Every week or so, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.
Unfortunately, Todd Lockwood joined TSR during the last of that company’s death throes. Fortunately, he came out to Seattle with the rest of us who joined Wizards of the Coast. Unfortunately, the geniuses at Hasbro decided we didn’t need artists on staff. And fortunately again, Todd remained in the area as an active freelancer, so we saw each other now and then.
It was at the 2008 World Fantasy Convention in Calgary where we reconnected after I left the States six years later. Over a few glasses of wine, I confessed that one of my unrealized dreams in publishing was to have a Todd Lockwood cover on one of my books. Todd enthusiastically agreed that should happen one day.
When I bumped into him at Gen Con a year or so later and reminded him of our “agreement,” he was more circumspect. “It would have to be the right project,” he said. As brush-offs go, it was fairly nice, but it taught me two things. First was that wine is a useful lubricant. Second was that, in the absence of wine, I was going to have wait for the right time, and then I’d use guile, deception, and perhaps a little tough-guy stuff.
Fast forward to 2013, when R. Scott Taylor asked me whether I’d contribute to the sequel to his critically-acclaimed Tales of the Emerald Serpent anthology. The art in the first volume floored me, including the fantastic interior illustrations by Jeff Laubenstein and Janet Aulisio, whose work I’d long admired, but especially Todd’s fabulous cover painting. I agreed to contribute to Scott’s anthology on one condition: I needed Todd to paint my character on the cover.
After I explained that Todd had already “promised” and that the alternative was that I send a few of the boys around for a visit, Scott agreed. And lo, there’s Atzi on the left of A Knight in the Silk Purse, now available in print, .mobi, and .epub versions. Ironically, I’ve another story appearing under a Todd Lockwood cover this fall. (More on that later.) The point is: guile, deception, and tough-guy stuff for the win.
1. When did you first start writing? How did your own art, and the art of others, inspire your stories?
I truly first started writing about the same time I started drawing. I learned to draw mostly making my own picture books and, later, comic books. In the first case I was definitely riffing off of other picture books, but when I drew comics, in my mind I was telling a movie or a TV show. Those were the sorts of stories that drew me—full of action and spectacle. I wrote stories, too, throughout my childhood, and began a novel when I was out of high school that’s still kicking around here somewhere. It’s a good story, I think, though I doubt I’ll ever go back to it. It’s in longhand, for one thing, so I’d have to transcribe it all. Yeah… not going to happen.
Anyway, all the above influenced all the above. If I had grown up in California, I might well have gone to film school. My folks pushed me to be an artist, and I liked drawing and painting, but the invention of the doing in every case is what drew me in.
2. Since you’re cover artist, interior artist, and contributing author to the Ghosts of Taux series, how do you find yourself shifting gears creatively? Or if it’s all a continuum, how does each challenge influence the others?
I’ve been working on a novel since about 2004, with most of that time spent in workshops and at seminars, reading books on the craft, exorcising bad habits, expanding on my strengths, picking the brains of other writers, and making new friends along the way. Through much of that time it took me a good week to switch gears and be my best at either discipline. For a week after finishing a cover painting, I needed at least several days of writing before I hit a stride. That improved over time. When I did the cover for the first volume, Tales of the Emerald Serpent, I was also writing the story. The shift takes less time these days.
Meanwhile, I see very clearly what things look like in my head. My writing style is understandably very visual. When I have a setting to describe or an action scene to write, I only have to look at it and describe what I see. But the other stuff takes more work: plot, character, emotion. I spend more time rewriting there than with descriptions.
Incidentally, I sold the novel to DAW Books. I had envisioned six short novellas, thinking that readers today have less time for reading, and I’d like to give them more smaller plates. But my editor, the exceptional Betsy Wollheim, asked that I combine each two books into a single volume. That meant that instead of six books there would be three, and that I now had to write the second half of the first volume, or Book 2. I’m nearly done, but there’s no release date yet.
3. Thinking back to some of the writers and visual artists who most inspired you, do you find they are often associated with each other? For example, are you a fan of both R.E. Howard and Frank Frazetta, and do you think something about their connection attracted you? Or did one simply draw you to discover the other?
Interesting question! I’d never thought about that before. I don’t think I ever bought a book only for the cover art, but certainly good cover art made me pick a book up. I do associate Frazetta more with Howard than any other author he covered, perhaps because I loved Howard’s writing. I associate his paintings with books of action and energy, so they were well paired. My other early idol was Michael Whelan, whose authors tended to be more complex and even cerebral. I associate him with Larry Niven especially. As a lover of science, I adored hard-science speculative fiction, like the Integral Trees and its sequels, which Michael covered brilliantly. Every detail was bang on.
I did buy other Niven books with covers by other artists, though. So I guess artists led me to writers more often than the reverse.
4. You’re one of the central contributors to the Ghosts of Taux anthologies. What kind of role do you play in the basic concepts of the setting and of the over-arching story of each volume?
Very little. This is really Scott Taylor’s world, based on his very comprehensive history of thirteen or so ages in the span of Man. Taux is in the Fifth Age, if I remember correctly. He and I do sit down at Comic Con every year and talk about possibilities, but whether my suggestions influence or gel or hit the reject pile is beyond my ability to say. I do think that the success of the first volume was in part to the success of the weaving of the stories between writers, something that we pulled off especially well (IMHO) with “Three Souls for Sale” (Mike Toussignant), “Between” (me), and “Charlatan” (Scott Taylor). It made Scott anxious to make that a feature of the next and future volumes. It’s one of the things that makes these books so exciting; they’re not just a string of stories (though each stands alone), they also weave together into a bigger tale. And that’s fun.
5. Do you find that your writing habits mirror your painting habits? That is, do you outline in ways similar to how you sketch? Do you write at a different time of day from when you paint?
Very much so. When I paint, I start with a thumbnail drawing, expand it out to find pose and inertia and compositional balance, then shoot reference, tighten up the drawings, then lay in the color. When I write, I outline everything, but the first outline is little more than a few random sentences or ideas—like a thumbnail. From there the progression is very similar: important moments placed, then connected, threads discovered and integrated, and the last pass to tighten up the prose and get the right gloss on everything.
There are artists, like the amazing Rick Berry, who will start a painting that is one thing, and before it’s done it’s something else entirely. He can’t be contained by the original idea—it has to be fluid. Similarly, Nancy Kress once told me that if she knows how a book is going to end she loses interest in it. She just writes, with no idea where it will go, just an unerring instinct for when it works and when it’s off the rails a bit.
For news on Todd’s latest work, and to buy prints, check out his website.