Monday, December 7, 2015

Two Steps Back and One Baby Step Forward

Saving old drafts is an important part of the writing process, as is accepting the fact that sometimes life can take you down the wrong editing path.  I had to learn this hard lesson in the past few months when I hit a few unexpected challenges.

My daughter was born in September.  The Centernia sequel, The Crimson Mage was completed in the weeks prior to her arrival.  I was pleased that I was on track to release the book by the end of the year.  I figured I had plenty of time finish editing it, run it by my trusted circle of proofreaders, and then send it to the copyeditor.  It seemed that the book would be out by December.

People had cautioned that the baby would send a wrench into my plans, but I generally try to ignore naysayers and steam (or stumble) through life.  In my mind I had a perfect plan to keep working once my girl arrived:  While she napped, I would edit and write.  If sleep deprivation became awful, I would switch to formula and shift half the overnight feeds to my husband.  Laundry? Disposable diapers!  Food? Wegmans pre-made meals and paper plates. All problems solved.

I was so ready to own this baby thing.

And then my daughter was born.  She was perfectly healthy, kicking and crying.

Somewhere between the hospital and home, I discovered there's a part of the postpartum recovery process that's glossed over.  It was a situation I hadn't planned for, and something that couldn't be thwarted by throwing money at it.

I had known that some mothers suffer from postpartum depression, but no one really mentioned that it could happen to me.  Neither did anyone tell me that it comes packaged under two names. First, there are the 'baby blues', the sadness that happens to seventy-five percent of new moms. If the baby blues don't go away after a few weeks, you're given a 10 question written quiz, (Edinburgh Post Natal Depression Scale). Failing the quiz means you're labeled with postpartum depression and offered pills.

In the days following my daughter's arrival, nothing seemed right. I was particularly hit by anything that seemed to signify the passage of time.  The baby meant that I was a parent, which turned my parents into grandparents, which meant EVERYONE IS OLD. I was convinced this cute tiny creature would just turn into a teenager and leave me, I would be sad and miserable and lonely for the rest of my life, I was going to die ANY MOMENT, and all life is tragedy.

None of this is rational, but it's how I felt.

I tried to sing lullabies to my baby, the ones I had known as a kid.  Five words in and tears streamed down my face.

I saw a Jeep Liberty in a parking lot that looked like my first car. I cried the entire drive home.

The most pathetic moment was when my husband pointed out that the tree in our front yard was changing to a pretty color.  I was instantly a blubbering, sobbing mess.

What do my baby woes have to do with Centernia?  In a post-natal frenzy while crying over autumn leaves, I ripped apart The Crimson Mage.   I took out chapters, tried to restructure the plot and change the character focus.  I started hating Jessica, jealous of her teenage freedom.  I wanted to snuff out Nico with the end of a pencil and save her from any possible marriage and babies and miserable loneliness.  Jessica should stay home and be in high school forever because that's where I wanted to be.

The novel became barely recognizable and I was convinced I was a failure at everything, including my career, my friends, my marriage and my family.  Life was pointless and terrifying.  I would crawl under a blanket and lament every life choice from living in Rochester, (which I had been happily doing for twelve years), to adopting my fluffy black cat (because she was going to get sick and die ANY MOMENT).

After a while, the haze started to lift just a tiny bit.  It wasn't a single moment, but a gradual transition.  My baby started smiling more, I went horseback riding and doing conventions again. Work found me and I began to find my groove.

What happened to Centernia? Accidentally opening an old file for The Crimson Mage, I realized that I liked my old draft better, and was very grateful I made it a strict habit to save multiple versions of every work.  At the same time, it was disappointing to recognize that two months of editing was completely worthless.

I have accepted that time was lost, and I've also accepted the fact that I am still not quite my normal self.  As I fight to figure out my new normal, I try to take writing time each day after my daughter falls asleep.  In the quiet stillness, I revisit my old friends, anger against Jessica and Nico blown far away with the autumn leaves.   Life is moving forward again and I hope to reward the patience of everyone who has been waiting for the sequel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Centernia: A One Year Retrospective

September 2nd holds significance to Centernia as it's the day Muse died and the same day first printed proof arrived in the mail.  It truly marks the beginning of Return to the Castle.

This has been a whirlwind, and I have learned so much and am so grateful.  We did a pre-order at RocCon in Rochester, NY in mid-September, and followed it with a full launch at New York Comic Con in October.  After which, the book was whisked to Detroit for Youmacon, Genericon in Troy, Anime Boston, Tora Con, Sci-Fi Valley Con.

I learned some rough lessons too.  The first edition was edited, but errors still snuck through and I put out an updated edition in February.

The hardest lesson I've learned is that writing a sequel is not as easy as I had anticipated.  My husband chides me, reminding me that the core story of Return to the Castle was the story I had written and re-written over a half dozen times before I froze it into its final printed form.  It's natural that this story will be harder to lock down.  My friend Jackie reminds me that readers who are already invested in the world will love it regardless, and hang on for subsequent books.  Everyone has a certain favorite book in a series, it may not be the first, second or even third.

Hooman, I has your notes and pen. You fail.
The sequel, the Crimson Mage, is written.  It's currently being edited, but this editing process is so much deeper.   First of all, the story has to flow from the first and be a bridge to the third.  It needs give new readers a proper introduction to the world in case they skip the first book.  It needs to be as compelling and interesting as Return to the Castle, but different.

As I'm caught in the mire of editing, I feel an enormous pressure.  Simply put, I want this story to not suck, and I appreciate the fans who kindly wait with words of encouragement.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Q and A: Cursing

Where does the curse blood'ura come from?

Writing the curses of Centernia was as enjoyable as creating the creatures and places.

Blood'ura is an abbreviation for Blood of Aurora, very similar insult to the Shakespearian zounds, meaning Christ's Wounds.

There is a joy in creating insults that are really close to the english in cadence and consonant sounds. I have growing library file where I collect these bad-sounding yet technically completely innocuous words. My favorites? Maggot suckin', bloody shunt, rock sucker, goat screw, tick and jackhole.

In the next book, will we learn more about the fallout between Jessica's parents?
Yes. There is definitely a lot more story to unearth from the past. The scars run deep.

Why did you decide to write Return to the Castle? Where do you get your ideas?

I get asked this question a lot. I wrote Return to the Castle because I had to. The characters have a comfortable residence in my mind, and they tell me their stories, and it seems wasteful not to write it all down.

Ideas flow freely, but good ideas need to be cultivated. Sometimes I look at Centernia like an overgrown lush garden. Some ideas are beautiful, and need to be given space to grow, perhaps a trellis to climb upon. Some ideas are interesting, just placed in the wrong spot, overshadowing other more delicate ideas. Some concepts are just terrible, and it's difficult to find the strength to uproot them and cast them aside.

As far as where specific ideas come from, it's all the real world re-written, re-invented, mashed together. My mind constantly files away concepts to be used in Centernia. For example, the castlefolk are heavily influenced by the values of my Italian immigrant heritage. The castlefolk are a culture within a culture, governed by their own traditions. They have a great deal of pride in who they are, fight amongst themselves, but will band together against adversity.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Q & A: How do you pronounce.....?

How do you pronounce the names and places of Centernia?  Here is a very straightforward guide to all names and places unusual!

Nicoveren Aristo Verdian: "Neek-o-varen Ah-risto Vare-de-an"
Teren Wynter:   "Tare-en Winter"
Artemisa Wynter: "Art-a-mee-sa Winter"
Kaity Cosette: "Kate-e Co-zette"
Corwin Evansi: "Core-win Ev-an-see"
Jared Evansi: "Ja-red Ev-an-see"
Alba: "All-ba"
Savina: "Sah-vee-nah"
Wadjette:  "Wa-jet"
Jiberty: "Jib-er-ty"
Abrianna: "Ah-bree-ana"

Aden: "Aye-den"
Otto Onyxgrove: "Ot-oh On-ex-grove"
Elina: "Ell-eena"

Amberynn:  "Amber-rin"
Malachi: "Male-uhk-eye"
Cobalt: "Co-ballt"

Centernia:  "Sent-urn-e-uh"
Aurumice:  "Or-uh-mice" or "Aura-mice"
Trabalis: "Trah-ball-is"
Briken: "Bry-ken"

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Back in the Saddle

I generally don't share personal issues with readers, but my online hiatus has been so long it's been noticeable.  The good news is, as of this posting, I am back to my usual online schedule of one blog post a week, and more Centernia art.

As some of you know from meeting me at conventions, I'm expecting a baby in September.
:-)  In order to avoid a studio/nursery combo room, we bought a house.  We packed and moved in late June.

The month of July, I direct Kids on Campus, the largest and oldest art tech summer camp program hosted at RIT.  This is a hugely time intensive camp that took almost all of my energy. Normally, I de-stress by writing and drawing, but the universe has a terrible sense of humor.  Since April I've been plagued by an unusual pregnancy symptom.  The nerves in my spine were compressed and gave me crippling pain when sitting.  Yes, sitting.  I could lie down, walk a mile, pull weeds on my hands and knees.....but I couldn't sit at a computer for more than fifteen minutes. Standing also was quickly tiresome.  It was a frustrating situation to say the least.  I've never been in a situation where writing and drawing were painful for months.

Fastforward, it's now August.  Camp has ended for another year and prep work for 2016 won't really start up for a few months.  My baby has shifted position and is no longer hanging out on my spine. We've moved, most of our boxes are unpacked, and I have a nice studio setup.

In the past two months, I started four pieces and did not have the ability to finish any of them, Two Centernia character portraits, one fantasy piece and a pile of kittens. Today I've begun work again on the emerald time dragon and by the end of the week I hope to have finished the portrait of the mysterious Gianna Casimirio. Thank you for your patience, it's been an interesting year to say the least.

WIP- Jessica

WIP- The Emerald Time Dragon
WIP- Kitten Pile

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reader Q & A: I bought Return to the Castle, but the book for sale now looks different than my copy, why?

A revised edition of Return to the Castle was released in February 2015. This edition catches many of the editing errors that snuck through in the first release.


The most notable difference is the chapter numbers. Though the books have the same content and the same scenes, they were split differently so that the new edition has one less chapter.

You can figure out which version of the book you have by looking at the back cover. A little bird has been added on the newer edition for easy identification. :-)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Peak into the Office Studio

Hi everyone, I know we've been quiet over at the past week.  There is a very good reason why.

Many artists and authors have a studio or office in-house. It's a private sanctuary where they can work on ideas. The office where I wrote the majority of Return to the Castle is a small spare bedroom in my townhouse.  I love being surrounded by a color-controlled environment where everything has a visual harmony. I usually work on a triple-monitor setup, (Cintiq, laptop, external monitor). I keep a select number of books on the shelf, primarily art books and references.

I have a desk for traditional drawing and painting supplies. Unfortunately, I don't work in real media much anymore with the exception of pencil.

Any art in the room has special meaning to me. This is a vintage poster from my hometown of Syracuse, and these metal figurines were a highschool graduation gift from Mrs.Weiss, the teacher mentioned in my dedication.


This last photo is bittersweet. For the past few weeks, my pristine workspace has been in a state of shambles with no hope for recovery.  We're moving to a new, larger home with a gorgeous green backyard and plenty of space for a new studio.  My current space, and entire house, is a disaster area. We move in the end of June, expect Centernia updates to resume in July. :-)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Playlist Feature: Scorpians

I write Centernia while listening to music.  This week we have a song from the early 90s that influenced Return to the Castle.  I'm so in love the live version of this because the cello is so strong.

Scorpians: Send me An Angel
Album: Crazy World

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reader Q & A: Rapidfire Responses 2

Jessi on horseback,1997
1. Do you consider Centernia to be anthro lit? Are you a furry?

In the late 1990s, in the days before Deviant Art, there were not a lot of great digital art communities other than Elfwood. While stumbling through the internet I found a community called Yerf,(subtitled the Squeaky Clean Furry Archive). I became addicted to the website and learned an enormous amount about digital art through the other artists. Yerf was all anthro or furry art, and that influenced my early art and writing.

When I wrote the first draft of Centernia, the premise involved shape-shifting. When a human crossed the Gate they became feline. Much of the old art of Centernia depicts Jessi in cat-form. At some point in high school I altered this plot element and introduced the concept of magic users instead, finding it more versatile and interesting.

I like anthro art and find anthro characters fun to draw. I've never been into the community enough to ever consider being a fursuiter or call myself a furry.

Jessi on the back of a bicorn, 2014

2. Do you have this whole thing planned out, or do you just make it up as you go along?

I have it very, very planned out. I know the entire timeline of each character's life and the lives of their parents, with a few vague areas for the delight of discovery. Return to the Castle and The Crimson Mage were precisely outlined at the same time. I only had enough time to finish Return to the Castle for NYCC, so everything was designed to flow into the Crimson Mage. Now as I flesh out the scenes for Book Two, I'm also working on Book Three.

3. Are Teren and Lee going to hook up in the next book? Did they already hook up?

In Return to the Castle, Lee is fifteen and Teren is almost twenty. I feel pretty strongly about keeping my characters restricted to the laws of their respective lands. Teren may sleep around a lot, but he does have enough sense of earth laws to know which very fine lines not to cross.

4. When are you going to have the illustrated guide to Centernia's flora and fauna?

I am presently working on an encyclopedia as I write The Crimson Mage. Everytime a new creature, place or social custom is created, a new entry is jotted down into a Word doc. In 2016, I hope to embark on turning these entries into an art book/encyclopedia with the help of a few artist friends. I would like the produce the volume as an inexpensive paperback. Ultimately, it would be great to crowdfund that paperback into a shiny, glossy hardcover and invite in more artists and pay them all a fair wage. The success of the Crimson Mage will influence if I can make this project a reality. The funds from the second novel will seed the creation of this art book.

Have Centernia questions? Contact us to have your question answered in the next Reader Q & A.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Creature Feature: The Burch

     They traveled across a small wooden bridge over a pristine pond. In the water below, small brown hippopotamus turtles waded through the mud. Water sloshed up onto their patterned shells.
     “What are those?” Jessica asked.
     “The burch,” Misa explained. “They’re a little tough but they taste good in a sauce.” 
      Jessica couldn’t imagine killing one of the dog-sized beasts. They seemed so happy in their watery little home.  --Return to the Castle

Mud Loving Creatures

The water-dwelling burch are very common throughout the continent of Madierna.  Most often they are found in muddy, swampy areas where they eat insects, small fish, and freshwater plankton.

Burch species range from approximately eight inches to as much as three feet.  They have leathery skin and unique shell patterns.  These marsh-loving creatures have been described as being very similar to the tortoise, though they can move much quicker on land.  Burch are monotremes and lay eggs buried deep into the mud. A typical clutch of burch eggs is about three to five, the young are quite rounded and endearing.

There are many species of burch, usually distinguishable by the patterning on their shells.  Most live in freshwater environments.  There is only two species of sea burch, commonly found on the Galbrian coast.  Burch can be easily farmed though they reproduce a in the wild.  Burch have the ability to hold their breath for several hours at a time, making it possible for them to avoid land-dwelling predators. When threatened, a burch will dive to far depths.  They  are strong swimmers.  If a burch is threatened on land, it will retreat into its shell.

Common Uses of the Burch

As Misa pointed out, burch are very tasty in stew.  Their meat can be tough but when slow cooked can have a very pleasant rich taste.  In some places, burch is considered to be a peasant fare as burch are easy to find in the wild and reproduce well in captivity. Many farms in Trabalis and the surrounding lands will have a pond on the property specifically for the purpose of raising burch. Certain organs of the burch are found to be particularly tasty, including the kidneys, and neck.

The shell of the burch is rich with minerals.  When ground, it cam be taken as a vitamin supplement. People have also used burch shells in decorative and jewelry elements.  A burch's diet influences the color, patterning and chemical composition of a its shell.  Burch fed special diets can have shells with a shiny, reflective-like quality, particularly desirable in low-cost jewelry.

The Holy Circus

While most inhabitants of Centernia value the burch for their tastiness, there are some who recognize the intelligence of these water-dwelling creatures.  The Holy Circus of the Auroriates will train burch and use them in their shows.  When hand-reared, burch are very docile and respond well to commands.  They can be used for simple tumbling tricks and are displayed in combination with clownish and humorous portions of an Auroriate show.

People commonly hold the belief that the Auroriates use some sort of holy influence in order to make the burch respond so well.  Burch are perceived by most people to be unintelligent. In reality, it is just good training and experienced burch handlers that make for the success of circus burch.  Burch are actually very intelligent animals with complex social patterns, however they are often very stubborn and unlikely to trust most people.

The Burch in Mythology

The most devote members of the Holy Circus restrain from consuming burch flesh entirely. There is a legend that the goddess Aurora was saved by the burch.  Fallen into a grief-stricken state from the loss of her son Caprarius, the goddess lived forty days in a cave far on the edge of the world.  She plunged into a pool of murky water to end her life, but was saved and gently lifted up by the shells of the burch.  They proceeded to entertain and comfort her until she had the strength to leave the cave.

The religion of Kiuski and Kilati view the burch differently.  In the myths, the burch are depicted as dirty, feral beasts.  They deserve no place of honor and are considered the dinner of the peasants.  As the religion of the moon predates the Auroriates, this view of the burch is commonly accepted.

With the rise of the Auroriate religions, society seems to be swinging in a more favorable view of the burch.  Perhaps someday they will rise from being a tasty entree to a beloved creature.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Centernia has just entered an agreement with ComicPOPShop for distribution in conventions across the southern US.  What does that mean?

Centernia will be brought to more cons to reach more fans, who will have access to exclusive and awesome Centernia merch. :-D

Centernia will be featured at the ComicPOPShop booth at Comicpalooza in Houston, TX on May 22 - 25, 2015.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Q & A: How did you make Nico different from a standard prince-charming character? (and thank you!)

Nico is a character that has gone through a great deal of growth since 1997.  In the beginning, he was a stereotypical prince, perfect in every way right down to his blonde hair.  But perfect is boring.

The Evolution of Nicoveren Aristo Verdian

As a teen, I was lucky to come across How to Write Sci-Fi and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. This volume was my foundation for learning how to write.  The book suggested that the weakest characters in a story are actually the nobility.  They don't have the flexibility to go on adventures and they are always under public scrutiny.

Centernia has always had Castle Aurumice.  I needed to find a way to keep the castle, but tone down the nobility.  I couldn't quite figure out how until I was a college student living at RIT.  I lived five years in the dorms and loved every minute.  I was intrigued by the social dynamics, the arguments and the wonderfully crazy situations that occur when you lived in close quarters with a wildly diverse set of people. Through the years, I reinvented what I saw and twisted it into something new.

What if you had a castle without a clear nobility?  What if leadership could be passed from one person to another?  What if your castle was just a self-sufficient structure without servants, but people with a clear sense of purpose and career?  What unique rituals and unwritten rules guide the inhabitants of this castle?

In Book Two, readers will see the Ceremony of Brightpath.  Everyone born in the castle grows up both attending standard lessons and going through a series of apprenticeships.  At roughly the age of sixteen they're given a choice.  They may take a pile of money and seek fortune elsewhere, or follow a profession of choice within Aurumice.  Even if one takes the money, squanders their fortune, and comes crawling back, the castle still accepts them with open arms, (they just might not have the job they want).

I loved this idea!  A community in which everyone is taken care of.  No worries of food, childcare, eldercare, medical treatment or education.  Everyone has a roof over their heads, everyone shares, it's sort of like a hippy commune but with bicorns and ballrooms.   Life is never perfect, people argue, but when threatened from the outside they fight for their own.

Nico's Place in the Castle

Back to the evolution Nico.   I struggled for a while to figure out how Nico would act in this modified castle environment.  His father was a fighter with bravado and showmanship.  Nico wasn't like that at all, not really caring much for conflict. His mother was a character who still exhibited some monarchial traits, but Nico wouldn't care for formality or tradition.  The more I understood who he wasn't, the more I could understand who he was.  He finds himself as a leader in this scenario, but he doesn't want to lead, and easily passes control to Teren.

Nico is withdrawn but social.  He has an incredibly strong sense of loyalty to the people he cares most about— Teren, Misa, Kaity, Savina and then later, Jessica.  He's a follower, but level-headed enough to tell his friends when they're acting like fools.  In many scenes, he is the moral compass that steers the otherwise indifferent and overzealous personalities that surround him.  When Nico is caught in true crisis you see the influence of his parents, guiding him to lead and fight.

Nico's Mage Strength

For a while, Nico didn't really have any magical abilities.  Teren and Misa had their unique strengths but Nico floated along without anything special.  I began to ponder what if he did have a power, but it was unused.  I started to wonder who would have a magical ability that they willfully ignored? Maybe it was horrible and uncontrollable.  Nico's pure energy powers evolved, as did his foil in alcohol, and his overwhelming sense of guilt.

Once I had more sense of the character, I had to decide what he looked like.  In the beginning, he was essentially Jared, very blonde and attractive, but with a little more cat.  With the need to run away from this princely stereotype I took a step in the opposite direction, giving him dark skin, dark hair, and piercing blue eyes, (the stripes came later).  To this day, I still struggle with drawing a single concrete design for Nico. He has to be just right, and I don't feel like any drawing thus far does him any justice.

Working on the webcomic in 2010, I started creating designs for both Nico and the common spaces he occupied. I knew his private rooms would be filled with books, but I didn't know what else. Teren's chambers were immaculately clean, with evidence of his interests in music and art. Misa's rooms are an amazing unholy hell of earth and Centernia, complete with moldy pie hiding underneath a plethora of unfinished projects.  Nico was somewhere in between the two.

Nico gains Personality

There was a period of time in the late 2000s that I actually hated Nico as a character.  He bored and annoyed me.  I have old notes with my angry writing, 'why does she love him?!!!!'  I didn't want Jessi to fall for Nico because he is the lord of a castle, or because he is heroic.  Jessi needed to love him in a completely normal high school way.

The men I fell in love were always some variation of nerd.  They were insightful people who made me learn something new about the world but also shared my interests.  They were people who appreciated a good story and always wanted to know more about the way the things worked. The more I thought about it, the more I realized Nico had to have these qualities.

For a long time I feared creating a character I would care about. I didn't want people accusing me of basing the primary love interest of Centernia on my husband, (and for the record, Nico is hardly a perfect reflection of my spouse...Jamil writes software for a living and doesn't care much for horseback riding, I'm the one who owns a soldering iron, has a horse barn addiction and loves Home Depot).

I gave Nico the side of me that likes tinkering with things.  As a teen, I took apart toy cars and games just to see how they worked.  I liked to play with wiring and look at schematics.  When Nico started playing with electricity, it revealed an entirely new dimension to the character that I immediately knew was right.  He became independent of the rest of the castlefolk, following in the footsteps of Teren's father.

Nico lives in an old castle with decrepit wiring and rodents constantly making a muck of things. He's a person who is a bit withdrawn.  It seemed like an ideal combination for a homebody who just likes to fix things.  An ideal afternoon for Nico would consist of being wrapped up in some obnoxious technical problem, hands dirty and mind engaged.  He's also the type of person who wants to improve on existing structures.   Jessi arrives and Nico realizes she's a girl from a place where, unlike Centernia, electricity is not only legal, but in abundance.

When Jessi first meets Nico, she is oblivious to the magic and power of earth technology.  As a normal teenager, she takes for granted the everyday things that surround her until Nico brings it to her attention.  He teaches her what he knows and she runs with that knowledge.  This side of Nico was more important to me than any sexual attraction or princely benefits.  Jessica loves him because he is her friend, and like all true friends, they make each other better people.  Together they work on fixing and altering the world around them in a very tangible way.

I believe readers are drawn to Nico for his  human qualities.  If you strip away the cat-like physical features, the castle, and the tormentingly dangerous powers, what are you left with?  You have an awkward, kind, nerdy guy who has dysfunctional parents, but great friends to save him from the drama.  Nico is a reflection of the type of boy many readers already know, (or perhaps already love).  When you add back in the fantasy elements to this essential core, he takes on an exciting level of intrigue, strength and sexuality.  He's the type of person you either want to be or be friends with.

It's taken me over a decade to take Nico's character from cardboard prince to flesh and blood.  Now that he exists, I can't imagine writing him any other way.  I am ecstatic that people notice and resonate with his character.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reader Q & A: Rapidfire responses

Which Centernia characters do you ship?

I don't think the creator is allowed to ship, are they? Otherwise it becomes canon, and what fun is a ship if it becomes insta-canon? I will say I love hearing fan ship-theories.  The castlefolk are not exactly conservative in choosing bedfellows and some of your romance theories may be very true.

Is Malachi a sinari?

No, Malachi is not sinari. The castlefolk follow him easily because he was one of their leaders years ago.  He is charismatic to some and obnoxious to others.  It seems like there is never a grey area with Malachi, you love him or hate him.

How do you find the time to write and keep a full time job?

I work a thirty hour workweek formally and spend the rest of my time freelance illustrating and working on Centernia.   There are many days that the dishes may sit in the sink because the castlefolk are more important.  I don't play video games and I rarely watch tv.  Physical activity is of high value to me and I will run/walk/horseback ride often.  If it's close to a con and I'm creating new prints, my friends don't see me.  Everything is a trade off and every minute of the day can be used or squandered.

Who was the fourth mage involved in the Gate sealing?

This tidbit will be further illuminated in the future.

When is Book Two coming out?

We are still on track for a 2015 release!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Centernia Themes

Digging through the old Centernia archives, we uncovered a few gems created almost ten years ago. As I tend to write to music, it seemed appropriate Centernia have its own theme.  My husband Jamil skillfully composed these for me.

Two versions exist.  One has a softer more natural sound and the other relies more heavily on synthesizers.  Feel free to post in the comments which you prefer.

Centernia Theme: Spirit of the Castle


Centernia Theme: Forever a Guardian


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Creature Feature: Bicorns

The bicorn is one of the most iconic creatures in the land of Centernia.  In the southern lands and coasts of Galbrian they are known as the vishalli. In the east, they are called the demon chasers. They are an intelligent and dangerous creature, but when well-trained, a highly prized companion.

The species originated in the harsh arctic northern lands on the continent of Madierna. Bicorns have many very unique features, making them desirable mounts.  They are muscular and possess a resilient endurance, high intelligence and a wild fearlessness.  A single bicorn can easily cost four times as much as a well-bred horse.

Bicorns are largely omnivorous creatures.  It is believed in times of vegetative scarcity they rooted out grubs and other small dirt-dwelling insects.  Over time, this insect-eating trait grew to encompass larger creatures such as mice and squirrels.  Full-grown adult bicorns have been known to eat prey as large as a rabbit or fish, though mice and grubs are much more typical meal.

The northern lands are full of large predators.  Unlike their herd-mentality horse cousins, bicorns are more independent and just as likely to fight as they are to run.  Both males and females have very sharp horns, hooves and teeth.  Their hide is unusually thick, giving them protection against shallow wounds. When given no other options, an adult bicorn can be a strong match against a wolf or wildcat. In the wild, bicorns tend to travel in mated pairs or trios, increasing their defense against predators.  They are very good at fighting in tandem.

Bicorns have remarkable night-vision, making them surefooted on long trips through darkened forests.  They have powerful muscles, strong endurance, and a superior cunning.  They are not always the most lovable or loyal creatures.  When they do make a bond, they tend to be devoted to a single person.  Bicorns are long-lived with an average lifespan of seventy years, sometimes more in the wild.  They have good memories and little patience for those who annoy them.

There are many breeds of bicorn, the most well-known are the large warhorses drengalli, (colloquially called thunder rams).  These creatures are bulky and surefooted with an obedient temperament. Nico's blue stallion Moontower is a cross between a thunder ram and a common bicorn.

Bicorns are known for their beautiful colors, but this is not a natural occurrence.  Wild bicorns are typically grey.  Hundreds of years ago, a mage known as Graves Wywren altered the species.  Graves was a mage skilled with manipulating the living body on a microscopic level.  Able to see the blueprints of growth, (now known as DNA), Graves was able to change elements on a whim.  Over time, his changes would replicate.  Many of his experiments were disastrous, causing cancers and other deformities. Guilt-ridden for experiments on friends, Graves lived out most of his years on a secluded little farm in the northern lands.

During that time, Graves continued to us his skills to experiment on animals.   He discovered a few of his changes resulted in effects that were not harmful, among those the ability to change skin pigment.

It started with a small green patch on the shoulder of an old, blind stallion named Sunshine. The bold green patch of skin slowly spread across his shoulder as the skin cells replicated.  In a few seasons time, Sunshine was as green as summer grass.

When a traveling merchant spotted the bicorn, he offered Graves a large sum of money for the otherwise infirmed creature.  Graves realized the money could be used as reparation to families he had wronged.

Within two years, Graves' tiny farm was a rainbow collection of dazzling creatures.  Over time, he began experimenting with more than color.  More than one hundred variations of bicorn exist today, some with wings, fur, feathers, venom and other unique traits.  Graves' modifications often proved dominant, creating the remarkable array of bicorns now known through the lands of Centernia.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Q & A: Misa's hair

Q: What color is Misa's hair?

A: In Return to the Castle, Misa's hair is referred to as black, dark and reddish-brown.  A few readers have pointed out this discrepancy.

As an artist, I suffer from the curse and blessing of not thinking of colors in absolutes. A color is what it is at that very moment, whether it be the grey of a river on an overcast autumn day or a chamber basked in the orange glow of the dying sun.

In the sections where Misa's hair is referred to as black, it's a low-light situation. Misa's hair is red-brown when there is more light present.

Have Centernia questions? Contact us!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Centernian Fashion Part 3: Armor

Links to part 1 and 2 of this series:
Centernian Fashion Part 1: Basic Attire
Centernian Fashion Part 2: Jewelry and Footwear

Daywatch and Nightwatch of Trabalis

The uniform of the Watch of Trabalis is a very traditional armor set.  The core of the armor's protection is an undersuit of black dragon hide.  As Misa once mentioned to Jessica, black dragon hide is a misnomer, as it comes from a water beast that is not a dragon nor is it black. Often this hide is a charcoal grey or brown.  The Watch of Trabalis will dye the hide a more vibrant color such as dark blue, deep green or crimson, depending on the district.  

Over the black dragon hide suit, the Watch will wear metal armor plates.  Swirls and patterns are commonly added to the design of armor, giving it a distinct elegance.  As the Watch has not engaged in any major military entanglements in over seventy years, the armor focuses more on form than function. Despite the armor's decorative appearance, make no mistake, you do not want to engage in a fight with a member of this elite guard. Admittance into the Watch is difficult and the soldiers go through many years of intense training from a young age.

Typically the armor has both an ornate helmet and waterproof cloak.  The Daywatch armor is bright, shiny, and the cloak is a bold color.  The Watch is meant to be seen.  They are a visible presence meant to reassure the people and deter criminals.

The Watch is often broken down into the Daywatch and Nightwatch. Their armor is very similar, but the Nightwatch will carry a staff with glowstones attached to one end.  The stone is set a few inches from the end of the staff. Some people prefer to carry the glow high and some prefer to keep it low to the ground near their feet. Often the level of a person's ailurian bloodlines will play a factor in this, as people who are more ailuro are more likely to have better night vision.

Weapons depend on the individual's preferences and assigned detail. Knives are always worn, spears, crossbows and swords are popular.  If a member of the watch has a tail, it is covered in a metal tail plate.

Due to the weight of the metal armor, the Watch must be very fit, well muscled and in perfect control of their physique.

The Guard of Aurumice

The Guard of Aurumice wears very different clothing than the nearby Watch of Trabalis.  The Guard of Aurumice also has a very different mindset.  The Watch are career soldiers, they are employed to protect the entire city and enforce laws and order.  The Guard only protects Castle Aurumice and the surrounding land, making them responsible for the safety of their family and friends.  They also understand they protect the Gate to Earth.

Penrik (age 17) serves the guard on a voluntary patrol, wearing light armor. Wadjette (age 21), leads the guard.
Her armor is much tougher and she is skilled with spiked armor on her tail.
The armor of Aurumice is centered around stealth.  The colors are typically dark, utilizing browns and blacks.

While the Trabalis Watch underarmor is made of black dragon hide, the Aurumician is made of the underbelly scales of the nighflight.  It is incredibly durable and not easily pierced by average weapons, yet has a remarkable degree of flexibility.  Nightflight scale armor is very expensive, which is one reason Trabalis uses the cheaper and less effective black dragon hide for its soldiers. Government members who control the budget for the Trabalis Watch often have their own privately employed guard.

Aurumice puts a serious investment into the members of their Guard as they are an integral part of the survival of the castlefolk.  Luckily, Aurumice has always had a very good relationship with the Holy Circus of the Auroriates.  The Auroriates have provided nightflight armor in exchange for goods from Earth.

Though the nightflight armor is excellent protection against piercing weapons, it is less protective against blunt trauma.  Typically additional pieces of armor with a little bit of padding are worn over the suit.  People will also wear pants and normal articles of clothing.  As patrol often takes place outside in cold months, matching jackets may also be worn over the uniform.

In Aurumician tradition, the uniform of the guard usually has some bit of decorative fur decorated into the design, usually at the collar.  This references the mane of Zaarek Phantaserra, commonly referred to as Lord Firewolf, the first lord of Aurumice.

Weapons are based on individual preference.  Usually members of the Guard prefer a combination of knives, a crossbow, and a staff.  Due to the influence of the Gate, occasionally rifles, pistols and other firearms from Earth make their way into the hands of the Guard, but it is not common.

Tail armor is often used by members of the guard who have tails.  More skilled members will wear spiked armor, the more spikes indicative of their skill level.  It is very easy for one to injure themselves or another with tail spikes so it takes a great deal of discipline to wear the weapon.

Members of the guard will wear helmets, but the helmets are light in order to allow for hearing and vision to not be obscured.  There have been many debates if helmets should be mandatory for the guard.

The Sparring Suit

The Guard of Aurumice handles around-the-clock patrol of Aurumice and participates in daily morning drills.  They are also responsible for training all castlefolk in basic defense and combat. Everyone participates in individual training at least once a week, learning different fighting skills.

The sparring suit and the games of Ribbons and Stones evolved from this training of average 'folk. This suit is lighter and made from black dragon hide.  The hide suit is not usually worn if someone is participating in hand-to-hand combat, but used when working with weapons.

The armor is built with special attachments to add either Ribbons or Stones.  In a game of Ribbons, the goal is to grab your opponent's ribbons while defending your own.  Ribbons is considered the easier game.  In Stones, shiny gemstones of varying sizes are clipped into special insets.  It is much more challenging to dislodge your opponent's stones, and the fighting often takes an aggressive tone using metal weapons.  Stones is always played with the black dragon hide and in some cases the full nightflight armor of the guard is worn as there is a greater chance for injury.

A common ribbon placement is depicted here in blue.  Stones are shown in green.
Unlike the Trabalis Watch, who dyes the black dragon hide, Aurumicians leave its natural color.  In times of emergency when everyone is expected to fight, people will don sparring suits. The dark earth tones make it much easier to hide in the hidden passages of the castle and the forest.

Monday, March 16, 2015

March Centernia Update and Playlist Feature

This weekend we returned from the first con of the year, Genericon.  It was awesome meeting the crowd out at Rensselaer.  Now we have Anime Boston and Tora Con coming up in April.

I just finished the art for an article on armor in Centernia.  You can expect to see that article popping up soon.  Book Two is progressing at a good pace, I'm now muddying through that editing process, ripping out chapters, writing new ones.

People have been asking questions about the second book. We're not letting Nico die in the Mines of Briken... I can also say that we will be seeing a bit more of Polaris Aacademy and the Holy Circus.  Also, gryphons.

Today I'm pulling a song from my playlist, Lost it All by Black Veil Brides.  This song always reminded me of our favorite theatrical trickster, Malachi.  Were his intentions really bad, or his execution simply ill-planned?  What is it about this man that we didn't know?

Sunday, March 8, 2015


During NYCC, we met Donna Rosenblum, a really awesome cosplaying librarian who also happens to be a book reviewer.  She wrote a review of Centernia, which is posted here:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Yay!  New fanart from of Kaity Cosette sent in from Linsday Cannizzaro.  Lindsay is a professional caricature artist in Orlando, Florida.  :-D

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Two Update and Playlist Feature

Many people have been asking me about the progress on Book Two.  It's definitely moving forward at a comfortable pace.  Below is a photo of my elaborate outlining system, each column represents a chapter (or in some lengthy cases, half a chapter).  Each pink mark denotes that the chapter has been written, so definitely more pink than white at this point.  :-)

As the story grows, my Centernia playlist grows, topping 271 tracks.  Here's another piece from my my music collection. I hear Nico's perspective in the lyrics, especially at the end of Return to the Castle. When I first heard this song, the phrase on the the shattered ones really resonated  as the castlefolk.  Even the phrase 'his love will conquer' (obviously a religious ref), could refer Teren's influence on the castlefolk.

Trading Yesterday: Shattered
Album: More than this

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Top Ten Influential Authors

I was the type of kid who would go to the school library every day, pick out a book, read it in a night, and be back the next day for a new book.  Throughout my formative years, I devoured a healthy diet of sci-fi and fantasy. There are certain authors I go back to, time and time again, these are top ten authors from my youth who influenced my writing.

10. Anne McCaffrey

Long before How to Train your Dragon, the Dragonriders of Pern definitely dominated as the quintessential work on riding dragons.  It's no surprise McCaffrey is regarded as a grand master of science fiction.  The world is certainly at a loss from her passing.

9.  Tamora Pierce

Circle of Magic Trilogy, is a series of young magic users learning to control their powers.  This series was published before Harry Potter was released in the US.  The mages in this book series have a certain elemental focus to their magic manifestations, which was definitely in the back of my mind as I developed the mechanics of magic in Centernia.

8. Stephen King

I remembered standing by the pool in my backyard when my friend Stephanie brought a copy of Carrie to my house.  My mom told her that it was inappropriate for en eleven-year-old and I was absolutely not permitted to borrow the book. Of course, that made me want to read the book even more.  It took several months of pestering before I was allowed to read Carrie, which though an awesome read, I hardly thought was worth the ban. Subsequently, I read through all the dark, gritty Stephen King classics.

7. Tanith Lee

I'll admit, there's only one book of Tanith Lee's that really stands out in my memory, The Silver Metal Lover.  It's a tale of ill-fated romance in a slightly dystopian society and features attractive musicians...and robots.

6. Anne Rice

Vampires, before they sparkled.

5. Bruce Coville

Hailing from my hometown of Syracuse, Bruce Coville is an amazing story teller.  His books range from sci-fi to fantasy.  Though the target audience is children and YA, I can still re-read his books and get pulled into the rich worlds.

4. Marguerite Henry

In third grade I hit the horse-crazy age, even though I had never ridden and had no hope of ever going riding ('too expensive!'  'too dangerous!'), I convinced my parents to order the Misty of Chincoteague series from Scholastic book order.  The story centers around a wholesome family as they raise Misty, a wild pony from Assateague Island, Virginia.  This book series has a similar feel to classics such as Black Beauty and Where the Red Fern Grows.  

3. Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, Roger MacBride Allen, Barbara Hambly, Kathy Tyers...and just about every other author who penned a book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Star Wars was the series that taught me that you can have a ridiculously rich and detailed universe that never stops growing.

2.  Wendy and Richard Pini

When I was about nine years old, I remember standing in my neighbor's driveway on a summer afternoon.  My friend Paul had an older brother who was a teenager and owned a car. On this particular sunny day, his brother opened the trunk of his beat-up sedan, revealing a mountain of comics. He let each of the neighborhood kids pick a comic, for free.  I took two titles, Thundercats, and this interesting looking comic called Elfquest.  Though I thought the Thundercats was really cool, I had no idea how amazing Elquest would be.

Wendy and Richard Pini are the force behind Elfquest. These two self-published comic creators made a series regarded as unmarketable in the mid-70s.  Rejected by the publishing giants, the Pinis founded WaRP graphics and brought their elaborate world of the wolfriders to life.  In the decades later, DC, Marvel and Darkhorse would all come courting at the Pinis' door.  I admire the Pinis as artists, worldbuilders, and self-starters who didn't seem to worry too much about established norms. They had a rich story to tell, and they told it no matter who listened.

1. Mercedes Lackey

My friend Maria handed me The Last Herald Mage in high school and pretty much ordered me to read it.  She said Centernia was really similar to the style of world and I would like it.  Since that time, Mercedes Lackey has been my go-to author whenever I need a book guaranteed to be a good read.  I think I learned a great deal of character depth from Lackey.  She excels at portraying a beautiful realism to her magic users, locking them into a constant struggle. Also, her Valdemar series features magical telepathic white horses, so it's really a double-win.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Centernia Fashion: Part 2, Jewelry & Footwear


Inhabitants of Centernia love to wear jewelry. For some, it is a talisman of good luck. For others, it is an ostentatious bit of show. For those in mourning, a simple choker may be a means to feel connected with the dead.

In the land of Centernia, almost all types of jewelry are worn by both genders. Earrings are very popular, as are ear cuffs, ring bracelets and simple pendants. It is not unusual to see someone with as many as ten piercings along their earlobe. Tongue and nose piercings are not as common in Centernia, but you will see them among members of the Holy Circus and people of the northern regions.


Much of the jewelry common in the area of Trabalis is made from a gold variant, mined in the mountains. It is plentiful and cheap metal with relatively low toxicity. Silver jewelry is also popular.

Gemstones are more rare than gold. Most jewelry worn by common folk feature polished stones, glass, painted wood, and innovative combinations of natural materials.

Misa and Savina would both be drawn to a necklace such as this one for its intricate patterns and bright red glass stones:

Metal Red Crystal Collar Necklace

Jessica may enjoy wearing an ornately patterned bracelet such as this one, as it's small and does not have dangling parts to get caught in her work:

Hollowed Bracelet Bangle

Lily was fond of Centernian arm-chains. Though she does not wear them much anymore, she often wore them in her youth.

Arm Chain Bracelet in Silver Tone JB1027RDCLR

Kaity Cosette would have liked an asymmetrical belt such as this one:

Draped Multi Strand Chain

As previously mentioned, men wear earrings in Centernia. Nico wears long simple strand earrings in addition to small studs.   

If Teren wears earrings, they are more often small studs. for formal occasions, he may wear something of this design.

Double Strand Earrings

Head chains and other crown-like jewelry are not common in everyday affairs, but popular at formal occasions, especially among women.

Goldtone Metal Head Chain with Dangling Stones

Common Symbolism

As with Centernian clothing, flowing lines and organic shapes are very popular. The dawn drop is very common shape form used in jewelry pieces. The dawndrop, or Tears of the Godddess, is an unusual plant form tied to Auroriate religion, and thus pervasive on the continent of Madierna.

Faded Blue Tear Drop

Mourning Braid or "Death Choker"
Perhaps one of the most unique pieces of jewelry worn in Centernia is the mourning braid.  The necklace is made from fibers are from the amorte plant, and are known for being strong and also soft and comfortable. Tradition specifies that an item belonging to the dead is woven into the special braided choker.  Previously, this may have actually been a small bone from the deceased, but that practice has fallen out of vogue.

One wears the choker for a period of mourning. When the strands break of their own accord, the dead have released them and they are free to live without grief and guilt. The mourning braid is an old tradition, but not always practiced.

The Moons

Centernia is a planet orbited by two moons, Kiuskia and Kilati. Often referred to as the big and little sister, the moons have significance in the culture of many Centernian people. The religion of Kiuskia and Kilati predates even that of the Goddess Aurora.  Some followers of the Goddess Aurora may scoff at the moon symbolism as it threatens the strength of their religion.  Others see Kiuskia and Kilati as part of the Auroriate religion.

Galactic Universe Cabochon Pendant

Triple Moon Phases Necklace

Creatures Depicted in Jewelry

Tiger Bracelet

Animals that are known for their strength are used as symbols of strength and power, these include:

  • Bicorns 
  • Tigers 
  • Gryphons 
  • Nightflights 
  • Featherwings, (dragons with feathery wings and small tufts of fur) 
  • Wolves 
  • Snakes 
  • Quelyn, (a very small neon green critters, resilient aquatic bird able to breath underwater) 

Goldtone Snake Adjustable Finger Ring

Other common animal symbols

Jamule Toads: Jessica sees toads with feathery heads on the ride to the fair. These little critters are known as Jamule toads.  They begin their life cycle as fish, spend most of their life as toads, then grow wings in order to travel to mate. A Jamule toad is a symbol of good luck and transformative growth.

Boulderbeast: Teren tells the children the legend of the boulderbeast who lives in the sky. The creature is a lumpy, grumpy, hog-like winged monster with round eyes and a foul personality. The creature is often cruel to adults and kind to children who see through his rough exterior. Jewelry made for children may depict the boulderbeast as a good-luck charm and a ward against fear of the natural elements.

Night flights (bat-winged dragons) are very popular symbols surrounded in controversy. Over a hundred years ago, the mages of Castle Nova appropriated the dragon symbol from the Auroriates. The Auroriate religion, colloquially referred to as the Holy Circus, was not pleased. The relationship between the Holy Circus and the Mages has always been very tenuous, and the followers of the goddess found this act disrespectful.

The mages are powerful wielders of magic, but are generally a secular group.  The Holy Circus have a lesser magic magic, but bring the people faith.  Both groups preside over civic matters with the blessing of the local governments.

As it is tied to religion, the Circus will often illicit strong emotional responses from the common people. As a result, people are in general more trusting of Auroriates than mages. When the mages took the nightflight as a symbol, many people were outraged, seeing it as a bastardization of something sacred.

Leather Bracelet

The Holy Circus

When talking about jewelry, one cannot overlook the beautiful performers of the Goddess Aurora. These missionary entertainers will often wear masks in order to 'equalize' them in the eyes of the goddess. The circusfolk wear different types of masks for different events (these masks are similiar to what may be seen on Earth at the Carnival of Venice). Despite the fact the masks are meant to equalize the circusfolk, the masks are quite gorgeous and elaborate, holding meaning to each person.

Morning prayers may be attended with simple black and white masks with little pattern. When the three circus youths harassed Penrik, they were wearing basic masks. Kestrel wore a mask patterned with roses.

In public spaces, members of the Holy Circus wear half and full face masks. Higher members of the circus may wear very light transparent masks, especially when interacting with dignitaries and officials. As a sign of respect, Aunt Amberynn may have worn something like this in her daily interaction with the castlefolk.


Most footwear is made from various leathers and fabrics. Plastic is not a material readily available on the continent of Madierna. There are a few exceptions to this, as the mages have been known to bring interesting items through the gates. Though shoes may have low heels, it is unlikely you will ever see a female character in stiletto heels.

Functionality is important as transportation is limited to walking. Characters who ride a lot may have boots with low heels, as the heel prevents the foot from slipping into the striruip.

Savina and Nico would both prefer boots of this style, as they are often out riding:

Patterning and fine craftsmanship are appreciated among the people of Trabalis, as footwear was often custom made. People still have a variety of tastes. For example, Jared may enjoy wearing something ostentatious as with this design:

Engineer Boot, Black Distressed/10-11 M US

Teren may prefer something more refined, such as this style (with a delicate buckle instead of a zipper):
Black Leather Boot

A person's racial background might influence the type of clothing they prefer. People such as Wadjette, Jiberty, Savina and Alba are more cat-like. Their toes may be a little bit bigger and their feet more paw-like. As a result, they may favor more open designs. However, functionality is important. Jiberty working in the glass shop would wear heaving protective leather boots. 

Dress Sandal,Saddle Leather

Jessica appreciates the soft footwear of Centernia, and will wear boots and sandals to school on earth. She becomes particularly fond of fur-lined boots, such as these:

Denali Boot

Read Part 3: Armor

Upcoming Articles: 
Part 4 The Holy Circus
Part 5 High Formal Attire
Part 6 Symbols and Signets

Previous Articles:
Part 1: Basic Fashion