The First Million Words

Dementors, Cough Drops, and a Book Update

 

My nose and throat have been very dry at night lately, so I’ve been sneaking into the kids room to huff air straight from their humidifier in the middle of the night. I wear a dark, oversized bathrobe, and the kids’ humidifier looks like a little frog. Basically, it looks like a dementor delivering the kiss of death to a small amphibian.

What is it with me and frogs lately? I have no idea.

The past few nights I’ve ended up just sleeping on the kids’ bedroom floor, since the air in there isn’t quite as dry. Last night, about 4 AM, I was in there and started coughing pretty bad. So much that my three-year-old daughter finally said:

“Daddy, I think Mom put some cough drops by your bed, for you to have them during the night. Why don’t you just go get one of them?”

I really was fine–just a little something caught in my throat at that point. A few more coughs and it would be done.

Then my almost-two-year-old son said, “Sister said cough drop. Sister said cough drop.”

I guess I was bothering them or something.

Fortunately, the coughing stopped. Half a minute later, my son said, “I want chicka-boom-boom.”–referring to the alphabet classic, Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, where the letters all climb a coconut tree. Haven’t read it? Get it. It’s great.

Anyways, I guess he wanted to cuddle with that book. So, I got up and handed it to him, then laid back down on the floor.

What happened next requires a refined sense of humor to appreciate. Just a warning.

All the coughing and standing up and laying back down had caused quite a stir in my bowels. So much so that it had created a gas bubble in my guts, which I passed rather noisily.

Both kids started giggling. Then my son said, “Hehehe…. Elephant fart.”

Sometime after that, we all fell back asleep.


In other news, editing Happily has been going very well. I write very clean rough drafts, and kept notes of changes and areas that needed to be retouched. By Saturday, the first copies will go out to my invaluable team of alpha readers.

I’ve also been considering writing a short series of blog posts on writing and storytelling tips. I’m not a master at either, but I believe I have some information and little tidbits that could be very helpful to others. I probably wouldn’t start that series for a little while, though. Not until Happily was safely on its way to launch.

As always, any book bloggers out there interested in an ARC copy of Happily, or a review copy of any of my other books, need only ask. It is literally my pleasure.

Happy reading, friends.

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).   🙂

Color Photos with Explanations

Okay, as promised, here are the color versions of those same pictures from yesterday’s post, along with an explanation for why I chose them. These pictures each reveal something about me, but taken altogether, they reveal that my photography skills are not fully developed.

1

I chose a picture of our Christmas tree because I love Christmas. I love seeing family, sipping hot chocolate, decorating, wearing sweaters and scarves–it’s all wonderful. Additionally, my faith is a big part of my life, and I love taking time to remember the babe of Bethlehem.
You’ll also notice the candy canes. We love sweets. We also had to place them a bit higher up, because there are some little hands in our house who will otherwise get them.

2

This is our family crest. The shield isn’t my design–it’s traditional. One sword has the family motto inscribed on it in Latin and English: “Love Conquers All.” The other is inscribed with “Happily Ever After” and “For Time and Eternity.” The swords are also replicas of Anduril, from The Lord of the Rings, because we’re big Tolkien fans.

3

My daughter picked these bouquets. The vase on the left was made in Tajikistan, and was gifted to us by family. The vase on the right is a shell from an A-10 Warthog cannon, and it was also a gift. We trade out wildflower bouquets frequently, thanks to our kids.

4

For a long while I didn’t read fiction. It started off with me reading military history, and then expanded into general history. This is my history bookshelf. I wish I could say I’d read all of those books, but I haven’t. Nearly all of them are about WWII, but a good handful are about the US Civil War. The crossed sabers were souvenirs from a trip to Gettysburg, PA. The Soviet-era beaver fur hat came from Russia, and was a souvenir my parents brought back when I was younger. The helmet beside it is from WWII.
History of all kinds is important to me. I believe that understanding how we got where we are today is crucial in understanding the path to where we want to be tomorrow.

5

The final picture is of my adventuring hat. Around 2002, my parents adopted my younger brother from Russia. This hat was brought back and given to me, and I’ve worn it on many, many adventures since. I enjoy new experiences and being outdoors, and this hat shows up in a lot of family videos and photographs as a companion through them all.

Seven Day Black & White Photo Challenge – Modified

Yesterday, the wonderful Sophie Li challenged me to do the Seven Day Black & White Photo Challenge, and I accepted… sort of.

Here are the rules, as posted by Sophie (who did not create the challenge, it should be noted. I’m not hunting down where it originated, though):
“Seven days. Seven black and white photos of your life. No people. No explanation. Challenge someone new each day.”

Here is how I’m doing it:
“One day. Five* black and white representative of your life. No people. Post color renditions and explanations the next day.”
*
Full disclosure: I was going to do seven as well, but apparently can’t count that high, since I thought I was done after five pictures. Since I’ve already put the camera away, five it is.

So, without further ado, here are my seven black and white photos.

1
2

 

3
4

And finally…

5

So there you go! Nothing to it, folks, if you want to do it yourself. Tomorrow I’ll put up the color editions and explain why I chose these pictures.

Until then, only the best.

Goodreads Challenge complete! (and a short book review…)

Yes, it’s true: I’ve just completed my first ever Goodreads reading challenge. My jubilation is significantly dampened by the paltry number of books it was–a mere 20. Still, this is the first time I’ve made the effort to track my reading, and I’m pleased with myself for bothering.

Looking back on 2017’s books, I think I would choose Ready Player One as my favorite. The main character, Wade Watts, felt very true, and the book was appropriately epic. I’m apprehensively excited for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation.

So, what was the last book that I read? Here it is:

Title: Stripes of Gehenna
Author: Lara Hues
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Adventure
Print Length: 158 pages

Kathryn knows a few things about human growth hormone and steroids: (1) when used to enhance performance in a sport, they are absolutely, wholly illegal, and (2) her estranged Uncle Richy ruined his life doing just that.
Outside of the occasional awkward Thanksgiving dinner, Kathryn barely knows her uncle. But when Richy unrepentantly invited her to his research lab, Kathryn can’t help herself. After all, Richy’s drug-abuse days are far behind him – replaced by decades of research on how the illegal GH10 compound that destroyed his sports career and marriage, can enhance a pair of Siberian tigers. And the experience would look great on her college applications.
It isn’t until Kathryn is whisked away to Richy’s private island research lab that she discovers the tigers aren’t the only ones receiving GH10…
To survive the trip, Kathryn will have to be more than strong. She’ll have to be cunning, brave, and determined to beat the odds.

Stripes of Gehenna was a fun sci-fi adventure story. There were a few places where the pacing felt a bit rushed, but overall the writing was smooth and pleasant. Kathryn was a good protagonist, and most of the supporting characters felt very fleshed out as well, especially for such a short book.

It was an entertaining read. 4/5
Amazon Page
Author Page
Goodreads Page

A super short review, I know. But, I just had to say something about the book that got me to complete my reading goal for the year! I think I’ll go for 30 books in 2018….

Thanks for dropping by!

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!

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Book Review

Title: Lord of the Flies

Author: William Golding

Publisher: Penguin Books; originally published in 1959

At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This far from civilization they can do anything they want. Anything. But as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far removed from reality as the hope of being rescued.

I think your favorite books may be the most difficult to review.

My first encounter with Lord of the Flies was when I spied my mom’s copy in her bedroom. I picked it up and asked her about it. She said, “That’s not a nice book. Don’t read it.” Or, at least, it was something like that.

Ah, the allure of a banned book! I didn’t read it just then. But years later, as a senior in high school, I decided to finally read it. I’d picked up the copy again and again in the intervening years, but had never actually cracked it open. When I did finally read it, I found it difficult to part with. I read it very quickly, and only set the book down a few times–something which is perhaps more commonplace for other readers, but is very rare for me.

Golding’s book is loaded with meaning, yet still flows easily and moves quickly. As the blurb says, boys are stranded on an island. At first, it’s an adventure. Eventually, it’s a nightmare. Why? Because of human nature. Of the novel, Golding said, “The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on an political system however apparently logical or respectable.”

When the boys–British schoolboys–are first stranded on the island, they form a simple yet rule-structured society. Ralph, one of the older boys, is to be the chief. He has a large, beautiful shell–a conch–which he can blow like a trumpet to call a meeting. When gathered at the meeting, only the person holding the conch may speak, and the conch is passed about to allow all voices to be heard.

They quickly decide that the most important thing is being rescued, and that the only way to be rescued is to keep a signal fire going, in hopes that a passing ship will see the smoke.

The problem is that there is more than one boy who wants to be in charge, and not all the boys are agreed on what the priorities ought to be.

The other problem is the presence of the beast–a monster who shares the island with them, but whose existence is never confirmed.

Now what about that title? Why is it called Lord of the Flies? “Lord of the Flies” is a translation of the Hebrew word Ba’alzevuv, or Beezlebub in Greek, one of the names or titles of Satan or the devil. The hunters in the book kill a pig, remove its head, and place it on a stake as an offering to the island’s Beast.

Later, a boy named Simon, dehydrated and hallucinating, has a conversation with the severed pig’s head, which by that point is covered in flies. The head–the “Lord of the Flies”–speaks with the boy in a pivotal scene, confirming Simon’s prophetic fears he had voiced earlier in the novel.

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!” said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?”

As the boy’s civilization further crumbles, the Beast’s words become more and more true.

What Genre is it? You’ll find it classed as YA often. It’s a bit odd in that classification, because none of the characters are very old. YA tends to focus on people about 16 years or older, whereas Lord of the Flies doesn’t have any character older than 13 (and it may only be 12, actually).

It’s a story of lost innocence, the darkness of the human heart, and the fallen nature of man. And it’s excellent.

5/5 – Will certainly read again.

 

Have you read Lord of the Flies? Did you have to read it in high school? Do you agree that society’s problems are problems inherent in human nature? If you were on a paradise island with a bunch of your same-gendered peers, do you think you could keep things civil, or would you start killing each other?

Happy reading!

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.

Bookstagramming, almost….

I’ve never posted anything to Instagram. I have an account, but haven’t touched it. Earlier this week I decided to change that, and tried my hand at Bookstagramming.

Probably, you already know what Bookstagramming is, but in case you don’t, it’s quite simple. It’s a celebration (via Instagram) of the visual beauty of books. People setup their favorite (or prettiest) books  in little poses alongside other stuff–sometimes other pretty things, or sometimes little things related to the plot or subject of the book. They take the picture, then post it online, and everyone oohs and aahs over the books.

It’s kind of weird, but humans are, as a rule, a rather strange species.

Since my phone’s camera is two steps away from garbage, I borrowed a much nicer camera for the pictures I took. Check ’em out!

I felt rather silly doing this, but sometimes it’s good for me to step out of my comfort zone. As you can see, it takes more than a good camera to make a good picture, but it certainly helps.

Did I end up posting these on Instagram? No, I did not.

Apparently you can only upload pictures to Instagram through the app. Since I have no Instagram presence, and since I don’t plan on having an Instagram presence anytime too soon (owing to my next-to-rubbish camera), I didn’t bother downloading the app. Besides, my phone has no space.

I’ll just share some of the photos with you. Perhaps someday I’ll invest time in Instagram, but not now.