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.
One of the first things I chose to do the day after The Balance of Light was released was to set one of my guitars to an alternate tuning.
No, really. All my guitars have been in the usual standard EADGBE tuning for years, and over the last few years, I’ve noticed that I’ve been playing the same damn chord progressions and melodies for far too long. I love writing new songs, but I haven’t been inspired enough to come up with that many new riffs that I haven’t already used elsewhere. I figured it was high time to change it up.
My six-string Taylor acoustic is now in the DADGAD alternate tuning. This is for two reasons: one, so I’ll finally force myself to learn how to play it that way, and two, so I’ll pick up that guitar more often. My sister’s a big proponent of this tuning as she loves the versatility it provides. I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and now that I have the time, I made the move to get started on it.
So what does this have to do with writing, anyway? Why am I posting this here and not at Walk in Silence? Well, mainly because I’m doing the same exact thing with my writing, now that I have the time to dedicate. After years of focusing on the Mendaihu Universe and everything that goes along with it, I suddenly find my brain with a lot of extra processing power again.
So this means that I’ve decided to take some steps that I’ve been wanting to take for quite some time now. The pre-writing work for Meet the Lidwells! has included a full outline — something I’ve nearly always avoided in the past. I’m also playing around with the post-production work early on, since I already have a good idea of how it’ll look and where I think it might sell.
I’ve been reading a lot of different authors and genres lately. I’ve been picking up on the varying styles and moods. I’ve been figuring out how to write a much smaller standalone book with a much smaller cast. I’ve been paying attention to how different races and genders are written. Part of this is so when it comes time for me to write something similar, I’ll do it correctly. Part of it is also because of my fascination in how stories are told from different cultural perspectives; I’m so overly familiar with how Americans tell stories that my own start to sound a bit…bland, so I’d like to try writing my stories from a slightly different perspective.
[Noted, I’m sure someone somewhere will complain that I’m falling into SJW territory, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I won’t write my novels purely for political reasons, because I already know I’ll fail miserably and they’ll read like crap. The only reason I want to write from different perspectives is because I want to. End of story.]
What else do I plan on doing to freshen up my outlook? That’s a good question. The Day Job does kind of keep me from playing around with my writing schedule, though there’s still room for shaking it up a bit. I wake up early on the weekends whether I like to or not, so perhaps instead of draining my phone battery trawling the internet or watching several repeat cycles of the local news, perhaps I could use that time for creative endeavors.
I’ve also been extremely lax on my artwork, especially over the last year or so! I’ve got some fresh pencils and pens that I’d love to start using again. The art process has always been an enjoyable and calming one for me and I don’t utilize it nearly as much as I’d like. I’d also like to be a better artist than I currently am, to be honest. I’m okay, but I could be a hell of a lot better at it. Same with my photography.
Will any of this end up in my future novels? Sure, why not? My reading a crapton of music biographies inspired the interview format for Lidwells. My immersion in music inspired a fresh outlook on my writing. My photography is sneaking into my side project of creating book covers. And my knowledge of art has definitely helped me visualize scenes when writing.
Now that I have more time, I’m really looking forward these new perspectives.
Heya! Been busy working on the formatting of The Balance of Light (which took a lot less time than expected) and the cover layout (which took a lot more time than expected). I still have the back cover/Smashwords site blurb to write…which is going to be a pain in the butt, but it’s gotta be done.
But LO! Check it out:
I already knew this was the picture I wanted and cropping it to size was quite easy; a simple 3:2 ratio (and yes, I may have once again physically used a ruler against my monitor to get it right, as I can’t be arsed to do the math in Ps). The original picture is a LOT brighter and yellower, so I had to use Photoshop to turn down the brightness and pump up the contrast a bit until I achieved that lovely golden color. The header and the author line are in the same placement and font, so no big there.
No, the big pain in the butt was the title.
You’d think four reasonably-sized words in Geo Sans Light would be relatively easy to lay out, yes? Well, the placement was simple enough. All three books have the same general text layout. The issue was the color. Originally my idea was to do the opposite of the cover of A Division of Souls by having a yellow cover with blue text. I posted it to my Twitter and Facebook for some input…
…and everyone said they LOVE the picture…but the title color needs work.
WELP. Chalk this up to another learning experience, File Under: Your Brilliant Ideas May Not Work IRL.
Thankfully an artist friend of mine had suggested to work with the main colors of the picture rather than against it, so after much faffing about with the various hues (including a light green, which didn’t work at all), I thought I’d try something daring: yellow on yellow! Well, more like the light yellow I used on book titles 1 and 2, against dark gold. Add a drop shadow effect just to make sure it pops out a bit more, and call it done.
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.
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.
Two more characters to add to the gang. These two ladies are good examples of what happens when you don’t have nearly as much faith in your home team as you wish you did…or are expected to have.
Saone Lehanna (aka Sonia Lehane) also has the luck of being the youngest daughter of an extremely important man, Natianos Lehanna, a very wealthy CEO who just happens to be the high leader of the Shenaihu faction here in Bridgetown. Her older sisters are all shadow agents under Natianos and are already well integrated into his corporation. High expectations to live up to, for sure.
There’s just one problem — she’s no longer a full-blooded Shenaihu anymore. By mere chance, she happened to be at ground zero when Nehalé Usarai performed his Awakening ritual, which forced Saone to become a cho-nyhndah (an equal balance of Mendaihu and Shenaihu).
Kryssyna Piramados (aka Kristan Leguire), on the other hand, is from a regular blue-collar family o Shenaihu with a long history of agents in the Alien Relations Unit, and she’s just joined the Branden Hill HQ. She willingly went through the ritual of becoming cho-nyhndah soon after Saone’s forced awakening, which has pretty much made her the black sheep of her own family.
She met Saone in college, and they soon became ch0-shadhisi (that is, lovers and bound by spirit). Natianos dislikes Kryssyna, pretty much seeing her as a traitor, but to be honest, Kryss doesn’t give a shit about that at all. As long as she and Saone remain together, that’s all that matters.
And we’re back! My first bit of artwork now that I’m back on the whiteboard schedule is another character sketch for the Bridgetown Trilogy gang.
Christine Gorecki has an interesting background, as she was originally a tertiary character when I created her late in the ADoS story; she shows up in person in the last third of the novel when I needed to have someone ARU-related meet up with Sheila and Nick during a specific point in the plot. I ended up really liking her and gave her a major role in the trilogy.
She’s somewhat of a lone wolf. She’s highly intelligent and resourceful and originally used that to her advantage while she was part of the Alien Relations Unit. She’d decided about six months previous to the events in ADoS to take a temporary leave of absence to clear her head and deal with some very personal issues, and in the meantime she’d started freelancing as a detective as well as a low-level healer, which she runs out of a storefront on the ground level of the apartment building she owns.
Christine shares a very close friendship with Alec Poe; she is often the first person he thinks of when he needs outside (non-Vigil) help, and trusts her completely, and the feeling is mutual. She’s also close friends with Caren Johnson and her sister Denni, and looks after them from a distance.
Between the trips to New York City and London, the weekend plans, multiple work-related issues and everything else, I’ve been so full up that I’d made the decision to clear the whiteboard schedule, temporarily stop work on a lot of creative projects, and focus only on the most important ones. That meant that I focused almost all my creative juices on the new Mendaihu Universe story. Little by little, I let a few things in as time permitted, such as guitar practice and photography.
Now that all the major events are out of the way for the time being, it’s time to get back to the grind and open up the floodgates a bit more. I’ve replanned the whiteboard schedule again; I’m not filling it up too much just yet, but I’ve added art, music and work on the Walk in Silence book back into the mix, and moved the updating of the WtBT blog to Mondays. I may revisit the daily 750 Words if time permits. And musically, I have a few ideas I’d like to record in demo form as part of the Drunken Owl project.
The temporary hiatus did have its positives, as I was able to provide better focus on what needed it, and still have time to relax. I was also able to recalibrate how I viewed my writing — not just the output but the style, and looking at what can be adjusted — to the point that I should also be able to do the same with my other writing projects that I put aside. Long story short, I’ve realized that the best practice (to borrow an annoying work-related phrase) for me is to do most of my writing longhand and use my PC time for revision and rewriting, and that’s how I plan to work from here on in.
These last few months have been a relaxing reprieve, but I’ll say this: it’s great to be back on schedule again.