It’s nearly October already, and my thoughts surprisingly aren’t in the realm of hokey smokes where did the time go I’m still not done with the Lidwells project! I kind of knew I’d be running a little late. I’m still on track and roughly at the point I’d thought I’d be at, so all told I’m cool with its schedule.
No, my thoughts are with the fact that after a few years, I can FINALLY take part in Inktober again! I’ve been busy with more pressing projects and Day Job stuff, but this month I find I have the time to grab my art supplies and do a bit of doodling. Which is a good thing, considering I’ve been itching to do that for a long while now. I’ve even saved the Official Inktober 2017 Prompt List to get me going.
What I’m hoping is that this will get me back into the drawing habit. I’m not forcing myself into it. It’s just like my writing and music; I just need to shut the hell up and do it already. Drawing something every day for a month, even if it’s a map or a Murph doodle or something else, should in turn remind me to make time for it.
I’ll be posting them over at my Twitter feed, but I may post some of them here as well.
It’s Sunday mid-morning as I write this and both A. and I have been up for a few hours now. I think we’ve both somewhat adjusted to Pacific Time again, having spent the last few days in a jet lag haze. We’re both going over our work inboxes to clean them up at the moment, and I’m streaming some new music releases over the last few days. [Best find so far: Moscow-based Life on Venus with their album Encounters, which I would describe as Slowdive if they had MBV’s volume. So yeah, right in my wheelhouse there.]
Our two-week vacation in London was quite enjoyable if a little exhausting — thanks to my phone’s pedometer app, I figured out we walked just a little over eighty miles. Lots of places seen, friends seen, cats petted, and lagers or tea ordered. And somehow within all of that, I was also able to work a little on some of the index card notes for Secret Next Project!
And if you’re wondering why I chose the above gif from the anime your name., it’s because I watched it on the plane twice (once each way). It’s become one of my favorite movies on many levels. This makes three times I’ve watched it — so far — and I’m sure it’ll be one that will get even more views in the future. And yes, I’ve already decided I’ll be writing a blog post about it here soon enough, as I find it an excellent example of detailed, layered storytelling and how to successfully unfold each subplot and hint of characterization so it all fits together perfectly.
Speaking of writing, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things as soon as possible. I’m still feeling exhausted, but only physically, so I think I should be able to get back on the horse with little issue. I’m particularly excited that I’m about to start the last act of Meet the Lidwells (and working on the cover!), which means I can start up the revision quite soon! I’m also hoping to get started on further work with Secret Next Project as well.
As for non-writing creative stuff, I finally got the drawing models that I ordered online a short time ago (half off, so basically two-for-one!) that are made by Bandai. They’re small but they’re detailed and pretty versatile, so I think I’ll be able to use these for future drawings. Check ’em out:
They come with some nifty accessories like different gesturing hands, katanas and handguns (because why the hell not), cell phones and tablets, and so on. The directions are entirely in Japanese of course, but they’re super easy to use anyway. I’m sure I’ll get more work out of these than out of Wilhelmina, the simple articulated model I got from Ikea for like six dollars. 🙂
So yes…we’re back from vacation, autumn is nearly among us, and I’m eager to get back to Doing All the Creative Things. Hell, I may even record a few more Drunken Owl demos if time permits!
Now, if I can just shake the remnants of this jet lag…
This was in response to Gulf War I, which kicked off during the Christmas break of my sophomore year at Emerson College. Everyone my age had grown up during the Cold War, and even though that seemed to be in the past tense now (the Berlin Wall having come down months earlier), we were all nervous. Was this going to be a big war? Was this going to be our Vietnam? What was going to happen?
What if they reinstated a draft?
In retrospect, it was a small enough war that that wasn’t going to happen, but we really had no idea if that was true at the time.
I remember I was with my dad and my sisters at McDonald’s in Gardner when we got to talking about the Gulf War, and it was at that time that I’d made my decision to follow the principle of ahimsa: no harm. I absolutely refuse to take another person’s life.
Oh, my college friends and I had those conversations when we got back to our dorms. By then Gulf War I was in full swing and would end within a few weeks. Some were for it, some were against it, some didn’t know, some didn’t give a shit.
My reaction to all that was to draw the above strip. Originally I’d posted it up on the door of my dorm room, where it got a huge response from passersby. A few suggested I submit it to our school paper, The Berkeley Beacon, which I did soon after, to more positive response. In fact, the one negative response I got was to some conservative-minded student who took offense to it because they’d somehow thought ‘The Ignorant’ person was meant to be Republican. Hey, you’re the one who assumed that, chief, not me.
I’m quite proud of that strip. It’s not my best artwork, but it’s one of my best works scriptwise.
So yeah. Writing this post at 7pm PT on 6 April, just as the current administration has launched a missile attack on Syria in response to the terrorist attack there earlier this week. I don’t know the details, so I’m not going to hem and haw and pontificate and indignate or whatever. Not right now.
I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t feel too optimistic about this event at the moment. Not because I’m a pacifist, but because a) I don’t trust this current administration to sharpen a fucking pencil and b) I’m really not looking forward to the Orgasmic Patriotism we may get as a response from the hard right. I’m afraid that there will be much dick swinging and flagwaving and no responsibility for the aftershock it causes.
I shall carry on. I still have my work to do on this new project of mine. Nothing’s going to take that away from me.
One of my many ideas for the Bridgetown Trilogy, if I wasn’t going to turn it into a wacky multiproduct entity (No, there won’t be any Saisshalé-O’s breakfast cereal, sorry) was to give the books a visual approach.
Part of this was inspired by the frequent comment that my style of writing is very visual. I went to the Miami Vice School of Writing Cool Scenes Using Music back in the day, and having a degree in film studies from Emerson College, so I’d say that comment is spot on. It’s just the way I read and write: I see the scene visually and try to describe it that way.
A year or so ago I thought I’d try my hand at laying out the first scene of A Division of Souls, just for the fun of it, just to see if I could pull it off. In retrospect I could probably rein it in a bit in terms of pacing, but I like how it ended up. There’s a distinct hint of Dave Sim’s Cerebus in there (specifically latter half of the Church & State storyline), which heavily influenced me back in my college days.
I’ve mentioned this before: I’ve been fascinated by maps since I was a kid. My dad had put up nine US Geodetic Survey maps of the local North Quabbin area on the wall of his downtown office (he used it as reference, as he was a local reporter), and I would stare at the things for ages. The topography lines helped me imagine what the areas I’ve never visited looked like. When I did eventually visit those areas, my visual guesses were rarely far off the mark. My fascination soon expanded to the roads I carved into the dirt in my side yard for my Hot Wheels, and by 9 or 10 I was drawing maps just for the fun of it. They weren’t of anywhere in particular; I’d just make them up as I went along. It became a relaxing way to pass the time for me. And once I went to college, you’d see map doodling all over the margins. I still do it to this day; if you see me in the audience at a con, leaning over and doodling, chances are I’m drawing a map while I’m listening to the panelists.
When I started the Vigil project in the winter of 1993, I knew map drawing would have to be part of the world building. If not for the publication, at least for my own reference. I had certain areas of Bridgetown laid out in my head, but I wanted to have a physical layout I could use.
I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of size and perspective in these early maps, but they at least gave me an idea of what the Sprawl looked like.
This first map to the left was drawn that winter, with a much smaller layout of the city (it’s more like a small city here than a big giant sprawl it ended up being), but certain parts of it remained to the end of the project: the gentle curve of Branden Hill Park (called Johnson Park here), Sachers River and its island (with Vigil’s island location laid out), and the major north-south highway splitting through the middle.
The Vigil project ended up more like a lot of world building than doing much actual prose writing (I think it had more to do with me trying to figure out what story I wanted to tell and how). By the summer of 1995 I expanded the above map by taping the original to my apartment window, covering it with blank newsprint paper, and building it up.
The layout was still a bit wonky, but I was getting there. The big circle in the lower right corner is the first visual suggestion of the Mirades Tower (called the Underwood Tower here — I think I originally wanted Jenn’s family to be tied do it but never expanded on that plot line). I’m kind of fascinated by this one, because by that time I’d watched a lot of anime and wanted something like the GENOM Tower from Bubblegum Crisis. I was well aware of security issues with major driving arteries going underneath this tower, but I thought it was kind of a neat idea anyway.
Come 1998, I was about halfway through writing The Phoenix Effect, and I had a much better idea of what Bridgetown looked like. At first I had an idea to draw certain visuals, such as the one to the left here: a view of the Mirades Tower, lording over the entirety of the Sprawl (the circle of buildings is a reference to the initial awakening process that takes place at the start of the book…ie, the Ring of Fire). I wasn’t too happy with the artwork though (mainly me being a perfectionist and being annoyed at how wonky the Tower looks here), but it did its job. I even got a better idea of how wide the Sachers River needed to be. In fact, looking at this now, I realize this is very similar to the view I have out Spare Oom window, looking across the mouth of the Golden Gate towards the Marin Headlands!
Probably within a month or so after that above drawing, I drew what would end up being one of the official reference maps for Bridgetown, complete with the district boundaries. I would refer to this one page constantly during the TPE revision and the major rewrite as the trilogy. Very little has changed in Bridgetown since then. A few street names have changed, and I still hadn’t quite gotten Sachers Island drawn correctly, but for the most part this can still be considered a semi-accurate reference map for all the stories that take place in this city.
Note: Also seen on this map are the rough points of the hrrah-sehdhyn attack that takes place in A Division of Souls. I’d added these a few years after the original map was drawn and just before I wrote that scene so I could get the layout correct.
But wait, there’s more!
During the years I wrote the trilogy, I would often flesh out ideas during the slow hours at my Day Job at the candle warehouse. My buddy Bruce would often make fun of me when I did this. I’d snag a piece of scrap paper (or more to the point, the blank forms we used for the pallets we built) and commence with that day’s outlining for whatever I’d be writing later that evening. Or I’d draw detailed maps, sometimes even working on certain sections of Bridgetown.
Here’s a great example of that: My favorite section of town Branden Hill Park, which had been a point of interest since the Vigil days (the original Vigil story starts at the northeast corner of the park). This is probably the best example of what Bridgetown truly looks like in my head. I even went so far as to draw subway lines, considering that subway kiosk in the park shows up multiple times in the trilogy.
Note: You can even see where I put Nehalé’s apartment (the HB in the top left corner, referring to his old name of Halley Brown).
I do like the idea that even though the trilogy takes place at least 300 years in the future, there really hasn’t been too much of a change in terms of street layout or architecture for that matter. I used the reasoning that Europe still has some of its original medieval roads, not to mention architecture that’s been around for a few centuries. Besides, I really wasn’t all that keen on using the SF trope of multi-level cities and mountains of detritus. The Meraladians helped us get past that economical and ecological snag sometime ago.
And lastly, I wanted a general layout of what Mirades Tower Park looked like — it would be used as a major setting throughout the trilogy, and numerous scenes take place there in The Balance of Light, so I had to make sure I got it right. I think this one definitely gets the dimensions correct, as the Tower really is that huge. I also deliberately left the surrounding neighborhood empty…since this is the financial and governmental center of the city, the entire area would be filled with skyscrapers and business towers, so the map would really end up looking like a bunch of large squares inside a square grid of streets.
I’m sure I have more maps and building drawings lying around. I know I’d made a rough sketch of what the Branden Hill ARU headquarters looked like (hint: one of those arty curvy buildings, but without all the bizarre useless angles). I’ll have to scan more of them when I have the time.
All these drawings definitely helped me visualize Bridgetown as I was writing the stories that take place there. Without them I’m sure I’d have gotten a lot of the directions and distances incorrect. It also helped me narrow down the images I wanted for my book covers; I knew that they would have to be busy metropolises, though not necessarily with the dark cyberpunk attitude of Bladerunner. Both A Division of Souls and The Balance of Light use Shutterstock pictures of Singapore, which is just about the right level of sprawling city I was looking for.
As I’ve said before…I may have a side job on my hands.
See, this started back in the mid 80s when I was in junior high. I was more obsessed with music and band discographies than I was in sports. Even then I could tell you what song what was on which album, if I knew the band well enough.
One summer afternoon, I’d made up a fake band and had a little bit of fun coming up with a fake discography to go along with it. [I don’t remember the band’s name but the ersatz label I came up with was Plazmattack. Don’t ask me where that came from.] I went into detail, coming up with song titles, album names, all the way down to the multiple singles and EPs.
I never actually followed up with writing and recording the songs, as I was fifteen and didn’t have much musical ability. But I was a true music geek, and I was willing to take this fanciful idea for a spin. A few years later when a few friends and I started The Flying Bohemians, I actually made a detailed discography for our small but growing batch of songs. I even did a few cassette covers, taking blurry pictures I and my sisters had taken and pasting them on the insert cards.
Thirty years later and I’m about to embark on another fake discography for a future writing project.
And more than that, I’m about to pretend I’m an artist as well.
The above is my first attempt at a book cover for a story that doesn’t exist. It’s an experiment to see if I can actually pull it off. If I can, then my Secret Side Project may actually have legs and be worth pursuing.
Background: The title McCleever Street Blues predates the Vigil and the Mendaihu Universe by a year or two but is in the same setting and timeframe. It was to be a short story about a kid trying to get from one location to another in a sprawling city, and all the boundaries and distractions he had to deal with, as well as all the regular folk he’d see every day. I’ve never actually written it.
The picture itself was taken by me on my cell phone on Rue des Petits Champs in Paris late in the afternoon a few months ago while on vacation, and filtered through the Prisma app. I cropped it using Photoshop and added the title and byline using Pic Monkey. It’s a very rough outtake, of course. For starters, I’d do a much better job of the matte frames for the title and byline given more time and inclination.
So tonight I decided to play around a bit with the cover for The Balance of Light, even though it’s still quite some time before it’s going to see ebook or print. This one was tough, because I had an idea of what I wanted, but looking for the right picture was going to be a tough one. I wanted something to balance out the blue/yellow night view of A Division of Souls, so I knew it would have to be yellow/blue and morning. I had the color scheme down, but the picture was the tough part.
I’ve said before that I really love this part of the self-publishing process; I mean, really love it. Like, to the point that I may possibly do this as a side-job in the future. I love looking for that perfect shot. Trying to get the perfect crop balance. Figuring out whether to adjust the color or give it a bit of an effect. Playing around with fonts and text placement.
I’ll be honest, it’s like I’m making fake album covers. It’s something I used to do as a teenager with my mixtapes and the Flying Bohemians tapes.
Let’s take a quick look at the three covers I’ve made so far:
The cover for A Division of Souls was meant to invoke a few things: the setting (a metropolis, teeming with people), the time (at night), and mood (tense and mysterious). It’s also to serve as a tie-in to the very first scene. In short, my aim was to say: this is what the book’s going to make you feel.
The cover was also supposed to tie in with the other two books, which means that I also had to think ahead: what were the other two going to look like? I knew I’d have to keep a few visual motifs going…a city would have to be involved in all three, somehow; the images would need to evolve, just like the story itself. In this case, I created multiple ‘lightboxes’ in my Shutterstock account and started looking for pictures that would do exactly what I needed them to do.
The time it took to throw this one together was surprisingly quick, to be honest. Looking at it now, I can see a few things I should fix, but for the most part it went smoothly, once I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
The cover for The Persistence of Memories was a bit trickier, and I think it looks better as an e-book cover than it does as a trade paperback cover, but I do like how it came out. The same rules applied here…in this case the setting was twofold: it takes place both on Earth and on Trisanda, so I chose to do a ‘satellite’ point of view that shows both the city below and the stars above. Time seems to be fluid in this shot. It seems to be late night in the city below, blanketed by the similar blue (not exactly the same but close) of the first book, but in the heavens, time is irrelevant; it’s all light and dark at the same time. It also creates a dreamlike mood, where you’re not entirely sure what’s reality and what isn’t.
The placement of the title was purely serendipity, to be honest; I did not expect the top two words to be in space and the bottom two to be in the planet’s atmosphere. It just turned out that way and worked out quite nicely. Funnily enough, once I’d noticed that, I was torn on exactly where I should place it…the other outtake had the title dropped a tiny bit lower, so the “of” is resting right on top of the gray cloud line instead of hovering over it like it is.
I haven’t made a solid decision yet on what the Book 3 cover will look like but this is what I came up with tonight:
I’m still playing around with the font color for the title, as well as the placement of the text. The picture hints at the metropolis of ADoS, but the mood and the time is different: we’ve gotten through the late night of Book 1 and the witching hours of Book 2, and now we’ve come to the morning after of Book 3. The yellow of the sunlight is supposed to hint at the yellow font of Book 1, and I’m still trying to figure out which bluish hue would be good for the title (to hint at the blue cityscape of ADoS).
True, it does kind of hint at new-agey books, but that’s kind of the point…the characters and the planet itself has gone through a spiritual awakening of sorts. And like Book 2, it serves a dual purpose: the physical awakening from that dreamlike state, and the spiritual awakening.
One thing I learned early during this process was that I shouldn’t merely look for something that ‘looks cool’, no matter how tempting it may be. The last thing I needed was to look for something shiny, because I didn’t want the casual viewer to say ‘wow, what a flashy cover’ but not completely connect with it or remember it. I wanted something unique. Something that stood out from other covers, not because it was the flashiest, but because it was different. Something to catch their attention because it stood out just enough.
These first three are my first attempts at doing book covers, and as you’ve probably noticed, there are no actual people on the cover. This was a conscious choice; not only is it because of the large cast, but because I also wanted to invoke the idea that it wasn’t just my characters being affected by the story, but planet itself.
My next couple of projects do involve a much smaller cast, so there’s a very good chance I may use people (or silhouettes) on their covers. I did a brief Shutterstock search for those and found a few ideas to work with, and I’m looking forward to these when I get to that point. The main drafts of these stories haven’t even been written yet, or at least not completely, so again this was a bit like creating fake album covers! In the process it’s giving me something fun to look forward to.
It’ll look a bit better when I redo it with the real non-watermarked picture I just downloaded from Shutterstock not that long ago. The picture creator is Marcel Clemens, whose collection on that website is full of lovely spacey images.
The Persistence of Memories will be released mid-April! Stay tuned for more info as we get closer to the release date! 🙂
Today’s work included taking the step of buying a stock photo and finally utilizing my sort of decent art skills for future profit. I used the most basic plan on Shutterstock: $41 for five downloads, four of which I’ll use at a later time for the other two books in the trilogy, and maybe a future project or two. That was the easy part.
The hard part was thinking three or four steps ahead before I even started. There are a few things that I had to keep in mind before I went anywhere with this.
—Image Resolution. Many places like Smashwords and BookBaby require high resolution of the finished product. This is so your potential readers will see a nice clear picture on their e-reader, and won’t cause pixelation (i.e., it won’t look all blotchy and fuzzy if you blow up the picture larger than necessary). Thus I downloaded the highest resolution, which I believe was 3400 x 3400 pixels. Much higher than necessary, but after cropping, it still looks good.
—Cropping ratio. This is something that is actually pretty important yet not too many people think about. The most common ratio for e-book covers, I’ve read, is 1:1.33. That is, 1.33 times taller than it is wide. And looking at this cover take, that makes sense, because it’s roughly the same shape as most tablet and e-reader screens. I admit I went a bit lo-fi here to figure it out: I took a ruler and measured the picture on the screen. In the above thumbnail here, it’s 2.5″ wide. If you multiply that by 1.33, you’ll get 3.325″, which is very close to the height I ended with.
—Fonts: color and placement. I have to thank album covers for being able to understand this one. For my example, the most important part of the cover, aside from the visual, is the title, right? So in this version, instead of bannering it up on top like the previous attempt, I chose to spread it down the entire center. The font had to be larger than the other two lines I’d be adding (the subtitle and my name). BUT — it also had to stand out. In this case, I asked for assistance from one of my artist friends: since I knew I’d be using this photo and that its primary color was blue, what is the opposite of blue? [This is actually pretty easy to figure out: here’s a color wheel chart you should save for reference!] In this case, it’s yellow, so I used a very light shade of it for the title, to make it stand out, even more than the subtitle or my name (both in standard white). The fonts themselves were provided on the free version of PicMonkey.com…the title is Geo Sans Light and the other two are De Walpergen Pica. All three were placed with a bit of ingenuity: I aligned the sides of the text blocks with the sides of the picture, and had everything center-aligned.
—Clarity. My original outtake in the previous post used the Edo font on PicMonkey, but here my wife suggested a different, plainer font. It’s a bit unexpected to be sure, because it doesn’t look like a genre font. It’s classic and plain, but it still looks professional. The trick here was to ensure that none of the words vanished in the white spots of the picture behind it; yellow stands out well against blue, but gets lost against white. Everything is readable, and that’s the most important part.
—Viewing it in different sizes. This is another thing that sometimes gets glossed over or forgotten, but it’s actually quite important, and ties in with everything else. Think of it this way — say you’re looking for that new book you know has just come out, but you need to scan the New Release shelves and the endcaps in order to do it. Chances are when you see it, you’ll be at least a good ten or twenty feet away. Same goes with e-books: when you’re browsing online, you’re not looking at the actual-size cover, you’re looking at a thumbnail cover. This is another reason I downloaded the high-res version: the picture itself doesn’t look too sketchy, but more importantly, the fonts are still readable. It’s okay if the subtitle is fuzzy; it’s not important. What is important is the title and my name, so I had to make sure they were large enough to be read. This is why I’d tweeted it right after I’d completed it: I wanted to take a look at it on my phone, to see how it looked on a much smaller screen, plus I’d get feedback from my friends as well.
Granted, I already own Photoshop (a birthday present from a few years back), and I’m kind of lucky that I have a lifelong interest in art and a passable ability for it, so I’m able to do most of this myself, which is exactly what I wanted to do. Some of you may want to hire out a professional cover artist instead. There are many out there — The Creative Penn has some good links to a few out there, for instance. And many of them are quite affordable.
In the end, the cover still remains one of the most important parts of the book (or e-book), because it’s the first thing every reader sees. You can let the pros take control of the cover creation, and all you’ll need to do is explain the images you’d like to see. But if you have the ability and want to go it alone, definitely keep the above in mind. Don’t just throw something together and call it done, either; just like musicians, save a small handful of differing takes and use the one that works best.