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Community for science fiction and fantasy author/artist M.C.A. Hogarth.
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February 28, 2021
Questions You Have

This is my "if there's something you'd like me to talk about/post about/or audio-ramble about" or "if there's a question you want to ask" or "share comments/observations" post. Let me know what's on your mind. 🙂

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Live Streamed on February 28, 2022 11:34 AM ET
February 28, 2022
No One Expects the Unscheduled Livestream!

More of Sketchbook 88!

00:48:07
Live Streamed on February 21, 2022 2:23 PM ET
February 21, 2022
Scanning with USS Boaty McScanner!

The first 20ish pages of Sketchbook 88 (after I got organized and fixed some of the problems). Mostly Jokka, some jaguar pictures (including Harvest Moon).

00:55:53
Live Streamed on November 23, 2021 7:04 PM ET
November 23, 2021
Livestreaming This Evening!

So leave me art prompts!

00:55:06
November 09, 2021
Alysha Misc

Thanks for your comments yesterday on the business post... all very provocative, in a good way. I'll try to respond to all of them today.

Some Alysha misc now, since I'm gearing up for the results of the Kickstarter!

Petrov is giving away coupon codes for every book in the Alysha series (and has some leftover coupons for Marda and the business book). You can pick those up here (and please do! The books are bought already, someone should use them!) https://twitter.com/PetrovNeutrino/status/1457344535843987461

Our own @JudasComplex sent along a sample of the Faith in the Service audiobook, which I've attached for your delight! I... haven't had a chance to listen to it. Don't ask me about my past week and a half or so. Putting it here will guarantee I get to it.

After hearing the amused comments during the livestream, I went ahead and added all the ship type illustrations I have inked from the 90s to the wiki. Glory in the rampant adorableness of their anthropomorphic stylings! See those ...

Alysha Misc
The Jaguar's Heart 7: We Are Not a Monolith

A little comedy today, at least in the link. Transcript follows.


Hi, all. Welcome to this episode of The Jaguar’s Heart.

A while back I was introduced to a comedy sketch about Cuban coffee by a Mexican comedian, Gabriel Iglesias. ( The sketch begins with him greeting all his fellow Latinos and then backing up to say ‘but we’re all different, aren’t we’ which is a segue into a demonstration of how different Hispanics speak Spanish.

It is hilarious. First, because I am a Spanish speaker and a linguistics hobbyist, and his portrayal of various accents resonated with my experiences in trying to make sense of them myself… Not always easy, since from culture to culture, slang and accent are often totally different (and sometimes grammar! Spaniards use a grammatical construct that has died out in many other Spanish-speaking countries, the plural “you.”)

I also loved it because the Cuban coffee part is real. I grew up with Cubans. I know how we are....

The Jaguar's Heart 7: We Are Not a Monolith
The Jaguar's Heart 6: Hatespeech

One of the most common things I hear (and say) right now is "the asymmetry is the story." Here's one about how none of us are innocent of the sins we hate in others.


Hi, all. Welcome to this week’s episode of The Jaguar’s Heart.

It’s been weeks since the Baen’s Bar incident and I’m still thinking about it... because the longer I do, the more I feel, overwhelmingly, that it’s obvious that the problem is deeper than “this forum was saying stuff that offended us.” We have to back up to the glaring fact that people on opposite sides no longer consider each other human. Nothing I say will matter because the people disagreeing with me don’t think I’m human. They have denied my humanity; they have not bothered to listen to my beliefs, or have fake-listened to them in that way that people do when they’re so ready to prove you wrong that they’re only using your speech to provide talking points for their own ideas.

We have forgotten how to listen.

Increasingly, we have also ...

The Jaguar's Heart 6: Hatespeech
The New Computer!

I think I may have mentioned in one of the recent updates (or maybe on the Kickstarter project blog?) that my PC has been making unhappy noises, and in fact, I can no longer count on it to boot up if I make the mistake of turning it completely off. When I mentioned this to Spouse, he suggested we get ahead of the inevitable failure by getting a new computer now and while I was dithering about this, took care of it for me.
So I now have a new computer!
It is a Mac.
I have been running a dual-OS system since I bought Vellum, which is my ebook-and-paperback layout program, and exists only for the Mac. I regret nothing about the investment into a cheap Mac mini (bought off eBay!) to run Vellum because it has saved me tremendously in time and money—it’s the reason all my books now have paperback editions simultaneous with my ebook editions, requiring no special Kickstarter campaign to drum up the cash to pay a graphic designer. But it’s meant that I’ve had to kludge together a workflow across platforms based ...

I've been thinking about rereading the Godkin books, mentally moving them up the TBR pile. I've been thinking about Jaguar's other works. Each universe is very much its own thing, whether it's Twin Kingdoms, Kherishdar, Le'Enle, or otherwise. It's entirely possible she writes more consistently alien aliens than anyone else I know. Each has its own distinct, not-human mindset. It's a big brain-warpy, but I enjoy it very much. Thank you.

February 27, 2023
Art Book Question!

I'm getting closer to done on the Blood Ladders art book (while juggling the Kickstarter stuff), and it's time to make a decision about the size of the book.

On one hand, I can make it a 6x9 hardcover, which means it will be the same size/shape as the novels in the series. But it's an odd size for an art book.

My other choice is 8.5x11, which is a nice big space for each piece of art, but... if you shelve it next to your Morgan novels, it's going to look awkward.

Which do you prefer?

February 10, 2023
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The Cake That Was Bread, and Sacred

It’s that time of year again, that stretched out time between New Year’s and Lent when coffee cakes marketing themselves as King Cakes re-appear in local bakeries. I stop beside them and look at the garish icings and the brightly colored plastic baby perched amid the ooze and think that this custom is much estranged from the one I was reared on.

Every year, in the weeks leading up to the raucous exuberance of Mardi Gras, bakeries in New Orleans would issue ring-shaped sweet breads with sugar toppings--icing sometimes, but that was a vulgarity by our family’s standards--and embedded in these breads were little pink plastic babies: the baby Jesus, the King of the cake. That was only the most obvious of the symbols. It was a yeast bread, not a cake: it needed to rise, like God rose, like we all rise when we take Him in. It was a bread, and bread is the staff of life. It was sweet, because God in the mouth is a sweetness, an explosion of energy and abundance in a life that can be gray and sad. It was simple and required little ornament, because it needed none; it had a parti-colored robe of colored sugar, because when we robe ourselves in Divinity we shine like shattered light.

The baby, of course, was hidden in the dough. No one who took a slice knew if they would be the ones to receive Him. Everyone ate carefully, because she knew that God was present. There was no hand-holding, no separation of God from the bread into a convenient package taped to the top of the bakery box so you knew where to look. Modern hearts think of a hidden baby and fear to choke. Growing up, we knew better. We were watchful. We were excited. God is here, we thought! We might be the ones! We trod carefully and in hope.

To have the baby was luck. The baby came with responsibilities, though. At school, at workplaces, the King Cake was a communal gift; someone brought the first, but the person to receive the baby was charged with bringing the next. The gift of God’s presence requires giving again. That was part of the ring in the dough: it never ended, a virtuous circle of caring for one another and sharing, a communion outside of Mass, a re-affirmation of duty to one another and joy in the duty.

Commercialized King Cakes, liberated from their original context and scattered around the country into bakeries that know them only as a seasonal food, like heart-shaped cookies or candy canes, feel like sad shadows of the custom that taught me that God is mischief and delight, that He hides in unexpected places and that it’s never for us to know where He might be until we catch Him (or He catches us); that to find Him is to have a responsibility to be worthy of His generosity. “I am here,” He promises, as we approach the fasting times. “And when you least expect it, I will be there.”

This is the playful God, the Aslan, Rumi’s Beloved bound up in sugar and dough. Hiding in metaphor. Inviting us to work at His mysteries… and if we can’t, then to enjoy His sweetness anyway.

That’s the King Cake I grew up with, and if you’d like to make it, I've appended the recipe from the bakery my family and I used to patronize when I was younger at the end of this article.

But remember: strange things happen when you eat God. A friendly warning, from someone who has, and has, and hopes to again.


McKenzie's Style King Cake

1/2 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Warm Water
1 Envelope Yeast
1/2 Cup Milk
1 stick butter (4 ounces)
2 Eggs
Pinch of Salt
3 Cups Flour
Colored Sugar for Decoration
A Little Milk

Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the 1/3 warm water and stir the yeast in.
Melt the butter with the rest of the sugar and 1/2 cup milk.
Pour into a large bowl and add eggs.
Add yeast-mixture and pinch of salt.
Add flour gradually to make a soft dough.
Knead until smooth and elastic.
Cover bowl with cloth and let dough rise until doubled in bulk.

Shape dough into round ball, place ball onto lightly-buttered cookie sheet; poke a hole in the center and gradually stretch to doughnut shape. Cover and let rise again until doubled in bulk.

Brush top with a little milk and sprinkle on the colored sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

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September 19, 2022
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On Cliffhangers

So cliffhangers. WHY DO WE DO THEM. Some reasons.

No wait. First. Keep in mind this important Three Jaguars fact: a novel is not a story. A novel is a way of packaging a story of a certain length, in a certain way, with a certain kind of marketing fluff and with certain cultural and reader expectations. Okay? Okay. Onward!

MARKETING REASONS

Cliffhangers work.

Yeah, yeah, I know. People rage about them. I’ve raged about them. It doesn’t change that they keep people coming back. Often the angriest people are the ones who are first in line to find out What Happens Next (why not, right? They wouldn't be so upset if they weren't invested). There’s a reason television seasons often end on cliffhangers. We have an entire artform that revolves around cliffhangers (what?). No, really: what do you think the punchline of a joke is?

We’re wired to find the anticipation of a reward as pleasurable as its acquisition. It’s a survival thing: you have to motivate people to go looking for that honeycomb or bush of wild berries, and it’s not the reward that pulls us on, it’s the hope of the reward. And stories, no matter how abstract, can trigger that same thrill when we’re in pursuit of their endings.

The reason cliffhangers don’t die as a thing is because they keep people coming back.

Sad but true, I know. I have been one of those people who threw a book against a wall and wept bitter tears over an abrupt ending I knew wouldn’t be resolved for over a year because So Slow Author Why So Slow. >.> But even in my own work, I notice that the series that conclude in cliffhangers draw more sales to the end of the series than the ones that are more episodic in style.

This is not my reason for writing cliffhangers, though. Onward!

PACKAGING REASONS

Books, the physical things with pages, have points past which they become too large to be feasible. A very long story crammed into a physical object with pages needs either to have many, many pages (dictionary); to have a very large form factor (textbook); or have reeeeally tiny font and as little whitespace as you can get away with (most cheap mass market paperbacks). So that’s one problem.

The other problem is modern, and caused by databases. (Seriously.) In this case, it's the fact that the same story can be packaged in different ways: paper, audio, e-, serial, enacted with puppets, etc. But a reader always wants to know ‘wait, did I read this already?’ when they look at any given story. If the same story, as an e-book, is so long it needs to be split into many separate print books, then they aren’t linked together in the retailer database and readers are left wondering, ‘wait, is this part 2 of the book I read as a whole thing as an e-book’?

They get confused and don’t want to deal with it. I don’t blame them. I wouldn't either. So that’s problem two.

Given these issues, splitting stories into manageable pieces so that existing technology can handle them is a good thing. (The tool always shapes the art. This is a sobering thing to reflect on, and probably an entirely different post.)

This is one of the two reasons I write a lot of cliffhangers. Particularly since my print readers have asked me not to force them to squint at tiny fonts squeezed onto pages with almost no margins. I don’t think that’s legible or pretty either, so I’m all about making the book comfortable to read when you’re reading it. I produced one doorstopper print edition (Spots) and that was enough to convince me not to do that again.

ARTISTIC REASONS

Pauses are important.

Pauses give singers time to breathe, and make notes distinct from one another in music. Spaces between written words make their meaning clearer and the communication more seamless. Gaps in conversations allow people to evaluate one another’s needs and chase tangents. Space away from a crazy life, taken outside under a tree with your eyes on the changing shapes of clouds, lets you expand and make sense of everything.

Pauses are paramount.

I don’t call myself a lyrical or literary writer, and for the most part I’m not. But there are times when the lessons you learn from lyricism help you communicate more clearly. Poetry taught me that pauses give emphasis, let ideas sink into people’s heads. This is the same internal understanding that leads writers to create scene breaks and chapter stops.

If there’s anything literary about me, in a conscious way, it’s my love of pauses.

This is the reason why some of my books have no chapters: because you’re supposed to barrel through them like a roller coaster skidding over its highest point and down, down, down without time to even gasp. This is why some of them have dozens of tiny chapters, so that you have to stop between each, to evaluate what you’re feeling and thinking, to savor the taste in your mouth and sink into your puzzlement or your delight.

A novel—remember, not a story, but a specific way of packaging a story—can be another kind of chapter, and its ending is a very definitive pause. It forces the reader completely out of the story because we have expectations of novels, and one of them is that they have endings. If the ending is actually not an ending, but a hesitation, then you get all the roller coaster feeling but it lasts and lasts and lasts. The tension is multiplied many times over.

And in the silence where your expectations were, I can slip in and meet your eyes and say, “This is going to be worth it. I promise.

That’s the real reason I write cliffhanger endings. I am giving you time to relish the tension, to anticipate, to feel the unbearable vibration of it in your spirit, and then I’m asking you to trust me to make it worth it all. And I think, for the most part, I manage it, because once people get into my series they tend to buy to the end. I hope I manage it, anyway. I hold that trust very dear.

If you wonder why I linger so long in the denouement in most of my books, it's because of this. I'm bringing us down gently after the excitement. "Let's walk a while before we come out into the real world. Breathe."

Having said all this, I feel like leaving readers hanging too long is cruel. (I am alone in this—there’s evidence that people will wait for years if they care enough about the story despite their complaints, and that the waiting makes it even better even if the ending gets flubbed, because what felt good, what’s remembered, and what's forever after discussed was the anticipation, not the payoff). But cliffhangers… well. They're not always about a cynical money grab. They have a purpose. And if you love a writer, it's a heck of a lot of fun to grab their hands and take the plunge with them.

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September 03, 2022
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'Making a Living'
Defining Artistic Success by Your Standards

(Just discovered this new 'article' function on Locals, so am testing it out! --M)

When I asked about topics that interested you all, business-wise, one of them that came up was “you mentioned that art-making/making a living is different if you have dependents… can you talk about that?”

Which is a great question, but not a small one. To even start on it we have to deconstruct the concept of ‘making a living’ or being a ‘full-time artist’, which is a far more fraught distinction than I thought when I was a kid, thinking ‘When I grow up I want to be an artist/writer!’ 

First of all, the ‘making a living’ part. Do we even know what that means? When we ask that question, what do we know about the artist that’s being targeted by it? Where do they live? Is it a high or low cost-of-living area? What’s the area like? Good public transportation? Can they do without a vehicle? Do they have roommates? Are those partners a drain on their resources or a source of aid? Are they in debt or debt-free? Are they living on an inheritance, funds, or some other form of prior income? Is there a social safety net where they live? How many dependents do they have (children and elderly)? Do they have a partner? Is their partner employed? Does this artist have health issues? How about their dependents? Someone in a rural area with low-cost-of-living might be able to “make a living” on $25K a year… whereas the same amount in the hands of someone in an expensive city, with several dependents, wouldn’t put a dent in their expenses. 

Metrics are as useful as their definitions, and this one doesn’t have a definition—at least, not one you can use for comparatives, which is what most people want the ‘make a living’ metric for. They want a sense for how successful the artist is when they ask that question, without thinking through the realization that a person supporting one or two elderly parents, an ailing partner, and a kid might be making several times the amount of the artist merrily living alone in a small rural town, who is “living off their art.”

So there’s that.

You can’t use the “full-time artist” thing as a metric either. If an artist has a partner with a high-paying job, they can be a full-time artist and make nothing at all… whereas, an artist can be earning a good salary on their art and still have a second job because expenses (or because they have a tremendous amount of energy, or because they enjoy their other career, etc). That's only one of the examples I can come up with, too. (What if they can't find another job despite job-hunting? What if they have a trust fund? What if they're living with their parents? Etc. Etc.)

Even the metric that a few professional organizations have attempted to use, that ‘your primary income is from art’, isn’t very helpful. If someone’s only doing art, and making $500 a year from it, and that’s the only money they’re making… well, their primary income is still from artmaking! Congrats, professional! I bet you won't find a warm welcome in those organizations, though... I’ve observed people using alllll these loopholes to make themselves sound far more successful or deserving than people would think them, if they’d known their situation. The ease by which those things can be manipulated in that way should make anyone suspicious.

All of this, I feel, is a very reductive way of looking at a person’s career. You can’t use these metrics to compare people because you don’t know their situation… and the temptation to disdain them for those situations is high. It’s very easy to look at someone and sneer “Oh, that’s fine for YOU, you have a SPOUSE to support you” when you don’t know the full story (what if that spouse has a low-paying job? What if they have health issues? Do they have kids? Do they have debt?). I think it also puts too high a value on us existing as creatures outside a social context. An artist is not less professional because their household has a dual income, even if their income separated from that whole isn’t exceptional, any more than they’re less professional because they can’t afford to make it on their own. 

Humans love a hierarchy… but this is not a contest.

Your goal, as an artist, is to be successful—by your standards. Your standards might not include “I could support my family if my spouse lost his job and could never work again, and I had to support myself and all four of our parents, plus two kids, a dog, three cats and a parrot.” Or maybe they do, and you should ask yourself ‘is it necessary for me, at this time in my life, to be pushing for a goal that doesn’t apply to my actual life situation?’ What goals could you be missing in your drive to fulfill the metric that you think other people are judging you by? Could you be more relaxed? More fulfilled? More present for your loved ones? Could you enjoy your life, rather than finding it miserable or stressful? What’s more important to you, another $10,000 a year, or being able to get to bed at night at a reasonable hour and wake up rested?

What do you really need?

It’s natural to want enough money to take care of yourself; I would never suggest otherwise. But I will say: don’t let other people judge you by a measuring stick that’s either inadequate to describe your situation… or constantly changing so you don’t measure up. And don’t you use that measuring stick to beat yourself up, either. If you’re in this to (God help me) ‘make a living’, then figure out how much you need to fulfill your responsibilities based on your social context, not on some imaginary artist’s hypothetical life, and grant yourself the freedom to consider a path that doesn’t meet other people’s expectations. And remember: every person you meet is as individual as you, with their own challenges and advantages. This is, I feel, an opportunity to connect with them as people over actual life issues... what a blessing.

So, yeah. 'Making a living.' Not the simple yardstick any of us were hoping for. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

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