Pygmalion Days

A base sketch of Ekaterina Rigidstick, major player in tales of Habdvarsha. This is my first attempt at her portrait since the character was created.

It’s all one thing, as I’ve insisted before. In the way of the imperfect imagination rattling around this particular noggin, writing is part of drawing is part of making music is part of writing. There is no writing mind separate from drawing mind or music mind. The ball can stay on one court or bounce across sectors. It’s one thing in all its variety. Likely you know this already.

An advantage of crosswiring is “get out of jail free” for creative block. If the juice doesn’t flow in one medium, there is another, or another. Whatever has been stoppered unstoppers in sympathy with the new stream. Or it doesn’t, but something else desirable comes together while vexation cools its heels.

Preparation of a new version of my first novel, Prelude to a Change of Mind, is in its final phases. Look for announcement of a Stikmantica release date soon. Revision has been extensive. The main labor for this version was an edit undertaken with the same rigor I have required when editing for others. This is no softening of my belief in separating author and editor roles. Fact is, necessity precludes hiring it out. In this case, the roles are separated by time, which means an older editor unwilling to put up with a younger author’s lazy ways. The result is the same story, but a new book. An embodiment of the reality it describes.

Progress has been much less rapid than early optimism brayed. The main stumble has been the author. He is stubborn, inflexible, unreasonable, addicted to prolixity and expedience, and prone to fall asleep instantly when approached about difficult changes. The only way to proceed with some revisions has been to wait out attachment to bad ideas, and then remove them while he dozed.

One labor of revision has involved breathing life into characters that were little more than paper cut-outs. Since publication of the original version in 2000, a suggestion I have ignored many times has been to draw the characters. Because I sketch quite a lot as part of my writing process, it may seem inconsistent that I have never produced an illustration of a dvarsh or thrm. There has been reason behind this.

Way back years ago, when I showed rough drawings to a couple of people who had read the story, I was told that the dvarsh of my doodles were not dvarsh and the thrm’m were not thrm’m. Informants voiced opinions in strong terms, showing positive engagement with the tale. That was cool, even if it raised a question of what words on the page actually said the beings looked like. As an exercise, I asked those critics and a few other early readers to draw two characters, Ekaterina and Sweetheart, which a couple did, in great detail. I did not see my characters in the results, but what do I know? Novels are only scripts for stories that unfold in readers’ heads. Woe if my imagistic scribbles hobble free flight in the read!

Unless, that is, I need to bring my own view of a character into sharper focus. This has been part and parcel of the task at hand. Ekaterina Rigidstick, Ekhater’na hR’dj’dst’k, is one of the characters I created in 1984 when I daydreamed the image that spawned all of Habdvarsha and set out to discover everything leading up to that consequential moment. Never until recently have I tried to create Ekaterina’s portrait. Once started, I began seeing her early in the grid I drew to prepare the sheet.*

Before features were blocked in, I talked to the face, “Yes, I know you. I’ve known you for a very long time.”

As I write this, she occupies the extreme right hand of the drawing table. Left and center positions are taken by problem-solving sketches for Nod’s Way. I hesitated to post her in this preliminary state, but you never know when I’ll decide I’ve learned whatever was needed from the exercise and, since no project in the pipeline requires her portrait, move it to the box of incomplete processes. She may never be much more finished than this. That inner, mumbling conscience-thing reminds me constantly that Nod’s Way is a defined project, key to the Stikmantic master plan, and could spread across the whole drawing table with justification.

The pencil work displayed here will be submerged if the illustration proceeds. Her hair will be dark. The rest you will see should we get there. In this representation, she is around 230 years old, which corresponds to middle twenties in human life scale. Scientist, mage, diplomat, scholar, social activist and martial artist, she is foremost a wise, generous friend. I draw her for a bit, then I hear her speak as she actually speaks, and I go back to mend the story.

As I have drawn on Ekaterina, I have also kept an eye on the Nod’s Way design problem to her left. Sidelong glances did what straight-on couldn’t. A route out of perplexity has been found. One more benefit of creative switcheroo.

* It’s true. I grid out every drawing. I outline every fiction. Often, I take up Irish bouzouki with no plan whatsoever.