UUP Character Sheets – Get to Know Us!

We of Uncommon Universes Press have been rather scarce as of late, due to working on many awesome projects (including upcoming publications and a revamped website!) However, in the interest of fair play and friendliness, upon the eve of Realm Makers 2016 we decided the best way to welcome you into our geek world is through the time-honored practice of RPG character sheets!

Name: Janeen Ippolito (aliases Lady Kestrel, Earmaiwen, Allinde)

Affiliation: Uncommon Universes Press

Class: Author, Sword-Fighter, Snarker, Enthusiast of Life

Level: 42 (or, if you’re a ST: VOY fan, 47)

Race: Joined Trill (always thought this was a cool idea–the knowledge of the ages without the hassle of immortality)

Alignment: Chaotic Good

Height: 5′ 8”

Hair: Currently responsible brown, has been red, black, purple, green, blue, pink, and plain old bleached

Eyes: hazel

Skin: I’m a fan of Trill markings (Trill might have to be a future cosplay)

Superpowers: Last-Minute Writing Melee, Elemental Brainstorming, World Creation Whirlwind, Costume-Derping

Items: Master Editor’s Pen of Awesome, Leather Bag of Perpetual Randomness

History: traveled long and far through the Furious Frenzy of Online Play by Post RPGs, the Mountains of College-Level Writing, the Star-Ways of Illuminating Writing Conferences, and the Depths of Fifth-Draft-And-Still-Drafting-Despair. Many side trips into Eddies of Entrepreneurial Enterprises. Now eager to help others along the journey.

Personality: open to ideas, friendly, analytical, user of big words right next to small words right next to words that technically don’t exist (yet), always up for meeting new people, distracted by shinies


Name: Julia Busko (alias Mae, which is also her middle name)

Affiliation: Uncommon Universes Press

Class: Illustrator, Archer, Dancer, Singer, Dreamer of Worlds

Level: 25 (or at least close enough)

Race: honorary Hylian (she’s saved the princess more times than she can count)

Alignment: Lawful Good

Height: 5’6″

Hair: dark honey blond

Eyes: cornflower blue

Skin: commonly found with sharpie doodles and paint stains

Superpowers: costume making, world building, over-analyzing art films, drinking too much coffee

Items: sketching pencils, watercolors, pointe shoes, cute skull sundress

History: fell in love with stories at a young age, spins tales and creates snapshots into the world of her imagination. Fluent in images. Lives by the motto “live deeply that you may soar,” as taught in her Ballet class (a statement mostly used to remind us getting a good plie will help us jump higher). Loves telling stories through pictures and loves the opportunity to share that passion with others.

Personality: although shy and reclusive, the wild Julia loves people and enjoys deep, meaningful conversations. She spends much of her time in her own world, and when she’s not found drawing or dancing, she can be found in her basement working on some new projects. She loves new and different challenges and prefers working with her hands. Sometimes hard to get to know because of the shyness, she appreciates extroverts and surrounds herself with people who are as creative as she is.


Name: Sarah Delena White (aliases Aranel Rudhaldawen, Royal Vagabond, Switzerland)

Affiliation:
Uncommon Universes Press

Class:
Author, Wandering Troubadour, Maker of Shiny Things, Keeper of Peace

Level:
Classified

Race:
Firebird (an elusive shapeshifter known for bestowing benevolence on lost heroes and being easily distracted by shiny objects)

Alignment:
Neutral Good

Height:
5′ 3”

Hair:
golden brown

Eyes:
blue

Skin:
easily sunburned

Superpowers:
Ballad Singing, Typo Catching, Outcome Seeing, Dish Washing. Power level is in direct correlation to number of lattes consumed.

Items:
Needle and thread, earbuds, purple pen, Sriracha, magic hair that glows when she sings

History:
humble origin as a chicken-keeper and tutu-wearer, studied the art of ancient balladry, hacked through the jungle of higher education until she got bored and decided to go on adventures instead, disappeared into the desert where she found shawarma and goats, eventually reemerged and owned her secret identity as a storyteller.

Personality:
chill, simultaneously happy and sad, inhabits multiple universes at once, thinks long-term and big-picture, sometimes fails at words, loves new adventures and interesting conversations

Press Updates: Offices and Parties

First off, our first launch party for World-Building From the Inside Out (textbook and workbook) went swimmingly! There was awesome brainstorming, fun giveaways, and “Two Truths and a Lie” videos with all the authors. Thanks to everyone who showed up! If you’re curious, the launch party is still open and you can feel free to read through (and give the videos a view).

In other news, UUP partner Sarah White has now relocated to the Ippolito homestead and is busy establishing herself and her awesome jewelry design work –  as well as working on press business in the office.

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Office 1

Next on the production schedule is the urban fantasy/suspense Blood Mercy: Houses of the Dead (working title). Janeen Ippolito and Julia Busko have been hard at work finishing up this illustrated novella, part of which is currently available online. Keep an eye out for an extremely-limited time chance to read the entire serialized novella online before it’s taken down for illustrations, polishing, and formatting.

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Office 2 – the Artist’s Lair 

By the way, the skull’s name is Blair after groundbreaking artist Mary Blair. And you can check out Julia Busko’s first speed-painting video.

Also on the agenda is a science fiction/fantasy web comic collaboration. It features Diza, an ice-cream loving, planet-hopping Fae who loves gadgets (and has no idea what a Fae is). Expect more updates as we push forward on this endeavor!

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Preliminary concept art for Diza

Last, but not least, Sarah White’s steampunk/Celtic mythology novel (working title: Dragonfly) is in the revising stages. We’re aiming for an end of the year release. You won’t want to miss this epic novel where magic and science collide!

Stay tuned for fresh blog posts and updates as the summer begins. Thanks for reading!

For exclusive behind-the-scenes info, advance content, and more, please feel free to sign up for our email newsletter. 

-Janeen Ippolito, Lead Production/Administrative

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Unicorns, Spaceships, and Why I Can’t Live Without Them

What is a story?

Is it an escape from the troubles of the real world? A morality tale meant to instruct people on good and evil? A nice diversion on a free evening, to be consumed and forgotten?

Or is it more?

Five years ago, I would have said ‘no.’ I would have told you that stories – especially speculative ones – were fun entertainment at best, and a harmful distraction at worst.

You see, I tried very hard not to be a fantasy author.

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Inventing stories was always compulsive for me. I created my first storyworld when I was three. I switched up the characters and concepts repeatedly as I grew older, but each time I gravitated towards fantasy or sci-fi.

But I didn’t see it as anything other than a fun hobby. Tales of unicorns and spaceships were fun, but they didn’t seem useful. They didn’t help anyone or even promise a steady income. I believed a writer’s life meant living in one’s head while neglecting everything that was important in the real world. By the time I reached adulthood, I had decided my favorite pastime was a waste.

So I pushed it aside. At age 20 I abandoned my last childhood WIP and decided to focus on the “real world.” I studied ESL and intercultural studies. Worked half a dozen jobs and spent some time in the Middle East. Story ideas still teased at my mind as I fell asleep at night or tried to focus on boring textbooks, but I shoved them aside. I was doing something real and worthwhile, something I thought would be a service to others. Inventing epic quests and whimsical worlds couldn’t possibly be important in comparison.

Could it?

Funny how things can come full-circle. All of those “real” endeavors led me back to writing five years later, with a very different perspective. In 2011, an intense internship in Oman left me with a lot of cultural and relational experiences that I struggled to process. I started to write about it in the form of a memoir.

And was bored with it after ten pages. I found I could record the events as they happened, but I couldn’t capture what those events meant.

Late one night, I poured those thoughts and emotions onto paper in a new form: a story about a man who is pulled through a portal into another universe filled with symbolism, supernatural powers, glowing plants, and a culture based on the Arab world. It wasn’t great writing, and it didn’t have much of a plot. But for the first time, my life experiences and suppressed love of fantastic tales fused together. Suddenly, a story wasn’t just a story. It was my only way of making sense of reality.

I started world-building and plotted a few stories. Those didn’t work out, so I scrapped them and tried different concepts. After many rounds of scrapping and rebuilding, I had a finished novel. There was a lot more to that journey, of course – a bittersweet year in the Middle East, unexpected community with other writers, and a lot of trial and error. But the most important piece had clicked into place.

Good stories, I realized, are never a waste of time. There is nothing frivolous about them, no matter how fantastic the concept or world-building. Instead, storytelling means being willing to face reality and tell the truth – truth that sometimes can’t be conveyed in any other way.

Why do you tell stories? Are there any that have helped you see our world in a new light?

-Sarah White, Acquisitions/Editorial

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Complementary Art – Writing, Illustration, and Color

A picture can add a lot to writing.

Be it the cover of an epic novel or the interior illustrations of a kid’s book, visuals can engage the reader in a way that makes them want to read more. A drawing can capture a moment of time and help to show the audience what the writer is trying to convey. Illustration can be a complement to writing.e530e3b43e5e24d15c084d12f4e0ed91

Kind of like how purple is the complement of yellow. But without the paint.

Finding a visual artist to collaborate with can produce new art that has both voices beautifully displayed. But like colors, not every visual artist fits with every writer.

Sort of like how hot pink and fire engine red look horrible together, even though they’re both fun colors.

When looking for an illustrator, consider how long you will be working with them. Is this a single project? Or are you looking to find an illustrator to work with for years to come? If you’re looking forward to years of work, it may be useful to search for someone who you get along with professionally and has similar expectations.

Here at Uncommon Universes Press Ippolito, Janeen and myself have been working together for 3 ½ years. We are friends who share aspirations and aesthetics. We approach life from two radically different ways and through that, come together to create art – her through writing, and I primarily through visuals (see more in our article on the Castle Gate Press blog).

We are complementary, like red and green. Even though burgundy and lime green, our respective favorite colors, technically don’t look good together.

Any fans of illustration out there? Please feel free to comment with your favorite illustrated books (graphic novels count too) – bonus points if you include a picture (or a link to a picture).

-Julia Busko, Illustration/Graphic Design

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More Than Dragons – World-Building, Story-Telling, and Speculative Fiction

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I’ve heard it said that speculative fiction is the same as regular fiction, only with dragons. To a certain extent, this is true. Speculative fiction and non-speculative fiction both need to have solid story structure, compelling characters, vivid description, good editing, and a snazzy book cover to lure in readers.

This argument, that speculative fiction is ‘fiction with dragons’ or ‘fiction that asks what-if’ is meant in part to decrease divisions. Speculative fiction is not so different from the rest. We can convert any speculative story into a non-speculative story, and make it just as compelling, because really, the core elements are the same.

Right?

But if that’s the case, then why write speculative fiction at all? If dragons are just metaphors for trials of this life (or angels or dogs or unexpected blessings, etc), then why use them?

It comes down to story. It comes down to world-building. And it comes down to a main reason I write speculative fiction and why I’m passionate about this small press.

Because I can’t write anything else.

Seven years ago I decided to hop back into writing with NaNoWriMo. I had grown up a geek and written my fair share in middle and high school, but I was going to be sensible this time around. I was going to write contemporary fairy tale retellings. Take my favorite fairy tales, set them in modern contexts, get rid of any trace of magic or actual fairies, and prove that the themes were the same. Prove to myself that I was a legitimate writer who didn’t need the ‘crutch’ of using dragons. After all, pragmatically, contemporary has a larger audience, right? Why spend time in speculative world when I could write for that audience and reach a larger readership?

I had the inspiration. I had the plot. I wrote the book. I even charted the sequels.

And after numerous writers conferences, after dusting off my college writing classes and actually applying them, and after numerous edits, I had something real. I had achieved my goal. It was clean, it had themes of faith and hope, and it was romance.

Hmmm. Clean romance series with a fairy tale edge. Everything in my pragmatic mind said this was a smart move. This would sell. I could do this.

I hated it.

Nothing in the book could keep my attention. Working on it was a chore. Even my beta readers who enjoyed it noted that it wasn’t me.

I had to step back and reconsider what I’d been told. If speculative fiction was just regular fiction dressed up in world-building, then why did it seem like stripping away the speculative elements killed the soul of the fairy tale?

That’s when I realized the world-building was something more. More than just dragons.

Any writing class will tell you that paying attention to setting pays off in writing. That the surroundings of a character, the whys and hows of their situation, are key to creating a solid story.

With speculative fiction, the world-building–the crazy words or the crazy creatures or the crazy races–are more than window-dressing. They are the whys and hows. And they are key to making vivid, original stories. Spec fiction can’t be compared to contemporary fiction. It should instead be compared to historical fiction.

No one asks a writer of historical fiction “can’t you just put this in a contemporary setting?” Because the history is part of the story. It envelopes the reader’s mind into a time and a place that is rich and beautiful and necessary to the plot.

Speculative world-building should be the same. We have this incredible opportunity to surround readers with pure imagination. To make our own histories and cities and cultures and super-powers, and then use them to tell fantastic stories. Stories that, while possessing timeless themes and relevant concepts, can only be told with dragons.

Or teleportation

Or space stations

Or whatever else you choose!

(P.S. – and then feel free to submit the stories to us!)

-Janeen Ippolito, Lead Production/Administrative

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Three Reasons Mythology Matters

Now that we’ve gone through our perspectives on world-building and characters, we’d love to share topics we’re excited about publishing. Mythology and myth-based stories are one of our passions, especially for Sarah White, our administrative and acquisitions person.

For as long as humans have been telling stories, we’ve used them to explore deep questions, affirm our values, and try to make sense of our world. Each culture has its myths and legends – stories that gave their audience a sense of their own identity and origin, and explained the workings of nature and humanity.

Today, we have history. Science. Legends of gods, monsters, and magic are a thing of the past, only relevant as novel glimpses into archaic cultures…

…or are they? Here are three reasons why mythology is just as relevant as ever!

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  1. Mythology restores our sense of wonder.

“The value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity.”
-C.S. Lewis, “Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: A Review”, On Stories and Other Essays on Literature

Let’s be honest – it’s easy to be jaded. We’re all guilty of taking our lives and the world around us for granted, forgetting they are priceless gifts. By transporting us out of our normal surroundings and restating timeless truths in new ways, myths (and other fantastic stories) can help us see the wonder of the real world more clearly.

  1. Mythology reflects the true nature of humans and the world.

This should be a goal in any story. The beauty of mythology, however, is how it can amplify reality.

These reflections aren’t always flattering. Take the petty Greek gods, who spend most of their time bickering and having affairs. Or the devious fairies of Celtic mythology, who play tricks on mortals and wage brutal wars with each other. In today’s world, where we’re told to have faith in human goodness and progress, these stories are sobering reminders of the faults and temptations we all deal with.

At the same time, myths encourage us to believe in heroism and persevere in the face of overwhelming odds. No matter how skewed the portrayal of truth and virtue may be, we’re reminded that these things exist, and that the way we live and the choices we make matter.

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  1. Mythology adapts to take on new significance.

One of the beauties of myths and legends is that they’re not set in stone. Each culture,  generation, and individual will see them in a different light and rework them to convey their own values and ideals.

Modern speculative fiction is chock-full of examples. Norse gods run wild in New York City, fused with our modern superhero “mythology.” We reimagine villainous creatures to explore new kinds of heroism. And just when we think we’ve seen every possible twist on “Cinderella,” someone finds a new angle and we fall in love with it all over again.

What are some of your favorite myths, or mythological retellings? Have you incorporated mythology into your own stories and world-building?

-Sarah White, Acquisitions/Editorial

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Story Launch – “Houses of the Dead”

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An ancient healer. A conflicted vampire. Ten days to stop a massacre.

Maybe.

Melrose Durante brings order. As the founder of the Houses of the Dead, he leads the Blood Kind and tirelessly opposes the vampires. His medical breakthroughs help many return from the vampire path. After thousands of years, the Blood Kind finally have the upper hand.

Until a disturbed vampire attacks his family, then begs for asylum. Calling herself Lucy, the young woman speaks in riddles and ramblings, with sporadic moments of clarity. One thing comes through: in ten days, vampire leader Conan will launch a full-scale attack on Tierston City, killing or enslaving all who stand in his way.

As Conan’s personal assistant, Lucy contains vital information. But her erratic guidance leads to more questions.

Time is running out. Unless Melrose can unlock the mind of a tormented woman, even his immortal wisdom might not be enough to save Tierston, and the Houses of the Dead.

Read Part 1 – The Vampire’s Confession and feel free to comment! This is an ongoing serial, and feedback is always appreciated. Updates will be posted weekly, along with additional illustrations by our own Julia Busko (who is also a key creative contributor).

Learn about the history of The Houses of the Dead – Vampires and Disabilities

For additional updates, follow Uncommon Universes on Twitter and search for #bloodmercy.

Looking forward to a great time! Thanks for reading!