Month: January 2014

Girls & Farts

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that girls fart.

What surprises me, though, is that my daughter farts like a boy.  What I would consider a boy.  At home, she’ll be doing something, and just fart.  She won’t hold it in, sneak off to the bathroom, and discreetly wander back into the conversation.

Nope.

It’s vrrrrp.  Right out loud.  As if…as if there were no shame in it.  If I glare at her, she’ll say, “Excuse me.”  Or giggle.  But it certainly isn’t something for her to be embarrassed about.  I’m the weird one, to her.  I have this strange hangup about gas.

At first I tried to fight it.

I tried making fun of her.  I tried insisting that she apologize each and every time she farted.  Or burped.  Now I’m picking my battles:  it’s that gollum noise that she makes in the back of her throat when she has a cold, unswallowing her phlegm.  I can’t stand that noise.  It’s pukey.  It has come down to a choice between fighting the farts and fighting the gollum noise, it really has.

She’s not going to grow up to be a lady.

She probably won’t even know how to fake it.

I have to ask, though:  how bad of a thing is that?

Instead of teaching her to cross her legs, I’m teaching her that it’s important that she follow her obsessions, that if she doesn’t want to work in an office environment every day, she needs to find something crazy to do.

Instead of teaching her to keep her gas to herself (not that I didn’t try), I’m ending up teaching her that even if she doesn’t get boobs or her period before she’s sixteen, she will probably still turn out to be fully female.  I’m teaching her it’s okay to talk about these things….to blather on about them, as a matter of fact.

Instead of teaching her about being nice to people above all else (it would be a wasted effort; she’s already naturally sweet), I’m teaching her about how to blow off insults.  Acutally, this is a lie.  She’s teaching me about blowing off insults.  Sometimes I look over her shoulder at her chat window for some video game and my eyes just about bug out.  My generation…we fight this kind of thing.  We’re on a real crusade against it.  My daughter?  She goes, “Oh, Mom.   It’s just a griefer.   Just ignore them.”

In my world, I have to fight bullies.  In her world, they just aren’t worth the time.

I think I like her world better.

I don’t know if I can change that much that I can fit in.  But I have high hopes for her world, nonetheless.

If you appreciated this post, I could use some help.  I’m trying to get book #1 in the Exotics Series (which is a kids’ book under my kids’ pseudonym, De Kenyon) to go free on Amazon.  Amazon gets cranky about this when you don’t do it their way (which involves signing up for Amazon exclusivity). I don’t particularly care for doing it the Amazon way, so I’m going to bat my eyelashes and request your help in making Amazon price-match other websites where I’m already giving the book away for free.

So if you’d like to help, follow these steps:

  1. Click on this link, which will take you to the Exotics #1 Amazon page.
  2. Scroll down a bit to the Product Details section.
  3. At the bottom of that section, right before the reviews, is a link that says “tell us about a lower price.”  Click that link.
  4. A popup window for “Tell Us About A Lower Price” will appear.
  5. There are two radio buttons under “Where did you see a lower price?”  Click the button for Website (online).
  6. A bunch of fields will appear.
  7. Copy one of these two website links and paste it in the URL: field:   http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/exotics-1-de-kenyon/1116373548?ean=9780615861951
    OR
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/exotics-1-floating-menagerie/id491898174?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
  8. Type 0 in the Price ($): field.
  9. Type 0 in the Shipping ($): field.
  10. Click the Submit Feedback button.
  11. The window should say, “Thank you for your feedback.”  Click the Close Window button.
  12. Done!

Thank you!!!  Incidentally, if you want the first book, you can get it from B&N or Apple or Smashwords for free.  And soon, I hope, on Amazon…

 

 

Process vs. Judgment

I’m reading The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, and for some reason it’s helped me put into words something that I’d been having trouble expressing, about indie publishing.

All over the place, what I’m seeing is that everyone, indies and traditionally published authors and hybrids, are almost universally extremely anxious to express the need for self-publishers to behave in a professional manner.  They then proceed to lay out exactly what constitutes “a professional manner,” and what it comes down to is that everyone–indie, hybrid, or trad–needs to make their products in line with big publisher standards.

I am tempted to name names, but I won’t.  I think that would just be an attention-grabbing device at this point.

But if you’re in the indie world, you’ve heard it (or said it):  the argument that indies should make sure their products are up to professional standards before they release.  The shock and dismay that anyone would release something that was less than perfect (“I’m not like those indie writers!  They’re not even professional!”).  Then the finger-wagging at indies and how sloppy they are, and the counter-wagging at the big publishers and the typos, oh the typos, that have been made in big publisher books*.)  The hysteria that people might be putting substandard books up for sale.

That word gets repeated.  Standard standard standard.  Until it’s no longer comprehensible.

Look.

What disturbs me about all this is that there are process people and there are cut-and-dried people, and the cut-and-dried people are acting like their opinions are the only ones that count.**

The cut-and-dried people take the given wisdom and insist that everyone stick to it.  Either you meet standards, or you don’t.  And if you had been able to meet standards in the first place, you would be a traditionally published writer by now.  [Sniff.]  The only people who should self-publish are previously midlist authors who can no longer get decent contracts (such a shame).  When those acceptably indie people publish in the right way, then they have a TEAM.  OF.  PROFESSIONALS.  And they do not experiment, aside from the already questionable experiment of indie publishing in the first place.  They do it THE RIGHT WAY.  The first time.  Because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Okay, group of cut-and-dried people, that’s your way.  But it’s hardly the only way.

The rest of us have been surviving typos and bad covers and screwing around on social media and blogging and playing around with YouTube and fan fiction and gaming and a ton of other things that don’t involve professional standards, and we’ve been enjoying ourselves, as creators and as consumers.

And we’ve been seeing businesses–real ones, that play with real money–put their entire business plans together with the idea that maybe everything isn’t cut-and-dried, that maybe in order to make fundamentally new things, you need to approach the situation in fundamentally new ways.

You know what we got with cut-and-dried?  A monopolistic chain bookstore that was perfectly happy stacking the shelves with the equivalent of Top-40 radio, taking money to put books at the front of the store, instead of reader feedback.  We got angry when they started carrying toys, we were so invested in the idea of what a bookstore could and could not be.

Maybe it isn’t the idea of self-publishing that’s the problem.

Maybe it’s just the cut-and-dried attitude.

And maybe we process-based weirdos get to play with the process and don’t need to be shamed about it.  Maybe what the trad publishers ought to be doing is building smaller units in which the entire line is put together by a group of authors, and there are no editors, designers, marketers, salespeople, etc.  Maybe a small press needs to hold a weekly online symposium of their authors to teach each other how to write by working on a joint project.  Maybe an indie author needs to hire writers to develop their worldbuilding via an anthology of short stories.  Maybe a lot of things, maybe a lot of quick-turnaround projects to explore what’s working and what isn’t, and maybe not a lot of drama about how it might inconvenience the accountants.

Maybe what the problem with indie publishing is, is that it is messy and it is best when it is messy and it’s even better when it’s run by fundamentally messy people whose goal is to make messes.

Maybe writing gets to have a little R&D.

 

*I do this too. I rarely make it through a big publisher book in which all the quotation marks are correct for three chapters running.  It may be that I read a lot of Brit fiction in U.S. editions–which means changing all the quotation marks–but still, you expect a certain level of professionalism.  From the professionals.

**Yes, I know this is oversimplifying.  For example, I’m all about the process when it comes to covers, but when I see U.S. books where “air quotes” are made with single quotes, I lose it.  “What, did you just feel like single quotes today?” But this, too is fair.  Why not?

Interview @ Independent Bookworm

Debbie Mumford interviewed me at Independent Bookworm:

What makes the world of your novel different from ours?

 

I was going to say “zombies,” but that’s not really it.  I live in the U.S. in modern times, and that world is Victorian England, which I think is more of a difference than zombies themselves would be.  Today, a zombie plague, we’d all freak out be all over the phones and the Internet about it; Pat Robertson would no doubt tell us that the plague was because of sinners, and a bunch of people would put up a meme making fun of it.  Whereas the Victorians, I’m convinced, would be all, “The worst sort of chaps are returning from the dead.  Quite an issue for the current administration, don’t you think?  These crumpets are quite nice, Hartley, do let Cook know.”  We’re much more expressive and responsive now, for better or worse.

Black and White

Right, this has nothing to do with writing or promotion, except it does.

There are some people who split the world up into twos, and some who don’t.  Optimist/pessimist.  Atheist/believer.  Yes/no.  Democrat/Republican.  Things like that.

Me, I’ve come to look at those situations and go, “To what purpose?”

To what purpose do we split the world into optimists and pessimists?  In one sense, we do it in order to say one of those two values is better than the other–optimists are more healthy, pessimists are more honest with themselves–whatever values you like, really.

But in another sense, when we say, “The world is split up into optimists and pessimists,” we’re saying many other things, like, “Your attitude is generally the same on a daily basis,” and “Mood swings are for crazy people.”  It encapsulates our unease with dealing with unpredictable people.  It tells us that you have to pick one or the other–one might be better than the other, but clearly either one is better than not choosing sides.

Well, I’m a moody agnostic maybe independent, and I always will be.  I’m starting to think that it’s just a way of life.  Some people are going to be “yes” people, some people are going to be “no” people, and some people are permanent “maybe” people.

Nevertheless I find myself over and over coming across odd little constructions in my head.  For example:  I can see that binaries are a problem, but I have trouble actually thinking around them (as you can see in the yes/no/maybe paragraph above).

For example, eating well.  How do you eat well?  It turns out the real answer will probably be something like, “eat moderately in all things.”  But that’s not something we can wrap our heads around without being experts at it.  “But is bacon healthful?!?”  That’s really what we want to know:  give me a yes or no answer, damn it!

I know just enough about food to go, “Sometimes it is, although not usually the way Americans stereotypically eat it.”  Although a lot of paleo people would argue with me, paleo isn’t the way Americans stereotypically eat bacon.  I’m still on the fence about eating paleo to the extent that some people take it, but my body likes it–but then again, my body likes eating mostly vegetarian, too, as long as I don’t overdo the starch.  Really, for me, it’s not about the bacon.  It’s about the starch.  But on a daily basis, I say, “Is this handful of jellybeans healthful for me?  No?  That means I must EAT THEM ALL!!!”

“Tell me what to do, so I can either do it or feel like a failure!”  “Tell me what not to do, so I can not do it, or feel like a rebel!”  That binary thing, it’s a problem.  Because really what we need to do is get into the habit of observing.  “When I eat too much starch…”

Is it better to be an optimist or a pessimist?  Better to listen to your emotions and learn what needs they signal.  Atheist or believer?  Better to examine your own flaws and stop looking down at people.  Democrat or Republican?  Better to ask, “Who benefits?” on a case-by-case basis.

But I am who I am, and I distrust groups, even the ones I identify with.  So of course I would say those things.  Because once you “belong” to something, that things sets up shop in your head and takes up territory that would otherwise be you.  And that’s what bothers me.

I find it easier to think about if you add the phrase “strongly identified as a” in front of all the terms I’m going to use here. And it’s easier to see when you look across the other side of the fence. Examples.

When you are strongly identified as an atheist, that takes up territory.  When you have a conversation with that kind of atheist, stupid Christians and smart atheists is where the conversation tends to go.  Strongly-identified Christians flit around the Bible like moths, burning bridges with everyone who isn’t like them, because with them, it’s all about the Good Book (or at least the particular interpretation they put on it), and if you don’t know the Good Book, then you don’t count (unless you can be won over).

To put it even more bluntly, people who are crazy about a rival sports team/gender/politics/brand/religion/diet/country are always nutty, aren’t they?  Gosh!

But it’s not the sports team/gender/politics/brand/religion/diet/country–it’s the person, and their investment in the idea, and the extent to which they’ve let that idea take over their lives.  The Mickey Mouse-themed bathroom.  Rioting over a sports victory/loss.  Being unable to form a coherent argument because it’s perfectly obvious who’s right and it’s unthinkable that there could be another reasonable perspective.

Here’s my stand:  Ugh.  Get those things out of your head.  People are more important than ideas.  Stories are more important than polemics.  Flaws are more important than perfection.

Black and white is for people who are easily led by the nose–or for people who are interested in leading you around by same.  If you can switch white for black or vice versa and end up with something that sounds nuts–then it’s probably nuts either way ’round, and you’re acting like a machine thinking someone else’s thoughts.

Okay, here’s the thing.  I really do think those things.  I really do have days when I get on Facebook and go, “You realize you’re not thinking your own thoughts, don’t you?  That you’ve been crowdsourced, brainwashed, infected, etc.?”  Here’s what I’m looking at now:

  • People who like pot are better than other people.
  • People who read books are better than other people.
  • People who preserve heritage seeds are better than other people (this is a whole foodie/environmentalist thing).
  • Dogs are better than other people.
  • Cats are better than other people (different poster).
  • People who can trick other people are better than those stupid idiots who can be fooled!  If you can be fooled you deserve it!
  • MLK is better than other people.
  • People who like pot are better than other people.
  • A picture of a sunrise.
  • Judgmental people suck, said the judgmental person.
  • A picture of two friends.
  • A picture of giant chickens.  (This is still marketing, by the way–from Weird Tales.)
  • Women are better than other people.
  • I am better than other people because of my musical tastes, and LOL when programs try to tell me otherwise (note to Spotify–please add “likelihood of snobbery” to your algos, thanks).
  • A medical pun.
  • A combination of two geek/retro items makes a SUPER GEEK RETRO ITEM!  Because geeks are better than other people.
  • Read my book because it will make you better than other people.
  • My climate is better than your climate.
  • Another nice picture.
  • Breakfast.
  • Pictures of hot guys.  (This might be in the “women are better than other people” sense, but I’m not sure.)
  • Geeks are better than other people (but with a nice picture).
  • Update on someone’s health.
  • Read my book because it will make you better than other people.
  • Geeks are better than other people.
  • Picure of family.
  • White people are not better than other people–love, a white person.
  • I have fan mail!
  • This brand is better than other brands.

The ones in italics are the ones that didn’t strike me at first glance as thinking someone else’s thoughts.  Ironically, it’s the stuff that people make fun of:  family fotos, what you had for breakfast…maybe I’m blind, and what those things are really saying is that “here is what you should think of as normal/attractive/beautiful,” or some such.  We so very rarely think our own thoughts.

Scrolling back through my own posts on FB, I have a better record than average for (I think!?!) thinking my own thoughts, but I still think that reading books makes you better than other people, and that geeks are better than other people.  Also I’m a food snob.  Siiiigh.  All kinds of other people’s thoughts in my head.

Like I said, I do think these things, and try to live them by dismantling other people’s thoughts in my head when I find them–but now that I’m thinking about marketing as an aspect of writing–

Are other people’s thoughts part of my marketing?

That is, am I selling a point of view, instead of actual stories?

So these are things that I think about.  Guh.

 

The Classy POD Checklist

Here’s my (ahem, draft) checklist for things that I look for when an indie publisher hands me a POD.  Please let me know if you can think of anything else; I’m putting this together for a class.  I think I may need to break things down into subcategories at some point…

Cover

  • Does the front cover look professional (a kind of gestalt assessment).  Yes?  Then stop looking at the cover to critique and start looking at it to learn.
  • What’s the genre of the book
  • Does the general design match the genre?  Are the images (content and media) appropriate for the genre?  And is the design current for the industry?
  • Does the cover design lead me to turn the page or at least does it not fight me to keep me from turning the page?  (Does the overall design lead me from the upper left to the lower right?  A centered design does this just because of the direction we read in.)
  • Are the images on the cover of professional quality, good resolution?
  • Does the cover strain the eyes?  (If so and it fits the genre, okay, but it’s risky.)
  • Does the text stand out from the images?
  • Is the text font cheesy or is it appropriate for the genre?
  • Is the text aligned well, and kerned/tracked well?
  • Are the appropriate elements included–title, author, series, title tag (one liner), author tag (#1 NYT author, etc.), publisher info?
  • Are the tags well written and catchy?  Or are they wooden and dull and full of “be” and “have” verbs?
  • Does the cover show a sense of heirarchy–is it clear that some elements are more important than others, and that the correct elements are grouped together (title with title tag, etc.)?
  • Is the spine legible and designed in accordance with the front cover?  If the book is laid with the front cover facing up, does the spine read from left to right?
  • Are the elements on the spine present and organized heirarchically?
  • The picture of an amateur back cover:  huge, poorly-written back cover text centered in a cheesy or illegible font, no alignment done, no additional elements.
  • Is back cover text legible and in an appropriate font?  Is all matter kerned/tracked appropriately?
  • Are the back cover elements all present (blurb, bar code, price, publisher, and genre)?
  • Are the back cover elements organized heirarchically, so that it’s clear which elements are most important?
  • If there is an author photo on the back, is it appealing, professional, and clear?  Is the photo credit provided?
  • Is the opportunity to sell additional material taken on the back cover where possible–publisher website, previous books in the series, etc.?
  • Is the back cover blurb catchy or does it contain a lot of useless setup information?  Have all “be” and “have” verb forms been removed?
  • Is the print job appropriate–cover on straight, no blank areas, colors within reason (flesh isn’t green on a romance cover, etc.)?

Interior

  • Do the pages look like book pages (another gestalt assessment).   If so, study rather than critique 🙂
  • Does the layout, fonts, or formatting call excessive attention to itself (e.g., bold text, six different fonts, chapter headers that are like fine works of modernist art, etc.)?
  • Does the overall interior design coordinate with the cover design?
  • Does the cover page use the publisher name and location where able?
  • Does the cover page help set reader expectations for genre?
  • Are all required elements of the copyright page present (author, artist/image, and cover and interior copyrights given)?
  • Are any blocks of text on the copyright page justified appropriately?
  • Do major sections start on right-hand pages (all title pages, dedication/acknoledgment/forward/prolog/about the author/first chapter, etc.)?  (Subsequent chapters can start on either right- or left-hand pages, depending on what length you want on the book and whether you want the readers to pause more after a chapter, as in a non-fiction book.)
  • Does the main body text layout look in line with the genre (e.g., a kids’ book has larger type with fewer lines on the page; a literary novel looks dense with paragraphson the page)?
  • Are indents about an em-character wide (wide indents indicate that the ms was ripped out of a typical ms-format document and not reformatted properly).
  • Are widows and oprhans prevented where possible?  If not possible, are the lines adjusted so the single line falls at the bottom of the page rather than the top?
  • Does the chapter header page start on a new page?
  • Is the tracking between letters/words of a moderate size, with neither huge gaps nor overpacking of words?
  • Is hyphenation limited so that it never breaks up names, spans pages, or occurs more than twice in a row?  So that it never splits up words to be technically permissable but illegible (e.g., ra-dio or read-y), and so that there are always at least three letters on both sides of the hyphen?
  • Are lines tracked and/or hyphenated so that there are no stubby mini-lines at the ends of paragraphs where possible (e.g., ending a paragraph so the last line reads in–that stuff should be scooted up unless it causes major tracking issues).
  • Are lines tracked and/or hyphenated so there are no weird little patterns in the paragraphs, like six thes starting each row of a paragraph?
  • Are the headers and footers non-distracting and out of the way of a reader’s flow (i.e., not in the upper left or lower right corners of the pages)?
  • Are the headers and footers visually separated from the main body (e.g., with white space)?
  • Are the headers removed from chapter pages?
  • Are scene breaks presented in a clear but non-distracting fashion?
  • Are scene breaks presented in a classy fashion (i.e., not using pound signs, asterisks, or distracting dingbats–this last one is a particular sin of mine)?  A nice way to do this is to just leave a blank row unless the break falls at the top/bottom of the page, in which case add something subtle, like an em-dash, to indicate the break (in ebooks, where you can’t control this, always use your chosen break character).
  • Are the first paragraphs of scene breaks non-indented?  A little sign of class.
  • Are the last pages of chapters more than 2-3 lines long?
  • Are the last lines of scenes on a page more than 2-3 lines long?
  • Does the chapter end short of the last line of a page (giving the reader a visual heads’ up that a chapter break is coming)?
  • Are the em-dashes actual em-dashes or two hyphens stuck together?
  • Are spaces around em-dashes appropriate for the genre and look non-distracting?
  • Are quotation marks generally pointed the right way (scan for things like “I got ’em,” which should have a right single quote, and em-dashes followed by double quotes, which tend to point the wrong way if you use MSWord).
  • If using drop caps, is the text appropriately spaced around the cap, or is it overlapping/showing huge gaps?
  • Are the initial quotation marks from a drop cap removed?
  • Is the drop cap used

When in doubt, err on the side of the genre.  For example, take up more space rather than less in paragraphs in a kids’ book, and ignore widows in favor of rescuing orphans (and reduce the hyphenation for younger kids, so they have fewer issues trying to sound out broken words).  Thrillers should end up with more white space on the page, so the little orphans at the ends of paragraphs are more acceptable there–but literary novels should end up with thicker paragraphs, so adjust the tracking for denser text.  The chapter headers of romance novels should be a bit swirly and attention-grabbing.  (Just a bit.)

If you’re not sure what a cover or interior should look like for that genre, go pull some comps!

Update:

Some additions from Juliet Nordeen:

  • One thought from my tech writing days: Do the fonts/placement/sizes of intra-chapter headings line up appropriately in size and location for headings, sub-headings and sub-sub headings.
  • Also, would it be appropriate to include any nods to AP style for source information? I know nothing about it, but I know the requirements are intense and specific.
  • What about checking that photos, figures, and graphs are all properly positioned and labeled and correlate to the appropriate text in the immediate area? And insuring that the correct fonts are used.

I knew I’d miss something on the nonfiction side.  It’s been a while.  Personally, I would go with CMS for the style guide rather than AP, because CMS is the standard for books (as far as I know).  But otherwise I agree.

 

Ill Edited In Lankhmar

Right, I’m trying to study “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” one of Fritz Leiber’s stories.  (Lie-burr…I’ve been saying it wrong.)

I started with the collection Fritz Leiber: Collected Stories, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Charles N. Brown, intro by Neil Gaiman (2010).  This edition is a hardcopy library property, and as I realized I wanted to study the Lankhmar story, I decided to get an ebook version, which are easier to type in as I work.

I did not get the same edition; I got Swords and Deviltry:  Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser Book 1, by Fritz Leiber, copyright renewed 1995 by Fritz Leiber.

Now, I’m sure the issue I’m about to describe is old hat for longtime Leiber fans and purists, but I was goggle-eyed.

Here’s the opening of the story in the Collected copy:

Silent as specters, the tall and the fat thief edged past the dead, noose-strangled watch-leopard, out the thick, lock-picked door of Jengao the Gem Merchant, and strolled east on Cash Street through the thin black night-smog of Lankhmar.

 

East on Cash it had to be, for west at Cash and Silver was a police post with unbribed guardsmen restlessly grounding and rattling their pikes.

 

But tall, tight-lipped Slevyas, master thief candidate, and fat, darting-eyed Fissif, thief second class, with a rating of talented in double-dealing, were not in the least worried.  Everything was proceeding according to plan.  Each carried thonged in his pouch a smaller pouch of jewels of the first water only, for Jengao, now breathing stentoriously inside and senseless from the slugging he’d suffered, must be allowed, nay, nursed and encouraged to build up his business agains and so ripen it for another plucking.  Almost the first law of the Thieves’ Guild was never to kill the hen that laid eggs with a ruby in the yolk.

 

The two thieves also had the relief of knowing that they were going straight home now, not to a wife, Arath forbid!–or to parents and children, all gods forfend!–but to Thieves’ House, headquarters and barracks of the almighty Guild, which was father to them both and mother too, though no woman was allowed inside its ever-open portal on Cheap Street.

 

In addition there was the comforting knowledge that although each was armed only with his regulation silver-hilted thief’s knife, they were nevertheless most strongly convoyed by three reliable and lethal bravoes hired for the evening from the Slayers’ Brotherhood, one moving well ahead of them as point, the other two well behind as rear guard and chief striking force.

While, on the other hand, here’s the opening from the ebook edition:

Silent as specters, the tall and the fat thief edged past the dead, noose-strangled watch-leopard, out the thick, lock-picked door of Jengao the Gem Merchant, and strolled east on Cash Street through the thin black night-smog of Lankhmar, City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes.

 

East on Cash it had to be, for west at the intersection of Cash and Silver was a police post with unbribed guardsmen in browned-iron cuirasses and helms, restlessly grounding and rattling their pikes, while Jangao’s place had no alley entrance or even window in its stone walls three spans thick and the roof and floor almost as strong and without trap doors.

 

But tall, tight-lipped Slevyas, master thief candidate, and fat, darting-eyes Fissif, thief second class, brevetted first class for this operation, with a rating of talented in double-dealing, were not the least worried.  Everything was proceeding according to plan. Each carried thonged in his pouch a much smaller pouch of jewels of the first water only, for Jengao, now breathing stentoriously inside and senseless from the slugging he’d suffered, must be allowed, nay, nursed and encouraged, to build up his business again and so ripen it for another plucking.  Almost the first law of the Thieves’ Guild was never kill the hen that laid brown eggs with a ruby in the yolk, or white eggs with a diamond in the white.

 

The two thieves also had the relief of knowing that, with the satisfaction of a job well done, they were going straight home now, not to a wife, Aarth forbid!–or to parents and children, all gods forfend!–but to Thieves’ House, headquarters and barracks of the all-mighty Guild which was father to them both and mother too, though no woman was allowed inside its ever-open portal on Cheap Street.

 

In addition there was the comforting knowledge that although each was armed only with his regulation silver-hilted thief’s knife, a weapon seldom used except in rare intramuural duels and brawls, in fact more a membership token than a weapon, they were nevertheless most strongly convoyed by three reliable and lethal bravos hired for the evenin from the Slayers’ Brotherhood, one moving well ahead of them as point, the other two well behind as rear guard and chief striking force, in fact almost out of sight–for it is never wise that such conveying be obvious, or so believed Krovas, Grandmaster of the Thieves’ Guild.

The first passage is 290 words; the second is 400 words.  This pattern runs through both versions of the stories.  I didn’t get terribly far into the ebook version–it was all bloat, bloat, bloat.

Ugh.

Okay, granted.  This is a fantasy story; a bit of, let us say, non-leanness is expected, even demanded.   However, this stuff slows down the pace unreasonably and even derails the story from time to time:  who gives a flying @#$% about whether the egg with a jewel in the center is brown or white?!?

Let it be shown that if one detail is good, then two details are not necessarily better.  Because get to the point!  And also let it be shown that truly over-editing is for the birds.

 

 

Cover Design: Negative Space

Right, this is one of those posts where I wish an actual expert would talk about this, but I’m not finding what I want an expert to have said, so I’ll do my (admittedly non-expert but at least experienced) best.

Go to the Google search page.

There is a lot of white on that page.

The white is negative space, which, on a literal level, sounds like an oxymoron.

What the term means, though, is that there is space that is not filled with something.  Postive space = stuff; negative space = just regular old space where stuff could be but isn’t.

(If you want to see some cool stuff, look up “drawing negative space,” which is an artist trick to teach people how to stop seeing “chairs” “flowers” and “cats” and start seeing pure shapes and forms.  Want a stupid fast way to learn how to draw?  Look up how to draw using negative space.)

When you are making a cover, you need to pay attention to negative space for several reasons:

  1. So you have room to put your text.
  2. So the cover isn’t overwhelming.
  3. So the cover fits genre expectations.

 

Threads_of_Life_cover.1Here’s one of my earlier covers.  Let’s call it an example of poor use of #1, leaving enough room to put your text.  (There are other problems.)  The title, for no apparent reason, simply must spill over the image, because…I don’t know.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image19753483

 

Here’s another cover.  Let’s call it a bad example of both #1 (leaving enough room for the text–look at that perfectly unreadable author name) and #2, OMG THIS COVER MAKES MY EYES STRAIN.  The darks are so dark that you have to work in order to find out what’s going on there.  Those of us with astigmatism are struggling to read the text anyway, it’s so smooshed together, and combined with the background, it’s just too much.

Edge_of_the_World-1

 

And here’s a great example of #3, which makes you go, “What the hell genre is this?!?”  Plus it’s very wearying on the eyes.

Chance-edit1sm

Here’s a better example of the same genre, although I would do a few things differently on this cover now (like adding an author tag and a title tag, if nothing else).

Notice something about this cover?  It’s not nearly as busy.  Stuff is not just shoved onto the cover willy-nilly.  There’s space.

The “The Edge of the World” cover has multiple text boxes, the weird little dragon logo, the farm stuff, some kind of bright streak of clouds…dude, you have no idea where to look.

The Chance Damnation cover has fewer elements; this makes each element more attention-worthy and striking.  There is room around the skull.  The flames aren’t filled with sixty attention-grabbing demon heads.   The text has room to breathe (and the letters aren’t all smooshed together).   Maybe not the best cover in the world, but worlds better than “The Edge of the World.”

And it matches the horror genre, not just in the content of the images, but in their use of negative space.

Scroll through a list of horror books, and you’ll see a lot of negative space–mostly black.  More recently, you’ll see some horror books using white negative space, or fairly faint patterns that blur into negative space when you see the book from a distance.  This is one of those areas where you can break the rules when you understand them well enough, of course.

So when you’re looking at your comp covers, also look at how much stuff is on your comp covers.

You do not need to put all the stuff on your cover (well, unless you’re writing high fantasy maybe, and even then you get nice spacious covers like the GRRM covers, or a historical romance, and even then the better covers at least make the dresses big enough and uniform enough that you can use them for negative space to drop your text into).

Alice's Adventures in Underland, Book 1 Ep 1

I’m still getting a grasp on the idea of not having to put all the stuff onto a cover.   It’ll take years to really get a sense of restraint, I think.  But, as Laura Harvey once told me, “A classy woman looks at herself in the mirror before she goes out and takes off one last piece of jewelry.”  (That may not be the exact quote, but you get it.)

I already took a bunch of “jewelry” off this cover, and still I can see one more that just bugs me and I should really take off.  Maybe two.

 

 

 

New Release: Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts #1

Now available at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, Gumroad, and more.  As usual, the upload to Apple via indirect channels is taking a while.  My apologies.

Alice's Adventures in Underland, Book 1 Ep 1

 

“That was before the serum that allows us to retain our presence of mind was invented, my dear Miss Alice,” Mr. Dodgson said, clearing his throat.  “Now, if one remains calm and refrains from eating anyone, one may retain the title of ‘Mister.’”

2013 Writing Stats

Submissions: 204.

Acceptances: 13 (pro sales: 1).

Words written (fiction only):  549,246 (goal 365,000!).

Indie books/stories published:  12.

Hair pulled out:  lots.

 

2014: What about Freud?

I was going to be all contrary and write about something that had nothing to do with the new year…but what I really want to write about are my goals.

I forget where I read it, sadly, but I saw a blog criticizing the way most people set goals:  “as if Freud had never existed.”  Which I thought was interesting, because it affected me so much this year.

What I thought I wanted to do and what I actually did were often two different things.

I studied how to change habits, as always I tried to push myself hard.  And often I failed.  Today, case in point.   There are eleventy different things I need to be doing.   And here I am, writing out a blog, probably the least productive of all of the possible items on my list (although admittedly more productive than Facebook).

No matter how hard I press myself, I come back to some truths.  Some days, I buck the plans and do something else.

It’s almost always writing related.  It almost ends up being the thing I would have scheduled time for, if I’d had a clue that I wanted to do it ahead of time.  And if I don’t do it–whatever it is–then I freeze up.  I don’t get anything done, or if I do, it’s distracted and half-assed.

That’s right.  I don’t follow my instincts, I get bullied by them.

So in 2014, here’s the deal:  no matter what other goals I plan for myself, my goal is to listen to my instincts before they come back to haunt me, make me anxious, waste my time trying to do something else, even drive me down into depression.  My goal is to hear the little voice in my head that says you’re not listening, and listen.

I have other goals, too.  I can’t control other people publishing me — so I won’t say anything about that.   And I want to make a goal of “finish everything you start,” which is totally not a bad goal (see Heinlein’s Rules).  But looking back over last year, in which there were a half-dozen novels I wrote up to the midpoint and abandoned, I can’t say it was a waste of time or that I should (yet) finish those things.  So I think I will not yet make that goal.

(Here’s a meta moment:  my goal is to someday be able to make that goal.)

But mostly my goal this year is to make every month a 50K-word month.  I made my 2013 goal of 1K a day last year.  This one’s harder but doable.  Eventually, I want to hit a million words in a year.   Because my childhood writing hero was Piers Anthony, and he talked about doing so on a regular basis.  Other people want to win an award, get a major publishing deal…I’ll know I’ve hit the big time when I can write a million words in a year.  It’s not necessarily true, but this is what I come back to, what compels me to keep working:  a childhood dream.

Freud, I think, would approve.  Although quite possibly he would try to tell me that I’m really writing about sex.  Heh.

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