I’m Binge Watching Nikita on Netflix

AND AM IN THE LATTER THIRD of Season 2. It occurs to me as I watch the show and think about the producers’ storytelling techniques that one of the things you’re suppose to do in modern character-driven fiction is find the fractures in the character’s soul. Take Dolly, for example. We’re starting her story arc, with The High T Shebang, a couple-few weeks after her “birth”. You might think she’s too young to have taken enough from life to HAVE fractures.

But, really, she’s 168 years old, if you go from the date of birth of her previous incarnation. And she had an adventurous life, starting when she was still in her teens, responsible for the long-term operations of a global trading firm, traveling the world in a small ship with a tiny crew, getting into all manner of trouble and fighting her way out. Plenty of space to take damage — if she can remember it.

Or… In this current lifetime, she will inevitably take damage — the hammer blows that start cracks, the tectonic shifts that induce fissures. The pain. The war wounds. The heartache. The weltschmertz. And, as I write and you read, we get to follow along as she takes these hits, and garners these fractures in her soul.

Not speaking in a religious sense. It’s not necessary to involve religion — superstition or not — to acknowledged the existence of a soul and the effect the actions of it has on the universe.

But always remembering C.S. Lewis — You are a soul. You have a body.

Discovery Rev 3, Ch3 Sc1

THIS WEEK’S SNIPPET We start a new chapter. We have introduced the characters, the situation. Here, we move events along, and start setting up Dolly’s first jeopardy, as well as Pete’s. This one’s about a thousand words and is the first from Pete’s perspective.

An Extended Evolution

Petra Alexandra Troll

Pete took several steps back, leaning away, one hand raised in a warding gesture. The dolly met her eyes with a slight note of panic in her own expression. Not that she was afraid, but that she was unsure what portended. Then there was the flash-bang of a God teleporting out and Goddess and Man girl were gone. Pete straightened slowly, sniffing at the tang of burnt ozone.

“Time to get rolling,” she said to herself. She mounted the bike, collapsed the kickstand, and bounded up then came down on the starter arm. The Harley rumbled into life and settled into a contented-feline purr. She toed it into gear and, with a twist of the throttle, slewed the bike around and headed back toward the side road around the parade ground to the mess hall.

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The Cover Aftermath

::SIGH:: Life is being a right bitch right now. But then, the most interesting things that go on in our lives always seem to go on in times of trial. The deadline approaches. I need to get some long-planned edits done on the MS file of The High T Shebang before Tuesday, so I have a well-tested book uploaded to Amazon for sale in time for the thing next weekend. I must admit that I intended to try more. But, as we say at the Patch Factory, the deadline is the most important specification to ANY job. And the deadline for this one approacheth toot fucking sweet, so I have to pull the triggers on all the various parts of it that are ready enough.

As the saying goes, the perfect is the enemy of the good. This weekend, I’ll be doing the edits and rebuilding the MS file, and getting it in shape for paper publification at the same time. Carrying over to during-the-week, I’ll be making the book layout in InDesign and pdf-ing it. Probably go through several iterations of testing at Create Space.

cvr hi-t rain 0814cvr hi-t plain 0814
Meantime, Here’s the final-enough cover. Left WITH rain, Right WITHOUT. How do we prefer it? And another thing… Is Dolly a superhero?

A Third Way of Plotting

MY PRINCIPLE PURPOSE in operating this blog is to write about the creative process. What moves and excites me, both in the foreground — what people see standing out in the middle of the room — and in the intimate detail — what they get sitting on the benches and staring for hours.

Last week, I was rebuked somewhat by my peers. Not by readers, mind you, at least, few folks admitted to having read the book. In designing the cover for The High T Shebang, I had several things in mind. (High School friend, Bozo, asserted that he had though a graphic designer had gone crazy with no purpose in mind. I pointed out to him that there is always a meaning.)

First, of course, was to make of the cover art a good marketing piece for the book. It has to send several signals, both subtle and not-so- about genre, and the story. Without, it should be said, giving the story away. No spoilers, please.

Second, it has to be, in and of itself, attractive. Not to merely avoid driving the potential buyer away in droves, but to excite a demi-erotic desire to own this work as art. To excite cupidity in the viewer.

And, Third, I sought to provide for the reader a window into the story, or else a mirror on it, to which the reader might refer whilst reading the book, and puzzle out the meaning of images and symbols. Sort of like album covers on old vinyl records in the ’60s.

Nobody bought that.

Several times a day, this writer, that one, or another will address the method of choice for capturing the story as narrative. Some are what’s called outliners. These lay out in advance the entirety of the story — to whatever level of detail. I used to call a similar process fractal reiteration. That is, wandering through the story from start to finish, adding more levels and layers of detail in each pass through the thing, until one has the complete whole. I conceptualized FI in a sort of platonic ideal, wherein one would complete a pass with utter discipline and attention to the fullness of the protocol and keep on reiterating until the story was complete at all levels with no gaps in the fabric, and all threads complete in their perfection.

Others fly by the seat of their pants — colloquially called pantsers. These start with an idea — a snapshot, a scene, a face, a line of dialog, a bit of movement — and build out from that. Stories built this way can just grow “like Topsy,” but need not must in all ways and cases. This method is seen by many as being “more organic,” inasmuch as the story seems to grow naturally — from the writer’s perspective, although a tight and squared-away story can grow in any wise from any seed.

The last couple of years, I have worked what seems to me to be a third way. I start with a notion of a complete story. The current work in progress, for example carries, in its founding concept, the seeds of its plot line and the needful developments of character, setting, and plot for it to run to its conceptual conclusion.

It is hard for me to keep so complex an image in my mind — in RAM, so to speak — so I have to create a sort of virtual memory, a sort of a plot outline, written down, to serve as a guide to me as I work through the requisite scenes of the story. So I get an idea for a line of story to follow and I write down a page or two of paragraphs about each development. A collection of log lines, so to speak, for the scenes in this story arc. As the fleshing-out bits occur to me and grow to fullness in my mind, I write them down, each in the text part where it belongs, until a scene, a chapter, a book, and a volume are all complete.

It seems to speak to the difficulties I face in maintaining continuity at the same time as forward progress. But now, I am tired, and it’s a school night, so I’m off to bed. Have a great Wednesday.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

cvr_high_t_shebang

BEFORE WE GET TO THE SNIPPET tomorrow, I want to invite you — AND THAT INCLUES YOU LOT ON FACEBOOK — to take shots at the cover for The High T Shebang. I’m concerned that it may have been a major cause of my poor sales over the past ten months. (And a deep thank you to all who DID buy the book, never forget that.) As I may be participating in a REDUCED PRICE SALE over Labor Day, I thought to devote some time this weekend to making an attempt at improving the cover image.

First, let me tell you about the book and explain the choices I have made. The story centers around two parallel plots. The overt plot is that a team of special operations types are dispatched to New Zealand to corral some escaped experimental clones. The why and wherefore are explained in the book, but not relevant to the cover. The not-quite-subtextual plot is that our lead characters, who are newly involved in a sexual relationship, are engaging — they suspect — in intercourse a good deal more frequently than normal. The reason for this, they discover over the course of the story, is that they have been covertly dosed with hormones — including testosterone — to increase their sex drives, for reasons yet to be adduced. That is part of the wider, multi-volume story arc, though clues have been laid and foreshadowing shadowed to the fore.

The elements of the design, therefore are to exply (If by implying, you make something implicit, to make something explicit, you exply it — that’s Dollish.) these elements of the story. The battle takes place over a large family compound on a peninsula between a river estuary and the Pacific Ocean on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Thus the map in the background. One of the hormones used to dose the leads is testosterone, thus the hexagon motif and the model of a testosterone molecule and the High-T in the title. The silhouette of the lead character firing a pistol in a comic-book action pose refers to the climax of the story, and is the one element with which I am the least satisfied. The two arm-ring tattoos down the left and right margins of the cover refer to the two cultures in contact (albeit slightly) in the novel — the Maori thorn tattoo on the left refers to the native culture of New Zealand, to which some of the secondary characters are connected, and the Greek arabesque down the right side refers to the fact that the secret society to which the leads belong is classic Greek in origin. The row of identical blondes in fake camo and shouldering improbable M-16s refer to the climactic battle in which blonde clones of black-and-white-era Hollywood starlets (a touch of silliness, if you ask me) are teleported onto the aforementioned peninsula in an attack on our leads and their friends.

All very abstract, but maybe a bit too literal. I dunno.

So: there it is. Tell me what’s wrong. The stated genre is contemporary urban fantasy, sub-genre myth/gods and goddesses. Possibly more apply. I’m intended to fix that and the blurb while I’m at this new cover. I shall also have to come up with some art for the back cover for the paper edition, which I am hopeful of being able to have available by Labor Day weekend. But that can be an abstract wallpaper design, if I like, as it needs to serve as a bed for the blurb and other back cover matter. I’d like to have an iconic bust of Dolly (the female lead) to use on the spine of all books about her. But that’s going to take a lot of work and a quantum improvement in my digital painting skills.

I’m not at all unhappy with the visibility of the art at small size. I just wonder if the cover telegraphs enough about the story to intrigue people into trying it, and whether it telegraphs the right things about genre, etc.

Please comment here or on Facebook.

cvr hi-t 0814Update: The discussion happened over on Farcebook. If I didn’t hate FB so much, I’d shutter this blog (BabyTrollBlog is already a ghost town because: lazy). I made some mods to the design — et, violas — based on the input. It’s not complete, but I’m pleased with the improvement. So far. There’s more I want to do, but this is a quantum leap from my perspective.

Then, Saturday night, I was watching a movie (Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, thank you for asking), when my tablet — which sits on the arm of the couch — bleeped to announce an arriving email. From Jaime. The Alpha reader. With embedded permission to post here. Which I am doing, as a faux comment. With my reply. As soon as I figure out how to bypass the login procedures for attributing posts. I know it can be done, but I’ve forgotten how…

Discovery, Rev 3, Ch2, Sc 3

Here we go. Seems as though late is becoming the pattern, rather than the anomaly.

Melancholy Baby Troll

The Gabrielle Dolly

The dolly’s education had been thorough. The knowledge and wisdom of the ages had been crammed down her intellectual throat, both while her body was growing to maturity in antistasis, and, since her Genesis, she had been loaded down with an academic burden that would have staggered the most precocious over-achiever (which, in truth, she was). Yes, were the exams available, she could have passed with flying colors any equivalency exam for PhD.-level learning in several diverse disciplines. However, there were gaps — even serious gaps — in her knowledge.

For example, she was clinically depressed, but didn’t know it.

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Discovery Rev 3, Ch2, Sc 2

A LITTLE LATE AGAIN today. Had a plumbing not-emergency (It’s been a problem for months, but I finally decided to come to grips with it this morning.) to deal with, which took all my time and energy until nearly now. About 1600 words this week. A long one. But a buildup toward a major set piece which will unfold over the next two-three weeks. You’ll see. A tearjerker.

Privileged Character

The Gabrielle Dolly

Baby Troll — the dolly — was a privileged character; everybody knew it. She got away with stuff all the time that would have gotten somebody else a chit for punishment detail, without doubt. And it wasn’t just because she was Aphrodite’s special pet. After all, Nana ‘Dite was a Man God. That sort cut no swagger in Troll country.

No. There was something else. Part of it might have been her slight stature combined with her toughness of spirit. (Though, here lately, she seemed to have been being a bit of a whiner. She mentally kicked herself for that and resolved to do better.) The former reminded the great, hulking frekun ang of the sheltered, diminutive billilaala, the latter of the kind of spirit and strength of will the Trolls tried to breed into themselves and train into their soldiers.

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Discovery Rev 3: Ch2, Scene 1

LATE AGAIN THIS WEEK and with the same “excuse” — no time during the week just passed to prepare the post in advance. And: yesterday was Krogering day, which always wipes me out, though I’m taking steps to prevent that in the future if I can.

This week, we tramp out new ground. You have, (except for Jaime), seen none of this before. It’s also a shorter snippet. I’ll make that up to you next week, with a longer one. But this is key to the entire Chronicle, as it tells the tale of how Dolly came to be called Baby Troll, and gives hints as to one source of the Trolls’ deep affection for the little doll. More about that later.

Also. Though I can tell from Google Analytics and other logs, that folks are visiting. And sticking around long enough to read the snippets. Nobody is commenting. Would it kill you to comment? Speak up, please.

Chapter Two

Callsign Baby Troll

The Gabrielle Dolly

When she and Aphrodite first arrived in Camp Meander via teleport, in September of ’97, the recruit company had been already a week into its training cycle. The dolly had, therefor, considerable catching up to do. She imagined and was subsequently told that there had been much debate as to whether it was wise to put her in such a position. It was seen by some as setting her up for failure. But Aphrodite was antsy and wanted her charge embarked on some activity — and meaningful activity at that; make-work was unacceptable. She asserted that the dolly would suffer far greater developmental damage from inactivity than from any possible failure. Further, she claimed, the dolly would not fail in any case.

An assessment with which the dolly was rather in greater agreement before she embarked on her training than she would be later on.

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Get Some on Ya. More Usually Does the Trick

Image

I STOLE THAT. FROM MYSELF. it’s a line of dialog from my main character, Dolly, and it reflects her idea toward life. In turn, the “get some on you” notion comes from local Cincinnati celebrity, WEBN leader and Jelly Pudding personality Bo Wood, who used the phrase describing his diving into the crowd at Woodstock. He was hesitant, because it plainly was a muddy mess, but he reckoned it was an historic occasion and he should get some of it on him as long as he was there.

I think the notion of getting some on you is illustrative of people who live life to the fullest. Dive right in, heedless of the mud, or the wet paint, or whatever might get you “dirty” and require a bath later, and — to quote another celebrity sage — git ‘er done.

I added the “more usually does the trick” in Dolly’s case because she’s a person who believes that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. As Billy Idol put it, “Oi! Too much is never enough!”

I tell you that, to tell you this: When you’re designing your covers, don’t be a pussy, as the so-aptly pseudo-named FAIL, a commenter at Sarah’s blog t’other day advised, when he said, essentially, “Don’t try anything fancy.” when it comes to type design. No-no-no. He’s wrong. Dead wrong. So wrong he’ll never see right. Dive in. Swim in it. Get some on you.

I’ve been doing design work — to get to the broadest category, I’m a commercial artist — for 30 years. Well, (counts backwards on his fingers, which takes a few moments), actually, 34 years, now, plus odd jobs before I got my current one, and school, and playing around with art and type and design and photography. I mean, I was drawing naked ladies in Latin class in the eighth grade. Yeah. I’m a lifelong confirmed art nerd.

The 34 years part is all one job. Designing in-house for a specialist printer — Otto Printing and Entertainment Graphics, the original and still leading provider of pass-access security systems and related service print to the touring musical industry. My personal client brag list includes The Charlie Daniels Band, Martina McBride, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Moody Blues, U2, Rush, Bob Dylan, Sting, The Police, Michael Jackson, and myriad others.

Perhaps more significantly, I have worked with the art of and collaborated to some degree with Aubrey “Po” Powell, Storm Thorgerson, Hugh Syme, A West, Roger Dean, and Spencer Drate. Which means I’ve learned from the top designers in the music industry. And, here’s the kicker: the book cover business as well. Spencer Drate having designed covers for DAW, including some recent installments in CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series. I knew him when he was doing album covers for John Denver.

Apologies for the links, rather than actual images. I encourage you to follow them. One more brag point. If you google or bing images on “backstage passes” with or without the name, you’ll find most of them are ours — Otto. The little oval bug is our trademark. You can see it a lot of places. Since most of what Otto has produced over the years has been of my direct design, or art direction, or by artists whom I have taught how to make backstage passes, such a search is likely to show you my bona fides. The curated images on my Pinterest or on Otto’s site (which, it appears, is munged behind a man-in-the-middle attack the site is still recovering from) are clean, at least, and illustrate the concepts discussed below.

What I’m getting toward is the design and functional similarity between book covers and backstage passes. There are differences, without doubt. The substrates are utterly different, for one, which affects design choices more that you can known. But both have the feature of size — they are small. Designers can get to feeling cramped and limited by the size. I call it postage stamp design. You have a very, very small canvas, which allows you to convey one simple idea and requires that you arrange your design elements for maximum impact. (Although when you’d make any art for low impact, I have no clue.) This limited area demands that you keep your choice of elements spare. An image of a person is better cropped tight, detail kept large, and possibly allowed to bleed off the edge. Decorative elements should be kept subtle. Large, fancy scrollwork should be considered most carefully before being used and I would advise it be abjured. There is a fashion currently for semi-transparent and translucent floral overlays, which can be most attractive. OVerlays are your friend. They let you add detail that would otherwise be squeezed out of frame.

If you click around my Pinterest boards, you’ll discover links to boards by my colleague, Caroline Heekin, who is more enthusiastic than I about playing with this stuff. She also runs our Facebook Page, which reflects her enthusiasm.

I’m not kidding. She is enthusiasm personified.

When she came on board, the rest of us had at least ten years in, and more were closer to twenty. And then there was me. The old gray man, who’d been there forever, done it all, seen it all, telling war stories in the dusty afternoons while we waited for quitting time. (Not really, but the hyperbole is attractive.) She went around the place, dug into the racks of shelves of boxes of samples of old work, bringing stuff to light not seen in, sometimes, decades. She went, “Are you kidding! This stuff is GREAT!” and pushed all of us to do more.

So should you. You should be enthusiastic in what you do. Do it for joy, because it’s fun, because you love it, because it’s sexy and it turns you on. After all, if it doesn’t turn YOU on, how is it going to appeal to a potential reader, probably bored out of her mind, scrolling down the endless listings of fantasy ebooks on Amazon looking for her next read. Yours has to jump off the screen and bonk her on the forehead like in the V8 commercials. “Hey! YOU! Buy me! NOW!”

And you’re no going to do that with images and designs you don’t love, that you won’t fight for, that are flat and timid and eschew fancy type effects. That you held back on because you might fall flat on your face. Because some guy on the Internet told you so?

OK. So I’m just some guy on the Internet. But. In Real Life, I’m this almost-famous guy who designs what the rockin’ world wears on their jeans. And has for over three decades.

And I’m telling you. Joy will transmit itself far better than restraint. Restraint has to hit EXACTLY the right note. Like (I think.) the pass I did for Petty a couple years back. Gold and red on black. Elegant, simple, clean. Only a touch of white might have added to it. The 3D bubble of the heart logo… so cool.

By all means — and I do mean ALL means — test for legibility. Print it out. Pin it on your wall. Stare at it until it talks to you. Make sure it’s absolutely magic. Reduce it until it’s literally the size of a postage stamp. Can you read it? If not, go again. If it doesn’t work, turf it. Be ruthless. You are seeking satori. Absolute truth. The Way to the Light. The ultimate orgasm. Sky-rockets in flight. But there’s no reason for you to avoid pretty and sexy effects, so long at they don’t interfere with legibility. But that’s ALWAYS been the rule in design. Although I seem to recall some album covers in the ’60s that didn’t always meet the test. Might have been that they were designed for a different light environment. OR… that the designers weren’t afraid to fail.

A short while ago, somebody posted a video on Facebook of fireworks shot from a drone that was flown THROUGH the fireworks. It seemed to me as though it was raining during the shoot, because the images were blurry, but whatever: it was magical. And the commenters right away started snarking that, “Yeah, he must be able to afford it throwing the drone and the camera away if it was in the middle of one of those explosions.” Which I reminded all present, is errant silliness. All great art is made with tools and materials that cost … something. And sometimes a lot. The presses used to print my designs sometimes ran as much as a half-million dollars. Of course, nothing I ever did broke one of them, but the cost of the tools is immaterial. You have to be willing to fail. Because, believe me, the viewer can sense your hesitation like a dog can smell fear. You have to go all out. As the saying goes, balls to the wall. Put everything you’ve got on the canvas. And, yes, get some on you in your enthusiasm.

You’re Gonna See This a Lot

THIS INDEPENDENCE DAY WEEKEND. It’s about a major conflict in the creative arts that’s been bubbling below the surface of total public awareness for some time. For some time, as you may have seen happen in the music business, artists have been disintermediating large-scale manufacturing companies, causing those companies to asymptotically approach business collapse. In the letters industry, this means authors have been publishing their own work, cutting out several layers of “middle men,” some of whom you might think are purely purposeless parasites. You might, if you were unfamiliar with the publishing game and how it has grown since the 19th Century when Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and myriad others published their own works.

You may have read a trilogy in the last couple of years called Wool. It’s been a big bestseller. It was written by a fellow name of Hugh Howey. What you may not know is that it is independently published by its author. He has since signed on with Simon and Schuster and decided not to do that (sign with a major publisher) again.

So Hugh Howey has written this and posted it for indie writers to quote, cite, repost, blog about, and discuss. But the bottom line is — and it does need to be said — a big, hearty, THANK YOU to you, our dear and gentle readers. Because without you, it doesn’t go.

You probably aren’t aware of this, but the majority of your favorite authors can’t make a living off their book sales alone. Very few authors could when New York Publishing was in charge. That is changing now that Amazon and other online retailers are paying authors a fair wage.

You may have heard that Amazon and Hachette are having a dispute about how books are sold. The details are complex, but the gist is this: Amazon wants to keep e-book prices affordable, and Hachette wants to keep them artificially high. Higher than for the paper edition of the same story.

The rest of this letter explains more of the details. It explains why a boycott of Amazon would mean hurting authors, Hachette and otherwise. It explains how your decisions have granted more authors their independence than we’ve had at any other time in human history. You’re welcome to read our points, but keep this one key item in mind:

Major publishers like Hachette have a long history of treating authors and readers poorly. Amazon, on the other hand, has built its reputation on valuing authors and readers dearly. The two companies didn’t simultaneously change directions overnight.

I’m new to this, with only one novel out there, and — frankly — no shorter works in the pipeline. My novel’s been on the market for nine-plus months and is a pure dog in terms of sales. Not complaining — much. I never expected this to be a short haul. I know it’s a marathon, and nobody wants to hear from you until you have ten books out there. Best advice is to write the next one, which I am doing. And I know that only losers give up before they’ve won. But still, in the deep depths of the wee small hours, it’s hard to keep your courage up. At this point, to me, every reader is a precious thing. Not so much for the money — It only adds up over decades at this rate — as it is about knowing that SOMEbody is reading. At this level, I can almost read along with you and imagine you meeting the characters, experiencing their pain and fears for the first time.

So, thank you for being there.