Work Archetypes

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Working alone can be scary. It’s easy to get discouraged and the more time I spend by myself, the more brittle my self image becomes. Luckily I don’t have to do it all alone, thank goodness for messenger. Using instant message, I can chat with my BFF and accountability partner. We’ll talk through ideas, schedules and challenges together. We check in on each other, encourage each other to do our best, and gently but firmly suggest adjustments when things aren’t working. I’ve boiled the roles we play down into three archetypal characters to help me talk about them.

Astrid the Fox is full of big ideas

Astrid is awesome, and everyone gets excited when she’s around. She has ideas that build on ideas and her enthusiasm is infectious. She’s always looking to the future and dreaming about how this project will effect the next one. All the parts are amazing but it can be difficult to see how they all tie together into a whole. All the different tasks can begin to feel overwhelming without a plan, so she relies on her friend Eric to help organize everything.

Foxes are good at a lot of things. She’s clever and inventive, but tends to lack focus. She says “the best part of having a job that’s also a hobby is that if we have an idea we can pursue it. Work is like play.” The fox dreams and builds ideas upon ideas. She’s capable of doing the much of the work, but often ignores her limits and boundaries and can get tired pushing against those walls.

Astrid is a firm believer that your vision can and should exceed your capabilities. She looks at inspiration as a seed that can grow mountains. She’s involved in most parts of a project, always talking about that inspiration and the map it’s drawing in her mind.

Eric is great at coming up with a plan.

Eric can sometimes be kind of stuffy, and people might groan when they see him coming. It’s easy to complain that he’s a bit of a downer when he starts to talk about a big idea in terms of numbers, and skills, and schedules. Trust me though, he wants to see your idea succeed as much as you do. While Autumn does just fine writing lists, looking at possibilities, and thinking up all of the cool details that look like sparkles in her eyes, Eric excels at looking at the big picture. He organizes those lists, makes plans for the possibilities and ties all those details together. In short, he’s in charge of the break down.

The role of the hedgehog is to look at the big picture. The first thing he does is set project goals and boundaries, which includes a schedule with check points. He begins to prioritize things, identifying what can be done now, and what needs to wait. He also asks some hard questions about skills, resources and collaboration.

Eric’s advice is to keep focused on one thing at a time. He’s very involved at the beginning of a project, doing research and planning. As a project continues, he will check in to make sure everything’s on track and help make adjustments to the schedule. It’s always tempting for Astrid to get overly ambitious, and to keep adding to a project, and that’s okay. If things get overwhelming, he’ll ask her to remember what inspired her. If new additions don’t serve that inspiration, then they work together to dial things back to something more manageable.

Jan is everyone who ever lent support

Often Jan goes unnoticed. At least at first, because he’s so small and not really working on the project. Little by little though, she becomes harder not to notice. All of his brothers and sisters join him to cheer, offer suggestions, and sometimes set up a fooseball table exactly where it’s most needed. No major undertaking, no great achievement was ever completed without an army of mice there to lend a hand.

Sometimes encouragement is our greatest resource. Jan is the grandma who passed by a kit on the living room floor and said their coloring was great and to keep it up. Jan’s the mom who let a hoglet use the garage to practice (badly and loudly) with their first band. Jan is all the fans and followers on Twitter and Instagram that like and comment on progress posts, set-backs and successes. They answer polls, go to shows and shop in online shops.

Jan believes you’re a magical unicorn and honestly wants to know what you’ve been up to. Share it, and talk about it. Document your progress, and ask for help when you need it. Some of the best friends and collaborations we’ve ever had came from plugging in and being part of a community.

Next time we’ll start looking at how to break my project up into smaller pieces. We’ll talk about the skills I already have, the ones that I might reasonably develop, and what I’ll probably need to find collaborators for. Finally, we’ll block the major outline of a schedule.

Until next time then, don’t forget what inspires you!
Your friend,
Jeffrey

Thank you for supporting my work! By purchasing artwork from my etsy shop, supporting me through Patreon, or just by showing up, commenting and sharing you make this and other personal projects possible. I can’t thank you enough for that.

What’s the Big Idea

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“Like a flame came the fox through the forest”

A while back, I was watching a classic episode of Sesame Street and this cartoon short came on. It was one of those classic right place in the right time moments, because that one line struck a chord with me. It was so evocative, and I could see this fox running through the forest with his tail streaming behind him like wild-fire. The image grew in my head, and I began writing and sketching, world building and assembling a “Book of Lore”.

There are themes that I’ve been working through since (college? high school?) pretty much forever, involving our relationships to each other and the world. The themes boil down into a handful of core thoughts. We can do so much good when we work together, but then we’re also able to cause so much damage when we work together thoughtlessly. Technology, while capable of amazing things tends to be oppressive, reducing individuals to numbers. At the same time, individuals and small communities exist, generating their own possibilities as if by magic. As I thought about this little fox and his magical, flaming tail, these themes began to weave themselves into a story.

So, What’s the Big Idea?

At some point, it’s time to move past the “Book of Lore” and decide what to do with it all. It’s okay for the big idea to be big. At this point, it’s a dream, and it’s okay to dream huge. Dreams are goals without a plan and the plan is what makes dreams manageable and possible. Working beyond our abilities is how we grow.

It’s no secret that I love puppets, miniatures and model building, as well as fantasy stories and fairy tales. What I really want to do with this idea that has been building in my head, is make a stop-motion short film. Set in the future, in a world ruled by twelve elemental giants, a young fox stumbles on a mystery that unlocks the past, and might just save the future. It still amazes me how the idea and dream stage of a new project can build up very large from the initial kernel of inspiration.

Remember What Inspired You

At this point, your new project can seem really huge and overwhelming. My example is taking overwhelming to a new level, but that’s okay. When that feeling of dread comes remember what inspired you. That spark is the keystone that we can return to anytime we’re not sure if we’re going in the right direction or even if we’re moving forward at all. The Inspiration and the Dream are just the first parts. Remember when I said that a dream is just a goal without a plan? Next time, we’ll start making a plan. I call this “The Breakdown”.

Until next time, take care and be good, and keep on dreaming!
Your friend,
Jeffrey

Thank you for supporting my work! By purchasing artwork from my etsy shop, supporting me through Patreon, or just by showing up, commenting and sharing you make this and other personal projects possible. I can’t thank you enough for that.

Keep it Simple

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This summer, I worked on a handful of large(ish) projects. Some of them came out pretty okay, and some of them…Less than spectacularly.

I did a presentation at the Saint Louis Science Center called “The Breakdown” about breaking down dream projects into smaller, goal oriented projects. Some of the smaller projects build directly into the dream project, and some of them are designed to develop skills that can be used toward the dream project. As I’ve been developing it, I’ve realized that it’s a lot like putting together an independent class curriculum. Which makes sense, because I’ve been joking for years that my work is a lot like being in college.

In June, we signed Abby up for Roller Derby and began teaching her to skate beginning the #moxisummerofskate. That first day, we looked up some youtube videos and she fell in love with a skater named IndieJammaJones. It turned out that the skate company Indie works for was running an instagram contest for a new pair of skates. All you had to do was skate every day and document it. So we started skating every day. First Abby, then I got skates and started skating with her, and then her best friend, and her sister…We all learned to skate, but that wasn’t the only thing that happened. We became a part of a community, and made new friends from different parts of the world. We got GOOD at skating. Maybe the most unexpected thing though, is that I’ve noticed that my videos are getting better, the editing, the sound, and the ability to get Abby (Rattle Skate) to engage with her audience. This little side activity has ended up dovetailing into learning skills that I can use for actual projects I’ve had in mind for a long time.

I’m still working and writing new comics as I make time, and am really excited about them. I’d planned to to some great posts detailing my process. Scan all the sketches and planning with side-by-side comparisons of pages in their different stages of life. I was going to post forty finished and colored comic pages in forty days, AND do 100 portraits of friends and family. It was all too much. I didn’t hit any of those goals, felt like I let myself down, and felt like I let you down.

Then one day, I was going through Instagram and came upon a comment on one of Lucy Bellwood’s final 100 Demon Dialog posts. (she’s awesome, check her out http://instagram.com/lubellwoo ) Some one asked her how they should go about approaching a project like the 100 Days project. Lucy told then gently but firmly “Keep it simple”.

I’ve always felt like I need to schedule more, to do more, to work harder. If there’s boxes on my schedule that haven’t been filled in, I feel like I need to put something in there. Pushing against the wall of my limitations is important, but pushing against walls is tiring. Lucy’s right, instead of working harder, maybe it’s time to try keeping it simple. Time to start breaking it down.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and here’s how I think I want to approach this for now. On Mondays, I’ll check in here and set out one goal for the week. On Fridays, I’ll check back in to talk about how it went. I notice that Patreon is letting us add images directly into the post now, so that actually makes things even simpler as I can easily share what else I’ve been working on.

I realize that by now it’s already Thursday, so I’m going to make this week’s goal super straightforward. This week, I’m going to submit a proposal to present The Breakdown at Midwest Craft Con and my application to vend at Queen City Craft Show.

Until Friday, take care and be good!
Your friend,
Jeffrey

Thank you for supporting my work! By purchasing artwork from my etsy shop, supporting me through Patreon, or just by showing up, commenting and sharing you make this and other personal projects possible. I can’t thank you enough for that.

Let’s Talk About Mentors

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 I’ve literally had some version of this logo kicking around in my head for twenty years. I think about it from time to time because it represents the first time I helped try to organize something. I thought of it today because of a DJ on our local indie-radio station named Steve Pick. This morning, he played a Camper Van Beethoven song on the radio, commenting that it was released over thirty years ago. What does all this have to do with having or being a mentor? Stick with me, this is an origin story of sorts.

“Pump Up the Volume” was the story of a mostly ordinary kid who found that he had something to say and became part of something bigger than himself.

Naturally, this song made me think of the movie “Pump Up the Volume”. I was talking to a friend the other day about movies that stay with us, or that define a moment in out lives. This movie was one that made me feel like I wanted to bring people together and be a part of something bigger than myself. All of this lead my train of thought to The Red Square.

When I was a Junior in High School, my friend Sean came up with the idea that he wanted to make a newspaper. So he gathered several friends that he felt were forward thinking, creative, intelligent, and that might be interested in helping put this thing together. The paper was called The Red Square, and would have articles about issues that were important to youth, about art, and poetry. A real bohemian paper. We had a meeting or two, and brought in examples of things we thought were cool. Talked about communes, music, and politics but then the project just sort of faded away. So what happened? We needed a mentor.

Ideas are good, but ideas are also the easy part. They’re the part when a project is the most exciting, before anything has gone wrong, when there’s still endless potential, and we haven’t had to consider “what next” yet. The dwarves in “The Hobbit” were smart to seek out the help of Gandalf as a mentor, and he made it clear that he wasn’t actually one of their company from the beginning. Bilbo was the fourteenth, the lucky number. Gandalf was not a teacher. He had a lot of wisdom to impart sure, but that came more in the form of advice not information on what was coming next. As a mentor to the dwarves, he’d nudge them in the right direction and then stand aside as they found their way, made mistakes, got into trouble and often back out of it again.

Through the whole story, he only stepped in twice, when they truly got in over their heads. The first time is in the city of the Goblins, and even here he had to call in a favor or two because through inexperience the company of fourteen had hugely overstepped their capabilities. Back on the path their mentor gives them advice how to move forward and then lets them continue on their way to have their own successes and make their own mistakes. He also stands aside and lets them fix their own mistakes when they can, asking what they learned from their adventure, and letting them build strength and confidence for future endeavors.

This is a key concept in the difference between a teacher and a mentor. Teaching involves instructions on how to do something from start to finish. Mentoring involves nudges towards finding the next step. A mentor is usually not a wizard, and the relationship doesn’t have to be complicated, it’s realizing that creation can’t happen in a vacuum, and sometimes we need a fresh set of eyes. If you’re working on a creative project and don’t know where to go next, I’d like to encourage you to talk to somebody about it. A teacher, colleague, or friend might just be able to give you the motivation you need to move forward or the inspiration to solve a problem. I’ve been really lucky to form relationships like this in the Craft Mafia with my show co-organizers April, Amy, and Sally who are there to give me advice but mostly just let me mess things up.

Thank you for supporting my work! By purchasing artwork from my etsy shop, supporting me through Patreon, or just by showing up, commenting and sharing you make this and other personal projects possible. I can’t thank you enough for that.

Things That Inspire: Lumino City

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This week, I discovered a new game by London-based, State of Play Games called Lumino City. The story revolves around a young girl named Lume as she travels through Lumino City searching for her grandfather and solving puzzles along the way.

Lumino City takes all of my favorite aspects of maker culture, indie-craft, and game development and puts them together into something at the same time very modern and timeless.

I’m a sucker for both miniature worlds and puzzle games, so this game was right up my alley. The game, story, and puzzles were first designed on paper and in Flash to make sure that all the parts fit together. The world of Lumino City recalls a childhood steeped in storybook illustrations, cartoons, and inquiry. Then, each part was hand cut and assembled out of card, wood, paper, and electronics. Using a variety of tools and techniques, State of Play stretches the boundaries of what can be done in a game while paying close attention to detail. The puzzles are well crafted and challenging without being too difficult. Luckily, Lume’s grandfather left her a book of ideas that helps nudge players in the right direction if they get stuck.

When I was a kid, the most common way to see how effects were made in the movies was small, grainy pictures in Starlog Magazine.

The experience doesn’t end with the final puzzle though. There’s also a short prequel game called Lume, which is essentially State of Play’s initial experiment that led to the final game. In addition to that, there’s a free “making of Lumino City” app that takes us on an interactive tour through…the making of Lumino City. There’s a lot of work that goes into a project like this (over a year of it, in fact) but it’s presented in a way that’s not scary or intimidating. There’s a tone of confident experimentation and collaboration that underlines that marriage of indie-craft, maker culture, and game development. There’s a whole world out there that we can help build, and games like this are showing us the possibilities.

Thank you for supporting my work! By purchasing artwork from my etsy shop, supporting me through Patreon, or just by showing up, commenting and sharing you make this and other personal projects possible. I can’t thank you enough for that.

So You Want To Do A Demo…

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Bill Bubenik, the simpleton behind West Park Creative, has been making letterpress stationery for years. His line of sweetly offensive letterpress greeting cards say what you really want to, but probably couldn’t get away with. Like “So… 29 again, huh?” But somehow, when it’s on a card, all bets are off and you can say whatever you want.

We’re glad to have become friends over the last year or so with Bill, and one of the reasons is that he’s really open to having conversations about being in the craft business, and lets us soapbox from time to time when we’re passionate about something. Much of Bill’s work is done in his home studio on a large and very heavy press. So when asked about doing demos for Craft Monster he jokingly said “I probably can’t bring my press…”

I probably can’t bring my press…

I totally get that a lot of us make things that it’s just not practical to take on site and do a demo with. I think that when we think “Demonstration”, we tend to picture a field trip to the crayon factory where we get to see the whole process, smell the hot wax, and feel the fresh paper wrapped around newborn crayons. What we fail to realize is that watching crayons being made on Mr Rogers Neighborhood while coloring on the floor was just as magical an experience as being there, because it was a connection to something in our everyday lives with something that was much bigger than us.

Craft Monster is built around demo artists. There are a couple of reasons for this. 1.It allows us as local, handmade artists to distance ourselves from handmade-like chain stores such as target and urban outfitters. Telling our individual maker stories and making real connections with the public underlines how special the handmade movement is. People really DO want to buy into that. 2. Seeing how things are made is awesome. I hear complaints from artists all the time along the lines of “If only they knew how long this took…” or “people don’t even know what electroplating is…!” This is our opportunity as makers to educate the public. At worst, it’ll help them develop a better understanding of the work we do. At best they’ll buy something, and the story will inspire another generation of crafters.

Sometimes we need to be told that what we do is magic, even if it’s not magic to us, and that what an audience wants to see is simpler than what they think.

So how do we do a demo without bringing our whole studio with us? It doesn’t even have to be complicated. A handout flier with information or a video on a loop showing you working, alongside some examples of your finished product (which you can sell) is a great place to start. Combine that with a super stripped down version of your craft that relates to people in their everyday lives and you have a real winner of an experience that could stick with everyone that stops by.

The Letterpress Process Presented By West Park Creative from Bill Bubenik on Vimeo.

If I were doing a demo as a letterpress artist for example, I’d probably show a video of my actual studio press in action and bring along some simple lino blocks to do rubbings, or simple wooden spoon prints. It’s simple, informative, and will give people a reason to remember me.

 

Overwhelmed (As Usual)

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My “Day Job” such as it is, is pretty regular freelance work designing lapel pins and medals for Little League teams, Soccer Clubs, and Marathons. I bring this up, because I bought this account when I left my first studio job to be a full-time freelancer and stay-at-home dad. I was thinking about this last night, and realized that I’ve been a working professional for eleven years now, and a freelancer for almost seven of them. And I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing.
I started the year off with three resolutions:
  • Instead of saying “I couldn’t”, I would say “I didn’t”. This was a personal call to not make excuses, and to examine what was actually going on and adjust to meet problems.
  • Instead of saying “I’m gonna”, I’ll say “I’m working on”. I was recognizing a tendency to dream big without planning and following through.
  • Instead of saying “I’m afraid to try”, I’ll plan to succeed. Facing the things that scare or overwhelm me is the most productive way to move forward. What’s the worst that can happen?
So here I am at the halfway point of the year, and I need to step back and assess things a bit, because it all feels like it’s falling apart. I’m coming to realize that an unspoken goal for 2017 is to actually begin to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and what I’m doing right, so that my career can be more sustainable. I’m going to jump right in with two things I know I could be better about. Time Management, and Over Committing.
Something a lot of artists seem to struggle with, especially those of us who’s work is largely autobiographical, is separating our work life from our home life. Compounding that, something that I’ve realized this year is that while I might spend a lot of time convincing other people that my job is not a hobby, I have trouble remembering that myself. This leads into the problem of over committing. My job is supposed to be FUN, and involves a lot of schoolwork type research and behind the scenes stuff. There are so many fun group activities that I could do, and it’s all work right? It all helps me get more stuff done, right? Right!?
My self-worth shouldn’t be tied to my output. I shouldn’t feel the need to fill every square in my schedule. Doing more doesn’t make me better. It just makes me cranky and distracts me from focusing on things I’ve already committed to. This is turning into the longest lead up to an apology ever.
I’m sorry.
I over scheduled my life to the point where I couldn’t possibly keep up with my commitments here to my patrons, and as I got more in the weeds it became harder to face that and have an honest conversation with you all about that. So now I’m clearing a lot of stuff off my desk and moving forward again starting with this post. To wrap it all up, here’s what’s going on with the current projects:
  • The 100 days project – I’m putting this one aside for now. It’s something that I really want to do, but honestly don’t have time for and it was stressing me out to the point where I couldn’t get anything else done.
  • Life With Girls – I’m taking a short break from posting new finished comics. The forty days leading up to my fortieth birthday, I will be posting a page a day of 6 short stories looking back on the places I lived growing up and unspectacular art projects I made there. My $2 patreon backers will get to see these pages in my sketchbook posts this month.
  • 2018 Story Calendar – I’d planned on having this year’s calendar completed by the end of July, but that’s just not realistic. I continue to work on it, devoting a little bit of time each day. The end of August is my new soft deadline to have the bulk of the work done. Expect to see much more about this in July once the forty day project is fully complete.
  • The Breakdown – this isn’t really a project yet, but has been playing a key role in figuring out what works and doesn’t in my daily work life. My friend Sally and I have been developing it as a way to schedule projects, professional development, and celebrate successes.
  • Postcards – I owe my $5 backers some personal correspondence. I’ll be making a poll for new postcards so I can get something special to you soon.
Thank you all so much for your continued support, it really does mean the world to me.
Take care and be good.
Jeffrey

Five Favorite Books 1-4 the Harper Hall Trilogy

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menolly_playing_web

The second book of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, Dragon Singer begins where Dragon Song left off, with Menolly arriving at her new home in the Harper Craft Hall. She’d lived and thrived homeless for her love of music, succeeding where many others would not have. She discovered and adopted not just one fire-lizard, a creature thought to be a children’s  story, but nine of them. Menolly had found kindness and support at Benden Weyr, home of the dragon riders, proving to be both resourceful and useful to them. She soon discovered though that while she would be more than welcome to stay there, the Master Harper had been looking all across the continent for her, in order to take her as an apprentice Harper. In spite of all these successes, she looks at herself as “just” a girl,and how could she possibly fit in with all these great and talented people.Even now, nearly thirty years later this feeling resonates with me. That imposter syndrome, or feeling of soaring capableness followed by crushing self doubt.

Menolly meets the other master musicians and is tested on her musical knowledge. She butts heads with troublemakers who, like her father, don’t think it’s her place to be a Harper and who are jealous of both her talent and the fact that she has fire-lizards. She also makes some friends and allies, as she begins to settle down in her new home. The second book of the series is more about daily life as a Harper, and about making friends, working at what you love, and settling down in a new place. Part of the reason this book has stayed with me I think, is that it was the first time I’d ever considered this as a way of life. I could make art everyday as part of a community.

The other crafts can jibe that we want to know too much about what is not strictly our business, but I’ve always felt knowledge of matters minor or major makes for better understandings. The mind that will not admit it has something more to learn tomorrow is in danger of stagnating.

Working together, side by side and sharing information has always been the most attractive way to work for me. One of the themes of the book is the interconnection of all the people in the world, and how they all have to work together in order to survive. Sharing information is part of that, because closely guarded secrets get lost with the death of a Crafts Master and have to be reinvented. How much better would it be if that information had been shared so that advancements could be made with our having to redo work first?

As she settled in, Menolly also made some great observations on the relationship between work and play. The life of an artist involves a lot of play that is also hard work. Creative work takes a lot of mental energy, and is exhausting in ways that aren’t always apparent at first sight.

Boys of fifteen Turns, her age, were already serving on boats at the Sea Hold. Of course, an exhausting day at sail lines and nets left little energy to expend on running or laughing. Perhaps that was why her parents couldn’t appreciate her music-it wouldn’t appear to be hard work to them. Menolly shook her hands,letting them flap from her wrists. They ached and trembled from the constricted movements and tension of an hour of intensive playing. No, her parents would never understand that playing musical instruments could be as hard work assailing or fishing.

It was the first time I’d every really thought of it as work that had to be done and sometimes wasn’t fun, but that was mostly always rewarding.

The rewards of living a creative life in the company of other passionate, creative people is why this book has stayed with me all these years. Like an old friend,I can go back to this book when I’m feeling lost or alone, and the story of Menolly reminds me that I’m not alone at all. There’s a community out there that I’ve become a part of. It reminds me of the excitement of trying new techniques and playing with my work. It reminds me that while I might feel like a fraud who isn’t as good as he wants to be, there are people out there rooting for me.

Find us on Patreon!Thank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

Five Favorite Books 1-3 The Harper Hall Trilogy

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menolly of Half Circle Sea Hold by jeffrey johnson of redherringillustration.comThe first book of the Harper Hall trilogy, Dragon Song begins with the main character, Menolly singing the funeral song for her friend Petiron. An aging Harper,
Petiron had retired to Menolly’s home at Half-Circle Sea Hold to live out his days. As his caretaker, Menolly and the Harper became close friends, and he taught her everything he knew of his craft. While she was described as tall and strong and was often mistaken for a boy, she was a girl.

“One in ten hundred have perfect pitch,” Petiron had said in one of his evasive replies. “One in ten thousand can build an acceptable melody with meaningful words. Were you only a lad, there’d be no problem at all.”

“Well,we’re stuck with me being a girl.”

“You’d make a fine big strong lad, you would,” Petiron had replied exasperatingly.

“And what’s wrong with being a fine big strong girl?” Menolly had been half-teasing,half-annoyed.

This remembered exchange between the two friends, set up that not only does Menolly have an extraordinary talent, but also that it’s kind of a problem that she’s not a boy. Being a Harper was something that men did and it would be disgraceful to her father if anyone found out that she would have the gall to believe that it was something she could aspire to.

Published in 1977, during the height of second-wave feminism, Dragon Song deals in part with issues of equality and gender discrimination, changing political climates,abuse, and growing up. I wanted to say that it was about longing for something better, but I don’t really know whether that’s true. Menolly’s life as Petiron’s apprentice wasn’t perfect, but she had her heart’s true desire – to play music.When he died, she grudging allowed to play with supervision, and then following an accident where she cut her hand was forbidden to play at all. Without musician her life she felt like a hollowed out shell, began to drift through her days doing chores and looked for opportunities to be alone with her thoughts.Gathering sweet grasses and crayfish in the countryside offered these chances for her. They also made it possible for her to explore the coastline, which is how she stumbled across a fire-lizard queen and helped save its eggs from being drowned in the ocean.

Most people considered fire-lizards, miniature dragons about the size of a Macaw, fairy stories told by young boys to impress the other children. Menolly had not only seen one though, she had actually held it’s eggs! Looking forward to seeing the fire-lizards again, she left home early one morning to gather food.Far from home, up the coastline, she was caught outside the safety of her home’s stone walls during a dangerous storm, and was forced to take shelter in the fire-lizard’s cave. The eggs began to hatch. Rather than let the babies fly out into the storm to their deaths, she fed as many as she could the crayfish she’d collected. When Menolly woke the next morning, nine fire-lizards thought of her as their mother. Feeling like she’d never really belonged back home, and knowing that once they realized she wasn’t there they would assume she was dead,she decided not to go back.

Dragon Song is not about looking for more than what you have. It deals with a lot ofbig issues, within its adventure framework, but it is about loss, self reliance, and finding happiness. It’s also about finding something to care about and letting others care about you. I always identified with Menolly because she LOVED what she did, and I think really wanted people to pay attention to that part of her, but at the same time didn’t want anyone to notice her. Those were very familiar feelings growing up. As far as an introduction to the world of Pern, I’d say that it’s actually better than starting with the first book. There is a short foreword that gets you up to speed with the setting, and I found the story itself to be much more personal and satisfying than you’d find in the core books.

Find us on Patreon!Thank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

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Five Favorite Books 1-2 The Harper Hall Trilogy

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About the Setting

Fire Lizard Queen by Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring IllustrationThe Pern novels are Science Fiction, or at least that’s where you’ll find them in the book store. Being born the same year that Star Wars came out, I’ve been a fan for my whole life, and I‘d always thought of myself as a lover of Science Fiction. As I look back on it though, the closest thing I’d ever read to “pure” science fiction up to that point was Dune, by Frank Herbert. In fact, I was probably twenty-seven or twenty-eight before I’d ever read any Isaac Asimov or H.P. Lovecraft. I think I was in my thirties before I really realized that Star Wars wasn’t really, SciFi at all, but that it was actually Science Fantasy. So were the dragons of Pern.  I’ve loved them both since “hello.”

Dragon Song, and Dragon Singer are the first two books of the Harper Hall Trilogy, from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books. The Harper Hall trilogy is science fantasy, and like Star Wars or Doctor Who, there are a lot of mainstays from fantasy stories, like dragons, sailors and travelling bards. All of these things though, are nestled into a science fiction framework on the far away planet of Pern, settled by colonists from Earth. I remember in seventh grade, writing a book report on this same book, and explaining things using terms from the setting with no context. I didn’t even think about what it would be like if I’d never heard of Star Wars, and suddenly someone was talking to me about the Force, Wookies, Droids, and the Empire. It’s far enough removed from our world to make it difficult to know what’s going on, or the motivations behind the characters actions. Luckily, these books begin with a two page introduction to the world.

Pern was settled by space faring colonists from earth. It was an untouched paradise, and the people were happy there. What the colonists didn’t know though, was that there was a sister planet in the same solar system that would regularly orbit close to their new home. Pern’s sister, called “The Red Star” in the books was infected by a kind of spore, that would spin off from its atmosphere, flung into space to fall to the surface of Pern. As the spore fell, it would heat and stretch into  long silver filaments, earning it the name “thread”.  Thread would eat any organic material. The only things it seemed not to be able to destroy were stone and metal, the only way to destroy it were drowning in water, or burning it with fire.

The Colonists were, hardy and resourceful people though. They carved huge forts, or “holds” out of natural caves and cliffs to protect them and their provisions from the thread. They bred and trained creatures native to the planet called dragons, after the mythical beasts from earth to fly and burn it before it could reach the planet’s surface. They developed a social structure much like city states from earth’s middle ages. Holders worked the land for the lord holder. Lord holders, paid a tithe to the weyr, or the home of the dragon riders who protected their land. Crafts and skilled labor operated outside and through this system, with guilds and craft halls overseeing their work, giving them independence and ensuring that all holds had access to trade for the things they needed. The society was in many ways egalitarian, recognizing that they needed to work together in order flourish. The people survived, but with a system so rigid because of the constant threat of thread, change, innovation and progress came slowly, if at all.

Tradition has become very important on Pern, and has over time taken the form of unwritten law, set deep in the people and unshakeable.  Dragon Song, and Dragon Singer are about Menolly, and how she discovered fire lizards, miniature dragons thought to be children’s stories. Her adventures continued as she goes on to became a part of the Harper craft hall.  Musicians and storytellers, harpers are the eyes and ears of the world, keepers of tradition, and agents of change. I find myself coming back to the story of Menolly and her passion for music every time I doubt my own path.

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.