Today we are honored to have Kate Elliott over as our guest for the day. Kate is the author of amazing fantasy fiction (we are huge fans of her Spiritwalker Trilogy), and we’re thrilled to have her here to talk about fan art and how it led to her writing a new book.
Please give a warm welcome to Kate Elliott, everyone!
HOW FAN-ART BROUGHT ME TO WRITE A STORY
I love fanart.
I’m not alone in loving fanart, as I know because I see my writer friends with great delight linking to art depicting characters and scenes from their books. In fact I love seeing fanart drawn for the worlds of friends of mine as much as I love seeing fanart drawn in one of my worlds. Because the medium is different and because I am such a visual person, art makes everything pop for me. It is also such a lovely tribute to characters the reader has enjoyed.
The first piece of fanart for the Spiritwalker books I saw was this wonderful piece by Anna Davidson. Later, fanart showed up on Tumblr, but if the artist hasn’t deliberately drawn my attention to it then I try not to intrude. As with fanfic, fanart isn’t actually about me or for me; it is a way for readers to interact with the story they’ve read and share it with others. That’s how I see it, anyway.
The existence of fanart for the Spiritwalker books inspired me to create a fanart-style project of my own. The main character and first person narrator of the Spiritwalker books is a young woman named Cat (Catherine). Her best friend is also her cousin, Bee (Beatrice), whose adventurous story unfolds alongside Cat’s but often “off-stage” from Cat’s journey.
I had long contemplated a story “as told by” Bee, detailing her own adventures. Bee is not a shy or retiring personality and I knew she would have lots to say and that she would tell her story in a way different from Cat.
Because Bee is an artist who carries her sketchbook with her everywhere, it made sense that any story she told would be accompanied by illustrations “as drawn by” her and with an emphasis on the things Bee finds most interesting, which are good looking young men, kissing, and “natural history” (as she would call science).
The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal turned into a short story of about 6000 words (written by me) accompanied by 29 illustrations drawn by the fabulous artist Julie Dillon.
It is my first self publishing venture, one that I entered into not with any intention of making money (I’m hoping possibly to break even once the pdf version comes out) but simply because I wanted illustrations of the characters, something I could share with the many readers who have read and enjoyed the Spiritwalker books, sort of a “thank you” to them.
I hasten to add that no one is required to take these versions as absolute, that this is the way you or anyone *must* visualize the characters. It’s my belief that part of the interaction between reader and story is the way readers’ imaginations create the characters in their head, and that whatever that may be is right for them.
What I learned from doing this project is that creating a solid looking print volume has a lot more levels and complexities than I had realized. This was true even though I paid other people to do the parts of the work I had no experience in nor time to learn, which is pretty much all of it.
First, I had to make the decision to really go ahead and do it. That in itself wasn’t easy because I kept telling myself why it would be impossible. I also had to decide whether I could afford the initial outlay, because from the beginning I intended to pay people for their work rather than asking for volunteer labor or offering people a chance to work for me in exchange for visibility.
The most important step was to find an artist. My daughter suggested Julie Dillon immediately. I also asked Lauren Panepinto, the art director of Orbit Books, if she had any suggestions of young up-and-coming professional artists in the early stages of making a name for themselves because I knew I could not afford a fully established artist who has been around for years. I also wanted a younger artist because I felt a younger hand might work better for the project. Lauren’s list of a dozen young artists included Julie Dillon. Being a person who always looks coincidence in the face, I decided to approach Dillon first.
Being me, I then went through weeks of hesitation, sure that no one would want to work with me and that if I asked I would just be told “no.” I struggle with this sort of self doubt constantly, and I mention it in public in case anyone else out there struggles with self doubt. It’s a thing, and it’s real and difficult, so I like people to know that in my experience it is possible to continue to write (or accomplish whatever endeavor) even as you wrestle with fears and anxieties.
When I finally emailed Dillon, she responded with an enthusiastic “yes” — and my timing was excellent because only a few weeks later she was nominated as a Finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Artist, the first woman since the 1980s to be so nominated.
I explained what I wanted, and Julie met her deadline with the 29 aforementioned and entirely wonderful black and white illustrations (hers was the only deadline met in the entire endeavor, in fact, a sign of her professionalism).
By this time I had a finished draft of the story, so I turned the story and the illustrations over to my daughter Rhiannon who works as a print estimator and who is co-publisher (with Melanie Ujimori) of a micro press called Crab Tank that publishes Tankadere, an annual comics anthology, as well as one-off projects. She knows her way around layout, design, and actual printing.
The page count and binding of the chapbook had to be confirmed because as a short story it has more of the feel of a chapbook (or short children’s picture book) than a paperback. We went back and forth over: whether to do staples or glue; the actual size (6 x 9); the cover; the estimated print run. Fortunately she knew a printing house in Portland she wanted to use whose work she trusted.
Due to a family illness this part of the process ended up taking far longer than expected. A designer did the preliminary layout. I commented on it, my daughter did revisions, and I did bits and pieces of rewriting as we moved text and illustrations around and as I insisted that the picture of the romantic lead had to be larger. No, larger.
The first unbound “proof” copy came off the press in late July. I do not consider myself a perfectionist, but we went through four “proof” versions before we decided that we had done everything we could and caught every possible mistake we could find and had a version we were willing to see go to press. I sweet-talked a publishing professional who had also read Spiritwalker into proofing the story in exchange for a free copy. Proof-readers and editors are your friends. This entire process ended up taking about five weeks due to travel and work and (see above) family illness complications.
The chapbook was printed, and I announced that the print run was available on my blog, Twitter, Facebook, & Tumblr, which are the main places where I hang out online. Melanie gave me advice on proper packaging methods so that the book would arrive safely and unmangled, and she and I bought all the things, put the book into plastic sleeves with a chipboard backing for stability, addressed envelopes, and went to the post office.
The print version is available to order via the Crab Tank website. A pdf is almost done, lacking just a few technical issues, and then it will also be available via Crab Tank.
The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal functions as a sort of coda to the Spiritwalker Trilogy. The timespan covered in its 36 pages encompasses all three of the Spiritwalker books as well as extending a short span beyond the end of the trilogy. I tried to make the story work alone but obviously it is full of spoilers and works best if you already know the characters. If I must say so myself, the illustrations are magnificent.
In honor of this exciting first in my professional life and to mark the completion of the Spiritwalker Trilogy (and its coda), I am offering a Spiritwalker Giveaway, kindly hosted by the most excellent Book Smugglers Thea and Ana.
The entire Spiritwalker Trilogy (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, Cold Steel) in trade paper format, a paper copy of the Bonus Chapter 31.5 (fits with Cold Fire), and a copy of The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal. All signed by me (can be personalized if the winner desires), and the Secret Journal is also signed by Julie Dillon.
There will be two sets given away, one domestic USA and one International.
To enter, use the form below. GOOD LUCK!