TESS FOWLER Rips Off Another Fan

Soul Eater

Artist Tess Fowler’s dishonesty and lack of integrity are no secret to those who follow my blog, or to those who were looking forward to the book she took a lot of my money to do art for and then did not deliver. And I’m not the only poor, unfortunate soul who has fallen victim to her; as I’ve reported before, I’ve heard from several others whom she’s ripped off. Those folks chose not to go public with their accounts, for which they have their reasons, but it’s unfortunate because it contributes to the vulnerability of others who may hire her and be likewise victimized.

But another of her marks has finally come forward, eager to share his story.

I don’t know Wayne Bertrand, Jr. He lives in Texas, and is apparently into tattoos and motorcycles. He is also an avid activist for child welfare, and a member of BACA, Bikers Against Child Abuse.

Wayne was a big fan of Tess Fowler’s art, which is why he commissioned her to do a special painting for him, for which he paid her $300. Months passed and no painting was forthcoming. When Wayne contacted her, she deflected his queries saying she was working on it.

Ultimately, Wayne complained to PayPal to try to get his money back, but a lot of time had passed, and Tess promised the service she would honor the deal and throw in a couple of extra pieces for Wayne’s trouble.

Then she blocked Wayne on social media and ignored all further attempts at communication.

That was over two years ago. Wayne has never received any artwork, nor any of his money back.

Toward the end of his message to me, Wayne summed Tess up as well as anyone ever could:

She is a crook. Sad thing is I like her artwork.

It’s a shame that someone with Tess’s gifts chooses to use them as bait to steal money from her fans.

UPDATE: Tess victimizes the creator of the comic Rat Queens and his wife. Read it here.

Writers Who Kill Kittens

Don't lets the mean writer killz me...

Don’t lets the mean writer killz me…

So, I’m reading a discussion about how we should or shouldn’t let a writer’s politics affect our enjoyment of their fiction, and I see this:

“I don’t give the yuck cut of a rat for any writer’s politics. Can they tell a story that I’m going to enjoy and read over and over? Then I’ll damn well read them despite their politics. The only reason I won’t read Pournelle isn’t political, he stapled a kitten to a door. Once you start torturing cats…we’re done.”

Holy shit. Jerry Pournelle stapled a kitten to a door? That’s a horrible thing to do. What an asshole.

Oh, someone clarifies that the poor kitten was actually just in a story. Whew.

Then, the original commenter digs in: “Anyone tortures a cat in their fiction and I won’t read them again. Yeah, it was in one of Pournelle’s novels. But for it to be in one of his novels, he had to think of it.”

Good grief. I just had this argument (again) with people who think that George RR Martin is a monstrous woman-hater because terrible things happen to his female characters in books in which terrible things happen to everybody. (Never mind the fact that the women in Martin’s books are strong and fierce and smart and competent and complex…)

People, fiction is fiction. It is not real life. Depiction of terrible things is not endorsement of terrible things. Depiction of terrible things is drama. It is the fuel of fiction. The first rule of good drama is to mistreat your characters. And maybe even the occasional kitten.

Hating on a writer for what happens in their story is stupid. It’s no better than hating an actor as a person because she played a terrible person in that movie you saw and therefore must be a terrible person.

This isn’t to say that awful people don’t sometimes lace their awfulness into their work, or that they shouldn’t be taken to task over it. Some writers are racists and sexists and nazis and maybe even kitten killers. I’m not gonna defend The Turner Diaries for its very clear agenda (though I will fiercely defend its author’s right to write it any damn way he wanted to).

And if an author states vile opinions outside of their fiction which resonate with themes in their fiction, they’re inviting criticism on those terms so they’re fair game. If you want to peek inside the brains of some truly awful folks, read the blogs written by the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” groups who’ve hijacked science fiction’s Hugo Awards this year. Writers like Theodore Beale aka “Vox Day”, Tom Kratman, and John C. Wright are writers you can comfortably read knowing that they’re the very worst sort of person. Here’s some reasoned debate I saw from Kratman, on Sad Puppy Brad Torgersen’s blog, when some guy mildly disagreed with him:

Kratman

He went on like this for a while, threatening to track the guy down and hurt him. So yeah, douchebag. Sling all the brickbats.

But, in general, assuming that a writer condones terrible things because those things happen in their stories is not just simple-minded, it’s anti-art. Have some goddamned perspective, for pity’s sake. Fight the good fight, not just any possible fight. Don’t like an author’s work? That’s fine, don’t read it. But leave the poor author alone.

No kittens were harmed in the writing of this post.

The Creature from the Blog Lagoon (ABC Wednesday, 1/29/14)

C is for Creature

We all know the creature.

The monster. The dangerous thing, stalking, creeping, hunting in the silence of the night. Hairy, clawed, savage. Less than human…or is it?

For me, and many others who grew up with Universal monster movies, the word creature evokes the Creature From The Black Lagoon. Who, when you get down to it, is clawed and savage, but not so hairy. The Creature stalks and kidnaps the gorgeous Julie Adams, mesmerized by her preternatural beauty, no doubt with thoughts of ichthyological rape and scaly little spawn cavorting in the lagoon’s dark waters. The movie he’s in is undeniably a “monster movie,” but is he a monster? No. But he is, obviously, a beast, an animal, an inhuman thing. A creature. He operates on instinct more than thought, and in his case, because he comes into conflict with anti-instinctual man, it proves his undoing. Had he stayed hidden, not tried to woo, in his way, the beauty (a common failing among beasts), he would never have been harpooned, brought to man’s world, had his gills sliced off (a clumsy attempt to make a man of him), and ultimately killed.

Stories often warn us that this is what will happen if we let our creature side out. Our instinct. Our wild. Our Id. We aren’t animals, right? Never mind the blood and bile, our often maddening emotional lives, our wonderfully messy means of procreation. The fangs in our mouths, the hair on our pelts.

I’ve always been fascinated with werewolves, and themes of transformation often manifest in my writing. Often the transfiguration is into a wilder state, like the werewolf, rather than an “ascended” state. But is it therefore a devolution? Or is it an imperfect call toward wholeness? I believe we are at our best when we are comfortable with both sides of our nature, the primal and the thoughtful, the rational and the passionate. Be a creature and be a man. Be a creature and be a woman. Be complete.

Evolution isn’t a paved road away from the creature, it’s a forest path toward a better creature.

C

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter D. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

I’m Batman (ABC Wednesday, 1/22/14)

I'm Batman

I’m Batman.

That may seem a cocky statement. I am not the world’s greatest detective. I am not the most accomplished hand-to-hand combatant on the planet. I am not a scientist/inventor with an unending inventory of cool gadgetry to rival that of Doc Savage. I don’t battle the forces of evil night after night wearing an incredibly cool batsuit.

But there’s a deeper truth here. It’s not that I’m projecting some Mary Sue wish onto this comic book character, or that I’m patterning my life in any way after the life of Bruce Wayne (though his money would certainly be welcome). Rather, there are a set of resonances in the character of Batman which, you might say, send me a signal. This has been so since I was a little kid, watching Adam West on television, even though I despised that show, just because nothing else was on. I wanted Batman like he was in the comics. Dark, agile, clever. Drawn by Neal Adams with no laugh track. Not cheesy as hell. And haunted…as I was haunted.

I didn’t consciously realize that last bit then, and not for many years. But Batman and I share something besides blue eyes and square jaws: loss. Terrible, heart-rupturing loss.

Everyone knows about Bruce Wayne’s loss: the gunshots in the alley, the clatter of falling pearls, the bodies on the ground. Fewer know the less operatic tale of my loss: a teenaged mother, riding home from her restaurant job to see her baby, her life crushed out in a high velocity encounter with a careless driver.

Loss drives us like a poisonous fuel.

For years, I thought I’d recovered from whatever trauma I’d suffered when my mother died. I had been so young, I couldn’t remember her. She was just an ancestor, if a recent one, no more a part of my life, of me, than a great grandmother I’d never known. But that was naive. Over the years, as depression kept me from the life I wanted, I realized that many of the traumas I brought into my life were refractions of the loss. Somewhere deep inside me was that small child, screaming over my mother’s body. Is it any wonder I found it easy to identify with Batman?

I had no Alfred in my life to raise me, to look after me. My father was a half-step away from cotton mill white trash, and a mean ass drunk. Over the years, he brought in two stepmothers, both cruel. He and they weren’t my family, they were my rogues gallery, the sideshow villains who plotted my destruction in nefariously neurotic ways. Batman’s villains are archetypal, each reflecting something within. The Joker is his mania, his enjoyment of the pain he brings to bear. The Riddler is his compulsion for mental challenge, Bane and Killer Croc his drive for physical dominance. The Scarecrow is his fear and despair. And Catwoman is his playfulness and his libido, trying to break into (or, rather, out of) the adamantine safe that is his heart.

Batman — Bruce Wayne — is the sort of man I strive to be: a successful man, a productive man, a noble man. A man who helps. A man who uses his anger and pain and loss not to hide or lash out at the world, but to fight the darkness (within and without) and keep it at bay. You may really love the Dark Knight, and thrill to his adventures, as millions do. But I’ve lived his dark night, I’ve fought its overwhelming darkness.

Because I’m Batman.

Mourning

B

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter C. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Authority: You’re Not The Boss Of Me (ABC Wednesday, 1/15/14)

A is for Authority

Let me tell you about this stupid thing I do.

When I’m driving at night, if a car coming from the opposite direction has its brights on, I stare intensely into that bright light, destroying my night vision even more than the light already was. Unless I remind myself that this is stupid, I glare into those rude fucking high beams until they’re past.

I used to do this without really being conscious of it, but some time in my twenties, I realized what I was doing. I was fighting the cars for dominance, staring into their eyes, refusing to look away and show weakness.

Of course, the cars — and their drivers — neither knew nor cared that I was clearly the alpha in the situation, and I was only hurting myself. I still catch myself doing this sometimes and it usually cracks me up.

An old friend of mine used to call me on the phone (an endeavor which, historically, already has a statistically insignificant chance of success), and when he reached the answering machine — which I did monitor — he would  loudly bark “Tim, pick up!” And my gut response, even if I was standing right by the phone, even if I wanted or needed to talk to him, was NO. Sometimes I would push that reaction away and answer the call. Sometimes I wouldn’t.

Again, I ultimately realized what I was doing, and I told my friend to change his approach, that he had a much better chance of reaching me with a calm “Tim, are you there?” than with a brisk command.

I don’t like being told what to do. I have what is often called “issues with authority.” Though I am willing to humbly and gracefully follow the guidance of someone trying to teach me something or guide me in doing a job, it’s my natural tendency to see us both as equals. I’ll honor hierarchy as much as I need to for practical reasons and no more. If you’re in a position of authority over me, I respect you no more than I do someone in a position under me. I respect you both, until someone earns my disrespect. Once that happens, it’s tough to get back on my good side.

I respect the authority of someone who knows things that I do not. I respect the authority of someone in a leadership position who is ostensibly the boss of me as long as they treat me with respect and make decisions that serve our shared goals.

Years ago, my commander in the Army told me pointblank that I had to respect him because of the bars on his collar. I told him that wasn’t going to happen, that the respect I showed him would be entirely based on the actions of the man inside the uniform.

My First Sergeant, who liked and respected me (and wound up running interference between me and the commander), once said, “Byrd, you’re a damn good soldier except for one thing. When you’re given an order, you think about it, which you’re not supposed to do. And even worse, if you don’t like the order, you ignore it.”

“You’re not the boss of me” could go on my coat of arms as a personal motto. I even used a variation on a bumper sticker I had custom-made to put on my truck when G.W. Bush was [allegedly] president: “You’re not the president of me.”

All of this comes from an essential, primal, animal place in me. I’m mostly self-guided, and I don’t have much will to power. It’s not that I want to be Alpha, it’s that I refuse to be Beta. Sometimes, in gracelessly-run organizations, this can lead to me being Omega, and even banished from the pack.

This is why I tend to run alone.

Α

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter B. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Counting The Clock That Tells The Time

Clockwise

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night…

As far as I’m concerned, that’s William Shakespeare describing my 2013. For me, the year was a dark shawl of despair, laced with tiny threads of joy.

On the bright side of the equation, Gary Chaloner and I finally managed to release our deluxe, expanded, fully-illustrated edition of my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of DoomIf you’re new to our tale, I was originally contracted for three Doc Wilde books by Penguin/Putnam, with plans for the series to continue after those. They published Frogs in hardback in 2009, but I was disappointed  in various ways with the book and the publication process which produced it. During that time, I was watching the developments in self publishing with great interest, and I decided to regain the rights to my books and go indie. With the much appreciated help of a company of Kickstarter heroes, Gary and I started a process that was tougher and took more time than anticipated, but finally paid off with a gorgeous new book (written for all ages, available in both trade paperback and ebook; the hardback edition is still out there, mostly in used copies, but remember it’s nowhere near as nice a book as the new version).

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

Finally holding the deluxe Frogs of Doom was a relief and a delight. But dark times were coming for Doc Wilde, much more harrowing than any fight with world-threatening amphibians could ever be.

First, Gary Chaloner made the tough decision to resign as artist for the series. Working on Frogs had proved a hardship for him schedule-wise and he recognized that things were only going to get worse as he tried to balance his workload of other projects. To his incredible credit, and my even greater appreciation as both a fellow professional and a friend, he had finished the first book as he’d promised and, you might say, sort of spoiled me. As I hired a new artist for the second book, I expected a similar level of professionalism, and I paid what is for me some big bucks in advance to get it. Alas, I did not.

Hiring artist Tess Fowler was an enormous mistake. (The full craptastic tale can be read at this blog post).

Waiting for art that was just delayed and delayed and delayed only contributed to the weight of the depression I suffer, which was already rolling in like a tsunami on a night without stars, and the ultimate conflict with Tess Fowler when she produced nothing for the money she’d taken as a professional artist deepened my despair. I made repeated attempts to allow Tess to get back to work and live up to her promises, and she ignored every one of them. Continue reading

TESS FOWLER: Why She Is No Longer The Artist For Doc Wilde

I’d hoped this post would be very different.

I’d hoped to tell all of you that Tess Fowler had returned to work on Doc Wilde and The Mad Skull. That she and I had revisited the conflict between us and, like thoughtful, reasonable adults, had reconciled and gotten back to work.

Toward that end, I emailed and called her several times, with humility, ready to eat more than my fair share of crow in order to make peace, in order to allow her to make good on her promises. I did this not only because I’d paid her a great deal of money which was as good as flushed if she didn’t complete the job, but even more because I love her work and still think she might have produced a beautiful book. And that’s still my goal.

She simply ignored me.

Now, I already wrote a post about all this, a post full of anger and bile, and I’m sure some of you saw it. But I took it down soon after because that wasn’t how I wanted to be. I didn’t want to present myself that way.  I didn’t want to talk about Tess that way. She’s a fellow creator, and I don’t want to tear her down or hurt her.

But, because I wrote that post, I sort of feel the need to re-address the matter in a calmer, more objective way. I also feel a certain accountability to all the Kickstarter supporters who put their money toward the dream of these books, a lump of which I just lost. I’m deeply sorry this happened; it has set progress way back, but you will still get the books you were promised.

Below is a full account of Tess’s time on this job, and the unpleasantness that followed. It’s long, but I think it’s only fair to show our work relationship in detail to fully and accurately represent what happened. It is, at least, a good case study in how choosing the wrong person to work on a project can go very badly. For those unwilling to read the whole thing, here’s the short version:

I hired Tess Fowler in mid-May to do the cover, 20 pieces of interior art, and layout for a Doc Wilde book to be released by Christmas. She took a $1,000 advance from me.

I patiently worked around her scheduling needs, including an enforced break due to carpal tunnel syndrome. I repeatedly tried to get her to read the text and engage personally with the material, to find the things in it that excited her and contribute creatively rather than just drawing what I told her to. She refused. She did say, several times, she enjoyed working with me and liked that I gave her detailed notes on her work.

Tess did not devote much of her time to the project, working on it just a day or two per week, even after losing the weeks to her carpal tunnel injury. Most of her time went to other personal projects.

By late October, less than two months before the book’s release had been planned, Tess had produced just a handful of rough character sketches. She had also done a layout sketch for the cover that I liked a great deal, and had been trying to paint it, but it was turning out so badly that in a fit of frustration she literally ripped it to shreds without ever showing it to me.

She then accused me of being hard to please and denied the very terms she’d agreed to months earlier. She also insisted she was only supposed to do five illustrations, rather than twenty, and that she had never agreed to do layout “since that’s not even in my list of skills.” But the terms of the agreement are in the email I sent her, as very clear bullet points, and her agreement to those terms is just as clear (and enthusiastic) in her immediate reply.

While we were debating this, and our relationship was collapsing, she started trying to use my depression (which I’m very open about and have written of quite a bit on this blog) as a weapon against me, trying to portray me as irrational in order to make it appear our problems were all my fault.

Now, Tess Fowler has cut off all contact, despite my repeated efforts at reconciliation and to give her another chance, and refused to refund the advance, even though it is now past Christmas, the book is not out, and I have received not a single thing she’d agreed to provide for that money.

Now, the full story… Continue reading