The Evolution of Cover Art: Thanks, “Who is S.E.?”, and a reveal

Just weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Brenda Carre at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio as we shared seats on the “Writers – Artist Panel.”  Thanks Brenda for the opportunity to guest post! This continues our writer-artist discussion focusing on cover design. As a practicing chemist and hobbyist illustrator, I’m driven to explore the weird experience of artists & scientists attempting to capture the divine. I identify with early scientists before chemistry splintered from alchemy, when Art and Science disciplines had common purpose. Take, for example, early anatomy (Medieval and Renaissance period): surgeons searched for the elements of the soul as they dissected bodies; data was largely visual, and had to be recorded by an illustrator. The technology behind paint and dyeing was developing alongside advances in medicine. Back then, the same instrumentation in apothecaries produced medicines as well as paints/inks, so the distinction between artist & scientist was obscure. Despite all the advances over centuries, much of the alchemical focus remains at large.  Personally, it drive me nuts knowing that energy and mass are conserved quantities (that can be measured, tracked, and manipulated), yet the “soul” still evades detection or practical measure. As long as intangible things exist beyond our reach of understanding, we’ll need artists to interpret (study?) them.  With Dyscrasia FictionÒ, I rely on Sword & Sorcery as a medium to contemplate life-death-art… so undead characters play a big role! In 2017, expect the release of Daimones, cover illustration by Daniel Landerman revealed here:

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The cover is a Promise:

By day I work for a consumer product company, and even the chemists are exposed to business terminology popularized by our once-CEO A. G. Lafley that describes consumer expectations. The “First Moment of Truth”  is when you are in a grocery store and your eyes catch a fancy package then you pick it up to inspect it. Any initial observations set expectations, including the weight or scent. These form a “promise” actually.  Later, when you use the product, the “Second Moment of Truth” better match the promise! The same is true for books.  Just as the initial few sentences form a promise to the reader (as described wonderfully in Nancy Kress’s Elements of Fiction Writing: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends), the cover sets an initial promise. What promise do you want to make to your readers? Is your book about a single character? Is the content cryptic and haunting? How can you convey this to your audience? Would you let someone else represent your work?

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Evolution of Control and the Creative Process

It is interesting that historically, when traditional print publishing reigned supreme, authors had little control over the covers of their own work. Publishers owned that process and since they had a stake in the game financially, they chose the artist and design often. This did not always sit well with authors. I regularly interview artists/writers on the topic of Beauty in Weird Fiction and questioned author Janet E. Morris in 2104–she has pushed people’s expectations of sexuality and the role of women in fantasy fiction since 1976.  She explained “human extravagances and limitations are what, for me, Silistra is about, but it is not a series for the erotically-averse, or the intellectually timid.” As a reader/reviewer, I could not agree more with that self-assessment. In that interview she also noted her dislike of the 1977 cover art Boris Vallejo that depicted Estri with a brass bra and Gucci boots. For the author’s cut, she employed artist Roy Mauritsen who presented a more intellectual design for the Silsitra quartet by dividing the Dancing Maenad in (a Roman relief) over the four books (photo by Ana Belén Cantero Paz). I paraphrase her thoughts below on the process:
“When I wrote High Couch of Silistra, I was twenty-five and loved being female; my body and mind were my laboratory, and I wanted to write the book I couldn’t find to read: not a book that was a clumsy attempt to treat a woman as a man, or as an enemy or competitor of men, or as a victim of men, but as someone powerful in a different society for genetic and political reasons; a protagonist whose sensuality and sexuality are at the heart of her world, and whose travails are self-created, so that I could explore the genetics of behavior…“I was a fine arts major in school. My first cover was the Boris High Couch, commissioned by Bantam for High Couch of Silistra… When I saw the Boris High Couch cover for the first time, I was insulted that anyone could have derived the brass bra and Gucci boots image from my work…so I got Bantam to arrange for me to talk to him and request changes (feathered wings to non-feathered, etc). He didn’t like that…” Janet Morris 2014

 

Today’s Promises

As 2016 wraps up, with electronic books and print on demand commonplace, the cover art process is changing for the rising Self-publishing/Indie Press/and Small-Presses. Counter balancing the enormous competition in the marketplace, at least many authors can now participate in (or execute completely) the cover design. As above for Janet Morris, who is releases author cut versions, she now has control. Also, with the digital marketplace overtaking brick and mortar store sales for books (since 2014), cover design no longer need to be a full “wrap” for front and back; and there is an increased need for the cover to be perceptible at many sizes including small icons (~1”x2” as well as 6”x9”). It is fairly easy to track down professional artists and propose a commission that includes permission to press/print. Many post rates on their website. I illustrated the cover to my first book, but then decided to commission Ken Kelly (2014) and Daniel Landerman (for 2017).

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Portraits and Spawn of Dyscrasia

I detailed the Ken Kelly cover design process in detail on my blog, but I share snippets here. Spawn of Dyscrasia (2014) follows the development of a single character, Seer Helen. The sequel’s cover had to embody an emphasis on characterization, so an appropriate portraiture composition was targeted. It may seem strange to intentionally pose characters passively on the cover, but there are plenty of precedents. For example, Larry Elmore did this effectively with the original DragonlanceÒ trilogy (authored by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, including: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning).  Also, Frank Frazetta did this effectively with his Deathdealer character. These portraits promise books with developed characters…without showing any action.  Ken Kelly has many of these, like his Death’s End and Rogue’s illustrations (the latter was the cover to the first Horseclan’s book by Robert Adams).  In Spawn of Dyscrasia, the character Helen does not develop in isolation; rather she teams with the protagonist from the first book, the skeletal Lord Lysis (who is featured on the cover of Lords of Dyscrasia).  Hence, Ken Kelly’s “Rogues” stood out as a good example of what I wanted: a female and male duo portrayed against a fiery scene.

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Audio Books

This notion of partnering with other artists to realize a vision/milieu is also extended to audio books. Just like connecting with cover artists is easier than ever before, we can also connect with professional voice artists to create audio books or clips for video trailers (check out the Amazon Exchange ACX).  As technology evolves, there is a blending of audio-eBook (i.e., via Amazon Kindle/Audible synchronization). Here, the cover needs to match the content…and the voice needs to match both! Audio book covers have different requirement, namely that they are square. It’s amazing what a change in aspect ratio of a canvas will do to design.  One may be tempted to just shrink the paper copy to fit, but that will leave a vignette view, wasting valuable space in an image that may be very tiny already as viewed online.

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Bio & Links:

Seth (S.E.) Lindberg lives near Cincinnati, Ohio working as a microscopist by day. Two decades of practicing chemistry, combined with a passion for the Sword & Sorcery genre, spurs him to write graphic adventure fictionalizing the alchemical humors. He co-moderates a Goodreads- Sword & Sorcery Group and invites you to participate.

 

S E Lindberg Author-Reviewer Blog  | S E Lindberg – Amazon Author Page

S E Lindberg on Goodreads | Dyscrasia Fiction on YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes Good Art Just Has To Deliver That Punch In The Face.

In keeping with my posts on the companionship of visual imagery and deeply-layered story, I’m talking today on the Poldark series by Winston Graham.

I am reading the Poldark books and going ahead in the story while watching the PBS drama on Masterpiece Theater. My banner image above is from the Wikipedia page of the Poldark 2015 TV series.

Both the reading and the viewing are giving me that punch in the face so important in the synthesis between visual imagery and the written word. If you don’t understand what I mean by artistic punch in the face aside from the Poldarks I direct you to the art of Vincent Van Gogh, and especially his self-portraits. self-portrait-without-beard-by-vincent-van-gogh

The story of Vincent steps off his canvas as surely as the story of Ross Poldark steps outside the words of Winston Graham into the PBS series.

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photo from Daily Mail UK

So what is the Punch?

There was a development in this week’s episode that would have disturbed me a lot unless I’d read what happens much later in time. It’s one of those moments heroic Ross does something you think would never happen and it shows him up as a hero who is suddenly terribly, unbelievably flawed. Thus, the punch in the face to wake him (and us) up to what he’s done. As a result of reading the books I completely understand why that development had to come about both plot-wise and character-wise. I was still punched in the face along with the main character, but I knew why it happened and that says a lot.

Winston Graham is an amazing writer able to submerge his reader in the depth of setting, history and character of Cornwall during the Eighteenth Century and weave all three together seamlessly. The PBS series is the cover to the text and going deeper into that text adds another dimension to one’s enjoyment of the story. The cliffhanger at the end of this week’s episode ended in a visual ‘punch’ (one character actually hits the other in the face.) This gave me a hint of what’s yet to come. It let me move as a viewer from Ross’s impulsive and regrettable action to the consequences and the very real conflicts that beset him.

Yet I was so very glad I have read on in the books. The visual punch was deepened by the literary one. Being possessed of the knowledge of what happens later helped me understand that the volatility and idealism that gives Ross his charm also leads him into deep error to the point where he is willing to sacrifice love, honesty and his very future in the face of his ideals, his love and beliefs. This is a breaking point for him but I can only see this having read what comes later. Read the books! It helps, honest. The visual and scripted brilliance of the series on TV is given greater depth and greater insight by the text.

Only when we read the developments that accrue through Ross’s impulsive and passionate decisions—developments that only increase the tensions and the conflicts in the plot do we understand why the shocking flaws were woven there by author Winston Graham. Elements of Ross’s passion have been shown in other impulsive actions before this but this is the first time where Graham seems to deliberately break our trust in Ross. Only by having our trust broken so severely can we understand how it feels for the ones he loves to be disillusioned by him. The punch in the face at the end of episode 7 is visceral and deeply felt. It provoked a gut response in me that had to be there.

Graham’s series is brilliant and the PBS versions are equally so. The books are a wonderful look at the licentious yet honorable mores of eighteenth century Cornwall, and while the PBS series can’t possibly portray the written depth of information the imagery  and the acting are gloriously rich in the series.

To watch and read both provide one with the perfect synthesis between visual dynamic and authorial genius. In fact I think this is the hidden quality that makes a cover assist the content of a book, and this ‘Punch’ is what I’m going to have various guest artist/authors talk about very soon.

In my opinion cover art needs to be about the reader and about the reader’s eye. Just as in film the visuals have to enlarge on the text. The difficulty here is that cover art or cinematic art needs to influence someone who may not know anything about ‘art’ at all.

A book’s cover art provides an element that the reader responds to with an emotional gut reaction but may not have the words at all to define. The reader knows what they like but not why they like it. The viewer of Poldarks may love the imagery but not wholly know the elements that enrapture them.

A potential reader will reach for the book without knowing what’s inside because the cover teases them to do so.

Yet what amount of skill does it take to deliver that ‘tease’? What kind of punch in the face do you need to keep going?

What do you think? If you have read and watched this series I’d love to hear from you which elements seem to stand out. What attracts you to a film or book and what makes you want to take it off the shelf?

Judging a Contest/Sh0wcase artist Melissa Mary Duncan

I have had the pleasure for the past two years of judging the finalist and  runners-up for Pulp Literature’s Raven Short Fiction contest, a stunning Canadian magazine now in its fourth year of publication. I am now completing second reads before handing over my choices to the editors.

Over the past few years Pulp Literature has showcased the writing of many well-known award-winning writers of genre fiction: Robert Sawyer, Susanna Kearsley, Carol Berg, C.C. Humphreys,  Eileen Kernaghan, J.J. Lee, George McWhirter, Douglas Smith, Bob Thurber.

Moreover their cover art is eye-catching and varied, featuring the work of many artists. A sample of Melissa Mary Duncan’s art appears on today’s header and I hope you will visit her here to see her evocative mythic-inspired work.

The editors of Pulp pick their selections from two specific segments: exceptional emerging talent, and established writers and artists who wish to break out of their genre confines.

to find out more about this stunning magazine and its publishers, go here:

Now on to my comments about judging a contest. In my previous study of anthology assemblage and providing short fiction for book bundles and anthology open calls, I have come to understand several things about catching the editors (or judge’s) eye.

Subject matter: I am looking for subject that will fit the call. I am looking for a subject that treats the call in an exciting and surprising way. I am looking for pieces with a unique voice, perhaps a surprising and compelling cadence and word choice that fits the story itself like jam on bread.

Length: Do not exceed word count. Did you get that? I’ll say it again. Do not exceed word count. Unless you have a well-known name and your name is already listed in large print on anthology covers. Exceeding the requested word count will bump you out of the arena for that coveted spot quicker than a newbie in a roller derby.

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I always consider the length of my work when I submit to an anthology open call and when submitting to a contest I do as well. As a reader or a judge I am keenly aware of the length of a piece. Many editors read millions of words of submissions every month. They read until their temples ache and they think their eyes are bleeding.

Often it is easier to fit a short, tight story into an otherwise filled anthology. In my judging this year many of the finalist’s pieces were short and sweet, packing a lot of story within the bounds of only a few pages. This is not to say you shouldn’t write long, but if you do, remember it must be a grabber right from the very first line and something the (already overhwelmed) editor can not do without. Remember your longer story might mean someone else’s story can’t be fitted in due to budget and space restraints, and if the editor didn’t buy your work, this might be the very reason why they didn’t–someone else’s amazing longer story bumped yours out.

Or not. It is futile to second-guess the reason you had a nice note but a pass from the editor. Better to just re-submit and keep writing. The dreaded rejection might not have anything to do with the quality of your writing. Sure it will hurt, but move on. All the stories I received to judge were well written, carefully edited and unique. I had a hard time making choices and regret not being able to choose all of them.

Completion: There were some stories in the bunch that left me with a feeling either that this was part of a much larger story and therefore not complete, or I had somehow missed the ending somewhere and there was a last page missing. Please make sure your story has a beginning a middle and an end. Nora Roberts says she writes for ‘stupid people’. What she really means is make your work easy to understand and don’t disguise your meaning under the tent of ‘being literary.’ I love Gary Larson’s Far Side for this reason.
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Taste: this said, I love genre writing. I read everything from literary to thriller to horror to fantasy to romance to sea adventure to women’s fiction to historical. But always as I read I want story.  I have personal tastes and those tastes influenced me as I read. In judging this contest, I was struck by the number of pieces that were written in first person present tense and I find myself wondering if it was the story that dictated this, or was the person and tense the challenge they set for themselves even before they began to write?

Every judge has tastes. For instance, I am not a great fan of existential prose, but I adore humour. How I view the feel of a story right from the beginning will influence me and either make me want to read more or hold me back. I certainly gave every story a fair read, and as said before am now doing second reads and possibly thirds related to my top choices, but my personal tastes were there at the beginning and still present at the end.

Read what you write:  If you want to write short fiction then read widely in this field. Submit widely and write to challenges. The same goes for long fiction and for producing cover art. When I go to conferences I always stop into the Art Show and talk to the artists. I take cards, I visit sites and I take note of what styles of art influence me the most.

Over the next few weeks I intend to interview a number of artists who also write. I plan to talk with them about styles, genres and success in their personal field and how they achieved it. The nature of success is also something to be defined. For instance, the fact that Pulp Literature is moving into its fourth year of publication is in itself a striking success, and I for one hope to see many more issues in future.

 

 

Cover Art and Book Bundling

Today I am showcasing two clear and very informative blog posts. I hope to talk more here with each of these authors in future.

The first post is written by long time award-winning author and cover artist Dave Smeds for Book View Cafe, and it shows clearly and succinctly the process of building a good book cover. Also a shout-out to Dave on his release today. He designed the cover and has a story here. For more information on Dave go here.

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My second shout-out is to Author Jamie Ferguson. She talks here, at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, about putting together a successful book bundle. I am looking forward to working with Jamie early next year on a book bundle. For more information on Jamie, go here. And here is a look at her latest bundle. Released through BundleRabbit.  halloween_sale_facebook_851x315_minimal_text

 

World Fantasy Conference 2016

Here on November the 1st, at the Samhain door between fact and fancy I have need to blog about making one’s dreams a reality.

As usual the World Fantasy Conference was a delight and an inspiration. A great big thanks to Meg Turville-Heitz and the entire Columbus WFC Committee for all the hard work you did. It takes a heroic effort on the part of many to host a convention for so many authors, agents, artists and editors to meet in this forum to do readings, panels and conduct business in the publishing industry. Building dreams. If any industry is build on making dreams a reality, this one is.

But how does a dream become reality. Passion one way. Planning another.

As this conference often happens close to Hallowe’en, and though it is not conventional for attendees to costume, inevitably some costumes do show up from non-attendees and in this case this photo by Saytchyn Maddux-Creech of a T-Rex caught in the lobby’s revolving door had a feeling both of humor and a metaphor for ‘planning ahead’.

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Collegiality:

I joined a group of talented women (Paula S Jordan, Elizabeth Crowens, Carol Berg, Carmen Webster Buxton, Sally Weiner Grotta, J Tullos Hennig, Julia Dvorin) in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, where each of us had nine minutes to read from a dynamic passage of our own work. As always the reading was varied and skilled and our large audience was appreciative of the words and the give-aways we raffled off.

Food and nourishment:

At Schmidt’s in Columbus, (check them out on Man VS Food) hosted by the ever-talented David Boop, 15 hungry authors and editors enjoyed delicious German buffet while sharing ideas and laughter. I must have come up with at least ten new story ideas in that one evening alone.

Knowledge:

I had the very great pleasure to share in a panel with artist authors Jerome Stueart, Charles Vess, Sally Wiener Grotta and Seth Lindberg, who put forward some great information on the marriage of writing and visual arts. This one panel alone combined with a comment from good friend and mentor Carol Berg led me to what will be a bunch of blog posts and interviews with artists and authors about their dreams of success and building the reality.  I already have an impressive line up of names in the art and illustration field and in the authorial field, some of these are of course one and the same.

I am so looking forward to sharing their views with you.

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The Love You Take…

I am blessed today in so many ways and not just because it is my birthday (Thanks Google!) but because at the ripe age of 66 I have learned that my birthday isn’t about me. it’s about connections. It’s about the world. Google has so learned that and look where they are!

Let me explain. The past few months have been an interesting compendium of insights, pitfalls, and enlightenment. Now every day  reminds me of The End by the Beatles. Every minute is the end to the last and the beginning of the next and in that one minute lie all possibilities.

I am an advocate of the late Wayne Dyer’s philosophy. So simple and yet so profound. In June I came down with a terrible flu and my writing stopped for a couple of months. Grief was making me pull back rather than reach out.

I had to take complete rest, but I look back on that time now as a time of renewal rather than one of sickness. Sometimes being sick is the only way to get well. Being sick put an end to my writing for a while, but it gave me a chance to look around and begin a program of renewal both physically and mentally. I channeled my grief into journal writing and asked myself at the end of each daily binge of anxt what small think I could do to change direction. Sometimes it takes baby steps not giant ones.

During that time I began work on this site with the help of my talented niece Amanda Truscott who now has a wonderful blog on creativity while she and her partner travel. I had the pleasure of taking two courses in the Landmark series for leadership and life goals. I am reading the incredible Meditations Trilogy by friend and mentor James Artimus Owen. I am headed off to work with friends at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus Ohio.

Suddenly today I realize I am brimming over with energy, not because I want it for myself but because I realize my success is only a very small part of a much bigger satisfaction taking risks. Reaching out. Being wholly in the zone of creating success and delight.

What seemed so very hard a month ago is now possible. Why? because I changed my outlook from within me to caring about everyone else. It’s not about me.

Being sick gave me the opportunity to catch up on my reading, and as a result I now realize I am behind in going to write comments for so many wonderful books. Here are a few I most heartily recommend: Ash and Silver by Carol Berg. (If you like wondrously layered Epic Fantasy) The entire Morland Dynasty Series by Cynthia Harrod Eagles. (If you enjoy richly layered historical fiction.)  The GodsLand series by Brian Rathbone (if you like dragons, and not only dragons but steampunk ones.) Some of the ever-wonderful books with a darkish flavour from Ragnarok Publications’ authors. Ann Gimpel’s books (if you like spicy romance). To read the quirky and the awesome and the wonderful from Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s Wordfire Press, and of course the varied works of Sue Bolich. (If you love horses as I do, you will find much here to endear you to them still more.)

I have a new story out edited by the wonderful author Kerrie L Hughes, called the Crow War of Willows beach which you can find here, in the Haunted Anthology, just in time for Hallowe’en. Connections! And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

I would love to hear from you regarding your own discoveries today.

Happy birthday every moment to you. Every day. Every minute.

 

Sue

When a friend dies it’s hard, but so doubly hard when a fellow artist passes without the recognition she worked so very hard for. Sue passed with such a wealth of story still within her that I am not only saddened by her loss but by the loss of so much humor and wisdom still to come. Her site is not only a gorgeous one to visit but the books you can find there are exciting and visionary adventures. Also, here is the link to her gorgeous world map. I hope you will check them out to see for yourself. Farewell Sue. Your new journey begins but may your works continue to shine down here.

Images and Impressions

I will be posting bits of works in progress and visual moments of surprise and inspiration  captured around my island home. It is these moments of inspiration that often lead me into story.

If the stones could speak:

The ‘fish’ in the image above is carved in the stones of our beach, whether by time and nature or by the hand of some vanished human, I don’t know. What if, in story, this fish was just the icon for something deeper–something that could emerge from the stones with the right magical call? In my work in progress, I have dragons with the potential to emerge from the stones. But will they and can they if the time is right?

Building a Site

I have been working closely with my new webmistress, Amanda Truscott to build this site. It is still in process, but I do believe it speaks more strongly about who I am and what kind of stories I write. Amanda is the perfect assistant. She is industrious, A writer, and artist and a soon-to-be world traveler and a keen listener. I am so very happy we are working together.

We are still figuring out how to make my blog posts run according to when they were initially published on my old site, but so far, no luck, so any posts previous to this one will be out of order. Nevertheless, I have included them anyway as they do represent my journey up to this point.

Currently there is a lot of distraction at our Island home. The Municipality of Saanich is working on the easement beside our house in order to put an access stair down to the bay. Living on the water has disadvantages but also the glorious pleasure of watching the water, the day and the seasons change before one’s eyes minute to minute.

Two excavators are currently at work moving earth and creating a toddlers’ bliss of machinery, rumbling and beeping. I so wish I could rent a child for the day just to let them watch what is going on next door. Sometimes I sit on our flat garage roof and watch them do their work on such a steep incline it makes my bones shiver. I guess there is some toddler in me as well. excvators in the easement

Credit Where It’s Due

I have come to appreciate my sister, Mary, in so many ways over the years.  In our early years, I was her baby, much to my annoyance, but she took her position seriously.  It was she who made me understand the power of the written word. She who encouraged me to draw and celebrate my successes.  She who first wrote and read her own stories to me.

Mary showed me how hard a person can work against brutal obstacles and succeed.  She was disabled with polio at eight years of age. She married a great guy and lost him a decade later to Huntington’s disease. She raised five children on her own (her youngest are identical triplets), continued to work as a youth librarian, and continued to paint and draw when there was no time to do so.

In 2011 Mary discovered she had colon cancer and dealt with a series of operations and infections that seriously affected her ability to paint. She dealt with the big C with the same kind of courage and optimism as she faced everything else. She fought hard for three years, and when in May 2014 she was told the cancer had moved to her brain, she understood her gift of time was gone. She and I had three precious but very painful months together.

When I am overcome with ‘troubles’ and the darkness that affects all creatives, I remember the path she took with heroism and unfailing hope. She told me at the end that she was proud of me. That I needed to do it–go for the gusto and follow my bliss. I promised her I would.

From time to time on my blog posts and in my stories of the month I intend to spotlight  Mary’s work as well as my own. I do believe she was on the point of breaking out with her art when cancer caught her and her energy left her. The picture in the banner above is a detail from one of her paintings. Like Mary, her paintings were dancing with light. I know wherever she is now, her spirit is doing that too.

I give thanks for Mary every day. For her friendship, for being my muse.  I miss her and always will. We were sisters of the heart. Our angels were sisters. My dearest muse will always be with me and I with her.

Do you have someone in your life who was instrumental in helping you be who you are? I would love to know.