Perspectives on Fantasy and Horror

Happy 2018, one and all! For those who are curious, we celebrated the new year by putting the kids to bed and then playing a couple board games. We like to party pretty hard, obviously.

The other night we had an incident in our home, which made me consider what the differences are between horror and fantasy.

Becky and I had just tucked the kids into bed. While she stayed behind and sang them a lullaby, I stepped outside to get some firewood. When I opened the door, I was greeted by the crinkly frown of a cold, dead, frozen frog.

I’m still curious how it got there. Frogs don’t belong on porches in December, not in my neck of the woods. It’s much too cold.

Without thinking twice (and perhaps only barely thinking once), I bent and picked up the little amphibian carcass, then brought it back inside, put some lukewarm water in a dish on the counter, and set the frog floating in the middle of it.

Then I got in the shower. I doubt a minute had passed before I’d forgotten all about the frog.

Now, I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I have a fear of something happening while I’m in the shower–the house catching on fire, someone having a medical emergency, an earthquake, etc. Some situation that would force me to decide whether or not getting clothed again was worth the time. And that night, I thought that was exactly what happened.

My wife screamed. Not a normal scream, but a full-blown scream, a shriek of unadulterated terror.

I just about stumbled out of the shower, assuming that something completely terrible has happened. I stopped when I heard my wife (rather angrily, and still kind of screaming), “Why is there a dead frog on the counter?”

It honestly took me a second to process what she was talking about, I’d so thoroughly forgotten about the desiccated little thing. When I remembered the dead frog, I felt more than a little bit silly.

Still, she deserved an answer. So I gave it to her.

“I wanted to see if it would come back to life.”

My wonder and curiosity–elements of fantasy writing–turned into my wife’s surprise and horror–elements of horror writing. Of course, stories should have a blend of many different things, but it was interesting to me to consider the way that people’s introduction to things can flavor their emotional response. Not groundbreaking, I know, but it gave me something to think about.

Also, for those who are concerned, I’m not totally insane. Frogs can and do recover from death by being frozen, and from drying out. This particular one, however, did not.

In Other News….

  • I finished reading Unraveled, and have posted my review to GoodReads. It’s a light fantasy that proved quite predictable but was nonetheless enjoyable.
  • I finally coaxed my wife into letting me get pet rats (one for me, one for our daughter). I’ll put some pictures up at some point, because I’m positive that the one thing that the world-wide web needs are some photographs of my fancy rats floating around in it.
  • I’m quite close to finishing Happily (which I may have referred to earlier under the project title of The Glass Heist). I’ll soon be on the lookout for willing ARC readers. To any and all who read this, if you’re wanting/willing to be an ARC reader, don’t be shy! Just ask (either in a message or in comments).   🙂

NetGalley and Goodreads and the unpopular decision….

So, this is old news by now, but from what I understand NetGalley and Goodreads made some unpopular choices lately, both of which hurt the international book community.

I’ve never used NetGalley. I do the occasional review, but I’m really not much of a book blogger or reviewer. But I’ve heard plenty about NetGalley, and if I were a faster reader, I’d be all in for it. Unfortunately for readers outside the US, I guess they just don’t get stuff from NetGalley like they used to. Which sucks.

Apparently Goodreads is also no longer including its non-US residents in their giveaways anymore, too, which is just double sucks for all the wonderful readers of the wider world, of whom their are plenty.

What the political, practical, and legal reasons are for this, I don’t know, other than that shipping internationally is more expensive–though, I’m sure that there’s more to it than that, especially for Goodreads, since it’s the authors who pay the shipping (unless they’ve changed that policy).

To all my non-US resident reading friends, I’m sorry. It’s really lame. Super-duper lame.

Will this affect me? No, I don’t think so. At least, not beyond hurting people that I care about, so actually yes, I will be feeling some sympathy pain for them.

But I don’t like Goodreads giveaways too much. I don’t hate them either, but I’m not enchanted by them. Now that Goodreads is making authors pay an arm and a leg just to give away a copy of their book, I don’t think I’ll be using that service anyways. Seems ridiculous to me, but I’m not going to rant.

To all book bloggers out there, Goodreads and NetGalley might be giving you the shaft, but I won’t. Anyone who wants a free e-copy of one of my books need only ask. I don’t care if you live in the US or on Mars, I’m just happy to share my work with someone.

But what do you think? Is anyone not surprised by this? Think that it’s justified? Believe that the Trump administration is secretly behind it? Share your thoughts!

I Survived & Progress Update

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. My family always takes the week to go to the beach in California–one final burst of warmth and sunshine before the dreary Midwestern winter sets in. We meet up with all the family on my wife’s side and snuggle into a little beach house together.

This year there were 16 people in the house–fewer than on some other years, but still a good number.

Now, remember in high school history classes, when they talked about industrialization, migration, and urbanization? People crowded into apartment buildings. Then, when they got sick, the sickness could just spread like wildfire, the people were so cramped.

Well, I suppose you can see where this is going.

On Wednesday, the first person got sick.

On Thursday night, three more people were sick.

On Friday, six more people were sick.

On Saturday, one more person got sick, and we all went home. That makes 11/16 people sick, a pretty decent infection rate. I’m sure it will remain the defining feature of this year’s Thanksgiving vacation.

Miraculously, I was not one of the ones who fell ill, and neither were my two children. We still had a lovely vacation, even though it we were haunted by the fear that one of us might be the next to fall victim to the plague. Because, seriously, that’s kind of how it felt to watch it spread through the house.

Anyways, enough about that.

Being on vacation, I didn’t do much writing, but instead devoted some time to checking out other people’s book/writing blogs. Met some wonderful folks. Seriously, the book-blogging community is a lovely place, generally speaking. Sometimes things can get a bit heated, but that’s because it’s a community made of people who are passionate about the things they blog about.

In other news, I finished Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. I might just write up a proper review for it. It is, I’m coming to realize more and more, my favorite novel. I find it deeply meaningful and symbolic, without being remotely stuffy or pretentious. A masterwork. Can’t decide if watching the movies would be a good idea or a dreadful one.

Final news is that, although I didn’t do much novel writing this week, I think I did strike upon a story idea I want to run with. It won’t be my next novel, or the one after that, but perhaps the third novel release from now (and my fifth overall). Hooray!

Hope everyone else stayed healthy out there!

Evolution of a Cover – Home To Roost

Hello!

A couple of weeks back, James J. Cudney did a review of Cleaving Souls, my second novel. There were quite a few comments praising the cover art, which was lovely to see since I’d created the artwork myself.

A few weeks before that, my cover art for both Cleaving Souls and my debut novel, Home To Roost, won 1st place in a cover-art contest for their respective genres (thriller and horror).

Between those two things, I thought: Hey, maybe I should do a little post about cover art creation.

And so here it is.

Now, first thing’s first: If you are self publishing, the recommendation you will find 100% of the time is to NOT do your own cover art. I think that is good advice. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes. Do I care? No.

I didn’t follow that advice for a number of reasons.

  1. I’m a control freak? Could be this.
  2. I genuinely like the idea of producing the artwork on my own.
  3. I know a little bit about how to do that, and am not afraid of messing up.
  4. I have the time to make it look decent.
  5. I don’t have money to spend on professional help at this juncture.

I used a program called “Inkscape.” It’s completely free, and is used for creating Vector Art images. You can get it here, if you want to try it out. Vector Art is a bit different from the stuff you might have worked with in Microsoft Paint. Pro Tip: Unless you are trying to be ironic, do not make any cover art in Microsoft Paint.

I took a design course in college. It was taught by a graduate student, who was fired three-quarters of the way into the semester. Never found out why, but it hasn’t made me feel incredibly confident in the things I learned there.

Regardless, I try and apply the simple principles I learned in that class, as well as things I’ve observed by looking at other book covers. I fiddled around in Inkscape until I’d learned the ropes–or at least some of them. There are plenty of semi-helpful tutorials that can guide you through the things you can’t figure out alone.

I started with a few sketches. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include those here, as they’ve disappeared. They were hideous anyways, and not incredibly interesting, so I think we’ll manage to get along without them.

Once I had some ideas, I got to work in Inkscape. Mind you that my ideas had to be tempered by my abilities. Therefore, a more simple design was essential.

For those who haven’t read Home To Roost, it’s based on a the true story of a chicken my family owned about a decade back. Yes, a whole novel based on a chicken. It’s rather serious, too. Deals with a number of different issues, and has an ending that’s darker than people often expect. Those were all things I wanted captured in the cover art.

Without much further adieu, below are the different drafts of the cover art for Home To Roost, with a bit of commentary in the captions. They are listed in order of their creation, so as to give you an idea of how it evolved.

Title 1: I was hoping to show some of the duality of the characters–ergo the black rooster and white hen, inverted against one another on a horizontal plane, with their silhouette’s in an oval that I hoped would be reminiscent of an egg. The egg is cracked, alluding to some of the drama that occurs in the story.
Cover 2: I decided to scrap the hen and put the rooster in an obvious egg. The crack was changed as well, with the hopes of making it look like both a crack and a lightning bolt, as there are several storm scenes within the book. Which, if you’ve never seen a Midwest lightning storm, they’re pretty amazing.
Cover 3: Versions 1 & 2 had a border which I decided to ditch here. Part of the reason for that was that Amazon Print-on-Demand services are not perfectly exact. A thin border could look bad if it isn’t exactly on–one side would be noticeably thinner. I’ve also set the egg/rooster upon a hill. There were a few other renditions of this same design, mostly just fiddling with the hill’s slope.
Cover 4: Placing the rooster/egg upon a hill made me consider the idea of a sunset. Initially, I wanted to maintain the cracked egg while adding in the setting-sun look. To do that, I darkened the “sky” in the picture more.
Cover 5: As you can see, I decided to ditch the egg, realizing that having a chicken is probably chickeny enough. I went further with the sunset idea, adding in a very big and very yellow sun. The yellowness was intentional: I was still holding onto the egg idea dearly, and the yellow sun was an allusion to an egg’s yolk. The sun is further important as the chickens in the story are actually sun worshippers–like Aztecs, but without the human sacrifice! You may also notice the quote at the top from a “Jane Doe.” I decided (after reading some different opinions) that the quote on the book cover is something many readers expect. I therefore adjusted the book cover to allow room for one.
Cover 6: I reined in the title on this version, because before it was much too close to the right edge of the cover. I also added in the taller grasses. The added grasses where a better reflection of the story, created a bit more complexity and depth on the cover, and made a nice cradle for the sun.
Cover 7: By Cover 6, I was quite pleased with the picture. It wasn’t quite there yet, but I could feel that it was close. For the next rendition, we dropped the idea of a quote on top, and instead just threw up some text to give people an idea that this really was a serious novel. (Also, I had no big name “Jane Doe” reviewer’s statement to use.) The other thing was adding the dipping red hue to the sun itself, turning it orange towards the bottom. The flat yellow, it was decided, looked too fake.
Cover 8 – Final Cover: And here’s the final cover. All we did was adjust the text at the top to give it a more balanced look. I was quite pleased with the final product.

So there you have it. The one part of this process I haven’t yet mentioned is my wife. I saved her for last, because she’s the most important. Not every idea she has is golden, just as not every idea I have is any good. But we can bounce ideas between us, shoot down one another’s bad ones, and let the best ones rise to the top.

What do you think? Anybody prefer one of the earlier cover images?

Stay great.

Tough Decisions

There’s a principle of economics called “Sunk Costs.” The way I understand it is this: even if you put a bunch of time into something, if the end product isn’t going to be worthwhile, then ditch it. This can be painful because of all the time you’ve already invested, which will now essentially go to waste.

Unfortunately, knowing about sunk costs and the math behind it doesn’t make it any less painful.

Earlier this year, I was working on a space opera. I had mixed feelings about it. Writing was going slow in places, but I persevered. I finished it, and then… chucked the whole thing. 120,000 words. But it wasn’t good enough, I won’t publish something that isn’t good enough.

The flaws were too deep for mere editing to get them out, but I plan on coming back and rewriting the story someday. Just not today.

Well, I’m having to scrap something else right now. I’m 30,000 words into a novel, and I realized that I’m telling it the wrong way. I need to change the point of view, get deep into one of my character’s heads, get rid of a bunch of the cast, and then change the tone of the story. Once again, too radical for edits to fix. Just start from the bottom.

It’s painful, but I believe it to be the right call. Time will tell.