Friday, February 08, 2008

Chevenga Lives

UPDATE (Feb. 29): Here's the link to the introductory Chevenga site (www.chevenga.com*). It jumps off to two blog sites where I will begin posting chapters, once I get started (I'm still doing assorted preliminary work.)

I'm really much more of a writer than an artist, in the sense that I actually m
ake money writing. I've occasionally done art professionally, but not enough to say I have a career in it.

In 1991, I published two solo fantasy novels with Baen Books:

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...the "autobiography" of a character named Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e.

I followed up with a third, a collaboration with S.M. Stirling and Shirley Meier, in which Chevenga has a starring but secondary role, in 1992.

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After that, I took a long hiatus, at least when it came to publishing novels. (I never quit actually writing. I don't think I could. Laptop... cold, dead hands... you get the idea.)

But then just a few days ago, a friend introduced me to the website of a fiction author who writes online... successfully enough that she's been able to quit her day job after about six months of starting to post this particular work, I calculate. Maybe Alexandra Erin has become famous enough that you've already heard of, or are irredeemably addicted to, Tales of MU.


I was totally inspired. If she could do it, why not me? I'd been wanting to do a revision and expansion of the Chevenga books anyway. One thing about writing a novel in your 20s: when you read it in your 40s, you see a lot that you'd like to fix. As well, I'd had to cut a number of scenes out by editor's orders; the episodic format of online serialization, I felt, would make a longer version work. And then, of course, there was Book III of Chevenga's memoir.

Wait a minute, you're thinking, if you've ever read the first two. As George Bush Sr. said after the assassination of Meir Kahane, "I thought this guy was kind of dead." More than kind of, actually -- really most sincerely dead, Chevenga is, at the end of Lion's Soul. Er... did I forget to say "Spoiler Warning!"?


No worries... no spoiler. And there's a third book. How can that be? I guess you'll just have to come over to the site, once I've posted the first chapter of Book III, to find out, won't you?

And if you haven't read the first two Chevenga books, they will be there, too, revised, expanded, vitamin-enriched, etc.

In the meantime, the site requires artwork, and so I turned to the obvious source: Larry Elmore, the artist who did the covers. Bit of a tale here, that Larry told me in a bar at a con after the first book came out.

He was already established and very b
usy as a painter in 1989. So he'd get his wife to help him, by going through each manuscript with a highlighter, marking scenes that were very visual and thus would lend themselves well to illustration.

When she handed him my manuscript (said Larry as we quaffed a wee cup or two), "Half of it was highlighted!"

In a panic -- the art was due in three weeks -- he phoned the publisher, Jim Baen (1943-2006). "Never mind the manuscript," Jim told him. "Just give me a painting with a man and a woman in it." Badabing...



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Badaboom!

So for Chevenga website art, I started with this. First thing I wanted was a nice head shot
of my main man:


Now this piece is really Larry's, but there's more of my touch in it than is immediately apparent. I'd been doing drawings of Chevenga, trying to match perfectly the vision of him I had in my head, for years. When I found out who would be doing the cover art, I scared up Larry's snailmail address (which was just called an "address" back then) and sent him the best drawing I had. Bless his soul -- no contract required him to do this -- he clipped it right onto his easel, and copied it precisely. When I got the cover flat, there was Chevenga, staring right back out at me. Because a cover artist is usually using images from his own visual imagination, evoked by words, rather than an image out of the writer's visual imagination, darn few writers get to experience this. I count myself very blessed.

The only mistake Larry made was making the eyes dark blue instead of deep brown as they should be (the drawing was black and white). So -- and here's where the image has felt my touch at the other end of its creation -- I photoshopped them brown again for the portrait. Obviously I've done a few other things, too, including moving the head to a different place against the background, and de-focusing the background to give the image depth.

But the point is, this really is what Chevenga looks like (at least before he acquires a number of facial scars). Really. How lucky am I?

*About the domain name: years ago, having some other idea for how to get my doughty character an Internet presence, I checked the availability of "chevenga.com" and found that it was owned by someone else. Italian, I wondered? (The only frequent Google mentions I've found of the word other than references to my books are in Italian.) Perhaps it was being used as an acronym by some group such as the Coalition of Holistic Equal Value Enhanced National Giraffe Associations? Or maybe some enterprising person, not quick enough off the mark to have registered "coke.com" or "ibm.com" so that he could make millions selling them to their rightful owners, was looking to do the same with a more obscure brand for more modest gain? Whois informed me that it was owned by a per son named Jeyen Chevenga Barham-Kaiel.

A fan who gave himself the name, at least on the net, after reading my books? Someone who thought of it independently? I'll probably never know. When I checked again after deciding to start writing online, he'd given chevenga.com up, so I grabbed it. If you're out there, Jeyen Chevenga, thanks for giving the domain name back. And I promise: there is a giraffe association near you.