Sunday, August 28, 2016

Which Classic Book Have You Not read And Why?

Only one?


Oh, wait, you're serious?

A lot of them. I have not read THE GRAPES OF WRATH. I've read parts of it.

I have never so much as opened the spine on MOBY DICK, because I've heard from NUMEROUS sources that it's long-winded and boring as all hell.

CATCHER IN THE RYE? Nope. I might, some day, but there are all these other books I want to read more.

Here's the thing: Classics are classics. They are also open to interpretation. Some of them get a good rep and some do not. My God, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one of my all time favorite novels. It's brilliant. I've read volumes of Arthur C. Clarke, H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Anne McCaffery, Robert Heinlein, Fred Saberhagen, Jules Verne, Sheridan LeFanu,  H.G. Wells, Edgar Alan Poe, Mark Twain, Gene Wolf, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, Marion Zimmer Bradley,  Lloyd Alexander, J.R.R. Tolkien, Larry Niven,  and that's the tiniest sampling. To me those are classics. They have a depth of work. They told stories that enthralled me and still do. I found their works compelling and delicious and eye-opening.

There are so very many I have not read enough of as yet, like Isaac Asimov (Some, not enough), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert E. Howard, Ursula K. LeGuin, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Stephen R. Donaldson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Cormac McCarthy, Terry Pratchett, Diana Gabaldon, Mary Stewart, Neal Stevenson, Stephen Erikson....a nearly endless list of modern masters.

So why would I then make myself read works that do not have any desire to read, merely because a handful of academics decided they are required reading? I am not in high school. I never attended college. I imagine there are a few books that I SHOULD read, but I'll get to them if I have the time.

The Classic Not Taken

Which classic book have you never read and why?

I suspect the answer to "why" will be much the same for all of us. There will be THAT book that, for whatever reason, we felt we *should* read, made some kind of attempt at - maybe multiple ones - and finally gave up.

Mine is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

People, I have tried to read this book SO MANY TIMES. One thing about writing these sorts of posts is that you'll inevitably get someone who loved loved loved the book and is desperate for you to give it ONE MORE TRY. "Just get past page X," they say. Or, "but the payoff when..." they offer hopefully.

I ain't gonna.

I finally got rid of my copy, in fact, so absolve myself of its haunting presence and the guilt that I failed to love it. And don't remind me that it's in the common domain now and I can get it for free.


You couldn't pay me to read this book.

(Okay, maybe enough money would make me slog through it. $200K comes to mind. Give me that and I'll read the damn thing.)


I first picked up a copy of this book in my mid-twenties, full of chipper excitement, because Anne Rice had it be the hero's favorite book in The Witching Hour. She made a persuasive case for the impact this book had on him, and The Witching Hour had an *enormous* impact on me, so I was all ready to be equally in love.

No. So, not.

(I did this all the time in those days, chained from book to book, like going from flower to flower in a lush garden. I still do it, to some extent, though I feel like I have less reading time for it.)

But I persevered! I loved Anne Rice so much, I figured I MUST love a book she loved. There's a transitive property of book loving involved there. Only writing this post, years later, does it occur to me that maybe Anne *doesn't* love Great Expectations. Maybe she simply picked it as a good classic for the hero to love. Back then I didn't know authors did this. (They totally do.) I'm friendly with her son, Christopher Rice - now I'm tempted to ask him to find out the truth here.


Anyway - I kept the book and, every year or so, I'd pick it up and try again. Then put it down again in boredom and disgust. Over time, I developed an active hatred for the story. I even watched the movies - both the 1998 and the 2012 versions, thinking maybe those would light me up.

Nope nope nope.

It's just not meant to be. And, for the record, I don't really care for any of Dickens except A Christmas Carol, which I'm sure makes me the literary equivalent of the Catholic who goes to mass only at Easter and Christmas.

Since I'm a Catholic-by-family only and never go to mass, this doesn't bother me greatly.

So, I'm begging you - don't tell me what a great book this is. I'm sure it must be. I just ... can't. Instead, tell me which classic YOU couldn't read!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Magic of A Good Book Cover

I was blessed by the cover goddesses on my first published book, Priestess of the Nile.  Carina Press asked the wonderful Frauke Spanuth of Croco Designs - who LOVES crocodiles - to create my cover and I still get compliments on the awesomeness.

It was so gorgeous and so evocative of the story and the time frame that I was nothing short of horrified when I got my second Carina cover, NOT by Frauke, and my Egyptian warrior was depicted as heavily bearded. Ancient Egyptian men were clean shaven, they're well known for that, other than the ritual beard worn by Pharaoh at times. Carina was very nice about fixing that aspect of the art (and I'm sure I was overreacting a bit, as a still pretty newly published author, but the Art Department was very patient.)

When I started self publishing, I went back to Frauke and have had her do all my subsequent covers for the ancient Egyptian series. I particularly love the art for Ghost of the Nile.

I self pubbed the science fiction romance novels from the beginning and have always worked with the amazing Fiona Jayde. Here's the first, Wreck of the Nebula Dream, which established the 'brand", as far as the font, and the stylistic elements of the hero and heroine, with a major scenic element from the plot under the title.

I was probably a pain to work with in the beginning. My daughter, also a published author, gave me a lot of helpful advice on which stock photos would and wouldn't work and what was pleasing and genre appropriate. I would gravitate to people and poses that now, looking back, I can see were totally wrong. I had a touching, if misplaced faith in the ability of the cover artist to manipulate stock photos. Um, no, stock photos are what they are. Someone as talented as Fiona can do some wizardy, amazing things but the basic photo has to be appropriate.

The way we work now is that I reach the point where I want my eye candy cover, usually when I'm partway through the first draft. I go spend a few hours searching all the possible categories on a stock photo site or two, and pull maybe eight guys I think might work, a woman or two who suggests my heroine to me, and two to  three scenic element examples. I go back and make myself be strict, removing the photos that won't work - pose not right, too smiley, not really the look of a Sectors Special Forces soldier - and then I send an e mail packed with stockphoto url's off to Fiona.

She gently sends back the few that are actually workable and genre appropriate, and I settle on one for the hero. Fiona tends to be much better than I am at picking the right woman for the final cover. I leave the scenic element up to her after I've sent my "these are kind of what I had in mind" samples. Sometimes she has to suggest alternative guys as well.

I can't share the rejected photos with you because we never actually buy them. We just look at them on the stockphoto site so I don't have the right to display them here. Sorry!

On my new book, Trapped on Talonque, I did find the heroine myself, lucking into a stock photo of a girl with the lavender-blue hair described in the book AND elaborately braided, which my heroine Bitha's hair is at one point. Wow! When you're doing stock photos you learn early on that you're probably going to see the same models and poses on a lot of covers and you're not going to be able to truly portray your characters exactly as they are in the book. You can only suggest the mood and emotion as you entice the prospective reader with your thumbnail.

Covers are critically important - you really need a high quality cover to stand out to the reader among all  the choices they have available these days. It should be clear what genre you're offering and not look like you made it yourself in one hour of photoshopping. Some authors do have amazing graphic skills and more power to them, but sadly, a number of the indie covers I see are lacking. I do a weekly roundup of new releases in scifi and fantasy romance for my personal blog and seeing all the covers in one place together, you really can tell who is a DIY person that probably should have hired a cover artist. (Tip: go look at the top 20 Amazon best sellers in whatever genre you're writing, and see how those covers look, in terms of stylistic elements, font, etc.)

Some day I'd love to be successful enough to have custom cover photo shoots, especially for the Egyptian novels, but until then I'm very grateful for Fiona and Frauke, and creative stockphoto sites.

Trapped on Talonque, the story:

Will an alien sleeping beauty awaken to save him, or destroy everyone around her?
When a Sectors Special Forces soldier and his team crash land on an alien planet, they’re taken captive and given a challenge–win at the violent ball game of sapiche and live. Lose, and they die, sending a mysterious, alien beauty to an even uglier fate. To survive, these soldiers must win the game and find a way to free the dangerous prisoner from her locked chamber.
Nate Reilly and his team are in deep trouble. Prisoners on a backward alien planet, they’re brought before an alien ‘goddess’, sleeping in her high tech seclusion. Nate is astonished when she awakes and establishes a psychic link with him. But her news is not good–he and his men must win a brutal challenge set by their captors, or they will die. She’ll give her aid, but in the end their courage and strength must win the contest.
Bithia sleeps in her chamber, as she has for thousands of years, since her own people unaccountably left her there. Viewed as a goddess by her captors, she must hide her ancient secrets to survive. But only the bravest of men may free her. Can she use her psychic powers to keep Nate and his men alive long enough to help her escape, or will her only hope of freedom die with them?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cover Lottery

File covers under: You win some, you lose some. Sometimes all on the same cover(s). Book covers have a lot of jobs. Entice a reader to pick the book out of all the books on the shelves in order to read the back cover blurb. Convey what kind of read to expect - genre, tone, what have you. And hopefully, if you're really lucky, the cover will get the hero or heroines hair color right. Ish.

Wins on my first two covers: Really pretty. Amazing artwork. The heroines are mostly right. Ari's book (yellow one left) makes her far too put together for her particular circumstance, but oh well. Jayleia's cover (green below) gets her right.

The losses on these covers: Neither one says SFR. They both, to my eye, convey urban fantasy, instead. Compounding that problem? They were shelved in romance. Also, that background scene for Ari? Doesn't exist. No where in the books. Jay's background? Well. Maybe. There is a temple on her home world that gets attacked and she gets to be all bad ass about. So okay.

These covers came from a traditional house and when they were presented to me, there was very little room for alterations or changes.

The next two covers were also from a traditional house, but were for their E-book only imprint. Both were for urban fantasy novels, which I think they convey reasonably well.

I think you get UF from this cover. And maybe you get that the heroine isn't exactly a kick ass supernatural. She has skills, yes, but swinging swords or staking vamps might not be among them. The piece missing for me is a hint of magic - which really defines Isa's books. I do love that she's more than half dressed. But without the hint of something mystical, this could also pass as a cover for a cozy mystery. Which makes it not as cool as it could be. The only other issue is that this cover isn't all that great at conveying the tone of the story - the fact that there's some torture and overall angst. The problem is that ebook covers have to do all the work that print covers do - but they have to do it in thumbnail. That shit's HARD.
The second book in the series did a better job, I think.

In this cover, I got the hint of magic and with the background, I think you get a taste of this story not being all sunshine and roses. Maybe. So. Ebook covers - but ebook covers still presented by a traditional house with their own agendas and ideas about what changes might be made when and where. Which is to say - not many.

The really interesting cover, for me, is the most current one. It's for a light paranormal romance. The story was a complete departure for me. There are no dead bodies. Well. None that die on screen, anyway. It was my first venture into self publishing. Therefore the pressure I put on getting the cover right was enormous. I had several ideas for how the cover could look. In the end, I won a Twitter contest for a free cover from the awesome Danielle Fine. I told her my cover ideas.

She shot me right down. And explained WHY she'd nixed my cover. Her experience with romances novels and with paranormal in particular told us that paranormal readers expect the couple on the cover. Well okay. I was so relieved to have some guidance, I instantly sent over all of the particulars about Fiona and Darsorin. Danielle mocked up several different covers. We sat with them, hemming and hawing. I picked one I liked, but asked for a few changes in the hero. Discontent with the covers, Danielle went back to the drawing board and sent me a cover that made me gasp when I saw it because it was 100% right.

The characters are dead on. The single issue is that the flames surrounding them (while entirely appropriate to a theme that runs through the book) suggests this is a hot read. And it ain't. See. While Darsorin is an incubus and feeds on sexual energy, Fiona is asexual. So sure fire happens in the know. Anyway. I hope to heaven it's not misleading. Or if it is, the story is enjoyable enough as is. Because, boy, do I love this cover.

Given my druthers which cover process do I prefer? Oh, this last one. Hands down. Getting to strive for a cover that does the matches the story is a huge win. Even if it means brainstorming several times before you finally find the right fit - that was something that simply wasn't an option with any of the traditionally published titles. That isn't to say I wouldn't work with a house again. I would. For the right book and circumstances.  But there's a lot to be said for having control over the face your stories present to the world.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Covers of Maradaine

I feel like I've been very fortunate with the covers of my books.  Paul Young has been the cover artist for all four books so far, and I'm given to understand that Sheila's intentions are to keep using him for my books, which suits me just fine.  Because Paul gets the look and feel of Maradaine, and what I want the covers to evoke.  He gives a cover that clearly says, "Hey, this is what kind of book you're getting." And it's spot on.  And he's also receptive to my thoughts and concerns.
Collage 2Case in point: the Import of Intrigue cover, which is probably my favorite to date.  There were plenty of tweaks from the initial image I was shown to the final version.  We went through, for example, variants of Satrine's handstick until we had one that I was happy with.  Paul also integrated the Tsouljan text I created into the signage. I love the look and feel of the whole thing.
I've seen an initial concept for the Holver Alley Crew cover, and I'm already very happy.  I can't wait to see the final version, and be able to share that as well.  Since that book will be coming out in March 2017, that won't be the far away.  But for now, we'll just enjoy the Import cover.  
Maresca - An Import of Intrique
An Import of Intrigue releases on November 1st.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Birth of a Book Cover

Recently, I got to preview the cover for my book coming in May 2017…it is GORGEOUS!!! But I can’t reveal it yet…so I’ll talk about another cover. (Tease, I know...)

In my experience, Editors generally ask an author what they anticipate the cover would look like. It is largely, I suspect, a courtesy. I also suspect that many authors site a certain scene from the story, and comment on the hero/ine’s ethnicity, hair color, age, etc. and any ‘props’ the character should have in the image.

I also suspect that a minority of authors have actually worked as graphic artists or in other directly creative positions. 

Because I am one of those few, when my editor asked me specifically about ARCANE CIRCLE, I went to the internet and searched for people with awesome ink. ARCANE CIRCLE was largely about ‘unlocking’ the power bound in Johnny’s many tattoos, so I wanted to represent that on the cover. I found a photo of a woman whose back had a fabulous dragon and foo-dog image and I copied it to my computer. Then I searched for images of a woman with one arm raised. Scored another win in a picture of some young lady with her arm up, elbow bent, and forearm lazily draped across the top of her head. After saving it also, I opened up Photoshop.

I added a wand in the female’s hand, made the tip glowy and ‘magical.’ Then to I took the tattoo image, erased everything but the actual dragon and foo-dog, then adjusted the opacity until I could see through them just enough. This all took me less than an hour to search, find and complete my ‘mock up.’ It was rough, to say the least, but let me reiterate…it was a ”MOCK UP.” I proudly sent it off to the editor.

Her response was something along the lines of, “Do you seriously expect me to show this to the senior editor, coordinators, and/or sales staff?”

As this was the fourth book in the series and I was pretty confident that I’d have the same artist (Don Sipley) for this as I had for the previous ones, my reply was basically: “No, I expect you tell them whatever they need to hear…then send this image on the sly to the cover artist. He’ll know what to do.”

Indeed he did. WHATS MORE, the building in the background has the same overhang feature as a prominent building in the story, so the artist either got super lucky, or (more likely) he did a little research. (Respect!!!) And in turn, I modified one of the scenes to reflect Persephone's outfit as he portrayed it. This one of my favorite covers...the colors, the moonlight... What do you think?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Cover Story

The absolutely wonderful Glendon at Streetlight Graphics did the covers for my Fire Born series. He's designed two already and I hope he'll continue for the remaining three. Not only did he do the covers, he did the map and the formatting. In essence, I handed him my Word doc and he gave me back a completed book in multiple ebook and print file formats (optimized by vendor).

Going into the Great Cover Artist Hunt, I knew I wanted an illustrated cover. Matter of fact, I knew exactly what I wanted on the cover--her hand holding the snowglobe nation with just a hint of her unusual face. I also know that being that particular about a vision can often lead to disappointment.

It didn't.

I love working with Glendon. I found his company, Streetlight Graphics, through a Google search. Yes, I reviewed hundreds of potential artists' sites before contacting Streetlight Graphics. It's a case of being 85% sold purely based on their website. Their site isn't particularly whizbang. It's actually quite a simple site while being very informative, which told me they understood the value of restraint in design and respected the self-publishing author. Once I contacted them, Glendon closed the deal with his personable professionalism.

Glendon sent me a worksheet to complete that asked for everything from title, tagline, back copy, comparables, likes and dislikes, etc. From there, it was a matter of approving initial concept sketches (which he nailed out of the gate, btw), then minor tweaks. I had no changes to the spine and back cover design for the print version.

Same story for the second cover, which I'll reveal...after I write the book. (DOH!)

Yeah, if you need a one-stop-shop that does amazing work, I highly recommend Streetlight Graphics.

Monday, August 22, 2016

How My Covers Came To Be

Oh, I could tell you stories.

I will, too,

The first novel of mine ever to see print was a novel called HOUSE OF SECRETS. It was co-written with another author and we worked on  HARD deadline. It was a work for hire, and we were supposed to have a card made for the card game Vampire: The Eternal Struggle based on the cover and the story. We worked hard, we gave what I thought was a pretty darned decent story that involved as many actions and characters from the card game as we could reasonably fit, and we delivered on time.

And then they gave us, hands down, the worst piece of shit cover I had ever seen.

It had NOTHING to do with the book and made for such a lousy card that they decided not to include it in the card game.

The second time around I was working on a different work for hire book for the same company, this one had been licensed out to Random House, I believe. Once again, there would be a card for the gamer and I was ecstatic. They asked for notes. I gave them EXACTLY what i wanted on the cover. I gave full descriptions of the characters and how  they were dressed, how to place them in the picture, what the background should be. A climactic scene from the novel that involved two gunslingers, one horribly scarred, one who looked like a corpse, a glass building next to them in which, if the artist was feeling adventurous, he might show the tornado that was coming for them reflected in the glass.

This one was called Werewolf: Hellstorm. I had a blast writing it.

And then I saw the cover.

NOTHING. Not a damned bit of the information I provided, was included. Not one iota.

What I got instead was a hot mess that did everything it could to rip off Mike Mignola, a far better artist. The artist in question who worked on the cove actually told me the cover was too ambitious for him.

And from there, the list goes on. I've had a LOT of covers over the years. Some I loved, some I hated. The latest ones? The ones I have loved the most? They all have to following in common: A smart art director, a fabulous artist and the ability to actually portray characters from the books as they are described. 

The artist in question is Alejandro Colucci. He is amazing. 

These are the covers he did for me. 

In every case, he was given a few paragraphs of description about the character in question, usually pulled directly from the manuscript, and suggestions were offered as to what sort of background would be best. 

And then...magic.

Not surprisingly, the sales of the latest four books have been substantially better than those first two. I blame the covers.

Well, and maybe the writing got better too, but I can't really judge that. 

Okay, back to work on the edits for TIDES OF WAR: Book one, THE LAST SACRIFICE.

That, too, is a book of mine coming out from Angry Robot Books.  They gave me those gorgeous covers. We've discussed the new series and what the covers should look like. I personally can;t wait to see them.