from anywhere else among the ruins.  Except inasmuch as people who believe in those gods may have worked their incantations from a place to which they attribute special power.”
        Yunib’s laugh rang out across the sand.  “How narrow-minded are the Chebik-lan to believe in only one god!  You and the Sinbal tribespeople, always insisting on just one.  You can refuse to acknowledge the obvious, but you’ll have to admit I’m right when the vulture god comes for you!”
        “Do not invoke the vulture god, even in jest,” snapped Imruk-Black.
        Svarnil said, “Whether there is a vulture god or not, have you noticed a single vulture today?  Or indeed, any sort of creature?”  She stared into the dome of the sky, where not so much as a black speck appeared against the flat, uniform blue.
        “That is strange,” Imruk-Black agreed.
        “I daresay they’ll turn up soon enough if the gods provide them with our corpses,” laughed Yunib, earning himself another stern glare from the nomad.  Svarnil looked at Yunib, as well. She could not make up her mind whether to respect the Sisoan for his boldness or to take his flippancy as evidence of foolishness.  She glanced at Nulif and saw him raise his eyebrows questioningly at her.  His own thoughts must be running along much the same lines.  At least Yunib’s injury was not severe enough to keep him somber.

        Yunib from Ruin of Ancient Powers, sixth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 6: The Silence of Edah).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: The Ring of Gods of Edah, drawing by AEGN, 1995.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter Y.

April 27, 2018

X is for Xenops

The xenops is another bird that clings to trees
            and pecks,
But the coolest thing about it is, its name
            begins with X!

        Okay, so I didn’t make up the xenops and indeed it’s not fictional at all, but it is a character in one of my books: my alphabet of animals.

        Xenops from Amazing, Beguiling, Curious: 26 Fascinating Creatures, an alphabet book for ages 3-8.  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Xenops, rubber block print by AEGN, 2009.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter X.

April 26, 2018

W is for Wogwa

        Kate and Sam lay all the way down on the grass on their stomachs and put their heads right up to the large, slimy, pinkish-red worm where he hid among the damp leaves.  It was then that they finally heard Wogwa’s faint, wheezy voice.
        “All right, young folks, no need to breath so hard on me.  You’re drying me out!” said the worm querulously.  Sam and Kate turned their faces slightly, and Wogwa continued, “That’s better.  So, you want to know what those ornery little chipmunks are up to, eh?  Well, I went in their secret burrow, all right.  I crept in from the side, like, as if I were just burrowing along and happened to meet up with their tunnel accidentally, if you see what I mean.”  The wrinkled pink head nodded in satisfaction.  “Oh yes, these two young rabbit scamps might not have told you, but I know about these things.  This isn’t the first reconnaissance mission I’ve been on in my time, not by a long shot it isn’t.  Why, I could tell you about the time I had to follow this shrew right down to -”
        Motu interrupted the worm, “We know, Wogwa, we know.  But right now we don’t want to hear about the shrew.  We want to hear about the chipmunks!”
        The worm peered up at the rabbit and wagged his head.  “All right, all right, whippersnapper.  No need to rush me.  Where was I?  Oh yes, so I joined the chipmunks’ tunnel from the side, and then began to follow along it, half-buried in the edge.  More paralleling it, like, if you see what I mean.  Oh it was a deep one, I’ll tell you, that burrow.  I’ve dug some deep burrows myself, too, six feet, eight feet, twelve...  It’s not for nothing they call me The Drill.”
        Motu said, “If you bore such deep holes, is that why they call you The Bore?”
        “Eh, what was that, bunny?” asked the worm, raising his head, but Tuzi poked her brother sharply with a hind foot, and Motu answered, “Nothing, Wogwa.  Go on.”
        “Well then,” the old worm continued, “I followed this burrow on and on all night.  Had some close calls with those chipmunks, too, I can tell you.  They were digging at it the whole time, running up and down with their pouches full of dirt and a fanatical gleam in their eyes, if you see what I mean.  Oh, you might think we night-crawlers wouldn’t know too much about eyes, but believe you me, I know a fanatical gleam when I come across one.  Oh yes, those chipmunks were up to something for sure.”
        The old worm stopped, nodding his wrinkled head again, until after a moment Sam prompted, “So what were they up to?”
        “Eh?  You want to know what they’re up to?  Wouldn’t we all, boy, wouldn’t we all.  But I never got to the end of it, so I can’t tell you.  Oh, I’ve seen chipmunk burrows twenty feet long and more, but this one was the longest I’ve ever seen, and deep it was, too.  Right under your house it went, right through all that packed down dirt.  Not an easy job digging under a foundation, I promise you that.  Impressive, really, that they could handle a job like this at all.  I wouldn’t have thought those amateurs would’ve had it in them.  But I hadn’t reached the end when this big beefy chipmunk stops and looks at me.  And What’s this worm doing here? he asks.  I think, Uh oh, what are you going to do now, you old chipmunk? and he calls out, Hasn’t this worm been hanging around all night?  Isn’t this the same one we saw farther up the tunnel earlier?  Well, I don’t wait around any longer after hearing that, I can tell you.  The tunnel took a bit of a curve just about there, and I kept right on drilling along in a straight line, like as if it was just coincidence that their tunnel happened to be running along my chosen course, if you see what I mean.  I pretended to pay no mind to that big chipmunk or anything he said, and he watched me head off and shrugged.  Yes, those critters are only too quick to believe they’re the only smart ones in the yard.  Some folks will tell you worms
have just a simple nervous system and not much of a brain, but I can tell you I’ve seen any number of critters with big complex brains acting a whole lot stupider than your average night-crawler.  Oh yes, big brains aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, if you see what I mean.”

        Wogwa from Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom, the second book in a read-aloud fantasy series for ages 4-9 and their
adults (excerpt from Chapter 1: Trouble with Chipmunks).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Wogwa, illustration by AEGN, 2009.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter W.

April 25, 2018

V is for Varslan

  Varslan appeared in the doorway of Venn’s room, bouncing on his toes in excitement and calling over his shoulder to his teacher, “Please, Venn, can we go around town with Svarnil and Kurit?  It would be very good for my education.”
  “Very well,” the bard replied.
  Varslan came running outside, Venn following after him.
  “First let me show you the dove-cote,” said Svarnil, and the three elves led the drake along the wooded path to the center of Tanoeb.
  Varslan looked thrilled to be in the company of a dragon.  He swaggered along like a prince, and when they reached the scribe’s dove-cote, he made the introductions himself while Svarnil and Thimberil embraced.
  “You are the dove-mistress now?” cried Svarnil with a smile.
  “Indeed I am.  Calain retired on his birthday.”
  “And Segrid.  He must be two years old now?”
  “Yes, and talking all day long.  He’s usually with me, but…” Thimberil glanced anxiously at Kurit, “He’s with my mother today.  I did not trust him running loose just now.”
  By now Varslan had taken it upon himself to explain the messenger doves to the dragon, and as their attention turned to the dove-mistress, Svarnil changed the subject.
  “When I come back after this is all over we can have a proper talk,” Svarnil said, “But I suppose Kurit and I had better continue our tour.  I want to show him the whole town.”
  “The whole town!” Thimberil laughed, “You speak as if that’s a lot to show!  But all your travels still haven’t taught you to scorn our little village.”
  “Oh no!  I wouldn’t trade Tanoeb for all the cities of the Otherworld!”  Svarnil turned to Kurit and added wryly, “Thimberil is right, though.  You’ll have seen all there is to see by noon.”
  “Well, come on, Kurit!” cried Varslan, “Let’s go next to Soren’s.  He’s the carpenter.”
  “Varslan,” Venn said quietly, “You are with Svarnil and Kurit, but you are here at their sufferance.  You are not the one to tell them where to go.”
  Varslan drooped a bit, and Svarnil said, “Soren’s is as good a place as any to see next.”
They walked across the central clearing, all the elves averting their eyes hastily from the dragon when he turned toward them.
  Varslan, brows furrowed in deep thought, suddenly blurted, “If I can speak with Kurit, does that not make me a dragonlord?”
  “Nay,” Kurit retorted harshly, a puff of black smoke escaping with the force of the word.  “If thou turnest thy arrow from the rabbit, is the rabbit thy equal?  A dragonlord is one whom a dragon does not kill because that is a person whom he recognizes as a peer, and, unlike mere people, a dragon will never stoop to murder an equal.  Thou, elfspawn, art no dragon’s equal.  Thy insignificant life is safe with me because I have said I will harm no elves as long as our truce holds.  But do not presume on that safety.  I am no tame beast.”
  “No, sir!” squeaked the boy quickly, and shifted himself to the other side of Venn.

        Varslan (and a bonus V, Venn) from A Threatening of Dragons, fifth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 8: Tanoeb).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Elvish boy’s tunic, design for modding The Sims, by penguiny7 (Image from modthesims).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter V.

April 24, 2018

U is for Uber

        “I’m going to get us in trouble?” Chen sputtered, “I’m going to get us in trouble?  It’s your cat!  You’re the one who brought your cat into an art museum, which, by the way, you still haven’t explained!”
        Polly just gave Chen a disappointed look and whispered loudly, “Uber!  Here, Uber!”
        “Mommy,” came a piercing voice from beyond the next archway, “Mommy, look at the pretty kitty!”
        Polly strode to the side of the wide opening into the next room, flattened herself against the wall, and peeked cautiously around the left edge.  Following her lead, Chen leapt to the right side and peered around, too.  The gallery was full of Gothic sculptures: madonnas on pedestals, two large stone griffins on either side of an archway, and, beyond the archway, sitting primly on the platform in front of a carved marble panel, a calico cat.  Coming toward them was a small boy staring back over his shoulder at Uber.  His mother, pulling him by the hand, was looking at a text on her cell phone.
        “Inside voice, Mikey,” said the mother automatically, “Come on, sweetie, we have to get going.”
        “But I wanna pet the kitty!”
        “Mikey, you can’t pet the sculptures!  Remember, we have to look with our eyes not our
hands, right, sweetie?”
        Chen, staring horrified at Uber sitting in plain sight, murmured urgently, “Don’t look back, lady.  Don’t look back…” 
        “But Mommy, it’s a real kitty!  I can pet a real kitty,” insisted young Mikey, still staring at Uber.  Uber gazed back at him steadily, and flicked the black tip of her tail.  “See, Mommy, it moved!”
        “Don’t look back,” muttered Chen, “Please, please, please don’t look back!”
        The mother, just about to pull her son through the doorway, finally turned and looked back at the boy.  He pointed triumphantly at Uber.
        Chen held his breath.  He heard Polly breathe, “Uh oh…”
        Uber remained motionless.  Not even a whisker twitched.
        “That is a pretty sculpture, sweetie, but we’ll have to come back and look at it another time.”  And they were through the doorway, and the woman nearly jumped as she saw Polly and Chen lurking on either side.  She glared at them disapprovingly, dragged Mikey firmly past them, and headed out.  Mikey’s whining voice trailed behind them, still insisting that he wanted to pet the kitty.
        “Whew,” Polly whispered.  “That woman’s almost as oblivious as my mom.  Not that my mom would ever make a mistake like that about art.  Now let’s get Uber before we have any more close calls.”
        They turned back to the carved stone… but the platform in front of it was bare.  In the silence they heard the faint tip-tapping of claws on the hardwood floor somewhere beyond the next room division.

        Uber (short for Überkatze) from The Extraordinary Book of Doors, an upper middle grade fantasy (excerpt from Chapter 4: The Cat in the Museum).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: sketch of Uber, AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter U.

April 23, 2018

T is for Tuzi (and Motu)

        Bluebell led Kate and Sam around to the back yard, where Beechnut was sitting beside a pair of cottontail rabbits.
        The squirrel introduced the rabbits, “This is Tuzi, and this is her brother Motu.  They live under the big forsythia bushes behind the composter.”
        “Pleased to meet you,” said Sam and Kate politely in animal language, and the rabbits nodded their heads and wiggled their noses.  The children could see that these rabbits had unusual bright brown eyes, instead of the black or red eyes of most rabbits.  Then all at once, to Sam and Kate’s astonishment, one of them leaped up and turned a complete somersault in the air.  As she spun she seemed to jump right out of her soft brown fur, and suddenly there she stood, in the form of a brown-eyed girl, only about eighteen inches tall.
        The small girl draped her empty rabbit skin over her shoulders like a dress and said in a soft voice, “There.  It’ll be easier to talk this way.  Beechnut asked us if we knew anything about those chipmunks, and we wanted to tell you first of all that we would never ruin your garden like that.  We appreciate that your family never tries to trap us or poison us or throw rocks at us as some other humans do, and we make sure never to take too much of anything that you plant.”
        “Besides,” added the other rabbit, Motu, “We’re not stupid.  We wouldn’t do anything that might make your mother give up on gardening.  Then we wouldn’t get to sample any of her vegetables!” and he laughed mischievously.
        Tuzi grinned at her brother, but continued, “After Beechnut talked to us, we began watching the chipmunks more closely, and we noticed that there’s one spot where they’ve been digging like crazy, right under the back steps.  We thought you ought to have a look.”
        Motu hopped over to the back steps and gestured with a paw.  Sam and Kate leaned over and peered into the dark space under the steps.  There were clumps of dirt and rocks, and the curling stems of the groundcover creeping in from the garden bed.
        “I don’t see any hole,” said Sam.
        “That’s exactly what they want you to see,” answered Motu, “They’ve been digging it every night, and hiding it during the day.”
        “That’s one of the reasons we think they’re up to something suspicious,” explained Tuzi, “Besides, chipmunks are usually diurnal.”
        “But why would they try to dig under the house?” asked Kate.
        “And how do we know that’s even what their scheme is?” added Sam, “And anyway, what’s this hole got to do with our tomatoes?”
        Bluebell’s black eyes glittered and she declared, “What you need is a spy!  Someone who can sneak down that hole and find out where it leads, and maybe discover the chipmunk’s secret plan, too.”
        “We don’t know anyone who can sneak down a chipmunk hole!” Kate protested.
        “But we do,” replied Motu smugly, “At least, I think we do.”  He looked at his sister and said, “Don’t you think old Wogwa would help?  It would be his chance to prove what a brave adventurer he is.”
        Tuzi smiled.  “He might.  He’s always talking about the grand adventures he had in his youth.”  She turned to the children.  “We’ll send Wogwa on this mission, and we’ll report back
to you as soon as we have news.”  Then she swung her rabbitskin off her back, and held it out in front of her.  With a little skip, she jumped up and somersaulted straight into her own fur.  The rabbit turned, wiggled her long ears, winked at Sam and Kate, and then hopped after her brother into the dense bushes at the back of the yard.
        Sam looked at Kate and Kate looked at Sam.
        “Well,” said Sam, “I bet when you got up this morning you never expected to see that!”

        Tuzi and Motu from Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom, the second book in a read-aloud fantasy series for ages 4-9 and their adults (excerpt from Chapter 1: Trouble with Chipmunks).
More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Pictures: Tuzi in rabbit form;
Tuzi in human form, illustrations by AEGN, 2009.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter T.

April 21, 2018

S is for Skoven

        In that long, deep valley between the Mountains of the Sky and the Mountains Mioruilt Ãdun fought strange, dreadful beasts and won his way past the haunts of terrible monsters, and ever he followed the course of the River Oosial, until it brought him north into the sharp heights of the Mountains Mioruilt and led him at last to the cave of Skoven, the White Dragon who could speak only truth.

     At conquering Ãdun's call, great Skoven came,
     The white steam curling from the stone cave's brim.
     His argent crest struck diamond sparks from the rock
     In the dark cave's doorway as he raised his head.
     The rattling scrape of scales on the blackened floor,
     Gouged into grooves by the dragon's silver claws,
     Brought the bright Skoven's jaws and his flickering tongue,
     Blue as a stormy sea, into Ãdun's view.
     Long as a man was the monster's narrow head
     Mailed in his milky scales and whispering steam,
     And his talons rasped the rock like sickle blades
     As Skoven flicked his forked and pointed tongue.
     Three-cornered eyes like moonstones blue as ice,
     Slit like a cat's, stared into Ãdun's own.
     And when the dragon spoke, his silver teeth
     Clashing like knives against his armored lips,
     His breath hissed flaming with his clangorous voice,
     Boiling the icy Oosial into steam.

        Skoven asked King Ãdun, "How has this journey atoned for the death of thine innocent brother?"
        And the king was stung in his pride and replied haughtily, "I have faced death many times since then.  That is atonement enough for a warrior and a sorcerer and a king!"
        But the White Dragon who could speak only truth replied, "No, King Ãdun, it is not enough.  For it was pride that killed thy brother and pride that turned thy victory false, and thou hast not given up thy pride.”
        And there amidst the peaks of the Mountains Mioruilt, scalded by steam from the spring that would become the Oosial, King Ãdun allowed his pride to make him foolish.  Once he had believed lies spoken by one who wished him ill, and it had brought him only grief.  Now he refused to believe the truth spoken by one who wished him well, and again he drew his furious sword in pride.
        Long was the turbulent battle between those two, the mighty Ãdun and the dragon Skoven.  The blue dragon-fire flared from Skoven's throat, and Ãdun's sorcery drew down blazing copper lightning, so that even in Eotheort could people see the jagged and forking flames kindling the sky above the peaks.  The clapping of the dragon's unfurled wings cracked the air like thunder, the ringing rattle of his argent scales writhing on the mountaintop shivered the valleys' pines.  Iron clattered against dragon mail, talons rang against iron.  The Oosial seethed into billowing steam, the stream-bed was scorched dry, until it ran again with gore, brave Ãdun's flowing mixed with the dragon's sizzling blood.  And finally King Ãdun's violent pride guided his fell sword to Skoven's heart and drove the notched point deep.
        White Skoven who could speak only truth now roared his death cry, the brazen echoes rolling ringing down the frozen mountainside, and King Ãdun, having slain the noble dragon, in the very moment of his fierce triumph realized the crime he had committed.  Crying, "Atonement!" he threw himself beneath the falling dragon, letting himself be crushed in Skoven's death.  And where two heroes had met at the birth of the Oosial, now lay one heap of bones, the slender rising spiral of steam still marking the place to those on the plain below.

        Skoven from Song Against Shadow, first book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter VII: Angduv).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Drawings of Skoven by AEGN, c.2007.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter S.

April 20, 2018

R is for Rosie

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so, between the two of them,
They licked the platter clean.

        Jack and Rosie could never agree on ground beef, but were otherwise extremely happy.

        Okay, I admit I didn’t make up the nursery rhyme, of course, but Jack and Rosie are indeed characters in one of my books, and I invite you to 
imagine them more fully.
        Rosie Sprat from Hey, Diddle Diddle! and Other Rhymes, a book of nursery rhymes with additional 
comments.  More information here or here.

[Picture: Jack Sprat & His Wife, Rosie, rubber block print by AEGN, 2001.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter R.