Friday, February 08, 2008

Chevenga Lives

UPDATE (Feb. 29): Here's the link to the introductory Chevenga site (*). 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:


...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.


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...



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 "" 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 "" or "" 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 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.
Hire a Hero

There wasn't much work needed on the image DarkSyde requested I edit for this front page post on Daily Kos, Feb. 5. Just take this photo of a guy working out at the gym, he asked, and remove the background so he and the leg-press machine are against white.

But I'm posting it and quoting extensively, because I was totally moved and inspired by this young man's story, and the action he's taking. Which you should support.


"All I remember is dirt falling on top of me. My first thought was that I was dreaming, I closed and opened my eyes -- then realized it was real. There was no pain at first, just a dead cold feeling all over, like my body was submerged in ice. My buddy was driving a humvee 10 yards ahead of me. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he opened the door and saw me on the ground. Everything after that is hard to remember ..."

Five long months of extensive physical rehabilitation and seven intense revision surgeries later
, Justin Callahan walked out of Walter Reed on a prosthetic leg. Even so he was fortunate; he quickly found a job. Many of his fellow soldiers walked or limped or wheeled their way out of WR and straight into unemployed civilian limbo. That’s when Callahan, encouraged by the person who had hired him, got a brilliant idea: Hire Heroes USA.

Most jobs in today’s modern military not only require training on some of the most highly sophisticated technology, they train service members to perform in extremely dangerous and stressful situations. Anyone who can calmly keep an IT network operating while mortars fall, can probably deal with a stubborn server in an office-cube farm. But as any handicapped person can attest, too many employers see only the disability, even when the applicant before them has completed a regimen worthy of an Olympian.

To recover from a severe injury is to find the heart of a dedicated athlete. The wounded in action will train, sweat, endure immense physical pain, like any athlete. But unlike today’s lavishly paid ball players, they won’t be training for money or fame. They build muscle, to power their wheelchair; hone reflexes, to balance on a prosthetic leg; work their heart and lungs, to develop the endurance to live independently. And when they diet, it’s not for vanity or photo shoots, but to take mechanical stress off the scar tissue, metal pins, and stainless steel staples knitting torn flesh and shattered bone together.

"There are men and women out there who feel they are only approached to be put on a pedestal or used as props. If you want to thank a veteran for their service, offer them a job. Give them a chance to apply their skills, work ethic and values to the civilian workforce. Let them have the opportunities to take care of their families. They’re not looking for sympathy; they just want to contribute to the society they fought for. If you are a veteran with a disability from any branch of the military who is returning from Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, Hire Heroes USA is here for you." -- Sgt. Justin Callahan, 10th Mountain Division.

Whether you are a small business or a large corporation, conservative or progressive, if you’re looking for trained, quality employees that have the ability and desire to succeed, contact HHUSA.

And if simply doing the right thing doesn’t motivate you, let’s talk cold hard dollars: Unlike traditional agencies, this non-profit, non-partisan group provides job placement services at no charge to veterans and employers. They’re supported solely by employer and private contributions.

Unrequited, I mean, unrequested art*

Okay, more catching up. Here's my warm, cuddly Christmas greeting to the netizens of the Alexander the Great forum Pothos, a slightly-altered photo from the Oliver Stone movie Alexander, with Colin Farrell in the title role:


If that didn't warm the cockles of your heart, how about losing weight the quick way? Texas Republican congressional candidate Dean Hrbacek did back in January, by having his head shopped onto the body of a more shapely fellow on his campaign literature. Hey, I know how that works.


(Yes, it looks cheesy. It's supposed to look cheesy.)

And finally, DarkSyde on an open science thread referred to this image ("that is one big-ass rat.") By an involuntary reflex, I cannot help but look at such a creature without envisioning the head of a politician on him. (I think it's genetic.) The obvious victim here was the most plasticly photogenic, in a used-car-salesman sort of way, of the presidential candidates: Mitt Romney.


Now, I'm not trying to claim that this image alone caused Romney to abandon his presidential ambitions. Just that it was a factor.

*Have you ever heard anyone say, "I thought it was unrequited love, but then (s)he turned around and requited it after all" ?

The Battle of Newsweek

Back in November 2007, Markos announced on the front page of Daily Kos that he'd be writing a column in Newsweek (here's the first one), along with a politically-opposite columnist... none other than Karl Rove, neocon slime-meister extraordinaire, today's most well-known American practitioner of the politics of personal destruction.

No one asked me to illustrate this, but I did anyway, and posted it in a comment thread.


In a spatial reversal of their usual positions, that's Karl sweating on the left and Kos dominating on the right. There is also a visual nod to the evocative nickname which which Karl was anointed by George W. Bush: "Turdblossom."