All Done and I’m Still Not Sure

Arrrghhh. Working with a professional designer on a cover is great fun, but it also can bring out the worst in me. I’m a perfectionist, at least about the things that matter to me, and my books matter to me a lot. I’m also a people pleaser. I hate to be a pest. The result is I tend to say I’m okay with something, when I’m really not.

You can see how these two impulses could combine to cause a problem.

My first two covers went pretty well. With the first one I accepted some things I didn’t like (Lola’s red lipstick, Somadina was supposed to be tall) because overall I liked the direction we were going and I wasn’t sure how many changes I could request. Plus, how much does lipstick and height of a character on a cover really matter?

On my second one I pushed harder to get Zane exactly right, and I’m glad I did. I’m lucky that Afi was perfect on the first try and the background was beautiful by attempt number two. The nice people I was working with seemed okay with my persisting on a single issue (Zane), and I couldn’t be happier than I am with the cover we ended up with.

I feel like I’ve strained the relationship, however, with cover three.  Two variables were perfect right from the start. I loved Xuha, and loved the Maya ruins the designer had found for the background.

But I wasn’t happy with Alex’s head or his body (two different elements with this designer.)  I was really unhappy with the first circle of yellow light that looked too much like the first book. My problem was that I tried to complain about only one thing at a time. (It seemed more polite.) So as the designer fixed one thing and thought she was done, back I came with something else I wanted different. I can understand her frustration.

She varied the light. I didn’t really like it. She changed Alex’s head. That was good. Then I didn’t like his body. She did new forms of light. She suggested five different bodies. She made the light swath different colors. More transparent. She added more white light behind the men. The more she dinked, the more I didn’t know what I wanted. Finally I decided it was time to stop whining and call it good.

But is it good? I do like the background, Xuha and Alex (now) but I’m still not happy with the use of light. The swath in front still looks too much like a feather boa, and the light from behind doesn’t have the power I wanted to see. But I’m at a loss for how to fix it.

So I finally said “This will do.”

Now I’m having buyers remorse. I opened up an editing program and tried to cartoon in what I wanted to see. Then, when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done I realized I didn’t really like it any better. Arrrghhh. Here is the final cover, followed by my two attempts to improve it. What do you think? Do I go back and offer to pay to have revisions made? Or do I tell myself to take a few deep breaths, maybe go have a glass of wine, and decide this cover is just what it’s meant to be?

Final cover

I add more light

I play with the light

Not my new cover, but I’m still having fun ….

Wahoo! I just got the first draft of the new cover for Twists of time.  I do love the work done by these fine people at Deranged Doctor Design. Yes this cover is cool. Yes this will need some tweaking. But go ahead and take a peak, and then I’ll share the input I sent back. If the past is any indication of the future, I expect something closer to the mark sometime tomorrow or the next day.

Things I love (and don’t want changed):
1. Mayan ruins in background
2. Model you found for Xuhu
3. The yellowish clouds, and feeling of sun behind clouds
4. The way the title color works with the rest of the cover
 
Things I’m okay with either keeping or with changing:
1. Model you found for Alex
 
Things that have to be fixed:
1. Relative height. Xuha is on the short side. Alex is a former college basketball player. I assume images can be shrunk or squeezed to achieve this effect?
2. Hair — Alex is described throughout the book as a sandy blonde. I’m fine with you lightening his hair and making him taller if you can, or with finding a taller, blonder guy
 
Things I’d like to have fixed:
1. Much less blue or better yet no blue sky on cover. More clouds instead.
2. Yellower clouds, at least at edges.
3. The circle of light around them looks too much like the first cover. Can we do something more unique? Maybe it somehow involves a twist? (It’s fine if it doesn’t …..)

Fun With Covers

When I was advised last summer to get new, genre appropriate covers for the books in my 46. Ascending collection, I had two objections to the idea (besides the obvious ones of time and money.) The first was that I love my original covers. The other was that my stories wouldn’t adapt well to the sorts of covers everyone else uses.

Well, I’ve redone two of the six so far, and I’ve got four things to report.

1. Yes, it does take some time and effort to convey to a designer what you want and to work with them to achieve that end

2. Yes, it does take some money as well.

3. Yes, my old covers were pretty and I’ll always like them.

4. No, the fine professionals I’m working with seem to have had no trouble at all, as far as I can tell, coming up with covers for the first two books that are a) great to look at, b) look like covers for the kinds of books I write and c) capture enough about the story to make sense and not be misleading.

 

Above is the original cover for the first book in the collection, originally called x0 and now called One of One, followed by the designers first proposal and the final version. For context, here’s the description of the story as it appears on the back cover. I think they did a great job.

A young Nigerian telepath faces a crisis. After Somadina’s sister is forced into a frightening marriage, Somadina cannot find her sibling or even her thoughts. She seeks another telepath to help. What she finds is Lola, a busy Texan scientist who has ignored the disturbing phenomenon in her mind for decades, and has no intention of embracing this nonsense now. Yet these two have more in common than they know, and a powerful link will be forged. Once Somadina discovers her sister is a pawn in a dangerous political game, the stakes rise for everyone, including an ancient organization of telepaths compelled to intervene. Both women are stronger than they realize, and they have ignited the wrath of a fanatic willing to kill anyone to alter his nation’s future.

Here is the original cover for the second book in the collection, originally called y1and now called Shape of Secrets, followed by the designers first proposal and the final version. For context, here’s the description of the story as it appears on the back cover. Once again, I think they did a great job.

Zane wants to be himself. He’s gotten a degree in neuroscience to figure out how he can alter his appearance the way he does.  Unfortunately, that degree lands him in the sales department of Penthes Pharmaceuticals, and the more he learns about the company’s dark secrets the more uncomfortable he becomes. Good thing he has always excelled at blending in. Then upper management discovers him and life gets complicated. A sales junket in the South Pacific introduces him to love. It also leaves him dealing with an unsolved murder, an unsavory boot camp manager, and serious repercussions from the fact that not everyone at Penthes likes him, or wants him to knows the mysteries the company has worked so hard to keep hidden. Even in paradise, it will take all of unique his talents to keep from turning into the next murder victim.

Twists of Time will be the next book to get its new cover, sometime in mid-January.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Designing your own book cover, part 3

My biggest disaster in cover design came with z2.

By the time I finished writing it, I had two books out there with covers I loved. Yet, this new novel was my most complicated. It was about the the nature of time and special relativity, but it was also about white nationalists and immigration and the hunt for a Maya treasure. It touched on Guatemala and Belize and yet took place mostly at a high school in Houston. This odd plot all came together, at least for me, but I hadn’t a clue of what I wanted my reader to see on the cover.

So I turned to three very different people to help me. One was Jen from Mother Spider, who had produced the two covers I already loved, but she had done those with a good deal put of input from me. This time, she read over my plot description, and took her first at stab at creating a cover from scratch. Her work is above and I still think it’s pretty good. If the boy’s back pack hadn’t looked to me like the profile of a face, I might have used it without consulting anyone else and my life would have been so much simpler.

But because I didn’t like the backpack, I involved a second person, my husband. He had no particular qualifications other than he knew me and what I like, and the protagonist was modeled after him. I thought that combination might produce a flash of brilliance, but I should have factorized in what would matter to him or anyone in his shoes. He didn’t like the old and balding Alex holding the clock. He wanted a young and athletic Alex on the cover. A good-looking Alex. Sigh …. Of course he did. For some reason he also didn’t like the blue. I found the basketball guy and changed to a green but I was at a loss for what else to do. So I asked my sister for ideas.

Now, my sister is a successful business woman who runs her own travel company and has handled all of her own graphics and marketing for years. She’s very good at this stuff.  Within minutes of asking I had coins to symbolize treasure and Maya statues that she was quite pleased to have found and I sent them off to Jen who produced the cover to the upper right. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t sure we were going in the right direction. So I asked my sister for more ideas, and that was the real problem.

I was sort of like someone who wants to fire a few BB’s at a squirrel to scare it off the lawn and gets handed an AK-47. Before I knew it I had dozens if not hundreds of relevant images and so many cover ideas that my head hurt. Take a look at a couple of the wild combinations. Oh, and my sister loved the blue and hated the green. Ahh….

My book was ready to be published on Kindle and graphic artist Jen was understandably running out of patience as I kept coming up with ever more convoluted combinations, none of which made me happy. I had to make a decision. I picked something that I thought would please everyone a little and my novel first appeared with the cover below.

It took me no more than a few days to accept that I did not particularly like it. I didn’t want blue or green on the cover and now that I thought about it I wasn’t sure how I’d ended up having to choose between the two. I liked the old bald Alex and his glowing clock and I didn’t want Maya statues or coins and never had.

So I came back to Jen, apologized for the massive confusion and offered her more money to try it again. We talked about what mattered to me, and she produced the cover to the right. It was far closer to what I wanted. The only part I didn’t like was the odd gold border, but I decided I’d been picky enough and could live with it.

Luckily for me, when Jen would work on the cover for my next book, she would notice the border and ask me how we’d ended up with it when the others had no such thing. Good question.  She and I would decide together to take one last stab at getting this book the cover it deserved. The final, final result is to the left. Isn’t it gorgeous? It took over a year and countless failed drafts, but now it is my favorite of all five.

I’m pretty sure that one main lesson here is to not involve too many cooks, no matter how adept they are or how much you like them. Another is to go ahead and persist until you are satisfied. A book cover, for better or worse, is how the world will see your creation. If you love the creation but don’t like the cover, this is not a good thing. Be picky.

Another important lesson I got out of this experience was to not to hang on to an idea, trying to force it to work. I should have gotten rid of those coins, statues, colored letters and gold border before any of them saw the light of day.

It was a helpful lesson once I started designing the cover for book six. I was sure I needed a female judoka on the cover, and I tried so hard to find a model that matched my character. None did, but this young woman came the closest. I played with variations for weeks before I recognized that I was trying to make something fit that wasn’t meant to be. Once I gave up on the idea and moved on, I found the direction I really wanted to go.

(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 1 and Designing your own book cover, part 2.)

 

 

A better word than hope?

Soon after I began writing my third novel, I realized that it was going to center around the theme of hope. I’d already gone with such lofty themes as peace and joy in my first two novels, so when it came to the big words in life, I felt like I was on a roll. It helped that my protagonist was an aging athlete, and I wanted to him to find the one thing that I’d noticed aging robbed humans of most often.

But hope wasn’t quite the word I meant, any more than peace and joy had been with the first two books. I was trying to talk about refusing to let go of fears and animosity from the past, and refusing to give others a chance based on old experiences. And I was talking about the belief that humans cannot change, that they cannot learn to be, or choose to be, better.

Having already written two stories that took place on opposite sides of the globe, I decided to place this third tale more or less halfway in between. That took to me to the southern reaches of North America; to Belize, Guatemala and Southern Mexico. It also to took me to my own home in Houston. “Hope” looked to be a perfect theme as my research led me to the history of the civilizations and their clashes in this heated part of the globe.

By now, I knew I was doing a rainbow with my books. This was fueled by my love of physics and my fascination with light (or more correctly the electromagnetic spectrum) and I was already planning to give light waves a starring role in this third story. The fact that rainbows had been used over the years to symbolize racial harmony, and LGBT acceptance, was an added plus.

The rainbow thing meant that this book had to be yellow, which was perfect. Yellow is for bright sunshine breaking through on a cloudy day. Yellow is for the first flowers poking through the winter snow. My book was bright yellow for a word that means

the belief that the ills of the past are not an inevitable part of the future, and the knowledge that life can be better, and will be better, if we do our best to make it so.

We do need a word for that.

 

(For more thought on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?, A better word than joy? and A better word than courage?)

 

z2: synopsis and my 3 favorite excerpts

I’m talking a close look at my older blogs, making sure that they are up to date and that they represent my earlier novels well. I’ve added my latest book synopsis and placed a few of my favorite excerpts on a page for permanent reference, and thought I would post these improvements as a blog post as well. Enjoy!

z2 is the third novel in the loosely interrelated collection known as 46. Ascending. Each novel tells the tale of an otherwise normal person coming to terms with having unusual abilities. This page contains a short description of the book z2 followed by three of my favorite excerpts from the first part of the novel. To read more, please purchase z2 at smashwords.com, at amazon.com, or at Barnes and Noble.

Alex once walked away from a rare ability to warp time, thinking it was only a young man’s trick to play basketball better. Now, as a father and teacher, he needs to relearn the skill quickly before the past begins to destroy his own future. To protect his daughter and his most promising student, he must stop the school at which he teaches from turning the clock backwards to an era of white supremacy.

alexAn old high school friend is in desperate need of Alex’s unique gifts to help solve an ancient Maya mystery. As the puzzling artifact offers a rare chance to bridge the past and the future, its story begins to intertwine with the growing tensions at Alex’s school. As both situations take dangerous turns, Alex knows that he must learn to control his temporal talents before he runs out of time.

Excerpt 1:

“Dad. I did not flirt with those boys, okay? Ick. They’re wannabe skinheads. Look, I was nice to them when I talked to them, probably nicer than I would have usually been. But that’s just common sense. Who’s going to give you information if you’re rude to them? Come on.”

Alex had to agree that made sense. He got that Teddie was angry at Ms. Johnson’s accusation, but he wondered if she resented being accused of flirting, or resented being accused of flirting with these particular boys. Either way, from Teddie’s point of view she had done nothing wrong.

“Shouldn’t you have told the boys you were asking about their projects on behalf of the school paper?” Alex prodded gently.

“Oh, that would have gotten me a lot of information. Those kids really believe that all school-sponsored activities are part of a liberal propaganda machine, dad. Seriously paranoid people.”

“Well, you’ve made yourself quite an enemy in Ms. Johnson, dear. I don’t think she’s a fan of mine either, now.”

Teddie winced. It was hard enough being a freshman without always having to worry about how every little thing you did seemed to reflect on your teacher father. It got tiresome.

“You know, dad, I don’t think Ms. Johnson is the kind of friend you want anyway. I hear that she tows the line in front of the administration, but in the classroom when no one is there except students she comes out with some pretty racist things. I mean she always phrases them like discussion questions, so if they get repeated they don’t sound that bad, but her class spends a lot of time talking about things that make some of the kids uncomfortable.”

“Teddie, I think you’re exaggerating. If that were really the case, honey, kids would be speaking up, to their parents, to the department head.”

Teddie had her you-adults-just-do-not-understand expression firmly on her face. “Dad, if a kid reports her then she twists it around like they were just having a class discussion and that this kid is saying stuff because he didn’t do well on a test or something. And that kid can usually kiss a good grade from her goodbye.”

Her dad gave that possibility some thought. “I think the other history teachers would know and be involved if this lady was really crossing a line.”

More of the look. “Dad, you need to get out of the science department more. Word is that most of the Early Gulch history department pretty much agrees with everything Ms. Johnson teaches. The others keep their opinions more to themselves, but they don’t object. The few that do, like Mr. Hanson who left last year, they’re not lasting very long. I think there’s some group or organization out there that has all of the history teachers involved.”

“Now who sounds paranoid?” her dad kidded.

“You know what they say. Doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I’m sorry I put you on Ms. Johnson’s radar. Be careful, Dad. I think she likes hurting people that don’t agree with her.”

Excerpt 2:

Stan tried to control his enthusiasm the next morning as he woofed down breakfast at the hotel and supervised the loading of the trucks. The department head had chastised him by phone the previous night for even opening the box, and for doing as little as brushing off most of the dirt. Stan had expected that response, and he was willing to take the criticism. He hadn’t spent twelve years of his life swatting mosquitoes just to take a back seat while some senior faculty member flew down here to do the honors. This was his research. These were his kids. They all deserved their moment in the sun. Yesterday, he had taken it.

Today, however, they would back off and show professional restraint, as they concentrated on photographing and measuring and recording data while they all waited for more expertise before anything further was disturbed.

There was lightness in Stan’s step as he helped unload the two trucks and made his way to the cave’s small entrance. “You first, Dr. Drexler,” Nelson said politely. Stan wasn’t even all the way in when he noticed mud tracks he was sure neither he nor his students had made. No, come on, he thought. Surely we did not have intruders last night of all times.

He looked around quickly. Everything else they had found over the last few days was completely undisturbed. Only the ornate box and its half disintegrated bit of cloth covering were completely gone, as if they had never existed.

You have got to be kidding, Stan muttered to himself. Locals? For christsakes, did one of my students tell somebody? Then he had a second thought. Was there any chance at all that any of the five students could read hieroglyphics from this region that well?

Because Dr. Stan Drexler of course could. He had studied nothing but for the last twelve years. And even though there was a fair amount of local variation and he had only gotten a quick glance at it, there are certain words that anyone who has ever loved archaeology knows, at least in the culture where they have expertise. “Treasure” is one of those words. Even higher on the list is any phrase that translates roughly as “the greatest treasure ever.”

Excerpt 3:

Alex and Xuha continued their tennis workouts into the summer, with Xuha growing stronger each week, as he became a better left-handed player. Finally, after two and a half months, he felt confident enough to try a few gingerly hits right handed.

“I think I will always practice left-handed too. It seems to me the flexibility could be a real asset on the court. For injury, to give my arm a rest or even for just for throwing off an opponent.”

Alex agreed. “If I were you I’d focus particularly hard on serving with both hands. That’s where you’ll get the most impact I think.”

And so the two of them worked on serves, first right handed and then left handed, comparing the advantages of each against various hypothetical opponents as they worked. They finally quit when the June sun rose high enough for the Texas summer heat to take over the morning completely.

“That day you got attacked. You still have no idea who they were or why they attacked you?” Alex wondered aloud as they both gulped water and gathered up their gear.

Xuha shook his head. “I mean, I can guess. It’s pretty obvious around school who might be inclined to do that. But they didn’t say anything to me and no one has threatened me since. I try to stay out of trouble.”

“You do,” Alex agreed. “But given the way you fought the first two attackers off, I’d guess you’ve been in a fight or two before. I have to admit, I had no idea you could move that fast, and I work with you physically.”

Xuha grinned. “I don’t like to fight, but I can if I have to. I know this is going to sound kind of odd, and I’m not sure that I’m explaining it all that well. But if it’s a situation where I really have to, or really want to make my body do something, you know, hit a ball or hit a person, it’s like everything almost slows down a little for me. So then I can do it. Does that make any sense?”

Alex just looked at him strangely.

“I tried to tell this once to another boy I played soccer with. He was like really scary good and he was trying to help me, give me tips and stuff, and I was afraid he was going to think I was crazy, you know?” Xuha made a crazy face. By now Alex had gotten used to the boy’s odd facial humor and he just ignored it.

“But this soccer player didn’t think I was crazy at all. He said that’s exactly what happened to him sometimes on the soccer field.”

Now Xuha really had Alex’s attention.

“He told me he wished he could control it, you know, like make a kiss with a pretty girl last longer, but it didn’t seem to work that way. It just happened when it needed to and he said that he thought that maybe all great athletes could do that sort of thing when they played, even if they didn’t quite realize they were doing it.”

“That’s a very interesting theory Xuha. Do you think that maybe some people become so good at a sport because they can do that? Or maybe they get really good first and then this technique follows?”

Xuha shrugged. “I’ve heard some people describe something like it right before a car crash or other kind of emergency. You said you used to be quite a basketball player, Mr. Z? So, did you ever have this happen to you?”

Alex smiled. “Maybe a little. I think I have an idea at least of what it is you’re talking about.”

“Okay. So anyway, that’s what happened to me during that fight you saw. Like I didn’t ask for it or anything or tell my body to do it, but these guys just started moving a little slower, you know, slower to me and it made it easier to defend myself.”

“I wish that could have somehow protected you from the idiot behind you whom you couldn’t see.”

“Me too,” Xuha said. “For that kind of protection I have to go to my alternate plan.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t piss people off and stay out of fights.”

Time Traveler looking for a Good Time

x0 tshirtI truly appreciate the friends, relatives and strangers who for one reason or another have read through my novels before publication and offered suggestions and back-up proofreading. After I published c3 I came upon a way to say thanks. I made t-shirts.

It seemed like kind of a goofy thing to do, which I suppose is why I liked the idea so much. I didn’t want the shirts to contain blatant advertising — that’s not exactly a gift, is it? — but rather to be something fun that tied into the whole 46. Ascending collection idea. I finally settled on the shirt shown above, inspired by the first novel in the collection, x0.

Well, it’s a year later and now I’ve got thirteen folks reading the almost final version of the soon-to-be-published novel d4. Nine are first time beta readers. Eight are people I’ve never met in real life and probably never will. How does one thank nine women and four men with ages that range from early twenties to late sixties and who call six different countries on three continents home?

tshirtEasy. You send them a t-shirt. At least I hope that the shirt to the left, inspired by the novel z2, will make them every one of them smile and will even start a few interesting conversations for each of them.

Yes, I would like to do a t-shirt for the intermediate novel y1 as well, in a suitable chameleon shade of orange, but the right tag line just would not come to me so I skipped on to the next book.  Perhaps someday a clever reader will suggest the perfect words. And of course there will eventually be a green tee inspired by the intrepid Teddie of c3.

Those who have heard me complain about how much I hate marketing my books may notice how much fun I am having creating these little thank you gifts. It’s true. I like doing this. It goes to prove that there at least some marketing skills that even a strong introvert like me can embrace.

(For more on this, check out my thoughts on using family and friends as beta readers and my observations about whether strangers make the perfect beta readers instead..)