Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tutorial on Cover Making

But first!  Shameless product placement!

Bobbing for Boyfriends has gone live on Amazon Kindle, for .99 cents in the US and £.71 in the UK store.  Here's a link for both of them and the pertinent information.

Bobbing for Boyfriends - US
Bobbing for Boyfriends - UK

In this third installment of The Adventures of Kitty Malone, Katharine "Kitty" Anne Malone dreams back to the time of prohibition and flappers with the help of her psychic friend Heather. Between the bobbed haircuts, spangled dresses, and illicit alcohol, will Kitty be able to find out the identity of the sexy and handsome stranger plaguing her dreams? And if she does, will she be able to survive the encounter?

And as an added bonus, here's a preview.
“Very.”  His fingers find her spine, stroke it, and she melts on the inside, body going hot and cold in tandem with the rhythm of his movements, boiling under his fingertips, cooling once they move somewhere else.  “You should relax.”  He leans closer, presses his leg against hers, and something hot and heavy coils in her lower abdomen, drips down lower into her legs.  Her skin starts to tingle, pinpricks at every pore.

“And you can help with that?”  She presses her arm to his, tilts her head so she can catch his gaze.  His face is close, too close, but she wants him there anyhow.  She can smell the slightly sour odor of alcohol on his breath, the musky scent of cologne or aftershave clinging to neck and chin, and she wonders how far down it goes.  She wonders if she’ll find out.

“That depends on what you find...relaxing.”  His hand cups her cheek, pulls her inexorably closer, and her eyes flutter closed, body tensed in anticipation.  She can almost taste him, almost, he’s that close.  Her lips part, and she can feel his breath, and her heart hammers against her chest in a frenzied dance of necessity.

    Close, so close.  His mouth brushes against hers very lightly, too tentative to be called a kiss.  Close.  So very close.
 Copyright Marlena Cassidy.

There is drama, I swear.  So much drama.  There is suspense!

Bobbing for Boyfriends is 37 pages in Word and great for a lunch/coffee break or even a quick read at the beach during the holidays.

Anyway, if I haven't lost you all yet, now on to the main purpose of this post.  Like I said before, covers are an essential and integral part of your writing.  A good cover means more people will read your book which means that you'll make more money and have a bigger fanbase who will support you.  You want your cover to be eye-catching but also relevant to your story; if it's about dogs, don't out a picture of a bus on your cover.  Some covers are abstract, some are bright, some are dark, and some are just plain crazy.

I don't think there's one 'best' cover to make.  Yes, there are 'rules' that you want to take into account when designing your own cover, but there's no set way to make one.  Experiment with colors, textures, combination, shapes, geometries, whatever you like.  Consult books about designing for more inspiration.  Even those little booklet things you get at Holmes Depot or Lowes' can help.

So let's look at some more examples of covers to get a better idea of what you want to do with your book.
I would put this under the 'bad' category.

The most appealing thing about this cover is the man, which is probably the reason why they have him on it.  The colors work fairly well, with the browns in the grass, the castle, and his pants, along with his skin color.  The transition between brown and sky serves to frame his body from the shoulders up and draw attention to his face.  His abs, however, are where you're going to be staring at because that's the middle of the composition and the widest strip of color.  The castle in the background I guess alludes to some plot device in the book.  The juxtaposition between the modern dress of the man and the intact castle draws the reader in.  Why is there a castle?  What does it have to do with the man?  Is that where her bed is?

Let's look at another.

What on earth?

This cover is...interesting.  We have a Native American man dressed in a stereotypical loincloth and a beautiful woman with her face at crotch height.  We know what we're getting into.  This is also the typical 'damsel' pose, with the woman leaning on the man for support, he providing the strength she either lacks or needs.  The arrow/spear thing serves two purposes.  It lets you know this is part of a series and is also a phallic symbol.  The dark sky serves to symbolize some foreboding event on the horizon.  I love how their hair matches each other's perfectly.


This next cover is one of my favorite books from C.J. Cherryh.  Read her stuff.  It's good.

Sci-fi at its best.
Hammerfall's cover is pretty neat.  The colors are warm and cool, creating a contrast.  The title is in bright white, which arrests your attention.  There's a crazy space-ship thing that might have to do with the title, and even crazier animal things heading towards it.  It seems like an exodus of sorts.  The falling stars in sky serves to highlight the reason behind the hammerfall maybe?  Who knows?  Overall, the cover introduces you to an alien landscape and prepares you for the story you'll be reading in a few short seconds.
I chose Amanda Hocking's cover for my next one because she's an Indie author on Kindle and is probably one the best-known stories of success.  She's also an amazing cover designer.  I wonder if she has someone helping her of it's all on her own.  Because these covers are good.
HOW DOES SHE DO IT?
Her audience is teens, and the title font is reminiscent of a teenage girl's writing.  Lowercase, soft, very light and neat, cute little loops in the loopy letters.  My handwriting never looked like that.  The soft purple of the lighting alludes to some sort of supernatural occurrence, as does the crescent moon.  They both evoke feelings of mystery and maybe even suspense.  The crow and the cross are both symbols of death, which ties into the title.  We know vampires are going to abound.  The black, leafless tree is also a symbol of death and foreboding, which creates an atmosphere of controlled terror and teenage angst.  Like I said, she's good.  It's not surprising she's the darling of self-publishing.

So, basically, know your audience and target them.  If you're looking for a romance crowd, find hot men and get them on your cover and highlight their faces and abs.  If you're looking at teens who wear dark makeup and roll around in Tripp jeans, use blues, purples, greens, blacks, and death symbology.

However, it can be really hard if you don't have the right tools, like me.  I have iPhoto and about nothing else, and Photoshop is really the most important/useful tool you will ever have.  What you can do to make your own covers on a budget is to find a public domain picture and manipulate it to what you want it to be.

For example, take this picture I ganked from Wikipedia:


I doubt all these people want to find themselves on the cover of an Indie romance novel, so we'll crop them out and make the picture smaller at the same time, highlighting the adspace of Times Square.


The photo is a lot smaller now, so later, I'll have to keep some black bordering around it.  Now let's have some have fun with colors.


I saturated the colors a bit, darkened it up, warmed it up, then boosted it one level, which honestly I don't really know what that does for the picture, but it looks pretty damn cool when I put into black and white.  I use a gray gradient because it's easier for me to manipulate it.  With Photoshop and all the crazy tools that come with it, I would be able to do more with the colors, like choosing which colors to keep in the black and white, or over-saturating certain colors over other.  Layering would be nice to, but Photoshop is expensive and I don't want to spend an arm and leg on Apple products.

The fade didn't work too well in it, so I didn't use it.  I like the gray gradient, not the blue one.

Some of these ads might be a problem if I use this as-is as a cover.  Coke and Corona probably don't want to inadvertently promote my product.


I used the retouch tool to play with the ad space and create some different patterns in there.  You don't really have to have a pattern in mind; you can just move the retouch tool around on the spaces you want to play with and it'll do the work for you.

Now, I don't like the darkness of this picture too much.  It seems way too subdued for me.  So I'm going to revert to no black and white and fix it up.


There, now it's good to work with.

I'm going to take a screenshot of it and put it into Text Edit.




I added my name in gray at the bottom by doing a really cheap trick.  I wrote it out on the top, then dragged it down onto the black while using a timed screen grab to capture the image.  The pointer won't show up if you do that.  Just highlight the text you want and drag it to where you want it to be, but don't let it go until after the picture is taken.

Normally I would add a title, but I don't know yet what my next installment will be, so I'm just going to call it at the next step, which is to take a final screenshot of the picture without all the extraneous bits in it.

You'll notice there's some white on it.  I'm going to have to go back and fix it by taking another screenshot.  But my mouse is freaking out right now, and I can't really do much about it.  The cover might also be a bit too small for Kindle's image parameter, so I might have to upload this to iPhoto again and take a screengrab with more black border in it.  I also didn't notice the Samsung ad on the top, so I'm probably going to go back and swirl that out.

So yeah, that's what I do with my time.  Once I figure out a title, I'll post the finished product.

Bobbing for Boyfriend's cover is this:

  

There are reasons for the fireworks which I'm not at liberty to discuss.  


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Making Book Covers and Thank You

Thank you for all your wonderful comments on my previous post!  Everybody, go check out these blogs right here: Rebecca E's Living A Life of Writing, Bethanne's Romance in Writing, and Between The Lines' Between The Lines Book Reviews.  All are amazing blogs that deserve lots of love and fans.  Are you there yet?  Go!

Okay, now come back.

If somebody were to take a small pool of Indie authors from Amazon Kindle and interview them about what is most difficult in self-publishing, the conversation would probably go something like this:

Interviewer: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of self-publishing?

Indie Author 1: Finding time to write.  It's so difficult to find time to write between raising two children and working a nine to five job.

Indie Author 2: For me it's editing.  Editing through my work is time-consuming and nerve-wracking because I have so much to go through and I too have a job that I need to tend to.

Marlena: Making cover art.  I hate making cover art.  Cover art sucks.  Hate it.

You could argue that a cover is probably the most important aspect of your writing aside from your writing itself.  You can have a great book with great characters and a great plot, but if you don't have an eye-catching cover, you are sunk and will not sell a bloody thing.  This is why publishing companies have marketing teams who specialize in knowing how to create a cover that both conveys what your book is about and that can attract as many audience eyes as possible.

Take for instance, your typical romance novel cover.

Why is there a horse tooling around in the background?

It gets the point across fairly well I think.  We have the scoundrel, the captive, that crazy horse, and of course, a sexy scene to let you know that yes, there is sex in this book and that yes, you will like it.  Personally, while eye-catching, I don't like these covers because it broadcasts to the world what you're reading, and I don't really want to be scarring twelve year-old girls' eyes with Fabio's inflated pectorals.  I prefer a more subtle cover.

Here's an example of a cover that I really like.

It's a really good book, even though the sequel is bit lacking.

It's pretty direct.  You have the name of the main character, a mysterious symbol, and the name of the author, all in slightly runic font.  The white background highlights the gold coloring.  It caught my eye when I was looking through the shelves at my local bookstore, which is the exact purpose of a cover.  I didn't like the other covers so much because I didn't think the colors meshed as well as this one.

Anyway, enough of my inexpert prattle.  When it comes down to the wire, I go for black and white in my own designs.  I don't have access to Photoshop, so a gray gradient is easier for me to manipulate.  What I usually do is find a public domain picture of Manhattan and shove it into iPhoto, where I saturate the colors and then darken it a bit before switching to black and white and crop it.  Then I take a screenshot of the black and white picture and take that resulting JPG into Text Edit.  There, I write up my title and author name and do some more screen grabs until I have the finished product.

I'll do a tutorial for my next cover so you can see what I'm talking about better.  I would do a video of it, but then you'd hear me cursing out the computer, and no one wants that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Introvert vs. The Extrovert

When I was a kid, I was painfully shy, a product of both nonstop bullying and natural disposition.  I learned to read when I was three and found books to be more interesting than people.  I was always with a book, always with my nose in it, always with a new one every few days.  At one school-funded book sale, my mom gave me a blank check and I came back with seventy-two dollars worth of books.  I read all of them.  I still have most of them.  Ella Enchanted is still one of my all-time favorite books.  (As for the movie, despite Anne Hathaway, I thought it was bad.)

My reading caused a lot of trouble with my teachers.  I was in an academically accelerated program and performed well, but I didn't have any friends.  Like I mentioned, I was bullied pretty badly by both the boys and the girls, and I didn't want to work with them on projects or even talk to them during lunch.  My teachers told my parents that I was too shy and that I needed to learn to deal with people.  Since then, bullying has become a contentious topic among teachers and has been addressed as a growing problem, but back then, if you were bullied, you sucked it up and dealt with it, either with a punch to the face or you just tried extra hard to be part of the group.  When we had a class trip to Philadelphia, my teacher specifically told me not to bring any books.  She wanted me to socialize.  I brought books anyway and spent most the trip in the hotel room, reading.

My social skill were fairly stunted as a child, but once in college, I found that the older students liked me and I hung out with them.  I had a few friends who were my age, but the majority of them were grad students.  I lead a lot of groups both in class and out of class, like when I tutored kids in my astronomy class before the tests.  I didn't go out and party like a lot of the other girls, but I got good grades and kept my GPA at 3.8.  Honors societies were a commonplace thing.

My parents weren't very impressed regardless.

They wanted me to bring my friends home and to go out with them a lot and to be a social butterfly.  I was usually in my apartment, doing homework, reading, and writing.  They took it as sort of a failing of themselves that I wasn't out and about town, living it up.  One time, when the writer's club I was VP of came over to my place and got drunk, the president got into a fight with one of the other guys and broke some of my teacups and bled all over my chair.  When I recounted the story the next day, my parents weren't angry and upset with me for having three drunk guys at my place at midnight on a Thursday.  They were proud that I had 'broken out of my shell.'

But was there a shell to begin with?

The reason why I'm writing this post is because I was reading this article here over at the NY Times.  It talks about how we're medicating shyness out of people and how it might spell disaster in an evolutionary sense.  The writer states that shyness is in danger of being seen as a disease and that we're unfairly treating it like a bad thing instead of a survival trait that assures that some of the population survives disasters.

I'm still shy, even though I self-publish on the web and write blogs and sing karaoke.  I don't like giving speeches, I don't like being the center of attention, and I don't like walking ahead of people.  Leadership isn't something I strive for, but something that I'll accept if I have to.  I'd rather sit in a park or at home and write than be out at a party.  Is that a disease?  Is it wrong of me to devote most of my day to writing instead of to socializing? 

My parents sit on the fence.  They want me to write, but they don't think I'm happy.  My mom still blames herself that I wasn't one of the popular girls in school.  My dad has tried multiple ways of stamping the shyness out of me.  He nearly put me into Outward Bounds in the hopes that the program would shock me into an extroverted success who didn't push people in front of her so that she didn't have to go through doorways first.

In my defense, the whole 'I won't go through doors first' is easy to ignore when I'm with a group.  It's weird, I will admit, but when the zombie apocalypse happens, at least I won't be the one being eaten in a doorway.  I'll be the one shooting the damn thing in the head.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Evolution of Writing

You know what I love about thumb drives?  They're like little time capsules, capturing all the crazy things you think you want saved for whatever purposes.  I just found one of my old ones and plugged it in and found a few examples of early pieces of writing.  I can't believe how much my writing has changed over the years.

I wish I had examples of my earliest works, back when I was in the single digits, but that was before computers and thumb drives and it's probably filed away somewhere where I don't want to find it.

But anyway!  Let's go on the journey together!

I named my drive LAWLZ.  This shows you the maturity level we're dealing with at the moment.  It doesn't get much better.

For example, we have this little gem:
Now, at one time, she decided, quite randomly, to assign an impossible project to her cowed students.  They were to plagiarize an analysis (by people much smarter and more grammatically correct than them) on some old poet named Poe, who was the first emo-Goth to never make it big, and provide a two-page (full two pages; if there was a line missing, that was twenty points off right there) report on the copied analysis and further details of the poem.  And because she was a bitter, mean, old hag, she decided that any of the poems in the outmoded literature book could not be used, since those were the only poems anybody bothered to analyze.  But to be nice, she allowed the students to use merely two reference books.  But no amazing Internet, since she was too old to figure out how to use it.

And so, her students, tired and belabored set forth to the monstrous Library of Ripped and Unreturned Books to find heavy, dusty, grimy, old tomes on this depressed poet of long ago lore.  As it was, one of their rival classes arrived before them, and since they were greedy, uncooperative little ingrates, they took all the reference books and left none for everyone else.  And they wouldn’t share either, because they wanted the better grades.

But a few students formed an idea the night before the report was due, (“No extensions!  You’re smart, you figure something out!”  And if you can’t go to the library, you shouldn’t be in this class!  What will you do in college?  It’s all your fault your family can only afford one car!”) and used necromancy to resurrect Poe from the grave temporarily.  They asked him questions about their poems, and he answered them, if not somewhat morbidly depressed and sulky, and they let him rest in piece again.  The next day, they handed the reports in.
In my defense, that project was difficult and no one liked that teacher anyway.  The irony is I know I got an A on that project when I got it back.  I had made up my own analysis.

Here's another from about the same time, this one a retelling of Beauty and the Beast:
Near the castle, down a long ways, there was a village.  It was poor, and suffered from disease and famine regularly.  Death was befriended there, and it had visited every family as least once.  Strangely, there were almost no women in that village.  Of girls, there were plenty, dour faced little things in tattered rags who ran quickly from the streets to their houses.  Adolescents were not plentiful, but these girls could be seen at times, running errands for their fathers, but of women from seventeen and older, there were none.

In one dilapidated, little hut, there lived the oldest girl in the town, a dirty little thing in a makeshift dress.  She was sixteen, due to turn seventeen in later months, and in her room, a curtained off section of the single-roomed hut, she twirled a long-stemmed rose between her dirty, calloused fingers, intently studying it with her sooty face.  A white petal spiraled to the floor, and she ground it with her bare foot into a mushy paste. Her father, broken, wept in a corner,

The rose had arrived, driven into the thin straw of their hut, on the first night of the rainy season, as it had at every other families’ hut.  This was the second time a white rose had visited this particular hut; fourteen years ago, it had been for her mother, a quiet girl of seventeen and whom Raelyn could not remember.
 I submitted this to our school's literary magazine and got my first emphatic rejection.  Then I got it in into my head that I could make this into a series, sort of like the Fractured Fairy Tales series, and I tried to write some more.  Here's the aborted attempt at Snow White, I think.  Or it could be Cinderella.  I don't know anymore.

Once upon a time, a mother died, leaving behind a grieving husband and a daughter too young to care.  Older this child grew, wild and unheeded by her thunderstorm father to live amongst the yellow carnations that grew in abundance around her dwelling.  Rarely ever did the girl-child enter her home, where her tempest-like father floated room-to-room, pervading gloom and grayness wherever he stepped, but she instead lived outdoors, the tall weeds her protection, the soft grass her bed, and the bees and dragonflies her only kin.

    By her tenth year, constant sunlight had lightened Moira’s hair to a blinding white, falling in a mess of brambles and knots into her green eyes, and had darkened her skin to a healthy brown as well.  She was small and springy and slight, quick and sure-footed, able to slip softly through shadows, and stealthy enough to crouch in the crackling weeds, waiting to pounce on anything that flitted though the dry stems.  Dangerous and wild, she spoke not the human language, but the strange sounds of the forest and its animals.

    But then one day, when Moira had slipped into her kitchen to scavenge for new clothes, the strong scent of perfume wafted through the open door to the hall and wound itself around her nose, tickling her with its strange and strong scent.  Abandoning her search, Moira followed it, down on all fours - for she could not walk on only two feet – and her head held high, sniffing the air and following the sickly odor through many rooms and many hallways until she reached a door that stood ajar, where the oppressive scent was strongest.  Moira stopped just outside it, thin body pressed against the wall, curious face peering around the frame.
There's about six different versions of this hanging around two computers, and I don't know if I'll ever finish this.  Maybe.  Who knows.  I don't know why her father is a walking tornado.  I was going for stylistic liberties.  I don't think it worked.

Next is an example of teenage angst at its best.  Which means at its worst:
 If you have a great idea, either somebody’s already done it, it’s actually not a great idea, or someone will steal it from you, and pass it off as his or her own.  If you want to be a world-renowned poet, be prepared to be very poor until you die.  When you post pictures of yourself on-line, you are asking for trouble, so don’t whine when you receive unwanted attention.  You cannot deny Global Warming when it reaches seventy degrees in January and you live in a somewhat northern region.
(I really like this next one.)
You can’t learn martial arts by watching anime. 
(And my personal favorite.)
Before you decide to procreate, dabble in some soul-searching, look at how you were as a teenager, and then decide whether or not you’d like to raise yourself.
 Ah teenage years, how I don't miss you.

Next we have an example of when my style evolved into a prototype of what it is today.  When I graduated, there was a seven-month pregnant girl walking with us, and she really struck me as a strong but tragic figure.  I wrote this thinking about her:
   To everyone else, this is a walk of pride, of closing, or partying later and driving drunk, but to her, this is torture.  Walking between those flags, feeling all those eye bore down onto her figure…it is horrible, and she wishes she could run and never return.  But she can’t, for her she is too close to ending.

   That walk seems like it will never stop, and finally, she and all the other students, those find graduates, loop back among the chairs, standing in front of their seats until the salute and speeches are done.  She wishes she could sit down and has to comply with flattening her hands on the small of her back and stretching.  A girl somewhere near her giggles.  Her cheeks flame.
 I don't know why I had a thing for the word 'for' when I was younger.  But I loved it and used whenever I could.  I apologize for the gratuitous use of 'for.'

And now we come to my first serious attempt at a novel!  In my defense of the vampire-plot, this was before Twilight became hugely popular and ruined vampires for everyone.

This is attempt one:
It had been sunny the day he had been condemned, and it was still sunny throughout the journey away from Midora, the sun a relentless globe of hard glare in a sea of icy blue.  At the horizon, though, storm clouds gathered, wispy fingers of gray reaching across the sky, a thin trailing web of pallid colors.
   
It had become colder too; the sultry heat of Midora’s summer tempered by a brisk wind that stirred up great gusts of dust, coating everything on the path a sickly yellow.  Not five minutes had gone by and already everyone was covered in it, dusting it out of clothes, blinking it out of eyes.
   
The dust irritated Alix’s face, stinging his cheek, and involuntarily, he lifted his hands to rub it, only to find that his arms would not move.  The guard directly in front of him gave the chains an impatient jerk, and little streaks of pain shot up Alix’s arms.  He gasped softly, but already the pain was leaving his numbed limbs.  He couldn’t feel his fingers anymore, and his wrists could only be stimulated to give a half-hearted tremor when he tried to move them. 
 That was painful to read.

Here is attempt seven:
    Alix lay in the damp grass, letting the cool dew soak into his clothes and skin, soothing all the little hurts peppering his body.  The sharp biting pain of his ankle refused to be quieted, however, and it throbbed in tandem with the gnawing pangs growling deep within his belly.  He groaned softly and curled into a tight ball of sweat and exhaustion, his mind rattling around within the constraints of sanity, trying to escape and never return.  He fell into a light doze, eyelids heavy and muzzy, and muscle by muscle, his body began to relax, arms and legs loosening from the tight tension they had been under during the past few hours.

    It seemed like such a long time ago – and it was, he thought sleepily, it was lifetimes ago – that he had still been living on the streets of Midora, surviving off loaves of stale bread stolen from dumpsters and when he was lucky, pieces of discarded meat from trashcans.  Water hadn't been too much of an issue; he had trained his body to ignore its thirst for as long as it could, and when the dryness became too much, he would snatch a few bottles from the back of a delivery truck.  The life had been hard, but it was what he was born into, and he learned early on it was better not to complain.

    But it was so very hard not to complain when he saw the lords and their ladies, safe behind tempered-glass windows, eating on long tables made of the finest of wood, several Bots scurrying around to serve their masters.  It was so hard not to feel bitter when the cold winter winds blew at night, carrying hints of ice and snow on their currents, whispering of heavy storms.
 Apparently I don't have attempt nine, where I switched into present tense.

This is supposed to be a short horror story.  I'm still trying to finish it:
The piano lies silently, unmoving, a thin film of dust settling on the soundboard, filling in the worn impressions fingers have created over the years.  The room, however, is not quiet like the black shadow standing proud in the center of the room.  A charged electricity hums in the air, and unnamable knowledge, a certain edgy awareness sinks heavily into the few chairs left unfolded around the piano, listening to the ghostly strains of a girl’s final sonata.

    It is not until three hours later, as the dusty layer is about to be brushed away, that the knowledge is named, the awareness takes existence in the hallways outside the now open door, and then the screaming begins.

Second Movement: Lento 
    From distant floors below, straining to seep through the heavy carpeted floors, various phrases of waltzes and gavottes mix and mingle, exchange notes, and generally create a cacophony of music that disagrees in tempo and timing.  A lone cello from somewhere down the hall wails a mournful nocturne.
I have another attempt hanging out somewhere, but I forgot where I put it.

I don't even know what inspired this thing:
    The sailors speak of monsters, of great serpents in the seas that are as thick as boats and as wide as the road from the port to the mountains.  They speak of teeth as big as a house, and of scales that are the most putrid shade of green imaginable.

    They speak of weird evils, of fishing nets pulled up that have great gaping holes in them and nothing but a few ravaged fish heads.  They speak of fish with ten eyes that can spit blinding poison even after its dead.  They speak of freak storms that spring up from clear blue skies that make waves millions of hands high, of maelstroms that eat ships and are never satisfied, of tepid waters in which no current lies and in which no air blows.  They speak of mutinies and piracy, of treasure and spilled blood.

    But ask them of the mermaid, and they go silent, clutching their ales with both hands, their ruddy faces white beneath their beards.  Ask them of the mermaid, and they start tavern bar fights, they rant and rave and brandish their knives.  Ask them, and every so often, one of them will jump off the cliff, dashed to the rocks below, the sea taking his body.
 I blame...I don't know what to blame, honestly.  Who knows at this point.

This was an experiment in symbolism.  Heavy-handed symoblism:
The balloon is red and filled to its brink, and it floats, eager to escape, bouncing in the wind, anchored by only a single thin string tied to her wrist.  She watches the balloon, eyes following its impatient jerks, tugging at her wrist, and she wonders faintly what will happen if she cuts the string.  Will the balloon rise straight up in the air?  Or will it wiggle and weave through the currents, flying until it can fly no more?

It is an interesting idea, and a time-consuming one, and she mulls over it, turning it over in her mind as she watches the balloon without seeing it.
 I was a messed up kid.

This is the most recent crime against humanity aside from Kitty Malone.  It was a writing prompt my writing group and I did at one of our meetings:

Her arm is heavily muscled, but it has to be for her to carry the slaughtered bull from the shambles to the kitchen.  It's not really her job - is actually quite beneath her station, but the slave girl died two days ago, and none of the other tribeswomen have found a suitable replacement and she wants her meat.  Her long, powerful strides take her from the bloody hut to the complex of thatched-roofed dwellings in a few short minutes, and her attendant, a shorter, less-toned woman of average looks scurries behind her, struggling to keep up.  Smoke rises from one hut, and she flings the bull to its door with little effort.  There's no need to announce its or her presence.  They know and fear her well enough here.
Can you guess what I was supposed to be describing in my prompt?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Congratulations Are in Order

Congratulations John Locke for being the first Indie author to sell over a million Kindle E-books!  A million!  That's six zeroes!  Holy crap!

I wanted to be the first Indie author to sell over a million, but hey, congratulations are still in order!

One thing though.  In the article, it states that authors who publish on Kindle keep 70 percent of their profits.  It's true, but ONLY if you price your book at 2.99 up to 9.99 dollars.  At any other price, authors keep 35 percent of their profits.  Soooooo...yeah.

Here's the article.  http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387302,00.asp

Drama? Drama drama drama!

It's kind of funny how we work so tirelessly hard to squash any uprisings of drama in our lives (unless you're a teenage girl; then you live and breathe for it) but we love it so much in our reading materials.  We secretly love drama I think.  We love it when it happens to our friends, our coworkers, our bosses, and when it happens to people we know absolutely nothing about.  Case in point: The Casey Anthony Trial which I've been watched for the past month or so.  The drama has been getting heavier and heavier day by day now that the defense has the case.  So it's not surprising then that we love drama in our books.

If you look at the New York Times Bestsellers List, there's been a history of drama.  Jackie Collins, for example.  Does anyone remember her?  My dad basically force fed me her book Chances, which is all about the Santangelo crime family and fourteen year old prostitutes in Harlem, once he found out I was serious about being a published author.  He said I could learn from her.  All I've learned is that I really don't like reading about fourteen year old prostitutes in Harlem and street tough crime families with bratty but beautiful daughters.  Am I broken?  I think it's just my drama meter petering out.  I can take but so much.

But Chances was a bestseller and Jackie Collins is still popular today.  I found one of her books in the grocery store: Poor Little Bitch Girl.  She's obviously doing something right, even if her subject matter is a bit...lowbrow.

It's the drama.  There's something addictive about reading drama that makes us want to set our teeth into it and chew on it until everything wraps up nicely with a bow on top.  Drama makes the world go 'round.

Romance novels are the same way.  Virginia Henley's A Year and a Day is full of dramatic tension between her heroine and the hero.  (It's a historical romance set in Scotland.  Scotland is very popular in romance novels, I don't know why.  Show Ireland some love.)  There's always some sort of problem arising: She doesn't want to marry him, he doesn't know if he can love her, there's a third woman who wants him, everyone is fighting, there's a war going on, oh no she's betrothed to someone else now, etc etc.  See what I mean?  If things moved along nicely, he loves her, she loves him, they have steamy sex out in the forest, the end, we would be bored.  And there's the problem I have.

I need more drama.  So expect some drama in the latest installment of Kitty Malone!  Will I survive it?  Probably not.  My aversion to drama is fairly great.  I avoid it like the plague.  Too much drama from my school years and such.

In other news, it's nice to be able to take a shower without a small poodle staring up at me as if to say, "I find you inadequate."   It's also nice to know that there are now bananas to eat.  I love bananas, which is ironic since I'm a romance author.  There's a joke in there somewhere but I won't make it.  That's up to you.

Poor Kitty Malone is so alone right now.  I hit writer's block again last night, somewhere in a sentence where I was trying to compare Magdalena to a phoenix, and it just didn't work out right at all.  While I really like the phoenix analogy, I might have to scrap it if it doesn't work out in the end.  It's not worth getting bogged down in analogies if it sacrifices the flow of the narrative.  Maybe I can work it in later, after all the DRAMA.  I smell a drama llama.

I spent most of my night looking at reproductions of flapper dresses, trying to garner some inspiration.  There's so damn pretty.  I would love to buy one to wear it out and about, but they're expensive.  155 dollars for a beaded dress I'd be afraid to wear more than a few times a year at most.  But Kitty Malone totally would.  Oh, I smell a plot line coming up.  Love it.

Magdalena lucked out and got the red dress since she's darker than Kitty and has black hair.  Kitty however is bit more difficult.  She's a redhead and pale, so red is right out for her and so is pink.  I don't want to put her in black or silver because I think those colors are too cold for her.  She wore blue in the last installment, and I don't want to fall back on that again, but blue is a good color for her.  Maybe green would work.  Or purple?  A lavender might be nice, lavender and silver.  Or an amethyst color.  Magdalena has the gold on her dress, so I want to give Kitty something different while still staying true to the 20s fashion.

I'm over thinking this.  You know you're over thinking when you use your blog to color coordinate your character's hair with her dress.  This is called getting bogged down in the details, the useless details.

A Small Anouncement

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there who look after their crazy kids with shaking heads and wry smiles!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Disconnect Between the Writer and the Audience

I love having writer's block because it gives me an excuse to sit around the kitchen all day and do nothing.  The dogs think it's a free pass to jump on me and demand pets.

I finally finished bathing them all two days ago, which was both fun and agonizing since I'm allergic to them and they make me sneeze like nothing else in the world.  They didn't enjoy it too much but took it pretty well considering they generally freak out and try to jump out of the sink at me and claw me to death.  Apparently, being in the shower with your dogs means that they sit in the tub and complain at you while you try to condition your hair and feel normal.

One of them is staring wistfully at the outdoors but won't come down the stairs.  She is such a weird little dog, but she seems happy and I'm not going to drag her down to send her out with the others if she doesn't want to.  She's a sweetheart under all the bluster, and if she wants to sit on the stairs all day, let her.  I'm sitting in the kitchen all day as it is.

I still haven't found a good writing spot yet.  Upstairs is like a sauna this time of year, even with the air conditioning on, and everywhere else has TVs that distract me with Criminal Minds and NCIS reruns.  Give me a choice between Kitty Malone and NCIS, and it's going to be NCIS all the way.  I'll pretend to write, but you know I'm really watching McGee mess up the mission.  I can't help it.  The TV is so flashy and loud and my writing is so dull and boring.  At least I think it is.

Which brings me to my point.  Does anyone else out there feel that there's a disconnect between your audience and your writing.  Like, you're missing the point or something's going over somebody's head or you're just not reaching them at some level?  I feel that way, and I don't really know what to do about it.  I know I'm supposed to write for myself, to please myself - that's what my writer friends tell me in their wisdom - but I also want to connect with a reader base.  It just seems like the potential reader base is either ignoring me or just doesn't get me.  And it's a bit discouraging, if you know what I mean.  You work really hard on something, and you want people to like it because you love it, and then it kind of just sits out there and rots.

I forget who told me this, but somebody said that writers write because they love writing, not because it turns a profit.  I do love writing, and I don't need millions - I wouldn't know what to do with myself and would probably crash and burn in a fiery exit - but it really is proving to be true.  It's testing my dedication to the craft.

However, and there's always an however, it's way too early to tell anything.  It's only been three months, and two sales in three months for a newbie writer is pretty good.  I shouldn't be complaining.  And I am grateful for the two sales.  See, you who shall remain anonymous on this blog, I'm not that much of a psychotic bitch.  Just a little bit, a baby bitch, a bitch in training.

Aaaaaaaaanyway, my computer is fixed!  And I didn't have to pay for it!  That made my week infinitely better.  Thank you for warranties.  But I do have a funny story about being in the Apple stores that I now will relate.

Me: I hate the Apple Store.

Friend: Why?

Me: They don't even have a name.  It's just a giant apple of pretentiousness.

Friend: You're a brat and this is why no one likes you.

[in the store]

Me: I'm going to plant myself in the middle of this aisle and stand here until someone serves me.

Friend: What if they don't serve you?

Me: Then we will stand here forever.  Go play with the iPads if you want.

Friend: They're too expensive for me to even look at, let alone touch.

Me: Can I have your phone so I can play Angry Birds?

[half an hour later]

Hapless Apple Employee: I'll be right with you.

Me: Putting on my angry face now.

Friend: You're not intimidating.

Me: That's because this is my warm-up angry face.  Just wait until it's full power!

Friend: Give me my phone back.

Me: Never!

Hapless Apple Employee: What can I help you with?

Me: I have an appointment with the Genius Bar.

Employee: Name?

Me: -goes off into spelling it out-

Employee: I got it, I got it.  We'll call you when a spot opens up.

Me: I hate this store.

Friend: Why not get a PC?

Me: Because I'm in too deep.  They have all my information and will sell it to Brazil if I leave.

Friend: Why Brazil?

Me: Because it's the first country I thought of.

Friend: You're so damn weird.

[half an hour later]

Genius Bar Dude: So what's the problem?

Me: The computer doesn't turn on.

Dude: -takes computer and tries to turn it on-

Computer: Screw off you putz.

Dude: -picks up computer and looks at it-  You have notebook paper in your disk drive.

Me: Oh no, really?

Dude: Let me just take this into the back room and open it up to look at the insides. -leaves-

Me: This is horribly embarrassing.  He's going to find staples in it, I know.

Friend: Why?

Me: Because a box of staples opened up in my bag and got into the disk drive.

Friend: -silence-

Me: He's going to come back out and tell me there's staples in it and that I'm a horrible Mac user and they're going to take away my computer forever.

Friend: - laughs-

Me: Who manages to get staples in their disk drive?  How does this happen?  This is so bad.  I can't be trusted with electronics.  I'm the bane of electronics.

Dude: There were staples in your computer.

Me: -dies-

Dude: We can order you a new top case and have it fixed in a few days.

Me: -dead-

But yeah, aside from all the embarrassment, the computer was fixed and now I can write my sex without feeling guilty about stealing the communal Mac for my devious purposes.  It worked out well because I needed to do research for my latest installment of Kitty Malone and it took a while.  I needed to look up how women in the 1920s did their makeup.  I love the 20s, is my favorite decade, but I only know the modern ways to do the eyeshadow and lipstick.   I ended up poking around a few blogs I found on Google and found out that grease pencils were a big thing, which sounds disgusting.  I don't know about you, but I don't want grease on my eyes.  And apparently, the mascara was heated before use and then put on the eyelashes.  And here I thought that regular old mascara was terrifying.  I poke myself all the time.  Imagine poking yourself with heated, waxy, coating!  Scary.  Scary scary scary.  So I had some fun with a 1920s incarnation of Kitty getting her face done by Magdalena and being horrified by it all.  Then there will be gangsters!  Or something!  Choices!

I also had some more fun playing with the sexual tension between Magdalena and Kitty.  Maybe it'll go somewhere, who knows.  But then I got stuck and stopped writing and ate some pie.  Love pie.  Hopefully the pie will inspire me somehow.  Or the dogs.  Or maybe I should stop introducing strange sexual tensions where there shouldn't be sexual tensions and just go about writing plain romance.

Choices!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The First Post!

I think I'm far too excited about this to be healthy.  The dogs are staring at me like I'm some sort of alien creature, but I'm pretty sure they take it for granted that I'm an alien creature and am only useful for petting them and cleaning up their messes.

So yeah, first post jitters and an awkward silence to boost.  I have no idea what I'm doing.

I'm supposed to go to the mall today to fix my evil Mac computer because apparently Macs hate me and break on purpose when I need them to work.  And since I work from my computer (working = writing romance novels from the couch and hoping no one notices), having no computer makes life super difficult.  I have to borrow the communal Mac and fight for my time on it.

I also managed to injure my shoulder yesterday, probably because I fell asleep on the recliner again and twisted myself into a pretzel, so typing is painful.  It makes me prone to howling at the slowness of this computer and scaring the dogs into hiding.

I'm rambling about nonsense and probably boring the hell out of readers.

I don't think this post showcases my amazing talents as a writer.  I don't think I can do much about that.

I have two short stories that are part of a series up on Amazon Kindle right now.  I write The Adventures of Kitty Malone, which is sort of an experiment, I guess, if you want to call it that.  I call it more of a brainchild, or maybe it's a problem child that needs to be sent to summer camp.  Kitty Malone can be very temperamental, let me tell you.  Some days are good for writing and some days are just plain bad.

The stories are somewhere in the middle ground of long and short.  Single Lady of New York, which is the first one, is about 21 pages long in Google Documents and Flight of Fantasy, the second one, is about 27 pages.  So far I've sold two units copies of Single Lady of New York, and I consider that a success because there were no refunds and I made a whole .70 cents.  I can buy some gum now.

I guess I should put in a link to the stories. (SHAMELESS PRODUCT PLACEMENT)

Single Lady of New York
Flight of Fantasy

I sell them for .99 cents on the Kindle, and yes, they're erotica.  Why?  I have no idea.  I blame the media for saturating everything with sex.

I don't remember much about writing Single Lady of New York, other than it took five attempts to get it right and I actually had a lot of fun muddling my way through it.  I wrote that one back in April, or maybe I started it in March, I really don't remember.  I think I was eating a scone at some point and decided that I should be a romance novelist.  But since I can't finish a novel no matter how hard I try, I turned into a romance author.  We'll see what this becomes.

Flight of Fantasy took a lot longer to write, almost two full months to get it together.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  I wonder if I spent too much time getting into Kitty's head and not enough time writing actual fact.  The whole showing vs. telling argument.  It's been up for a few days now, no sales though yet.

I'm writing the third story, tentatively titled Bobbing for Boyfriends a.k.a Flapper Fashion is Secretly Complex and Terrifying.  I love the 1920s, but I know next to nothing about it.  I shouldn't attempt these things without doing research.  To Wikipedia I go!  I've got about five pages done of this story out of who knows how many.  Maybe we'll hit thirty pages this time.  Let's do it.

I try to keep the stories somewhat short so that people can enjoy them during lunch breaks and coffee breaks and commutes.  A good read always makes a commute better.  I remember busing around Manhattan with a computer and Shutter Island so that I wouldn't have to kill the kids behind me out of frustration and righteous indignation.  Fun times, fun times.  Do people even like reading erotica during lunch breaks?  Or would it be awkward, reading about sex and then having to go to a meeting right after?  The mysteries of the universe...

I don't want to edit all this.  Editing is such a trip, I swear. 

One of the dogs is up on the couch with me, and I don't know how she did it.  She's on my legs and keeping me warm, but she really shouldn't be up here.  She kind of smells.   I should bathe her, but she'd hate it and scratch me all up like nothing else.  I'm afraid she might drown herself out of spite.  She already spites me by biting people when they try to be friendly.  There's something wrong with her.

Ah well, I should sign off and go back to writing about Flapper fashion and bobbed haircuts.  Wish me luck!