Tag Archives: Andy Weir

Great Cover Ups

Old Restored booksBook covers. Remember when they were tooled, engraved leather, hand-made by monks? Yeah, me neither, but I do love good, well designed book covers.

We indies stress over them, and I suppose the Big 5 publishers do too, to a certain extent. But what, besides money and great designers who will make them for us, are elements that make a great book cover?

First up, in my opinion, a catchy cover has mystique. It expresses the central theme of the book, but it’s like a blurb–it can only capture one moment in time, so you have to choose what you will go for: mood, mystery, or great art.

Occam’s Razor (also known as Ockham’s Razor) comes into play here. According to iUniverse’s article on Cover Design Essentials, “…the essential theory is that unnecessary elements will decrease the overall efficiency and aesthetic appeal of a design. It can be a good indicator of why one design may succeed and another one will not. A good writer will spend hour after hour editing and re-editing their book, cutting words, paragraphs and so forth until it is “clean.” The cover designer’s method is not much different, other than it is a visual process rather than a written one.” 

In my own limited experience this is so true.  

Caged_bird2Book covers have really evolved since my childhood. They used to be quite simple, with the art kept to a minimum. In the 1950’s and 60’s, book covers were stark, modern–and in my opinion, boring, such as Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

My great problem is, I have always known what catches my eye, but not how to achieve it. So what are the simple, affordable elements of a good, catchy cover?

Again, iUniverse says (and I quote) good covers:

  1. Fall within the norms for your genre but visually stand out among other books.
  2. Appeal to readers and convince them to take a closer look at your book with a strong visual presence.
  3. Reflect the content of your book and expose readers to your writing style.
  4. Convince a potential reader to invest in a literary journey with your story.

Well, that is a hell of a lot to pack into a cover. And it’s hard to do! I am struggling with this aspect of being an indie. I am an artist, but until 2010 my work has been mostly in pastels and pencil. But I love Photoshop, and have been spending a lot of time designing covers and and learning how to make the graphics and the title a part of the art that captures the eye, but does not detract from the cover art.

I have been examining a lot of wonderful book covers, trying to define what it was about them that I liked so that my next book cover will be more true to what I want it to be. Being an old dog learning a new trick, I must learn from the masters.

So, here are only a few of my all-time favorite book covers, in no particular order:

Simple and to the point: The Martian, by Andy Weir tells us everything we need to know–this is going to be a hell of an adventure.

The MArtian Andy Weir

♦♦♦♦

Grail Quest, by J.R. Rain, cover artist not credited–intriguing, and made me want to look inside.

Grail, JR Rain 2

♦♦♦♦

To Green Angel Tower, Tad Williams, as painted by the brilliant Michael Whelan–representing the mood, characters, and setting of the book, and visually stunning. I can’t replicate this sort of beauty, but I can admire it, nonetheless.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1

♦♦♦♦

Heart Search book three: Betrayed, Carlie M.A. Cullen, cover by Nicole Antonia Carro. Completely speaks to what is inside the book–dark, mysterious, and a bit vampiric.

Betrayal front cover

♦♦♦♦

Roadmarks, Roger Zelazny, cover by the late Darrell K. Sweet. Simple, well-placed elements, promising a real roller-coaster ride inside.

Roadmarks_first

♦♦♦♦

The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey–almost retro 1970s, yet intriguing. 

The_Girl_with_All_the_Gifts m.r. carey

♦♦♦♦

Children of the Elementi, Ceri Clark–this cover is a real winner, as much for the graphics as for the stunning yet simple art.

children of the  elementi

♦♦♦♦

Antithesis, Kacey Vanderkarr — cover art by Najla Qamber.

Antithesis by Kacey Vanderkar

♦♦♦♦

For me, books that portray the features of the characters on the cover are a bit dicey. They never look the way I, as the reader, think they should. So, usually I find myself gravitating to the symbolic aspects of the cover and ignoring the artist’s conception of the characters. I want mystique, intrigue…the hint of danger and adventure. A book cover must flip the switch on my curiosity, make me wonder what is inside…and that particular trigger is subjective.

Each reader is lured by something different, which is what makes this aspect of indie publishing so difficult. However, I am beginning to understand what it is that I am looking for when I am drawn to a cover, so…I’ve been busy learning graphic design. I will be doing a cover reveal for my forthcoming book, Mountains of the Moon, a book based in the World of Neveyah, the same world as the as Tower of Bones series, and which is set to be released July 15, 2015.

My son, Dan, who is a graphic designer has really given me some pointers on this particular cover. I have been to “YouTube University,” and learned how to make vectors for this cover (I made two!) and I have learned several other unique little tricks of Photoshop. I have the layout finalized, and the graphics, and will be revealing it at the end of June.

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What I’m reading

The_Girl_with_All_the_Gifts m.r. careyI just finished reading a great book, The Girl With All the Gifts, by UK author M.R. Carey (Mike Carey, of X-Men Legacy fame). I loved it as much as I did The Martian, by Andy Weir. At first glance the two novels have nothing in common other than they are both considered speculative fiction, but they do have one common feature–they both really rang my bells.

My friend, who also does not normally read dystopian fiction, directed me to it. The action is intense, and it is at times gory, but what makes this book so significant is not the fact it is about Zombies and the war against the undead (which is a theme I don’t usually gravitate to.) The truly powerful character of Melanie, the ten-year-old girl is the real driving force behind this novel.

I really get into character-driven works. That’s why I enjoy such a wide variety of genres in my eternal search for a good read.

The main character in this tale is Melanie, a girl who loves school and her favorite teacher is Miss Justineau.  Melanie is multi-layered and despite the horrible truth of what she is, she is innocent and trusting.

BraveNewWorld_FirstEditionSo what is dystopian fiction? The core plot of dystopian fiction revolves around the premise that society has crumbled for one reason or another, and details the struggle to survive and raise humanity from the ashes. According to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:

Dystopia is defined as a society characterized by a focus on negative societies such as mass poverty, public mistrust, police state, squalor, suffering, or oppression, that society has most often brought upon itself. Most authors of dystopian fiction explore at least one reason why things are that way, often as an analogy for similar issues in the real world. In the words of Keith M. Booker, dystopian literature is used to “provide fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices that might otherwise be taken for granted or considered natural and inevitable.”

FellowshipOfTheRingNo matter the genre, stories are all driven by one of two elements, plot or character. A plot driven story is one where the plot defines who a character is. Take J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Even if you remove Frodo, who is the main protagonist and replace him with another hobbit, the event, which is the battle for middle earth still takes place, the call to action still exists. He is an awesome character who leaps off the page, yes–but this is a plot-driven tale.

But in  The Girl With All the Gifts, the plot is completely driven by Melanie. Her emotions, her love for her teacher and the innocent faith she has in both Miss Justineau, who sees her as a child, albeit a dangerous one, and Sergeant Eddie Parks, who sees her as a monster, but who nonetheless does the right thing–take these away and you just have a book about humanity dealing with zombies and the collapse of society.

In all of the books I have lately read, several that were character driven really stand out. Characters who are not flat, who leap off the page and grab you–characters who strike some chord within you and who stay with you long after the last page. When I close the book after the final paragraphs, if those characters are still with me, that book is a winner.

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But let’s talk about books for a while

I noticed something this weekend–I’m obsessed with books.  No, it’s true! Apparently, and I have to agree, it’s all I can think of to discuss. Not only that, but my friends are all obsessed with what they are reading, too.

What a surprise!

So what have I read lately that really rings my bells? Several things, actually, in a wide range of genres.

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day Tad WilliamsI just finished the third book in Tad Williams’s Bobby Dollar series, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. Wow, my favorite bad angel, Bobby Dollar, finally gets a break. I love the twists and turns of William’s prose, as his hard-boiled angel gets down to the dirty business of cleaning up the mean streets of Heaven. He uses ordinary words in an extraordinary way, but never commits the sin of dropping the reader out of the story.  THIS is why I read his work.  I highly recommend this book to all those who like a bit of a hardboiled-detective twist to their paranormal fantasy. It is a smart, well-crafted journey into the human condition, set in an environment guaranteed to keep things interesting, and peopled with unforgettable characters. I gave it 5 full stars on my book review blog, Best in Fantasy.

Better You Go Home Scott DriscollI also read Better You Go Home, by Seattle area author, Scott Driscoll.  This is not fantasy, it is literary fiction and a medical thriller. Chico Lenoch is an intriguing character. The tale is told in the first person, which I usually find difficult to get into as a reader, but didn’t in this case. Also something I usually find off-putting but didn’t in this case is the way Chico occasionally ‘breaks the fourth wall’–he sometimes addresses the reader directly. It works, because you are in his head the whole time and it feels perfectly natural. Driscoll is a professor at the University of Washington, and is work is both literate and intriguing. This is not genre fiction, instead it is written for mature, dedicated readers who want substance in a book. No fluff here, just good solid craftsmanship. I also gave it five full stars in my review.  But let’s be real–I don’t go to all the trouble of reviewing books I don’t love.

Doublesight--Terry PersunThen, in July I read a fantasy by another local author, Terry Persun: Doublesight. This was the most intriguing twist on the old shapeshifter theme I had ever read. Wholly human or wholly crow depending on what form she is in, Zimp is a great character, both endearing and aggravating. At first, she is weak and allows a less qualified, but more aggressive clan member, Arren, to make decisions for her. This book is as much about personalities and the need to remember their own commonality as it is about the great evil that threatens their kind. Each individual is sharply drawn, and has presence, struggling for their own place in their society while their world faces calamity. Zimp and Lankor, who is a doublesight dragon,  struggle to do what they know is right, in the face of treachery and occasional bad judgement.

The MArtian Andy WeirMy mind is still blown by The Martian, by Andy Weir. This is hardcore science fiction and may well be the best book I read all year. Mark Watney is hilarious. He is the sort of man who gets through life by finding something positive in every disaster, and mocking the hell out of everything that is negative. A horrendous storm destroys much of their base, and his team is forced to abort their mission.  During the emergency evacuation of the Ares 3 landing site, he is severely injured in an accident that appears to have killed him. His body is unretrievable, and unaware that he is still alive, he is left behind. His companions begin the long journey back to Earth, grief-stricken at his sudden death. However, Mark is that rare breed of human, an astronaut, so of course he is extremely resourceful. He does what he has to in order to survive his injuries, and then figures out exactly what he must do to stay alive until the next mission.

I definitely read a mix of self-published and indie authors, but I like authors who take chances with their work, and who eschew the hamster wheel to hell of the Big Six publishing giants, who mindlessly chug out sequel after boring sequel. Tad Williams writes like an indie, rebellious and defiant. Scott Driscoll is also ‘a bit out there’ in the approach he takes in writing Chico’s story.

I love my job!

 

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Analog, I revile thee, or how The Martian redeemed my faith in science fiction

The MArtian Andy WeirI’m a book addict. Each time I crack open a book, whether in hard copy or on my Kindle, I’m hoping to be blown away by the imagery the author presents, hoping for that amazing high that comes from living a true classic. Lately I have been reading wide of my usual slot, not abandoning fantasy, but going back and seeing what I loved the most about the genre that was my first introduction to reading for pleasure. I recently had the experience of being completely and utterly blown away by a science fiction novel, The Martian, by Andy Weir.

It’s one of the best science fiction stories to come out of the last 20 years.  A real adventure story from the get-go, this story of an astronaut inadvertently left behind is gripping from page one. As a main character, Mark Watney is hilarious. He is the sort of man who gets through life by finding something positive in every disaster, and mocking the hell out of everything that is negative.

A horrendous storm destroys much of their base, and his team is forced to abort their mission.  During the emergency evacuation of the Ares 3 landing site, he is severely injured in an accident that appears to have killed him. His body is unretrievable, and unaware that he is still alive, he is left behind. His companions begin the long journey back to Earth, grief-stricken at his sudden death. THIS is an awesome, gripping, and hilarious story.

300px-Astound5006I’ve been a subscriber to a well-known science fiction magazine, Analog,  for many years. I am actually considering letting my subscription lapse, because for the last five years or so I have struggled to find something enjoyable in their magazine.  I no longer enjoy the work they are publishing and they no longer seem to care. While there are occasional nuggets, the majority of work they publish is frequently harsh, lifeless, depressing, and incomprehensible. The fact is, perhaps they have forgotten what real science fiction is about, what the average reader wants. Perhaps I am no longer smart enough for their publication–and I hate paying to be sneered at.

Despite the efforts of the publishing community, the genre of science fiction is not dead. Andy Weir ‘s brilliant work on The Martian proves that there are writers out there with exactly the sort of stories I am looking for.  And guess what–he published it in 2012 AS AN INDIE.  This is a really telling thing, that the watershed books are no longer being put out there by the Big Six, until they have proven their worth in the Indie market. Hugh Howey, A.G.Riddle, Rachel Thompson–INDIES, all of them.

In my sci-fi, I want human frailties, drama, adventure, intense life and survival against great odds, set against a backdrop of understandable and realistic science.

I want a Space Opera.  Andy Weir gave that to me.

It is that high drama that made the Star Trek empire what it is. High drama set in exotic places made George Lucas’s Star Wars series of movies the poster child for space operas. Those two series translated the intensity of feeling that the great authors of science fiction all brought to their work.

Over the years, I have written many short space operas for my own consumption. However, this fall I am embarking on the real test–putting my writing skill where my mouth is.  It just so happens that off and on for the last  3 years, I’ve been outlining a science fiction story.  Originally, I began this project  in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2013, but this will be the year to implement it, so in November this will be my work.

As a devoted fangirl of many well-known physicists, I’ve been doing  research for the last three years, and feel sure my science will hold up, which, in sci-fi, is key to the longevity of a tale. I have great characters, and a really plausible plot. I just have to spend 30 days stream-of-conscious writing to the prompts I have set forth and…well, that is the trick, isn’t it? But even if I fail to write anything worth publishing, I will have had a good time, and that is what this gig is all about: enjoying the ride.

 

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