An Abstract Farmland Painting

Gosh, I’m so proud of this one.

I made it quickly, in just two days, on a small square canvas, intending to sell it at a local summer festival. But as of drafting this post, we haven’t had the festival yet, so I don’t know whether it’s going to sell.

It’s basically just the scene from my dining room window, done in a blocky, hurried style. I figure it’s the kind of thing that you would hang in your farm-house-themed kitchen, mostly choosing it for the colors and theme. Its lack of detail means that it wouldn’t overwhelm a decorating scheme. I hope.

Here it is in my studio.

As far as I’m concerned, the scene above is pretty close to paradise … natural light, painting supplies, plants, books, and a cup of coffee.

I’m Painting a Fence

Like, painting a picture of a fence.

Get it?

Here’s the fence that was the inspiration for the painting. See how its flaws show up so picturesquely against the light-colored wheat field in the background? I thought I could do a painting of this fence and I could probably manage to sell it, since it’s the type of decorative farm-themed art that you see for sale in stores. My son, who has been selling his paintings of Galaxy Rabbit at town festivals, has inspired me to become more enterprising.

This is, by the way, actually a terrific photo showing how beautiful our farm country can be. You’ve got the irrigation wheel line in the wheat field behind the fence, the windbreak trees, the mountains in the distance, and look! There’s even a pickup on the road!

I started by covering a long, skinny canvas in yellow-green paint (which is the color the wheat field was when I first got the idea, although by the time I took the photo above, it had ripened some more).

Then I started doing the shapes of the boards. I ran out of brown-grey paint and had to mix another batch, which resulted in the boards on the right being a darker color, but that’s OK because the contrast with the dark boards and bright background was actually what I was going for. I added some smears of the darker color on the lighter boards to suggest shadows.

Next I mixed some dark grey and used a stiff, dry brush to simulate wood grain.

Finally, I added the crosspiece, put wood grain on it, and used light grey paint diluted with water to make the whole thing look a bit sun-bleached. The painting looks good in my dining room — especially with the model just a few feet away out the window — but I sure hope it sells!

Character Art

Earlier this summer, I held a book signing event. I wanted to have something to offer attendees besides just my books and a smile, so I made some character art. It was not as popular as anticipated, but here it is for you to enjoy. You can buy hard copies of any of these sketches from me directly, or I will mail you one for free if you review one of my books on Goodreads or Amazon.

You can also see this art, along with some landscape art, on my recently added Art page.

Nimri, antihero of The Long Guest
This is Klee, the main character of my third book, The Great Snake
Klee’s father, Endu, who was mauled by a bear in The Strange Land
This is Klee’s brother, Ikash. The picture is called “Don’t Eat My Family.” This exact scene never occurs in the books, but this is his basic attitude throughout The Great Snake.
A younger Ikash and his mother, Sari, having a cup of herbal tea
Jabed, older brother to Ikash and Klee, with his wife Magya. I didn’t add their passel of kids, as that would have taken many more hours of sketching.

Metroplex Monsters: A Book Review

This one was pure fun.

What, I ask you, could be more of a romp than a book about cryptids, urban legends and paranormal experiences, set in a metro area in which you once lived and even taking place in parks you have walked in?

Almost nothing, expect maybe gifting same on Father’s Day to your husband, who lived in said metro area longer than you did and who knows it even better.

Or, enjoying the fact that the book is illustrated in a retro, pulp-fiction style by the author, who is also a graphic artist.

All of these minor delights are now mine.

The D/FW metro area is not the first place one would think of when hearing the word “Bigfoot,” or the word “spooky.” Even as a city, it is not very attractive. The area is sprawling, and tends to be unwalkable, with wide streets, vast parking lots, hot temperatures, and glaring daylight. It gets lot of Wild West points for its cowtown/railroad/cotton growing local history (all documented in the book), but it gets almost no gothic points.

However, despite being a vast metro area, D/FW is seamed through with green spaces around the Trinity River and its tributaries. As the book points out, the brushy edge of this greenspace is so dense that it could really be called a “green wall.” As is alleged to have happened, surprisingly recently, you could drive by this “green wall” and be unaware that Bigfoot was quietly standing 40 feet from the highway.

The area also has a quite a few large lakes, such as Joe Pool Lake (I’ve been there!) and White Rock Lake (I’ve been there too!). These are man-made, created by damming various tributaries of the Trinity River. They are popular recreational areas, but also big enough and old enough to have spooky urban legends associated with them and to allow people to have hard-to-believe encounters.

Finally, because of the river system and the associated lakes, the D/FW area has a lot of large birds, such as egrets and blue herons. I can confirm that it is very common to see these feathered creatures while simply driving from place to place in the metro area. One really fascinating contention in this book is that some of these “herons” are actually, on a closer look, featherless and are in fact a kind of small pterosaur. A few people have gotten a good enough look to realize that the “heron” looked more like a lizard, but they have understandably kept quiet.

About the Author

Jason McLean, the author of Metroplex Monsters, is the founder of the SIRU papers podcast on YouTube. I found out about him, and his book, when the two of us were on yet another podcast discussing the weirder elements of the Old Testament. So, this book, while I have described it as a romp, is actually in deadly earnest. McLean traces the origins of various Dallas urban legends somewhat in the style of Snopes, though more along the lines of let’s-find-out-the-actual-history rather than whatever-it-is-we-will-debunk-it. Though you can’t tell from Metroplex Monsters alone, he has a worldview that allows for quite a few paranormal phenomena to make sense within a biblical, and entirely rational, framework. If you are interested in that sort of thing, I encourage you to check out SIRU papers (and of course, The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser, Giants: Sons of the gods by Douglas Van Dorn, and The Scattering Trilogy by a distinguished novelist. But SIRU papers is even more hair-raising). If you are not interested in how a Christian could possibly countenance the paranormal, but just want to laugh and shake your head over how even a seemingly banal metro area like D/FW can have cryptids, feel free to read, and enjoy, Metroplex Monsters at face value.

Galaxy Rabbit

Hi all! Sorry, I do not have an essay, book review, or rant for you today, as I usually do on Fridays. The school year is ending, the plants are growing, and my book, The Great Snake, is launching on Monday (which is also Memorial Day … and no, I didn’t do that on purpose).

Tomorrow, my friend Teal Veyre will be hosting a launch party for The Great Snake at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on her discord server, The Writer’s Block. If you wish to join The Writer’s Block (even just for the duration of the party), follow this link: https://discord.gg/Tq6Q2c8b

The “party” will be voice only, and you must bring your own snacks of course. You will have to endure ten minutes of me reading from The Great Snake, but if you can hang in there through that and the trivia game, there will be prizes.

In the meantime, please enjoy this painting by a talented young artist to whom I have given birth. It is called “Galaxy Rabbit,” and there is a whole series of galaxy rabbits planned. The rabbit is large enough to eat the planets that he is floating near.

My Trilogy Wraps Up on May 30th!

The Great Snake is coming out on May 30!

You can preorder it here.

Or, if you are a dedicated book blogger who wants to read and review it, e-mail me your mailing address through the contact button and I will send you an Advance Review Copy.

Here are the back cover and spine, just for fun:

The Long Guest started out in the sunny Fertile Crescent and carried the tribe across Asia to the Pacific coast.

The Strange Land took them across Beringia (the Land Bridge) and ended with the tribe poised to traverse the rapidly melting corridor between glaciers that led into North America.

The Great Snake takes them into warmer climes again, as they pass through the corridor of ice and eventually explore subtropical regions along the Mississippi River.

Of course, that’s just the geography of the trilogy. It doesn’t tell you anything about what happens among the people.

You can read The Great Snake as a stand-alone if you wish, because it is written for people who may or may not have read the previous two books.

How to Get Dressed

For the ladies

This article is a letter to my self of 25 years ago, with the hope that it might also prove helpful to my little sisters in Christ who might be struggling with some of the same issues that I was then. It’s for young Christian women who want to dress modestly, but know that being told “dress modestly” gives you close to zero guidance as to how to proceed. It builds on this article by venerable pastor and father Douglas Wilson, which gives a man’s perspective. His article lays out some excellent general principles, but I felt there was quite a bit more to be said.

So, guys, you can probably stop reading now. Read on if you wish to find out all the sartorial complexity that women have to deal with. But be warned: the passage below contains the word “bra.”

I will now address my fellow ladies directly.

Ahem

Surprise! You’re a woman. You have a brand-new, woman’s body. If you are in your late teens or early twenties, the body you have now is not the same as the one you had just a few years ago. It comes with new aches and pains. It moves differently. It attracts more attention. It’s harder to dress.

Unfortunately, there is no Standard Modest Outfit out there that all women can just pluck off the rack and don. Some societies in the past have had “traditional garb” or even actual laws about what people of different social classes could wear. Modern America is the opposite. Clothing, especially for women, is viewed as a matter of personal expression. On the plus side, this means we have almost infinite choices. On the down side, this means we have almost infinite choices. So, like it or not, if we want to wear anything at all, we have just been thrown into the wild and crazy world of women’s fashion.

But first, mindset.

You Are Probably Beautiful

You may feel unattractive in your new body. You may even feel grotesque. You may, then, be tempted to reason that it doesn’t matter whether you dress modestly or put any thought into your ensemble. No one is looking; or you can’t “get away with” a classy look; or no matter what you wear, the effect will still be one of the orcs from Lord of the Rings, but with lipstick.

This is probably not true.

The odds are overwhelming, if you are a young woman, that men find you attractive. Even if not every man does, there are probably many, many out there who do, on a daily basis.

It’s not good to motivate yourself to modesty with shame over some aspect (or all aspects) of your appearance. This can backfire in so many ways. So, regardless of how you may feel about yourself, for the purposes of getting dressed, think of yourself as a beautiful woman who wants to be modest and dignified and classy, and who can get away with any look she desires to attempt, no matter how formal, rather than as an ugly woman who has to use her clothing to either conceal or compensate for her ugliness.

You Are Going to Have to Spend Some Money

You may also be hampered in your quest to dress classy by a reluctance to spend more than $20 on any one item at any one time.

The eleventh commandment in some Christian families is, “Thou shalt be frugal.” Perhaps you were raised wearing hand-me-downs, and that worked fine when you were a kid, but now you have this new body that you have to clothe.

You may also have received the impression that spending – not just money, but time, effort, and worry – on your appearance is vain and shallow. You don’t want to be a Barbie doll. You don’t want to be “high maintenance.”

Let me tell you, putting together a modest, classy wardrobe is worth the effort. I’m not saying you have to be dressed like an executive every day and apply makeup with a trowel. Depending upon your current calling in life, your wardrobe might be different. But whatever job or role you are dressing for, you’re allowed to put some thought into it. Lumberjacks are allowed to buy steel-toed boots and suspenders and hard hats or whatever it is that lumberjacks wear, and grown women are allowed to invest in some good bras, slacks, dresses, dress boots. You are going to be donning some kind of clothes every day. They might as well be nice-looking clothes that fit you right now, not stuff left over from your middle school days, or stuff you bought on clearance but it didn’t fit but you continue to wear it because you don’t want to throw it away.

In short, by spending some time, effort, and money on this, you are not being wasteful or shallow or vain. You are being responsible.

Building up a good wardrobe might cost more or less depending upon how difficult it is to shop for your particular build.

Special Problems

If you happen to be very curvy, it’s worth pointing out that this is a special problem. When it comes to getting dressed, being very curvy is a handicap. As you have probably already noticed, most clothes are not designed for you. It’s going to be harder to find clothes that fit, and of those that do fit, clothes that look modest when they go on. You may need to go through a grieving process until you can accept that this is what you look like now, and proceed with the interesting challenge of dressing the body that has been given to you.

Get yourself fitted for a bra. It’s possible that you have been wearing ones that don’t really fit, just because that’s all that was available in stores. Because of your special problem, you are going to have to spend more money and effort than most women, but luckily, there are companies out there that specialize in making bras and clothes for the very curvy woman.

When possible, use dressing rooms. I hate dressing rooms as much as the next gal: they are gross, the lighting is always ugly, and just being in there drains the energy out of you. But it is better to spend a few minutes crying with frustration in the dressing room, than to buy a top that almost fits.

Don’t worry about sizes. Sizes are not consistent from one clothing brand to another. Many many women wear XL or XXL and do not appear fat. Buy whatever fits you.

Ponchos are your friend.

Get Your Colors Done

You could find the perfect garment, one that is modest but attractive, fits you perfectly, etc., and drop a lot of money on it … but if you hate it, you just won’t wear it.

A big part of whether you hate the garment, and whether it actually looks good on you, is color. No matter what your favorite color is, there is probably a version of it that flatters you and a version that doesn’t. Getting your colors done is a cheat code to help you find the shades that will look best on you.

The basic idea behind getting your colors done is that someone helps you determine whether you are a “Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter” based upon your natural coloring. These aren’t personality types or anything like that … they purely describe different types of skin tone, and to a lesser degree eye and hair color. There are also YouTube videos that can help walk you through this process at home.

On the related issue of figuring out what looks good on you, I recommend finding an older fashion book from the library (not a magazine, which will just try to sell you the latest looks). I stumbled upon one in the local library which had a bunch of ordinary-looking women for models, with pictures, and it was incredibly helpful. It was a revelation, for instance, to discover that if you have a lot of color contrast between your skin and hair, you will look good in patterns with a lot of contrast such as black and white, whereas if you don’t have a lot of contrast, you will look good in softer tones. Seeing this illustrated with a variety of models was invaluable.

Pick A Few Looks You Like

Why “pick a few looks”? Why not just individual pieces? Having a look in mind will help you determine what pieces you need, how they best go together, and which ones you can and can’t combine when you get dressed in the morning. (Also, of course, every look comes with its attendant hairstyles, makeup, and accessories, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

Why looks “you like”? Do this mean that it is all down to individual taste, and you are a modern liberated woman who can wear whatever you want? No, I am not saying that. Coming from a Christian world view, we know that no one can do whatever they want, with no limits, in any area. You have to consider modesty, being appropriate to the occasion, and what kind of image you are projecting when you go outside.

But this does not mean that individual taste is entirely irrelevant. As discussed, we live in a society where clothing is not prescribed. There are a great variety of ways to get dressed, and the choices among these are thrown back onto the individual. This is especially true for women, for whom in most situations there is no “neutral” outfit. (I owe this point to Deborah Tannen.) In this kind of social environment, you have no choice but to make choices. And that means that one factor you need to consider – you must consider – is your own taste. If you like the look you have put together, you will wear it. If you don’t, you will just keep reaching for the old t-shirt you loved when you were 15.

What look(s) you select will depend upon what region of the country you live in; whether you live urban or rural; and what kinds of social circles you move in. Perhaps you live in a city environment where you have to dress rather formally just to be taken seriously. Perhaps you are in a Christian community where the consensus is that women should always wear skirts and dresses. Perhaps you’re a farm girl who looks perfectly fine in jeans, flannel or fleece tops, work boots, and a baseball cap or maybe even a cowboy hat.

You also have to consider whether your typical day involves frequently climbing in and out of a vehicle, and if so, what vehicle. I love skirts and dresses, but if I am going to be running errands, I opt for pants instead because they are more convenient and modest when getting in and out of my car. Also, pockets.

Now we are getting into opinion territory. I’ll give you my opinions about some looks and whether they can be adapted by a Christian woman to look dignified and wholesome. This will not be comprehensive. New looks, and new variations on old looks, keep popping up all the time. I am not an expert, and have made my share of sartorial mistakes. (Oh, so many mistakes!) I am an artistic person who always secretly kind of wants to wear a costume. So take this for what it’s worth.

Some looks, in my opinion, cannot be adapted by a Christian woman because it’s integral to the look to appear very sexy, very edgy or very rebellious. Here are a few:

  • 80s rocker
  • 70s dance party
  • Punk
  • Goth/Vampire
  • Steampunk
  • Rockabilly (but see 50s housewife below)
  • Lady rapper
  • Anything pirate (Sorry, fellow costume afficionados!)
  • Motorcycle gang
  • Viking-inspired

Other looks can be made modest, classy, or at least sweet without doing violence to the look. Here are a few:

  • Hippie (there are variations on this – beachy hippie, hippie chic)
  • Preppy (also formal preppie/Audrey Hepburn/Jackie O)
  • Academic (corduroy, sweaters, blazers, sensible shoes, neutral tones)
  • Sporty
  • 90s Grunge (baggy jeans, flannel shirts, beanies)
  • 50s housewife, like Lucille Ball. Believe it or not, this is a look that is coming back. The thing that distinguishes it from Rockabilly is that the Rockabilly look combines 1950s clothes and hairstyles with an intentionally rebellious attitude, shows more skin, and features lots of tattoos.

All of these looks also have immodest versions featuring very short skirts, crop tops, and the like. They also have rebellious versions. For example, the hippie look can go in the direction of a ton of beads, peace signs, and not taking a shower. But it doesn’t need to. For preppy, you could wear a tennis skirt. For 90s grunge, some people would do their makeup to make themselves look like a heroin addict. But none of these things are integral to the look and you don’t need them. You can get the look by picking its distinctive fabrics, patterns, and colors.

Of course, you can also, if you so desire, go in the direction of Amish/Little House on the Prairie/Anne of Green Gables/Cottagecore. I love that look on other people, but it makes me look like a grandmother and I’m not ready for that yet. Also, though modest, this look is actually more conspicuous in the modern world than the looks listed above.

Good Luck, Sisters

Finally, realize that you are not locked in. You won’t be buying new clothes as often as when you were a growing child, but you will switch out your wardrobe every few years as your stage of life changes and as you get older and (probably) gain some weight. The good news is that clothing marketed to older women tends to be more modest and dignified than clothing marketed to younger women. Also, you will know yourself better when you are older, and will probably have a husband whose tastes have influenced your own, and probably more income to spend on clothes. So, feel free to take the time and money required to look classy in a way that fits your body and personality right now, realizing that this will probably change and that’s fine.

And when you have done all this, you will be a dazzling Proverbs 31 woman, “Clothed with strength and dignity.”