Do you know about Stefanie Simpson, the author and artist? This creator is an exceptional talent. She writes Romance and Urban Fantasy. I’m honored to consider her a friend.
She and I are the same age with a similar history of subculture and counter culture influences. Goths. Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux, Trent Reznor, Sisters of Mercy. We didn’t know this about each other when we met, both fairly reserved, guarded, and curated behind authentic, but presentation barriers to our public author personas. Finding a friend like Stefanie opened me up to being a friend full stop. I’ve had trouble maintaining relationships. I’ve had trouble getting over my walls to the first step in a friendship. Stefanie made it so easy.
As an author, Stefanie demonstrates a level of thoughtful control in her work. As a reader, I feel like I’m in good hands even if I’m not sure where we are going initially. The work is competent and full of linguistic delight. A master of pacing, characterization, and story. These are things I hold in high value in books and she does it all with mastery.
You really can’t go wrong clicking on any of the below links to her portals. Engage her world. Find some cheer and love and longing in these dark days. If you do, you should also find some way of letting her know that the work got to you.
Stefanie Simpson has a YouTube channel where she talks about books and other topics in her mellifluous voice. I believe this work of hers to be ASMR ready.
Books & Amazing Cover Art
If you peruse her Amazon book page, you will see intriguing, rock solid, Romance works with cover art done by author, entirely independent, and within self-publishing, a maverick of the highest order. They look good. They are good.
Witworth Doom Baby
March 13, 2020, Stefanie Simpson released Witworth Doom Baby, a novel. I had the unique experience of not quite beta reading, but an early read of this book. I was so moved by the contents, a Gothic story, a goth story, GenX, magic, old wood, old gods, I begged to write an introduction for the thing. I couldn’t let it go. I then begged to contribute artwork to the Helwent Shop, which are images reflecting themes, locations, and characters from the book.
I love it. The reviews (link to Goodreads), though not nearly as many as there should be, reflect the 5 star quality of the book
I often said that I would never be blogging about writing nor journal in public spaces because I don’t have anything to say. That my thought shapes, the ones winding up in books and in art, don’t translate into this medium. Can’t tell if I was wrong about that.
My thinking mechanism is either too simple to reveal or not compelling enough what when revealed it feels like nothing happened.
So, here are some blog-type words about what I’m writing these days: Current works are expressing themes of old world creatures and old-world thinks still exercising dead hand control in the world. Some of these are cute. Most of them are monsters.
The first in line is The Witch and The Cyclops. Here’s a draft image for this children’s illustrated book.
Cute right? I don’t have any art for the vampire novel, but a fragment of a dream took my pen to draw this little piece and suddenly, I have almost enough story in mind to get it started. I have no title, but the story revolves around 3 siblings.
Life without social media for a week has been productive in many ways. I’ve generated a lot of art and fresh words. I’ve had the opportunity to focus on my personal life in a way I’d neglected when I was checking for likes and retweets and yeah, potentially for sales of my books.
I miss my friends. I miss the interaction.
In my teens and early twenties, I didn’t have consistent access to a computer or the internet. I was also fairly busy in terms of meat space social life. Then, at the tail end of my undergraduate experience, I was on Myspace for a hot minute. Going to law school ended that little experiment. At the time, we were warned of the ways in which our internet forms of expression would reflect back on our ability to represent clients. Like some archaic warning that visible tattoos would render you unemployable, I skipped social media during the hay day of my age group.
In 2017, I rejoined the race. I was preparing to launch my self publishing career and followed the advice out there to have social media presence, facebook author page, twitter, and instagram. Aaaaand, people liked me pretty much right away. So much validation. After being offline for ~15 years, I believed I wouldn’t have much relatability or affability or anything people would enjoy. I’d already made up my mind that I wouldn’t find meaningful friendships, but that I’d treat it like a job. A means to an end.
For 3 years, I composed my thoughts and feelings into tweet length statements and shared art like my resources to create were infinite. I learned several things after the first year.
Social media can augment existing distribution/socialization of a public figure (artist, writer, whatever), but almost never nurtures a new entrant through social media alone.
Likes on social media do not translate to conversion sales or link clicks at a ratio above 1-5%. This meant I worked my ass off for very little return.
I can be an unreliable but true friend to ~5 people at a time. I can not scale love or attention. I was spread too thin.
“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings
It’s funny. Connection with people is my one truly enjoyable experience. Yet, due to a combination of over-zealous empathy, mental health issues, limited emotional resource, I often require long periods of isolation to put my mind back together. Those who tolerate me and call me friend put up with a lot of shit. This ghosting of mine is one of the most painful. In meat space, I might be your best friend for a year, then, I left state in the middle of the night with no forwarding address. I did this from ages 1-35. I’m not sure I know how to stop.
I’m a cat meme. A contradiction wanting attention and connection and then hiding under beds or running away never to return. Both are true.
There were many things about social media which became toxic to me. I couldn’t hang. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t voluntarily stop either. The compulsion to check. To post. To check. To check. To check. Naw. I had to quit. But where does that leave someone who makes art and writing ostensibly for consumers to discover and enjoy?
I don’t know. I’m watching the SEO analysis as I write this god forsaken post. It says I’m doing it wrong. That no one will find this “content” because of how I’m writing it. What am I supposed to do?
Art is undefinable. Any efforts to place definition brackets around art are gatekeeping and I want no part of it. An individual artist may well have a statement of vision, purpose, intents, and themes. I do… sometimes.
I like drawing faces, hands, and bodies. I somewhat enjoy animals. After 25 years of drawing and painting, mostly in oil on canvas, lately is digital mixed media, I’ve so often skipped landscapes, environments, structures, objects, and the paraphernalia and artifacts which ground a composition. This glaring weak spot is a combination of laziness and lack of interest.
Instead, I fuck around. I play. I free draw with a sense of the themes and forms. I have several recurrent ones lately.
The shitpost – doing something that makes me laugh.
The lewd – doing something I find hot in a weird way, always weird
The critique – repositioning the gaze to subvert expectations, position subject autonomy, criticize scrolling/viewing/ocular acquisition of body with eyes.
The cute – just cute and colorful
I offer these images as prints for sale and on merchandise of so many types via Redbubble and canvas originals. Still, I can’t really make a sale. I’m not sure why. Sharing to social media didn’t help at all. Anyways, here’s some new pieces up on the store.
I’d like to tell you how I write. This is not how I’ve always written, but it is how I’ve written for the last four years. This was not intentional. A practice evolved organically around my limitations of time and energy. Results may vary if you were to give my methods a try.
Dream – Initiation
I don’t start on paper or computer or words at all. Well, most of the time, I don’t. The exception is when I wake up with a phrase stuck in my mind. Some repeating mantra. “She invoked the void oracle.” No idea what it means. I might dwell with some phrase for months. That’s the outlier though. Here’s what usually happens.
I listen to music, watch shows and movies, read voraciously, and one day, a fantasy begins in my mind. Perhaps, I started a mental fanfic of the show I was watching. Changing things. Evolving things. Transforming it until it no longer resembles the originating melody or show. The images come to mind spontaneously. Disconnected from narrative. A woman descending the sky, iconography, like Mary, queen of heaven, but full of rage. A green fog that talks in riddles. A bitter and jaded vampire complaining about the quality of American food service. Something sticks and I let it simmer in me without any interference from me. I don’t think. I don’t ask myself what might be interesting. I only allow my inner workings to simmer and commingle the idea and image soup.
For a long time, nothing happens outside my head. I work my day job. I go about my business. In the margins of my day and night, the story is growing. When it is ready to reveal itself, I play it from the beginning to end over and over for weeks. I might never draft the thing. There are some revisited fantasies I’ve held for decades.
Drafting, Structure, & Project Management
Saturday and Sunday mornings, from 5-7, I draft. That is to say, I sit and write. I have seen so much chatter about plotting vs writing by the seat of one’s pants. Pantster vs Plotter. I don’t find those paradigms useful at all so I don’t use them. This is how I decide what I am a going to write about in my weekend morning session.
Since I’ve daydreamed about this story for many days
Since I know it is a novel (my heart told me so)
Since I know roughly how many words this novel will be in the end (my experience told me so)
Since I know roughly how many words I tend to write in a scene (my hands told me so)
I know how many scenes I’m going to write in total (that’s just math)
Armed with the knowledge of the story I want to tell and how many scenes I will probably write, I choose to draft any single scene following my heart. Maybe I have a really clear vision of that part. Maybe I close my eyes, fingers over the keyboard, and words spill out. Whatever the decision that morning, I simply write without thinking. I write without planning in a formal sense. I write my first thought of how to embody the feeling and events of my vision. After a few months, I found I produced almost the exact number of words per writing session. This was not planned. It just happened and it might happen for you.
An interesting thing happens when one knows the target length of their book and their rate of producing words. At that point, one can calculate a reasonably accurate date for when the first draft will be finished. It feels good.
If you wanted to outline it, you could. I don’t. I rely on my memory, which shifts around, in my daydream cycles of revision which punctuate the week days between sessions. In my head, I wind up with something like this. A beginning, middle, end. A statement of characters in their before states and their after states – what changed or didn’t change as a result of the story?
Structural Editing Pass
I postpone all editing until every scene I’ve identified is in first draft, meaning to me, that at the scene level, there is a beginning, middle, and end. At this point, I loosely group scenes in sequential chapters. Chapters are pacing mechanisms, the large form of a paragraph break or scene break to indicate breathing and a change, perhaps in pace or tonality, of the following events. [I should make a dictionary for this post. For me, a scene is a unit of story basically its own short story. I write them 2k-5k words. A chapter is a grouping of scenes.]
Might look like that. I don’t believe that the structure MUST adhere to anyone’s guidelines to be a good and worthy book. I do think it is helpful for an author to know their own structure. To know the flow means you can measure the flow and adjust. If I tried to steer purely from gut feeling and did not analyze the structure to see what I actually wrote, I would never be able to find the end. I know this because ~10 years of early writing almost never had endings. Just middle after more middle after more middle.
The intentionality of reviewing structure, even if I don’t actually cut anything or write anything new, serves its own purpose of giving me the sense of confidence that I wrote the story embodiment of my vision.
To edit structure, I first read the whole thing through. I also have my computer read the book aloud. I do not refine sentences. I do not fix spelling errors. I am looking for the story, the pacing, the movement of time, the movement of character development, and for that elusive quality, “Is this satisfying to read?”
I then make various maps of the book which some authors use when drafting. Things which look like outlines or the above timeline. I want to see visually, what exactly happens where. Foul notes, that is, elements misaligned with my vision, I cut out at the scene level. I do not worry about word count at all in this stage. [Often, you will hear authors talk about cutting things which do not serve the plot or to kill your darlings. Well, I don’t really care about plot in my work. I care about story. To me, plot is what happens and in what order. Story is why it happens combined with why anyone would possibly care.
I perform the high level overall structural edit. Removing entire scenes. Since I didn’t spend a lot of time refining the scenes, I am not sad to lose them. They don’t represent an entrenched mistake with an investment of effort.
Then I look at each chapter’s structure and repeat the process. Then, at the scene level. Pencils down when all scenes have been leveled up to second draft.
I tend to use 6-10 beta readers for a novel. I anticipate that since this is a volunteer activity, 50% of those beta reading for me will not get back to me ever. I don’t give them a hard time about. It’s fine. Try to line up more readers than you need.
I try to use beta readers who represent a range of diversity in age, cultural background, reading habits, experience with writing from nil to published authors, and people who don’t really love me too much. I need to trust them not to steal from me or harm me in their feedback, but I can’t have them wanting my approval associated with their feedback. [I do not write on this WIP at all once shared to beta readers. Once upon a time, I did and tried to keep sending updated drafts as they read with notes, “start over at page 35.” Terrible. Does not work. Burns people out. Don’t do it. You could however, send a checklist of feedback prompts to your betas. I don’t, but some do.]
After I’ve incorporated beta reader feedback to my satisfaction, I am ready for technical edits. [A single pass for me. At this point, I try to never ask the same person to read the same WIP in more than one draft. It is too much.] My sense of readiness is based on being happy with the scenes. The structure now tells the story I wanted to tell. This could be an entirely psychedelic stream of thought or experimental prose or whatever.
I begin with weekend morning sessions, picking any unedited scene that calls to my heart, and I rewrite it for tone, pacing for breathing and eye movement, for intention of emotional context, and weighing the impact of word choice. There is no consistent rate of editing for me at the scene level. Rather, based on the length of the WIP, I have a rough sense in months of how long I will spend wordsmithing.
When I’m satisfied that I’ve run spellcheck enough times and I’ve reread the thing over and over, I contact an editor. For books 2 & 3 of Eudaimonia, I worked with Nikki Rae of Metamorphosis Editing Service. Finding an editor can be challenging. My variables are cost, availability, and good match for my vision and style. To me, an editor is a collaborator, not a mechanic. Perhaps some books can be mechanically edited for grammar, but I’m not sure. I need an editor who unpacks my vision and compares it to the words on the page. They safeguard against elements where words do not embody and communicate my vision. They fill in areas of my deficits to bring forth characterization opportunities, language strength, clarity, and yes, gross mechanical errors, typos, and obvious incorrect word usage.
Once more, I do not write on this WIP until I receive the edited draft. I do other stuff. I encourage you to do other stuff too. When it does come back, I read all the feedback, close the document, close the computer, and go cry. Yup. Every single time.
When my ego is done grieving, I take my weekend mornings, scene by scene, as my heart chooses a scene, and process the feedback. I accept changes, I reject them, I rewrite. I only do one technical editing pass with the editor. This is a limitation of cost for me.
When my changes are made, and spellcheck run again and again, I order a print copy. When it arrives, I read it and mark it up. Incorporate those changes back into the manuscript and we are done.
The thing is ready to publish or be queried. At this point, I do the needful and never go back to rewrites. If no one likes it, that’s fine. It is the book I wrote. Time to write another one.
The Seekers’ Tarot began as a conversation between author, artist, poet, and tarot reader, Lynn-Cee Fauk. We had been discussing personal metaphysics, our mutual love of the mysteries. In this friendship, I found someone who not only echoed my stranger perceptions but who had a larger context than me, a matrix of poetic expression AND sensitivities to the unseen world.
The Terrestrial Tarot
My only prior experience with tarot was long ago. When I was 16, I picked up a very unusual deck, The Terrestrial Tarot. I held onto it through a bit of homelessness until it, like everything else physical including my body, was lost somewhere. The power of the images never left me.
Things got real.
So, in the course of correspondence with Lynn-Cee Faulk, we began talking about places where her experiences resonated with mine. I shared how my personal intersections on my mental health, anxiety, CPTSD, lived experiences, experiences with psychedelic drugs, all that stuff, had informed my book series, Eudaimonia. I’m not sure which one of us suggested it, or if the idea came to us from somewhere else. One fine day, we decided to work on a tarot deck incorporating our personal visions of the divine mysteries utilizing the metaphors, characters, and symbols of Eudaimonia.
The Seekers’ Tarot
The output turned into a 92 card tarot deck and a 92 page book containing our meditations on the cards, what memories and visions these symbols had in our lives. This was a huge act of integration of two seekers in the world that so often makes little sense. We took that and titled both book and deck The Seekers’ Tarot. We do not position ourselves as master mages hoarding insight and ritual to make ourselves seem greater than we are. To the very best of our ability, we both humbled ourselves to the powers directing our efforts, some unnamed metaphysical benefactor providing assistance when we needed it. The Seekers’ Tarot is presented with no ego. Only two seekers trying to connect with each other and with, as that song sings, other lost souls swimming in this fishbowl. We are very close to announcing a release date for both the deck and book. Stay tuned for updates. Also, if you can, go to goodreads and mark our book as “want to read.” This will help more than you can guess.
So, here I am, writing and drawing like it is still 1999. I still feel irresistible terrors and strange longings. I have more stories to tell.
How did you find this place? How did you find me? I wrote Eudaimonia pursuant to a dream. Is it urban fantasy? Magic realism? A fever of an unwell mind? For sure, #doom. I’m outside of everything that ever was.
And now what? It doesn’t matter. I hope my work has some life outside of my social media quit. Yet, I don’t want to pay for ads. This is why.
I deactivated my twitter and instagram accounts in September of 2020.
I needed to focus on other parts of my life.
I’m not withdrawing from art and writing. If anything, my output has increased.
New work planned:
1. The Seekers’ Tarot – book (coauthor – Oct or Dec 2020). 2. The Seekers’ Tarot – deck – (coauthor – Oct or Dec 2020). 3. Working title ‘Departures.’ – novella (coauthor – Dec 2020) 4. The Witch and The Cyclops – illustrated kids’ book (Dec 2020) 5. The Ghost Nextdoor – illustrated kids’ book (Feb 2021) 6. vampire novel WIP (mid 2021)