30 November 2010

Orbiting a Cover Survey

For the past couple of years Orbit Books has been posting a chart counting up common elements of fantasy novels.  Now that I have finals (or near-finals) for the six covers I ordered, it occurred me to count up which of these boxes I've ticked.  [I'm classing 'Stray' and 'Lab Rat One' as science fantasy, so can squeak them in.]

- Damsels (distress varying) x 6
- Sword x 1
- Castles/Citadels x 1 (arguably - there is a gorgeous hazy suggestion of one in the background of 'Champion')

The magic on the cover of 'Stained Glass Monsters' isn't quite 'glowy' (though Faille certainly is!), and I can't see any other categories I can mark down.  [I'm presuming 'headshots' are of the "Boom! Headshot!" variety and not simply a close-up of a person, though I don't have one of those either.]

As I read the chart, two things occured to me:

- Why is Orbit counting damsels but not dudes?  Seems one-sided.
- This survey is so ripe for silly categories.

My top suggestions for cover categories are:

- Would you like goggles with that?
- Ta-tas out.
- What is HE compensating for?
- I - I'm not sure what that IS.

28 November 2010

Said Book-isms

I like Said Book-isms.

So many people will jump up and down about Said Book-isms, tell you to remove everything but said, tell you that it's bad writing to use anything else.  And I shake my head and look through my writing, and about half the dialogue uses 'said', and a third or more no dialogue tag at all (usually accompanied by actions).  But a solid portion of my sentences contain 'replied', or 'ordered' or other variants.  I even use 'extemporised' at least once.  Why?

Because it was the better for the sentence.

'Extemporise' tells the reader that not only is the speaker saying something, but what she is saying is a temporary stopgap, an improvised answer.  It contains within a single word an implication that there will be a more considered answer to follow, or at the least there was a rushed nature to the answer.  Is it really superior to use [she said, searching her mind for a better answer]?  Or just to use said, and leave it to the reader to decide that the answer was rushed?

English is a rich and subtle language.  ["Jenny!" he said.] is different from ["Jenny!" he shouted.].  Dialogue tags are a tool, the nails, if you will, holding the sentences together.  Most sentences can be held together with 'small nails' like 'said' - or even get away with no nails at all - but sometimes a more solid nail is needed, or perhaps even a decorative stud.  Without some variations in your nails, your end result is in danger of being weaker than it could be.  Too many big fancy nails, and all people will see is the nails.  Just as with the 'rules' about adverbs, and show v tell, it's all a question of balance and correct use, of choosing the right words in the right proportions.

So if someone shouts, let them shout.

25 November 2010

Fourth Cover - The Silence of Medair

The looming door, the gloom, the hint of fire, and Medair's rejection of her situation are all things which I've had in mind for this cover for years and I think all of those things have come across particularly well here.  There is a sense of almost fishbowl distortion to that door, to the way it rises above her, bulging with the things she's trying to deny.

Medair is an odd protagonist for a fantasy novel - her story starts after the success/failure of an epic quest, and she spends all her time not wanting to think about things, not wanting to do anything, wanting to run away and hide from herself, with her failure constantly going around in circles in her head.  She is trapped.

I changed the fonts I used from the original design for this cover - they were a bit too thin and spindly to stand up in thumbnail.  I rather like the effect I've managed here, with a suggestion of smoke above embers.  There's a lot of fire in this novel, eating away at the scenery. :D

23 November 2010

Third Cover - Lab Rat One

The second part of the "Touchstone" duology, the "Lab Rat One" cover is a fantastic contrast to the lush complexity of "Stray".

I'm particularly taken with Cass' expression in this picture - it has something of a Mona Lisa ambiguity to it, suitable for her less-than-ideal situation as heroic test subject.

Again I will probably tweak the colours of the fonts a fraction, but otherwise I think the font really suits this picture.

17 November 2010

Second Cover - Champion of the Rose

The first of the fantasy covers is one which makes me very happy (and is currently my desktop background).  It's a fantastic image both close up and as a thumbnail - the colours really draw the eye and I adore the golden glimpse of city in the background.  The artist is Julie Dillon, who has a marvellous style, and a really special ability to tell a story with the image.

I think I've done a half-decent job finding the right fonts and shades to go with it, and probably won't mess too much more with this.  Champion and Silence will be the first two released and this will soon be a solid, real book which I can read without recourse to electronic devices.

A most excellent prospect.

13 November 2010


Skyline is a spectacular movie - splendid vistas, and disturbingly fast-moving creatures who so effortlessly turn humans into specks, little more than resources to be harvested.

Pity about the characters.

I have a rough idea of what kind of people these were, but I never felt like I got to know them.  There was earnest main guy (who rapidly became annoyingly dickish, imho) come to visit LA at the invitation of his rich friend who he used to be in a (band?) with.  There was 'preggers girlfriend' about whom I know absolutely nothing other than she's earnest guy's girlfriend and she's 'late'.  There's rich friend, who at least is energetic and seems to be a relatively positive guy, except for cheating on his girlfriend.  There's bitchy girlfriend (who, oddly, I liked most of the characters, but about whom I know nothing except that she's rich guy's girlfriend and a bitch).  There's rich guy's assistant, who actually APOLOGISES to rich guy for the fact that he cheated on his girlfriend with her.  (WTF?)  I knew she would die first.  There's sensible hotel manager, who did not have enough testosterone to eclipse earnest guy.

I spent far too much of this movie waiting for the female characters to do something more than (1) scream (2) bitch (3) cower (4) argue.  They have two moments - bitch girlfriend can drive and preggers girlfriend does _one_ active thing in the movie.  But the women are there primarily to be told to wait in safety, to scream, to make earnest guy conflicted, and most of all to be rescued.

I never got to know these characters enough to care for them.  They did stupid things (DON'T LOOK INTO THE LIGHT, you dickheads).  They seemed to think a skyscraper was safer than, say, a basement.

This was a visual movie, and I hear there's talk of a sequel, which may possibly be more interesting because it may focus more on the characters achieving something.

[Oh, and no-one's posted on the internet since 4am?  NO-ONE?]

11 November 2010

Margaret Maron: "Christmas Mourning"

The Deborah Knott series is one of my favourites, full as it is of vividly-drawn characters (with the extended Knott family, many many characters).  While Christmas Mourning probably doesn't rank up there with my absolute favourites of the series, it kept me wanting to know what happened next, and brought about a satisfying conclusion.

Whenever I read one of these books, I am impressed by the living depth of the location - this is not a story about the main characters with a bit of background slung in.  It's a living place.

01 November 2010

First Cover - Stray

While I will probably still tweak font colour a little, I very happily spent the day working up the cover for Stray.  The art is courtesy of Simon Dominic, whose gorgeous landscapes really captured me when I was looking over the responses to my cover art post.

There's so many things I love about the picture.  The frame of trees, that glimpse of valley - and those small white flowers in the lower left, which are just different enough to leave a hint of uncertainty as to whether they're flowers from this world, or some other.

Cass' backpack was one I described in exacting detail, and just looks so real to me.  Writing all over your backpack seems less common than it was when I went to school, but it certainly stamps Cass' personality.

In terms of fonts and layout, I had the general style of font I wanted in mind for many months, and was fortunate enough to find one which worked.  Then fought Painter for hours trying to get my preferred colouring effect - which I still haven't achieved, though picking up a light tone of the colour on her blazer ties it together.

This image will lose a little off the sides, when it's trimmed for the book, but overall this is almost exactly what will be printed.

I have no idea whether this is the kind of cover Stray would get if, for some reason, a professional cover unit were tasked with selling a rambling SF diary (now with added whining!) but I think that I would pick this up if I were browsing in a store.  The SF elements are subtle and it would be possible to assume that she's heading toward an Earth village - but she still looks satisfyingly out of place, with that quick, almost suspicious glance over her shoulder to suggest this isn't a holiday trip.

Covers are fun.

Three Skips

I started accruing my book collection in my late teens.  Not too many early on, since I moved house a lot.  A couple of shelves of books.  T...