Monday, December 31, 2012

Goals for 2013

I don't really like doing New Year's Resoluitions, but I do think it is pretty nifty to have a list of things that I can achieve over the next year, to cross off as I achieve them. These are all personal goals, work-related ones I prefer to keep to myself.

Finish editing and publish "Fellowship of the Ringtails" (before June)
Complete "Tail of Two Scions"
Complete and edit "Tiriki's Great Escape"
Work on distributing books into schools (esp "Aroha's") and school libraries
Participate in NaNoWriMo 2013
Present a workshop on "Show Not Tell" for CWG
Sell lots of copies of my books to justify them being in Whitcoulls  SHY (and maybe get them in more stores).

Work on getting together a proper portfolio and look into distributing
Re-design the cover for "Aroha's Grand Adventure" so that it looks less like a self-publised title
Design a cover for "Tail of Two Scions"
Keep active auctions up on Trade Me
Participate in at least THREE markets
Establish a name and identity for myself in the local, less niche, circuits

Read and review at least ten self-published titles
Read and review at least three CWG author's titles
Read at least three classics
Read at least five non-fiction books
Read at least five titles that have been on my shelf for a while

Explore Southland and thus have seen almost all of the South Island (except Karamea)
Visit Stewart Island
Plan an awesome holiday/celebration for parents' 40th Wedding Anniversary (in Sunshine Coast, Australia) Postponed until 2014

Have my parents over for dinner
Have my inlaws over for dinner
Spend a day with my brother
Show my husband how much I appreciate him 

Organise a picnic
Attend at least one party
Attend a live concert (Nightwish!)
Run a scenario for beginning roleplayers

Reach optimal weight (by losing around 10 kilos)
Maintain optimal weight
Prepare more "real food" instead of buying take-out
Walk or bike to work at least 90% of the time
Play a sport on a regular basis

Continue saving $200-$400 a fortnight

Friday, December 28, 2012

World Building: Ecology

For your fantasy novel to truly work, you need to develop the world as fully as possible. This does not mean you need to spend half the novel describing the geographic formations, the flora and fauna, the rainfall and plate tectonics, of course, but it does mean that you need to have at least some inkling of what it is going to be like, so that your story remains consistent and becomes more vividly alive in the reader's mind.

Now, although I have written a number of stories, very few of them actually involve fantastical worlds - or at least, very few involve fantastical worlds that do not bear a resemblance to Earth. My latest novels, and first trilogy: "Lemurs: A Saga", is set in an alternate-world Madagascar, where the sentient life forms are primates - in the case of the island of Madigaska, lemurs, but there are also monkeys over on the mainland and that once played the part of Missionaries (but I decided not to make them following our world religions: although the irony was amusing, I do not wish to cause that sort of controversy). I also have a futuristic Furry/Steampunk/Magic School novel in the works - which required me to figure out a post-apocalyptic environment for earth, and which I keep abandoning because my scientific brain keeps pointing out problems with the fact that the characters are anthropomorphic animals of various species.

Anyhow, as someone who has studied ecology, I feel I can at least look a little authorative on the topic, so let us begin:

Designing a Convincing Ecology for your Fantastical World

Firstly: What is Ecology?
Ecology is the scientific study of how living organisms interact in their natural environment.

Ecology is made up of various parts, the simplist components of which are:
Habitat + Flora (plant and tree life) + Fauna (animals)

For the purposes of this, let us assume that Habitat refers to both the fixed geographic features (desert, swamp, grassland etc) and the variable features (weather patterns).
To begin creating your fantasy world, you must first decide on these geographic features and determine what the general environment involves - is it a tropical forest? Savannah? A post-apocalyptic future where the world has been wiped clear of most sentient life?


Sticking with environments that we have on Earth will make this easier, and also more convincing to the Reader. Essentially, the closer you make your world to the world we all know and love, the easier it will be for the Reader to delve into the world and better experience it. This doesn't mean that you need to make it a carbon copy of Earth - just that some facts like: rain falls down from the sky, there are day/night cycles, the world is round (or flat)* etc, will make for more time for the actual plot and less time spent on trying to make the Reader understand what the heck is going on. I am an avid Reader, but I struggle with books that distort reality out of my comfort zone - such as Graham Edwards' "Stone" series where the world is essentially a wall, and any books where the main setting is a house where each room is somewhat like a different kingdom. Discworld, however, I am fine with. And you might be able to make a world of floating rocks over a lake of molten lava** work - and if so, kudos to you! There are Fantastical Worlds compromised of islands (Clive Barker's Abarat), set in a carpet (Clive Barker's Weaveworld), shaped like a ring (Larry Niven's Ringworld) and I'm sure there is at least one that is the inside of a sphere, not to mention various worlds made of houses (Garth Nix's House, plus another that is so obscure I can't remember it, except that it was weird), the aforementioned Wall series and many, many more. But essentially, I prefer ones that mirror Earth, at least insofar as general environment goes.

- Cold, barren.
- Low plants, no trees (environment doesn't support tree growth - too cold for most of the year).
- Either frozen or wet, depending on season.
- Few animal species.
- Dark and cold for a lot of the winter months, food scarce.
- In spring, everything comes suddenly to life, and many birds come here to breed, then migrate away for the colder months.

- Temperate woodland
- Supports trees and plants, but not a great range of species.
- Range of different species, much of it fairly large - wolves, bears, deer, along with rodents and birds.

Alpine Tundra:
(High Altitude scrubland)
- Harsh, windy conditions.
- Does not support much tree growth - trees stunted and windswept.
- Animals hardy and opportunistic (in New Zealand, we have the kea, the only alpine parrot in the world).
- Some are drier than others, leading to high altitude grasslands.
- High altitude - air is thinner, making it harder to breathe.
Temperate Grasslands similar but less harsh. Warmer, but still cold in winter. (Prairies)

Temperate Forest:
- Wet and cool.
- Produces lush forest, with a variety of different Evergreen tree and plant species.
- Range of different animal species.
- Two layers - overstory and understory.
Temperate Rainforest similar but with three levels and supporting more range of species. Wetter and warmer.

Dry Woodland  
- Warm and dry summers.
- Wet winters.
- Diverse range of plants and species.

Tropical Rainforest:
- Wet and warm.
- Lush rainforest, with a vast range of Evergreen tree and plant species.
- Diverse range of different animal species.

Savannah (grasslands and shrublands):
- Dry and warm.
- Predominent vegetation is grass or small shrubs, occasional trees.
- Trees are deciduous to conserve moisture (acacia), or store water in their trunk (baobab).
- Plants have thorns (to protect them from plant predation), not leaves (which lose moisture).
- Support a large range of animal species, some of which can be quite large.
- Rainfall seasonal, often all occuring in a short period of time.

- Hot, barren, dry.
- Not many plants.
- Few animal species, most of which are nocturnal.
- Lots of rocks.

- Wet.
- Warm or cool, depending on latitude.
 - Considered the most biologically diverse ecostystem.

Other environmental effects that may affect your environment:
Volcanoes: volcanic soil is very rich in nutrients, but lava rock from recent eruptions radiates heat and almost forms a barren desert of its own.
Fire: can do great damage to the wetter forests, which are not adapted to survive its onslaught, leaving the landscape barren - and in some cases (as in Madagascar), almost infertile. This can also lead to soil erosion, which leads to the hills sliding into the lakes.
Earthquakes: The moving of tectonic plates shapes mountains.

After determining what your habitat is like, select a real world one that resembles it. In the case of the rainforest above, this is easy, but what of more complex worlds - what if, say, your habitat is a barren, frozen wasteland or bubbling pools of molten rock? Well, there are real life equivalents to those too!

My Furritasia world - the futuristic one with the anthro animal-people, is set in a post-nuclear world. Vast tracts of land were rendered barren and poisonous by the nuclear radiation***. Whilst I cannot, yet, come up with a plausible explanation behind the animal-people, a coral-life fungoid now blankets the post-nuclear wasteland and the main natural inhabitants were various species evolved from cockroaches, including several massive fungus eating species, and a carnivous type that hunt in pairs or packs. Cockroaches, it is said, can survive anything, and even radiation will not defeat them.


All animals living in the same habitat must interact in some way or another and will come into conflict with one another. This could be in a predator/prey relationship or clashing over a limited resource, such as food or denning space. There are various ways to control conflict - sometimes when two animals both share the same diet and niche, they will have different active times, ie: one is nocturnal, the other diurnal (for example, tarsiers, lorises and bushbabies are all nocturnal, which stops them being in conflict with the dangerous, but diurnal, monkeys); in other cases the conflicts and clashes will be violent (lions vs hyenas). In most terrestrial environments, there will be more "prey" species (deer, rabbits and other herbivores) than predators. So, although lions and tigers and wolves and the like may seem far more interesting, they do need to be able to have enough food to feed them.

Big predators hunt big prey. So if you have giant wolves or massive lions, you will need large mammals too.
Essentially, you need to create a food chain for your fauna.

Herbivores: Eat plant matter (rabbits, ungulates, geese etc) 
- Low energy food, need to browse (eat leaves) or graze (eat grass).
- Often are prey species
- Often live in groups (more eyes to watch for predators)
- In mammals, eyes are located more centrally along the side of the head, allowing them greater peripheral vision.
- Not generally nocturnal.

Fructivores: Eat fruits and nectar (many birds, lemurs, fruit bats etc) 
- High energy food, important in seed dispersal/pollination.
- Birds have a high metabolism and thus need to eat high energy food regularly.
- Arborel (tree living) mammals have their eyes located at the front of their head, allowing them better spatial judgement.
- Birds are diurnal.

Carnivores: Eat the flesh of vertebrates (felines, canines, seals, mustelids, raptors etc)
- High energy food, requires effort to obtain, one large meal can sustain a carnivore for several days.
- Some species live in groups - packs/prides - and hunt cooperatively for larger prey.
- In mammals, eyes usually positioned towards front of face, allowing better spatial judgement and thus better control over catching their prey.
- Many diurnal, but some nocturnal.

Insectivores: Eat invertebrates (hedgehogs, moles, aardwolf, mongoose, some birds etc)
- High energy but need to eat a lot to sustain the animal.
- Many insectivores also occasionally eat meat or fruit.
- Generally solitary or live in pairs (especially if nocturnal as well).
- Many are nocturnal, but not all. Depends on other factors - like predators and active behaviour of the insect food sources.
- Birds are diurnal (mostly)

Omnivores: Eat anything (pigs, weka, rats etc)
- The best generalists, because they can adapt to survive in most situations.
- Highly destructive when introduced into new ecosystems. 
- Some are social, others solitary or live in pairs.
- Some are nocturnal, some are diurnal.
- Can be  a predator, but can also be prey.

 Scavengers: Eat dead things (vultures, blowflies etc)
- Work as nature's "clean up" crew by eating things already dead - including stuff well past its expiration date.
- A very important part of the ecosystem, even if they are kinda dirty and "gross".
- Vultures have naked heads so that they can stick their heads into the carcass without getting their feathers matted with blood - this could lead to problems with the "waterproof" qualities of their feathers and lead to them dying. They also do not have very strong talons.
- Some scavenger species are actually very effecient hunters (ie: the spotted hyena). Just as some predators rely on scavenging or stealing their kills from other hunters.

Now, how about making up your own species? Sounds like fun?
It sure is!

Here are some ways you can make your native wildlife distinctively different from those on Earth:

1. Focus on birds, reptiles or invertebrates rather than mammals

Consider a world like ours in which there are no mammals - what habitats are there for the reptiles (or birds) to fill? How might they evolve to better exploit these habitats. It might help to study island ecology - looking at places like New Zealand and Hawaii where native mammals were never prevalent. Consider changes the birds might make to fit in here - losing their ability to fly, growing bigger, living in burrows, behaving more like monkeys... etc. Another thing to consider is that mammals hunt by scent (and many have poor colour vision), whereas birds and lizards both have colour vision - so what role might this play in how the native wildlife looks? New Zealand birds are generally drab in colour - which allows them camouflage and protects them from avian predators. This defence proved ineffective when mammals were introduced, and annihilated them.

2. All vertebates on Earth have four limbs - why not give yours six? ****
This is where gryphons and the typical "Western" dragon fit in, any animal that has four feet and wings is a hexapod. I once made an ecology up for a world in which everything had three pairs of limbs. It was not nearly as impressive as that found in "Avatar".

3. Hybridise Earth animals - combine random species to create Chimeras *****
See also TV tropes: Mix and Match critters
This also explains gryphons and their ilk.
Chimeras don't make scientific sense, since different species cannot interbreed. Although, some realworld species are bloody strange - anyone looking at a platypus might consider it a duckmole (that's what I imagined Tarmora Pierce was doing in her "Immortals" series). But hey, it's your world, so it doesn't really matter if it's not entirely scientifically sound. Maybe there's a mad scientist on the lose, or maybe the rules of genetics are different.

Making up names for chimerical critters is always fun. When naming hybrid real-world animals, half of the father's species is taken first, and connected with the second half of the mother's species. Hence a Liger is the result of a male lion and a female tiger. It looks quite different from a Tiglon, which has the opposite parentage. Generally, I just go with what works best - or start with the head and work my way back. Or you can just join the two names together, as they do in the "Avatar:The Last Airbender" tv series.

Hybridising in this sort of way does, however, cause complications - because no two animals will ever look the same, or even necessarily be the same species - if any animal species can produce viable offspring with any other species, then what happens when two hybrid animals breed together? Will everything just end up looking really weird, or will they eventually converge to a sort of homogenised point?

However, you can use this method to make some really original looking critters that might not *actually* be caused by the two species breeding together.

4. Take Real World animals and alter them to fill different niches
This is particularly fun for Post-Apocalyptic variants of our own world. Okay, assuming the world faces a nuclear holocaust, or climate change or whatever it is that entirely reshapes the face of the world as we know it - what animals will survive?

Probably the hardy generalists and omnivores. The rats, the pigs, the foxes and maybe the cats. Animals such as lemurs, aardvarks and anything with a highly specialised diet or life cycle will be doomed. So, with those animals gone, and the world reverted to its wild self, how might the surviving species change to fill the niches that are left?

Speculative Zoology is fun and challenging. There are several online sites I have found, so here are a couple of links:
Neocene Project

Also worth looking into is Douglas Dixon's "After Man" - published in 1981, so maybe a bit hard to get nowadays. I picked mine up second hand.

From Budgerigar to Budgieraptor!
5. Take real world animals and give them elemental powers
They might be mistaken for Pokemon.

6. Dragons
Dragons are something I often have trouble with in fantasy novels. Ignoring the fact that they're not really mammals, birds or even reptiles,  they are, for the most part, massive carnivores. And something that massive is going to need a LOT of food to fuel it. It might not need to eat frequently, but it will need large meals on a semi-regular basis. So if you have a situation where you have a world with large amounts of massive dragons, you better have enormous herds of some sort of herbivore for them to eat. Of course, you could also make them herbivorous.

Since dragons are a mythological species with no basis on any particular real animal, authors (and artists) have had a lot of fun developing them in a variety of ways. The typical Western dragon is reptilian, huge and scaly - often with wings - and this seems to have perpetuated throughout many fantasy novels - although sometimes they have three pairs of limbs (four legs, two wings) and other times two (2 wings + 2 legs). Often they also have elemental powers.

My two favourite Western-ish dragons in literature are Patrick Rothfuss's in "Name of the Wind" and Robin Hobb's dragon ecology in her "Liveship Traders" series.

In most novels, when a human bonds with a dragon, the two are able to communicate either via telepathy or verbally. This was nicely avoided in the movie of "How to Train your Dragon" which is one of the many things that made that movie original and wonderful.

I personally have several dragon characters, none of which resemble this phenotype:

Rhapsody the Sea Dragon (top)
Pippit the Rainforest Dragon (bottom)
There are NUMEROUS tropes used in fantasy for designing new species, I have engaged in intensive research at tvtropes to bring you a summary of some of their most relevant ones:

Call a Rabbit a "Smerp":  Which refers to taking standard critters and giving them unusual and original names. This can be especially effective if the Writer wishes to convey an otherworldlyness to their story, or set the culture of the protagonists separate from the typical one. I, for example, generally have used the Malagasy names for the variety of lemur species featuring in my stories, as I feel this adds to the authenticity - as the Malagasy people were there first (likewise, I always list the Maori names on my NZ animal illustrations, when I can find them). It can give the ordinary a somewhat fantastical feel.

Call a "Smerp" a Rabbit: Which refers to having bizarre a variations on the typical - such as giant riding lizards or small wild birds but referring to them as their Earth equivalent - leading to confusion and disorientation on the part of the Reader. If your "cows" are really stocky dragons that eat grass, it might be best to find another name for them. If you do wish to go this route, make it very clear from the start that your cows are not like our cows! This is found in reality too, when early explorers named everything based on what they previously knew - hence the presence of "robins" and "wrens" in New Zealand, despite the fact that they are not closely related to the European birds by the same name.

For more tropes (and before I get off topic) - visit this page here.


I'm not much of a botanist. On Terrestrial Ecology field trips I spent too much time looking at the birds and not enough time looking for the plants we were supposed to be studying, but I will do my best to write a bit about flora here. This is also why I have left it until last, when you've probably already given up reading.

Flora is directly linked to the climate and helps create the habitat. Plants, for the most part, require moisture, nutrients and sunlight to thrive. Fungi are not a plant, and do not require sunlight, and can be useful if you need something for your cave dwelling humanoids to farm. Some fungi also display bioluminescence which can be useful when your hero is making their way through the deep dark caverns and have lost their fire source. The real world fungi, various species of Armillaria, often grow in the same place as moss, to create Foxfire. (Thanks for that, Yahoo Answers).

Your flora is very important - as it is what your herbivores and fructivores will eat as will the insects that feed the insectivores. Generally speaking - the wetter the environment, the greater the variety of plant life. On Earth, the humid (wet and warm) areas provide the greatest range of plants and trees and therefore support the widest variety of life. There are more animal species in a rainforest than on the tundra or in a desert.

The more moisture in the air, the more leafy and green the plants will be. Plants in a desert tend to have spines instead of leaves - because the surface area of leaves allows water to evaporate from them and also because desert plants store water, making them a desirable water source for the various desert animals. The thorns protect them somewhat from plant predation.

Tropical rainforest trees tend to be evergreens - that is to say, they keep their leaves all through the year. Trees from more temperate environments - where the winters are very cold, are often deciduous. By shedding their leaves, they can conserve moisture in their trunk and branches. Leaves are also likely to suffer damage such as frostbite. The leaves that fall form a compost around the trees roots, trapping moisture and also providing fertiliser.

Leaves are used for photosynthesis, and in the cold winters this does not work well in the plant - the light levels are often not bright enough for long enough, and the tree's metabolic rate has also slowed and photosynthesis is no longer a productive means, thus the tree becomes somewhat dormant.

Flowers sprout in spring, and are the means that many plants use to reproduce. Although some plants can reproduce asexually, others require fertilization. To facilitate this, the pollen must be transferred to the ovary. To do this, the plants either use wind or wildlife - generally insects. To attract insects, they often produce sweet tasting nectar which they advertise by being distinctive colours, that the insects have evolved to recognise. If you wish to have flowering plants in your world - you must also remember to include pollinating species. Bees and butterflies are common Earth pollinators, also hummingbirds and other nectar drinking birds, also some lizards, can aid in this cycle.  Pollinators are generally small and have often evolved certain features that aid them in gathering the nectar (and also collecting the maximum amount of pollen on their fur, feathers or hair - not that they care about this service that they are also providing!).

* One of the first worlds I ever invented, back in my Discworld obsessed early teenage years was called "Dyce" and it as six-sided (well, seven sided really, cos it had a sphere in the center). Gravity worked weird in that world - each side had a different environment and sentient life form, and each sentient life form thought that their side of Dyce was the top. This was because when you approached the edge (which looked like a steep cliff), you could actually just walk around it, like step over the edge and onto the next surface, without falling off. However, because your equilibrium was used to you being on the flat, you would forever feel like you were walking horiontally down a wall. Or perhaps even upside down, if you got that far. I never did go very far with that idea, but it's kinda nifty, and possibly worth exploring again at a later date.

** This was an idea I submitted to a "World Design" competition once. It didn't win, possibly because it would be too difficult to use as a roleplaying world setting.

*** If I had actually studied Chernobyl and other real world situations before writing this book, I would have understood that plants and even wildlife are not easily beaten by radiation, but so be it. 

**** As seen in Avatar. However, they broke the consistency rule by making their dominant sentient life-form only having four limbs, which led me into speculation over whether or not the Naavi were actually native to Pandora or were earlier invading aliens. This question has never been answered.

***** As seen in the Avatar tv series (no relation to #4 above). I remember snorting with laughter when Ang shouted "someone's being attacked by a platypus bear"!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How to Make a Queen Bee

This is likely my most ambitious Paper Doll yet - an anthropomorphic bee (which I intend to dress at some point using fabric offcuts, perhaps, or maybe make costumes, like a paper doll).

Thus I thought it prudent to scan each step and turn it into a semi-tutorial. As this doll is also for a Secret Santa, this entry was not published until the package was received and opened.

Tools Required:
* A large piece of paper or sketchbook for prelimenary sketching
* Thinner paper/card for tracing image onto
* Gluestick or xyron machine
* Sharpie
* Scissors
* Colouring pencils
* Sturdy sheet of card
* Split pins/brads/paper fasteners (whatever they're called where you live)
* Sharp piercing device (a sturdy/thick pin or a needle)
* Flexible plastic or thick card to place beneath sharp piercing device

First step: The linework.
Anthro bees are difficult to draw. It took me several attempts and finally finding, firstly, a good reference of the female body, then someone else's rendition of an anthro bee to finally make a passable body structure. For the record, the human figure I used is here and the anthro bee is here.

After you have drawn a basic outline, divide the body up into bits (as showing here by the red lines) and determine the split pin placement. With my current thickness of card, the most pieces each pin can pierce is four. But ultimately, the more parts attached by the same pin, the neater the completed piece will look.

If you wished to be a little less ambitious than me - the neck, wrists and antennae do not need to be articulated.
As per many of my recent pieces, she's too big for the scanner, so I have had to cut parts of her off.

Second step: The body parts.
Once the linework has been done and the places of connection and overlap determined, each bit must be traced onto a sheet of paper. I am using simple printer paper - 80 gsm, acid free for this purpose. Now, for something as complicated as this bee - which so far has over 20 different body parts, I decided it was prudent to label each section individually:

After penciling them, I then outlined in sharpie marker and added details using a finer pen. Ignore the hands for now - I've just realised I put almost all the thumbs on the same side, so that will be remedied!

Step three: Colouring

This bit can be switched with step four, if you would prefer to colour after cutting, but in this case I prefered to colour first, as when paper is glued and the glue has not properly dried, the paper can become more fragile and tear more easily. Plus glue interferes with the laying on of coloured pencil. The drawbacks with colouring first is that markings may not continue through body parts so succesfully, and also you may waste time colouring bits that you cannot see anyway. The former isn't a problem with this lass, because she's going to be golden and black all the way through.

Now, for my colouring, I add shadows and highlights, using blue with black (purple works well too) and tan with the golden yellow.

You may have noticed I haven't done the wings yet. I shall leave them til last. It would be nice if I could find something suitably translucent for them.

Step four:  Cut and paste

This is the tedious and messy bit - cutting out each of the individual pieces, gluing them to card and then cutting them out again. Here is where a xyron machine would be awesome. Alas, I lack such tools and must rely on my gluestick and a fine pair of scissors.

After the tedious process of cutting out, I recommend that you take up your sharpie and run it around the edges again, covering any pieces of cardboard that may be overhanging the paper. Also, keep the parts of the limbs etc together, so you don't end up getting confused with which hand belongs to which forearm and which bit is the forearm. If you do get stuck, refer back to the original sketch, as lying the piece down on that will give an indication of which one it is.

Step five: Piercing the joints
Due to the complexity of my Bee Queen, I start by assembling the limbs. The piercing part is simple - you simply place the pieces on the mat, with one above the other, and stab in the pin at the appropriate point, once the holes have been made, simply thread the split pins through and flatten out their prongs. Try to match the colours of the pins with the colour on the card to best disguise them. My bee requires 23 split pins. The wings, when I make them, shall be attached using the same ones that affix the arms.

Step six: The wings
The wings were easy to make - once I found some clear plastic in the form of shrink plastic (bought years ago, but never got around to using). They were a cinch to trace - being transparent and all, and then I just used a marker to add a bit of detailing. The holes were harder to punch than through card, but she is now fully completed.

She uses 23 split pins for 30 moving parts.

I also designed a dress and headband for her - but forgot to photograph the final or take scans during the process. Oops...

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Tail of Two Scions, update

Story currently at 47k words. 2123 of which were written today.

Noir is such a bastard. And Rakoto's thread - which is darker, so much easier to write than Aurelia's relatively light (for now) thread.

In an effort to actually get the story going somewhere, I skipped back to Rakoto and his new tutor, the sadistic Hunter, Noir. Noir has been charged in training Rakoto (whom he now calls Ombra) and takes great pleasure in hurting him - both emotionally and physically. He is, as you can see, trying to break Rakoto's will.

In this passage, his fellow hunters have captured the one armed sifaka, Eloise, who befriended Rakoto earlier in the story. He gave her a gift - a jewelled collar, which she attempted to trade for medicines - as her and her fellow orphans are sick and hungry, and pretty jewellery is of no use to them (Rakoto didn't think, when he bought them). Unfortunately, the hunters that saw her thought she must have stolen the collar, and dragged her to their Alpha for judgement. Noir, in an attempt to break Rakoto's spirit, has brought the youngster to the sentencing. Upon realising that the two knew each other, Noir was very, very pleased, for here was a new tool in his "breaking Rakoto" arsenal:

Noir smacked him across the back of the head, making his ears ring. “Of course he would. And thus, your little friend,” he spat out the word, and glared at Eloise, “is guilty of receiving stolen goods, or at least goods acquired by foul means. Therefore, she must be punished. Now, I see we cannot take her arm – because she has already lost it. But we could take her other arm.”
No!” Exclaimed Rakoto. Horror flooded through him. “Can you not punish me instead? I am the one that purchased the collar in the first place.”
Oh,” Noir purred, “but you had faith in your tutor, and took the saphira in ignorance and innocence. Besides, you are of noble blood, and she is nothing.”
There is no logic to be argued here, Rakoto realised. He is not doing it to punish her, so much as to torture me. Oh, he will hurt her, I do not doubt that, but the more I protest, the more he will understand how it hurts me to see her hurt, and thus the more he shall hurt her to hurt me. The thoughts were painful and complicated, and Rakoto felt sick to the very pit of his stomach. He wanted to throw up. He wanted to just close his eyes and have this nightmare end. But that, of course, could never be. He hung his head and averted his eyes from Eloise.
So,” said Noir with a devilish grin. “How would you see her punished?”
Rakoto felt like he had swallowed a rock. He knew how Noir worked. A few days ago, the black sifaka had caught a bird and asked the youngster what he should do with it. When Rakoto had replied, “set it free,” he had snapped its neck and declared that “you, Ombra, are a snivelling coward,” slapping him in response to his cries of protest and adding, “now it is as free as it can be.”
He gulped, considering. He had to come up with something dire enough to satisfy Noir's sadistic streak, but not so severe as to result in Eloise's deminse. Of course, there was no predicting how Noir would react, or whether he would pay any heed to Rakoto's words, but he had to try. He glanced around the clearing, seeking inspiration and his eyes alighted on one of the bamboo cages.
She should be incarcerated,” he said, “overnight, for her main crime is ignorance and trust, and one should not be maimed for that.”
Noir studied him for a long moment, so long that Rakoto felt his knees go weak and wondered if he might faint. What if he doesn't accept that punishment? What if he kills her anyway?
Very well,” Noir said, after a long, painful moment. “Incarceration shall be her punishment.”
Rakoto almost collapsed with relief.
However,” added the black sifaka, “she shall be incarcerated for three nights, and the little finger of her remaining hand removed, as a reminder to her that as a lowly urchin, she should never accept gifts – nor the gift of friendship, from those of higher worth.”
Eloise gave a little squeak of alarm at her sentence, and would have tried to run, but for the rope about her neck, holding her in place. She locked her eyes onto Rakoto, and he could feel her gaze boring into him, even though he dared not meet it.
She made no sound as she was dragged across to the cage, her good hand spread out over the bars. Noir took his slender, sharp blade and pressed it against the knuckle and, with a deft slice, severed her finger. She gasped then, swaying and almost fainting with the pain. The two Hunters, who had both looked away as Noir made the incision, heaved her up into the cage, and one of them handed her a wad of cloth.
To staunch the bleeding,” he said, “press it against the wound. We cannot have you dying on us.”
Not before your three nights are up, at least,” Noir added, tossing the severed finger in the air and catching it. He shot a grin at Rakoto. “Another for my collection, Ombra. See, it is not only the ones I've killed. I am not entirely heartless."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lemurs: A Tail of Two Scions

The completed front cover for volume two of the Lemurs Saga - A Tail of Two Scions. It features Rakoto and Aurelia. Rakoto is a colour mutation of diademed sifaka and Aurelia is a silky sifaka/diademed hybrid, which is why she has golden arms.

In volume two - which is yet to be finished (and volume one has not been published yet either, still editing it) - the story begins with Rakoto, the six month old son of the Usurper Queen. He barely knows his mother - having been raised by a foster mother and his aye-aye tutor. However, things are not looking good in the capital city, Narivo, and discontent and war are settling over the land of Madigaska. Off to the west, in the sanctuary of the Stone Forest, Aurelia is undertaking her training as one of the Karazana, the sisters. But her peaceful existence is about to be shattered in a nightmare of violence, blood and loss. This is the first trilogy I have ever set out to write, and I am finding book two to be a bit of a struggle - it's got to be a good solid story on its own, whilst also providing a "bridge" between "Fellowship of the Ringtails" and the third volume, which I don't have a name for yet. Suggestions welcome. I like puns, and as you can, see, Lord of the Rings references. It could be "Return of the Queen", but that's a bit crap. And, to keep the trend, it should *probably* contain the world "Tail". But I'd rather have the world "tail" in the middle since the other first time it was at the end, the second in the beginning. Hrm... ponders. Currently considering "The Silky Queen", "The Rise of the Silky".

In volume three, Aurelia will likely be journeying to Narivo, and maybe into the saphira mines of Ilakaka, to rescue her kidnapped friends. There will also be an uprising in Narivo, led by Misokoso, the one-eyed crowned lemur. I haven't devised the plot too fully yet.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pretty Birds, Pretty Birds

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago - my mother and I (and my father by proxy) bred budgerigars. We had dozens, and looking into their genetics was endlessly fascinating.

So when a swap was posted on AFA with the theme of "parakeets" (ie: budgerigars), and I saw lots o beautiful art already submitted, I could not resist joining - even though the deadline was between Christmas and New Year - the worst possible time for me to be sending cards anywhere.

It took me longer to make the cards than I expected, because I kept getting distracted by budgie breeding pages. Seriously, budgie breeding is far more interesting to budding scientists than say, fruit flies, and oh, the way in which you need to do test crosses and so forth to work out if your birds are split for danish pied or if they're double spangles or dark eyed clearbodys. Oh, it is bliss for scientists and confusing for the lay-person.


Anyhow, I decided in the end to draw (clockwise from top left) a Danish Pied, a Dominant Pied, a YF violet clearflighted and a Rainbow. Some I am happy with than others, but as I really, really need to get these into the post ASAP if they are to have any show of arriving close to the due date, I cannot redraw them.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Publishing on CreateSpace

So, you've finished your NaNo novel and you've got yourself this nifty code for five free copies of your published novel (although you do have to pay postage). So, here is the quick run-down on what you will need to do to create your published novel (and sell it on Amazon too, should you so desire).

What you require:
- One finished novel
- A computer with some form of writing program on it. It does not matter which one, as long as you can:
a, change the size of the pages
b, save or export files as pdf files.
I use OpenOffice's Swriter program.
- A lot of time on your hands.
-  A cover. More details on that to come when you get to that stage.
- Some sort of illustration program is also very useful
- Patience

1. Go to and sign up.
2. Login, you should be taken to your DASHBOARD.
3. Select "Add New Title"
4. Fill in the details - Title and Format (you will want to select "paperback")

5. Now, you have the option between a guided tour or doing it your own way.
If you select "Guided" it will take you through the steps one at a time:
For Title Information: If you enter a subtitle, it will appear on Amazon, so I don't recommend it unless it is necessary. I also do not recommend entering a Prefix in for your name, as this means you will appear on Amazon as "Mrs Angela Oliver" when you may not want to! If you are a Doctor of course, fill it in!
When you have filled in these as much as you wish to, click on "Save and Continue".

6. You now have the choice between a CreateSpace assigned ISBN or using your own. NOTE: once you have an ISBN for your book, your book officially exists, if you go on and publish it, you will be considered a published author even if you don't make it available for the public to buy. This MAY have an effect on your options of publishing through more traditional publishers. Of course, if you become a highly successful independently published author, then you might be head-hunted by a traditional publisher. HOWEVER, you should not use CreateSpace to print up volumes of your fanfiction or otherwise copyrighted material. Your ISBN will be assigned and you can "Save and Continue".

7. Now comes the INTERIOR section. This (and the next) are the two most time-consuming sections and you will likely visit this page frequently, as you make last minute changes. First options are paper type and book size. You can choose black and white or colour. I have yet to explore colour costs, but I imagine that they will be rather higher than black and white! To choose your trim size, you might like to measure a few of the books on your shelf and see which ones you like. I use 5.5 x 8.5 inches for my books. I cannot remember why I chose that size, but I want all of mine to look relatively similar, so I have remained consistent.

8. Now comes the time to Upload your Interior. This is the bit that requires you to engage in quite a bit of formating. I recommend at this point that you save your CreateSpace and leave it for now (it'll store all the info, no worries there) and now open your writing program. You must remember the formatting of the book is entirely your responsibility. CreateSpace do not proofread, nor check-em except to make sure that the images are the right size. So, you must create your PDF file.

Creating a PDF of your story:
- Firstly, adjust the page sizes of your manuscript to match those of the Trim Size you have chosen. Most writing programs should allow you to "custom" your page sizes. It will then reformat your entire work.
- Now, you must add in the front pages. For some ideas here, pick up the nearest book in your house and look at the way the front pages are set out:
(Odd numbered pages are on the right hand side, evens on the left. Therefore, even numbered pages are on the back of the odd numbered pages)
Page 1*: In some books this is merely the title, in others, a page of glowing reviews, others choose to put in a passage from the text that it particularly gripping.
Page 2*: Often blank, or you can list other books you have written here.
Page 3: Title page - shows title of book, author's name etc
Page 4: Copyright details, ISBN, perhaps a dedication (unless you want that on the next page)
Page 5: Dedication or quote
Page 6: Blank, Map or other Illustration
Page 7: The story begins.
 * My earlier self-published books skip these two pages, and start with the title page (meaning the story starts on page 5). There are a few traditionally published books that do this too, but not many. 

> The story should ALWAYS start on a right hand page, even if this means leaving some other pages blank.
> Page Numbers should not be on the pages before the story begins (see my earlier notes for how to format this in OpenOffice).

Other Things to Consider:
Headers: I don't really like Headers, and a random opening of my shelved books shows that not every traditionally published book has them anyway.If you do have Headers, remember to remove them from the pages which say "Chapter One" in them, or whatever. Otherwise they look poorly formatted and ugly.
Footers: Page Numbers are ESSENTIAL. The library needs to put a tag in your book on page 33, after all. You can center your page numbers or set all the left hand pages to the left hand side, and all the right hand to the right side.
Font: I prefer serif fonts for my manuscripts (they're the ones with feet) and all of my novels use Century Schoolbook. You can use Times New Roman, but it's so common, it's kinda blah. Century Schoolbook adds a bit of class. Make sure the font you use is easy to read, also be aware that some fonts are not royalty free, meaning you can't use them in something you're making money from. This may not be too much of a hassle unless you become mega-successful. If you set your font too large, it will look like a book for young kids or the elderly. If you set it too small, it is difficult to read. I use font size 10, Century Schoolbook for my novels. Note that font size (and line spacing) will affect your number of pages, and if you want a really thick book, you need a bigger font! (Which is why I think some traditionally publishsed authors use such big text, either that or it is for their older readers!).
Paragraphs: Note that after a linebreak, the first sentence of a paragraph is not indented, but all the rest are.
Line Spacing: I publish my books with spacing set to 1.5, because these make it easier to track the lines, and I write for children.
Chapter Headings: Make sure your fonts, size and style are consistent. Don't write "Chapter One" then have "Chapter 2", for example. Also note that changing the size of the font here may affect the way the text lines up at the bottom of the page, and it is preferable to have these consistent. For this purpose also, you should Kill all Widow and Orphan Control*. Adjust the font size of the Chapter headings until you can see that they line up in the PDF version. An easy way to do this is to make sure that the line spacing is proportional - ie: I usually set my line spacing to 0.54, which leaves a bit of a gap between lines, and for the headers I set it to 1.08 (2 x 0.54). This seems to work.
Adding Illustrations to Text: There are two sorts of ways you can include illustrations in the story - one is as a full page spread, the other is as little line drawings interspersed with the text. There's no real rule to doing this, just make sure it looks right. Personally, from here-in I intend to draw my images at a size that is proportional to the page size so it will fit without having one or two sentences around it. "Aroha" and "Midsummer Knight" both have them mingled with the text, but for my "Lemur" books, I've got them on full single pages at the end of the relevant chapters. Use lineart or greyscale your colour images first, so that the printer doesn't get confused at the other end. Also, if you're greyscaling colour, you can make adjustments to brightness etc to make it clearer. If intermingling it with the text, use the "padding" option to provide a few millimetres of space around the image so that the text doesn't run into it. Trying to get them to sit right on the page can be endlessly frustrating and I have no advice but perseverence. If you are also writing for ebook format, illustrations will mean the text on the page preceeding may run for half a page or less, as they always show up indvidually. I remove the illustrations from my ebooks (although I might leave them in with Lemurs, since they're at the end of the chapter anyway) as it gives more incentive to actually buy the physical book.

 * Widows and Orphans - when the page reformats itself so that if you have two lines in a paragraph at the base of the page that would be left hanging, they get shifted up to the next page leaving a gap of two lines. They are the bane of my OpenOffice existence, since I want my text to line up at the base of the page, and I don't care if the are only four words on the next page. I keep turning them off on OpenOffice, and they keep coming back to haunt me.

Once you think you're done - export your novel as a pdf file and look through it, to make sure everything looks as it should.
If it does, then you can upload it into CreateSpace and move onto the next step.
Note: You will need to fix all grammar, spelling and continuity errors yourself. Createspace does not edit it in any way.

9. Now it's time to make the Cover. This is the funnest bit of all - if by fun you mean very important. This has to a, look professional and b, grab the readers' attention. I can't promise that mine do the former, but I would like to think they do the latter. CreateSpace offers several ways to do your cover. You can use their templates, upload your own PDF or pay someone to do it for you. Personally, I prefer number 1, because I could not quite work out how to use my programs to save as a PDF. Luckily, there is a way to upload the entire jacket (front, back and spine) without requiring a PDF.
So, firstly, Load Cover Creator:
This brings a pop-up with a wide range of templates, all named after plants. Most offer basic outlines where you can enter your text and upload images if you like. However, there are two that are particularly useful - the Pine and the Palm.
The Palm - this one allows you to upload the front and back images of the cover, but will do the spine for you (please note, if you haven't uploaded an interior, your spine will not show, the program works it out based on thickness of book.) To do this one, you simply need to design two images in your art program of choice and upload them. The cons? The spine is very boring, and you cannot add any images to it, and you're restricted to their selection of ugly fonts. My first two novels were published using The Palm, and their spines stand out on my shelf as looking self-published.
The Pine - for this one, you create the entire cover (front, spine, back) and upload it as a whole. You can download a template to make sure the spine is in the right place etc. This gives you the freedom to make the spine look professional and fancy, should you wish. The cons? it's a more difficult process and if your spine is off by a few millimetres it will definitely show.
Now, I'm no professional at designing covers, although I do a lot of art, and I am learning. My earlier efforts were... not great, to put it lightly. My first proof copy of "Aroha's" looks like the self published novel that it is. Later ones still look self-published, but I think with my latest "Lemurs" series, they will finally start to look more professional (and I will redo Aroha's after I've sold out of my current stock).
But here's some things I've figured out:
- Block colour only looks good if it is black. Some texture behind it looks better. I use photographs that I have altered the brightness and the colouring of to give them a "lightwash"
- If you are going to do an entire page illustration - make sure you draw it bigger than the trim size (about .25 inches larger) and keep all important details at least this distance from the edge - believe me, I've had the worst time using the clone brush to add that extra .25 inches because one of my characters got too close to the edge and I didn't want to cut her head off.
- All images should be at least 300 dpi. If it's a little bit less (like 290 or so), it shouldn't matter, but the smaller it is, the less clear the image will be. You should probably scan stuff at 400 dpi, and draw your interior images at the size you want them print at, if not larger.
- Leave room for the title! There's nothing worse than trying to squeeze too many words into too small a space. I also found that using the smudge tool to blur the sky behind the title made it pop out more than doing it straight over the colouring pencil.
- To decide how your title should look, I recommend studying various books, particularly in the genre that you are using. Remember the whole "royalty free fonts" thing too, and try to use ones that are Royalty Free, just in case.
- You will need to write a blurb for the back of your book. This is always what I find to be one of the more difficult parts - as you want to lure the reader in without giving away too much of the plot. From comparing the blurbs of books I've read to their actual plots, I've found that some authors not so much as lie, but as alter the plot in a manner to make it seem more interesting.

Once your image is up - Congratulations - you have finished the "Set-up" side of your novel. Now it's time to order your first proof copy and see how it all looks!

One thing I noticed with proof copies - because books need to be bound with a certain amount of pages, you may end up with some blank pages at the end. It is always fun to figure out something to fill these with! Suggestions include: a short story, a short comic, information about other books you've published, an "about the author" page.

To make use of your free copy codes, you need to have your book "published" first - but if you don't want to fork out for a proof copy, you can now proof it online and see how it looks there. There's nothing like owning your own copy though - and I recommend buying at least one so you can read through it and edit it for errors - you'll be surprised how many you can pick up when reading a physical book.

Remember, once your book is published you are a published author. This is exciting! However, it does mean you may not be eligible to enter various competitions, like the Storylines Tessa Duder award. Also, traditional publishers may be less likely to look at your manuscript and very few major bookstores will sell independently published titles unless they have very good reason to.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Colouring Competition - win original art from LemurKat!

 To celebrate finishing writing my second "New Zealand Naturally" novel (although I have yet to do the final polish and then the editing shine), I have decided to do a colouring in competition.

The prize - an original drawing of your favourite animal (real or imainged) in a yet-to-be-determined size - except that it will be bigger than ATC sized.

How to win -
1. Print off this PDF file:
2. Colour it in
3. Scan it or photograph it
4. Send image as an attachment to Subject: Colouring Competition
5. Please include Name, Age (if over 15, just write "15+") and Contact Email.

How will I judge it?
All entries will be divided into age categories, and I shall choose my favourite/s from each category. I shall then number them and use a random number generator to determine the winner from these finalists. Therefore, you will have to put in time and effort to win, but a 3 year old is just as likely to win as a 33 year old.
Entries close the 14th December. I shall endeavour to have the winner's original art completed for Christmas and will contact the winner for postage details.
Finalist images (with first names/nicknames only) will be displayed on this website