Sunday, May 20, 2018

Something exciting is happening!

Something very exciting indeed is happening. Some of is have been waiting for this for a long, long time, but we knew it would be here eventually, and ... it is!

Yes ... NARC is finished! In fact, retired or not, I'm relishing the work of the final edit and book packaging, not least because (he he he), I get to read this monstrous trilogy a couple of months ahead of the rest of the fans. I'd actually forgotten how much I adore Jarrat and Stone, and the fact is, these three books are "from heaven." The trilogy -- all 400,000 words of it! -- finishes out the whole saga, all of a piece, and it'll be uploaded to Kindle in June.

A new post appeared on Mel Keegan Online just today, and I'll quote it right here:

Yes, I know -- it’s been an eternity since I posted. In fact, there hasn’t been any news to post, short of that annoying practice of issuing stuff saying “Hi, remember me? I’m a writer, buy my books,” which is something I don’t -- wont -- do (if it annoys me, it’s bound to annoy you, right?). However …

Now there’s excellent reason to be posting.

How long have you waited for THE END OF THE NARC SERIES? You know how long you’ve waited. You may also be aware that my health has been so poor, I now know more about hospitals than I ever wanted to. Only a couple of people sent “hate mail” (along the lines of, “I don’t care how close to death you are, you should have finished the series or ‘unpublished’ the whole thing”). Still, I’m keenly aware that it’s been a long road, and many readers may have simply lost interest in the Jarrat and Stone saga. I understand this, I really do. I hope some old readers will rediscover Jarrat and Stone now, because --

It’s done. The end of the series is a monster trilogy. It was a fair bet that if I issued it book by book, some readers would say, “Yeah, right, I’ll believe it when I see it -- I’ll get back into it when Keegan finishes it.” So that’s what I did.

SCIMITAR - BASILISK - ENDGAME is a single story in three parts, running a whisker under 400,000 words (no, that ain’t a typo). I wrote the whole thing before issuing so much as a word of news. It’s right now being packaged for Kindle, also for paperback, so it’s time to let readers know the good news.

My way of saying “Sorry about the delay” is to make the trilogy available as ONE VOLUME via Kindle, at the same price as any ordinary book. In June 2018 you’ll be reading the whole thing on your device for a penny under ten bucks. If you want the paperbacks, you’ll have to wait till July, due to the time it takes proofs to be delivered to Australia; and alas the trilogy will of course be three paperbacks, because it’s far too large to fit under one cover.

(The largest book I ever issued was the final Hellgate volume, at 640pp. It’s borderline too large: so heavy, it actually hurts your wrists to hold it for long. Now, SCIMITAR - BASILISK - ENDGAME would be around 800pp., and though some of the print on demand companies go to this length, it’s not feasible, first because of the shocking weight of the book in your hands, second because of the prohibitive cost of manufacture, even before you get to the post office. So … one Kindle book for ten bucks, but -- sorry -- three paperbacks. It’s huge.)

So …

Find out how far Aphelion really extends, in space and time (tying off all threads originating in APHELION). See what happens when the surviving brains behind Death’s Head rise like the phoenix from their own ashes (closing out the thread begun in STOPOVER). Witness the horrifying results when the Sorenson Bill is passed in the homeworlds and colonial cities erupt. Sit in on the explosive legal wrangle when Governor Cassius Brand takes on Starfleet, over the Mostov Incident (resolving the thread begun in SCORPIO). Find out what becomes of Stone’s old sparring partner, Colonel Jack Brogan … and what’s waiting for the newly promoted Captain Petrov, not to mention the newly launched carrier Huntress. Shake hands with the last of the Angel empires, a nasty called Basilisk … and hang onto your hats, because hell busts loose. Literally. And what of NARC itself, in a political environment going haywire while the new colonial ‘super-sleeper’ ship, flying the revolutionary Weimann Drive, is opening up a new colony so far beyond the frontier, it looks like the promised land … but when did anything ever work out that way? Then there’s the last of the monsters, Angeliberty, leading to an endgame that will change everything.

One massive story. Done, finished, being packaged for Amazon Kindle at this time. Due in June, 2018, with the paperbacks to follow in July. Jade has prepared a fantastic cover for the Kindle one-volume edition, and we already have a mockup for the SCIMITAR paperback cover, with two more due to be assembled in the next few weeks.

I’ll “ping” the old mailing list when the books go on release, and for now I’ll just say, “Sorry about the delay.” But I really did finish the whole thing before saying a word of this on the interwebs: the least I could do -- that, and give you the whole thing, three for the price of one. Thanks for your patience, guys … I appreciate it.


...and there you have it, direct from Mel, while I perform the packaging and organize the paperback covers. It's such a pity that he can't do the trilogy under one cover in paperback, but the size and weight of Event Horizon is tickling the "prohibitive" line, and Scimitar-Basilisk-Endgame would be about 175pp bigger and heavier. No can do. So, three paperbacks it is, and I've already mocked up the cover for the first one:

Yes, sticking with the original paperback jacketing, which is absolutely classic. Right now, I don't think I have to render any new images to put the three jackets together, but am seriously thinking of doing some Jarrat and Stone renders for the sheer pleasure of it. Oh, this takes me back! 

I'd also begun to forget how much fun it is to produce the art for books ... and write them too. It's been a long year for me. Those of you who know me will know that my mother passed away on June 20 last year, and since then it's been "one goddamned thing after another." Right now, I can't even walk! I'm on crutches, following a "medically induced fall" on a treadmill in a medical center a while ago. Such fun. Not. [rolls eyes] But with any luck the worst might actually be over, and I can actually get back to projects like The Sea Witch, and lots more I'd planned before life went haywire...

Anyway, for the moment -- great news for those who love mind-boggling SF with gorgeous gay heroes: NARC IS FINISHED!!! (Incidentally -- tell your friends!)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Sea Witch ... pure digital painting this time

Lately I've been painting more and more -- digitally of course -- rather than "just" rendering subjects in 3D, and I'm really happy with the results I'm getting. You notice at once, this painting is carrying the signature "Jen Downes," rather than "Jade." Yep,  I'm switching over to my own name for the new generation of work -- the paintings -- because this current opus is illustrating a novel ...

The novel is finished, but be patient: it's the first part of a trilogy, and the whole thing is going to Amazon, B&N and so forth, later in the year. You'll be able to read the first book free and gratis, and I'll let you know more as we get closer to the date. Will even upload a couple of chapters here to when your appetite for the free ebook! (You want the full thing -- I'll give you a window in which readers of this blog will be able to get it at about a third the usual price ... it'll work out at about $1 per book, and these are serious books. My pleasure, guys!)

Right now, I can tell you the trilogy is entitled THE SEA WITCH, and the first book is A WITCH OF SEVEN WINDS. Yes, it's fantasy ... no, it's has no glbt, m/m or yaoi content. This is a mainstream fantasy -- a huge adventure with sailing ships, handsome heroes, magic, ocean storms, romance ... and that's only Part One!

Look out for more art in this opus as we go along. This is my main project at this time, and I'm having a lot of fun with it --

And I must say, I am LOVING the digital painting, as distinct from the product of 3D rendering. Not that I don't love 3D art too ... I do! But my hardware and software are now so incredibly obsolete, I can't produce anything vaguely competitive in that field, whereas in digital painting ... hey, I'm not half bad at this!

The character you see here is the wind witch, Sophia Dorne. Next up: Captain Jacques Adair of the 'Fliegander' merchantman Dragonwind. Soon as I can get the design work sorted!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Done and dusted: eighteen covers? No sweat. Well ... okay, a little bit.

Finally, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, adjusting and re-re-repainting ... here's the last image in the current commission set of book covers, DONE. It's been a huge job:

You have to conceptualize the thematic material, then track down the cover elements, do the background painting, design the character, design the render, do the render, paint render and background together in post work -- and along the way wrangle a superior raytrace that'll actually serve the purpose, according to today's demands. You'll be lucky to get through a project in a day; and very fortunate indeed if the client doesn't want something changed later --

Which is why you always, always keep all the project files for every piece of art. I have everything going back to the reference photos for every item in this eighteen-cover commission, and several times I was sooo glad I had them, because I had to go back in and work on some detail or other.

But we're done now, and the last job was to add the text elements for title and author byline, on each cover. Ye gods. One last thing I did was to track down the best available art for six other existing covers and reprocess it through to meet the same size and shape requirements -- and in one or two cases, to redesign the text elements to bring these others into line with the new edition.

The result --

-- nice. Very. I've uploaded this "proof sheet" (as we used to call such an item in the days when we used to contact-proof negatives in the darkroom) at about 2300 pixels wide, so you can really get a look at the new work. If you've been playing "spot the novel" I was working on during the last couple of months, here's your chance to find out how right you were! Some speak for themselves, of course, and others you could probably work out by identifying the giveaway themes in the background. A gargoyle. A stone circle. A galleon. A schooner. A light plane crashed in the sea. A break-bulk freighter. A rain forest.


Next, for me ... I'm working on something of my own. I've got a fantasy novel going (!) and am dying to visualize characters and situations, so I'll be playing with art purely for myself. The novel is a lot of fun -- having a ball with it. Am six chapters through and starting to think about packaging and promoting it. Will I bother looking for an American agent --?! Ye gods. There's easier ways to beat yourself up. No, no, I'm going to have fun with this, not fifteen years of frustration and heartache, before I give the book away in 2032!

Can you even imagine 2032?

As they say on the TV news shows, "Back soon with more."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fantasy warrior -- again! (Wow ... two posts in one day)

Fantasy warrior -- again! Yes, I managed to get the second cover for today finished, and here it is. Not much to say about this one, save that it was a bear to get the lighting right. There's something DAZ Studio does, and even after all this time I have no idea why/how it does it. Basically, one or all of your lights will look dandy with the shadows turned OFF, but when you turn them on, sure, you get shadows ... but they seem to be comprised of thousands of gray freckles. They look very daggy indeed, and you can end up painting for hours to get rid of them --

Now, the smart thing would be to fix this in the render. And I've learned that it's something to do with the softness of the shadows cast by one or more lights ... but it has zip to do with the shadow bias. The ONLY thing that improves the "thousand gray freckle effect" is to dial down the shadow softness till the effect is almost imperceptible. Eventually you'll reach a point of compromise where you'll get just enough softness out of your shadows on the one hand, and few enough of the freckles on the other, and you can live with it.

So here we are with another fantasy book cover starring DAZ's Michael. For those who came in late: nope, this is not Genesis anything. This is the grandfather of the recent Genesis figures; and if you're clever with how you handle this "digitoid," as Mel Keegan has called the digital actors, you can do a lot with them. In fact, I've been looking at some renders, lately, of the Genesis figures rendered in -- I think -- Poser; and they're not all that impressive. In other words, you still have to be careful and clever with them, or you can get plasticky results (and yes, I know there's no such word.)

We're going to call this an "artistic male nude," because most of him qualifies!

One more cover to go. Counting down to the end of this assignment...

Stormy Weather

Stormy weather: an old break-bulk freighter, a big storm running, and DAZ's Michael, lost in the middle of it. Yes, another book cover (two to go, still ... dying to be finished this weekend), but this was the assignment. I'd originally thought the background image would be the difficult part, but it turned out to be dead easy, about twenty minutes fiddling with twelve layers in Photoshop.

An ancient image of an utterly obsolete ship (probably went to the scrapyard thirty year ago. Or forty), plus one of my own stormy skies -- I grab the camera every time the sky does something extraordinary -- and then, with the backdrop done, a lot of work doing everything possible to make the old Michael 4 model render up quite realistically in a raytrace...

This is a new Michael face; he's wearing the Tosca skinmap, which I like a lot ... it has a realism which is very useful; that's the Garry hair, mussed up to make it look like there's a wind teasing it. This isn't a hairstyle I've used very often, because it's short, and my own preference is for longer hair. This time the project demanded short hair, though. Just two lights are set, one gray-green, the other pale gold, both with shadows; and the DOF is turned ON, as usual. (One of the neatest tricks for making a 3D render look a bit more realistic is to knock the "focus" off the virtual camera, just by a few percent. 3D renders, especially raytraces, can look rather obnoxious ... plasticky. There's no such word, I know. But if you whop the focus off a bit, you can get around that to a surprising extent.)

Okay: two more to go, then I can get into my own stuff. I've got this fantasy buzzing around in my head. I've actually written the first chapter of it, and would love to get into rendering characters and scenarios. The thing is, to do a full-on job I'll need to track down a 3D model of a galleon. Yes, you heard, a galleon. Or similar.

So I spent a few minutes on the DAZ marketplace, and was pleased to see you can get several ships that look pretty decent, for $15 - $40 ... good enough to get the job done, I guess. Though...

If you didn't mind laying down five...hundred...bucks you can get a Hollywood resolution model of the Golden Hind herself at TurboSquid:

Add to cart...? Uh, not today, thank you! Yes, I know: TurboSquid is where the pros go shopping for their odds and sods. But their pockets are somewhat deeper than mine! So we'll have to see what we can do, with what we an afford. That comes next, when I start to render the fantasy that's been buzzing around in my brain.

For now: back to work! I have two more book covers to do before I can call this assignment done, and they're not going to render themselves! (Wish they would...)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Fantasy warrior ... you might know this face!

Fantasy warrior ... and this is another one I'll be sending to LuxRender in the fullness of time (meaning, when this current monster assignment is done and I have the time to think). This is a project spanning about eight years. I painted the first version of this book cover a long, long time ago, and at the time it was done completely digitally, without recourse to DAZ Studio, or Byrce. The whole thing was painted inside Micrographx Picture Publisher ... yes, it goes back so far, I didn't even have GIMP, much less the pocket-sized version of Photoshop I'm running now.

(I used to adore Micrographx, but on one of the PC upgrades that were necessary over the years I switched up to a 64 but system, and Micrographx ... ceased to work. For some time I ran on GIMP, but continual crashes and a lot of grumbling caused Dave to track down an affordable Photoshop for me; possibly to save his sanity. Ahem.)

Anyway ... time for a reboot of all these old covers, so here we are reimagining the character and scenario. But the backdrop remains perfect, transferred over directly from the original project. The sky was hand-painted from scratch; the lake is a location in Finland, overpainted from an image appearing in a tourist brochure; the foreground began life as a photo of "somewhere in Fairbanks, Alaska" -- one of my own shots, scanned in from a print.

Now, in this incarnation of the cover, it's one of my own Michael 4 characters (I've called him "the Raven" for years. You've seen him with wings, and sometimes in armor, four or five times on the blog here). He's the perfect choice for this project. The hair is the Yannis Rasta dreadlocks (by SAV, I believe), which suits this character to a "T" ... and the rest was a question of muted daylight: it would have been a mistake to overdrive the lights, given the soft colors and "sunset" kind of lighting in the background. The sword is one of the DM props -- from "The Shrine," as I recall (from Renderosity, like the dreads). And if I could only remember what the skinmap is, I'd be happy to tell you. That information has vanished utterly from my brain.

The 2000 pixel high raytrace took about an hour, then another hour of painting to bring it up to a place I was happy to call "finished." By far the longest time was spent in textures and lighting control. The beauty of it is, everything blends so well, you're not even noticing where the work was done ... a sure sign it was well done.

With that remark, I'm going to sign out and go grab some tea.

Followers, note: I'm very likely to disappear for a couple of weeks. A friend is coming in from the States, and Dave and I will be taking some time off to basically tour around the local area and have a well-earned break. But I'll be back before long: scores of images and stories are buzzing around in my head, and I'm really enjoying artwork again!
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