Interview: Kate Robinson – Author of “Heart Of Desire – 11.11.11 Redux”

heartofdesireebookcover resized

Well, I am very proud to present an interview with Kate Robinson – a published writer and freelance editor born in Iowa and residing the past few decades in Arizona and California. She runs the “Jellyfish Day” blog (of which I was lucky enough to post a guest post on there last year) and who has recently published an alternate history /sci-fi/thriller novel called “Heart Of Desire – 11. 11.11 Redux“.

We studied writing together in Aberystwyth in 2009/10 and, whilst I haven’t really written that much fiction since then, Kate has worked on a lot of different fiction and nonfiction writing and editing projects – including a short story collection collaboration with another Arizona writer, Joe DiBuduo.

So, without any further ado, let’s get started:

– So, you’ve got a new novel out – can you give us a brief summary of what it’s about?

The plot basically revolves around an investigative reporter, Tess Vaughn, who literally jogs into the arms of a married presidential candidate, Senator Harris Henry. They have a campaign trail affair that brings her trouble galore. As Henry nears his successful bid for the presidency, he confides strange things to Tess about a UFO disclosure and a dark political agenda by a shadow government.

When she breaks off the relationship, she finds herself pregnant, and flees to a small community in rural Arizona where she secretly bears President Henry’s lovechild, Mikka. Tess soon discovers that Mikka has talents that both delight and scare her. She fears Mikka will be exploited and realizes that someone is interested in Mikka for their own ends.

As she flees her home and seeks the help of a pair of New Age ministers, Marshall and Savannah Updike, and a Native American healer, Carson Hodges, she comes to understand that Mikka’s fate is linked with President Henry’s, and in a spiritual sense, to the cosmos.

-The 11.11.11 thing is certainly an interesting subject for a story, can you explain it to our readers?

In the novel, I refer to the date of 11 November 2011 as “the window of positive opportunity” that is a precursor to 21 December, 2012, the “end” of the Mayan calendar. 11.11.11 is significant to the plot as a point “where cosmic transformation began.” New Age thinkers attributed this date with a powerful shift in human awareness.

- How did you come up with the title of the novel, since “Heart Of Desire” doesn’t immediately sound like a sci-fi/thriller novel?

While Heart of Desire isn’t a genre romance, it does have strong romantic elements as told through the POV of the protagonist, Tess and also through the viewpoints of the two men she’s attracted to who are 180 degrees apart in their lifestyles and viewpoints. But there are two layers to the story.

Thematically, the story explores the concept of desire as an emotion or force that often brings us suffering no matter the positive intention. One premise of Buddhism is that our desires, no matter how positive, often bring us more than we bargain for. Be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes. Every character in the novel has a particular desire or set of desires that drive their lives to cross in a dramatic conclusion.

- Although I understand that “Heart Of Desire” is an updated version of an older story that you wrote, I absolutely love the optimistic 1980s/1990s-style atmosphere of what I’ve read of it so far. I was wondering if classic TV shows like “The X-Files” had any influence on you when you originally wrote the story?

Actually, I saw only an episode or two of The X-Files during the years it aired because when I started the story in 1999, I lived in a high desert valley in Arizona where television reception was sometimes sketchy without cable TV. It wasn’t until the winter of 2009-10 when I worked on a draft in the UK that I sat down down with the entire DVD collection of The X-Files episodes and watched them all – great fun!

I’ve had a long interest in reading accounts about UFOs and alleged extraterrestrial abductions because of some strange experiences I had in my childhood, and later on, when my kids were small. So my fiction was influenced very much by personal experience and by writers like Whitley Strieber, who had some rather strange experiences with UFOs and ETs and who writes both nonfiction and fiction based on his personal experiences.

I also read many other accounts relayed by abductees or witnesses of UFOs to ghostwriters or therapists who worked with them. For many years I also subscribed to a newsletter called Cosmic Awareness Communications that consisted of readings relayed through a trance interpreter, a channel very similar to the Edgar Cayce readings. All this information is now archived on a CAC website and there is still a current interpreter of Cosmic Awareness who does general and personal trance readings.

While CAC readings covered many topics, the readings about various ET groups who visit Earth always captured my imagination and seeded many scenes in the novel. I’m probably also influenced by other more fanciful sci-fi books and films I’ve absorbed over the years, like Stranger in a Strange Land, The Martian Chronicles, ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Independence Day, Men in Black, War of the Worlds, and many others. My novel focuses on the gray and reptilian ETs that humans encounter around the globe.

– For a novel that was originally written in the late 1990s, it’s remarkably forward-looking. There’s a multiracial president and a mysterious unaccountable US Government agency called the NIHSA.

As the years passed, I incorporated current events, as well as creating some alternate history scenarios that could have plausibly happened. As they say, the future is never fixed and we can follow many threads to estimate what might happen next.

– Although you include a brief reference to 9/11 when describing the NIHSA and the president comes across as being vaguely Bill Clinton-like, I was wondering how much of this stuff was in the original story and how much was added when you updated it before publication?

When I started the story in 1999, I based the goings-on in Washington, D.C upon the Clinton administration. By the time 2008 came around, it seemed natural to upgrade the story with a more multiracial cast of characters based on the Obama administration.

- “Heart Of Desire” deals with a lot of environmental topics and I was wondering how you were able to turn what some might consider a “long-term” issue into something more immediate and compelling?

Thank you – I’m pleased that you found this aspect of the novel interesting. Our current environmental woes began to physically emerge in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, if not before, on a less tangible level. At least this was noticeable in various places I lived around Arizona. We had clockwork summer and winter rainy (or snow) seasons in the 1970s, a long-term pattern that gradually morphed into serious drought.

The varied desert environments at different elevations in Arizona always had their peculiarities like a wide range between daytime and nighttime temperatures, but that became more pronounced when high summer temps became higher and the nighttime and winter lows became lower. I began to notice that wildlife was disappearing when I went on some camping trips during the ‘90s into semi-remote places and saw few birds or critters, a strangely silent world. Later, the unusual and fierce storms started.

Of course California may be even more impacted by drought now than Arizona. The city where I live now is implementing a one-day a week lawn watering restriction, along with carwashing and hose use restrictions on October 1, 2014. People here are used to having green manicured lawns that are watered at least every other day, if not daily, in some cases. Of course, southern California has the warm Santa Ana winds that happen along with particular ocean currents, and that often results in fires in the wooded hills and canyons in and around our cities, and we’re in more in danger than ever from those. And from the mudslides that happen after large rainstorms – we’re not having much rain but climate chaos does bring flooding rather than normal rainstorms.

Earthquakes seem to be coming at a faster rate than ever all over the world, and California has many faultlines and is famous for quakes. Over the course of writing and revising, and then formatting Heart of Desire for publication, the emerging long-term environmental issues here and all over our planet have certainly became more immediate and compelling! My natural concern about this issue was easy to to include this concern into the story.

– As someone who is a bit of a “loner” when it comes to creating things, can you tell me a bit about what it’s like to work collaboratively?

Writers who collaborate have many different styles. I’ve seen some do novels together by writing alternating chapters. I suppose some have actual physical meetings to discuss and critique each others’ work, as writers do in critique groups or in the entertainment biz. In our case, Joe wrote drafts of stories and developed and polished them to the best of his ability.

When he hit the wall with them, I received the collection via e-mail and further developed them, adding my own touches. Joe has the vivid, soaring imagination and I have the wordwhacking toolkit and don’t mind the nuts and bolts of submission to publishers and agents. So I never had to sacrifice my reclusive ways. So many writers are introverts and charge their batteries in solitude, but I think we’re all connected at the level of mind and spirit anyway.

- Finally, do you have any advice that you can give to new writers?

While I don’t necessarily think that doing what you love will always make money follow, I feel if writing is your passion, then jump into it wholeheartedly. Creativity is both a joy and a solace in a reality where pain of various sorts is also a constant. So live the writing life with every heartbeat and every breath.

Set aside a little (or a lot!) of time each day or write as regularly as possible. Read more than you write and in many genres and styles. Read books and articles and blog posts by authors and editors about the mechanics of the writing craft and about the writing life. Don’t be afraid to experiment and never give up – it’s only through trial and error and constant practice that you’ll progress from the level of emerging writer to seasoned, professional writer.

I’ve seen a few writers stand in their own way early on because they can’t accept criticism and guidance from more experienced writers. Others give up in despair prematurely when they’re just a step or two away from the final polish of a novel or memoir or children’s book because they couldn’t handle rejection by agents and publishers. “Overnight success” in this business means fifteen years or longer. Those who succeed quickly were probably writers in previous lifetimes! : }

Build your platform, your social media contacts, and network with other writers as you learn the craft – this business is built upon these connections and interactions. And if you don’t succeed as a published author, then at least you’ve had a heckuva run doing something you love.

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Thanks :) If anyone is interested, more info about “Heart Of Desire” can be found here.

Today’s Art ( 30th August 2014)

Well, since I didn’t feel like painting another landscape or making a “traditional” cartoon painting, I thought that I’d experiment with painting silhouettes today.

However, despite the fact that I edited this picture digitally after I scanned it, the original painting actually looks slightly better than this digital version.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"The Burning Palace" By C. A. Brown

“The Burning Palace” By C. A. Brown

Four More Tips For Writing And Drawing Filler

2014 Artwork Filler article two Sketch

Well, since I miscalculated the number of days in this month (Why does August have 31 days? It makes no logical sense!) I needed to come up with one more article than I expected to.

Anyway, this made me think about the whole subject of writing and drawing filler material. Not that this fine article is a filler article, of course….

Since I’ve already written about this subject last year, I thought that I’d list a few more clever ways of adding filler material to your webcomic, novel, website, DeviantART page, serialised story etc… today. However, I should point out that this guide is mostly geared towards online-based things rather than traditional print media.

As I said last year, you should be careful not to add too much filler material to anything that you create – because it will “dilute” your work and too much filler will make people lose interest in whatever you are creating.

Anyway, that said, let’s begin:

1) Sketchbooks And Notes: This technique will only really work if you’re posting things online at regular intervals (eg: a webcomic, a serialised story etc…), but it can be one of the best ways to add some quick filler material if you’re worried about missing an update.

Basically, just scan/photograph a few pages from your sketchbook (if you’re making a comic) or type up some of your early story planning notes (being careful to avoid spoilers) and then use them for an update. Yes, you’ll have to write a brief introduction but it requires a lot less time and effort to make than a regular update for the simple reason that you’ve already made most of the stuff you’re putting in your update.

Not only that, it’s one of the best types of filler for the simple reason that, if you have any fans who follow your work, then they’re probably going to be fascinated by the creative process that goes into making your webcomic or story. So, giving them a tantalising glimpse into your private sketchbooks/notebooks will help to satisfy some of their curiosity.

2) Competitions: You’ll have to use your imagination here, but a good way of coming up with a quick update is to post a competition of some kind for your audience.

Because you’re posting something on the internet (with an international audience), it’s probably best to give out intangible prizes rather than having to post physical prizes to audience members in other countries.

Good ideas for intangible prizes include things like, adding the winner’s name to your novel as a background character, sketching the winner in the background of one scene in your comic, just saying that this person has won first prize etc….

Not only does this increase audience loyalty to your website, but if you get your audience to post their entries (or links to their entries) in the comments on your site, then you can come up with lots of stuff for people to look at – without having to create any of it yourself.

3) Fictional non-fiction: If you’re writing a novel, then you can add filler by including a scene or segment of your novel where either you or one of your characters explains some trivial part of the world of your story. Because you’ve probably already thought about this sort of stuff before, then there hopefully won’t be too much new creativity involved in creating one of these scenes.

For example, if you’re writing a fantasy novel, then you could include a few short “The Almanac of (your setting)” chapters throughout your novel that explain some of the weird and wonderful things in your story in more detail. A good sci-fi example of this technique can be found in the “Game Cat” chapters of a cyberpunk novel called “Vurt” by Jeff Noon.

Just don’t use this technique too often, because it goes against the “show, don’t tell” rule for good descriptive writing.

4) Alternative comics: I found this interesting horror comic online a few weeks ago and, although there has obviously been a lot of creative effort put into it, one of the interesting things about it is that one chapter of it doesn’t really look like a traditional comic. In fact, most pages of this chapter consist of nothing but “voice-over” dialogue and a single minimalist background image and/or pattern.

So, if you need to make a quick comic- then it might be worth trying this approach. Yes, you’ll still have to put a lot of effort into the writing, but it means that you can either make quick and simple art for each page or just use old public domain/ Creative Commons licenced images from the internet.

Yes, you’ll have to search for the right image for each page (and check it’s copyright/ licencing status) but it will save you having to create lots of art from scratch.

———

Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Today’s Art ( 29th August 2014)

Well, I was still in the mood for painting landscapes, but I was also in the mood for making some melodramatic American-style horror art too – and this painting is the result. Unfortunately, it didn’t even look half as dramatic as I had hoped it would do.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"And The Devil Came To Kansas" By C. A. Brown

“And The Devil Came To Kansas” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Freedoom” (Freeware Computer Game/ IWAD For “Doom II”)

2014 Artwork Freedoom Review Sketch

[Note: Before I begin, I should probably point out that this is a review of the "0.8 Beta 1" version of Freedoom that was released in 2012. There was a new version released this year, but from what I've briefly seen of it - it looks nearly identical to the version I will be reviewing here.]

One of the great things about “Doom” and “Doom II” was that ID Software released the source code for both of these games in the mid-late 1990s, meaning that people could modify the games to their heart’s content and produce source ports which allow these games to be played on modern computers. But, contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean that “Doom” itself is freeware. In order to play it, you still need all of the copyrighted graphics files from the full version of the original game.

Well, that’s where “Freedoom” comes in. This is a freeware replacement pack for all of the “Doom II” graphics and levels which means that literally anyone can enjoy the masterpiece that is “Doom II” for free. All you need to play it is a modern source port like GZ Doom.

Screenshot_Doom_20140712_183500

Although I’ve had “Freedoom” for a couple of years, I only really started playing it properly when I couldn’t find some decent new WADs for “Doom II” one night last month and, even if you already own a full copy of “Doom II”, it’s still certainly worth playing because it’s basically a 32 Level TC for “Doom II”.

Yes, as well as 32 new levels, you’ve also got new weapon graphics, new enemy graphics and new textures – it’s almost like a completely different game.

Well, it's still very reminscient of the original game too... Although some of the backgrounds are cooler.

Well, it’s still very reminscient of the original game too… Although some of the backgrounds are cooler.

First of all, the level design in “Freedoom” is fairly good. At the time of writing this review, I’ve only played about two-thirds of the game and there are some surprisingly good levels in there – however, the quality, size and length of the levels can vary heavily.

You might find yourself getting stuck for days on a ridiculously complex level that requires finding six keys (yes, six!) and doing a lot of exploration in order to finish and then find that you can complete the next level in the space of about five minutes without even breaking a sweat.

Not only that, the endings for some of the levels seem to be placed arbitrarily and it’s possible to finish some levels after only exploring about half of them.

Still, as I mentioned earlier, I’m reviewing an older version of this game from 2012, so it’s possible that the levels may have been redesigned and tweaked slightly in the latest version. And, despite the flaws I mentioned earlier, the levels are still very playable, very fun and often enjoyably challenging.

Screenshot_Doom_20140712_183529

The weapons in “Freedoom” function exactly like their counterparts in “Doom II”, although all of the graphics are slightly different.

On the whole, most of these weapons still “feel” fairly good, although the basic shotgun is slightly too quiet, the rocket launcher looks like a flamethrower and the plasma gun doesn’t feel quite as powerful as it did in the original game (even though it looks a lot cooler).

Unfortunately, these cool-looking flames are just part of the rocket firing animation.

Unfortunately, these cool-looking flames are just part of the rocket firing animation.

But, some of the new weapons actually look cooler than their “Doom II” counterparts – such as the basic pistol (which actually looks like a pistol), the super shotgun, the chainsaw and the BFG. So, this kind of balances out some of the flaws with the other weapon graphics.

Likewise, the new enemy designs are something of a mixed bag. Some of them look a lot less dramatic (and weirder) than their “official” counterparts – for example, the new cyberdemon is a bizarre green pointy robot rather than a cool-looking giant demon. The new Cacodemon graphic looks like a hilarious flying jellyfish too.

But, saying that, many of the new enemy designs look a lot cooler than the original monsters did. For example, the “Zombie” enemies now actually look and move like actual zombies:

Well, they also look a little bit like the Strogg from "Quake II" too...

Well, they also look a little bit like the Strogg from “Quake II” too…

The “Imp” enemies look like creepy giant cobras – which gives the game a slightly cool “Ancient Egypt” kind of feel. Plus, the new Mancubus looks like something from an Iron Maiden album cover – even down to it’s well-animated death animation:

Wow! Eddie's really let himself go....

Wow! Eddie’s really let himself go….

The best enemy redesign is probably the pink “Demon” enemies. In the original game, they looked like some kind of giant mutant bull/gorilla creature and weren’t really that scary.

However, in “Freedoom”, they have been turned into giant bloodworms that will probably end up haunting your nightmares:

Aaaargh!

Aaaargh!

I haven’t really checked “Freedoom”‘s compatability with all of the various “Doom” mods and TCs out there, but I imagine that it would work well with old-school WADs that don’t include much in the way of new graphics.

I think I tried using it with “Brutal Doom” once last year out of curiosity and many of the new death and weapon animations just looked weird. But I imagine that “Freedoom” would probably work well with mods, WADs and TCs that don’t change too much about the original game.

All in all, “Freedoom” isn’t perfect. But it’s still absolutely great regardless. The new levels are fun and about half of the new graphics are better than those from the original game. If you’ve never played any “Doom” games before and are curious about it, then download “Freedoom” (and a source port) and give it a go before you buy a copy of the original game.

Plus, if you’ve got a copy of the original game, then this is a fairly solid 32-level TC/ IWAD for it. Yes, the level quality can vary slightly – but it’s still very playable and very enjoyable.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would probably get a four.

Today’s Art (28th August 2014)

Well, I was still in the mood for painting landscapes after yesterday’s painting – so I decided to paint another one.

For some reason, the “realistic-looking” water I’d tried to paint ended up looking like a sea of molten lava. Whilst this was initially kind of annoying, I suddenly realised that it actually made the painting look about ten times cooler than I expected it to be.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Sea Of Stone" By C. A. Brown

“Sea Of Stone” By C. A. Brown

Don’t Be Afraid of Producing Random Art

2014 Artwork Random art practice sketch

Well, a while before I wrote this article, I almost had a case of artist’s block. I could still start sketching out possible ideas for paintings but, after a while, I’d look at my sketch and think “that’s completely random – it makes no sense. I should sketch something that means something.

But, eventually, I managed to produce a painting – and, yes, it was fairly random:

"Traces" By C. A. Brown

“Traces” By C. A. Brown

One of the things that helped me get over this sudden lapse in self-confidence was looking back at a lot of my old art from last year and realising just how random, nonsensical and downright weird most of it was. Like this old picture:

"Somewhere" By C. A. Brown

“Somewhere” By C. A. Brown

I realised “well, I’ve produced lots of weird stuff before. So, people won’t exactly be surprised if I produce some more“. And, well, this also started to make me think about the role of weird art in an artist’s development and about how – for want of a better word – useful it can be to produce weird art sometimes.

You see, if you’re practicing making art regularly in order to become a better artist, then the most important part of this is actually making the art. So, if -for example- you’re making one drawing every day, this means that you are going to have to come up with 365 ideas for different drawings every year.

Now, even the most intelligent and imaginative creative genius in the world is probably going to struggle with coming up with a meaningful, comprehensible and profound idea for a picture literally every day, without fail.

So, what do you do?

If you spend all of your time sitting around and waiting for inspiration or even just a “good idea”, then you’re probably not going to stick to your regular practice schedule. Yes, you might get a good idea every day for a week, or possibly every other day – but you’re unlikely to have a good idea every day for an entire year (or more).

So, one of the things you can do when you can’t think of a good idea for a picture is to just start sketching randomly and see what appears – yes, it might be something random, something bizarre or even something hopelessly generic. But it’s an idea, it’s a start for a picture.

But, if you think “that sketch is too random to bother doing any more work on” and sit around waiting for inspiration instead, then you won’t have the beginnings of a picture in front of you. You’ll have nothing.

Remember, you’re making art regularly in order to learn how to make art. So practicing making a completely random and nonsensical picture is a hundred times better than not doing any practice at all. The point of practice isn’t to show off what a creative genius you are, it’s to get yourself used to creating things and learning through sheer repetition and experimentation alone.

In fact, if you’re serious about learning how to make art, then you’re going to produce some bizarre drawings and/or paintings when you don’t have any good ideas – it’s a normal part of the learning process. It’s a way of showing to yourself that you’re committed to making art even when you don’t feel inspired.

And, as I’ve said a few times before, it’s a hundred times better than doing no practice at all. Weird art is better than no art at all.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)