Sunday, May 29, 2016

An excellent SFF adventure: a day with Janny Wurts and Don Maitz

I didn't want to leave for Australia without sharing pics from another recent adventure. These last months I've been enjoying the hell out of Janny Wurts's Wars of Light and Shadow series, which is a masterwork of epic fantasy--one of the best combinations of grand scope and tight plotting I've ever read. Plus, the Empire trilogy Janny co-wrote with Raymond Feist is my husband's favorite SFF series of all time! So I was beyond delighted when Janny invited me to visit her home in Florida after I finished a business trip last week in Orlando.

Hanging out with one of my heroes: veteran author Janny Wurts
Not only is Janny an amazing writer, she's also an immensely talented artist, as is her husband Don Maitz. They've been doing cover art for the big SFF publishers for decades, along with their own personal paintings, and every wall of their home is covered in absolutely stunning examples of their work. It was like being in a museum of fine art--I tell you, I could have spent hours admiring all the paintings on display. Just look at this:

Some of Janny's gorgeous art for her Wars of Light and Shadow series
Don Maitz in his & Janny's studio
Janny in her art workspace
Don with some of his recent work
What you can see in the above pics is only the smallest sampling! Check out the art catalog on their website for a whole lot more.

Janny and Don were wonderful hosts, and after their decades working in art and publishing, they have a wealth of fascinating (and sometimes heartwrenching) stories to share. I knew about the changes in the publishing industry that have been squeezing out the midlist, but I had not realized a similar sea-change happened in the art world, as publishers turned to photoshop/stock-art covers and stopped commissioning many original paintings. It's a hard thing to see income streams vanish and have to reinvent yourself at a time when you should be enjoying the fruits of a long career. But Janny and Don are not the sort to bemoan changes they can't reverse; instead they are seeking out new ways to reach readers and art patrons alike, and continue doing the creative work they love.

Janny with her Paravia sketchbook, full of beautifully realized scenes from the Wars of Light and Shadow. Seeing this was a huge treat for a fan of the series like me!
Janny's also a horsewoman, a skilled bagpiper, a search-and-rescue volunteer, and she's passionate about conservation and wildlife. She and I spent a lovely few hours hiking together in Myakka River State Park, one of her favorite local haunts. The Florida forest is quite a different experience from anything we have in Colorado! I got to see alligators, black vultures, blue herons, egrets, and some beautiful spring flowers. I only wish I'd remembered to bring my real camera! I had to make do with my cell phone, but I still got a few decent shots:

Oaks adorned with spanish moss
Black vultures sunning themselves

Hiking through native forest
We don't get green like this in Colorado!
Janny at Clay Gully: watch out for the alligators!

Janny with her favorite tree, a truly massive oak
Myakka Park has a "canopy walk" that was pretty neat: a swinging bridge high in the forest canopy that leads to an observation tower with a 360-degree view of Florida forest (and building thunderstorms!).

Enjoying the view from the tower
They just need to add a Faraday cage to the tower and it'd be the best place ever for thunderstorm viewing
Looking down at a forest clearing
After hiking, the fun was just starting. Janny's husband Don loves all things piratical and has participated in quite a few pirate re-enactments. I got to see a real flintlock pistol and fire off a (small) black powder cannon, a.k.a. swivel gun.

Don's swivel gun; Janny had a wonderfully funny story about how she got him the cannon as a present, and how hard she had to work to keep the gift a surprise
Don getting ready to fire. (Note he's wearing earplugs. The cannon is seriously loud. The first time we fired it, Janny's horses spooked and ran. But the 2nd time, the horses were all, "Oh yeah, that's just the crazy humans doing their crazy things again. We're over it.")
We finished off the day with a quick trip to Siesta Key to watch the sunset. The beach has really interesting sand--it's 99% pure quartz, crushed very fine, so it's blindingly white and has the consistency of powdered sugar. The sky was overcast so we thought we might miss seeing the sun actually set into the water, but just at the last minute, the sun peeked out beneath the cloud layer in a blaze of pink.

A perfect ending to a perfect day
Can't thank Janny and Don enough for opening their home and lives to me. The best part of publishing has been the amazing people I've met that I might never have otherwise. If you're not familiar with Janny and Don's art and novels, you really, really should check them out. As for me, it's time to get back to packing for Australia...

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful experience! I love their artwork and I'm so very jealous of you getting to view their personal gallery. Plus getting to spend time outdoors with such a kindred spirit. Check this one off your bucket list :)