Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Wait When You Can Procrastinate?

OK, that only took 5 months.

My website is finally up and running after I stalled, hemmed and hawed over the holidays and beyond. I feel like I've given birth to a preemie, noticing how my little slice of the internet is kinda small, lacking in much content, and generally under-developed. Still, I am proud that I got around to popping it out before my end-of-February, self-imposed deadline.

I made that deadline while sitting at a bar after losing my job in early January 2012 due to down-sizing. I scribbled on a notepad while waiting to meet friends at our favorite lunch spot, endeavoring to make the best of my sudden abundance of free time. I made a list of half a dozen things that urgently needed doing, then promptly put them off. I did print off my second book and begin the editing process, but that doesn't count because that is fun and easy compared to making important, informed decisions and tackling IT issues.

It wasn't until Star Wars: The Old Republic fried my $350 video card that I suddenly had the desire to focus on my website. As I write this, I am sitting at my desk with my desktop and monitor askew, the guts of my PC hanging out over the keyboard. My replacement video card arrived defective, tacking on another week to my forced productivity. I swear, I am going to start climbing the walls if I have to go for much longer without video games. I don't know how I ever managed without them.

Oh yeah, I DIDN'T.

I've had some form of video game entertainment on hand for the past 30 years. I mark certain eras in my life by what I was playing at the time. Currently, it's Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. No, wait. Currently, it's NOTHING.

But I digress.

What I am trying to say is that the death of my high-end graphics capability helped me get on track, much like losing my job helped me to focus on my upcoming projects. I don't know if I can find gainful employment soon, but in the meantime I can throw myself back into the writing/publishing biz. I like to take lemons and make lemon-juice, so to speak. Anyway, I am sure I will have more interesting things to blog about as the projects progress. I hope people are still paying attention :)

Later, all!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mark Rude Is Happy To Announce...

The Hollows Insider and The Gold Cat's Daughter have been released and are now available for purchase! You can read about my involvement in Kim Harrison's Hollows Insider in this post: The Coolest Thing EVAR! Several of my pencil drawings are featured among the loads of other cool stuff that takes the reader under the skin of the Hollows, home of Cincinnati's supernatural Inderlanders. I have been a huge fan of the Rachel Morgan series from the beginning and it was a dream to work with my favorite author on this project.

Buy it at your favorite bookseller!

And finally, my own project that has been many years in the making (in fact the bulk of this blog is devoted to it): The Gold Cat's Daughter! This is the first novel in the Cindra Corrina series, the story of a brave young girl who must chose between her duty and her desires, with the fate of the kingdom at stake. Dark forces and hidden conspiracies are moving against her, hoping to lead the land to war and ultimate doom...

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine online vendors!

And if that's not enough, the next book in the series, The Gallant Riders, is due to come out this time next year! It's been a very busy couple of years for me and I'm sure it will only get more hectic. If writing and publishing my books was my only job, I'd be one happy camper.

Visit The Gold Cat's Daughter on Facebook and "Like" if you like it :)


Saturday, October 15, 2011

How a Toy Changed My Life

My bear is a Horcrux.

Let me explain.

When I was 12, my family went on a vacation to Sequoia National Park. Stopping at a gift shop, our parents bought my brother and I these little stuffed toy black bears with tan muzzles called "Sierra Bears" on the label. I don't know if they only existed in that gift shop or not, but I've never seen their like since. I named mine B.J. McBear and he named his Rex. For the rest of the trip they were our main form of entertainment as we created little squeaky voices for them, gave them personalities, and generally drove our parents crazy.

When we got home, the fun didn't stop. I believe it started when my brother made a little Dukes of Hazard car out of a Kleenex box for Rex. I made one too and soon we were racing them along the linoleum floor and leaping them over the steps. One thing led to another and soon they had a small fleet of cardboard cars and a small selection of clothing. Then things got really cool.

I went through mom's bag of fabric and made costumes. Batbear and Robin were born and needed a Batmobile, so more cardboard was consumed. Superbear needed no car, nor did Spiderbear, but they did need enemies. We only had the two stuffed animals so we recruited from my sister's large selection to round out the cast.

Rex had a Lamborghini, so B.J. had to have one too. Tron came out so I built them light cycles, costumes and even a tank. Then came the helicopters. I made a gunship out of cardboard with a yard stick for the propeller. When that one crashed and broke, I made another. I made two versions of Airwolf from the TV series of the same name. Did the bears have flight suits and helmets? Oh, yes they did.

The stuffed animals and their friends appeared in the first comic book I ever did; an animal version of Disney's Condorman. Just like the hero of the movie, I built all the stuff depicted in the comic book. Then there was the Return of the Jedi animal comic that I started on, but it was far more fun to play light saber duels with B.J. as Luke and my sister's polar bear as Darth Vader. He was dressed all in black, complete with the mask and helmet, but he was pasty-white when you removed it, just like in the movie.

My bear was, among other things Indiana Jones, James Bond, Dracula, Rambo, the Mighty Thor, a ninja, Zorro, Doctor Who (#4 with scarf), Perseus from Clash of the Titans (and a Pegasus stuffed animal was added to the family), an astronaut, and of course, James T. Kirk. Every costume came with little props and whatever vehicles I needed for his adventures. The Star Trek crew had uniforms and an Enterprise bridge playset made of cardboard, complete with a revolving captain's chair and interchangeable view screen. I even made Rex little pin-on felt pointed ears.

One of the last big projects I worked on was for Ghostbusters. B.J., Rex, and Pegasus (Peg) were the three main characters and they had costumes, proton packs and gadgets for catching ghosts. I sewed a stuffed "Slimer" ghost to chase around and made an Ecto-mobile with a sliding rack in the rear for the backpacks.

B.J. modeling one of the last costumes.

Only a few costumes remain, and none of the vehicles or playsets. The bear has traveled with me everywhere, sharing many adventures. I lived my life vicariously through him, even becoming good at animating him through puppetry. I can make almost any stuffed animal seem alive now. I instilled in B.J. McBear a little piece of my soul and childhood, and it remains there to this day. He and his friends sit on a shelf gathering dust, overlooking my bedroom, but every once in a while I will take them down, dust them off, and remember all the fun times we had. As long as B.J. is around, a part of me won't die.

Just like Voldemort.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adventures in Voice Work

I am a highly qualified Dungeon Master.

That's where I developed most of my voice work talents, running role playing games and doing different characters, from mayors to monsters. I also practice impersonations in the car on the way to work, just in case my employer wants to hear a celebrity voice reading the company mission statement.

You never know.

So I decided to record my own audio book, partly because I thought it would be fun, and partly because Patrick Stewart is so damned expensive. I've already blogged about Recording an Audio Book so I won't go over the same ground again, but I will share some of the things I've learned and tips that I think are helpful if you want to try it yourself.

Tip 1: Get a good microphone.
Using one of those headset mics is a bad idea. It may be fine for raiding with your guild (gamer reference) but not for doing quality work. I learned this when trying to redo some spots in the original recordings. Sound is a fickle thing, and working with a cheap mic is like starting a road trip under the wheels of your car. I use a Blue Snowball USB condenser microphone, a good low cost alternative for non-professionals.

Tip 2: Find a quiet spot.
This is one of the most important tips I can give. If you don't have a professional studio with soundproofing, you will have to put up with background noises. My sound guy Todd did a great job of soundproofing the space we used, but it was done over time so the first several chapters went from bad to better. Traffic was a real problem because of the location, and we had no control over people coming and going.
My solution to this was to redo the first few chapters at home, making a little sound studio of my own. While it is not as dampened as the original site, my house is off the main streets a bit and traffic noise is minimal by comparison (as I type this a firetruck is going by... *sigh*). I record on weekends around 1am after most of the world has gone to bed. The house is quiet, the kitties are sleeping and only the air conditioning makes noise as the vents pop. This is mitigated by my other precautions...

Tip 3: Dampen the sound in your studio.
Seems obvious, but the amount of work you must put into it depends entirely on what you have to work with in the first place. My desk is in a room next to a window (facing the street), I have wood floors and blinds instead of drapes. Not ideal, but at least I don't raise chickens.
To combat these problems, I've done some modifications that work to my satisfaction. The first thing I did was buy some sound foam from the local Guitar Center music store. That helped me to muffle the sounds of the already-quiet computer in my desk. I also got some foam board and made a sound dampening filter to house the mic.

You can see the round white mic in the little booth. The wire goes out a hole in the back and into the computer under the monitor; also shielded with sound foam over top and in the back. This isolates the hum of the cooling fans and most of the noise bouncing off the walls and coming from the window. Not perfect but it works for me.
The next thing I did was to sink a bit more money into blocking off the rest of the room. About $200 bought a nice six-sectioned woven room screen, which I then draped with thick blankets to act as a sound shield behind me. It also adds an extra layer of privacy when looking at porn. Not that I do that, but just FYI.
Yes, those are tiger patterns. I have tigers watching me on the other side.

Dropping towels on the floor might compensate for the wood flooring a bit, but I don't go crazy with it.

Tip 4: Hydrate and keep your mouth moist.
Neophytes will completely overlook this. Talking really dries out your mouth and vocal chords, and drinking water is very important. Bottled or filtered water is best, and avoid drinks with excess acid or sugar. Also, avoid eating foods that can cause congestion, like dairy. There are other sites that go into this stuff in more detail, but the best tip I learned was to have an atomizer full of filtered water handy.

Why? It's called Pop/Click, and it's the bane of sound editing. When your mouth dries out and loses saliva to lubricate it, you get these popping, clicking noises all over your vocals. This is especially bad with audio books where you don't have music or loud singing to mask it. Some of my early recordings were so bad I thought I had one of those aliens from the movie Signs behind me, talking in their clicky insect language.
Some people recommend having green apple slices handy, not to eat but to bite and suck on because the tartness encourages saliva. Well, this involves having apples around. Pshh. Yeah right.
An atomizer will mist your mouth and coat your inner cheeks, teeth and tongue with additional moisture, instead of washing all the saliva away like a drink of water will do. Priceless. Because I'm recording a minute of dialogue and listening to it immediately after, it gives me a chance to redo things on the spot if they get too clicky. This is a lifesaver when editing for timing and content later on.

Remember, you can't polish a turd.

Well, you can, but all you wind up with is a polished turd. Try for the best recording quality first, don't rely on "fixing it in post."

Here endeth the lesson.

Fantasy Book Cover in 2,843 Easy Steps

I have a really nice paint program that I barely know how to use.

I mean there's like 25% of the total features that I am familiar with, and most of what I do is through trial and error. I can do the basics and learned to play with some of the features, but I'm self-taught and never read a manual. The internet helped me with some important features like Layers, but I used that for my comic book covers and promptly forgot everything years later. Also, Paint Shop Pro X is not the industry standard, so all those Dummies Guides in the bookstore are kind of hit-and-miss. It was easier to find parts for my Mitsubishi than to find a book on PSP.
Anyway, this is about my first fantasy book cover. I wanted it to be dramatic but simple, the kind of thing you could describe in a sentence. This was not only a marketing decision but I wanted something I could learn on without making too much of a mess; kind of like George Lucas putting that big lizard in the background of Star Wars. Nothing too crazy or ambitious. Just learning the basics so I can really screw it up later.
It started with a rough pencil sketch. I had two ideas: one being a sweeping vista with the city in the background and the two romantically involved characters in front; the other was the main character with a young boy she saves, fending off a monster with a knife. I was informed by an author friend that I needed a glowy magic knife for it to be a real fantasy cover, whether there was one in the story or not. Luckily, there was.
Looks good!

So that was the beginning. later I gave it a bit more detail...

Very comic-booky. I wasn't too concerned about the details because I was only going to use this as a guide. I scanned it in at 600 dps so I'd have lots of pixels to play with. With my old comic book covers, I'd scanned ink drawings and used a layer to color behind the artwork, resulting in a "stay-within-the-lines" look. This would be different as I needed to paint "over" the pencil work. I began with a process called flatting, which is laying down flat base colors to work up from.

This was done on a layer under the pencil work. From there I was able to start painting the details of Cindra's face. I should mention that I use a Wacom tablet and stylus, which is a huge advantage over drawing with a mouse. Who knew?

The pencil layer is removed and the face work begins. I figured if I couldn't pull off a good looking face, there was no point in doing the rest of it in digital art. Modeling (getting the light and contours right) was done using a Paintbrush tool with an opacity of about 25%, allowing me to build up the colors like a real oil painting.

It's rough at this stage, but I'm starting to be encouraged. I have no photo references so I can't really go for photo-realism without them, but this ain't too bad. It's already lost the cartoony look. After more modeling and playing around with Smudge and Push tools, I decide she looks good enough to go on to the boy Nixy.

For him I'm lucky enough to find stock photos online of terrified children. It helps to get the eyes and mouth right. One of the tricks with painting/drawing young kids is to pull back on the detail. Artists like me tend to get too much into the things we know are there, like lines around the eyes and mouth, but this makes the subject 'read' as older. Young kids are smooth faced, even when pulling an exaggerated expression. I also found a picture of a female fashion model to base his hairstyle and texture on.
Here's another advantage of digital media: resizing. Eyes too small? Resize. Mouth too small? Resize. Hands too small and feet too big? Resize. By making subtle changes to the proportions or details you can enhance the image in a way that is impossible in traditional media without a whole lot of work. Cheating at its best.

Next came the fabric. While I have a grasp of the basics of drapery on the human figure, there's always room for improvement. I did a lot of hunting online for photo references of dresses like hers. Needless to say it's not in current fashion so I ended up on a lot of Medieval Garb sites. While the results may not be perfect for the fabric it's supposed to represent, I think it is more dynamic and interesting to look at without being too crazy. After all, authenticity isn't everything.
The ultra-green background was for the matting process; since I planned to do the foreground separate from the rest of the picture, I wanted to pick a color that I would not be using in the painting, telling the program to make that green transparent when needed. This did not entirely work as planned. There was a thin line of green around the figures after placing them on the background and I have to paint over it. Not sure if it was such a bright idea.

Next came the background, a cracked wall at night with an evil shadow on it. The color choice was the biggest issue and I tried a few variations. Falling back on my art training, I went with complimentary colors. Purple and yellow worked out best, so I played around with that, using separate layers for the base colors, the wall and ground details, tinting, and shadows. Being able to manage them all separately is a real life saver. I'll have to remember that for next time.

The final step was adding the text and giving it a golden metallic sheen. Once again, I used a layer for it so I could make any changes I wanted to the typesetting without disturbing the artwork.

And it only took six months.

I'm counting this as a big learning experience and now that I have the basics down, the next one should go a lot more smoothly...

Unless I go all "Lucas" on it.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Juggling Monkeys...

I hate it when they scream.

I recently asked some readers if there were any questions they wanted me to blog about regarding my work. I took some time sorting through the two responses I received and finally picked one: “How do you balance fitting your projects with everything else in your life?”

That’s a darn good question. I wonder that myself sometimes.

The answer really depends on the project. The longest so far was the “Passage” comic book project which went on from about 2001 to 2006. It was also the most difficult because it involved drawing page after page of artwork, which requires a minimum set of tools and paper. During this time, I was most often seen carrying a 9” x 14” clipboard with a few pieces of Bristol board (some to draw on and one for a cover sheet to avoid smudges) and a zip-up pencil holder bag with a few weights of pencils, a kneaded eraser, a blending stick, twisty-sharpener and some extra lead for my mechanical pencil. The nice thing about that is that you look quite innocuous going into any job with a clipboard; no one looks twice.

So, I’d draw at work. Most of my jobs during that time were answering phones, so between (and often during) calls, I would draw. Oh, and during training? Draw. Lunch? Draw after eating. I like to say that I’ve been paid to draw for years, but my employers just didn’t realize it. I didn’t let my work suffer for it; in fact I was never fired for drawing at work. They fired me for other reasons. But we won’t get into that right now.

After work I’d often go to my favorite Border’s Books café and draw, but sadly, they are now closed. I can’t work at home due to the distractions that are all around me. If I have the house to myself it’s a bit easier, but I still do better if I’m not in the same building with my bed, a couch, TV, or a computer with games on it. The only exception is the stuff I can’t do elsewhere, like digital painting or editing sound files for my audio book (which I’ve been doing for the past week).

My novels have been easier mostly because my productivity is so much higher. I can churn out half a chapter in a few hours, compared to one page of drawing. I write on a second-hand laptop (a Toshiba Portege M400) which I usually brought to the café after work or sometimes on my lunch breaks. The key ingredient here was lots of caffeine, both to stay awake and to blunt the headaches I’d invariably get from typing on a computer all day. Migraine pain pills were a must. I also channel creative energy through my Burning Bunny pin on the front of my laptop bag.

There was a point when I had enough in the bank to take most of a year off work and just write, and that was a dream-come-true. If I can make a living like that, I’d be happy. It was also during that year that Devon the Demon Duck was born from my surplus of free time.

Now I have a job where I work the night shift from 10pm to 6am. That gets a little more challenging. Daylight is now accursed and burns my eyes, so I only stay up for a few hours at most before or after work. My job also takes all my attention so I can’t write or draw, but I can listen to audio on the internet. I’ve found that lots of research material on self publishing is available on YouTube to pipe into my ears while I do my real job. If I learn something vital, I e-mail myself a note with the website address and check it out at home.

Recording my audio book was done almost every Saturday evening from 10pm to 12am or so, over a period of several months. Saturday was my only social-life day so I’d have to cut that a bit short to do the recordings, but that’s over for now. My work load has increased as my publishing goal approaches, and I’m finding it harder to balance it all. One week off work was not enough to finish editing the audio book and I still need to complete the cover. Suffice to say, I’ll have to cut back on my “fun time” even more, so all those orcs, Klingons and rift beasties can breathe a little easier for a while.

BTW, if you can't tell by now, I also don't have a girlfriend.

So the short answer is “However I can get away with it.”


Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Difficult Decision

I suck at this.

I am at that stage where I need to put a business name on things. Copyright by (blank), published by (blank), "visit ( for more details..." I need to come up with something catchy, memorable and unique that goes with my business image. I think. Maybe it just needs to be short.

My first business name was "Jayde World Productions" which was named for the world of my comic book (Jayde). Not obvious. It also sounded like some kind of Asian arts and crafts company. Looking it up on, I found this entry:

"Jayde World Productions in Phoenix, AZ is a private company categorized under Motion Picture Producers and Studios. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of less than $500,000 and employs a staff of approximately 1 to 4. Companies like Jayde World Productions usually offer: Creative Video Productions, Film Production Rentals, Indie Film Production, Documentary Film Production and Venus Film Production."

This is all bullshit. I don't know how they determined I was a motion picture company that offered any of that crap. But that's the internet for you. The annual revenue is correct at least; I make far less than 500 grand annually. I don't even know what 500 grand looks like.

Anyhow, I need to make up a new publishing name that sounds cool and captures the spirit of what I'm up to. I want to incorporate my fantasy book series starting with The Gold Cat's Daughter with my Devon the Demon Duck From Hell series. Current ideas are:

Gold Cat Publishing
Gilded Mallard
Golden Pekin Publishing
Quackery Press
Duck Walk Press

...and variations thereof. 

I hope I come up with something soon; opinions and ideas are appreciated. There might also be a shiny nickel in it for the best idea, so don't be shy! Vote early and often!