The cover reveal for Exodus, the follow up to Unleashed.
Commissioning a book cover is often a fairly streamlined experience for an author. Oftentimes, it only involves a single person: a cover artist, or graphic designer. That is the route I went with most of my previous covers. This time around, I was looking for a very different look. And because using stock images rarely gives you exactly the picture you’re looking for, I decided to tap into the artistic source directly.
I jumped into the world of comic book art, which uses a very different system of art creation. On most projects, a comic book employs an artist, an inker, a colorist, a writer, and a letterer. I found it fascinating, as the comic book world is full of awesome and talented artists, desperate to prove themselves. Thanks for social media, I was able to post my commission needs to this populace, and ended up connecting with the write people. I enjoyed the process of this art commission so much I decided to break it down and share it with you. So, if you’ve ever wanted a look behind the curtain and see how book covers are created, here is your chance!
Character and pose mock up.
The artist roughly sketches the characters that will be featured in the artwork, detailing where they will stand and how. There is very little detail here, but it isn’t needed yet. This step is merely to frame the image and confirm the intended visual of the writer is in line with the artist’s vision.
The second step is the detail phase, where the artist fleshes out the characters, filling in details and giving them form. For me, this is the coolest step in the process, as you get to watch undefined stick characters come to life, as if they materialize from your imagination.
Depth, shade, and ink
The third phase allows the artist to make small adjustments to the characters designs, and start to add depth to the image by adding shadow, shade, and darken previously undefined areas. This step is really cool, because it looks like the characters are starting to pull off the page, gaining substance.
Step 4 affords a finished pencil drawing. All characters and details are finished, lines are darkened or inked, and shading, and shadow is completed. Additional texture is added and the background is filled out. I could see why some would choose to stop at this step, as for a black and white book, this would make some kick butt artwork!
Step 5 sees the pencil art go to the colorist. This is where you send comps and ideas for clothing color, background theme, tone, lighting, etc. The image on the left is the first draft of the colored image. I sent back some edits, specifically Lex (the gal on the right with the awesome rifle) and requested that her hair be more red. You can see the slight variations in the art, as color is refined and changed. Lighting is modified and the background starts to come to life.
Typography and Graphic Design
Once you’ve approved the final colored version of the art, it is sent to a graphic designer for typography. My designer’s initial concern was the amount of artwork on page, and how to place title and author name without covering up too much. Our compromise was isolating Jacoby’s (my main character) head, and using layers to have the title appear behind him. This works nicely, as the font and color used appear to glow, working nicely with the light sourcing used in the artwork. As you can see, from idea, to concept, and from draft to draft, cover art can be process of adaptation, compromise, and discovery. I put my vision in the hands of multiple artists, and in the end, received more than I ever hoped.
Unleashed is finished. The manuscript is now handed off to my advanced/Beta readers. I am awaiting their feedback and will make edits accordingly. The book will then go through edits/proofing, and formatting, before finally being approved for release.
Here it is, folks. This one was a blast to work on. I couldn’t have done it without the fantastic pencil art of Eder Messias, (Colorist) Joel Chua, and (Graphic Designer) Christian Bentulan. This book will be equal a thrilling science fiction adventure full of badass ladies, a complicated MC, and some freaky, freaky alien monsters!
What makes one author successful, while another struggles? And I’m not talking about book sales, but just the nuts and bolts of what authors do - write. It’s a strange question for me, because before 2013 ish, I would have simply quantified “success” as: finishing a book. Makes sense, right? Coming up with an idea, starting a manuscript, presenting a semi-coherent overall arc, and then writing enough words to make it something that resembles a finished novel. That was the mountain before, but once you finish that, you realize that you cleared one peak only to realize that there is an entire sprawling mountain range standing before you. The adventure has only begun, the battle has just started….yada yada, you’ve undoubtedly heard all the cliches.
But what makes an author successful? In a nutshell, it’s part “perseverance”, part “stubbornness”, part “intellectual curiosity”, but also a butt-load of “atmosphere”. Most of us don’t write to get rich. Sure, I’d love it if I could suddenly support myself wholly as a writer, but that day hasn’t come yet. We write because we have a story to tell, or two, three, four and right on down the line. They say the name of the game these days is volume. So the authors who stick with it and continue to produce have a greater chance of being successful. It’s not a guarantee (by the way - guarantee is the word I misspell every single time - ugh), but it helps. So how does one set them self up to produce well?
For me, it is about atmosphere. I’ve found that it is critically important to have a space to write, and I don’t just mean a little desk shoved in the corner of a busy thoroughfare or family room in your house. If writing is important enough to you, you need to dedicate some real estate to your creative space. I’ve had offices in my house since I started writing. They’ve moved around, shrunk in size, grown, become joint work spaces, and disappeared entirely, but there was always one constant - atmosphere. I could control the flow of people in and out of the space, close it oft to control distracting noise, and always…always had the means to fill it with the right kind of sound. I always keep my desk within view of at least one window. Why? because as much as we are products of our upbringing and inspiration, we are also sponges to the stimulus around us. A character’s walk through the woods could be inspired by the changing colors of a sugar maple framed by your office window, or a scented candle might just evoke the right emotions while you’re detailing another character’s entry into a bakery or a tavern. Music is huge as well. Orchestral music is especially good at evoking emotion without distracting with lyrics or harsh audio. If you control what you see, smell, and hear in your writing space, you can go a long ways towards blocking out distractions and maximizing your time writing.
I always write with music going and candles lit. I use indirect light, eat candy, and if the weather allows, wear slippers. I don’t need to, but those things facilitate better writing, for me. Coffee shops are cool, and sometimes they offer the right kind of distractions, but I wouldn’t be able to write day after day in that setting. For starters my coffee bill would be egregious by the end. Yes, I drink lots of coffee. Coffee + writing = major steps towards not falling asleep at the keyboard.
Carefully consider what you hang on the walls in this creative space as well. Posters and busy artwork might not be the best choice, as they can distract as much as inspire. Props and tokens help me - I hang my recurve bow, quiver full of arrows, forearm guard, and glove on my wall. Why? I picked up archery to learn the skill, so that while I wrote Roman as a character in my Overthrown series, his archery skills would feel believable. We can B.S. a lot in books, but some things just feel more organic when the author has actually done it. I see that bow now and it brings back the right kind of memories. It can jog the right kind of thoughts.
What else goes along way towards helping you feel like “you’ve made it”? I say, flexibility. This is learned, for sure. As a first time author you believe that your manuscript is the best one out there, that your vision for your cover art is going to set the world on fire, and despite all the cautionary tales you’ve read, you won’t possibly fall into any of the pitfalls that befall other writers. Except, we usually do. We hit every, single, pothole on that first road. Either you skip hiring an editor, and every reader points it out, or your choice for cover art ends up being the completely wrong one. Seek advice, ask questions, and second guess yourself before making the big decisions. Be flexible and teach yourself basic marketing principles, basic graphic design, and open yourself up to critique and feedback. All of it hurts at first, but if you can get past the initial sting, you’ll usually find that they’re right. Refine blurbs over and over, practice your elevator pitch, and research what author branding is. Find a good graphic designer and have them help you build your brand, then take a look at what successful authors’ websites look like. Take it all in. Never stop looking, and never stop writing. Read and avoid the trap of believing you are better than someone else because they approach their craft differently than you. Accept mistakes, don’t judge others by theirs, and learn from all of them. Experiment with your writing style, perspective, and tone, but in an effort to find what is most comfortable for you. Don’t let people tell you that your voice is “wrong” or that stylistic choices you make are “unprofessional”. Take the criticism, learn from it if it can make you better, and toss the rest away. Not every writer is for every reader, and if you can accept that, you’re well on your way. Be flexible and learn it all, even if it is just in bits and pieces. Rely on those people you trust to do the things they excel at, and count on yourself to do the rest.
If you can build the right atmosphere around you, and stay flexible, this crazy industry just might not break you in half. Happy writing!
Here is a look at some books coming your way in 2018!
Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima.
Simply put, "sisyphean" means a task that can never be completed. Based off the synopsis, Sisyphean sounds like a horrifying story that many people will find eerily familiar. I am very much looking forward to giving this one a read!
The Armored Saint by Myke Cole.
I haven't read anything by Myke Cole...yet, but I am eager to give The Armored Saint a read. The book popped up as an advanced recommendation, and the cover grabbed me. I gave the synopsis a read and you could say that my interest is officially peaked! This book drops February 20th!
The Atrocities by Jeremy C. Shipp
Shipp is one of those authors I have heard a lot about, but never read. The Atrocities tells the story of a young ghost's education - post death. Any story that starts after a person's death has my attention.
Serpent in the Heather by Kay Kenyon.
Kay Kenyon is another author I haven't read before, but 2018 is the year I branch out both into new genres and to new authors. I am a huge fan of WWII, post, and Cold War era stories, especially when they introduce some paranormal and fantasy elements into the mix. Serpent in the Heather looks to be a worthy read for anyone who enjoys The Man in the High Castle, or Quentin Tarentino's Inglorious Bastards.
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay.
I really enjoyed A Head Full of Ghosts, and The Cabin at the End of the World sounds no less gripping and suspenseful! Tremblay masterfully sets theme and tone, building suspense organically, and thus, pulling you fully into the story and conflict. I can't wait for this one!
Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey.
I am a huge fan of Corey's Expanse series. These books have become regular adds through Audible and make the commute that much easier to tolerate. The Expanse novels are one of those series that allow its characters to really drive the story. James Holden and his crew aboard the "acquired" frigate Rocinante are more than capable of carrying the entire series on their own, but as the universe expands and the conflicts grows, the series just gets that much more compelling. The show on Syfy is a very well made adaptation, and stays faithful to the books, but for my money, I will devour every book in this series as soon as they come out!
I read, and listened, to some fantastic books in 2017. I fell short of my challenge goal of 50 - fail! But I still devoured some great reads in the attempt. You can consider all that follow highly recommended books. :)
Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon
Out of the Shadows is a book that should be listened to, and not read. The audio book produced by Audible studios features an ensemble cast that includes Rutger Hauer no less, and listens more like an old fashioned radio show, than an audio book - which is just freaking cool. The story is good, and deepens the Alien universe better than schlock like Alien 3 or Alien Resurrection ever did, and is a must-listen for any fan of the series. Consider it well-worth the Audible credit!
Columbus Day: Expeditionary Force series by Craig Alanson.
The military sci-fi genre has exploded over the last few years, and I am just starting to dip my toe into the proverbial waters. A friend recommended this series, so I thought I would check it out. The story starts out on a fairly cliche track for the genre - unsuspecting earth is pulled into a larger, galactic conflict. I admit that I almost gave up on the book, until Alanson played his Ace in the hole, Skippy. The ancient alien artificial intelligence - that just happens to resemble a shiny beer can more than makes up for any of Alanson's shortcomings as a writer. I have never had so many laugh-out-loud moments while listening to an audio books, which is just as much due to narrator R.C Bray's outstanding performance as Alanson's writing. There are some times where I wish that Alanson would tighten his writing, perhaps employ a better editor, but so far, the series has me hooked!
Hell Divers and Hell Divers II by Nicholas Sansbury Smith.
More narrator R.C. Bray gold. Nicholas Sansbury Smith really captures the apocalypse in all of its desperate grittiness. These books feel like equal parts Fallout, I am Legend, and Tom Clancy. The stories flow well, feature characters that you must care about, and cram enough intrigue into their pages to kill a herd of adult elephants. No, really, they do. Earth is an uninhabitable wasteland, and the very small remnant of humanity is plummeting head-first towards extinction, and all we want to know is, how in the hell are they gonna survive? Ahhh. Yes, you guessed it. These books keep you reading, and wondering, and waiting, and wondering. Book 3 please, Nicholas. I expect a new book every month, so get on it! That is a joke, or is it?
The Bobiverse Series by Dennis E. Taylor.
Gahhh. Dennis Taylor's Bobiverse series is so freakin' good, I don't even know where to start. First, the story is awesome. Robert Johanson is killed while walking across the street, headed to a science fiction convention - starts out like an "a nun walks into a bar" joke, and only gets stupendously better from there. Taylor knows how to blend hard science with engaging story, and then you mix Ray Porter into the mix, and its like throwing gasoline on an already raging fire. Ray Porter is without a doubt one of my favorite narrators, and in conjunction with Taylor's story equates to a fundamental, must-read series for any science fiction, and non-science fiction fan. I am really hoping he writes a ton of these books - like at least a metric ton, maybe 2. I'll look into freight shipping rates and just have them dump them into my front yard, where I will set up a lawn chair and umbrella. In that event, if you don't hear from me, it's probably because I have become trapped under a cave-in of books and require rescue. If I am still alive, just drop a sandwich and some water down to me and I'll be good.
Redemption and Retaliation by Jarod Meyer.
I met Jarod at a convention in 2016, where he sold me on Redemption. I'm a sucker for science fiction and fantasy, so a series that blends both is obviously going to garner my attention. I read the second edition version of his first book last year and can say that I am very impressed with him as a storyteller. The series puts a cool, new spin on the afterlife, and promises tons of adventure for future volumes. Retaliation came out at the end of the year and definitely built on the themes and momentum he'd already established. I am excited about Jarod's future as a writer and look forward to reading more of his single-word titled releases!
Artemis by Andy Weir
I never read The Martian, but really enjoyed Ridley Scott's theatrical adaptation, and when I saw the recommendation appear on Audible, I didn't hesitate. I have to admit, after the fact, Rosario Dawson's narration might have been my favorite part. Weir's story is good, the science is solid and lends to great world building, but Dawson gives Jazz a believable voice. Some of her accents sound similar and kind of blend together, but that is just a nitpick critique. If you're a fan of science fiction, heist stories, or adventure, give Artemis a read. And I'm sure someone will adapt it to a movie at some point, if they aren't already in the process.
Morgan's Run by Tamara Jones.
It's no secret that I am a Tamara Jones fan. Spore is one of my all-time favorite books, and I firmly believe that her Dubric Byerly series deserves accolades and conversation in the fantasy, mystery, and horror, genre - especially after watching the schlock MTV and Spike are stamping the Shannara Chronicles label on. Sorry, off topic. Morgan's Run is a women's fiction title, so a little out of my usual hunting grounds, but wow. This book packs enough twists and turns, emotional jabs - good and bad, and genuine heartfelt moments to appeal to any reader. It is unabashedly honest, straight to its point, and fantastic. Morgan's Run tears down some of the delusions we all hold to regarding the idea of personal and emotional safety, health, and healing.
It's been a while since I blogged, and I feel a little guilty about it. At the same time, I haven't blogged because I have been neck deep in A March of Woe. So, at the same time, I can't feel too bad.
Highlight - A March of Woe is done! Woot! Beta is complete, revisions have been made, and the second revision is done. The manuscript is off to the editor now for its final spit and polish and will be ready for its wide release March 1st! I'm excited, but also nervous. There is a lot of emotional energy dedicated to a project this large, and when it leaves my hands, I can't help by slump into a post project hole - so to speak. I jumped right into another project, Unleashed, which has helped, but there is still a noticeable drop. If you want a comparison, it is very similar to finishing reading the last book in a lengthy series, or binge watching the last season of your favorite show. Once you're done, you stagger and ask, "what now?" Well, on to the next one.
And the next one is "Unleashed", a science fiction - horror story I have been cultivating for quite a while. I started it as a short story in college, and pledged to one day come back and flesh out the remainder of the story. It follows Jacoby and his wife Anna, as they struggle to survive the harsh life aboard a deep space mining station. Jacoby, pushed by marital and economic pressures, breaks the rules, and inadvertently releases a long-dormant alien organism. This story is gritty, in your face, and very much inspired by one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies - Alien. A March of Woe is releasing March 1st, and I am pushing hard to get this one out in the summer just after.
Beyond that, I am splitting my time between a number of other standalone titles I have been working on from time to time, and the next monstrous volume in my Overthrown series, Succession. If all goes well, I will have Succession done and ready to release by the end of 2018, and hopefully one other title along with it, maybe two. I am also thinking about writing and releasing a series of companion pieces, short stories and novellas building on and deepening the Overthrown world and myth. At this time, I have a number of characters and stories in mind, although I haven't nailed anything down yet. I'd love to talk to people after Woe comes out, and find out what elements of the world or mythology really resonates with them, as this book more than Within or Before the Crow delves into those territories. Perhaps I will take this book signing season to really chat with people, and see what elements of the series they would like to see explored in greater detail. Is it the creatures? The lore, myth, and cultural makeup of Roman's people? Perhaps it is the dalan, the Ishmandi, or the Nymradic themselves. Keep all of that in mind, and if there is something in particular that you would like to see examined, please feel free to reach out and let me know. I am always available through Facebook, twitter, or my website, so please don't be shy.
Back to the keyboard. January is already come and gone, so I've only got 11 more months to make 2018 my most productive year yet!
The idea of meaning has been on my mind. If I am to be completely honest, it is always on my mind. When I read a book, a story, or even watch a movie, I am working to flesh out the meaning of a story, hidden or otherwise. But this becomes a tricky point, and a sticky subject when I start to analyze much of what comprises our popular culture and literary fiction these days. Anymore, genres of fiction seem to identify the book, more than categorize it. Within the last ten years or so, the new sub-category of YA, or young adult has sprung onto the market and quite quickly become the fastest growing, and most sought after species of books on the market. In many circles, YA has become synonymous with romance (we can probably thank novels such as Twilight fame for this). One person argued with me that young adult and romance go hand in hand. That every coming of age story should include romance, if it is not primarily about it. My argument in response was, as always, why? What makes romance any more important to this puberty afflicted, transitional, hormone ravaged age group? Are there not other literary elements and plot points that can be just as engaging, without being so narrow focused and assuming. When you consider the other major genres, ie: horror, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, comedy, and drama, YA sounds incredibly vague. Does it describe a genre of fiction, or does it categorize the book shoppers as select and quantifiable units within a sound marketing strategy? I'd have to lean towards the latter more than the former. Young Adult, like New Adult, Middle Grade, Adult, and Children's books seeks to categorize books more by the demographics of their potential customers than the content of their novels. So what then is the meaning associated with any one particular sub-genre in Young Adult? At count, Amazon has 13 different sub genres listed under the Young Adult/teen parent.
By its nature, does Y.A. simply try and emulate, and therefore aid, a group of people struggling with the natural pitfalls of their specific developmental situation? After all, so many protagonists in Y.A. books are questing for something, usually an item or a skill to overcome a particular scenario or hurdle. Is this to help young adults relate and provide context as they struggle to fit in, or perhaps, overcome a challenge and slide into the next, slightly more mature role? That's cool, and I would say that if that was the case, then Y.A. could serve a very valuable purpose for young adults. But back to the romance. While shopping through Amazon's increasingly complex sub-genres, I stumbled upon #instalove. Evidently, simply using the plot element wasn't enough, now we have analytics out there so people shopping for books can pinpoint and identify books that feature characters that "fall in love at first sight", or as the newer generation calls it, instalove. I'm not going to lie, evidently I am too old for this. Yes, I rolled my eyes. When I write stories, I strive to make them as believable as possible (okay, within reason - after all, magic, swords, and laser blasters notwithstanding). But...I try and make my characters interact in a believable and organic manner. No one falls in love at first sight, let's call it what it is, lust, attraction, pheromones. So where does this idea of #instalove come from? Is this wishful thinking by Y.A. writers and readers? Do you see it in adult genres as well? If you stretch the idea of meaning to encompass instalove, I am led to some interesting conclusions. Does instalove constitute a younger generation's quest for sexual viability? Or, more likely, is instalove just an offshoot of these young generation's need for instant gratification. Has it spilled over from streaming music, movies, and t.v, expedited shipping, and on and on. Weigh in...
Released December, 23 2016. Directed by Andre Ovredal and stars Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, and Ophelia Lovibond.
Andre Ovredal is not a well known name stateside, except for those people who watched Trollhunter (2010), a surprisingly good found footage film. I enjoyed Trollhunter, although struggled through a bit of it, due in part to some of the natural downfalls of the genre, most specifically excessive shaky cam, limited depth of story, and etc.
I watched the trailer for The Autopsy of Jane Doe late last year, right before the movie was scheduled for its theatrical release. I'll be honest, I was guarded. I love horror, but there is so much schlock to navigate around in the genre that I spend the vast majority of the time ignoring it altogether. But then I started to read some reviews. Not only did it have a positive rating on Metacritic, but it sported a very positive 85% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And so, I was interested.
The movie opens up as the local Sheriff is investigating a rather gruesome scene of a multiple homicide. Everyone in the house is dead. And...there is the partially buried body of a young woman in the basement. I loved this sequence, and Ovredal didn't spoil it with any voice over, scrolling text, or unnecessary exposition. The atmosphere and tone starts here, and are carried well throughout the film. Next we are introduced to Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, a father-son duo that runs a mortuary/morgue. Their introductory scene does a nice job establishing their relationship, as well as credibility in their field. I have seen both actors in movies before (more Brian Cox), but have to say that I really liked the interplay and chemistry between them. Their relationship felt natural, and their wasn't any of that "forced tension" between them that is gratuitously used in horror movies. In fact, it is the strong bond between these characters that makes them more likable, but also ratchets up the tension as the plot builds, as we genuinely care for both of them.
There is a fair does of very realistic gore as the two go about the unenviable task of investigating the dead, cataloging their results, and in the end, breaking through to the truth of people's deaths. As gruesome as it appeared, I found the autopsy moments tasteful and interesting - and for the plot, necessary.
As the movie continues and the conflict tightens, Ovredal mercifully avoids most of the oft-used tropes of horror movies. I won't list them off, but just know that you are safe from cheesy and gimmicky jump scares, stupid characters running in the wrong direction, and on and on. The mystery of Jane Doe remains the central and compulsory element at play, and although the father and son duo come to some conclusions, they all feel natural and well earned - as confusing as they are. You don't have those "they find something, or come to a realization moment because the plot needs them to" moments which serve only to move the plot along for the viewer. Each turn and twist in this movie feels organic, and thus, helps add to the steady, creeping sense of dread that gradually builds from beginning, and culminates in the end.
Was I happy with the ending? Yes, to a degree. It doesn't spell everything out for you, but just like the rest of the movie, keeps your imagination engaged and forces you to draw most of your own conclusions. I think the movie could have been a bit longer, building on the underlying themes in play, but that is a nit pick on my part. After all, there is only so much you can reasonably do with the story, especially considering the very claustrophobic aspects of the set.
In the end, Ovredal has crafted a very good horror movie - one that will leave you pondering what it all meant, what it will mean, and exactly where the story moves forward, off camera of course. If you're like me, you will undoubtedly be considering these things long after the credits roll. That, my friends, is what makes great movies. I will take The Autopsy of Jane Doe as a good sign - that there is good, smart, and intellectual horror/thrillers on the horizon. I welcome a second coming of directors like Hitchcock, whom respected the intellectual capacity of his viewers, sought to challenge them, and respected the power of the twist.
Overall - two thumbs up!
One of the questions people ask me the most often is: "what sorts of books or authors inspired me when I was a kid". While I can remember the books, I generally never paid much attention to who wrote them. This is just kind of my personality. I can’t even remember who sings my favorite songs most of the time, but I can sing all the words.
The Animorphs series comes to mind right off the bat. I loved those books, as I’ve always been drawn to Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I remember my dad and I would read Goosebumps before bed in the evenings. We would take turns reading outloud. And I would get so frustrated when we couldn’t read the next chapter because I had to go to bed.
I think that I was drawn to books because my kindergarten teacher told my parents that I would struggle with reading and writing. Not sure how she was able to determine that at such a young age. Anyway, HA! How do you like me now? I believe that it is our mentors telling us we can’t do something that really drives us to achieve what we never thought possible.
I fear for kids these days. They do so much reading and writing on their mobile devices, but can’t pick up a book and read it. I hope that more parents will read with their kids. I know that if I have kids they will be playing the piano and reading!
I'm sure that I'm not the only one (Terri Leblanc and Dana Beatty), but I'm a bit tired. When Jed Quinn and I first started talking specifics for this event (on our drive back from the North Iowa Book Bash, April 30th), we envisioned this would all be happening circa 2017. But then Dana chimed in, put on his spurs, and the rest is now legend. You helped us change the literary landscape in Cedar Rapids moving forward.
This is what I have to say about the event, now that it is behind us. Firstly, everyone involved Saturday is truly amazing. Organizers, authors, and helpers. I genuinely enjoyed meeting and chatting with every one of you, and only wish that I would have had more time to spend socializing. You all came together like family, pitched in, supported one another, and proved once again that bookies really are some of the best people out there. I saw authors recommending other attending writer's work, book swapping (my favorite), and social and professional networks enlarging. This crowd of Iowa and Midwest writers really is a special group of people.
Selling books at an event is never an easy gig, sitting at a table, trying to snag complete stranger's interest to pitch books. Stack on top of that that we were in a mall, surrounded with glittering, shiny objects, a Coke machine (bent on corrupting our minds), and the task gets even harder. Terri, Dana, Jed, and I took notes, and will work on making I.O.W.A a bigger and grander experience next year. Cedar Rapids and the surrounding communities really is a great, untapped market for this kind of event, and with the right poking and prodding, I believe we can make this a banner event.
With that said, planning for next year's event will start in earnest. Keep your eye turned to the I.O.W.A Facebook page, and please, don't be shy. If you have ideas about how we can improve and grow moving forward, or other authors you believe would like to contribute, bend our ears.
Before the Crow launched April 9th, and although I was at the Ankeny Author Fair that day, the official release signing was the following Friday, at the Cedar Rapids Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Both events were fantastic. There was a nice little crowd that showed up in Ankeny that I recognized from last year and they were eager to get their hands on the continuation in my Overthrown Series! I don't think they will be disappointed. The official launch signing at Barnes and Noble was amazing. Special thanks go out to Amanda Zhorne, and the other fantastic folks at B&N for arranging, setting up, but mostly for taking a chance on me. There was a fantastic turn out. I even got a chance to chat with some passer-byes. If memory serves, they all stayed and chatted about fantasy and science fiction, and walked away with copies of both Within and Before the Crow. I hope they enjoy both books! All in all, it was an amazing day.
A few days later I found out that Before the Crow didn't just sell well it's first week in release, but it made the local Bestsellers list. Wow! This is humbling. Truly. I ran out and grabbed several copies of the Sunday Cedar Rapids Gazette and realized that it didn't just make the list, it is #1. I beat out Nora Roberts, Rick Riordan and a host of other fabulously talented and successful authors. I know it's just one local market, but I'll take every small victory I can get!
The Before the Crow release tour continues this upcoming weekend, as I gear up to attend the North Iowa Book Bash (#NIBB2016) in Clear Lake, Iowa, Saturday April 30th. Although this event is only in its 2nd year, it has quickly grown to the largest and most successful non-Convention author event in the state. Kudos to the BFBookies Micki Fredericks, Rachel Smith, and Lori Rattay for organizing such a killer event. After the NIBB I will be headed to Wizard World - Comicon in Des Moines. I will be participating in three panels, as well as manning a table all weekend, selling books. It is going to be a great time, so if you can, see if you can work it into your schedule. I will update this post with photos from the release signing at Barnes and Noble and others, so check back!
The Within free promo ended last night and I can honestly say that it surpassed my wildest expectations! 1040 copies were downloaded over the five days, bumping overall book rankings to top 400 total free book sales, #1 in one category, and top 10 in epic and dark fantasy categories.
I would like to thank all of the people who helped out by sharing my promotional messages. Without you, this promo wouldn't have been nearly as successful. If you were one of the people that downloaded a free copy, thank you so much! I hope you enjoy it. And if you do, please write a review!
In further news, we are now just a week away from the Before the Crow book release. If you prefer to read on a Kindle, it is available for pre-order. I'll have hardcover copies with me in Ankeny April 9th, and Clear Lake April 30th. The release signing is at the Cedar Rapids Barnes and Noble April 15th. I look forward to seeing everyone come out.
Have an awesome weekend!
Let me start out by saying this, I am an advocate of the Oxford comma. Yet, not everyone is. Some, in fact, adamantly refuse to use them (varies by style guide ultimately). They argue that it is stylistic, and in most situations, superfluous. I agree with them that it is stylistic punctuation, but I have also learned that it is stylistic punctuation that can often differentiate between good writing and mediocre. How do I figure that? Good writing is crisp and concise, except in those moments where the author wants to us oblique or vague language to add intrigue or doubt for the reader. But those are intentional moment. Ones that are considered, and not just the result of poor writing.
Before I get into it, a little history.
Named for the standards guide utilized by the Oxford University Press, the Oxford comma, also known as the Serial, or Harvard comma, is that seemingly isolated punctuation mark used before the conjugation and the last item in a lists, or series.
Take the following:
"Walter invited the beggars, Father Emilio and Chuck the Butcher", as an example. Without the Oxford comma in this sentence, the reader infers that Walter invited two beggars, and their names were Father Emilio and Chuck the Butcher. This is hardly concise writing, and it raises doubt and confusion in the reader. They question who is invited, and who the beggars are. Now take the same sentence, and use proper grammar: "Walter invited the beggars, Father Emilio, and Chuck the Butcher". Now we understand that Walter invited beggars, the priest, and the butcher. Three separate entities. Ambiguity clarified.
But there is more. "Bring me saltpeter, brown paper and turpentine." There is nothing structurally wrong with the way this sentence is written, but you should consider how the reader will interpret it as it pertains to your story. Without the Oxford comma, the reader may infer that there is some special connection that the second and third items on the list share that they do not with the first. Granted, you will never be able to remove all ambiguity, as much of it is determined by a host of factors, most of which are associated with the reader and out of your control. Yet, with that said, there are instances where Oxford commas may actually confuse the subject, or object of your sentence. It is these situations where it should not be used.
Take this example from the 1934 style book of the New York Herald Tribune: "Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones." (Okrent) Now it may not look strange at first, but when you consider what the writer is trying to say, you begin to see how the Oxford comma between Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones skews the meaning. In this case, Mr. Smith is in fact not the donor of the cup. So this comma actually leads the reader to a false conclusion. Removing the serial comma would clarify it a bit, while rewriting would definitely clear up any further confusion.
In the end, the Oxford comma is a valuable bit of stylistic punctuation, one which can help to reduce ambiguity in writing. But like everything else, its use should be considered carefully. I don't agree with the crowd that outright refuses to use them. But I also don't believe that it should always be used, regardless of application. The truth, as they say, lies somewhere in between. Find that happy balance, or equilibrium, and your writing will surely benefit. Happy scribbling!
Okrent, Arika. "The Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars". Mental Floss.com. Language.
Something has been bothering me for some time. Specifically, it is the climate debate. Before you label me, or click away, just hear me out. I pride myself on being a level headed person, so when something bothers me, it's usually for a good reason. With that said, here it goes.
It should be clear to most people how hard we are on this planet. After all, you don't have to go far to see litter, land fills, run off slews, oil spills, clear cutting, excessive land development, toxic waste dumping, and on and on. Just look at Hong Kong's harbor. Large quantities of sewage is pumped into the water, raising the bacteria level. Algae blooms move in, growing and spreading until the food source is exhausted. Then the algae sinks to the bottom and dies, depriving the water of large quantities of oxygen. This creates dead zones, where everything dies. It's disgusting how we treat our home, but what I find more disgusting is how we argue about it. The global warming turned climate change debate has picked up steam over the last few years, but it is hampered by the fact that it is rooted in politics. And history has shown that causes born in the political arena see more lip service than decisive action. In a word, rhetoric spewing professional bureaucrats are arguing over who is right and who is wrong, instead of focusing on those tangible things that could make a real difference. It is like Erma Bombeck said, "Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere". Politicians like to point the finger, so naturally they will narrow their focus onto one thing (usually a big one). Right now that thing is carbon dioxide. Namely the carbon based fuel sources that expel large quantities of it. Yes too much carbon dioxide is bad. Strip mining is horrible. Fracking is worse. Coal is an antiquated energy source, but as mankind has shown, we don't change directions quickly, or easily. So while we are fighting that battle, why can't we work to enact smaller, meaningful changes that will benefit our home right now?
I started thinking about this when i stopped by the mailbox to pick up the mail. Our post office box is filled everyday, and it isn't because of birthday cards or well-wishers. It is junk mail. That nasty little secret that lives out in the open. Everyone hates it, but little is done about it. Consider this. Six out of every seven days, my mailbox is at least half-full, and conservatively speaking, 80% of that is junk mail.
The other day we had mailers from Citibank and Chase offering us their best new credit card. There was one addressed to me, one to my wife, and one addressed to "household". Really? How long before these financial giants are mailing one to us, plus our children (regardless of age), plus the household? You can see their logic. More mailers means more potential customers, just as more hooks in the water might catch more fish. But their practices aren't just predatory, they're downright destructive. Think of all the ways we use paper. Then think of all the ways we shouldn't. Did you know that 100 million trees are cut down annually to be used to make junk mailers? This should sicken most people. I know it does me. And if the volume isn't bad enough, consider this. According to donotmail.org, "The paper is often sourced from destructive logging operations in some of the world's most ecologically important forest regions, including Canada's Boreal Forest, The U.S. Southeast and Indonesia's Tropical Rainforests". That is one tree for every three Americans. Now consider the global implications.
100 million trees = a year's supply of credit card offers, insurance specials, and political flyers. That is 100 million living organisms we destroyed to make a product that "44%" of people simply throw away unopened. And what is worse, only "22%" of junk mail is recycled. (NYU) In the past 20 years of industrial evolution we have integrated new techniques for paper recycling, yet 22% is all we can account for. Sad doesn't describe it. Embarrassing is more like it. If it was 100 million trees cut down annually to make live saving devices or products which could immediately improve someone's life it might be different. Individually we are intelligent, but what this tells me is that as a whole we are moths dangerously circling the flame. We have convinced ourselves that this is okay. That it is an acceptable practice and behavior, simply because it is how things are done. But it gets swept under the rug, because all we hear are the politically-spun narratives they want us focused on. Us versus coal. Us versus oil. Us versus carbon dioxide. They want you to focus on the big picture issues here, but in reality it is those smaller issues plaguing, no crippling society and our ecology that can enact measurable change now. Should we move away from fossil fuels, or limit their use? Heck yes. Can we enact that kind of change overnight and afford a meaningful reprieve from the damage already done? Unfortunately, no. They say we are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in damaging quantities, while at the same time removing the very organic mechanism meant to keep atmospheric components in check. Simple science. Trees inhale co2, and exhale o2. Every school age child learns this early on. So instead of raising the crusader's sword against big oil or big coal, why can't we as a people simply demand that destructive behaviors like junk mail be brought to the forefront. Perhaps our elected officials could take their legislative powers and enact some good for a change. Instead of arguing over who is right, and who is wrong. Or, legislating what services and products we must buy.
Before I step off of my soapbox, I must touch on packaging materials. Beyond junk mail, I cannot think of another example of needless waste. You purchase something small, especially electronic. Chances are that it is wrapped in a plastic bag, supported by a plastic insert and stuffed inside a cardboard box (more paper use). According to the DNR, the U.S. alone produced more than 11.9 million tons of plastic waste from packaging in 2003. That is the equivalent of 22 million Arabian horses.
And that doesn't include paper components for paper packaging. If the number wasn't staggering enough, 90% of that 11.9 million tons bypassed the recycling industry and went straight to the landfill. Cultivate, produce, ship, buy, and bury it in the ground. Yep, sounds like a destructive cycle to me. Calling us the "consumer" is right on multiple levels.
Yep, we are working so hard at sustainability. Alright, soapbox is going away now. As always, thanks for reading. Chime in below!
So I have had blogs in various iterations for the past few years. And although I have talked a lot about my writing, and what specifically inspires me to write, I realized that I have never really stopped to introduce myself. So, hi, my name is Aaron Bunce. It is officially nice to meet you! I was born and raised in eastern Iowa, where I now live with my wife, Rebecca, two daughters: Joselyn and Aleena, two dogs: Isabelle and Matilda, and two cats: Guenhwyver and Catti. I am 35 years old, but am considerably younger at heart. I enjoy a good joke, love to laugh, and like to look for the best in people.
I work in the security department of a nuclear power plant and spend much of my time writing. I am fairly moderate-conservative on most things (in all likelihood due to being the middle of three children), but hold firm to those things that I believe in. I love to read (pretty much all genres) but find that I am drawn to fantasy, science fiction, horror, and good thrillers. I love a good movie and can openly admit that a large portion of my life was stolen from me when Skyrim was released back in 2011. It was time freely given. I love to bike (the kind you pedal), hike, run, shoot my bow (re-curve), spend time with my daughters. If the weather is nice you will likely find us ripping around on the water in our Baja Islander.
I graduated from Kirkwood Community College way back in 2004 with a minor in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement, but realized that police work wasn't for me. I enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University last march in their English-Creative Writing program because I wanted to become a better writer. The experience has been invaluable to say the least. I am currently in my last full term before I graduate, and can't wait to get back to writing full time. The re-edited, 2nd edition of my first book Within is coming out late September/early October and I am pushing to get the sequel Before the Crow out sometime next year. One of the things I like best about writing is the connection I can make with readers.
That is me in a nut shell! Thanks for stopping in and feel free to open dialogue. I love connecting with people.
After Within's release people asked me what inspired some of the new creatures I created for the book. Simply put, I craved something new. I also figured that if I had grown weary of the same old monsters, ie: dragons, orcs, etc, that others had as well. One creature was particularly inspired however, as it drew on some of my own personal fears. When I first wrote Dombrangr into Within, it was a much different story, with a different title. I created a character that represented something personal, but possessed very little in unique, or well defined qualities. He was rather ambiguous, little more than a literary smudge yet to take proper shape. Much like the book as a whole actually. At one point, I forced myself to stop writing. I gave what I had written to a friend, and asked for an honest critique. His valuable feedback helped to narrow my focus, while broadening my vision of the story at the same time. At that point I sat down and wrote what would eventually become the first 5 chapters of the book. If you have read the book already, you know that it follows 3 siblings, Eisa, Luca, and Hunter as they venture into the wilds. The monster that I introduce in this segment of the story, or Dombrangr, as he is referred in the old tongue, is a more personalized vision of my own childhood nightmare.
When I was young, I watched the Ridley Scott masterpiece, Alien. Now when I say that I was young, I was perhaps a bit too young, but that fact alone didn't hold me back. The xenomorph in Alien terrified me, and for good reason. It is a chest-bursting, acid blooded, skull-piercing proboscis wielding nasty with a hunter/super-predator mentality. It was single minded, brutal, and horribly efficient at what it did. It inspired Ash, the crew's synthetic to label it the "perfect organism." To me, the alien represented terror, and by terror, I mean that thing that resides somewhere between our waking consciousness and the foggy realm of our dreams. Something both believable, and unbelievable, that regardless of our age or maturity, still frightens us. Objects of terror grow with us. It may be an irrational, emotional response, but it is one that we do not always have control over, no matter how hard we try and best it. So the alien became a thing of both fascination and fear.
For me, the alien represented a departure from the idea of mindless beasts, and instead depicted a creature that was both savage, and calculating. I had nightmares of the creature from Alien for many years, because it represented something that I couldn't simply hide from. Its nature played on my fear of helplessness, no, worse, of being hunted. It became the primary inspiration for the first monster I created. Dombrang may not resemble the hive - worker, horror as HR Giger's science fiction mainstay was, but instead was created with that blend of cunning and brutality which made the alien so terrifying. I wanted to create a monster that readers could visualize stalking, hunting, and plotting in the nooks and crannies we are only too willing, or desperate to avoid. One which would consider, instead of just react, making it less animal and more individual. But also a creature which is driven by purpose, and in its own way, reason. Talk about adding depth to a monster. This is a beast that forces us to consider the intelligence, and sometimes complicated motivations in play behind the savagery. Although I can't speak for everyone, but when something possessing the tools to kill efficiently is also equipped to comprehend and problem solve, that makes for a pretty frightening combination. With all of the above in mind, I thought I would share how I originally pitched Dombrangr.
I had nothing to go on but my mental sketchbook, but when concept artist Suzanne Helmigh sent back the preliminary artwork, I felt like a parent holding a child for the first time (in a macabre kind of way). With that said, I won't be hanging any Dombrangr posters above my bed anytime soon.
And there you have it. My original moment of inspiration, my pitch, the artists realization, and the final product. It really is amazing how the creative process works. Now you know what inspired my monster, well at least one of them, I haven't written the post about the bardaqs, gnarls, or death fishers yet. Those are still to come!
What monster of fiction or film frightens you most, and why? Also, if you have, or would like to write your own fantasy or science fiction story, where would you look for inspiration when creating your own monster?
Thanks for reading.
Have you ever read a book before, and said to yourself, "I feel like I have read this somewhere before." In that moment you can't quite decide if you had already read that particular book, and simply forgot it, or, if there was just something familiar about the story or characters. This has become increasingly common for me over the past ten years, especially as genres have evolved and splintered off. Enter fan-fiction, the copy cats, and the world of cliche.
What are some of the causes? In short, you could say that it is the copycatting of literary mechanisms. People read books, they watch movies, or T.V shows they like and are bombarded with different narratives, and it doesn't take long to start and decipher the formulas at play. Just as archetypes were defined in early literature, new variations have bubbled to the surface and become more prominent. My least favorite of these, is the love triangle. The love triangle is commonly associated with young adult, or new adult, and centralizes on a female protagonist torn by the decision of two loves. So often you see a young female, often in their teens poised between the new guy (usually a bad boy) and the "best-friend" who she never realized was in love with her. I am not saying that love triangles are bad, but what I am saying is that their use in the past few years has been exceptionally bad. As with any literary mechanism, its use should at least feel unique. Try and approach something in a slightly different way than others of the time, or those that have preceded you. For example: avoid the love triangle as formulated in so many young adult books of recent years, ie: Twilight. Instead, consider how Diana Gabaldon used the same technique in her Outlander series. Ultimately, it is the same principal, just with a unique, and quite intriguing spin.
Next, the mysterious father. I am talking about the young hero, often raised in seclusion, before he/she is called to take up arms to save the world. And when he/she faces the antagonist, they discover that he/she/it is really their father and blah blah blah. Yes this was a shocker, when Darth Vader told Luke "I am your father," the shock was real...in 1977. So many books are compelling because of their twists, so think hard about how you want to twist the plot, and the reader.
Another example is that of the chosen one. There are easier ways of creating drama within a narrative, but it is not always easy to link your character to the action, at least not in a fresh, believable way. But please, stay away from prophetic (chosen one) mechanisms. Unless, you are going to do the groundwork necessary to raise your story above all of the rest. For starters, what higher power is/was responsible for elevating/choosing/christening this character, and to what end? Oftentimes a prophecy is injected into a story to avoid having to do all of that pesky back-story stuff. You know, that stuff that gives a story history, weight, and supports your story arcs and your setting. Consider this. Instead of making a character special because some unseen power has deemed them to be, make your character special because they desire to, or need to be. Make their elevation, or ascension to status of hero part of their story arc, but also make it a key part of their development as a character. If there is something about this character that makes them special, explore it, but also take the time to create a unique connection to that power/ability's source. One which will take readers off guard. After all, we all love a little surprise as we read a book.
Stay away from portals, or gateways to other worlds. I know, they're handy, but oh so overused! How many times can we take ordinary housewives, kids, or teens from the ordinary, mundane world, and throw them into some magical/alternate world, where they ultimately amass skill and prestige and save the world. Then they return home and carry on in their lives, all the while wishing they could transport back. This is become oh so cliche. Remember Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of Tarzan, he used this literary mechanism in his book The Princess of Mars. In that story, John Carter, a civil war veteran is transported to the planet Mars, where he engages in a series of adventures. And that was first published in, oh, 1917, so move on.
Finally, and oh so cliche, is the retired hero who is called back into service, one...more...time. Because, heh, he is the only one who can save the world. There is really nothing I need say on this one, because quite frankly, I am surprised that it has been used as often as it has.
When writing your narrative, you need to keep these cliche mechanisms in mind. Consider that your average book consumer is very well-read, and has undoubtedly compiled a sizable library. Chances are, if you utilize these tired, overused mechanisms while writing your story, you will turn away not only potential readers, but may inspire some people to just put it down, unfinished. As an avid reader myself, I crave books that feel original, and if not, at least a fresh take on a popular idea. I want a book to tell me something in a new way, or take me down roads I haven't considered before. We all want twists, and turns that we cannot anticipate, or endings that catch us off guard. It is books like that that we lend to our friends and families. It is those books that we scorn sleep on a work night to finish, simply because we only have 60 pages left to read and are incapable of putting it down. It is books like that that we remember long after we finish them.
There is very little that anyone should tell you about what you should write about. I have seen messages in discussion boards that bothered me. One was from a prospective author, asking a published writer where he thought his story should go. He said something like, "I have a really cool start to a story (his concept) but I don't know how to fill it out. What do you think I should make the story be about?" This is an interesting question, and I firmly believe that if you cannot answer this question yourself, you shouldn't be writing a book. The narrative of your story is the sum of all of the individual components. Your overall plot is made up of many moving pieces, or story arcs. These components should be compelling, should encourage your reader to read on, but most importantly, should be from you, not what someone thinks you should write about.
A great way to approach any narrative is to break it down visually. Before you dedicate too much time to story line, create three segments. The first segment, or act, is your introduction. The second act is your body, and the third is your conclusion. Write down some ideas about how you want to introduce your characters, illustrate your setting, or set up your antagonist or the inciting incident that will compel or motivate your protagonist.
The second act, or the body of your narrative is going to contain the majority of the confrontation. This is where your protagonists travel, learn, or fight against what ever element(s) works against them. The body can be the easier, or the hardest part of the narrative to write, depending on how many different story arcs you are maintaining. A: Writing different arcs for characters separated by distance (requiring their own chapters or segments) can help break up the action and provide some fresh perspective and intuition. B: Breaking apart your narrative like this will also take more initiative on your part to keep it all straight. At times this can feel like braiding two separate series of strings together, and can be difficult to keep them from accidentally weaving into each other. In the end, I recommend breaking perspective, and providing your reader a chance to float around between characters. Not only does this build a deeper setting throughout the narrative, but it also helps keep the story from getting stale. You probably have at some point in your life, read a book which refuses to stray from its single point of focus, I do not recommend this single-track method unless writing from the 1st-person.
The third act is the resolution, and should bring about some sense of completion or resolution for the characters and the story. Endings can be tricky to write, especially if you are writing a series. Stand alone books can be easier, as you may have a finite, and specific termination point in mind. Series however, present you with a considerably less focused ending, especially if you haven't figured out the particulars of the next book in the series. The resolution should provide answers, but don't be afraid to hold something back. Your average reader is intelligent, and if they have made it this far in your book, committed to your project. Inspire questions, and make them question the events that have already transpired. When writing the ending, you will also be presented with some key opportunities to inject some foreshadowing or more creative segues into earlier portions of the story. With that in mind, stay away from convenient mechanisms, or "easy" answer endings like, "the answer to our problem was in front of us the whole time!" These are tired and have been overused. Plus, someone didn't pay to read your book, just to reach the end and find a cop out.
Once you have all of those elements written down about the three acts of your narrative you can chose to go in one of two different directions. First, you can start writing, and let your imagination take the wheel. They call this style "pantser writing" because in a sense, you are writing by the seat of your pants. Or second, you can take the information written down on your three segments and start a detailed story-line, including all of the details you outlined in your three act breakdown, meanwhile adding a whole lot more specificity and depth. You aren't right or wrong to go in either direction, they are just two different techniques. Personally, I prefer to use a very loose story line and allow my imagination to run wild. It is exciting how many directions and possibilities spring into the mix that way. Now with that in mind, go forth, and write your story!